Eurocon 2011

Stockholm, June 17-19, 2011

Eurocon 2011 was the first Eurocon in Sweden, and the largest ever Swedish sf convention with 746 members from 33 countries. There have been quite many con reports already on the web and in fanzines, but I have assembled some of my own accounts of panels and interviews. Since I was a member of the con committee I was fairly busy and could not listen to more than a few of the programme items.

Kurser och seminarieserier om fantastik (Courses and seminar series on science fiction and fantasy)

Anna Åberg, Stefan Ekman (moderator), Anna Höglund, Kristina Hård, Maria Nilson, Jerry Määttä

Anna Höglund ger kurser i skräck och fantasy vid Linnéuniversitetet. Hon berättade att kvalitetskravet var samma oberoende av vilka författare som behandlas och alltså oavsett gengre. På hennes kurser blir kraven snarast högre. Jerry Määttä instämde, studenterna hade blivit chockade över de höga kraven på en sommarkurs om fantasy i Växjö. Kraven i Uppsala är för höga eftersom studenterna upplevde att de ändå inte fick någon prestige av att gå en kurs om sf.

Sf-författaren Kristina Hård som både gått kurs och undervisar i Lund berättade att det ekonomiska onekligen spelar in och då är det en fördel med distanskurser som kan klara av många studenter. Genusvetaren Maria Nilson vid Linnéuniversitetet ansåg att det var självklart att ha en kurs i feministisk sf på hennes institution, och kurser inom populärkultur motiveras med att de ger ekonomiska förutsättningar för forskning inom området. Dessutom är kurserna motiverade genom att något i samhället gör att området intresserar, och då bör universitetet svara på behovet.

Anna Åberg från KTH berättade att studenterna där är mycket ambitiösa och inser hur otroligt viktig populärkulturen är för att ge folk i allmänhet deras världsbild. Jerry Määttä smyger in The Time Machine i litteraturlistan när han undervisar svensklärare. Det är effektivare än att ge kurser.

Kurslitteraturen varierar kraftigt mellan olika kurser. Kristina Hård använder länkar på nätet medan kurser i feministisk sf har teoretisk litteratur av Haraway och i narratologi. På sf-kursen i Uppsala krävdes att man läste 15 romaner med tonvikt på 50-talets sf, samt två kursböcker, Adam Roberts Science fiction och The Cambridge Companion, senare utbytt till The Routledge Companion som Jerry ansåg vara bättre.

I Uppsala händer det mycket just nu; sf kommer in i andra kurser som t ex i ekokritik. Samtidigt kan karriärvägarna vara ett hinder genom att det i Uppsala krävs att man först är en seriös litteraturvetare. På KTH saknas kontinuitet och för det krävs att kursen kommer in i ett program. Vid Linnéuniversitetet ökar man legitimiteten genom att ha magisterstudenter i vampyr och makt. Anna Höglund startar ett nätverk för forskare inom skräck och fantasy.

Guest of Honour Interview: Elizabeth Bear talks to Nene Ormes

Elizabeth Bear, Nene Ormes

The interview was recorded for television by UR/Kunskapskanalen, and those doing it were not satisfied with the beginning so Nene Ormes had to do a restart, which was bad for the flow. Nene started by telling that she is one of Bear’s fan girls and that she was impressed by the large number of works that Elizabeth Bear had produced, amounting to 16 novels and 60 short stories.

The Jenny Casey trilogy started as a duology. Much of the story takes place in Canada, where readers were excited to be noted. Jenny Casey is an Iroqui-Canadian. Elizabeth Bear started writing these books in the mid 90s. About Carnival with its world New Amazonia she said that it is what would result if you put Joanna Russ and Robert Heinlein in a box until they fight. And that anybody’s utopia is someone else’s hell.

Her fantasy series The Promethean Age is actually two duologies and Nene would rather label them secret histories. They were conceived at a boring dinner that she had to partake in with her then faculty spouse. It is based on the concept that the Shakespeare dramas were actually written by Edward deVere. There may come more volumes in this series.

The New Amsterdam series is steampunk for girls according to Elizabeth Bear. Seven for a Secret takes place in 1937 and Germany has occupied England, and The White City takes place before. She does not want to use the label alternate history where one thing turned out differently. She wrote one story of six pages which nearly killed her because you have to think too much. She prefers the term contrafactual which is less rigorous.

Elizabeth Bear tells that she climbs, runs, practices yoga and also is into fencing and archery. Besides writing stories on paper she participates in writing hyperfiction online with a group called Shadow Unit. The other members are Emma Bull, Sarah Monette and Will Shatterley. Together with Sarah Monette she has published A Companion to Wolves, about mad people who binds with wolves, and two other novels in that series.

The interesting Jacob’s Ladder trilogy was only mentioned as being a mixture of fantasy and sf, whereas Nene praised the poetic language of the Emma of Burden series. This was the first book she wrote but it was too weird according to her publisher. The middle book was written first, then the prequel and finally the sequel. She often works in this nonlinear way when she constructs her stories.

Feminist SF

Panel description: Female sf authors started to write about gender roles in the 60s and 70s. Were there any predecessors? Which books are most representative for the subgenre feminist sf? Which have survived best, and which authors write feminist sf today? Do male and female readers differ in their preferences for sf? John-Henri Holmberg (JHH), Amanda Downum (AD), Maria Nilson (MN), Klaus  Mogensen (KM), Anders Qvist (moderator) (AQ).

The panel description was written at a time when Ulrika von Knorring had accepted to be on the panel. She has written an essay, Not embarrassed to read science fiction. Women reading science fiction. Unfortunately she could not come to Eurocon 2011. At the start of the discussion the guest of honour Elizabeth Bear (EB) accepted an invitation from the moderator to sit on the panel.

I could not listen to the discussion, but have instead listened to the recording done by Jonas Wissting. The following is just a summary of the names of specific books and authors.

MN: Gilman’s Herland, Piercy’s He, She and It and LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. (Used in her course on feminist sf.) Doris Lessing.

JHH: Ursula LeGuin, Joanna Russ.

AD: Caitlín R. Kiernan, Catherynne M. Valente.

EB: Suzy McKee Charnas, her own Carnival (Response to Charnas’ books.)

KM: Ursula LeGuin, Doris Piserchia, Sheri S. Tepper.

AD: C. J. Cherryh: The Pride of Chanur. (Lions in space, females do all the hard work and males are delicate.)

EB: Early works: C. L. Moore, André Norton, Leigh Brackett (“No Woman Born”).

KM: First feminist sf: Aristophanes’ Lysistrate.

MN: Around 1900: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Mary Bradley Lane.

EB: Mary Wollstonecraft, feminist and mother of Mary Shelley. Signs of that in Frankenstein.

JHH: Simone de Beauvoir, feminism in Europe, Betty Friedan in USA.

MN: Donna Haraway, feminist philosopher collaborating with Joanna Russ.

KM: Strong female characters doesn’t make it feminist sf: Books about Honor Harrington and Anita Blake are not feminist.

EB: Nalo Hopkinson.

MN: Scott Westerfeld, Justina Robson.

JHH: Carol Emshwiller.

EB: Geoff Ryman: Air, Unconquered Countries.

AQ: Joan Slonczewski.

EB: Lois McMaster Bujold (how childbearing dominates). Feminist?

MN: Marge Piercy.

EB: Melissa Scott: Shadowman. Vonda N. McIntyre: Dreamsnake.

JHH: Nicola Griffith. Fabulous heroine and same-sex relations described as totally normal.

MN: Justina Robson’s Quantum Leap stories, about power.

EB: Tricia Sullivan: Maul.

And of course the panel missed a lot, e g James Tiptree, Jr. A good site is http://feministsf.org/

Women, Men and Neuters in SF and Fantasy

Panel description: SF and fantasy allow testing of male and female roles, and have also been used to discuss the biology and sociology of sex. The Tiptree Award is one example of how important this use of sf/f is. Another example is neuter characters in stories, which both Elizabeth Bear and Ian McDonald have used. Which queer sf and fantasy stories have been most important and innovative and which should we read today? What authors are most representative today? Johan Jönsson, Kristina Knaving, Ian McDonald, Elizabeth Bear, Cheryl Morgan, Kari Sperring. (moderator).

Cheryl Morgan has kindly put a recording of this panel on her website, see http://salonfutura.libsyn.com/eurocon-2012-gender-in-sf-f-panel

Johan Jönsson, Cheryl Morgan, Elizabeth Bear, Kristina Knaving, Ian McDonald, Kari Sperring

After the introduction of the panel members the moderator Kari Sperring started with the observation that although sf is considered to be a literature of the mind it is often used to explore the physical and psychological limitations of the body. How has sf changed in this respect from the masculine Gernsback era to now when we have e g Justina Robson, Hal Duncan and Elizabeth Bear who look at gender as a continuum and at the body as something that is infinitely malleable?

Cheryl Morgan recommended Bear’s Jacob’s Ladder series, where a transhuman future is described and genders exist but are much more fluid than now. Bear borrowed an idea from Vonda McIntyre (Dreamsnake), where a person has no pronoun. Our language genders everything. Interestingly, this is not the case in Chinese and in Finnish where the sex is not noticed in the language like it is in most other languages. Kristina Knaving points out that in The Left Hand of Darkness “he” is used throughout, but in the addendum The Winter’s King LeGuin uses “she” instead. Even if it is the same universe you get an entirely different view. On the other hand there are five genders in Melissa Scott’s Shadowman. In Delany’s Triton there is a colossal number of genders, and ordinary slime molds have 573 genders.

Until the early sixties we had a binary set of genders in sf and fantasy. Delany was openly gay in the 60s, which is much easier today. Homosexuality is the topic of Hal Duncan’s The Sodomite, and Ian McDonald’s Brasyl contains homosexuality which is usually not noted. Heinlein’s Friday, which actually contains a nice gay man, is in many ways terrible. As Cheryl Morgan has noted in an essay it can be read as a metaphor for trans people. John Varley’s Steel Beach is an example of failure to describe trans people. It is obvious that he had not met trans people and had to guess how they react and live.

Elizabeth Bear’s Carnival has tropes from the 60s/70s, and the story shows that gender has no relation to the capacity for violence.

Other stories of interest that were mentioned are Kelly Eskridge’s Mars stories, where the gender of the character Mars is never revealed, Mary Gentle’s Ilario that contains a hermaphrodite, and Carl Jonas Love Almqvist’s Drottningens juvelsmycke (The Queen’s Tiara) with the androgynous Tintomara.

Impressions from some other programme items

Elizabeth Bear

In her Guest of Honour Speech, Elizabeth Bear stressed the importance of wide views. We have a golden age now, which could be called the rainbow era, where a multitude of different voices can be heard. It is important that both the literature and its fandom are inclusive.

In the panel Myths in SF and Fantasy Elizabeth Bear told that she gets inspiration from myths, and she is not retelling but takes archetypes and tropes. She is not interested in the Greek myths.

M D Lachlan describes the collision between Viking and Christian religions, and for Ian McDonald it is important how mythology underpins the characters. Indians know their mythology much more than Westerners. Zelazny has used a quasi-Hindu mythology in his sf and celtic myths in the Amber series.

There are also modern myths, like James Bond and Buck Rogers, and films can use myths in a dangerous way as exemplified by the persecution of non-Scots in Scotland after the release of Braveheart.

Vampire panel: Karoliina Leikomaa (moderator), Elizabeth Bear, Kristina Hård, Anna Höglund, Anna-Liisa Auramo, Stig W. Jørgensen

The panel The Changing Image of the Vampire concluded that it is the monster with a thousand faces, that is different in different eras. They have symbolized how it is to let go of someone who has died, which collides with the modern sexually oriented interpretation. They are by-products of the society but are not a part of it.

The vampire myth is based on a Christian taboo against drinking blood, which is stated in the Bible. Interestingly eternal life is connected to drinking blood in Christianity.

Another taboo is that against sexuality which dominates the myth in Victorian times. This taboo is motivated by the risks connected to pregnancy. Today sexuality is not evil any longer, and this change can be seen by comparing Dracula with True Blood.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is actually a modern novel that can be read as urban fantasy. Other good vampire stories are those by Anne Rice. It is important that you can identify with the vampire, who is an outsider.

Att skriva fantastik för barn och unga (Writing sf and fantasy for children and young adults)

Mattias Lönnebo, Niklas Krog, Pia Cronholm, Sara Bergmark Elfgren

Detta referat bygger helt på Margaretas anteckningar, eftersom jag inte kunde vara där och lyssna.

Panelens moderator bibliotekarien Pia Cronholm inledde med att fråga om det finns särskilda villkor för att skriva för barn och unga, och om man ser sin publik på idéstadiet eller om det växer fram under skrivandet.

Mattias Lönnebo censurerar sig nog litet och använder enklare ord; försöker skriva roligt. Också läsa lätt-böcker läses av barn. Lotta Olivecrona försöker tänka på vad hon gillade i den åldern. Hon skriver utifrån egna erfarenheter och vill visa att hon tar ungas problem på allvar även om hon har distans till dem.

Förlagen har tydliga målgrupper, 10-12-åringar, 15+ osv. Pia frågar om boken verkligen måste vara kort, Harry Potter klämdes ju av nybörjare. Kan det vara så att man misstror barnen? Har förlagen krav? Bonnier Carlsen anger 10000 ord, 124 sidor och bild på vartannat uppslag. För 15+ ska böckerna vara på 500-600 sidor. Astrid Lindgren har inget tillrättalagt språk men det har ju fungerat ändå.

Illustrationerna kan behövas för att måla upp världen. Det kan också vara avskräckande med knökfull text. Det går inte att bara skriva miljö utan det behövs bilder eller spännande händelser som ger miljön på köpet. Egentligen är det bättre att barnen använder sin egen fantasi.

Bokens början är viktig, särskilt för barn. Det kan vara bra att börja med något läskigt för att sätta tonen. Det kan också vara bra med en smygande stegrad spänning. Andra knep är flash forward och dröm. Beskrivningen ska vara tillräcklig för att läsaren ska kunna skapa egna bilder men helst inte mer.

Måste det vara en trilogi? Är det Sagan om ringen som lagt mönstret? Man vill inte överge en värld man byggt upp. Karaktärerna kan utvecklas. Det är synd att skrota allt efter en bok!

Den engelska fantasylitteraturen har blivit mörkare ̶ gäller det också svenska böcker, är de dystopier? Traditionellt ska en saga ha ett lyckligt slut, hur är det i Sverige? Nej, lyckliga slut var ett 1800-talsfenomen. Sagorna var tillrättalagda då. Många av dagens författare har läst vuxenböcker i genren och de är ofta hemska. Sorgliga slut sitter kvar längre, de blir ett sätt att sätta intryck. Det är en utmaning att skapa hopp i eländet.

Det finns också genrehybrider där man blandar realism och fantasi. Det övernaturliga kan vara en bra klangbotten i den grå vardagen. Man blandar också sf och fantasy, vilket ibland kallas science fantasy.

Som författare tycker man att man har ansvar för läsarna. Man måste ta hand om karaktärernas känslor. Barn är väldigt känsliga för ironi och oväntade slut. Det måste gå att gissa eller förstå. Varning för “and it was all a dream”!

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