About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Monday, August 31, 2009

Eric Reynolds' party in Kansas City

On Saturday night, Eric Reynolds held a party at his beautiful home in Kansas City, mainly as a reunion for his old friends from college ... but timed to coincide with Jenny's visit to Kansas City (well, and mine I guess ). For those who don't know, Eric is the owner of Hadley Rille Books, the publisher of Jenny's The Priestess and the Slave. The entertainment included bagpipes, matched Toto dogs, and a short reading by Jenny, which went well even though she has been struggling with a bit of illness for the past week, having inherited the bug (or something like it) that somewhat blighted my life when we were visiting Udo Schuklenk a few weeks ago and for the first couple of days of the Montreal Worldcon.

Eric has now posted some good photos from the party, so go and have a look. To whet your appetites, I'm filching one of Eric, Jenny, and me (hope this is okay, Eric!).

The Grand Opening up of the Solar System

Baby boomers like me who came of age in the 1970s and date their first reading of science books to the 1960s learned that Mercury is in a tidally-locked orbit around the Sun, so that one side is always in ferocious sunlight while the other is exposed to the near-absolute zero of space. By the mid-60s, that was known to be untrue, but it took years before the truth percolated into popular culture. We learned that Jupiter has twelve moons (over sixty have now been counted) and Saturn nine (we now count 61, in addition to the matter making up the sixth planet's rings).

The nine planets were Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto - that had been the situation since Pluto's discovery in 1930, when our parents were young. But in 1978, the astronomical dot of Pluto was resolved into the binary system of Pluto and Charon, two relatively small bodies in orbit around a common center. Pluto itself has turned out to be far smaller than we baby boomers were taught. By the early 1970s, initial estimates had been scaled down, and it was thought to be comparable in mass to Mars. Certainly, we thought, it was larger than Mercury.

In fact, it is far smaller than Earth's moon and only about a twentieth of the mass of Mercury - the next smallest of the "nine planets" we were taught about.

Until very recently, astronomy needed no formal definition of a planet, but this has changed as our knowledge of the Solar System has increased. During the 1990s we discovered a toroidal region of space known as the Kuiper Belt, which contains not only Pluto but many other objects of similar composition and with similarly unusual orbits when compared to those of the eight larger planets. With a better understanding of the Solar System, astronomers came to understand Pluto as the largest of these Kuiper Belt objects, all of which are very different from any of the other eight planets, and much smaller. Astronomers began to find large objects even beyond the Kuiper Belt, all contributing to what I call the Grand Opening Up of the Solar System.

Against this background, astronomers sought a more precise method of classifying the various large objects that had been identified in orbit around the Sun. Any definition of a planet that included Pluto but definitively excluded the smaller, but similar, Charon, and disqualified such bodies as Quaoar, Sedna, and Eris, would seem arbitrary. Eris, discovered in early 2005, lies beyond the Kuiper Belt in a region of space referred to as the Scattered Disc. It is significantly larger than Pluto, and would surely qualify as a planet if Pluto continued to qualify.

There is an exciting story to be told about the Grand Opening Up of the Solar System, how it led to efforts in 2006 to develop definitions of such categories as "planet", and how it still goes on. A well-informed science journalist with good publishing connections could get a wonderful book out of this story, in the process telling the public much about contemporary astronomy and why the study of our own Solar System is currently in such a wonderful ferment. I'd like to read that book. It could explain how the category "dwarf planet" was invented for bodies such as Pluto and Eris, why some large bodies have not yet been classified until we know more about them (Charon is one of these, as is Vesta, the second largest body in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter), what plans are afoot to investigate these bodies, and much else.

Unfortunately, I can't imagine Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum writing that book. Where I see excited astronomers responding rationally and reasonably to the Grand Opening Up of the Solar System - refining the categories and definitions that they use in their work - they see a bunch of mean scientists taking an opportunity to give the public a poke in the eye by taking away its beloved ninth planet. This is a pity. They could have done some positive communication here, in the opening chapter of Unscientific America. Instead, they produced a dull and inaccurate narrative that is meant to support their theory that out-of-touch (or even mean-natured and anti-populist) scientists are largely to blame for America's alarming degree of scientific illiteracy.

What a waste of a great opportunity to practice what they preach, and improve the public's understanding of what is really going on in science.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Russell finishes Unscientific America

I'm warming up to write a full-scale review of this book, but probably not here. For now, what I'll say in its favour is that it's clearly written. In fact, I found the style quite enjoyable. Mind you, something a bit denser might have been necessary if the arguments were going to be explored in any depth. What tends to happen is that a very simple argument gets presented in the main text, but there will then be a lengthy comment in the notes on anything at all tricky. The notes tend to say, "On the one hand this, on the other hand that," when what is really needed is some deep analysis of premises and arguments ... but at least they do seem to realise that there are problems for some of their claims.

Unfortunately there's a depressing shallowness about the book, perhaps because so much of it reads like an attempt to rationalise the authors' pet prejudices on what are really quite peripheral issues: "Pluto should still be classified as a planet!" "Carl Sagan was persecuted by the scientific establishment!" "PZ Myers is a big meanie!" In all of these examples, the proposition is dubious, as is the connection to the actual argument (something about the importance of getting more of the American population to understand something about science). Still, credit where credit is due: Mooney and Kirshenbaum write well enough from sentence to sentence.

Though they have rendered the book unreadable, at least for me, with the decision to use enormously long notes for any points where they feel that (slightly) more sophisticated argument is required, someone who doesn't care too much about following the argument in real time, as it were, could read the main text very quickly, then savour the notes at leisure. That seems to me like a very strange way to read a book, but I can only assume that something like this is what the authors had in mind. Maybe they'll turn up here and tell us. All in all, it's a pretty disastrous structure that they've chosen, but it might work for some readers, and again, the quality of the actual prose is not the problem. No one should doubt that they can write. The question is, can they argue fairly and in depth? On that score, well not so much.

Friday, August 28, 2009

In Kansas City ... and reading Unscientific America

I am now in Kansas City after getting here from San Antonio via a circuitous and inefficient route (which, nonetheless, involved getting a cheap airfare). I've spent much of my time in the air reading Unscientific America, which I've now almost finished. One chapter to go.

I'm going to keep most of my powder dry until I have time to write a proper review (not necessarily here), but I'm currently trying to digest the arguments, and I still need to read that last chapter (which will reveal all the solutions to America's woes of scientific illiteracy). But I'll just note one thing about the book that has been driving me nuts. Huge amounts of its substantive argument are tucked away in long expository notes at the back - often a page or more long. This makes the book almost unreadable.

For Zeus's sake, guys, next time find a way to work this sort of material into the text. It wouldn't be very difficult. Right now, the book reads like a first draft, and, to be blunt, it should not have been published in this form.

If expository material is worth including at all, it should be in the main text. If it's not important enough for that, it shouldn't be included; save it for another book. In this case, much of the substantive argument is pursued in the notes, and a reader has to be flicking back and forth constantly to try to follow the logic of what is actually being put. It's incredibly frustrating. Notes are for detailed citations, the occasional brief peripheral comment or qualification, or sometimes for scholarly apparatus such as the original of a quote in another language that has been translated in the main text. Or sometimes for (brief) witticisms. But not for the guts of the arguments.

If your editor told you to do it this way, he or she should be fired, because it makes your book a nightmare to read. Whatever its faults, it's quite lucidly written, so why spoil that with such an unfriendly structure?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Russell buys a copy of Unscientific America

It pains me to part with my hard-earned loot and to add to the royalties of its authors, given their unpleasant marketing tactics, but I do need to read this book, and there's no prospect at this stage of picking up a review copy.

Now that I've gone so far, I will read the book as charitably as I possibly can, and any review of it that I might publish will be scrupulously fair. The authors themselves don't show this approach in their public pronouncements on people they see as enemies, such as PZ Myers, but my reputation as a book reviewer depends on my efforts to produce reviews that are accurate, and actually useful to readers. This means pointing out what seem to me the weaknesses (if I discern some) and strengths (again, assuming I discern some) of whatever I happen to be reading. So that's what I'll aim at, as always.

I'll get to it as soon as I can, but it's in a queue.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ophelia Benson is on a roll

Here she is giving a good rap over the knuckles to Karen Armstrong. You go, Ophelia.

Since this thread is already getting a few comments (up to five already), let's provide a sample of what Ophelia is saying, right here on the front of the thread:

it is always possible to spin words about God (or to be silent about God and consider that a branch of theology) - but we live in the real world, where people think God is a literal person who makes rules that we have to obey (no condoms - flog that woman for showing some hair at the edge of her hijab - kill all the infidels - no stem cell research for you - don't do any work on Saturday and that includes flipping a light switch - slaughter that goat by cutting its throat in the approved way and no other). The world would be a much better place (which is not to say it would be perfect - no, the "new" atheists don't think everything would be perfect if religion vanished) if the Armstrong idea of God were the only idea of God - but that's not how it is. She seems to be telling us we're confused about what God really is - but that's a mug's game. Nobody knows 'what God really is' - whatever anyone says is made up, so it seems futile to try to say one version is right while another is wrong.

Later in Ophelia's own thread at B&W, Eric McDonald says, very sensibly:

If [Armstrong] had said - which is true - that there is an apophatic tradition within Christianity, and that that way has made sense to a few (mainly mystics), who sought Christ in suffering or resignation, say, like Weil or Eckhardt, that would be one thing. But to suggest, as she does, over and over again, that this has all along been the primary understanding of what it means to speak of God, is [wrong], and all the credentials in the world will not serve to exculpate her.

Hear! Hear!

Photos from Austin meet-up last Thursday night

In case there's any doubt, that's me in the light blue T-shirt. Jenny really was there, but doesn't appear in any of these pics, as she was running around taking them.

That's Elze Hamilton, of the Austin CFI, with the laptop and the small primate; even more thanks to her for organising the night.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

San Antonio

This is meant to be the most restful part of the trip - six nights in San Antonio with no gigs to do, and no real responsibilities except to pass on regards from various people to Damien Broderick and Barbara Lamar, which we've dutifully done.

Last night, we all went out for an excellent Mexican meal. Jenny and I have been swimming in the warm pool. Somewhere amongst all that, I completed an article on the representation of technoscience in science fiction, for Indian academic Amit Sarwal (to be included in a book Amit is editing, to be published in India next year).

We hung out with Damien and Barbara this afternoon, and will have more chance to catch up with them over the next few days. We've already seen the formidable collection of Damien's recent/current publications. He's been incredibly productive of late (and of course he also has an essay in 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists , which will be in book stores almost before you know it).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Meet-up in Austin, Texas

Thanks to Elze Hamilton for arranging the great meet-up of Austin-based secularists, sceptics, atheists, etc., at Threadgills last (i.e. Thursday) night. It was great to get such a good turnout in honour of me and Jenny, at quite short notice.

We just met informally over dinner, but we had about 20 people in all - most of whom did not know each other, as they came from a diversity of local groups. The discussion was animated but constructive and friendly, flyers for 50 Voices of Disbelief were distributed, some new connections were made, and I finally tried the world-famous chicken fried steak.

I'll be posting some photos when I get a chance.

Thanks, too, to everyone who attended.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Edmund Standing on the far left's campaign to suppress criticism of Islam

This article by Edmund Standing should be compulsory reading. Standing does a great job of exposing the totalising narrative of the far left, with its quasi-religious apocalypticism and its comprehensive prescriptions for human behaviour. Not all religious positions are dangerous to our liberties (the syncretic polytheism of the ancient Romans wasn't so bad, for example), and not all dangerous ideologies are religious in the sense of postulating supernatural entities. However, many current religious positions endanger our freedoms because they have strong totalitarian, dogmatic, apocalyptic tendencies, and they attempt to use the power of the state to suppress contrary views. These positions should be critiqued and resisted. The same applies to quasi-religions such as Marxism and Nazism.

In this case, we see hardline Marxists attempting to characterise any criticism of Islam, as a body of beliefs and sanctioned practices, as something akin to racism. It is nothing of the sort.

Hardline Marxists are not friends of liberal secularists. Marx did have some worthwhile sociological insights, but a dogmatic and comprehensive Marxist worldview shares all the worst characteristics of the monotheistic religions.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Earth a century hence

I took part in this show, entitled "Earth: A Century Hence" for the SETI Institute's Are We Alone? radio program the other day. It's quite a long show, and I'm the last of the three people who were interviewed (the others were James Lovelock and Cary Fowler). I'm talking here mainly in my capacity as editor of the Journal of Evolution and Technology, and thus about the prospect (including the possible attractions and dangers) of using new technologies to enhance our physical and cognitive capacities.

I was pushing the line that a new kind of evolution - mediated by technology, and quite different from biological evolution by the slow mechanisms of natural selection, etc. - is now a prospect, that the idea is increasingly familiar and plausible, and requires discussion.

Having listened to the show last night, my verdict on myself is that there are some aspects of my speech that I could work on, especially for radio - but I suspect that most people who are not professional actors with carefully honed voices are horrified by how they sound on air. Voice mannerisms that might even be endearing (let's hope) in real life seem odd on the radio, where there are no accompanying facial expressions or gestures. However, it's not too bad for anyone not completely thrown by the Australian accent. At least I don't sound especially nervous (actually, I wasn't nervous ... Seth Shostak and Molly Bentley, whom I dealt with off-air, were good at putting me at ease, and seemed like very nice people). As for the substance, I think I did a pretty good job of putting a sane face on the ideas.

Have a listen for yourself if you have a stray hour.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Happy Birthday To Me!!

Well, not until tomorrow, here in Austin, Texas, where it's still the 17th. But it's already the 18th Australian time, so maybe I can spread my birthday over two days.

Also, happy birthday to others who share the same day, especially one very dear friend back in Melbourne whom I just wrote to for "our" birthday ("Hi!" if you're reading this).

Currently, we are having a very quiet post-Armadallicon day. It's Jenny's turn to feel a bit unwell, and it's too hot to venture outside right now ... but we obviously need to crank ourselves up and do touristy stuff in the next few days.

Monday, August 17, 2009

On self-censorship and the NCSE

In my previous post I complained about calls for individual atheists to engage in self-censorship and thus shut up about their views. This is the kind of thing that Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum have been advocating for months now to their great discredit.

Predictably, perhaps, one of the responses was a tu quoque - the claim that I'm just as bad for asking bodies such as the NCSE to engage in similar self-censorship. But there is no analogy here. Even if tu quoque arguments are all too predictable, the idea that there is an analogy is a disturbing one.

It is important that there be public debate about the truth or falsity of religions. That debate best comes from individuals or from groups that are explicitly pro-religion (e.g. the Catholic Church) or anti-religion (e.g. Atheist Nexus). If an individual presents an argument about such matters, we should deal with the substance, not call for self-censorship, even though we should be legally permitted to do so. If the Catholic Church presents its bizarre and often miserable doctrines, we should deal with any arguments, perhaps mock the doctrines, but not call for it to be silent.

However, there are very good reasons why an organisation such as NCSE should present itself as not being such a partisan body, with its own theological opinions, but simply as being concerned to defend the teaching of established science, including the substantive truth of evoutionary theory. No one I know of (not me, not Jerry Coyne) is saying it should lose its legal right to say "religion X is true" or "religion Y is false" or "philosophy of religion idea Z is true". We are saying that when it makes such claims it becomes a different sort of body, one that now has a dog in the substantive fight about the truth of such ideas ... and it thus begins to advocate views that are contrary to those of many actual/potential members and supporters.

Of course it is (and should be) legally entitled to do so, but people like me and Jerry Coyne believe it is not a good idea. It would be wise for the likes of Eugenie Scott to listen to us carefully, even if they are ultimately not convinced.

There are many reasons why various organisations with defined missions and diverse memberships should stick closely to their briefs and decline to take stances on various controversial issues where no such stance is required. Thus, there are reasons for them to engage in what you might want to call "self-censorship" if you are trying to make a smartarse tu quoque point - reasons that do not apply to individuals.

If someone suggests that there are good reasons for the University of Chicago not to take an official view on the existence of God, that is a perfectly sensible suggestion. It is not an improper call for self-censorship. But the situation is very different if someone says that an individual faculty member should shut up about religion. Again, if someone suggests that a broadly based political party refrain from taking a position on such an issue, that is usually a sensible suggestion; there are good reasons for such parties to avoid sectarianism. The same applies with the NCSE - it is legally entitled to say what it likes, but if it does so it will turn into a different sort of organisation, and current members or supporters will be entitled to say it no longer represents them and to leave it (or cease giving it whatever financial or other assistance they have given it in the past).

Generally speaking, arguments about what stances should be taken by organisations in which a diverse range of people have some kind of stake are not analogous to aguments about what individual people should say when they are merely expressing their individual views.

All of this is well known, so it is either ignorant or disingenuous to suggest that there is some kind of analogy between calls for individuals to censor themselves and calls for the NCSE to avoid taking certain unnecessary stances.

Sure, the NCSE can take a substantive stance on religion, philosophy of religion, etc., if it wants (e.g. to try to win over certain kinds of Christians). It can legally go beyond taking the fairly narrow stances it has in the past, which everyone on my side of the argument agrees with (e.g. that evolutionary theory is actually true, that attempts to teach creationism or ID in public schools breach the First Amendment, etc.). I fully defend its legal right to do so.

But if it goes beyond its fairly narrow brief, and starts to say more about the correctness of various controversial ideas in religion or philosophy of religion, it will no longer speak for so many people. People who disagree with it will then get to argue with it publicly, form their own separate organisations, etc. The NCSE will need to balance that prospect against what is actually gained by supporting a theological doctrine such as NOMA. In this case, I suspect that very little is gained, because Christian fundamentalists are no more attracted to NOMA than they are to evolution; Christian fundamentalism is an integrated set of doctrines that involves substantial claims about an historical fall, a confined human history, a partly analogical relationship between Adam and Christ, etc. Conversely, the tiny minority of Christians who believe in NOMA already have no problem with evolution.

There is very little to be gained by telling Christian fundamentalists that there are certain very liberal Christian positions that are arguably compatible with evolution.

These are all considerations that apply to the policy stances chosen by a body such as the NCSE - and even more to more official bodies such as the AAAS - in a way that is massively disanalogous to the sincere views of individuals.

Once again, this is the kind of thing that is well known and should go without saying. Such obvious points should be part of the tacit background to the discussion, but it seems that they must now be spelled out explicitly, as if to slow children.

These meta-level debates are, unfortunately, a time-wasting distraction.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

For those who haven't seen it, more stupidity from the Colgate Twins

While travelling in North America, I've been busy catching planes, surviving airports, meeting new people, and squeezing in some much-needed work that I've promised to various folks. Commenting on the day-to-day antics of the Colgate Twins has been low on my list of priorities ... but, yes, I've been more or less keeping up via the fine blogs and sites of such people as Jerry Coyne, Ophelia Benson, Richard Dawkins, and PZ Myers. Just in case any of my readers have not seen it, and have not become totally bored with this issue, here's the latest nonsensical rant from the twins. Enjoy. Or not.


Edit: All the above said, I should add that I support the entirety of what Jason Rosenhouse has to say on this topic in his most recent comment.

In particular, I join with Jason and others in objecting to the metaphors of violence that the twins have taken to using whenever they characterise the actions or speech of the people they have constructed as opponents - all those horrible "New Atheists", such as Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins. More specifically still, I object to the over-the-top language that has been used to describe the views of the small number of people who have, relatively recently, protested the more religion-friendly statements made on behalf of the the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).

The position is that some of us, most notably Jerry Coyne but also me among them, have argued in a civil and constructive style that the NCSE should not endorse any particular religious view, or claim that certain religious views that it believes to be mainstream are compatible with the scientific image of the world, including the well-established facts of biological evolution. Rather, the NCSE should concentrate on the purely secular (and intellectually overwhelming) arguments for evolution. It should not, furthermore, publish official documents that appear to endorse a highly controversial philosophical position such as the doctrine of Non-Overlapping Magisteria. Nor, however, should it express the view that evolution creates problems for some, or many, religious positions. That claim may well be true (I believe it is), but the NCSE should concentrate on the secular arguments for evolutionary theory, allowing the implications for religion to fall where they may.

Regardless whether we are right or wrong about this, we are entitled to express such a view, and it is in the public interest that we do so. The Colgate Twins have - and should continue to have - every legal right to exhort us to self-censorship, but such self-censorship is not in the public interest, and it is morally reprehensible for them to urge it ... rather than simply addressing our arguments on their merits. The twins have moved the debate to a meta-level where our actual arguments are not addressed and we are forced to defend our very right to put them. This is a time-wasting distraction. Worse, we are presented as vicious and violent; we are demonised, rather than being treated as reasonable, peaceful people with a valuable role to play in public debate on serious issues.

When faced by this, we quite properly respond with anger and contempt. There is an appropriate time for those emotions - a time when they are healthy - and this is one of them. The twins have shown that they are not just reasonable people who happen to disagree with us on important issues. That would be fine. But they have no rational arguments relating to the issues of substance; instead, they are purveyors of hatred and bigotry who choose to demonise their opponents. They choose to treat us as beyond the pale of substantive discussion of our ideas.

Reading in Montreal

... and here I am, reading expressively if croakily, the day I got a bit of voice back.

Not the Colgate Twins

This photo of Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk, soon to be terrors of theists everywhere, was taken about 10 or 12 days ago in Kingston - a day or so before I lost my voice.

Once again, though, it was great to catch up with Udo. Maybe I'll be a bit healthier next time. At least Udo is doing his best - with that huge grin - to provide competition for our friends the Colgate Twins.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Now in Austin ... after spending yesterday afternoon/evening in taxis, planes, and airports. Had a very long sleep last night, so maybe I'm still not completely better? Then again, I was insomniac for quite a long time, adapting to yet another strange bed, and may not have spent an excessive time actually asleep.

Must now turn back into a human being, then go and register for Armadillocon. Also need to be back here at 3 pm, local time, for a radio interview with Seth Shostak. He wants to talk about transhumanism, but maybe there'll be an opportunity to slip in something about 50VoD. In any event, there's much to be said for and against transhumanism.

Edit: Just did the interview. No chance to talk about something as mundane as 50VoD, since we were very much focused on speculation about super-technology. Greatly enjoyed the interview, though, and hopefully will be able to provide a URL for it a little down the track ... so you can have a listen for yourselves.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Some good news from Alison Goodman

Meanwhile, back in Australia, my close friend Alison Goodman has had her novel Two Pearls of Wisdom, a.k.a. Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, a.k.a. Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye, shortlisted for the Young Adult Fiction prize in the 2009 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards! The outcome will be known on 1 September.

By the way, I've just fixed the link at the side of this blog to Alison's website; she changed it a while back. Go and have a look at what Al is up to.

Edit: And while I was on the job, I just fixed the sidelink for Damien Broderick's site - so have a look at what my good expatriate pal in Texas is up to lately. I'm looking forward to catching up with Damien soon.

Quiet days in Montreal

Am having a couple of quiet post-con days in lovely Montreal, prior to flying to Austin tomorrow for Armadillocon. It should be a fairly lazy, touristy week in Austin, with little lined up at this stage, though I'll be doing a radio interview with Seth Shostak on Friday and will certainly be meeting lots of people. In fact, a highlight next week will be meeting Natasha Vita-More and Max More, who are promising us a good time for my birthday on the 18th.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Worldcon winds down

The worldcon is officially over, though there are still the last-night parties, drinks, etc., to come. (My blog is set on Australian time, so this post appears to be written on Tuesday, but it is about 6 pm on Monday as I write here in Montreal).

My last official activity was moderating a panel, earlier today, on genetic engineering and other transformative technologies. This went well - in fact, I've had fantastically positive feedback for both of the panels that I moderated, i.e. this one and the one on Watchmen a couple of days ago. Either the latest tweaks I've made to my panel moderation technique worked well ... or the general standard was low and I looked good in comparison. There may be an element of the latter, alas, in that a lot of moderators don't think carefully about their role, but hopefully there was also some of the former. I hope so, because I enjoy few things more than running a successful panel with fine speakers and an enthusiastic audience (conference and convention organisers, do take note).

I had to pull out of four of my planned nine events, due to illness, but one of these was a book signing. The person who had brought a lot of material for me to sign caught up with me after the Watchmen panel, so all was well. Fortunately, I don't have such a fanbase that I was likely to have disappointed many people.

The biggest disappointment, from my viewpoint, was my inability to turn up as planned to moderate the Terminator panel, which would have been a blast. I hear that it went well without me, which is a good thing. I suppose. ;)

It was an odd convention for me, since I basically missed the first two days with illness and had to baby myself for the other three. I spent little time socialising, but thankfully I caught up with some old friends and managed to make some new ones. I was especially pleased today to have a drink with Joe and Gay Haldeman - whom I've known since 1980, when we were all much younger - having missed them throughout. They will be in Australia next year for the worldcon in Melbourne so that will also be great. As I told them, they are almost honorary Aussies, since they've been so supportive of Australian conventions over the years, and are so well-loved in the science fiction community in Australia.

Jenny has had a much more hectic convention than I have ... not on quite as many program items, but partying a lot harder. As I write, she is snoozing gently to catch up on sleep ... and in preparation for more partying in a couple of hours.

Onward! to Armadillocon, in Austin, in a few days. We joined this at the very last moment, so we are not on the program at all, but we should again be able to catch up with some old friends and to meet some interesting new people.

Hugo Awards 2009

Presented at: Anticipation, Montréal, Quebec, August 6-10, 2009

Toastmaster: Julie Czerneda, with translation by Yves Menaud

Base design: Dave Howell

Awards Administration: Jeff Orth

•Best Novel: The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury UK)
•Best Novella: “The Erdmann Nexus”, Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)
•Best Novelette: “Shoggoths in Bloom”, Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s Mar 2008)
•Best Short Story: “Exhalation”, Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
•Best Related Book: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008, John Scalzi (Subterranean Press)
•Best Graphic Story: Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones, Written by Kaja & Phil Foglio, art by Phil Foglio, colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
•Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: WALL-E Andrew Stanton & Pete Docter, story; Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon, screenplay; Andrew Stanton, director (Pixar/Walt Disney)
•Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Joss Whedon, & Zack Whedon, & Jed Whedon, & Maurissa Tancharoen, writers; Joss Whedon, director (Mutant Enemy)
•Best Editor Short Form: Ellen Datlow
•Best Editor Long Form: David G. Hartwell
•Best Professional Artist: Donato Giancola
•Best Semiprozine: Weird Tales, edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal
•Best Fan Writer: Cheryl Morgan
•Best Fanzine: Electric Velocipede edited by John Klima
•Best Fan Artist: Frank Wu
And the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (presented by Dell Magazines): David Anthony Durham

Monday, August 10, 2009

Stretching the vocal cords

Well, I got through my panel on horror this afternoon, a certain amount of schmoozing thereafter, another panel on the Alien/s franchise, and then a long (though I don't know how much footage if any will be used) TV interview about Alien and Terminator.

I'm still not participating much in the worldcon, but I'm actually starting to feel as if I'm here. All panels/readings that I've been on seemed to go well. Not sure how I'll seem on TV - I'm always more comfortable with a live audience than a TV camera (not that I've often faced the latter). Jenny is doing a great job of flying the family's flag in my semi-absence (as a World Fantasy Award judge this year, she suddenly finds herself with quite a high profile, and I'm sure she's enjoying it - good on her!).

Anyway, if all goes well and there are no relapses I might be able to enjoy the rest of this trip much more than looked likely a few days ago.

Oh, and the Hugo Awards have just been announced ... but I didn't go along to the ceremony. Guess I'll know the results very soon, but not quite yet.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sticking my toe - or rather my vocal cords - in the water

My author reading is scheduled in an hour. I think I now have enough voice to front it even if Jenny ends up doing most of the actual reading, as she's kindly volunteered to do (I've chosen a particularly racy passage for her from my story "Smoke City", involving death, explicit sex, and a lot of blood).

A more difficult test will come tonight (Saturday night Montreal time) when I see whether I'm up to chairing a panel on Watchmen. Wish me luck!

Edit: In the upshot, I decided to read from "Manannan's Children", rather than the X-rated passage from "Smoke City". Miraculously, I managed to croak my way, unassisted, through the entire half-hour reading. Now to recover for my panel at 7 pm.

Further edit: ... and the panel on Watchmen seemed to go quite well. I even received a couple of compliments afterwards for my skills as a moderator. Now to see how my vocal cords are feeling tomorrow morning, after the day's excitement.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Listed as a CFI speaker

I have been listed as a speaker for the Center for Inquiry, which is expanding its official list, including in Australia (at this stage, I see that Tamas Pataki, Ian Robinson, and John Perkins have also been added).

So, if you have any speaking engagements for me when I return home in a month or so ... I now carry the official CFI brand.

Friday, August 07, 2009

This week in Canada

As a lot of my Facebook friends have already seen, this has been a mixed week for me. It was great visiting Udo Schuklenk in Kingston, Ontario, and meeting Udo for the first time - as well as his friends, including recent JET contributor Colin Farrelly and 50VoD contributors Adele Mercier and Christine Overall. Many thanks go to Udo, who was a kind and gracious host. Thanks also to Adele for hosting the fine dinner party on Tuesday night.

The downside is that I started to become ill about the time we were leaving Toronto for Kingston. By yesterday morning I had lost my voice, which means I'm having to pull out of most of my programming for the worldcon (perhaps all of it, depending on how well I brush up over the next few days). Although I'm pissed off about this, there's nothing I can do about it, so I'm just concentrating at the moment on resting and getting better.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Kingston today, Montreal tomorrow

Here I am, safely ensconced at Udo's place in the small but lovely city of Kingston, Ontario ... Jenny and I have had a look around and we're being well looked after. I've just sent some answers to Kirkus Reviews re some questions about 50 Voices of Disbelief. Inevitably, I've picked up a bit of a bug on my travels, and poor Jenny is having to put up with the fact that it's currently making me snore at night - she looks very tired this morning (she's been unsuccessfully playing catch-up ever since being unable to sleep on the plane on the flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles). All is right with the world otherwise.

Tomorrow we head to Montreal for the WorldCon.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Off to Kingston

Off to Kingston by train today to meet up with Udo Schuklenk (and other folks at Queens University). Coincidentally, we've just been asked some questions about 50 Voices of Disbelief by someone from Kirkus Reviews, so we'll be able to compare thoughts this afternoon.

Sunday, August 02, 2009


As mentioned in the comments on the last post, we're now in Toronto. We're staying in a B&B in beautiful and historic Cabbagetown, and just spent a couple of hours on a tourist walk, gawking at the parks and the amazing real estate ... followed by drinks on the way back. It's relaxing here, and it's great to be enjoying summer at a time of year when the weather back home is miserable.

Will post somewhat intermittently on random touristy topics for the next days, I expect.