This weekend (Sep 30 – Oct 2) I’m heading off to VCON 36, a science fiction convention in Vancouver, BC. I’m going to be sitting on several panels (including one on digital art, one on podcasting, one on games, and one on “messy science”), and I’ll be giving two talks:
- “The Science Behind Larry Niven’s Neutron Star“. Larry Niven is the guest of honor, so I figured that this would be a good topic. I’ll talk about what neutron stars are, and also about tidal forces (oops, I just spoiled the story for you… it’s still worth reading!). This short story is one I discovered in a used bookstore back in the early years of grad school (early 1990’s), and it started me on a kick of reading all of Niven’s “Known Space” stories.
- “Constructing a Space Combat Game Consistent with Newton’s Laws”. Last year I talked about Newton’s Laws in science fiction movies and TV. This year, it’s with a miniatures boardgame.
I know I’m late to the tribute game, but this blog has never been about breaking news.
Gary Gygax, who together with Dave Arneson created the original Dungeons & Dragons back in the early 1970’s, died on March 4 at the age of 69. On a gaming mailing list I belong to, we had a brief discussion as to just how big a stamp Gary Gygax left on the world. The fact is that role playing gaming remains a very fringe hobby… but its secondary effects can be seen everywhere. There are direct derivatives, such as the enormously popular World of Warcraft. (Having had the mentality that “geek culture” is a fringe thing that the mainstream only acknowledges with scorn, and almost never watching TV, I found myself surprised to see WoW adds during the Superbowl… but there you have it.) But there are secondary derivatives everywhere. Assuredly D&D had a major influence in vaulting fantasy as a major mainstream genre. Would we have had the big-budget Lord of the Rings movies if it weren’t for the number of people who at one time in their lives had their imaginations fired by pretending to be heroes in a land of magic and monsters? I don’t know, but I suspect not.
On this mailing list, we compared Gygax to Neil Gaiman. The fact is that the individual works of Gaiman— his Sandman comic series, his Nebula and Hugo award winning novels, the novels that have been made into movies (including the delightful Stardust)— are, at least today, better regarded and better remembered than the spottily edited works of Gygax. But, I asserted on this mailing list, the world would be more different today if Gygax had not written what he had written than it would be if Gaiman had not written what he had written.