Hungry for Knowledge? EightSquared’s Menu of Fast Facts and Longer Lectures.

Enquiring minds wish to know – well, all sorts of things really. It’s the impulse behind so much speculative fiction. Our genre’s abiding central question, whether scientific, historical, political or social, is ‘what if…?’

Accordingly, Eastercon has a long-established and impressive tradition of presenting guest speakers to the membership. This year Dr Louise Livesey of Ruskin College Oxford will give the BSFA Lecture; “A Highly Political Act: speech, silence, hearing and sexual violence”.

One SF writer noted that ‘if you read Nature long enough, your dreams will start to carry footnotes to other dreams’. Dr Henry Gee has been on the editorial team of Nature for a quarter of a century. In the SF Foundation George Hay Memorial Lecture, he will offer an insider’s view of this leading international journal of science.

As EightSquaredCon honours J B Priestley, we are delighted to welcome Lee Hanson of the J B Priestley society. He will re-introduce us to Bradford’s very own and perhaps unjustly neglected early SF author, and discuss Priestley’s inclusion of new technologies in his fiction, his interest in time theories, and his friendship with HG Wells.

We’re also remembering Alexander Bogdanov, science fiction pioneer, philosopher, physician, Lenin’s friend and rival. He explored the idea of automating society. The West calls this cybernetics and it fuels consumer culture. But in the Soviet Union, Bogdanov’s philosophy was discredited and suppressed. With pictures, video, short readings, and no small amount of handwaving, Simon Ings explains why Bogdanov, not Wells, is the true founder of modern sf.

For the mathematically inclined, Dr Nicholas Jackson gives another of his popular talks, on Pure and Applied Mathematics. It seems all pure maths turns out to be useful eventually, with even its abstract branches proving to have important applications in chemistry, physics and biology.

Maths fans should also keep an eye out for the panel on The Clay Institute Problems. In the year 2000, the Clay Institute offered $1,000,000 for the solution to seven different problems on the frontiers of mathematics. Michael Abbott, Nicholas Jackson and Susan Stepney discuss which problems, why, and what progress has been made. Vince Doherty, Liz Batty, Tracy Berg and Joan Paterson will similarly discuss ‘What’s Big in Microbiology.’

Acclaimed SF author Ken MacLeod has said “History is the trade secret of science fiction” and you’d be hard put to find a fantasy writer who’d disagree. But is the line between fact and fiction in history becoming blurred? Countless movies have formed our impression of a Roman city – all gleaming marble and tall columns. But were all Roman cities alike? What’s the difference between an amphitheatre and a Colosseum? Tony Keen will take us through the ancient streets, and tells you what you could expect to see in Rome or Londinium.

Professor Edward James will address the facts underpinning the fictions so beloved of epic fantasy fans. Were the original barbarians who invaded and settled much of Europe in the first millennium AD really muscled, semi-naked, and well equipped with weapons but overall, a bit short on grey matter? Where have these stereotypes come from?

Still got an appetite for learning more? Excellent. In our Fast Fact Talks: Ideas To Go, we pay homage to the global TED Talk phenomenon with our own TED-style presentations on big ideas.

There will be two sessions over the weekend, each with three speakers, where experts and thinkers from among our membership will expound on a topic of their choosing for 15 minutes. No panels, no questions, no gimmicks; just great people on inspiring topics.

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J.B.Priestley – EightSquaredCon’s Ghost of Honour.

Once we knew we would be holding Eastercon in Bradford, we wanted to honour a local SF writer. One of our local members, Colin Fine, promptly suggested J.B. Priestley. Barely a moment’s thought showed us what a very good idea this was. Most of the Committee recall studying one or other of his plays at school. When my class did ‘Time and the Conways’, I distinctly remember the thrill of realising you could have time travel in an English lesson as well as in Doctor Who. Thirty years later, a good few of the convention’s teenagers enjoyed ‘An Inspector Calls’ as a GCSE set text just last year. His quietly durable work is well worth a fresh look as modern literary writers increasingly adopt SF ideas and themes. Priestley was doing that decades ago, as well as using elements of the fantastic to address political and social debates; a tradition which continues to this day.

Our Committee member Kari, who knows her way around academe, traced the Priestley Archive to Bradford University. She was soon liaising with Alison Cullingford, librarian in charge of the Archive and a member of the Priestley Society’s steering committee. Consequently we are delighted to welcome Lee Hansen of The Priestley Society to EightSquaredCon as a guest speaker. As well as offering an overview of Priestley’s life and work, this talk will look at the inclusion of new technologies in his fiction, at his interest in time theories, and at his friendship with HG Wells. Did you know that Priestley gave the address at HG Wells’s funeral? No, me neither. I cannnot wait to learn more.

For further information, do visit The J.B.Priestley Society website.

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Photograph courtesy of the J.B. Priestley Archive, University of Bradford