The panel in question was 'Biology of the Zombie Apocalypse'. I arrived very slightly late, and so missed out on a couple of minutes on how decay works. What I did catch, however was fascinating. Apparently there's far more literature out there on human decay than on the process in other species. Decomposition releases fat from the body, forming adipocere, which then slows the rate of subsequent decay. Therefore corpses decay more slowly in graveyards, than when buried well away from other corpses.
There was also a quick digression at this point, if I remember correctly, to discuss how the Eastern European Church regarded failure of a corpse to decay as a sign of evil forces, whereas in Western Europe it was seen as a sign of sainthood.
Back to Zombies... in the 1960s zombie stories moved from the supernatural to SF. This led on the one hand to space zombies, including pod people and the Borg. On the other hand it opened up the realm of zombies to scientific interpretation. There's also the political angle: spread of the zombie apocalypse can be associated with the spread of an (unwelcome) ideal.
Back to science... micro-organisms can affect brain activity and behaviour, although this is mainly seen in insects. In mammals, rabies affects the CNS and leads to behaviour modification. There's potential for SF here, with scope for genetic modification of the virus. This led onto the issue of how the zombie apocalypse is spread. If it's blood-borne, then splatter as well as bites should spread the condition.
Maintenance vs halting of the zombie apocalypse: zombies are slow and easily contained, plus their nutrition sources are likely to run out quickly. However the infection seems to spread very quickly and with a very short incubation period compared to any viruses we currently know about. Would a longer incubation period and the existence of some immune individuals (whether or not they are also carriers) make for a good story?
Prions are also a good potential cause of zombies: we don't know much about them, but they're incurable, have a long incubation period and affect the CNS.
Finally, how to deal with Zombies: elimination, harm reduction or escape?
After that, I rushed to the other end of the hotel for a panel on 'The Fantasy of William Shakespeare'. This aimed to focus on Macbeth, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Hamlet, but included a lot of information on the attitudes of the time and on how theatre worked both at the time and later. I was particularly intrigued by the idea of taking one's livestock to the theatre to prevent theft (and the man who was badly burned saving his pig from a fire at the Globe -- the pig was unharmed).
As for attitudes, people were more likely to believe in witchcraft than in ghosts, and there are several points in various plays where the title character recites a spell by repeating the same phrase three times. On the other hand, the plays we have today are based on versions written down after specific performances, and we know that some sections were definitely added after Shakespeare's time.
Add to that the fact that the plays were originally performed without breaks for dramatic pauses and actors continued to speak their lines during action sequences and the fact that there are far more dirty jokes if the lines are read as originally intended, and I think I need to go over all the plays again.
After a couple of hours' break, I was on my panel for the day: 'Has Misfits Lost the Plot?'. I didn't take any notes, but I remember we had a very lively discussion which concluded that there's life in the show yet, and that the estate it's set on exists in its own bubble of reality, possibly one to which undesirables are sent and then forgotten about. Hence no one will ever come looking for all those dead probation workers.
Straight after that was 'What Naomi Mitchison Got Up To', which is deserving of its own post, so I'll just state here that I need to read her books, and so does everyone else.
After an hour's break I went to the 'Podcast Workshop'. Not many notes for this one as most of the information was visual and the links and the podcast we saw being made are online at http://easterconpodcasts.wordpress.com/ but I now feel less intimidated about using Audacity, and may also try Levelator. At some point I may even buy a proper recording device; apparently the Zoom H2N is good. Librivox is the place to go for tips, I'm told.
After a meal at the hotel (possibly not recommended), I went to the panel on 'Diversity in Fandom'. Fandom is still very middle class and has historically been very white. Lit fandom is also seen as very cliquey compared to media fandom, which is possibly intensified by the low level of advertising for literary cons compared to media cons, and the higher number of long-term attendees at literary cons.
The answer seems to be better advertising in the first instance with more effort being made to increase minority representation on panels and amongst the con guests. We also need to work at increasing diversity in grassroots fandom.
Other areas for consideration include more word-of-mouth advertising to a wide selection of people, being nicer to newbies at cons, helping minority fans with costs and continuing discussion of the issue.
After that I went to the panel on 'Multicultural Steampunk', which turned out to be rather disappointing. Maybe I'd have got more out of it if I'd been able to arrive early enough to sit somewhere I could see and hear the panel properly (noise carrying from the next room didn't help). One book rec I picked up on was Heart of Iron set in a world where the Boxer Rebellion had been successful. Apparently aesthetic steampunk is more diverse than literary steampunk, but I wish the con could have managed to get some diversity onto the panel too.
My final organised session of the evening was the latest installment of 'Blakes 7 Wobblevision', a phenomenon not easy to describe. I played a Federation guard and my props were a paper mask and a baton made from a rolled up poster. A link to the final result may follow...
I almost went to bed at that point, but somehow I ended up playing a hand of Gloom instead. I need to buy my own copy of that one.