By Ensign Daniel Friend
One of the niftiest things about working for a publishing company is the opportunity I get to represent TM Publishing at conventions. From August 30 to September 3, I got to go to the 70th World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention, Chicon 7, in Chicago, Illinois. As managing editor of Emerald Sky Magazine and Emerald Sky Books, I felt right at home among my fellow “fen” (the plural of “fan” used during that weekend).
There are more things that happen at Worldcon than any one person can possibly hope to experience. There were the Seiun Awards, the Prometheus Awards, the Chesley Awards, the Sideways Awards, the Kindred, Parallax, and Golden Duck Awards, and, of course, the Hugo Awards. (Click on the name of each award for explanatory external links.)
But despite the impressive number of awards ceremonies and the cavernous dealers’ room, most of my time was spent at panels of one sort or another. Experts like Geoff Landis and G. David Nordley gave their opinions on the future of space exploration, astronaut Story Musgrave related his adventures in zero-G, and writers great and small shared their insights on the craft and the business of writing. (I particularly enjoyed a panel entitled “Why I Love My Editor.”)
Amid readings by the greats like David Brin, Hugo-winning (and TM-published) Mary Robinette Kowal, and the hilarious John Scalzi was a little-noticed 6-part panel on the craft of worldbuilding—an essential skill for anyone writing fiction, especially the speculative kind. The first panel convened at 9:00 am on Saturday, September 1, the first event of the morning. It was composed of authors Nancy Fulda, Dani and Etyan Kollin (brothers who look about as similar as I do to my own), Derek Kunsken, and Jay Lake. Between them all, the room did not stop laughing for an hour and a half.
It was quickly discovered that a scribe was needed to record and, if possible, organize the creative ramblings of the panelists. Creation is a violent process in the natural world, and even in the imaginary world it can create sparks. (Or, as the case was, giant lightning arcs from a gas giant to its moon. But I’m getting ahead of myself.) Sitting in the front row, I volunteered my services as a scribe. I was also, as you can see from the picture above, wearing a Star Trek uniform, complete with light-up toy phaser, that I’d had since I was nine years old and had subsequently grown into. Dani Kollin immediately christened me “Ensign Friend,” and Derek Kunsken handed me the all-powerful sharpie. For those of you who were there (or who might just be interested in writing in this open-source world for LoneStarCon 3), here’s the rundown of the first panel’s notes:
About 0.2 AU from a red dwarf star orbits a gas giant named Lessa. Around Lessa, in an elliptical, non-equatorial orbit, is a moon called Mora that is twice the size of Earth. It’s a rock ball with a rotating iron core and an axial tilt of 89 degrees. The erratic orbit gives Mora gravitationally driven tectonics. Because the gas giant also has a fast-rotating iron core, the intense magnetic fields of these two bodies often result in an energy interchange. This usually takes the form of giant bolts of lightning arcing from the gas giant to its moon. The atmosphere of Mora (at 1.5 atm of pressure) is usually optically transparent, but the concentrations of noble gases (it was made from the same stuff as the gas giant, remember) tend to fluoresce when lightning from Lessa strikes the moon. In addition to this wacky weather, there are floating islands of rock at some places in the planet, the water oceans of the moon contain significant amounts of natural alcohol, the atmosphere is slowly reducing, and the red dwarf star looks like the eye of Sauron taking up half the sky. There are 42 other substantial moons orbiting Lessa, and 3.14 other planets in the system. (The .14 planet means whatever you want it to mean, and that Pi Guy is awesome.)
Cool enough world for you yet?
If all that didn’t make enough sense to you, take a look at the close-up picture of the notes I wrote:
By this time I was already thinking that this was the coolest world that I had ever heard of being created for science fiction. I mean, giant lightning strikes from a gas giant to its moon, causing a glowing atmosphere? Floating islands of rock, alcoholic oceans, and the eye of Sauron watching over it all? How much more awesome can you get? Plus, there was actual science behind most of it. This is not outside of the realm of actual possibility (probability, of course, only rarely figuring into SF worldbuilding in the first place—we want our worlds to be cool, not realistic! Or maybe both if you can handle it). So when the panelists followed up Dani Kollin’s previous observation that it looked right for me to be standing at ease by the easel (it felt good, too) with not only a round of applause (which made me feel even better) but an offer to be allowed into the greenroom if I agreed to scribe for all the rest of the sessions (was I believing my own ears?), I of course most happily accepted! In fact, they added, many of their planes out of Chicago required them to be at the airport before the final worldbuilding session would start, so I might even be able to replace them on that panel. Who goes from convention attendee to panelist in the space of one morning? Well, that was my adventure that day, or at least the first one of many.
Come back next week for the Adventures of Ensign Friend part 2, where the panel creates the weirdest, coolest life on Mora you’ve ever heard of. Just one teaser first: intelligent flying soap scum.
Ensign Friend out.