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ConDor: Aliens, Conspiracies, & Feds, Oh My!

February 27, 2012 1:10 p.m.


James Hay, ConDor Programming Coordinator

Vernor Vinge, Science Fiction Author

Related Story: ConDor: Aliens, Conspiracies, & Feds, Oh My!


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

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CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Condor is celebrating its 19th year as San Diego's science fiction and fantasy convention. The convention focuses on the literary, and is known for its intimacy in panel programming. Here to talk about the convention are people with a long history with the event. I'd like to welcome James hay, he's programming coordinator for condor, welcome.

HAY: Good morning, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And we are hoping to hear from Vernor Vinge, whose latest book is the children of the sky. He will be on the phone I'm told shortly. James, ComiCon gets a lot of media attention and focuses in part on science fiction and fantasy. How is condor different?

VINGE: Well, ComiCon is mainly comic book is media oriented. And most of their biggest programming is about what the companies have coming out, the latest movies, here's what our comic series are going into, etc, etc. Condor, as you mentioned, is more literary focused, though we go branch off into all different areas. And we also were more about the ideas, rather than just, you know, here's what we've got coming up, etc. We discussed the ideas that come upon in science fiction and fantasy. And horror, and other things. And we get into other areas. We do a lot of science-oriented programming. We have a large amount of science this year, with a lot of astrophysicists and engineers. But we have paneling on gaming and movies and costuming and steam punk and art.

CAVANAUGH: So it's not so much a marketing vehicle as ComiCon sometimes seems to be. It's more talking about the ideas behind the movies, behind the books, behind the science fiction that comes out.

VINGE: Yes, yes. I'm not denigrating ComiCon I'm on the staff there too, actually. But we don't have as much of that. We delve into the other things. There's certainly a lot of authors and others promoting their work there as well.

CAVANAUGH: One of the big differences between the two is that ComiCon draws about 125,000 people. Condor draws less than a thousand. What does this mean for the people attending?

VINGE: Well, you get a much more intimate experience. ComiCon is enormous. I know people who can't even go. It's overwhelming. And you have much less direct interaction. We have smaller groups, smaller numbers of people at the panels, you have a lot more direct interaction with the authors and scientists and other panelists. You can talk to them more. You can -- you've got a much better chance of having questions responded to, ComiCon you often can't even get an an at graph. And I see the author talking to them an hour later somewhere else at the convention. You have a lot more interaction.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Vernon, you're an author who's been on many panels. What is the experience like at condor?

TINSKY: Panels are always a lot of fun, and of course science fiction writers or writers in general I suppose actually like to talk about their work quite a bit. And one thing about condor is that you have a lot of people there who have read the stuff that you have written and are quite interested in it, and usually have lots of questions and opinions about the stories.

CAVANAUGH: Is getting fan feedback like this important to you?

TINSKY: Yes, it's good to know what people hike and what they don't want like, and up times they'll have insights into the story that are interesting, and can suggest sorts of things that the reader it is might like to see in future things like sequels.

CAVANAUGH: I see. And the theme for this year's COPDor is men in black, aliens, conspiracies and feds, oh, my. James, what kinds of things can people expect in terms of guests and panel topics?

VINGE: I like to take a theme each year, and see how many aspects of it we can look into. We'll be looking at aliens said invaders, the possibilities of first contact, the scientific aspects of other possible life forms with authors like David Bryn, and Sheila finch. We'll have some Klingons. We'll talk about things such as the moon landing, hoax, hoax, as I've put it. A presentation on the men in black Robert Sheaver, UFC researcher and skeptic. And a contemporaneous story-tellingly panel where some of our artists and other guests will take queues from other people, and build it up into what I like to call the grand unified conspiracy theory.

CAVANAUGH: Who is local Cunningham?

VINGE: He wrote a comic back in the 90s called the Men in Black, which was picked up and turned into the movie and a television animated series and sequel, and the upcoming men in black 3.

CAVANAUGH: So this isn't -- what differentiates this from an alien conference? A conference all about the idea of extra terrestrials visiting the earth?

VINGE: Most of those aren't looking at the fictional aspects. Most of those conferences are believers. And people discussing what they think are actual occurrences and actual evident. We will have some discussion of that sort of thing, although most of the authors -- most of the people I've brought in are more from a skeptical point of view on that. But again, all sorts of aspects from the literature and the movies.

CAVANAUGH: Your latest book is the children of the sky as I mentioned. Why would you say it's important to highlight genre writing like science-oriented phi and fantasy? Is it inspirational for kids?

TINSKY: I think the inspirational factor on science fiction in getting children interested in science is probably the single most important thing about science fiction. Science fiction has I think wider importance, and that is the fact that we're dealing with a situation in our world where the world is constantly changing. And thinking about -- although no one can predict the future, thinking about the different things that the future can be can help us both in coping with that, and in some cases, preventing things that we decide upon careful consideration of the scenario, are things that would be dangerous to happen. So overall, I'd like to say that science fiction is to the body politic, what dreaming is to an individual human. Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you realize there's something that you ought to be a lot more concerned about than you were before.

CAVANAUGH: Now, you have backgrounds in real science. Is signs fiction what drew you down that road?

TINSKY: I think they happened more or less at the same time. Basically, I was very slow to learn to read, and both my parents were academics, so I think that I aspired to that from an early age. But the first book that I ever read was between planets, by Robert Hine line.

CAVANAUGH: Now, James, there are some things we expect at conventions like panels and dealers' rooms and art shows. But there are some things cat condor that people might not expect, like dancing. What is, for instance, regency dancing? And

VINGE: I like to cross seed between different interest groups. Regency dancing is dancing from the period around when the future George the fourth was prince regent for his father, mad George.

CAVANAUGH: Like in romance novels

VINGE: And many movies. We'll have that on Friday night. It has a long rep with science fiction conventions, and on Saturday night, we're going to have a Victorian, later, 18th century dancing, which ties in with the very popular steam punk subgenre, that's grownup -- well, exploded in the last few years.

CAVANAUGH: And you have a special interest in costuming. Do people dress up the condor?

VINGE: Oh, absolutely. I costume pretty much continuously, probably to 4:00 or 5:00 at the convention. There's a lot of people doing costuming. That's one thing steam punk has helped with, it's brought an explosion back into costuming. We have -- it'll be all through the convention. Saturday night we have a masquerade, as they do at Comicon where it's actual presentation and competition of costumes before we do the dance.

CAVANAUGH: Now, is this an extensive convention to go to?

VINGE: No. The entire weekend is $50. And there were day rates as well. So much more cost effective than Comicon?

CAVANAUGH: And where is it being held?

VINGE: At the town and country hotel in mission valley. You can see us at And hopefully we'll even have the schedule up possibly by the time your listeners take a look at the website.

CAVANAUGH: Condor kicks off this Friday. It runs through Sunday as James just said art the town and country resort and Convention Center in mission valley.