The Finnish yearly con rotates between cities and Finncon 2010 took place in Jyväskylä 16-18 July. I arrived by plane in Helsinki (644 SEK!) already on Thursday morning and spent some hours in the city, visiting two art museums. The Amos Anderson Art Museum was surprisingly dull although the special exhibitions of modern art and photos were worth a visit.
In contrast, Kiasma, the Museum of Contemporary Art, was far from dull. The architecture in Helsinki was interesting already, and this wonderful building fits nicely, although it is the inside that is most amazing. In the exhibition from the Fire & Rescue Museum I was thrown back half a century (and to the SF of that time) when I looked at the information boards and posters presenting civil defence and fire fighting procedures before and after the nuclear attacks that the artist Jussi Kivi had secured from a former Soviet underground shelter in Estonia. I then stepped into the Swedish artist Jacob Dahlgren’s 3 D world of coloured bands, reminding me of the new trade mark of the commercial centre in my home commune Sollentuna. I usually get bored trying to look at video installations, but this time I was stunned by several of them. A visit to Kiasma will definitely be on my agenda every time I am in Helsinki!
I chose to go by plane also to Jyväskylä where the airport was pretty small and located out in the woods. In the afternoon when I arrived I was surprised to find that there was no bus transfer to the city, so I had to take a taxi for more money than the flight from Stockholm. Jyväskylä was a nice city and the main problem was the tropical heat that the hotel room was not equipped to handle.
I enjoyed walking in the evening when the temperature had fallen slightly. I had planned to take a look at the Wreck-a-Movie event but after quite some time of waiting I gave up. Instead, the first programme item for me was the Hugo discussion. I had some problems to find out where this took place and when I got to the veranda of a villa outside the university area it was crowded and of course very hot. I missed the first comments of the excellent panel, consisting of Cheryl Morgan, Tommy Persson, Jukka Halme and Marianna Leikomaa. They had started with the short stories, which I had found to be an unusually weak category this year. Jemisin’s “Non-Zero Probabilities” was considered to be fantasy rather than sf and to be well written. To me it only was ridiculous. The only story worth reading in my opinion was Will McIntosh’s “Bridesicle”, but if I understood the panel correctly they thought that Resnick’s “The Bride of Frankenstein” might win. The novelette category was much stronger. The panel considered Stross’ contribution “Overtime” to be a weak horror story and not one of his best. “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster was in my opinion an interesting and well written story, and the panel agreed but did not like the ending. The opinions differed regarding the robot-in-love story “Eros, Philia, Agape” by Rachel Swirsky, that was considered sweet and fine but still not very good. The entertaining ”James Bond goes steam punk” story by Paul Cornell, “One of Our Bastards is Missing”, starring prince Bertil of Sweden, might work as part of a novel, which Cheryl Morgan told that it actually was. The story of a world on a Dyson sphere, ”The Island”, by Peter Watts, did not work but was definitely hard sf and I thought it was of some interest but a bit hard to read. My favourite in this category was “It Takes Two” by Nicola Griffith, also hard sf but this time about mind-changing drugs in relation to lesbian love. Really well written and with implications regarding both sex and free will. I got the impression that this might have been the panel’s favourite too.
Tommy Persson’s favourite in the novella category was ”Shambling Towards Hiroshima” by James Morrow and he also liked Kage Baker’s ”The Women of Nell Gwynne’s”, which might win because the author died recently. Ian McDonald’s “Vishnu at the Cat Circus” in Cyberabad Days was appreciated by the panel as was also ”Act One” by Nancy Kress, the only story I had read in this category and although I was a bit sceptical when I read it I remember it well, which means that it affected me.
Over to the novels. Cheryl Morgan thought that Boneshaker (Cherie Priest) was fun, and not traditional steampunk. It has a strong female character. The one she hoped would win was The City & The City by China Miéville. This is an extraordinary story with ethnic groups not seeing each other, but it might not be sf or fantasy. The story about a postapocalyptic America, Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson did not interest her, whereas the best one aside from The City & The City was Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente, describing a fantasy city that you can only reach by having sex. As probable winner she put The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi with its postcolapse Thailand.
Tommy Persson really liked The Windup Girl which is not a fix-up although the characters appear in short stories. He also liked The City & The City, and he found Comstock and Boneshaker entertaining, whereas Palimpsest, although beautifully written, could have been told without sf/f. Marianna Leikomaa commented that the city is the main character in several of the nominated books. She loved Palimpsest but hopes that The City & The City will win. Jukka Halme’s favourites were The City & The City and The Windup Girl and he found Boneshaker entertaining and easy, almost simple.
In the film category, the panel thought that Avatar would win. The panel considered the best and most important related book to be On Joanna Russ, edited by Farah Mendlesohn. Jack Vance’s self-biography, This is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This is “I”) was said to be a great book and a pleasure to read, although too much of a travelogue where he explains his writing.
Finally, Cheryl Morgan announced that she is setting up a publishing company for e-books, Wizard’s Tower Press. She will get things back into print, and have them properly proof-read. There will also be a webzine, Salon Futura.
The next programme item also took place in Kirjailijatalo, the authors’ house, or rather on the veranda with its 30 chairs. This was of course not enough when the GoH Ellen Kushner and her wife Delia Sherman talked about Science fiction and research. After a while the other GoH Pat Cadigan joined after having had a look on a particle accelerator. For Delia Sherman research was an everyday activity, since stories for her are things that happen to people. She reads folklore and fairytale, and tells us that the texts about leprechauns and pookahs on the internet are not correct. She prefers to look up historical details rather than constructing an entire world. Art, mythology and folklore are changing and shared, they cannot be copyrighted. Ellen Kushner tells that in the old days you went to your bookshelf or the library. She also criticized the notion that preference for some folklore follows bloodlines. Does she have to be Scottish to appreciate Thomas the Rhymer?
To a question from the audience Delia Sherman answered that anything can be seen as uncanny. It depends on the point of view. She likes to discuss her work before it is finished, and thus not follow Stephen King’s advice. His book on writing can be recommended, but she strongly recommends to read several books on writing, and also not to think too much but rather write with the hindbrain. Pat Cadigan recommended that you should read loved books carefully to find out what it is that you admire. “Look under the hood, squeeze the tires.” Her copanelists added that you should read mindfully, and even type at least a page of your favourite stories.
The discussions on writing continued in the afternoon in the panel On writing with Saara Henriksson moderating Ellen Kushner and Pat Cadigan. The latter always knew that she wanted to write. She read Judith Merril’s Best of the Year anthologies which were not stratified and contained stories by various authors like John Cheever and Ward Moore, and every shade of sf, fantasy and horror. She stresses the importance of readers and fans, and she wanted to be on the committee for the Worldcon 1976 in Kansas city since she wanted to meet the GoH, Robert A. Heinlein. Her first submission was to Analog when she was ten, in 1963, and her first sale was in 1969. She recommends everyone to send in their work!
Ellen Kushner has always loved reading, and thought that it must be a pleasure to write. She got praise from adults for her writing, but she never wrote to conclusion. She has written short stories but they always turned out as parts of novels. She has lots of unfinished stories and plans to go back to them, but so far she has not. About her novel Swordspoint she says that it is uncategorizable, being neither fantasy nor mainstream. It took her a year to write the first draft. It is important to first get it done. You can always rewrite! Phase two is to get input from readers.
Pat Cadigan has a fragment box and keeps it handy. She is a short fiction person, and started by writing half the nights in addition to her day job. Every novel is a different creature. She begins in the middle and retrofits the beginning, which is not easy.
Ellen Kushner got encouragement from older writers. She had coffee with Gene Wolfe and M. John Harrison wrote her beautiful letters. She admires Gardner Dozois who can both write and edit, with emotion and passion. She loves talking about her work and thinks better when she talks. However, she does not belong to any writer’s groups. In contrast, Pat Cadigan does not talk about her work until it is done. Writing is private. Her husband reads everything when it is ready. If she gets stuck and lost she goes out and tries to find herself. The environment does not matter when she is writing. It can be beautiful, noisy, smelly – it does not matter. When she wrote Mindplayers she had a baby whom her mother cared for, and now she has two children and a 90 year old mother.
Pat Cadigan wrote a novelization of a movie, that turned out to be much longer than a script, and it contained lots of extra background and character descriptions. For her a good book is when you don’t see the words any longer but just pictures in your head.
Ellen Kushner says “art feeds art”, and recommends going to museums, listening to music etc. Her aim is to be “read when dead”, to make a difference, affect. This is a sort of immortality.
The rest of the con took place in a house at the university, and there were many items in Finnish which I unfortunately would not have understood. The participants in the panel Introduction to Mannerpunk – Fantasy of Manners panel were the by now well known couple Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner, moderated by Kati Clements. The title is a pun or joke formed from the comedy of manners, as e g written by Jane Austen. It is not a tragedy since no one dies. There is tension due to rigid rules, and society is a character in the novel. It takes place in the drawing rooms, with everyday social fights. Traditional fantasy is not like that. Kushner read LeGuin’s The Wizard of Earthsea, and liked it better than Tolkien. She tried Jane Austen’s Emma but could not understand it, but suddenly it made sense when she came to college and experienced hierarchy. She calls Georgette Heyer the Jane Austen of the 20th century, and she thinks that women are more interested in human interactions.
The Fourth Street Fantasy convention in Minneapolis was seen by Donald D. Keller as a literary movement, but Kushner prefers to name this movement “mannerpunk” from cyberpunk and call her book “A fantasy of manners”. Interest in human interactions is a rule, and a feature is an interest in language. The “interstitial arts foundation” did an anthology, Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing by Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss.
Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner has written together. They say that you have to have the same steps, the same approach, the same end goal, and it helps if they love the same authors, in this case Trollope. They give each other assignments, e g to write a scene. Kushner writes dialogue whereas Sherman writes descriptions.
They want to do new things with the genre, like China Miéville does in The City & the City, which has strangeness without magic. The whodunnit is not the interesting thing in this book. This is the way fiction is going.
Liksom 2009 hade Finncon 2010 en finlandssvensk programpunkt, 150 år av finlandssvensk fantastik. Ben Roimola ledde diskussionen med Kenneth Lindholm, Petri Salin och Vilgot Strömsholm. Titeln syftar på att Zacharias Topelius 1860 publicerat en berättelse från ett framtida Finland, Simeon Lewis resa till Finland år 5,870 efter werldens skapelse, efter de kristnes tideräkning det 1,900:de. Enligt uppgift en tråkig berättelse men med bl a luftskepp. Tillsammans med många andra finlandssvenska fantastikverk listas den på Enhörningens hemsida. Redan 1851 hade musikkritikern och satirikern A. G. Ingelius utkommit med den gotiska skräckrysaren Det gråa slottet, och i samma genre kom Topelius Den gröna kammaren i Linnais gård 1881 som blev film 1945. Fältskärns berättelser innehåller en hel del fantastik och antologin I Unda Marinas fotspår, berättelser från hav och land, av Gun Spring & Bo-Eric Rosenqvist från 1996 går I Topelius stil. T.A. Engströms Rymdkulan från 1957 är tidstypisk, klar sf, men knappast rekommendabel. Den innehåller svarta plastinylbyxor och kan möjligen vara lämplig för 12-åringar. Bo Carpelans Rösterna i den sena timmen från 1971 är också klar sf med en värld efter kärnvapenkriget. Det märks att det är en 70-talsbok från kalla kriget. Den lyriska stilen lindar alltför mycket in hemskheterna. När den gick som hörspel uppfattades den som verklighet.
Kenneth Lindholm rekommenderade Sebastian Lybecks Latte igelkott och vattenstenen från 2009. Kjell Lindblads Resan till mitten är en fantasy för barn, men handlar om en författare som har svårt att skriva, och ser på dammsugare ur dammtussarnas perspektiv. Björn Kurténs Mammutens rådare om neandertalare ingår i genren paleofiction, ett för mig nytt begrepp som också var ett tema på en av de finskspråkiga programpunkterna. Yvonne Hoffmans Ögonen och andra spökhistorier är spännande och vardagliga spökhistorier, och Merete Mazzarellas November är mörka ihopbundna historier som är kryddade med sf.
At the Con presentation Carolina presented Eurocon 2011 in Stockholm, and Kati Oksanen Finncon/Animecon 2011 in Turku/Åbo July 14-17. Turku will be cultural capital in 2011, and the venue will have room for 3000 people. The GoH will be Richard Morgan and Nalo Hopkinson, and the theme myth and VR. The first day, Thursday 14/7, will be focussed on research on sf and fantasy, and Saara Henriksson will lead discussions on writing. There will be an extensive programme in Swedish.
A very informative and entertaining lecture on The roots of British TV-sci-fi was given by Kristoffer Lawson. He started by stating that a society without sf is a society with problems, where no one strives forward. UK, US and Japan have broadcast sf from early times. Rossum’s Universal Robots was sent by BBC in 1938. The first British TV sf serial was aimed at children, in 1951, followed in 1953 by the serious and scientific The Quatermass Experiment produced by Nigel Kneale. In the US at the same time there were heroic serials, e g Buck Rogers. A spy series, The Avengers, from 1961 had sf elements. Sydney Newman from that serial was also the first Doctor Who. This serial ran 1963-1989 with a new start in 2005. The Tardis and the Cybermen were present from the beginning. In 1965 Gerry Anderson produced the serial Thunderbirds with dolls, and later Space 1999 which had a US feeling and was aimed at that market. The mother of all paranoid serials, The Prisoner, started in 1967, and the year after Nigel Kneale produced another serial, this time a reality show called The Year of the Sex Olympics. Blakes 7 was created by Terry Nation in 1978, and the apparently far out Sapphire & Steel in 1979 by Peter Hammond. Douglas Adam’s The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy is from 1981, and in 1984 Richard Bates produced The Tripods based on a novel by John Christopher. This looked interesting from the film strip, in contrast to the Red Dwarf from 1988, a sitcom in space. After this Star Trek redefined the genre, and in 2005 Doctor Who appeared again.
When Pat Cadigan was interviewed by Cheryl Morgan, she started in Finnish that I am ashamed to admit that I don’t understand. She told us that she got an Underwood typewriter from her mother and started writing short stories. An early favourite was Robert A. Heinlein, whom she met at a con in 1976. He has readability, and she wanted her work to have that. Tunnel in the Sky changed her life, and she recommends this juvenile for those who have not read anything by Heinlein. It is a rite-of-passage, problem-solving book, but not of the Lord of the Flies-type.
Cheryl Morgan expressed admiration for Cadigans ideas – she has come up with computer virus and spam, which can be compared with Arthur C. Clarke’s invention of communication satellites and space lifts. Synners is about computer viruses. Morgan asks how to get women back into writing sf and not fantasy, and Cadigan says that this is up to the woman. The publication rate is low right now and women drop off first. Furthermore, sf is still perceived as a mainly male thing. “Sf for boys, fantasy for girls.” About her own books she says that Synners is better than Mindplayers, and that Tea from an Empty Cup is an accessible mystery that is easy to understand. Fools is a problematic book but won the Arthur C. Clarke Award.
Build your dream convention was a panel on the ideal sf con, with Sari Polvinen, Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf and Johan Anglemark. The con should be organized with a programme, and according to Johan it has to be aimed at fandom. Sari prefers intimate, small cons with discussions rather than panels, and Carolina mentioned Conversation that had a lot of small discussions and a critic as GoH. Programming is important when you don’t know anyone, but Johan has shifted from wanting fannish cons to desiring good programming. Readercon almost killed his ambition since the programming was so good, with lots of professionals. Carolina was irritated by the panels at ArmadilloCon where a lot of authors just showed their own books.
Cheryl Morgan stressed the importance of topic selection for panels, and to have proper moderators who contacts the other members of the panel. Programme items may be submitted from members of the con. This is done at WisCon, but according to Johan this does not work in Sweden since people are too shy. He also suggests that panel subjects are tested first by the committee.
For Carolina, the idea of a con is a sort of family reunion, where you meet your friends. An efficient way to get involved is to be a gopher. Another way is to have quizzes etc, as they have at Redemption according to Tommy Persson. Sari points out that hotel cons make for good interaction, and for her the relaxacon Åcon is perfect. The number of members should be a couple of hundreds. For Carolina Eastercons are perfect, and Johan wants at least 300 members. He thinks that programming is good in Sweden, but a problem is that the panellists are not sufficiently prepared. He finds it fascinating that the authors come for free. The GoHs are very important, and it is important that they want to participate.
To this discussion I would like to add: I appreciate that conventions are different; I want to be surprised. And I think that cons can serve to recruit new members to fandom, i e they should not only be directed towards fans but also to those interested in subjects close to sf/f.
Urban fantasy was discussed by a panel where Marianna Leikomaa started by defining this genre as stories where the city is a character, and Johan Jönsson added that it should be a contemporary setting. Delia Sherman modified this to a requirement for an industrial setting that hasn’t to be today. The important thing is that the country is left behind. Magical things can occur also in cities. “The city is the new forest.” Powerful urban fantasy has to be about this, and how to deal with this situation. Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf points out that this is not what people think of when they see the term urban fantasy – what do you get in bookshops? Marianna answers that you get paranormal romance, and the panel tried to draw the line between these two genres. Twilight is an example of paranormal romance.
Urban fantasy is highly mannered and formal, like Palimpsest and Jeff VanderMeer’s books. Terri Windling has written many stories about a border town situated between fairy and mundane, in Neverwhere the city is very important, and Charles de Lint is important in the genre. Gormenghast is perhaps not really urban fantasy, but has probably influenced e g China Miéville by its grotesqueries. He writes from a deep knowledge of cities. In urban fantasy the city is used as a metaphor, describing a compressed society.
Some vampire stories could be classified as urban fantasy, like Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite, The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas, where the vampire is interested in eating dinner and is very considerate. This could have happened in a city, and this is Delia’s favourite vampire book.
Johan says that not much urban fantasy is published in Sweden. One example is the recent Udda verklighet by Nene Ormes. The setting is a strange city, and the story is clearly at the heart of urban fantasy. Delia Sherman’s own The Changeling, a children’s book, has been translated into Swedish, and is absolutely urban fantasy. Marianna mentions Johanna Sinisalo’s Not before sundown which is a sort of urban fantasy.
The final panel was called Dreaming of reality, where we listened to Ellen Kushner, Pat Cadigan and Cheryl Morgan. I wrote down some interesting expressions: “All fiction is made up but sf/f is more made up”, ascribed to Neil Gaiman, and “Sufficient magic is indistinguishable from science”, ascribed to Jonathan Lethem. “In dreams you should follow your ethical compass since it might not be a dream.” “In life there is always an option”, says Ellen Kushner, and she loves to have her characters have dreams. The sf writer and editor Scott Edelman blogs his dreams, and Pat Cadigan based her stories in the collection Dirty Work on her dreams. The others say that they cannot remember dreams; they are as candy floss. If Pat Cadigan wants real life she goes out. Since all fiction is fantasy, why not write it big?
I volunteered as driver for the dead dog party at a sauna in the woods close to the city. This was a very nice ending to a well organized, entertaining and rewarding con, and I am deeply grateful to the organizers. I took a bus to the airport and had some time to look around, so I found a little lake close by.