Sunday, July 5, 2009

Westercon report

It was a whirlwind day yesterday. I got up at 4 am and took a 6:20 flight to Phoenix, whence I found my way to Westercon by around 8:30. If you know how people party on Saturday nights at conventions, you might already have guessed that things were pretty quiet around the place.

I always like to hang around the social rooms, like the green room, to meet people. I've met a lot of very cool authors that way, and I had some great conversations today also. I used some of my extra energy, on behalf of those who had less, to help organize the food in the Con Suite.
Before the panel started, I got to meet Alastair and Marian from the Analog forum who were in the audience. That was fun!

The alien language panel was super-awesome. I think the greatest thing about it was that all three of us - Stan Schmidt, Sheila Finch, and I - were both qualified and excited about the topic of designing alien languages. We talked about them from all kinds of angles. Evolution of language, physiology and its relationship to language form, phonology, morphology, and many other things including how to render alien languages so they're comprehensible in English (always important so people will keep reading your story!).

One of the things that Stan Schmidt brought was a pair of recordings which really added to the depth of the discussion. The first was of animal sounds from Earth - birds, insects, and others. My favorite - and clearly his also - was the willow ptarmigan, a tundra bird that sounds as if it is really speaking a language. That was a striking thing to listen to! He also had a recording of messages in a language he'd created that used vowels, pitch and length to distinguish meanings. What a great example for the group to consider!

I think there were about 20 people in the audience. They were great, too - very engaged, listening well, awake (and on Sunday at a Con, this is no small feat), and asking great questions.

After that I got to eat lunch with my fellow panelists, which was also very enjoyable. We talked a bit about language at that point, and also about stories and about Dr. Schmidt's editing experiences. Fascinating stuff. I promised I would do my best to get a new story out to Analog by October - so I have my work cut out for me now.

It was a great, exhausting day. You're welcome to ask questions if you're curious about anything else.


  1. It was great to meet you, Juliette. The panel was fascinating with so many different concepts. I especially liked the comment just before the sounds were played, i.e. that in stories the translator easily translates the sounds of the alien language into words. Okay, so where's the starting point?

    Marian -- Posting as anonymous because I don't know how not to.

  2. Hey, Juliette! Damn, but I wish I'd been there -- sounds like a fantastic panel. And I'm awed that you're on the way to becoming a regular Analog author. Look out for award nominations when 'Cold Words' appears in a couple of months :)

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Marian! Great to see you here. I think there are multiple options when commenting; if you have a Google account you can post as yourself, certainly. Otherwise you can go on Open ID... You raise a good question about where to start with deciphering an alien language. I'll see if I can post something about that here soon.

    Dario, thanks so much for the kind words.

  4. Commenting on your comment, Juliette, on where to start with deciphering an alien language. I know that many stories have the answer that you learn numbers. Someone once pointed out that after you learn the words for numbers, then what? It doesn't really give anything to build on. Marian

  5. Good point, Marian. Let me see what I can come up with.

  6. I remember reading a story many years ago, that featured the Periodic Table of the Elements as a kind of Rosetta Stone to unlock the language of the long-dead Martians.

    So we can also share chemistry, although chemistry changes with changes in temperature and air pressure (probably also atmospheric composition and gravity).

  7. P.S. Hi, Marian.