MileHiCon 52

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, I have had many fewer posts about conventions I’d be attending than normal. Some conventions have simply postponed and a few have gone to a limited virtual presence. MileHiCon in Denver, Colorado will be hosting a rather full slate of virtual programming this year from October 23-25. Because of that, you will need to pay to attend, but it is a reduced fee. If you’ve ever wanted to attend a MileHiCon before and travel or time was a limitation, this is a great chance to see what it’s like! You can get the full details and register at: https://milehicon.org/

MileHiCon goes virtual in 2020!

This year, MileHiCon has an exciting slate of authors and artists. The Artist Guest of Honor is a gentleman whose art I have hanging in my office, Alan Pollack. He’s done many covers, but I really love the cover he’d done for omnibus Ride the Star Winds published by Baen Books, which collects several of A. Bertram Chandler’s John Grimes stories. When Robert E. Vardeman sent me a cover quote for Firebrandt’s Legacy comparing my work to Chandler’s, I decided to celebrate by reaching out to Pollack to see if I could purchase a print of the cover. He happily obliged. I’m sorry I won’t get to meet him in person, but do hope to tune into some of his events.

Virtual MileHiCon also has no less than three author guests of honor: Cory Doctorow, Mur Lafferty, and Rebecca Roanhorse. I’ve read works by all of them that I admire. I’m sure the guests of honor will make MileHiCon well worth the price of admission, but if you’re not convinced there are even more great authors and artists who will be giving presentations, readings, and participating on panels. Among them are two of my cover artists, Laura Givens and Chaz Kemp. Also there will be David Boop, editor of Straight Outta Tombstone and Straight Outta Deadwood. Ian Tregillis, James Van Pelt, Maggie Bonham, and S.M. Stirling will be among the other authors in attendance.

My schedule at the convention is somewhat light, but that was by design. Kitt Peak National Observatory has entered phase 1 of restarting operations and I wasn’t certain whether I’d be able to be available, even virtually, except for pre-recorded events. It now looks like my group will start returning to the mountain the week of October 26, but that’s still subject to change, depending on how engineering tasks go between now and then. At any rate, my schedule for the convention is as follows:

Friday, October 23

12:30pm – Steampunk and Alternate History Reading – I will join Ian Tregillis and Ted Weber to read from our steampunk and alternate history works. I’ll share a chapter from my novella Revolution of Air and Rust.

1:00pm – “To See” New Earths – I will take a look behind the scenes at Kitt Peak’s NEID spectrograph which has been installed at the WIYN telescope and will search for and follow up on observations of exoplanets. I also discuss how the project will help to support NASA’s ongoing TESS mission which is finding exciting new worlds.

Saturday, October 24

1:30pm – The Year in Science – I will join Will McCarthy, Steve Wahl, Ka Chin Yu, and Courtney Willis to discuss some of the highlights and discoveries from this year in science. I’m sure we’ll also be discussing how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted scientific research.

I hope you’ll join us for Virtual MileHiCon. I’ll be “live” at the “Year in Science” panel. The others are pre-recorded, but I’ll attempt to be live to answer any questions that may come up at the time.

Forbidden Planet

While re-reading some of A. Bertram Chandler’s John Grimes stories over the last couple of weeks, I found myself thinking about the 1956 MGM film, Forbidden Planet. Much of that would seem to come from the fact that both involve space opera largely concerned with military vessels. Also, the earliest Grimes short story I know, “Chance Encounter” is from 1959 and the earliest Grimes novel, Into the Alternate Universe, is from 1964. The stories are from an era just after the movie.

Based loosely on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Forbidden Planet tells the story of a spaceship crew on a rescue mission to Altair 4. They arrive to discover only one survivor from the original expedition along with his daughter who was born after the expedition landed and an amazingly cool robot named Robby. When the expedition’s sole survivor, Dr. Morbius, refuses to return to Earth, Captain Adams of the C-57D must cannibalize parts of the ship to make a long range transmitter to request further instructions. While the ship is helpless, a creature breaks into the ship and sabotages the transmitting gear. We ultimately learn that Dr. Morbius discovered the remnants of an ancient civilization on Altair 4 who had advanced far beyond humankind. The good doctor doesn’t feel humans are ready for such advanced knowledge. In the meantime, the captain and his first officer are busy trying to seduce Morbius’s daughter.

This was one of the first movies I ever bought on DVD. My copy was a transfer from an old film print with lots of scratches and hotspots. Even so, I remember my oldest daughter was captivated by the film and watched it as regularly as many kids her age would watch Disney Princess movies. In many ways, it kind of reminds me of a Disney Princess movie with Altaira Morbius serving as the princess. She even has a (mostly) happily ever after ending.

Because I had been pondering the film, I recently upgraded to a BluRay copy. My new copy is much cleaner and it amazed me how well the film holds up. It was filmed in the 1950s, but had great effects work, augmented by Disney animation. Given my love of retro-futurism, I didn’t really mind that the 1950s were reflected in the design of the C-57D or Dr. Morbius’s house on Altair 4. The two big things that really make the movie feel dated are that the C-57D is crewed by a bunch of white dudes and that Altaira Morbius exists largely as a creature to be seduced and won by a hero from the space vessel. Again, this doesn’t feel all that different from a lot of Disney Princess films.

One of the things I love about science fiction is that it’s very good at looking back with love at the works that inspire us and trying to figure out how to make them better. The John Grimes books feel like a step up from Forbidden Planet. In Chandler’s novels, we find strong women and more balanced spaceship crews and let those elements shape the stories accordingly. That said, Chandler’s novels do retain a certain amount of sexism in how he describes women. Often they seem all too content to play second fiddle to the men in the stories.

Ten years ago, I was one of the editors of the Full-Throttle Space Tales anthology series. These were anthologies that explored the space opera themes loved by the talented authors who wrote for them. Of course, we all endeavored to improve on elements we found needed some work from earlier generations of authors. In the future, I’m sure other authors will look at our works and find ways to improve the genre further.

Although the original Full-Throttle Space Tales books are out of print, the editors got together and collected the best tales from the series and assembled them into a volume called Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales. The book is available from WordFire Press and your favorite online retailers including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I hope you’ll take a moment and join us on some thrilling adventures through the darkest reaches of space.