Eastercon 1987
The original BECCON committee in 1980
From left standing: 1, Peter Tyers;
2, Bernie Peek; 3, Mike & 4, Kathy
Westhead; 5, Brian Ameringen; 6, Roger Perkins; 7, Charles Goodwin; 8, John
Stewart; 9, Anthony Heathcote; 10, Roger
Robinson; and 11, Jonathan C.

Eastercon 1987
The original BECCON committee in 1980
who ran three biennual London region
conventions (1981,'3 & '5) before running
the 1987 British national SF convention,
that year's Eastercon, BECCON '87.

Eastercon 1987
The original BECCON 1981 committee 36
years on in 2017 with much grey.

Eastercon 1987
From left standing: 1, Brian Ameringen;
2, Caroline Mullan; 3, Roger Robinson;
4, Arthur Cruttendon; 5, Mike and 6, Kathy
Westhead; 7, John Stewart; 8, Anthony
Heathcote; and 9, Jonathan Cowie.
.

Eastercon 1987
The original BECCON 1987 committee
plus some support staff now in 2017.

Eastercon 1987
From left: 1, Anthony Heathcote;
2, Caroline Mullan; 3, Mike Westhead;
4, John Stewart; 5, Kathy Westhead;
6, Roger Robinson; 7, Brian Ameringen;
8, Arthur Cruttendon; 9; Jonathan Cowie;
10, Graham Connor.

eastercon 1987
The front cover of the programme souvenir book. Jonathan C. was the committee member responsible for print farming (commissioning) and the SF aficionados Charles Partington with Harry Nadler on plate-making, did the actual printing. It was the first Eastercon souvenir book to have a full-colour cover. The cover features characters from Keith Roberts' books: Keith was one of that year's Guests of Honour.
The artwork was by Keith.

Eastercon 1987
The cover of SF² Concatenation's first edition 30 years ago, back in our print days.

 

Concatenation Science Communication News

Summer 2017 It was 30 years ago that the Science Fact & Science Fiction Concatenation was bornSF² Concatenation began as one of the 'extras', a science and fiction news and reviews magazine at Britain's 1987 national SF convention, called that year BECCON '87. (For reasons too lengthy for here, this stood for BECCON's EasterConCONvention.)  BECCON '87 was itself held on the 50th anniversary year of the World's first SF convention which makes this year (2017) the 80th anniversary of that initial event.  SF² Concatenation was only meant to be a one-off, but then life threw one of its curves (including it attracting sufficient advertising for decent production) and so it continued as a print magazine into the 1990s before migrating to the internet just prior to the millennium's end.  Anyway, to mark this anniversary a dozen involved with the organisation of BECCON '87 and some of their partners, gathered at a Bedfordshire rural hostelry for a bit of a reunion, catch-up and a reminisce.
          The 1987 Eastercon was itself a rather difficult event to run. One problem was that we simply did not know how many would attend: 1987 was also to be the year of Britain's third World SF Congress (Worldcon) and we did not know whether this would make more people attend the Eastercon or (because folk might choose one over the other) less. As it happened some 700 attended, which was around 300 down on the previous year but close to the Eastercon average for the early 1980s.
          My committee member responsibilities were for: science programming; some of the film programme selection; publicity; and (not editing but) publication print. For the latter I turned to two friends, SF aficionados Charles and Harry Nadler of the MaD SF group (not to be confused with the BaD SF group: the Manchester & District SF Group and Bolton & District...). Charles and Harry also printed SF² Concatenation's first edition.  The programme book they did for us made Eastercon history, it being the first Eastercon souvenir book to have a full-colour cover. I also secured Harry (who was a former cinema owner) and Graham Connor for film projection duties: yes, we used celluloid back then.
          In addition to SF² Concatenation's being an Easter Sunday extra for the four-day event, we were also going to have a firework display courtesy of Los Alamos fandom.  Now, we truly had prepared the ground for this and had an area approved for us by the Birmingham Metropole Hotel; we even had air clearance granted us by Birmingham airport up to a thousand feet for the evening. As I remember it -- and my memory may well have become corrupted with age -- one thing we had not reckoned on was that the area the hotel gave us had been deemed by that weekend's hotel reception staff as being just outside what was the hotel's 'quiet' wing and soon there were complaints from airline pilots with an early start as to all the bangs and woooshes. And so, alas, the firework display was curtailed 10 minutes after it commenced. I can't remember whether we had to shift it, or what happened, but there's probably a lesson there somewhere for even the most diligent of event organisers.
          As said some 700 attended BECCON '87 which was down around 300 from the previous, and following, year's Eastercons. This was undoubtedly due to a number in Britain's SF community deciding that if they could only afford one big convention that year then they would go for the aforementioned five-day Worldcon that came to Britain that year.  However, the 300 shortfall would have undoubtedly been greater were it not for a greater number of local West Midlands attendees due to a public library poster campaign run with the help of the county Council as well as promotional leaflets for the general public.
          BECCON '87 ran for four days over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. There were four programme streams: two main streams of talks and panels; a film stream (held in the hotel's purpose-built cinema [now sadly gone]);and a fan & workshop stream. Programme items included: a debate on whether too much money was spent on space research (no surprises for guessing how that went); space the next 25 years; space programmes that never were; futurology and 'tomorrow's world'; space art; the future of SF awards; Ghost of Honour Speech from H. G. Wells (by Ian Watson); skiffy; SF/fantasy postal stamps; seven quizzes/games; and panels on games, latest books; publishing; comics; alien encounters; Worldcon running among other items that also included a fancy dress parade, disco and a convention 'Christmas' dinner. Films included: Max Headroom (who was huge with the public in the mid-1980s culminating in a two-season TV series, one before and one after BECCON'87), Runaway, Harlequin, First Spaceship on Venus, Time After Time, Cocoon, Master of the World, Asterix and Cleopatra, The Thing, Hour of the Wolf, Dune and Allegro non Troppo among others.  Remember this selection was made in 1987 when there were only four TV channels in Britain and no internet hence no access to download films. The film programme back then had to be a mix of old and the new together with a few independent studio productions.
          In addition to GoH Keith Roberts, other SF notables attending included: Iain Banks, Ken Bulmer, John Clute, Jack Cohen, Malcolm Edwards, Colin Greenland, Harry Harrison, Rob Holdstock, Terry Pratchett and Bob Shaw.
          Anyway, our 30-year reunion went well and with much catching up as some had been in different social, let alone SF, circles for many years. Graham Connor (physicist, SF² Concatenation's co-founding editor, and one of BECCON's film projectionists) led a toast to absent friends and especially Harry Nadler. We then continued to reminisce, muse about current SF affairs and conrunning, and generally put the world to rights (albeit subsequent inspection the following day revealled that little had changed).  It was a good gathering.

 


Cover of the limited run, pre-publication, promotional edition of Austral.
© 2017, Paul McAuley / Gollancz.
Reproduced under fair use in the context of a review.

Summer 2017 Coincidence? Science Fiction again parallels science fact!  Coincidences do happen, and are not events determined by what Carl Jung called synchronicity.  And so it was that Concatenation's arts-science wing had just received Paul McAuley's short article for its series on 20th century scientists that have inspired scientist-turned-SF-authors: Paul was a biologist before becoming a full-time writer.  All well and good but, at June's end, his article's submission coincided with our receiving from his publisher (Gollancz) an advance summer, marketing edition of his latest novel's proofs of Austral, due out this October. (This is not the interesting coincidence...)
          The coincidence was the advance posting online, and then the publication the following week, of a research paper in the journal Nature on the climate change driven expansion of Antarctic ice-free habitat. (Lee, J. R. et al, 2017, Climate change drives expansion of Antarctic ice-free habitat. Nature, vol. 547, p49-54.)  This was a coincidence as the paper presented a merged climate and biogeographic model forecast as to the environment of the Antarctic peninsula. This showed that, even if carbon emissions are curbed, much of the margins of the peninsula would be ice-free by the end of the century, and more under what is effectively the IPCC's Business-as-Usual scenario.  It was a coincidence because Paul McAuley's novel, Austral, is set in the 22nd century on an envisioned Antarctic peninsula which has ice-free margins due to global warming and the peninsula is the Earth's newest nation.  The story concerns a GM-tweaked woman who accidentally gets caught up in a kidnap attempt and ends up on the run in the peninsula with the victim and both the police and real kidnappers out to get them.  The novel comes with a front-piece map of the globally-warmed peninsula, as does the research paper.


Above, the likely ice-free area by 2098AD adapted from Jasmine Lee et al.
Blue = current ice-free land.  Orange = likely ice-free land by 2098AD under moderate curbing of emissions scenario. And red = ice free land under Business-as-Usual scenario.
© 2017, Jasmine Lee et al. Reproduced under fair use in the context of a review.
 
Below, the map in the front-piece of Austral.
© 2017, Paul McAuley / Gollancz. Reproduced under fair use in the context of a review.

          What Paul McAuley's Austral novel map does not show are the ice free areas described in the story. These are all confined to the peninsula's margins (coasts), with snow and ice still extant along the peninsula's centre, just as in the Jasmine Lee et al research paper. Indeed, combine the two maps and you'd get the perfect map for the novel.

          Some points to note.  The science forecast map shows that the northern edge of the peninsula will be more ice-free than the opposite coast which is sheltered from the warming circum-polar current.  The Austral novel's map similarly shows more settlements on the northern coast.  However, the Austral map does not show any Larsen ice shelves along the peninsula's southern edge. This is quite reasonable as these are likely to have disintegrated by the end of the century depending on where the grounding line lies. (Indeed, a trillion tonne, Delaware-sized berg, bigger than London, at 2,200 square miles (5,800 km²), calved from the Larsen C ice shelf this month: another non-synchronous coindience.)  Conversely, the science forecast map shows the extent of the current ice-shelves. This too is reasonable as (most people including some scientists forget) the IPCC specifically (because there are too many unknowns) ignores long term feedbacks and these include ice sheet responses to warming. (If you were unaware of this then look up the four IPCC Assessment reports on the web, download the PDFs and then word search 'long term feedback' and you will find numerous mentions, nearly all being caveats saying that the IPCC scenario forecasts ignore these.)  In short, the IPCC's forecasts are conservative underestimates of warming: as said, few realise that!

          Relatedly, two weeks later there was another Nature piece, this time an editorial, on Antarctic ice-shelf break up that ends with a comment on the greening of that continent's fringes. The science and science fiction tango has many twists.

          And then there's an SFnal point. Some say that today's science fiction is tomorrow's science fact: this, as a point of curiosity has some merit.  Some others, including a few who should know better, say that science fiction is not a predictive genre. As a point of pedantry, this too is technically true but that does not mean that some SF can be somewhat predictive: SF is too replete with examples from John Brunner's 1975 novel, The Shockwave Rider (that predicted what is in effect the internet, hacking, computer viruses (he called them phages) and ID theft (in its modern sense)) to George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984 (with its state surveillance some 20 years before the first instance of CCTV in Britain and before its a first instance in Barcelona ironically in a street named after that author).  Rather, SF can be predictive, especially hard SF (let alone mundane SF as is Paul McAuley's Austral). SF's relationship with prediction can be considered as an old fashioned blunderbuss pointing in the direction of space-time, hypothetical futures of which only a few come close to what will come to pass. Fire the blunderbuss and much of its shot will miss the small target area that represents the actual future, but there will be a few hits. But even the misses can say something poignant, if not significant, about the human condition as well as our place in the grander scheme of things.

 

'The Pharmageddon Now' House of Lords reception (2002) to address antibiotic resistance that linked in with a similar (Congress-venued) event organised by counterparts in the US. From left: Jonathan Cowie, Prof Nancy Lane (President Institute of Biology ), Andrew Lamb (Chair IoB Biomedical Sciences Committee), Lord Soulsby (House of Lords Science & Technology Select Committee), and sponsor representatives from Pfizer and Bayer.

Summer 2017 Prof. Lord Soulsby FIBiol passes. It was sad to hear of the demise of Prof. Soulsby. Not only was he a Fellow of the Institute of Biology, one of the bodies of which he served rented the office at the Institute next to mine, so I'd regularly see him and he would often pop his head around the door for a chat.  We also occasionally worked together and rather closely when it came to a major initiative (a two-day symposium with a Parliamentary policy launch reception and a House of Lords policy stakeholder dinner) on antibiotic resistance back in 2002.  He came to biology through veterinary science and had a broad range of related interests that included parasitology (he was know by some as 'King of the [nematode] worms') through to animal welfare.  Regarding antibiotic resistance, his pet avenue he wished to see further consideration was the use of phages (viruses that infect bacteria) as possible antimicrobial agents. This has, until the past couple of years, been an orphan area of bioscience but now the idea of genetically modified phages as antimicrobials is gaining more traction within the research community.  Another sadly gone.

Global energy gap
The greatest economic cost to the US of climate change to the end of the 21st century Solomon Hsiang, Robert Kopp and colleagues foresee is that associated with increased mortality.
© Hsiang et al, 2017, reproduced in the context of a review.

Summer 2017 The economic cost of climate change to the US has been estimated. Solomon Hsiang, Robert Kopp and colleagues integrated climate change with economic models. Very roughly, costs equating to 1.2% of gross domestic product (GDP) are incurred per +1°C on average. Importantly, risk is distributed unequally across locations, generating a large transfer of value northward and westward that increases current economic inequality.  By the late 21st century, the poorest third of US counties are projected to experience damages between 2 - 20% of county income (90% chance) under business-as-usual emissions (IPCC Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5).  The greatest economic cost is that associated with increased mortality. Warming reduces mortality in cold northern US counties and elevates it in hot southern counties. Rising mortality in hot locations more than offsets reductions in cool regions, so annual national mortality rates rise ~5.4 (0.5) deaths per 100,000 per °C.  However, the devil is in the small print. This mortality cost is arguably an over-estimate as the elderly (who generate less wealth -- they actually incur a cost) have less an economic value (albeit they are valued in other ways) than younger economically active individuals. Take this important factor into account and the economic cost from climate-change-induced mortality actually reduces (if not vanishes and becomes positive).  The researchers deliberately calculated the economic cost of mortality the way that the US is legally obliged to use for environmental cost-benefit analysis.  This paper is therefore interesting both in the way climate change costs and benefits are calculated as well as the pattern of costs and benefits across the nation.  Attention to the geographic transfer of economic value is a concern warranting special attention.
          The work was published in Hsiang, S., Kopp, R., Jina, A. et al (2017) Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States. Science, vol. 356 (6345), 1362-1369.

 

Bexley Beer Festival
The 12th Bexley Beer Festival.

 

Bexley Beer Festival
And, during the day outside, folk
could watch cricket.

 

 

Bexley Beer Festival

Spring 2017 Doing press liaison for the 12th Bexley Beer Fest. Though I have been winding down the past few years, I have always had a small part of my work involving press liaison, though these days such activity is only donated for 'good causes'. Indeed, I have been doing press work for the Bexley Beer Festival for a few years even though I am no longer primarily based in Bexley Borough.  The Fest is nominally organised by the Bexley borough branch of CAMRA but in reality it is run by unpaid local volunteers, yet does much to promote real ale and support local micro-breweries and pubs.  Normally, I just do my bit which I can do from anywhere in the country/world, but this year I was actually in London for other engagements (both unrelated science as well as arts) and so for the first time I could actually attend the Fest itself! (And they kindly furnished me with vouchers for the evening.)  Having said that, the basic press liaison I do for them is getting less relevant due to the decline of newspapers (social media is now a necessary complementary half to the work but I don't do that): there used to be six papers in the borough and nearby Dartford and now it is down to just three with coverage in one being essential if the event is to make more than a nominal four-figure sum for the locals.  However, this year it did all go well; something you never can guarantee as you cannot physically force the press to cover a story let alone the way you want (and there's always someone who moans that their particular take/nuance was not 'properly' covered), but this year was one of those when the press responded perfectly well (the obligatory winger notwithstanding). The organisers were rather pleased.
          There were 85 beers and ciders on sale, not including an additional 8 casks supplied by traders Bexley Brewery. Over 1,600 people attended; a record and 300 more than last year. They consumed a total of 7,000 pints of ale and 1,000 pints of cider: a total of just over 4,500 litres of beer and cider. They included those from local breweries including Bexley Brewery, Tankleys, Brew Buddies, Beerblefish, Westerham and Kent Brewery with Caveman Brewery (from Swanscombe, geddit?) on sale in the Dartfordians Club House next to the Fest's marquee. The most popular cider was from Ampleforth Abbey (Yorkshire).

 

Spring 2017 Spring jollies. Though I still go to symposia related social / networking gatherings, I have cut right down on science policy junkets as I slip into what will eventually be retirement (though life is as full as ever). However because of my science-arts activities I do get regular invites to other jollies, including book launches, promotional gatherings and the like, and these are nice to do from time to time when I am down south near town. Normally I don't mention these that much on this site, but I now give two shout-outs in thanks for a couple of spring's invitations as I am not sure I deserved them.  One was for the Gollancz bloggers (and webmasters) evening (Gollancz are the people who also do SF Gateway), and the other for the Sci-Fi London pre-opening stakeholder reception.

          With regards to the former, as SF² Concatenation's News are Reviews Editor, I'd have provided coverage anyway, though as always it was nice to meet the Gollancz folk face-to-face for a change. (STOP PRESS: See above some science and SF news above regarding a new Gollancz novel.)  As for the latter, I haven't done anything for Sci-Fi London for a few years now (though may will again sometime) but it was good to meet film folk, directors, producers as well as some fellows from Britain's SF community.  Anyway, the folk at both were very kind. If you are an SF aficionado with a literary bent then the Gollancz's current seasonal catalogue is always worth checking out: SF² Concatenation cites their new titles on its news pages' forthcoming books lists.  And if you are of an SF cinematic bent then it really is worth checking Sci-Fi London's website out early each April to see what they're showing.

 

March for Science
Doctor Who (well, Peter Capaldi) at the March for Science.
Picture © Ryan F. Mandelbaum of ryanfmandelbaum.com, reproduced with permission.

 

Spring 2017 The March for Science went well and saw a good number of doctorates mobilised, including one proverbial good 'Doctor'...  With the rise of 'fake news' and more-than-usual dysfunctional political performance (EU Greek finance, Brexit, US election, Turkey's response to the failed coup etc., etc.), not only are nations' investment in science threatened, there is anti-science abounding ranging from climate change denial to censoring science education (the latest being Turkey removing evolution from its schools' curricula as it is apparently 'controversial' and 'too complicated').  And so scientists worldwide decided to remind the public (and politicians) that we exist as people and lobby the evidence-based cause.
          As one of those scientists into SF (or was it SF turning me on to science?) it was a delight to see Doctor Who (Peter Capaldi) at the London rally.  The event was held on Earth Day. (Summary coverage from the BBC here.)


See youtube.com/watch?v=Fxcx1-umVKU

Update: August 2017.  An adendum for the above for completeness' sake.  The London March was one of some 600 city gatherings for science, its research and evidence-based policy. Included in the mix were just two Indian cities. Two is not many for such a populous nation let alone a technologically advanced, space-going one. Apparently, this was not because of any lack of interest in science in India but because the perception was that the 22nd April's March for Science was more to do with US President Donald Trump's anti-science policy-making and funding.  India's problems are different and, despite successive governments stating that they aim to raise research investment to 2% GDP, India's investment has remained at around 0.9%.  And so on 9th August some 40 Indian cities saw gatherings for science. There is also concern in India for the government's support for unscientific ideas such as the health benefits of cow products such as urine: Hindus regard the cow as sacred. Alas, I did not make any of the Indian events, but was there in spirit.

 


Jonathan with Philip O'Donoghue on his 70th birthday, 1998.

 

 

Institute of Biology
No. 20 Queensberry Place of the former Institute of Biology that was at both 20 - 22 Queensberry Place up to 2004 when the properties were sold in a good deal for someone. No. 20 itself now contains a number of flats but had been a 7-bedroom house on sale in 2010 for a mere 12 million.

New Year 2017 Philip O' Donoghue MSc CBiol FIBiol RIP.  News arrives that before Christmas Philip had passed following a prolonged period of illness.  Philip had spent some time as a technician at NIRD (the National Institute for Research into Dairying) where he became subsequent life-long friend with Prof. Marie Coates.
          NIRD was an AFRC (that would later be subsumed into what became the BBSRC within the UK Science Base) Research Institute that sadly closed in the 1980s (merging elsewhere with the Institute of Food Research due to the political perception that farming had too much being spent on it and so did not need much research investment (and then in the 1990s we had: the national salmonella in eggs issue, BSE/CJD, GM crops, etc. issues, but all that is another story).
          Coincidentally, I happened to work at NIRD as a (very much junior) technician for 15 months in the 1970s as my gap year between school and college, in Marie Coates' Nutrition Department, but not at the same time as Philip (who in any case had been in a different department).
          I met Philip when I joined the Institute of Biology as Philip was then its General Secretary (what today would be called Chief Executive) and so he was my line manager.  Philip retired from the Institute in 1988 but I did still occasionally see him, including once with the then also retired Marie Coates at one of my science policy meetings at the Institute along with representatives of its 70+ Affiliated Societies: it was the only time I saw the two of them together and so it was a bit of an occasion.  At work he was known for being a great lunch time raconteur and, like the Higgs boson, always had a small crowd around him on London's evening science reception circuit.  Philip, I raise a glass of malt to you.

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