Boskone 53 Recap

What a wonderful weekend it was at Boskone! I had the pleasure of serving on five panels, one solo reading, and the Boskone Book Release Party. Below are the weekend’s highlights from my point of view.

My first panel was entitled Earth: We’re Stuck Here!. Moderator James Patrick Kelley led us in a lively discussion that took the contrarian view of spaceflight, with each member of the panel staking out different ground on the sliding scale of spaceflight optimist to pessimist. My own position was (and is) that human spaceflight enthusiasts are often too optimistic or hand-wavy about very real, serious challenges to human expansion beyond Earth’s orbit. My two areas of focus were Biology (encompassing not just radiation, but long term exposure to zero or low-G, birth, development, aging, and death in space, food, ecosystems, etc), and logistics (supply chain, manufacturing, replicability, reliability, etc). However, while I think these challenges will make human spaceflight much more difficult, costly, and time-consuming than many spaceflight enthusiasts think, I do still believe they are surmountable challenges. I remain pragmatically optimistic about the issues.

And, apparently, I had the quote of the evening.

My next panel was Key Moments in Space Travel. I enjoyed how this panel strove to go beyond the obvious moments of Yuri Gagarin’s first flight and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. As momentous as these moments were, they are also generally well known. We talked about the early X-15 program, our first forays into space, in which the pilots received their astronaut wings after the fact. I brought up Salyut 1, the first space station of any kind, marking humanity’s first attempt to establish a semi-permanent presence in space. Fellow panelists talked about Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia, and we reflected on the difficulties of spaceflight and the lessons learned from tragedy.  Finally, we looked ahead to what might shape our near future in spaceflight, with countries such as China and India setting out near term goals for their taikonauts and vyomanauts, respectively, as well as private space enterprise.

The panel 100 Years of Relativity kicked off a whirlwind Saturday afternoon of science and spaceflight. We discussed the history of Einstein’s infamous theory of warping spacetime as an explanation for our perception of gravity. We highlighted key observations in history that validated Einstein’s new view of the universe, such as the precession of the perihelion of Mercury, the bending of light rays as they pass near massive objects, gravitational redshift, frame dragging of spacetime around rotating massive objects, time dilation in a gravitational field, gravitational lensing, the existence of black holes, and (quite recently) LIGO’s direct observation of gravitational waves. We also touched on the social impact of General Relativity (Interstellar anyone?) and bit on how theories adapt and change over time.

Next up for me was The Year in Physics and Astronomy, where we discussed exciting new discoveries in two fields that have long had a symbiotic relationship with science fiction. We talked about Kepler 452b, one of the most promising candidates for an Earthlike planet outside of our solar system. Quantum effects observed in photosynthesis, flying a probe through a geyser on Enceladus, the New Horizons and Dawn missions, gravitational waves, pentaquarks, and baby universes being born inside quantum vacuum black holes rounded out a very diverse list of topics.

As Saturday afternoon passed into evening, I gave my first solo reading from my novel Red Soil Through Our Fingers. I proceeded directly to the Boskone 53 Book Party, where I got to meet many readers and fellow authors, several of whom picked up USB editions of the novel. So far, over two hundred copies of Red Soil Through Our Fingers have gone out into the world since the release last month. As people get around to reading and reviewing, I’m anxiously looking forward to seeing what readers think.

My final panel was Phun with Physics. We had a great crowd, doubly so considering that it was a Sunday afternoon panel! We highlighted some of the lesser-known quirky points in the history of Physics, such as early attempts to measure the speed of light, the Magedeberg spheres being used to demonstrate the power of vacuum, weighing and measuring the circumference of the Earth, debunking common misconceptions about Galileo and Archimedes, and looking at the important contributions of non-Western scientists who are often left out of the traditional Physics canon.

I’m delighted to report a major writer milestone: Boskone 53 marked the first time a fan I did not already know has asked for my autograph. It was right after one of my panels, and “Mark” approached the table with a print copy of We See a Different Frontier. He asked if I could sign the title page to my short story Remembering Turinam, which appeared in the anthology two years ago. I was so flabbergasted that I’m not exactly sure what I said or even if I can remember what my first real fan looks like. So Mark, if you’re out there reading this, please drop me a line! Thanks for your support and hopefully what I wrote was coherent.

Lastly, I’d like to congratulate Andrew Owens, a friend and member of my writer group, on a successful first stint as a part of con programming. Andrew was a panelist on multiple panels, moderated one superbly with no advance notice, and even led a solo workshop on Spaceflight in Science Fiction and Reality. Andrew writes for Asking How and Why, a new blog that translates complex science into clear explanations for the educated lay public. He also does some reviews of science fiction and nonfiction.

That’s all until next year Boskone! Thanks for an enlightening time.

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