Warning: This entry is probably only of interest to science fiction fans. I won't be offended if you skip it.
On the schedule it said that The Solitary Planet would start at 10am, but when I got to the room, the signs said 10:40. I wandered over to the Exhibition Hall to see if anything was going on. They’d had the art auction the night before, so you couldn’t even look at the pretty pictures.
As I mentioned before, the play was based on Stanlslaw Lem’s book Solaris, which has been the source of two movies as well. In this case, it was in Japanese of course, though they had English projected on the wall next to the performing area. In general, the basic themes of the novel were intact, and the main focus was on the character conflicts and questions about who was crazy and who could figure out what was going on. It’s really a worthwhile book, so I don’t want to give too much away. The setup goes like this: a psychologist is called to a distant research station in orbit above the mysterious planet called Solaris. Most of the research staff has been called back to Earth, but three remained behind, and one of them summoned the doctor. Once the psychologist arrives, he finds the station in a shambles and the three scientists behaving very strangely and not explaining anything. Then he starts to see things, namely his dead wife. She is not a hallucination; she is solid and can talk with him, though she does not seem to have much memory of the past. Each of the others has a comparable visitor. From then on out, the characters try to solve the mystery and face the demons brought up by their “guests.”
All in all it was quite well done, with a set consisting of one desk, two chairs, and a curtain for actors to go behind when they were not in the scene. A technician with a laptop provided the subtitles and music as well as controlling the lights.
The play finished a little after noon, and I rushed to a panel called “Defending Public Domain from Corporate Copyright Maximalism,” which again featured Cory Doctorow (it seemed I was following him around), along with Patrick Neilsen Hayden, Inge Heyer, and Naomi Novik. Doctorow expressed dismay at the arguments used by some of his compatriots in the electronic right arena. When they talk about information being free as a moral issue, they only confuse the matter and turn away people who might otherwise be convinced. Doctorow is against strict copyrighting on digital media because it is inherently impossible. Once information is in a digital form, whether it’s music, pictures, movies, books, or whatever, it can be copied, transformed, and distributed, and any attempted protections will only slow that process down. And any country that tries to mandate adherence to such inherently impractical restrictions will find that certain types of business move elsewhere, to countries with fewer restrictions. The American policy in this case has been to try to force other countries to accept to legal strategies that lobbyists for major media corporations have pushed through our legislative branch.
Doctorow, as part of his work with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has been a part of some very interesting conferences. He told of meetings held by the European Union about future media regulation. On the subject of providing on-demand video, they were proposing rules, and the basic idea was that any service or feature which provides value to the consumer should have a cost associated with it. Therefore, if a viewer wants the ability to pause or fast-forward the video, the owner of the content has the right to set limits on that. So the player and the distribution technology have to be able to turn off the fast-forward function. There was also a discussion about pausing. How long should a person be able to pause a video before they have to pay for it again? How long would a person normally need to pause a video? How long would a nursing mother need to care for her child before she can get back to the watching she paid for? Do you remember the old days where if you bought a video tape or a DVD you could just watch it in whatever manner you wanted? The industry representatives were also trying to devise a payment scheme for multiple players. What about the child of divorced parents who buys a movie at mom’s house, but doesn’t finish watching it and wants to finish it over the weekend at dad’s place? Their solution? She can call the copyright restriction office of the content owner and explain the situation (just like you have to do sometimes with Windows licensing on your PC). They would then unlock the movie for her to watch on a second player.
The situation is already somewhat ridiculous. If you’re an American and you take a vacation in Europe, where you discover a European movie you like and buy it on DVD, when you take it home, you will find that even though you paid fair price for a legitimate copy, you are not allowed to watch it on your American DVD player (even if the movie is not available in the US). Does this make sense? Whom is it protecting?
My plan for the next session was one in which Silverberg was listed to participate along with several Japanese authors. I went by the slated room, but it was packed and Silverberg did not seem to be there, so I picked an alternate: “Upcoming Books from Tor.” Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Tom Doherty went through their calendar and talked about forthcoming titles, most of which seemed to be part of fantasy series.
After that, I checked out a little bit of anime at the Rocket Girls panel. It was almost all in Japanese with no interpreter nearby (or maybe there was, but I sat near the back because I intended to sneak out early). After a little introduction, they showed what seemed to be the first episode of a series. It was one of those anime shows that’s a frustrating mixture of good and stupid. In any case, the story was just a setup for the real action that was to come, and maybe someday I’ll see more of it. I certainly would give it another chance.
My final panel of the con was “Living with Another Writer” with panelists Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber. As I expected, the audience was fairly small, a dozen or so people in a large room. They talked a while about their accommodations for each other’s schedules and habits. Before they married, she had actually had a regular job where she went to an office and so on, something which he has never done (by the time he graduated from college he was making enough money as a writer that he never had to get a “day job”), and he insisted that if they were to live together, she would have to work freelance. He was much too attached to his lifestyle where he can on the spur of the moment decide to go to France for a month or whatever, without having to get the approval of her boss. She agreed and made the big jump into the uncertain waters of self-employment. They discussed their schedules (he’s a morning person, she is not), and the degree to which they pass work by each other. They also ended up talking a bit about their three cats. After the panel finished, I got a chance to chat with the two of them for a bit. Silverberg told me how the previous panel (the one where I didn’t see him and left) had actually been the most interesting one of the con, because he had a chance to interact with some Japanese writers. I got a couple of books signed (one of the Chinese ones plus a Japanese copy of Nightwings). We talked a little about China and the changes taking place here. We are all concerned about how their headlong plunge into modernization might be damaging the planet’s environment, and I related some of the statements I’ve heard from the government here indicating they are seriously trying to alleviate the negative impact.
I made one last visit to the Exhibition Hall to get a couple of pictures.
This is a glider that was built by some fans of the movie Nausicaa by Hayao Miyazaki. It’s patterned after the one-person jet wing in the movie.
This one has actually flown. I took a picture of the picture that proved it.
And the Japanese are pretty keen on robots. Here’s a demonstration of some toys.
I saw some more interesting characters on the way out.
And there you have it. One big science fiction convention. Somehow I got through the entire thing without attending a single room party, and caught neither the masquerade nor the Hugo Awards ceremony. But all in all it was fun, and I’m glad I went. Next year’s WorldCon will be in Denver right in the midst of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, so I won’t be able to go. I think 2009 will be Montreal, which could be nice, since I’ve always wanted to visit there.
Random thought: Even catgirls have to check their email from time to time.
Seattle in 2011!
I have some more photos around the city of Yokohama, but they'll have to wait for another post.