14.0253 World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: 09/20/00

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 253.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
             Date: Wed, 20 Sep 2000 07:24:54 +0100
             From: "Eric S. Rabkin" <esrabkin@umich.edu>
             Subject: Re: 14.0236 AI, SciFi and the academic world
    Mark Nielsen asks if any members of HUMANIST were at the World Science 
    Fiction Convention in Chicago.  I was, along with three of the student 
    researchers from our Genre Evolution Project, reporting in the "academic 
    track" on the methods we've been developing, and some of the results to 
    date, in testing the hypothesis that cultural materials evolve as complex 
    adaptive systems using the American science fiction short story of the 20th 
    century as our current test corpus.  (For any who may want a glimpse, 
    please see http://www.umich.edu/~genreevo.)
    My impression is that there was more talking about the failure of fans and 
    academics to communicate than there was real failure to communicate.  In 
    fact, people were open, diverse, and generous in their conversation.  The 
    convention attracts pure fans--some of whom use these "cons" as a mainstay 
    of their social lives and may not even read much, but some of whom are 
    voracious readers with encyclopedic knowledge--as well as professional 
    writers, editors, critics, agents, and academics.  There are many people 
    who warrant multiple designations so the mix is vibrant.  In the public 
    panels--both academic track and otherwise--as well as the corridor 
    conversation, I think that this gathering often incites catalogic and 
    anecdotal discourse ("oh, that's like this other book I read, thing I saw, 
    conversation I had...") in greater proportion than, say, MLA, where the 
    balance toward analytic discourse is weighter (and sometimes more 
    ponderous).  But a convention (not called a conference in this case) is at 
    least as much for sparking imagination and acquaintance as it is for 
    fostering collaborative thinking.  Lots of fans took notes on what to read 
    or view next; lots of professionals (I'm thinking of one TV script writer 
    in particularwho moderated a non-ademic track panel on why TV SF is so 
    often so bad) had insights of great value and insight that few academics 
    would have come upon on their own.
    And then of course there are the many, wide-open of parties attended by 
    people with Vulcan ears.
    I recommend it.
    Eric S. Rabkin              734-764-2553 (Office)
    Dept of English             734-764-6330 (Dept)
    Univ of Michigan            734-763-3128 (Fax)
    Ann Arbor MI 48109-1003     esrabkin@umich.edu

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