My RavenCon 14 Schedule!


RavenCon 14 starts in less than two weeks (April 5-7)! I’m very happy to be appearing at this convention not just as a programming guest, but also having helped put together the first Science Track at this con, which will be in Room G the whole weekend.

I will be live-tooting (still haven’t quite gotten used to that term) on Mastodon as @quantumcowboy in the Wandering Shop instance. (If you are unfamiliar with Mastodon, the site JoinMastodon has a great introduction.) Expect the usual rolling commentary and photos on Masto, and (ideally) daily summaries here on the blog. See you in Williamsburg!

Friday

  • 5 pm – 7 pm (Private, Optional) Meet and Greet for Guests / Green Room
  • 7 pm (Opening Ceremony) Large Auditorium
  • 8 pm (Panel) Space Does Not Work That Way / Room G: A discussion of the most commonly used incorrect space and spaceflight tropes in science fiction, and where they go wrong. What are some alternatives? How could real constraints spur new creativity?

Saturday

  • 2 pm (Panel) Going to Mars to Colonize It / Room G: A long-standing dream within science-fiction and science fact alike is to not only explore Mars, but to go there to stay. The panel will discuss various governmental and private ambitions for settling on the red planet in real life, as well as discuss how science fiction has played a role in shaping how we view our planetary neighbor.
  • 3 pm (Panel)  What Are the New Questions Science Fiction Should be Asking? / Room G: SF in particular is meant to be a forward-looking genre. What questions should contemporary SFF writers be asking that they are not? Which sciences are being overlooked, even in Hard-SF? What imminent issues are not yet being sufficiently addressed?
  • 7:25 – 7:50 pm (Reading) Room 4
  • 10 pm (Panel)  How Can Science Fiction Inform Science Policy? / Room G / Moderator: From ET to GATTACA to Star Trek, science fiction stories foster reflection on a range of social and technical issues. Scifi has long been a source of thought experiments and inspiration for current and aspiring scientists and engineers, but how should these stories influence the work of politicians, social leaders and activists? This panel will discuss the increasingly influential role of scifi in policy-making and activism, and ways your fandom can help shape the world around us. Come discuss scifi stories that influenced you, societal implications of upcoming technologies, and visions for a better future.
  • 11 pm (Workshop/Presentation) Ask a (Mad) Scientist/ Room G:
    Our science guests answer audience questions on science and science fiction. Always a favorite at RavenCon!

Sunday

  • 11 am (Panel) National Novel Writing Month / Room 8: Our NaNoWriMo veterans share their experiences with the annual writing exercise and offer tips that will help you start and finish your NaNoWriMo novel.

Recap of MarsCon 2019, Saturday

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series MarsCon 2019

Most of my Saturday at the con was taken up by meetings for RavenCon programming (in particular the new Science Track, for which I am very excited!). However I did get a chance to browse the dealer floor, the art room, and attend a couple of panels.

In How Does One Write Near-Future Science Fiction?, panelists Patrick Dugan, Jason T. Graves, Drew A. Avera, and Gray Rinehart were moderated by Jim Beall. Unfortunately, though Jim was quite well prepared (a wonderful thing in a moderator), the authors on the panel did not seem to be well-suited for the panel topic, as most did not seem to have a lot of stories set in the near future themselves. However, most were writers of Hard Science Fiction (which is not necessarily the same thing). This mismatch is hardly the fault of the panelists, but perhaps Programming can take a note for future cons.

Though the panel did not spend much time actually answering the question posed in its title, I did walk away with several nuggets of useful information. One suggested way of avoiding the pitfall of having certain readers get too caught up in the numbers or “realness” of the story elements as if they are meant to be predictions is to a) generally avoid numbers all together if possible, and b) stick to explication only where you actually have expertise or knowledge based on research, leaving the rest implied. We discussed the questions of whether near-term science fiction has to also be hard science fiction to be good/enjoyable (not necessarily, and Neuromancer was offered as a counter-example), and also if near-term science fiction needs to attempt to predict the future to be useful (generally no).

I later attended The Big World of Small Press and Indie Publishing, featuring Michael Thomson, Leslie Heath, Melissa McArthur, Kacey Ezell, and moderated by Chris Kennedy. The panelists were all in some fashion indie or small press authors and/or publishers, with a good bit of diversity in how it was implemented (full-time, part-time, completely indie, traditional + indie, etc). All generally agreed that the major benefits to small press and indie publishing were: much more rapid turnaround at all points of the publication timeline (editing, feedback, cover selection, proof, release, etc), a much greater degree of control and input by the author at all points in the process, a more personal connection with everyone involved, and generally a larger percentage of the overall pie. The two major downsides being that mass exposure is much less likely or perhaps impossible, and that the author is expected and required to take on more (or complete) personal responsibility for the product at every step of the process.

The panelists listed the following mistakes they have made in the past that future indie or small press authors should avoid

  • Series sell the most, and waiting too long to continue a series can kill its inherent momentum.
  • Always read a contract, or even better, get a lawyer to look over it (it’s probably cheaper than you think).
  • Don’t forget about pre-marketing, and make sure to do the work to build up a community around a work before releasing it.

Further big news from the con, though it was not particularly con-related… I found out that I got in to the advanced fiction studio at The Muse Writing Center in Norfolk that I applied to last week! I’ll be starting that on February 4th, and I’m looking forward to focusing on my sequel to Red Soil.

Recap of MarsCon 2019, Friday

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series MarsCon 2019

I’m a little embarrassed to say that I missed MarsCon the first year I was living here in Virginia. I saw the name come up on a list of area conventions, and assumed it was a technical and semi-technical con specific to Mars and Mars colonization (like a Mars Society convention or something), not a sci-fi and fantasy con. Then this year, I was expecting to not be able to make it at all due to work travel, but here I am furloughed with all official travel cancelled so… against many headwinds, here I am at MarsCon 2019!

Today I attended two panels. The first was entitled Writing Military Themed Stories, featuring John “Cal” Baldari (Army veteran and a professor of military ethics), Chris Kennedy (Navy veteran and author and publisher of military science fiction), and moderator Kacey Ezell (active duty Air Force helicopter pilot).

We discussed several themes and motifs that appeal to readers, and give war stories lasting appeal: the ideals of duty / honor / sacrifice / service / etc, the vicarious power to use authorized / sanctioned / “moral” force (when in modern civilian life violence is generally prohibited), and the inner journey of becoming a soldier and pushing oneself beyond previously perceived limits to do great things.

We also got several recommendations from the panel for books/movies/stories that they felt portrayed some aspect of the military experience well: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (for the day to day experience), Full Metal Jacket for the training portion, Twelve O’Clock High for the how and how-not-to on leadership and command chain, Catch 22 by Joseph Heller for the insight into military bureaucracy, The Black Company for the moral ambiguity, and several others

The second panel I attended was Moral Conflict in Genre Fiction, which featured Michael D. Pederson (moderator), Professor John “Cal” Baldari, Jason Gilbert, Kettle Macaulay, and Valerie J. Mikles. The panel was less a primer on how to create morally conflicted characters (which is what I was hoping for) and more a discussion of of characters that create moral conflict for the reader/viewer, such as sympathetic villains (which was still interesting). However, I still got several useful nuggets from the discussion. Particularly, I was intrigued by the idea of science-fiction and fantasy settings being actually advantageous for presenting the audience with contemporary moral challenges, as the speculative elements help control / hone the message while cushioning against defensiveness that can arise in real world depictions of complex issues.

The most useful takeaway for me personally from the panel was a realization that I think I have a tendency to try to provoke moral conflict in the reader, and use that to get around creating characters that are truly morally conflicted themselves. It was an epiphany that caps off some recent reading of The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maas. It goes to show that participation in these types of in-person con discussions can often prompt synthesized realizations that may not be obvious from simply getting the information content from somewhere!

Looking forward to tomorrow’s panels, as well as a chance to meet the rest of the RavenCon planning committee for the first time. (I’ve been helping with the new Science Track.) Onward to Day 2!

My Capclave 17 Schedule

My first con appearance since moving to Virginia will be next week at Capclave 17, a literary sci-fi convention organized by the Washington Science Fiction Association. I’m looking forward to meeting new readers, writers, and fans of science fiction and fantasy! My panel schedule is below.

  • Does Hard Science Fiction Have to be Opaque to Non-Techies? – 10am Saturday – Frederick: Panelists will discuss how writing about quantum computing, string theory, nanotechnology, genetics, chemistry, rocket science, etc., can be done in a way that is scientifically accurate, yet understandable by people who have no science background past high school and maybe college distribution requirement. E.g. making Bose-Einstein Condensate understandable to someone who never got past “physics for poets.”
    Panelists: Jack Campbell, N.A. Ratnayake, Mike McPhail, Ian Randal Strock (m), David Walton
  • War on Science – 6pm Saturday – Rockville/Potomac: Some of America’s leaders don’t believe in global warming, want creationism taught in schools, and others want to ban human cloning or restrict genetic modified foods. Why this distrust of science? Is it growing? Are political leaders trying to appeal to the ignorant or do they really believe this? And what is the danger to the planet?
    Panelists: Carolyn Ives Gilman, Inge Heyer (m), Thomas Holtz, James Morrow, N.A. Ratnayake
  • What Are The New Questions That SF/F Should Be Asking? – 11am Sunday – Rockville/Potomac: SF in particular is meant to be a forward-looking genre. What questions should contemporary SFF writers be asking that they are not? What issues are being successfully addressed?
    Panelists: M’Shai Dash, Caroline Ives Gilman, Malka Older, N.A. Ratnayake
  • Positive Science Fiction – 1pm Sunday – Bethesda: Much SF these days is dystopian or grim. Why isn’t there more positive SF? Jetse DeVries’s anthology Shine demonstrated that it’s possible to write positive SF even when dealing with issues such as climate change.
    Panelists: Malka Older, Sarah Pinsker, N.A. Ratnayake, Bud Sparhawk (m)

Looking forward to a great con!

My Arisia 2017 Schedule

I’m excited to be returning as a panelist to Arisia 2017, New England’s largest and most diverse sci-fi and fantasy convention! Arisia is coming up in just a few weeks (January 13-16, 2017)… Grab a membership soon, because the rates go up after December 31.

My panelist schedule is below, and besides these I plan to attend many more in Science, Writing, and Literature.

  • What Are the New Questions SFF Should be Asking? – Burroughs, Literature, Fri 5:30 PM: Speculative fiction needs to speculate, as changes in the world pile up thick and fast. News of these new developments – scientific, political, cultural, and personal – reaches a broad audience, sometimes even before the developments have actually developed. Does SF have space to speculate? Should we try to keep pace with the way the world changes? Is that possible? What new questions should we ask?
    Panelists: Dr. Pamela Gay (mod), N.A. Ratnayake, John Sundman, Steve E. Popkes, N.S. Dolkhart
  • How To Use Real Science In Your SciFantasy Story –  Alcott, Writing, Fri 10:00 PM: How can you use *real* science in your science fiction and fantasy stories? What is fringe science? Where do you dig it up? Where does STEM fit into your worldbuilding? And how do you adapt boring JSTOR studies to high-stakes action on a space-battleship or a magic kingdom? Our STEM panelists will teach you how to sprinkle a little science fairy dust to make even the most audacious story sound scientifically plausible.
    Panelists: Deborah Kaminski (mod), Timothy Goyette, N.A. Ratnayake, Ian Randall Stock, Stephen R. Wilk
  • The Intersection of Art and Science – Adams, Science, Sat 10:00 AM: Astronomical imagery, mathematical music, negative-space theorizing, gaming into data-structures. Panelists will discuss how they integrate their scientific careers into their artistic ventures, and vice versa.
    Panelists: Shelley Marsh (mod), N.A. Ratnayake, John Sundman, Sarah Smith, Drew Van Zandt
  • What We Know from Juno – Marina 3, Science, Sat 11:30 AM: Juno is a NASA space probe currently orbiting the planet Jupiter. For 20 months the probe will gather a wealth of new information including more details about the planet’s atmospheric composition and core density. Come find out what we’ve learned so far.
    Panelists: Jeff Hecht (mod), N.A. Ratnayake, Dr. Pamela Gay, Dan Brian
  • Is Optimism Just Nostalgia in Disguise? – Marina 2, Literature, Sun 11:30 AM: We are hearing, after a long sojourn in dystopia and postapocalypse, that optimistic SF is making a comeback. Is it really the case or is the optimism of yesterday just another type of nostalgia? When climate change, postantibiotic medicine, and resource depletion are major factors in our lives (topics that are not always as well addressed in optimistic SF), is there a way to temper our optimism and inspire those who might be able to face these problems?
    Panelists: Andrea Hairston (mod), N.A. Ratnayake, Matthew Kressel, T.X. Watson, M.J. Cunniff

My Boskone 53 Schedule

Join me at Boskone (February 19-21, 2016) in Boston, MA for New England’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention. It’s going to be a fun weekend filled with books, film, art, music, gaming, and more. For more information about Boskone, check out The Boskone Blog, Twitter, and Facebook. Visit the Boskone website to register.

I will be appearing in five panels, a reading, and a book release party. Details below!

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I’ll be at Arisia 2015!

I’m excited and honored to be appearing on four panels at this year’s Arisia 2015 science fiction convention, coming up this January 16-19. I plan to be there for every day of the con, and I’ll post a list of panels that I will be attending as an audience member later, once I’ve had a chance to digest the program.

Below are the panels I’ll be appearing on as a panelist.

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