Windycon 2022

My wife Mia and I spend the weekend of November 11-13 in Chicagoland at Windycon, a science fiction convention that we have frequently attended since the 1970s, and which we went to last year.

Opening ceremonies were hosted well by Toastmaster Mary Anne Mohanraj. Science GoH Bill Higgins and CosPlay GoH Spinneret gave particularly good speeches.

Some program notes:

The Webb Space Telescope: An Initial View
The James Webb Space Telescope has only been in position for a few months, but it is already changing the way we understand and view our universe. Learn why it is stronger than the Hubble Telescope, learn what we’ve found, and discover why six points are better than four points.

Lots of great pictures. In fact, Bill ran out of time and had to leave many out.

Two reasons why the JWST is an infrared telescope:

  1. Infrared is better at looking through interstellar dust.
  2. Distant galaxies are red-shifted by the Hubble expansion of the universe. What we see as infrared may have been emitted as visible light or ultraviolet.

Resource: Launch Pad Astronomy, hosted by Christian Ready, who was a popular guest at past Windycons.

Breaking the Highest Glass Ceiling: From Valentina Tereshkova to Nicole Mann
Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to go into space. Her duties during her three days in space were quite different than those of Nicole Mann, who became the first Native American woman to fly into space last month. In between, numerous women have flown on Soyuz, space shuttles, Falcons, and the ISS. Guest of Honor Bill Higgins talks about these women and the milestones they’ve set.

Bill began by talking about Cosmic Voyage, a 1936 Soviet Film about a crewed expedition to the moon that included a female astronaut. Women had appeared in SF films before, but only as passengers, not as working crew members.

Back in the early 1960’s, American astronauts had to be military test pilots. At that time, this effectively excluded women. The Soviet Union had no such restrictions and Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to fly in space, on Vostok 6 in June 1963. 19 years later she was followed by Svetlana Savitskaya. In post-Soviet Russia both Tereshkova and Savitskaya were elected to the Duma.

In 1983 Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly in space. Since then there have been many other American women in space, including Mae Jemison and Nicole Mann.

Many women who have contributed to the American space program while remaining on the ground, including Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, and Carolyn Leach Huntoon.

China has sent two women into space, Liu Yang and Wang Yaping.

Fantasy Governments That Aren’t Monarchies
The fallback political system in fantasy is often a monarchy—either a kingdom or an empire. But there are many other types of governments that get mentioned less often. Why aren’t these more democratic types of systems used more often? Do monarchies make for an easy story of saving the world from the Evil Empire or are they just the easiest to write? Why is this so?

In our world Kings were never all-powerful. They did not have the modern technology to know that much about their subjects. At the village level life was governed by local elites.

An evil king is much more fun than an evil elected County Board President. Fantasy is often escapism.

Book recommendation: High Times in the Low Parliament

Ancient Greece Before the Way We Know It
When people think of Ancient Greece, they usually imagine a very short and particular period of it—Classical Athens. But there are almost three thousand additional years of fascinating and diverse history to consider. When did Homer spin his tales? Who invented plumbing first? Could Greeks have met pharaohs?

A lot of this was about the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations, which have fascinated me since the 1960’s.

A lot of ancient Greek written works have been lost, including epics and a lot of plays

Virgil’s Aeneid is essentially fanfic based on Homer. There are multiple layers of fandom, all behaving like fandom does: Badly

Our view of classical Greece as being all about Athens vs. Sparta comes from Thucydides, amplified during the Renaissance.

Plato’s Laws is concerned with civic religion.

The Persian Empire was multicultural. The classical Greeks were not.

Mythology is not religion. We know a lot about Greek myths but not much about their religion. A written canon (Hesiod) makes it easier to exclude inconvenient parts of history.

For lunch on Saturday we again walked over to the local Greek Islands. As always the food was wonderful, especially the grilled calamari. As I noted As I noted last year, there is a extra thrill to eating Cthulhu’s relatives while attending a con :-). This time we were accompanied by two of those friends from that memorable dinner in 1975. Unfortunately, next year Windycon will be at a different hotel, and walking to Greek Islands will not be practical.

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