Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

More on pros and cons: choosing panels

by Rob - January 18th, 2009.
Filed under: Conventions, Writing.

A few days ago, I was asked about how a pro might get the most out of attending a science-fiction convention. I gave my advice here, but another point just occurred to me.

I was just directed to the lengthy list of panel topics from which to choose those I wanted to be part of at Norwescon, a con I’ll be attending in April 2009 in Seattle. In making my choices, I realized I was picking ones that made it possible for me to cite work of my own in relation to the discussion (not that that’s all I’m going to do, but I do want audience members who feel I’ve had something witty and intelligent to contribute to be able to find a specifically related novel by me to enjoy). Here are some of my picks, and the novel of mine that is obviously connected to the topic to be discussed:

SCI15 Robots’ Rights
The real reason we want AI is that we want perfect slaves. Whether they be butlers, bodyguards, intelligent sex toys or whatever, we want Jeeves-like competence with hard-wired loyalty and obedience and without the moral issues involved in enslaving people. But is there a paradox in that? Is it possible for machines (i.e., any combination of hardware and software) to be smart enough to do what we really want them to do without also being self-aware enough to have “human” rights?

(My novel Wake, which is being released just days before Norwescon begins.)

SCI04 The Science of Immortality
Some scientists think that the human lifespan is set at a point around 120 years. Others are coming up with creative ways to extend that point out to centuries, or even millennia. Which theories on extending life are the most popular, and which are the most provocative? What individuals and companies are pursuing the dream of eternal life? And when will you be able to get your own “longevity pill” or stroll on down to the clinic for an “immortality treatment”?

(My Hugo Award-nominated Rollback)

SCI18 Order in the (Alien?) Court!
What happens when you’re accused of a crime on another planet? How have writers handled this in the past–from Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit, will Travel to the Klingon court in The Undiscovered Country? Is it possible to write about methods of dispensing justice without depending on Terran history? Is the idea of justice itself an Earth concept?

(My Seiun Award-winning Illegal Alien)

SCI43 Backups: Eternal Life or Eternal Death?
Let’s say we could record a person’s mind and play it back into a new body, so that the new person couldn’t be told from the old. Would that lead to immortality? Or would it lead to an endless series of deaths followed by the creation of a new person who just thinks he’s the old one? Essentially, what does it mean to be oneself?

(My John W. Campbell Memorial Award-winning Mindscan)

WRI70 Alternate Prehistory
Do new discoveries in paleontology offer ideas for alternate history? Is this prehistory an untapped resource for alternate history?

(My Hugo Award-winning Hominids)

So, yes, as a pro, by all means pick topics that excite you, but if you are hoping that panel participation might actually sell a book or two, do choose panels that are relevant to your work.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Leave a Reply