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2018 Capricon Science Fiction Convention

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

2018 Capricon Science Fiction Convention
2018 Capricon Science Fiction Convention

This weekend (Feb 15 thru 18) is the 38th annual Capricon Science Fiction Convention, an event I always look forward to. As usual, I’ll be participating in the convention’s programming as both a panelist and as a panel moderator. Even though Capricon is a convention about science fiction and fantasy, my participation will not be all that different than my participation in last weekend’s NIRCON, the annual convention of the Northern Illinois Rocketry Association, where I gave a presentation on the future of human space exploration.

Given that at Capricon panelists "apply" to be on specific panels, the list of panels that I am on will give you a good idea of the types of topics I am most interested in and most qualified to discuss and debate.

How Soon Artificial General Intelligence

My lead-off panel will be How Soon Artificial General Intelligence, moderated by Bill Thomasson. The panel description asks us to answer the questions of how soon AGI (artificial general intelligence) might become a reality and how will that development affect human society. The question of how long it will be before true artificial intelligence becomes a reality is anyone’s guess. I do not believe that anyone can with any degree of accuracy answer this question. As to the impact on human society, that is an easier – and quite interesting – subject to tackle. With respect to workplace automation, AGI could be considered as being automation on steroids. Some will view this as a threat to their livelihood while others will be beneficiaries of this development.

Capture Deflect Destroy

Next I’ll be serving as moderator for the panel Capture Deflect Destroy in which the panel discusses the options we have in dealing with an identified asteroid or comet that is on a collision course with Earth. As moderator I’ll be expanding the panel’s discussion to include asteroid mining as a use of these objects. What I see as relevant areas for our discussion are background on the environmental impact of collisions, asteroid/comet detection and tracking programs, the classification of asteroid/comet families (orbital and compositional), and of course the technologies associated with altering the orbits of these bodies.

Pirates of the Asteroids: Who Owns ET Resources?

From talking about asteroids as a threat to civilization, I’ll be segueing to the panel Pirates of the Asteroids: Who Owns ET Resources? which may well be the most interesting as we debate the question of ownership and the making of territorial claims in outer space. Despite the panel’s title, taken from the title of a science fiction novel by Isaac Asimov, this is a very serious international space policy concern that must be addressed.

Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids book cover art
Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids by Isaac Asimov plot summary on Wikipedia

The framework for this discussion is The Outer Space Treaty which prohibits nations from making territorial claims in space. It was this restriction, along with the outlawing of all military activity in space, that really caused the Space Race to cool off. Our panel will also be specifically addressing the twin questions of whether or not a private company can claim ownership of space objects and, more importantly, if those companies will retain full legal ownership of any mined ET resources that they return to Earth. For a Wikipedia description of recent United States legislation that touches on this issue, see Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act of 2015 in November 2015. You may also want to read about what the tiny European nation of Luxembourg has been up to at Luxembourg aims to Contribute to the Peaceful Exploration and Sustainable Utilization of Space Resources for the Benefit of Humankind. This panel is being moderated by Pat Sayre McCoy. Pat and co-panelist Jeffrey Liss are a couple of folks I always look forward to serving on panels with.

What Are Acceptable Risks in Space Exploration?

Continuing with the theme of space exploration is the panel What Are Acceptable Risks in Space Exploration? moderated by Dr Michael Unger. In this age of the emergence of commercial space exploration, this question is particularly relevant. In his book Disturbing the Universe, Freeman Dyson made an interesting observation on this subject as it pertains to cost:

“As soon as our government takes responsibility for such as project, any serious risk of failure or loss of life becomes politically unacceptable. The costs of Island One (Gerard O’Neill’s space colony proposal) become high for the same reason that the costs of the Apollo expeditions were high. The government can afford to waste money but it cannot afford to be responsible for a disaster.”

Supporting Dyson’s observation is the fact that within the realm of NASA and space projects we have multiple examples of commercially provided goods and services successfully delivered at a fraction of the cost of their NASA/government counterparts. While our panel’s description is oriented towards the risks associated explicitly with NASA programs, I hope that our scope extends beyond that to include commercial (private) alternatives.

Science Fiction Cover Art: A History to Modern Day

Having served on both computing (AI) and space exploration panels, my final Capricon panel will be on the subject of art. The panel Science Fiction Cover Art: A History to Modern Day (moderated by friend and physicist Bill Higgins) will talk about the past and future of science fiction art with a particular focus on the publishing industry. Over the years, styles of science fiction cover art have come and gone while production methods (medium) went largely unchanged. The advent of personal computers and software tools for the creation of digital art has had a dramatic impact in this arena – and this will be a central feature of our panel’s discussion.

The Rest of The Time

When not on a panel, I look forward to being an audience member for those panels that interest me. These panels tend to be either space, science, computing, or art business related. Some of the panels that have caught my eye and which I’d like to attend include:

  • The Singularity: Mechs or Shapers?
  • Photo Color Temperature: What it is, Why it Matters
  • Computing Before Computers
  • Exobiology for Dummies
  • SETI: To Lurk or To Post?
  • Marketing Your Book
  • Science For World Progress
  • I, For One, Welcome My New Robot Overlords

Clearly Capricon offers quite a diversity of programming. For complete details about all the programs being offered at Capricon, please see the Capricon Programming Guide.

Closings Thoughts From Bruce Sterling and Robert Heinlein

I’d like to leave you with a couple of closing thoughts. First, this observation from science fiction author Bruce Sterling:

Designers talk and think a lot like science fiction writers do, except in a much less melodramatic and histrionic way.

More importantly, I’d ask folks to give serious consideration to the words of science fiction great Robert Heinlein who in a speech at the 1961 World Science Fiction Convention made the following statement:

Remember this: once the human race is established on more than one planet and especially, in more than one solar system, there is no way now imaginable to kill off the human race.


The 38th annual Capricon Science Fiction Convention is being held at the Westin Chicago North Shore in Wheeling Illinois.


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Space Globalization for Astronomy Day 2016

Friday, May 13th, 2016

The Globalization of the Solar System Presentation
The Globalization of the Solar System Presentation

Saturday May 14 I will be speaking at an Astronomy Day event being held at Harper College in Palatine IL. The event is sponsored by Northwest Suburban Astronomers and the Harper College Department of Physical Sciences. This astronomy day event will consist of displays, presentations, hands-on activities for kids, and, weather permitting, telescopic observations of the night sky.

My part in the evening’s activities will be to give my presentation The Globalization of the Solar System which addresses the question of whether or not the economics of globalization can take place with human settlements spread across the solar system. I am speaking at Astronomy Day in my role as President of the Chicago Society for Space Studies, a non-profit promoting space exploration and space development via educational outreach. For more about my space exploration presentations, see Chicago Society for Space Studies Speakers Bureau – Jim Plaxco.

And yes, I have given art related presentations at past astronomy day events, at both this venue and others. My most popular such art talk is The Art of Astronomy which is a historical overview of the development of astronomical art. The take-away from this presentation is that astronomical art has relied more on technological advancement than any other traditional art form (clearly new media art, aka digital art, aka computer art, have all been entirely dependent on technological innovation).

In addition to my own presentation, the Harper College – Northwest Suburban Astronomers Astronomy Day event has the following program items:

  • Things that Go Boom in the Night
  • Craft Projects for Children
  • Einstein Destroys Vulcan!
  • Discovering Our Solar System
  • Pluto Revealed
  • Black Holes
  • T Coronae Borealis: A Recurring Nova
  • The Possibility of Life on Mars and Venus
  • Astro Trivia
  • Eclipse Mania: Observing the 2017 Total Solar
  • Cosmic Time

Astronomy Day activities begin at 5:30pm and are held in Building Z on the Harper College college. For complete details, see the Northwest Suburban Astronomers Astronomy Day page.

Astronomy Day 2016, Harper College, Palatine IL
Astronomy Day 2016, Harper College, Palatine IL

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Space Settlement Student Art Contest

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

Earth and Moon Digital Art Wallpaper
Earth and Moon Digital Artwork

Once again I’ve been asked to be an art judge for the National Space Society’s Roadmap to Space Settlement International Student Art Contest with this year’s theme being People Living and Working in Space Settlements. The objective for the student artists is the creation of realistic illustrations of some aspect of what life would be like in a space settlement – whether it be on the Moon, Mars, an asteroid, or in free space. The artwork must include at least one person and a view or perspective that clearly establishes the setting for the space settlement. This means interior-only views are out – unless it includes a grand window view of the world outside. The "realistic" includes not only scientific and engineering realism, but also representational realism, aka photorealistic.

I find judging these art contests to be a rewarding, yet challenging, adventure. What is particularly challenging is the back and forth between individual judges over the pros and cons of the individual artworks submitted. Picking winners can be difficult in a crowded field of submissions. FYI, the grand prize winner of last year’s contest was an artwork titled Lunar Outpost Construction by Hidayat Saad of Malaysia.

In order to enter the contest, the artist must be a full-time student between the ages of 13 and 25. Artists not yet 18 years old must have parental permission to participate in the art contest. And it goes without saying that the artwork must be the original work of the artist (yes the contest has received a few entries over the years that were plagiarized works).

The contest will have one Grand Prize winner and up to twelve First Prize winners based on student grade level. There may also be Honorable Mention prizes award. I must point out that if no entries are judged to be suitable, then no prizes will be awarded.

Two of the prizes that will be awarded to the Grand Prize winner are having their art published on the cover of Ad Astra magazine, the official magazine of the National Space Society, and complimentary registration to the 2016 International Space Development Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico (does not include trip expenses) The deadline for submitting art to the contest is March 16, 2016. For complete details, visit Roadmap to Space Settlement 2016 International Student Art Contest.

The Earth and Moon Illustration

The art I used to illustrate this post is The Earth and Moon, which is a generative artwork I recently completed. I cropped out most of the Earth in order to use this art as a masthead for the post so I’ve included the uncropped version below. I have also made this artwork available for purchase at Redbubble and CRATED.

Earth and Moon Generative Space Art on Redbubble
Earth and Moon Generative Space Art on CRATED

Earth and Moon Generative Digital Painting by Jim Plaxco
Earth and Moon Generative Digital Painting

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A Weekend of Art and Space at Capricon

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Capricon Science Fiction Convention
The Constellation Capricornus aka Capricorn, not Capricon

This weekend I’ll be attending the Capricon Science Fiction Convention which is being held at the Westin Chicago Northshore in Wheeling IL. I’ve attended quite a few Capricons over the years and have always had a good time. This year I’ll be pretty busy – giving one presentation and participating in five panels on art and space.

As a part of the convention, I’ll be giving my presentation Digital Art: Delights and Dilemmas in which I discuss the issues and challenges that digital artists face. I talk about hardware, platforms, software, storage, and accessories issues – not to mention that classic issue of "is it art?"

On the subject of art, I will be moderating the panel Great Artists of Science Fiction. The panel is described as follows:

Art has always been an integral part of science fiction. The decades have given us several masters – and today more artists than ever are producing amazing work. Who are the greatest artists of science fiction thus far? Who do we think will be on that list twenty years from now?

My co-panelists are Dexter Fabi, Alessandra Kelley, and Deb Kosiba. We are taking some liberties with the panel in that we will start out by discussing our favorite science fiction artists. So far our list of artists includes John Berkey, Chesley Bonestell, John Harris, Syd Mead, Frank R. Paul, Arthur Rackham, Albert Robida, Gene Szafran, and Michael Whelan.

Sticking with art, I will be participating in the Cover Snark panel whose description reads:

There have been some radiant, resplendent, and refined works of art gracing the covers of SF/F books. Then there are the ones we’re going to snark about today. Which covers make you ask “Whyyyyy?” Which covers might have been cool at the time but are now rubbishy?

For my part I’ve prepared a sequence of images that tracks the cover art used for Robert Heinlein’s Methuselah’s Children beginning with Leo Dillion’s illustration from 1958 and continuing through to a 2013 edition that simply used a NASA Hubble Space Telescope photograph for the cover art. Fortunately in researching the topic I came across an absolutely horrible example of cover art that really left me scratching my head. My fellow art critics on this bad art extravaganza are moderator Alessandra Kelley, Mallory Harrelson, Helen Montgomery, and Blake Packard.

Besides art, another favorite topic of mine is space exploration and development. On this subject I’ll be moderating the panel Re-starting the Manned Space Program. Joining me will be Chris Gerrib and Bill Higgins. Our mission: to explore what the next steps for human space exploration should be. We’ll be paying particular attention to the subject of new space and the potential for private/commercial space development to open the final frontier to the rest of us.

Looking a few years or decades down the road, another panel I will be moderating is A Lunar Life in which we explore what it would be like to be born, live, work, and retire on the Moon. My focus will be on commerce and the lunar economy because the Moon will never become a second home for humanity until such undertakings can pay their own way. Joining me will be Dale Cozort, Anne Elliot, Mark Huston, Jim Lund, Henry Spencer, and Dr. Michael Unger. With seven panelists, not only is this the largest panel I’ve ever been on, it’s the largest I’ve ever moderated! Will chaos and pandemonium reign?

Lastly, I’ll be a panelist on Rise Up! in which we’ll be talking about all things that fly (not counting birds). Moderated by Bill Higgins, my co-panelists are Emmy Jackson and Henry Spencer. If you want to hear about hot-air balloons, zeppelins, airplanes, jets, rockets, and space ships, then this is the panel for you.

The Illustration

The illustration above is a stylized rendition of a star map for the constellation Capricornus (not Capricon). Capricornus is Latin for "horned goat" and is generally represented as a sea-goat: a mythical creature with the fore body of a goat and the aft body of a fish. In a nod to this bizarre creature, the name of the Capricon convention’s newsletter is Goat Droppings.

See you at the con.

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Space Art Contests Galore

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

NASA Space Art Contest
VSP Illustration from NASA Space Art Contest

It seems that right now there are a number of art contests going on whose theme is space exploration. So if you are into art and into space – then you may want to enter one or more of these art contests.

NASA Future of Flight Art Contest

First there is the NASA Future of Flight Art Contest which is open to High School and College students around the world. This was formerly the The Moon: Back to the Future art contest in which I participated as one of the judges. The Future of Flight Art Contest includes both prizes and exhibit opportunities. Winners will be announced in June 2011.

Entries are in four categories: two-dimensional, three-dimensional, digital, literature (poetry and short stories) and video. Entries will be evaluated on creativity and artistic qualities. Entries are due no later than April 15, 2011.

Take me to The Future of Flight Art Contest

NASA and Etsy 2010 Space Craft Contest

NASA and Etsy have teamed up for the 2010 Space Craft Contest. Hurry because the deadline to enter is November 2, 2010. The purpose of this art contest is "to celebrate artistic exploration and commemorate the end of the NASA Space Shuttle Program with a creative challenge: Share an original handmade item or work of art inspired by the NASA Space Shuttle Program and space exploration at large." The top prize is a trip to an upcoming Shuttle launch as NASA’s VIP guest. There is mention that your artwork might even be flown to space aboard the Space Shuttle!

Take me to the NASA – Etsy 2010 Space Craft Art Contest

SEDS Video Ad Contest

SEDS – Students for the Exploration and Development of Space – is hosting a video contest. The challenge is to "develop an awesome ad for SEDS-USA that shows the world what our organization is all about!" A panel of judges, including William Pomerantz of The X Prize Foundation, William Watson of the Space Frontier Foundation, and Gary Barnhard of the National Space Society, will vote for the winning entry. All entries will be shared online via Youtube.

Hurry – the deadline for entering the video contest is November 2, 2010.

Take me to the SEDS Video Ad Contest

IAA Humans in Space Symposium International Youth Art Competition

The International Academy of Astronautics is sponsoring a art contest as a part of the International Academy of Astronautics Humans in Space Symposium to be held in Houston Texas in April 2011. The IAA is asking artists to address the question "What is the future of human space exploration and why is it important." Contest entry categories include music, art, video, and literature. The contest deadline is December 3, 2010 and is open to student artists who are 10-17 years old.

Take me to the IAA Humans in Space Symposium International Youth Art Competition

Okay all you artist out there – enter one or more of these art contests for your chance to win! And be sure to let interested students know about these contests as well.

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Windycon – Dystopia, Space, and Art

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Windycon Art Show
Windycon Art Show web page

I’ll be spending this weekend at the Windycon 36 Science Fiction Convention. If you haven’t heard of Windycon it is one of the Midwest’s largest regional science-fiction conventions with an average attendance of over 1300.

I will of course be participating in the art show. Kerry Kuhn (aka Trouble) will be running the art show again this year which means that everything will go smoothly. I always enjoy touring the art show and seeing what the other artists are up to. I especially enjoy the Friday night wine and cheese reception which allows the artists and potential buyers to mix, mingle, and make merry. Another feature of the art show is the art auction held Saturday night and run by Bob Passovoy. It’s probably one of the most entertaining art auctions you’ll ever attend.

I think that I’ve attended most of the Windycons over the last 20 years and this one certainly has the lightest personal workload. I typically give one, maybe two, presentations and participate in a few panel discussions. This year I offered no talks and was assigned to a single panel. But that panel is a good one. Titled Dystopia Begone, the panel’s description is:

Does the future have to be so grim? Is our future really overcrowded, polluted and unequal? What books are interesting, good to read, and have a positive view of the near future? Or is there a positive view? Our panelists discuss the world of the next 100 years.

The panelists will be myself, E.E. Knight, Michael Williamson, and Gene Wolfe.

When it comes to science fiction and dystopian views of the future, I must say that I find the subject appealing. Looking over this Wikipedia list of dystopian literature, I find that I have read and enjoyed quite a few of the novels listed.

Based on memory I would have to say that of the ones I have read, my five top favorites are:

  1. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein – 1966
  2. 1984 by George Orwell – 1949
  3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – 1932
  4. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – 1953
  5. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess – 1962

For my money, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and 1984 are far out in front of the other three on my list.

And in getting back to the future, I will also be participating in a planning meeting for the 2010 International Space Development Conference (ISDC) – being held Saturday morning at the hotel. The International Space Development Conference is an annual conference sponsored by the National Space Society for which I am a director. I tried to avoid becoming deeply involved in the ISDC for fear of being stretched to thin. However I failed miserably. In addition to now being the official photographer for the 2010 ISDC, I am also managing the Call for Papers and find myself to be the Web Site Coordinator. You’ll be reading more about this in the future.

But for now, for more information about the Windycon Science Fiction Convention, go to For the Windycon art show, visit Windycon Art Show page.

If you’re attending Windycon, keep an eye out for me and don’t forget to visit the art show.

Ad Astra, Jim

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