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Eurocon 2013

Kiev, Ukraine, April 11 – 13, 2013

I met Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf at the Arlanda airport, and together we managed to get to the Nivki Metro station in Kiev. There our problems started. We asked a girl about the names of the roads and were not quite sure that we had understood each other, and after about a kilometre we asked a lady for the way to Hotel Nivki. She led us in a direction that felt more and more wrong, and suddenly we were at a hotel, but not the one we looked for, and we were almost back where we started. However, after going back quite a long way and on the right way again, we found the road were the hotel should be according to the P1020991aaddress. By looking at the numbers of the houses and from help of some kids we finally found the hotel, situated in a muddy area with large apartment houses in disrepair. At last we got our rooms and had a very Ukrainian dinner with dumplings called varenyky.

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Carolina testing honey.

The next day we were sight-seeing, mainly on foot after a journey in the very efficient and cheap (2 SEK per trip) underground train. We saw lots of churches with golden domes, and went down in the caves of the Lavra monastery which were still used as a shrine, where people kissed the glass coffins. We walked to the Independence Square that we remembered from tv during the “Orange revolution”, where we were harassed by people dressed as Disney characters who tried to convince us to be photographed together with them. Not for free.  In contrast, taking photos of the last statue of Lenin was free. As was trying to understand the words on advertisements when you don’t know the Cyrillic alphabet. It was impossible not to try to read, and when you managed the feeling of revelation was excellent. When I understood that there were actually two Cyrillic alphabets I gave up.

Lenin

Lenin.

The convention took place in a huge convention hall on Thursday and Saturday. The venue was shared with stalls of a market selling everything from candy to various home-made looking articles and one day a large dentistry and the other a large biomedical exhibition. Fortunately the programme items mainly took place in rooms well separated from the main hall. Parts of the programme were open to the public. On the Friday we were instead in a library building at the Polytechnic University, and this venue was much better. Lots of changes in the programme with no information about it made it problematic to get the most out of the convention. It was also a great surprise to find that there was no programme at all on the Sunday.

The opening ceremony – which actually started before the announced time – contained some entertaining singing and dancing Ukrainian kids, but also to our surprise a singing of the national anthem, which also concluded the convention.

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Ilona Volonskaya

Ilona Volonskaya

Fantasy and national mythos: the returning of old gods was a lecture by Ilona Volynskaya from Ukraine, given to an audience of about a dozen. She used to talk about fantasy for young adults, and was convinced that these read fantasy of their own free will. They read more fantasy than sf.  There is, however, a “negative critic paradigm”, that fantasy is childish, a “rudimental tail” of ancient oral tradition, and replaces the real world. They also described the positive paradigm, often given by writers, that fantasy tells about the real world but in a symbolic way and appeals to lofty matters of hope, belief, love and honour. Another vindication of fantasy they gave is that fantasy by being a reteller of old ethnic mythology both may preserve the national identity and spread it as e g the Celtic myths. In fantasy for young children today they perceive ecological paganism; mankind as a fifth element in a world that is living and spirited. Finally they concluded that fantasy is popular because it is associated with the future and develops ideas necessary for the survival and progress of humanity. This sounds a bit bombastic.

Christopher Priest and Olexandr Vasilkivskyi

Christopher Priest and Olexandr Vasilkivskyi.

The Panel: Science Fiction in Great Britain: current state and new trends” should have had Cheryl Morgan as single panelist (sic), but she did not turn up (possibly she had not been asked to participate since this was the case with others in the written programme). The Guest of Honour Christopher Priest was kind enough to replace her.  He talked mainly about his notorious journal note about the Clarke Award 2012, where he criticized the choices on the short-list, and the commotion this resulted in. About awards in general he said that “you don’t think about awards when writing”, and that “people like giving awards”. He also wonders who could talk about the list? You are either on or off the list, and in both cases there are a number of reasons why you cannot criticize it. He commented that there were no women on the list, and that there is an embarrassing lack of women on both committees and lists. He thought this issue had been settled in the 70’s or 80’s, but no. There is also a domination of USA, similar to that in films, where the Oscars are in the category “best film” and “best foreign film”.

To the question why British sf has been so influential in USA and other countries Priest answered that H G Wells was reprinted in the American magazines from 1926, when Wells had himself moved away from sf. The pulp authors imitated Wells and used his tropes. Orwell, Huxley and Stapledon also wrote sf but were outside the community. In the 1960’s the UK economy improved and it was possible to publish magazines, leading to a movement to overthrow the US hegemony. This the Americans have never forgiven.

Anastasiia Rohoza and Serihy Krykun.

Anastasiia Rohoza and Serihy Krykun.

Serihy Krykun from Kiev gave an interesting lecture called Visions of Terror, starting with ancient art and going all the way to the artists of the sf magazines. Unfortunately his Cyrillic letters for the names of the artist made it difficult to follow sometimes. He showed many pictures done by Hieronymus Bosch, as e g the triptych Garden of Earthly Delights (on which Ian Watson based the brilliant The Gardens of Delight). Albrecht Dürer, Rubens, Caravaggio and Rembrandt all could be shown to have made art describing terror, and Goya in his series “Capricious” and “Horrors of war” was of course a master. William Blake depicted the apocalypse, and Gustave Doré is most known for his illustrations of the Bible.  Felicien Rops drew horror in the form of women, and Sidney Simes illustrated the works of Lord Dunsany and William Hope Hodgson. Alfred Kubin was an expressionist and Lee Brown Coye illustrated works by H P Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. The pulp illustrators Virgil Finlay was extremely productive and Hannes Bok gay and uncomfortable. Francis Bacon was also gay, and surrealist, and the Swiss surrealist H R Giger is known for his bio- and erotomechanics.  The magazine illustrators Phillipe Druillet and Frank Frazetta were rapidly mentioned before Serihy had completely run out of time.

I then listened to Anastasiia Rohoza talking about Mandrake – legends and lore. The plant mandragora belongs to the Nightshade family, that also has belladonna and potatoes. These plants have poisonous berries. In medicine mandrake has been used as an anaesthetic for surgery, already by Hippocrates. Rachel and Lea in the Bible found a field of mandrake that was supposed to help fertility, and it is still used for that purpose in Israel. The use in magic is due to the shape of the roots, which can resemble the human body. It has also been shaped by pots to increase this similarity. There is a story on the Internet that a guy consumed a small piece of mandrake, leading to nausea, immobility and sleep, followed by hallucinations, shining strings crossing his view. Mandrake may be found on Sicily and Corsica, but is rare. It is said to be frequent under gallows, and that it shines in the night. According to Theophrastus it should be harvested in twilight, and a magical sword should be used to draw three circles around the plant, that should then be slowly dug up. A black dog is useful for finding it, and you should block your ears with wax so that you do not become dumb from the shrieking sound when it is dug up. In a story by Clark Ashton Smith, “The mandrakes”, a witch and warlock couple used mandrake as a love potion. The witch disappeared and a woman-like mandrake was found in the garden. In another story, by Hans Evers, a mandrake raped a girl. In that story the German (and Swedish) name was used, alruna.

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Mikhaylo Nazarenko

Another interesting talk was Chimerical prose: magic realism, made in Ukraine. Unfortunately the room and time were changed so I missed the first part of what Mikhaylo Nazarenko had to say.  However, I heard about a book about a Cossack, Cossack Marmay, which had been filmed. In the 1970’s there was a lot of chimerical prose in Ukrainian culture.  He mentioned a book about werewolves by someone called Drozd, and a novel about vampires by someone called Galina Parotjak, but when I tried to Google these I got nothing. The latter name should be Halyna Pahutyak according to a comment from Oleh Silin. Apparently very little has been translated to English. The publisher that might do it was said to be Garoslav. But I didn’t find that either. However, in a comment from Michael Burianyk I have received a correction: The publisher is Glagoslav, and can be found on the net.

In the presentation of Shamrocon, the next Eurocon that takes place in Dublin a week after the Worldcon in London, I saw that a new GoH was Andrzej Sapkowski. Of course I was also happy to see our own Ylva Spångberg among the GoHs, and that Sten Thaning from the Eurocon 2011 committee was in that committee too.

Christopher Priest.

Christopher Priest.

Christopher Priest’s GoH speech – announced as an autograph session – started with his observation that there is a lot of terrible sf around, and that we should celebrate the best. He mentioned his background, that the British culture defines him, whereas he did not get any interest in culture from his parents. His father worked for an engineering company and could not understand why his son had so many books.

In the beginning of the 60’s there was a yearning for better things. He wanted to explore the world of imagination, since he had had an unexciting childhood and had to daydream. As a teenager he read US sf and was stimulated by the ideas there. It took boldness to read sf at that time; you had to get used to hear about ray-guns etc. He wanted to consider what would happen to real people in the space ships, and when they arrived.

He had problems to read Asimov’s stories which he considered to be long and complicated and have unbelievable characters. Instead, he liked Ballard’s work, which he found weird, ambiguous, surrealistic and written in an obsessive, beautiful style. In part this is a matter of taste. In Asimov’s work he saw a dead end, commercial, with lots of power in a military future, whereas Ballard’s stories seemed full of encouragement and reminding of Salvador Dali. He read a lot of sf in his teens but not any longer.

His first three novels were sf, especially Inverted World, which was somewhat Ballardian, but also slipstream which he considers to use an unusual way of thinking. Other slipstream works he mentioned were Anna Kavan’s Ice and the films Memento and Being John Malkovich.

He has also used alternate history or counterfactual literature, which is familiar to sf readers. In The Separation peace is negotiated with Germany early in WW 2, and this might have decreased the horrors of the holocaust. It is also slipstream according to Priest.

Most fiction is invented and irrational. There has to be collaboration between the writer and the reader. Realism should only seem to be realistic, not be realistic. But why set the story in the future? By using the fantastic the readers are invited to think, their mind will be involved.

The earliest sf in English is Frankenstein. Mary Shelley developed a novel in gothic form, which was concerned with responsibility. This is an issue not only for scientists today. Sf often describes larger consequences, and if imagination is suppressed we may suffer a lack of freedom.

On a question about the future of books, Priest showed optimism. Today there are other information sources, but books are private, not mass-media. Important people read books.

At the General Meeting of the ESFS there was a spoof bid for the 2015 Eurocon, Mårtenique, proposed by Mårten Svantesson and James Shields, getting zero votes. Instead, the 2015 Eurocon will take place in St Petersburg in the last half of April. A new board for ESFS was elected: Chair: Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf, Sweden. Vice chair: Saija Kyllönen, Finland. Secretary: Gareth Kavanaugh, Ireland. Treasurer: Vanja Kranjcevic, Croatia. New position as Awards Administrator: Bridget Wilkinson. Thus, there are new persons on all positions, except on the newly invented as Awards Administrator. I think it might have been quite difficult to manage this organisation since fandoms in European countries have different culture and history, in addition to the problematic language barriers. The old committee has done a great job in keeping European fandom together.

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Arno Behrend, Mathias Kunkel and Eckhard Marwitz.

I listened to a presentation of Science Fiction in Germany by Mathias Kunkel and Eckhard D. Marwitz, who also published a fanzine during the convention, ConFact. There are conventions in Germany in Leipzig, Munich and Dortmund, and the latter city is bidding for Eurocon 2017, Dortcon, presented by Arno Behrend. The big German Club is SFCD, Science Fiction Club Deutschland, and there is also a fantasy fandom organised in FOLOW, Fellowship Of the Land Of Wonders. There appears to be little sf written in Germany. Walter Ernsting wrote a lot of Perry Rhodan stories, mainly under the pen name Clark Darlton, Andreas Eschbach has written some sf books e g The Nobel Prize, but there are no longer sf labels on his books. Frank Schätzing has written thrillers and sf, and in his latest, Limit, there is a space elevator. Previously big sellers paid for the stories that the editors wanted, but this is no longer the case. I think this is a general problem when too much power is given to economic forces, e g the company owners.

P1030089aAttila Nemeth talked about Science Fiction in Hungary, and the publishing climate there appeared much better than in Germany. There is a lot of Hungarian sf written after 2000, but unfortunately very little is being translated. The sf magazine Atjaro has taken over after Galaktika that folded in 1995. Galaktika restarted in 2004 and won the ESFS award in 2005. (Thanks to Jonathan Cowie of Concatenation for this amendment. ).

Peter de Weerdt and Frank Roger.

Peter de Weerdt and Frank Roger.

Science Fiction in Belgium was presented by Peter de Weerdt and Frank Roger, who started by telling that they came from the half of Belgium that is speaking Dutch and that they thus had more in common with people in the Netherlands. The Dutch-speaking fandom has organised BeNeLuxCons, and is now planning a Eurocon in 2016 in Antwerpen. The most well-known fantasy author in the Dutch language was said to be Jean Marie de Kremer, a k a John Flanders (1887-1964). There is a Dutch fantasy magazine, Elf Fantasy, and a web portal for Dutch fandom, http://www.ncsf.nl.

Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf and Dave Lally at the Closing Ceremony.

Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf and Dave Lally at the Closing Ceremony.

The Pan-European Party in the remote Prolisok Hotel was really a very pleasant end to a convention that was perhaps more an interesting than a rewarding experience. I talked to several people from many countries, and the international feeling is the really great thing about Eurocons. The international character continued on the “free” Sunday, when I, Carolina, Frank Rogers, Peter de Weerdt, Pascal Ducommun (Switzerland) and Christopher Priest went sight-seeing in the city, to be accompanied by Bridget Wilkinson and Georges Bormand (France) at the impressive Sophia Cathedral. We then had a late, very Ukrainian, lunch in a restaurant where the interior decoration seemed to P1030129acelebrate the culture during the Soviet era in a nostalgic way. Some of us finally took part in a “ghost walk”, guided by Anastasiia Rohoza, who showed us some gargoyles and the site of a Ukrainian prehistoric shrine that we had missed on our Sunday trip.

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Kontrast – Swecon 2012

Uppsala, October 5 – 7, 2012

Swecon in Uppsala was a hotel convention and apart from the worldcon this year it was the first time I stayed at the hotel where the con took place. It was very convenient to be able to fetch and leave things in the room. The hotel, Gillet, was well suited for the convention, although one of the programme rooms was too long. This would not have been a problem if the con had been less of a success. Now it was one of the biggest sf cons in Sweden with about 450 participants.

Linnéa Anglemark selling antiquarian books

I spent a lot of time with the antiquarian sf books of SAAM, the fund in memory of the deceased fan Alvar Appeltofft. This included transportation to and from the hotel and selling books, which was a very nice experience. Many books I sold were books that I had read with pleasure, but I also sold one Gor book by John Norman. I have tried to read one of them but could not stand it. I managed to listen to some panels and talks, when other fans and gophers took over at the desk.

Anders Björkelid, Joe Abercrombie, Linnéa Anglemark, Anna Bark Persson

The first panel I listened to was Fantasy with a twist: new writing in old clothes. Linnéa Anglemark moderated the discussion with Anders Björkelid, Joe Abercrombie, and Anna Bark Persson. I noted down a few comments. It can be satisfying when clichés are turned around in unexpected ways. An example is the elves in Richard Morgan’s fantasy books which have AIs. However, some readers prefer ”feel-good” reading, while others want surprises. There are also readers who try to control the text, saying ” you don’t want to kill N.N.” Fantasy can be used effectively to discuss gender roles, by using other settings than ordinary life. Steven Brust was recommended as a good fantasy author (I have not read him).

Vesa Sisättö, Gavin Grant, Niels Dalgaard, Jerry Määttä, Lise Andreasen

In the panel Science fiction and the future the first question from the moderator Lise Andreasen was whether sf is dying. The panel consisting of Vesa Sisättö, Gavin Grant, Niels Dalgaard, and Jerry Määttä considered that there is more good, hard sf now than ever before. It has always been a minority taste. Examples are Kim Stanley Robinson and Bruce Sterling. In sf it is possible to step back and look at our society, which is hard to do in other kinds of literature. There are always new things to write about and mainstream writers should if anything have less to write about. A problem can be a tendency to write sf about sf – an ingroup kind of literature that might turn away new readers, but mainstream authors do the same. In sf conversation between authors is fairly common, but this can be awesome for the readers.

In Finland there is a tendency just now to write dystopian novels. Regarding post-singularity stories it was said that when you can do anything as an uploaded individual, nothing matters. A question from the audience about animal stories was answered that they have to be antropomorphic to become interesting. An example is Brin’s Uplift series. Interestingly, cat characters appear mainly in fantasy whereas dogs appear in sf stories.

Peter Watts, Kelly Link, Karin Tidbeck, Lise Andreasen, Marianna Leikomaa

The short story and the idea was the title of a panel with Peter Watts, Kelly Link, Karin Tidbeck, and Lise Andreasen, moderated by Marianna Leikomaa. The panel felt that short stories is the place to go to test ideas. Kelly Link does not write novels, and says that in short stories you rely on the reader to fill in. Peter Watts thinks that in a short story you start in the middle of the story. Endings should both be logical and surprising. Some examples given of authors who mainly wrote short stories were James Tiptree, Jr., Fredrik Brown, and Ray Bradbury. To expand a short story into a novel is fairly common in sf, and it can work. Karin Tidbeck tells that Amatka started as a dream, then was a poem and finally a novel.

The audience was asked if they wrote short stories, and about half raised their hands. This surprised me but was about the same as at Chicon 7.

Niels Dalgaard

In Niels Dalgaard’s Guest of Honour Speech he talked about his 38 years in fandom, which started when he read Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles in Danish. This did something to him. He also entered a competition in an sf book with the first prize being a travel to the moon. When he went to cons he was impressed by the easy accessibility of sf authors, e g he talked with Arthur C. Clarke at the Brighton worldcon in 1969. He has had an academic career in sf, with a Ph D and teaching sf at the University of Copenhagen. Since its start he has been very active in SF Cirklen and been the editor of its fanzine Proxima and published many books. He told about a schism in Danish fandom during the last decade, mainly between those who like himself are purists and only are interested in hard, written sf and those who are also interested in fantasy, horror, films and tv series. He thinks that fandom as it was in the 60’s does not exist any more. I do not agree and remember that already in the 50’s and 60’s many fans were interested in films and fantasy – actually the Tolkien society in Sweden was founded by sf fans.

Nene Ormes gave an Introduction to Steampunk, and when I came into the room she was just showing a list of classic steampunk: Moorcock’s The Warlord of the Air, Sterling & Gibson’s The Difference Engine, and Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. In the “new wave” she listed Gail Carriger’s Soulless, Miéville’s Perdido Street Station, and Gordon Dahlquist’s The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters. She also mentioned comic books by Bryan Talbot, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright and Grandville. Steampunk culture consists of clothes, DIY & modding, music, artists & makers, steam songs, and meetings (e g Burning Man). We were shown an mp3 player modded by Anna Davour. Clockwork insects are also popular. Steampunk in film and tv are e g The Prestige, Laputa, Warehouse 13, and Wild Wild West (from 1999).

Nene defines steampunk as aesthetics that mixes technofantasy, neovictorianism, and retrofuturism. It is as if sf had been written before the Victorian era and shows the future. She recommends tor.com where there is “the great steampunk timeline” and the site “the steampunk scholar”.

Jerry Määttä

Under the title Why do we like the end of the world? Jerry Määttä talked about catastrophes and showed some clips from films where a single human is surviving: I am legend, 28 days later. He thinks that these show what it is to be human. In Sweden this autumn there have been quite a few books about catastrophes, like Jesper Weithz’ Det som inte växer är döende (What is not growing is dying) and Mikael Niemi’s Fallvatten (Water from falls). He recommended an essay by Susan Sontag on the lure of apocalypses, The Imagination of Disaster. She considers it to be a substitute for religion.

The tulip bubble in the 17th century was similar to the IT bubble, and inspired painters to still lifes with craniums, “memento mori”.

The tv series Life after people was characterized as apocalypse pornography.

Johan Jönsson, Sara Stridh, Anna Davour, Peter Watts, Torill Kornfeldt

Science fiction and the scientist was a very rewarding panel where the panelists demonstrated their different opinions. Johan Jönsson moderated the Ph D student Sara Stridh who was studying kidney function, Anna Davour who has abandoned research in physics and works as science journalist at the radio, Torill Kornfeldt who also was a science journalist but a former biologist, and the author GoH Peter Watts who had also been a biologist.

Having been a scientist might influence the style, since science writing is devoid of style. It should be clear, but on the other hand it should also impress fellow scientists, so that when you do not understand you should suspect that the author is smarter than yourself. When writing sf you have to know enough of the subject so that it doesn’t show, otherwise you might think that you are imaginative when you suggest something that has been known for long. If you know your field you will also know the present questions. On the other hand too much knowledge might hamper your imagination, and scientists who write sf seldom succeed when they write about their specialist area, e g when Alastair Reynolds writes about neutron stars. A couple of cool ideas outside the author’s expert field that were mentioned were the visualisation of virtual reality as space in Gibson’s Neuromancer, the presence of different constants in different parts of the universe in Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep, and Delany’s brain-computer interfaces in the 60’s.

In sf the universe follows laws, whereas fantasy has another attitude. Star Wars is fantasy. Sf is driven by curiosity whereas fantasy rests upon faith.

A good book about science and how it works is Bellwether by Connie Willis. I completely agree and I think that it is her most entertaining book.

Jerry Määttä (far to the left due to a cold), John-Henri Holmberg, Niels Dalgaard,
Mats Linder

As I looked through the programme for Kontrast I had problems to understand what the panel The Contrarians would be about. Was it global warming contrarians? This was not the case, and the panel instead discussed authors and critics who had criticised the present view and execution of sf. Mats Linder led the panel discussion which at first only was between Niels Dalgaard and Jerry Määttä, since John-Henri Holmberg had been delayed. According to Jerry, being contrarian is quite mainstream in sf, and many sf writers have been contrarian at some point. Niels pointed to the new wave writers who were also political contrarians, being more left-wing. He considered Barry Malzberg to have behaved badly when he wrote rude things about other authors, and he mentioned Stanislaw Lem who was thrown out of SFWA after having said nasty things about all US authors except Philip K. Dick. In Thomas Disch’s The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of sf authors are criticised for not letting sf live up to its potential; he saw mental laziness in other authors.

Jerry pointed out that the canons are different inside and outside the sf community: Heinlein is a major author inside, while Delany, Dick and LeGuin are major authors outside. John-Henri added that Bradbury was appreciated outside the sf world when he under a short period did his good stuff. Jerry, who has studied Wyndham, thinks that he was contrarian in his time by e g trying to reach woman readers, but Ballard and Aldiss were at least initially critical. In Denmark Bradbury was a “gateway drug” for many fans and he was published in slick magazines.

According to John-Henri Kim Stanley Robinson writes traditional sf, and he thinks that today’s contrarians may be John Varley, Allan Steele, and Joe Haldeman. They try to recreate the feeling that they got when they were teenagers. Heinlein was a contrarian who reoriented sf, and even during his late period he was contrarian when writing about aging and sex.

John-Henri considered that cyberpunk also was a result of a wish to relive the teenage period. The manifesto written by Sterling is actually a parody. Niels considered it unwise to write manifestos on what other authors should write, as exemplified by the mundane manifesto by Geoff Ryman. He also criticised steampunk for being alternate history that is hardly contrarian and rather escape literature, although it sometimes is feminist. John-Henri does not see much interesting now. The 70’s were enormously dramatic, with female writers coming in and gender issues being discussed.

Karin Waller, Mats Strandberg, Sara Bergmark Elfgren, Nene Ormes, Ola Skogäng

Fantastic literature set in Sweden of today was discussed in a panel consisting of Karin Waller from the Science Fiction Book Shop in Malmö, the authors of the popular Cirkeln (The Circle) Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren, Nene Ormes who has just published the sequel to her Udda verklighet (Odd Reality), and the comic book author Ola Skogäng. The magic city Engelsfors in Cirkeln and its sequels is a mixture of the Swedish town Fagersta and the tv series Twin Peaks. It is a depressed small city. The Sweden in these books is “here and in a time just passed”. Popular music, facebook and technical gadgets are avoided since they can rapidly be outdated. The authors think that it is better to include older music and techniques.

Udda verklighet takes place in Malmö with only minor changes. There are a lot of alleys and gargoyles. In Ola Skogäng’s comic books the main character is a big bear, and the setting is a twisted Stockholm with mummies, werewolves and vampires. He lives in Enköping which is boring. The readers like that the stories take place in Stockholm, but the editor wanted the setting to be New York instead.

Naturally there were awards ceremonies, and the sound expert of many cons, Jonas Wissting, got the Alvar. There were also a release party for new books by Karin Tidbeck and the GoHs Joe Abercrombie and Kelly Link, and the hotel had an excellent bar providing beer. Since I was busy packing up the unsold books I missed the closing ceremony where the head of the Fantastika 2013 committee, Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf received the spirit of Swecon for release on October 18 in Sickla in the Stockholm area. However, after delivering the books I returned and had a good time in the dead-dog party at Pipes of Scotland.

Kontrast 2012 was an excellent con with a broad programme where a lot of fans seemed to have a very good time. The committee can really be proud!

Chicon 7 / 70th Worldcon

Chicago, Ill., USA, August 30 – September 3, 2012

Cloud Gate in Millennium Park

This was my second Worldcon in Chicago. In 1991, when I attended Chicon 5, I had the impression that Chicago was a dirty and shabby town in great need of refurbishing and rebuilding, and evidently that this had been done. Especially the southern part, the ”Loop”, was much nicer and less intimidating. The first couple of days I spent strolling and sightseeing, alone or together with Carolina and Britt-Louise. We visited the Museum of Contemporary Art which had an interesting exhibition about skyscraper and other urban buildings, went up for a drink and superb view in the restaurant in the 95th floor of Hancock Center, took the train to Andersonville and visited the unexpectedly interesting Swedish-American Museum there. I spent almost a day in the excellent but enormous Art Institute of Chicago. A retrospective exhibition of Roy Lichtenstein caused me to upend my view of this artist whom I had previously considered unimaginative and dull.

My mirror image in the Cloud Gate

Britt-Louise Viklund and Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf in the Signature room of John Hancock Center

View from Hancock Center

The convention itself was of course impressing, with somewhere between 5 000 and 6 000 participants. I enjoyed many programme items, and will go into detail below. However, there were also some problems. The programme rooms were located in two separate buildings, connected at three levels, and it was really difficult to get to and find the rooms. Especially frustrating was to see that the small room was absolutely full when you finally found it, so that you had to run to the other building to go to another item instead. Most of the time there were at least two interesting programme items to chose from among about twenty in the programme at each time, but the last day was an unfortunate exception. Many panels were obviously directed towards aspiring authors, and when panelists asked the audience if they were writers most raised their hands. This is different from Swedish cons where most fans are just readers.

Unfortunately several programme items that I was interested in were cancelled. Thus the presentation of Dissertations on Fandom and the discussion Where Are the New Fan Historians? could have been interesting, as could some of the papers in the “academic” track like The Development of Fairy Tales.

Philosophy and Science Fiction

Sandra M. Grayson, Deb Geisler, Dale Cozort

There were several panels on Philosophy and SF. One of them had been moved from Saturday to Thursday and was not announced in the Programme Book but only in the programme sheets which were only given to the first who registered. Still, I thought that this might be interesting even if the description talked about Star Trek. The panel consisted of an expert on black SF writers, Sandra M. Grayson, an American SF fan and writer, Dale Cozort, an Australian SF author, Lezli Robyn, and the moderator Deb Geisler, who is an experienced fan and university professor of communication. In the picture an interesting notice can be seen on the wall: Only 50 people are allowed in the room, which would mean the first three rows out of at least twenty. Strange.

There are many philosophical issues that are discussed in SF, but in this panel only two were discussed and they were rather political or possibly ethical, and based on Star Trek. Having a black character in the original Star Trek series was considered revolutionary, but it was also thought that racial issues were handled less well later, and women were considered to be marginalized. The ”prime directive” in Star Trek (that there can be no interference with the internal development of alien civilizations) was seen not to be followed in real life. Thus, portable radios changed the music of Australian aborigines and the decision to ”help and educate” their children resulted in a ”stolen generation”. Much SF deals with the evilness of humans on other planets, e g LeGuin’s ”The Word for World is Forest” and the film Avatar. Enforcing goodness as in A Clockwork Orange is of course a dreadful measure. Much SF also deals with the superiority of humans over robots, e g Asimov’s robot stories, and there are also stories where the robots take over and have humans as slaves.

The ethics of terraforming Mars was discussed. The possibility to study whether there is any kind of life there has apparently been destroyed now since Curiosity was not sterilized before leaving Earth.

SF Scene in Europe

Debora Montanari, Luigi Petruzzelli, Mike Resnick, Barbara G. Tarn

Being a European myself I thought that it might be interesting to listen to this panel. It consisted of the Author GoH Mike Resnick who was also moderator, and three Italians, two authors, Barbara G. Tarn and Debora Montanari, and a publisher, Luigi Petruzzeli. I was surprised and annoyed that no other Europeans had been invited to the panel in spite of the great many countries represented among the preregistered. Mike Resnick had been invited to cons in France, and the Italians talked about the national con in Italy, Italcon, but e g Eurocons were not mentioned at all, nothing was said about SF cons or authors in e g Germany, and about Scandinavia the Italians just said that only thrillers were published. Instead the Italians talked about self-publishing and the importance of having a good illustration on the front-page, and Resnick talked about SF in China. Fortunately only about twenty people listened to the panel.

The Exploration of Gender Roles in Science Fiction

Sara M. Harvey, Graham Sleight, Deirdre Murphy, Paco Ruiz

This is something that I consider SF to be a very good literary form for. The subject was handled by the fantasy author Sara M. Harvey who has a lesbian protagonist in her steampunk novels, Deirdre M. Murphy who has transgender characters in her speculative fiction, and the Spanish author Paco Ruiz. The moderator was Graham Sleight who writes a column in Locus and edits Foundation. The panel started by listing novels where gender roles are treated: Virginia Wolf’s Orlando, which is a mixture of fantasy and SF, LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness where there is a convergence of male and female, and Brave New World where sex and reproduction are disconnected.

It freaks readers out when they don’t know the gender. One example is Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, where ”she” is used for all persons, and ”he” is used for someone you are attracted to. We learn at a very young age what a boy is and what a girl is. This is discussed in the short story ”Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation by K. N. Sirsi and Sandra Botkin” by Raphael Carter which can be found in the second Tiptree anthology.

One of the panelists had heard a teenage boy saying that the girls are ”dumbing down”. In Sweden I think it is more the boys who have this negative attitude towards learning.

It is socially acceptable for girls to play and dress as boys, but not vice versa. Boy things are ”better”, it is allowed to go up the ladder. Now there are quite many books with girl characters, e g in The Hunger Games. Dressing boys as girls was normal in the 17th century, and even up to the 1930’s boys could be dressed in girl dresses.

A few other works of interest were mentioned. In Asimov’s The Gods Themselves there are three sexes, and Sheri S. Tepper has written about cities with only females and men outside the cities. In Tiptree’s ”The Screwfly Solution” the men murder the women, and the construction of gender is treated in Michael Blumlein’s ”Brains of Rats”. Roz Kaveney’s Rhapsody of Blood – Rituals was also mentioned.

In society male homosexuals are more visible than female ones. It is quite ”normal” for women to go hand in hand. However, lesbians are two steps from the norm (the male) and thus less ”normal” than male homosexuals.

A small child in the audience asked his parents every second ”Can we go now?”. Since it was past ten in the evening that sounded like a good idea. The question was of course very disturbing for the rest of the audience but I mainly felt sorry for this abused child.

Are you a Dickhead?

Jonathan Vos Post, Guy Gillian, Tom Doyle, Bradford Lyau, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

This panel consisted of Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, who has coauthored a novel with Robert Silverberg, When the Blue Shift Comes, Bradford Lyau, who has been a Dick-fan since he was a teenager and has written his Ph D thesis on French SF, the fan Guy Gillian, the scientist and sf author Jonathan Vos Post, and Tom Doyle as moderator.

Why is Dick so interesting, with at least eight films based on his stories? It is easy to read in whatever you want, they are Kafkaesque, Dick is humane, i e he writes about what it is to be human and asks what we can do for each other. Dick looks at the present whereas Heinlein extrapolated. Another reason may be that he already is popular, which results in a demand for more. There is also a lot of humor in his texts, especially in the early works, e g “Beyond Lies the Wub”, and the later books as e g Valis are concerned with religion.

Books that were specially recommended included The Martian Time-Slip, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Ubik (a terrific thriller) and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which deals with empathy exploration and how humans become machine-like.

The Bob and Connie Show

As expected it was very entertaining to listen to Robert Silverberg and Connie Willis talk about various things, mainly SF conventions, but also literature. Harriet Becher Stowe, author of Oncle Tom’s Cabin and neighbour of Mark Twain alias Samuel Clemens and the English author Wyndham Lewis were considered to be unappreciated. Ivy Compton-Burnett was also recommended. Among his own works Silverberg considered the historical novel Lord of Darkness to be too little read. He had got stuck in the middle when writing Tower of Glass, but Barry Malzberg called and just told him to write on. Which he did.

The Art of Writing Effective Book Reviews

There should have been five panelists but only Sarah Stegall (www.munchkyn.com) and Doug Fratz (SF Site) showed up. A good review should be balanced, and it should be considered that a book rarely is perfect. How does the work fit in the work of this author, and in the rest of the field? To know the field is important as can be seen when mainstream reviewers wrote about The Road without mentioning e g Zelazny’s Damnation Alley. Spoilers should be avoided but may be allowed for the first third of the book. Sometimes the story turns upside down in the end, which makes it difficult to present in a review. Doug Fratz tells that he reviews from a scientific point of view, and considers five elements in literature according to Frost: Character, setting, plot, style, and theme. The plot can actually take place inside a mind, as in Shirley Jackson’s novels. The setting is special for SF where it can vary enormously. In Dune and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy the setting is the main thing. After a discussion of these five elements it is important to consider if the story “works”, and for that you have to use your gut feeling, and then consider why or why not. Did the book fulfill the expectations, and which were they? The expectations may be unconscious, e g in stories about alternate universes.

In literary critic the plot may be discussed more freely, and it is important to relate the work to other works by the author and the genre as a whole. According to Damon Knight the plot can be an “idiot plot”, being of the first order if the hero must be an idiot or second order if everybody except the hero are stupid.

Reviews of SF and fantasy books used to be found in newspapers, but today they should be sought in magazines like Asimov’s, Analog, Locus, Interzone, NY Review of SF, SF Review, and websites.

Jo Walton Reading

Jo Walton

Jo Walton read from her latest book, Turnover, which is about a generation star ship and the name comes from the point where acceleration is changed to retardation when half the journey is done. After that I asked her if she was willing to be Guest of Honor at the convention “Fantastika” in Stockholm in October 2013, and she made me very happy by accepting this.

Filling the Magazines

Stanley Schmidt, Jason Sizemore, Ellen Datlow, Gordon van Gelder, John Joseph Adams

This panel was moderated by Ellen Datlow. John Joseph Adams is editor of the online magazine Lightspeed, which can be read for free and also sells books. New authors are told to rewrite if their submissions are not acceptable. Lightspeed also publishes reprint. Jason Sizemore is the publisher of another free online magazine, Apex Magazine. Stanley Schmidt has been editor of Analog for many years. He edits it for himself, i e he choses stories that he likes. He thinks of himself as a matchmaker between author and reader. Later during the convention we learned that he now retires from the job as editor. The other paper magazine editor in the panel was Gordon van Gelder of F&SF. He says that an ideal issue contains at least one story that is ideal for each reader, but that different stories are ideal for different readers.

Evil in Lovecraft and Tolkien

Philip Kaveny, Jan Bogstad

This was announced as a paper by Philip Kaveny, but in the presentation he was assisted by Jan Bogstad. The paper discussed similarities between these two writers. They have both been reinterpreted, Lovecraft by Derleth and Tolkien by his son Christopher. Both authors were heavily influenced by World War I. Mordor represents Somme, where a folkloristic landscape is destroyed. Both were outsiders who lost their fathers early, and both have written essays on fantasy.

Carolyn Ives Gilman Reading

Carolyn Ives Gilman

Before reading Carolyn Ives Gilman told us that the room we were in, DuSable, was named after the founder of Chicago. She is a historian by profession, and she read from the book Isles of the Forsaken, which has a sequel, Ison of the Isles.

Looking Back 70 Years in Fandom

Dave Kyle, John L. Coker, III, Peggy Rae Sapienza

Impressive! John L. Coker, III, talked with Dave Kyle and Peggy Rae Sapienza about US fandom in the 40’s and 50’s. Chicon 1 in 1940 was Worldcon 2, and we were told lots of anecdotes from these early events. Fans from Denver rode under train-cars since they could not afford a ticket. The second worldcon was less political than the first, where several fans had been excluded. The number of participants was 128, of which 22 came in costume, thus starting the tradition of masquerades at the cons. Contacts were established with British fandom via contacts between Ted Carnell and Forrest J Ackerman.

Last Man Standing: Frederik Pohl

Edward James, Elizabeth Anne Hull, Robert Silverberg, Joan Slonczewski, Jim Frenkel

This appreciation of the 92 years old Pohl was a panel with his wife Elizabeth (Betty) Anne Hull, who is also a retired professor and SF expert and editor, the editor at Tor books Jim Frenkel, the SF author Joan Slonczewski, the expert on SF and fantasy Edward James, and Robert Silverberg. Fred proposed to Betty in an ad in Locus. They share an interest in geology that they have practised during their journeys. A manuscript had the title Complexities of Coupled Faults but Jim Frenkel told him that this was too long and would overshadow his name, so it was renamed The Voices of Heaven. Pohl insisted on the title The Space Merchants since it has a connection to the room rents on Madison Avenue at the time. This is a satire, as is also Gladiator-at-Law, both written with Cyril M. Kornbluth. According to Jim Frenkel “The Gold at the Starbow’s End” and “The Mayor of Mare Tranq” are about Jack Williamson. The panel named same favourites, Gateway, The Years of the City, and “Day Million”. In “The Age of the Pussyfoot” Pohl predicted pocket computers.

Why Fantasy Dominates Science Fiction

Scott Lynch, Farah Mendlesohn, Ty Franck, Daniel Abraham, Valerie Estelle Frankel

The panel consisted of fantasy author and Elizabeth Bear’s boyfriend Scott Lynch, “SF fan who writes about fantasy” Farah Mendlesohn, authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck who as James S. A. Corey has written the Hugo-nominated novel Leviathan Wakes, and the moderator Valerie Estelle Frankel who has written books about fantasy, e g Harry Potter. Farah Mendlesohn had some very interesting things to say about why fantasy has come to dominate the market, a change that was most marked in the 80’s and 90’s. The SF became more sophisticated, less accessible, and relied more on intertextuality as seen in e g the works of Banks. At least in Britain science education in schools has not kept abreast with the scientific development. Fantasy relies on science from before 1900, whereas modern SF relies on modern physics that the readers cannot relate to. You have to convince in the story, and according to Farah that is why she thinks Never Let Me Go failed (which I don’t agree with). There is also a role model problem; scientists are not cool any longer.

High fantasy has entered the public mind and is seen on bestseller lists. Lynch admits that a blurb by George R. R. Martin on his books has helped. Fantasy learned to write series before SF started to do that. There were also many good history books published in the 90’s, like Longitude, which might have started many fantasy books.

A negative attitude towards science and technology is seen in much SF for kids, which is not written by SF authors. In the shape of being environmentalist they are actually pagan, and do not accept that earth never was a “natural” planet. Fear of science is also apparent in many technothrillers, like those by Michael Crichton.

A statement by Paul Kincaid was cited, that I think is very relevant and apt: SF is an attitude.

The Secret History of Science Fiction

George R. R. Martin, Mike Resnick, Joe Haldeman, Robert Silverberg

This panel had some outstanding names: Mike Resnick, Robert Silverberg, Joe Haldeman, George R. R. Martin and the late-coming Gardner Dozois. We were thoroughly entertained by the stories from various conventions, but afterwards I had to admit that most of the jokes were either sexist or about alcohol. I don’t think SF was mentioned.

Science Fiction in China

Ruhan Zhao, Yan Wu, Jan Bogstad, Emily Jiang

A math teacher living in USA since 1999, Rhuan Zhao, the chairman of the Chinese SF Association, Yan Wu, a US citizen of Chinese descent, Emily Jiang, and Jan Bogstad who translates SF from Chinese to English, talked about SF in China. It was considered to be chilren’s literature before the Cultural Revolution when it was condemned, but now it is growing under the watchword “march to science”. The turning point was in ’89 when “market socialism” started. The major SF magazine in China is Science Fiction World. Young authors, Yao Wang and Qiufan Chen, have been translated by Ken Liu and published in Clarkesworld Magazine on the net.

Medical Myths and Errors Perpetuated by Genre Writers

C. D. Covington, Lisa C. Freitag, Susan Silverton, Henry G. Stratmann, Brad Aiken

In view of my former profession as a teacher of medical students I thought that this discussion could be interesting. The panel consisted of the Analog author and M D Brad Aiken, the author, cardiologist and researcher Henry G. Stratmann, the endocrinologist, university administrator (“the dark side”) and SF author Susan Silverton (Fern as author), the pharmacist and unpublished author C. D. Covington, and as moderator the lapsed doctor and Ph D student of ethics Lisa Freitag. They started with the effects of head injuries which, especially in films, seldom are as dramatic as in real life. For sepsis it is not enough to chew on a few leaves, and a flat line in EKG is most caused by an electrode that has got off the body. Restoring atmosphere does not repair hematomas as in Total Recall. Actually, reoxygenation causes more problems than anoxia per se. Emptying your lungs before being in a vacuum only very marginally decreases the hazard. Since many in the audience were aspiring authors the panel gave some advice on where to find facts: Pubmed, Wikipedia and Merck Manual.

Surprisingly, a panel with the same title and description was scheduled later in the same day. The panel was completely different, and since I did not go there I do not know if this is a printing mistake or if they actually talked about the same things there.

Collaborations

Charles Stross, Eric Flint

According to the daily newsletter, The Right Stuff, the number of memberships sold was 5019. This is of course impressing, but not when it is compared with the 52 000 attending Dragon*Con that took place at the same time in Atlanta, Georgia. Some of the programme items at Chicon were run together with Dragon*Con, with an internet link, and one of those was Collaborations. In Chicago the panel consisted of Charles Stross and Eric Flint, and in Atlanta sat fantasy novelist and illustrator Janny Wurts, NASA scientist Les Johnson and as moderator SF writer Jody Lynn Nye. All had some experience of collaborations, and we heard that in every collaboration each author has to do two thirds of the job. Question that has to be settled are who is in charge and who does the copy-editing. Collaboration via the internet may change storytelling back to the oral tradition that was not solitary. Technically the internet link between Chicago and Atlanta worked wonderfully with only the occasional pixelation of the picture.

The Future Evolution of the Short Story

Mike Rimar, Barbara Galler-Smith, Ellen Datlow, Eileen Gunn, Donald J. Bingle

Authors Donald J. Bingle and Mike Rimar, author and editor (OnSpec) Barbara Galler-Smith, and editor and moderator Ellen Datlow, discussed short stories. They considered them as training grounds and to be read (or listened to) by commuters. A problem they saw was how to make money by publishing on-line. Big books sell better. “Only short story writers read short stories”. This all sounded bad since I like reading short stories and consider them to be at the core of SF but not of fantasy.

Victorian and Edwardian Science Fiction

Matthew Bernardo, DDavid Malki, Randy Smith

Fan Matthew Bernardo and rev. Randy Smith who edits an anthology talked with the moderator David Malki. When “real” SF started with Frankenstein in 1818 there were also proto-SF like that by Cyrano de Bergerac. Examples of early 20th century SF are the detective stories collected in William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost Finder and the anthology The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. The character Craig Kennedy, created by Arthur B. Reeve, is also on the borderline between SF and detective stories.

Early SF can be found in Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archives. Sam Moskowitz collected some in SF by Gaslight, and much can be found in Hearst Magazines from 1880’s and 1890’s. Some social commentators were E. M. Forster who wrote about an internet-like technology, Samuel Butler (Erehwon) and H. G. Wells. Other examples of early SF are Jules Verne’s Robur the Conqueror, Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and its sequel Easy as ABC that is not as good), Jack London’s The Star Rover, Abbott’s Flatland, and stories by Stevenson, Conan Doyle (Dr Challenger), Mark Twain (time travel) and Poe. In The Inheritors Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford collaborated on a story based on the fourth dimension. George Griffith wrote many early SF stories before 1900, e g The Angel of the Revolution, its sequel Olga Romanova, and the Dr Who-ish Honeymoon in Space. Sinclair Lewis’ Arrowsmith may be called medical SF and his It Can’t Happen Here political SF. Edison’s Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss is an example of early (1898) adventure SF with rayguns, space suits and epic space battles, and William N. Harben’s The Land of the Changing Sun is a classic hollow-earth story.

Getting it Right: Religions

Leigh Ann Hildebrand, Teresa Frohock, P. C. Hodgell, Kameron Hurley, Petréa Mitchell, Guy Consolmagno

This panel, led by moderator P. C. Hodgell, consisted of Leigh Ann Hildebrand who does religion all the time in her theological Ph D studies on “lived religion”, i e what individuals actually do, author Teresa Frohock who has studied many religions and incorporates it in her books, e g Miserere, Kameron Hurley who remixes and reimagines religions in Nebula-nominated God’s War, Pétrea Mitchell, interested in human-computer interactions, and Brother Guy Consolmagno who has written about religion among scientists (God’s Mechanics). The latter wondered who else would carry out all that religion does today, like initiation rituals, marriage, burials etc. (My answer would of course be that that is no problem whatsoever, they can be skipped or performed without religion.)

It “costs” to have a religion and as author you have to show why it is there. You also have to consider if your own religion affects the story. Subconsciously incorporated expressions may show if you are protestant or catholic. You have to challenge your own biases and listen to people, how religion impacts your daily life, and you must not preach your own religion in your books. SF authors tend to treat religion as engineering. In anime there are lots of religious symbols that we do not understand. We do probably the same but we do not see it.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is negative towards religion, Bujold’s work is semireligious and Sheri S. Tepper’s Grass is about religion.

Incorporating the Personal into Speculative Fiction

Gwynne Garfinkle, Cat Rambo, Nick Mamatas, William Shunn, Inanna Arthen/Vyrdolak

Cat Rambo moderated fellow authors Nick Mamatas, Gwynne Garfinkle, Inanna Arthen/Vyrdolak, and William Shunn. Nothing sensational came out of this discussion. Personal experience is important and often the basis for what is written, and even SF stories are often just rewritings of present events but with a new slant. The characters have to be human enough for the reader to be able to relate. Some real life events seem completely unbelievable; they then have to be excluded or rewritten.

Myth and Religion in SF&F

Sara M. Harvey, Brenda Sinclair Sutton, Bradford Lyau, P. C. Hodgell, Martin Berman-Gorvine

Rev. Brenda Sinclair Sutton, author of books about SF Bradford Lyau, costume historian and author Sara M. Harvey, and fantasy author P. C. Hodgell were moderated by author Martin Berman-Gorvine. The latter has written 36, where a future religion is similar to the manicheism of the middle ages. Other examples mentioned were Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Nine Billion Names of God” and “The Star”, and Blish’s A Case of Conscience. It was considered that there is no limit between religion and myth, since at the time it was all true. Someone else said that “myth is false on the outside but true on the inside”. Literalism is often the cause of fundamentalism. There are two different creation myths in the Bible, making it impossible to take it literally. Other examples of books and authors doing a good job of treating myths and religion are Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, Lois McMater Bujold, Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, Orson Scott Card, Charles de Lint, and Katherine Kurtz. Robert Charles Wilson’s Mysterium is interesting since in it a gnostic version of Christianity won out in a parallel world.

Magic Realism vs. Traditional Fantasy

Lillian Cauldwell, Cat Rambo, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Nick Mamatas, Kat Richardson

Urban fantasy author Kat Richardson moderated this panel consisting of author Nick Mamata, who also edits Japanese magic realism in the Latin American mode, Dutch horror author Thomas Olde Heuvelt, author Cat Rambo, and author of multicultural magic realism Lillian Cauldwell. The panel had problems defining magic realism, stressing that it should have an element of surprise and wonder, “out there”, or that it is a species of realism that for political reasons has not been able to treat certain phenomena in reality, or that the magical is perceived as a normal thing. Ambiguity is a pleasure of magic realism. A way to indicate the difference is of course to list a few examples. García Márquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi are magic realism whereas the Ring trilogy and T. H. White’s Arthurian books are fantasy. Magic realism may work as a bridge between consciousness and unconsciousness. The session was briefly visited by Bruce Taylor who calls himself Mr. Magic Realism and has a website promoting his view if the genre.

Erle Korshak

In addition to all the scheduled programme items there were a lot of other events going on. I saw that the children were well provided in a special room and also had their own programme, ChiKidz. In a Con Suite we were all welcome to have free bread with peanut butter, salad, fruits and cans of soft drinks, and in the gigantic Concourse there were lots of stalls selling books and fan-related merchandise, as well as memberships to other cons. I sat for two hours at the site selection table, where votes were collected for the only announced bid for Worldcon 2014 (Loncon 3). The Art Show was as usual filled with fairly well done but too cliché illustrations. The exception were those by Youchan even if they were somewhat childish. The Opening Ceremony was performed as a talk show with host John Scalzi, and I was most impressed by Erle Korshak who had cochaired the first Chicon in 1940. The entertaining John Scalzi also presented the Hugo Awards (except when he was himself nominated). In that ceremony there was also an in memoriam of the fans who had died since the last Worldcon, and two Swedes were mentioned, Christoffer Schander and Arne Sjögren.

Of course there was a lot of socialising too, and various constellations of fans went out to dinner. Thus I met another old fan, Gabriel Setterborg and his wife Elisabet, Anders Hedenlund and his daughter Alice, Sten Thaning and Dessy, Tommy Persson, Michael Pargman, Urban Gunnarsson, Erik Fornander, Thomas Recktenwald from Germany, Peter de Weerdt from Belgium, Herman Ellingsen from Norway, Eemeli Aro from Finland, Flemming Rasch from Denmark and several others in addition to Carolina and Britt-Louise.

Peter de Weerdt, Tommy Persson

Alice Hedenlund and The Carrot Cake

Anders Hedenlund continuing on The Carrot Cake, Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf

Fantastika 2013

A committee in Stockholm has started planning a convention in Sickla, called Fantastika 2013. The con will take place October 18 – 20. The venue, “Dieselverkstaden” has not been used for sf cons before. It has two big lecture halls and a smaller room suitable for group discussions, readings etc, and there is a bar. The convention will be presented at Kontrast.

Fantasticon 2012

Copenhagen, Denmark, June 1-3, 2012

Klaus Æ. Mogensen

Like the last Fantasticon I visited in 2010 this con was also located in Vanløse, where the ”culture house” is well suited for this kind of event. I first listened to Klaus Æ. Mogensen who entertained with a show called SF Covers: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Quite often covers are directly misleading and sometimes the features displayed have no connection whatsoever to the content of the book. In the book shown there are no skateboards, blonde girls, rainbow dragons, Valley girl fashions, or palm trees. There is, however, a passing mention of cats. Found at goodshowsir.co.uk.

Alastair Reynolds, Tue Sørensen, H. H. Løyche, Lars Ahn Pedersen (m)

At Finncon last year in Turku I listened to a panel discussing optimistic science fiction, where the anthology Shine was mentioned. At the present con there was a similar panel, entitled If the world doesn’t end: Optimistic science fiction, with a group of authors and fans. According to the GoH Alastair Reynolds Shine had not had any impact; it did not change anything. He considers that sf got it right – it is a better world now, with e g the Internet and Google translator, and he is optimistic about the climate change – we will manage. H. H. Løyche likes to write dystopias since they are more colourful, and Tue Sørensen likes to read utopian stories even if it is difficult to envisage a perfect society since it is likely that many will not like the basic ideas. Reynolds tries to mix dystopias with utopias. Negative stories have always existed, e g the Bible and Gilgamesh. In New York in the late 1800s horse manure was a major problem, which changed with the subways. Reynolds considers that the same will happen with peak oil. In 50 years we will look back at the oil problem as we now do on the horse manure problem. He is also optimistic regarding space engineering which will get progressively cheaper, and in medicine we will manage antibiotic resistance. A problem may be sudden catastrophes, like an eruption of a volcano in Yellowstone. A warning 100 years ahead is OK, but one week?

Niels Dalgaard, Jesper Rugård Jensen

Niels Dalgaard and Jesper Rugård Jensen talked about Niels E. Nielsen and Danish science fiction, unfortunately in Danish which made me miss quite a lot. Nielsen was considered to be the Morten Korch of science fiction. Korch wrote romantic stories about rural Denmark. There was no literary tradition in Nielsen’s family. He was both influenced by American culture and critical to the politics of USA. He spent some time in Germany during the war and the ruins he saw appears in his books. Especially in the beginning he wrote stories about a thirld world war with nuclear weapons. Thus, in Kunskapens träd (The tree of knowledge) people did not dare to have sex after the war due to the risk of getting a damaged child, and in To sole stod up (Two suns rose) the second sun is an exploding atom bomb. The latter book describes a return voyage reminding of The Odyssey. Later he wrote stories about disasters due to ecological catastrophes and pollution, and another theme was totalitarian states and the protest against them.

The short stories are more humoristic and varied than the novels. Many describe space travel and are hard sf. His Martian stories are similar to Bradbury’s, and many short stories are sentimental.

Klaus Æ. Mogensen, Alastair Reynolds, Nicolas Barbano, Gert Balling (m)

In the Science café: The mad scientist and the end of the world a panel discussed not only the mad scientists but also realistic portrayals of scientists in fiction. Frankenstein is a classic example of the mad scientist, at least in the films. The mad scientist disappeared due to more pressing world problems, but seems to have returned in the introduction to the new Hulk film and in Fringe. According to Klaus ”Evil Morgenstern” ”Mad bankers” are a more serious problem and there should be a film about them. Realistic scientists appear in the films Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Contact, and in Perdido Street Station. I could add the scientists in books by Gregory Benford (Cosm) and Robert J. Sawyer (Frameshift).

I went to listen to another panel, but Margareta stayed on: The scientist today has a low value in society, research does not give status in the West. Nicolas Barbano is seen as the geek (nörd) by other film makers, and according to Reynolds a scientist is the same as someone with Asperger in the media. This is seen e g in quiz programmes where culture has status. This attitude in the media is discussed in Denmark as a reason for the problems to recruit to science-based education programmes. Forensics on film and tv has caused problems for the education programmes since those who apply are “wanna bees” and have not understood what the subject is.

Reynolds has earlier worked at ESA where many were sf readers and also worked with ideas from sf texts, and it happens that a clue in sf leads to an idea that can be developed in reality. Thus “count down” is not necessary but stems from sf. However, when Reynolds “came out” at ESA many others came up to him and confessed. But they kept quiet since many really dislike sf and they took care of their careers. Still he sees a difference. In the 70s a film maker was rejected if he asked for help from a scientist, but this is not the case today. Sf terms are used today to name craters on the surface of Titan since mythologies are exhausted as sources.

Ralan Conley (m), Henrik Harksen, H. H. Løyche, Ellen Datlow, Knud Larn

The panel Stories we haven’t seen: The good short story started with the question what makes a good short story. Ellen Datlow considered the character to be most important. If there is no character she doesn’t get interested. The character does not have to be an actual person, rather a voice. For Knud Larn the storytelling is most important and the first ten lines has to grip him. The character could be a tree or even the setting. Henrik Harksen thought that the ideas are most important, like they are in H P Lovecraft’s stories. In horror stories the atmosphere is most important.

Lars Ahn Pedersen, Ellen Datlow

The GoH Ellen Datlow was interviewed by Lars Ahn Pedersen. She worked in a library, went to college and travelled a lot, came to Copenhagen in 1972. She came to Omni and worked with Ben Bova and Robert Sheckley. Omni closed in 1997, she went to Sci Fi Channel and its web magazine Sci Fiction which closed in 2005. She has done the horror for The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and works now for NightShade and others as free-lance editor. For the future she is most worried about the possibilities to get paid in the new electronic delivery systems for literature.

Tatiana Goldberg

Tatiana Goldberg delivered an interesting talk about Creature design from a psychological perspective. Anthropomorphism enables relating and empathy, e g by mimicking human facial expressions and showing emaciated or twisted figures. Visual cues may be positive, as childlike big eyes and appealing features, or negative where common anxieties or phobias are incorporated (insect eyes, spiders), associations with death and disease and elements of disgust, like open sores. Cognitive dissonance, which is disturbing to the psyche, can be e g anthropomorphic vs monstrous, human vs not human, innocence vs danger, beauty vs beast and mechanical vs biological. Fear of the unknown might have had survival value, and is most effective when we scare ourselves. This can be achieved by showing that something is wrong, but not what is wrong, and by engaging the imagination or by unpredictability and symbolism. Human anxiety, especially repressed, sexual anxiety (penis and vagina in the film Alien), violence, shaking off moral and societal norms, existential anxiety about life and death and meaninglessness (the film Psycho). The drive to deal with our own anxiety should be engaged.

She uses these ideas herself when she produces her horror comics.

Knud Larn

Knud Larn shared his knowledge about the unknown one of science fiction’s fathers, J.-H. Rosny aîné. His first novel, Nell Horn, was probably written in London since it is a realistic novel set in the London slum. After moving to Paris he wrote the prehistoric adventure Les Xipéhuz, and he then wrote several novels about aliens, parallel worlds, vampires, doppelgängers and witchcraft. Brian Stableford has translated several of these French novels to English , e g Les Xipéhuz, Another World, The Death of the Earth and The Navigators of Space in The Scientific Romances of J.-H-. Rosny Aîné.

In the future in Mort de la terre there is no longer any water and biological life has been substituted by mineral life and in a novel about Mars women give birth when they think about men. Rosny was an evolutionist in contrast to Verne who has change in the titles but has static stories. Rosny can be considered the father of hard sf since science drives the story.

Alastair Reynolds, Klaus Æ. Mogensen, Jesper Jørgensen. The moderator Flemming Rasch was not yet there.

The panel Living in space started with a collection of film clips, e g space wheels for artificial gravity. This is not needed if robots are used instead of humans. The moon is easier to colonize than Mars which is too far away, but habitats are even easier. Why should we leave earth at all? One reason can be that there might be risks for humanity, and it is always wise not to have all eggs in the same basket. The tests with biodomes have not been successful so far. Perhaps the attempts have not been serious enough, or they have been too complicated or earthlike.

Stig W. Jørgensen (m), Niels Dalgaard, Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf, Flemming Rasch

Recent trends in science fiction novels was a panel discussing a couple of recent famous novels. Niels Dalgaard talked about Connie Willis’ Blackout and All Clear, which he found to be far too long. The time travel part in them described all problems which have already been discussed in sf. The stories are repetitious with endless chases to find each other. But on the other hand Willis obviously loves the period (the London Blitz) and she has done her research but unfortunately does not follow her own rule not to put it all in. The stories touch upon the question of free will, but this is done much better by Kage Baker who writes a much better “time opera”, i e stories where the technicalities of time travel are taken for granted as space opera ignores the problems with space travel. Still, the books work as historical novels, where the people from the future discover the past together with the reader. Unfortunately the future Oxford is very similar to our own times.

Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf started the discussion about The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder. This is a steampunk novel from an alternate London about 1850, based on the legend of a man who assaulted women and then rapidly disappeared by jumping. The story contains gene-manipulated birds, dogs who can deliver letters, flying velocipedes and of course zeppelins. The book is funny and the described London is smelling. The characters are interesting and you don’t have to read the sequels. Possibly steampunk books with its Victoriana have another audience than sf readers.

Flemming Rasch had been assigned Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City which reads like a cyberpunk novel. It is a crime story with a cyberpunk girl and animals as familiars, but has no real sf elements. Since it is set in South Africa it can be said to be part of a trend where the story takes place in other countries, like in many of Ian McDonald’s books. It is a mixture of urban fantasy, cyberpunk and new weird, and reads like Tim Powers. The animals are used as punishment for criminals; you cannot survive if the animal dies.

Stig W. Jørgensen had read China Miéville’s Embassytown, which was not New Weird but traditional, space operatic sf with FTL and life on other planets. The setting is used to discuss the philosophy of language, and the main protagonist is the language. The aliens have a concrete language and cannot lie, but with the aid of the humans they develop a symbolic use of words. It was considered to be fun and easy to read, and the description of addiction was interesting. The characters are hollow, wooden, and are just tools.

Ellen Datlow, Lars Ahn Pedersen (m), Nicolas Barbano

The panel The fairy tale in modern fiction mainly dealt with films and was thus less interesting. Ellen Datlow mentioned the retellings by Angela Carter and Tanith Lee, and the anthology series that started with Snow White, Blood Red. There was a discussion on definitions and borders, and Datlow divided the fantasies into religious stories, myths, creation myths and fairies. Obviously there is much overlap, and stories which could be used in retellings may be found in e g Russia, Japan and in old Arabian tales. Naturally H. C. Andersen was also mentioned.

Alastair Reynolds, Niels Dalgaard

The GoH Alastair Reynolds was interviewed by Niels Dalgaard. Early in life he watched Star Trek, The Time Machine and Fantastic Voyage, and when he was seven or eight he started to read sf that he found in a magazine aimed at little boys. He read an easily understundable A. C. Clarke story and the robot stories by Isaac Asimov, and he was then set for life. Being a scientist he has never been intimidated by science. His take on new space opera started with Revelation Space, that has no FTL and thus no galactic civilization. Instead, it makes the galaxy seem huge. He found Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix to be an eye-popping novel with all the new science, genes, nano, AI etc. He also mentioned another early cyberpunk novel, Michael Swanwick’s Vacuum Flowers, where a human-derived hive mind rules the Earth.

In Asimov’s The Naked Sun a person drops his glasses which brake, and he considers this to be highly unlikely in the future described. I think it is even more unlikely that smoking will be allowed on space ships as in Revelation Space or on Mars as in Terminal World.

A new series of space operas, translated into Danish, have far-out crazy ideas. Merlin is an egotistical womanizer who has fun and tries to save the universe.

Terminal World describes a weird planet where technology is impossible in certain areas. It is a planetary romance with a doctor figure who becomes an angel in the book. The story has steampunk aesthetics from the 20s or 30s, and strange cities around high mountains which the characters believe are space elevators, but are actually entrances to the hyperspace transportation mechanism inside the planet, which is Mars. This is not revealed in the book however. There will probably not be a sequel.

Blue Remembered Earth is a kind of mundane sf, optimistic and realistic. It is not overly violent. Humanity is diverging, and elephants have implants to interact with humans. There will be two sequels.

Reynolds likes writing, both short stories and novels. He worked hard to become an sf writer, and the reward now is when he has written a scene that works. He is now writing a Dr Who story.

Henrik Harksen

In the talk Cthulu at the End of the World Henrik Harksen proposed that August Derleth never understood H. P. Lovecraft’s philosopy even though he was responsible for saving Lovecraft’s work for posterity by founding Arkham House and publishing Lovecraft there. Lovecraft was an atheist who did not believe in his invented monsters whose purpose was to create an atmosphere and show that the cosmos does not care about us. This is rather an “antimythos”, in contrast with the Cthulhu Mythos introduced by Derleth. In Lovecraft’s stories, e g The Call of Cthulhu, there is an external apocalypse where the universe dies. This is not the case in stories by the catholic Derleth, who writes about Good and Evil and how the demon is averted. The books by Brian Lumley about Titus Crow are a continuation of the Derleth mythos rather than the philosophy of Lovecraft.

Alastair Reynolds, Klaus Æ. Mogensen, Ellen Datlow

In The last panel with the GoHs and Klaus Æ. Mogensen Ellen Datlow told that there are opportunities today for non-Americans to get published in the US, taking as an example Aliette de Bodard. The convention conventions where also discussed, and both GoHs had been surprised by the drinking, e g in the panels. Alastair Reynolds called Real Ale real boring. They were both quite happy with the system of no fees for invited guests, but were worried about the possibilities to get paid for writing in the future. Reynolds considered the problem to be similar to the music business that had found ways to get paid, and also suggested Crowd funding.

Saturday night there was a banquet, which is not so usual at cons any longer. This is pity since it is an extra opportunity to talk to other fans. I talked a little with the Finnish NoFF delegate, Tomi Mäntylä from Turku and the old Danish fan Joen Juel Jensen.

After this excellent con I and Margareta did some sight-seeing in the Carlsberg Brewery area which is now being used for flats, shops and various other purposes. The elephants are still there.

SFSFs sommarmöte 17 juni

SFSF har sitt traditionella sommarmöte 17 juni 2012 i Tolkiensällskapets lokaler i Stockholm, se

http://esseffesseff.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/sfsfs-sommarmote-17-juni/

Kontakt / Eurocon 2012 / SFeraKon

Zagreb, Croatia, April 26-29, 2012

Together with Carolina I arrived in Zagreb already on Monday April 23. At the airport we met Frank Beckers from Belgium and were most kindly transported to the hotel in a car by one of the local fans, who also showed us how to get into the center of the city from the hotel.

Carolina buying honey.

We used the days before the convention to have a look at the town and surroundings, and we managed to taste some local specialities. Zagreb is a beautiful city with an atmosphere reminding of Vienna although only a few words were comprehensible. However, English was fairly well understood. There were lots of outdoor cafés in the streets, where you could get something to drink but nothing to eat, not even a cake to the coffee.

We went to a market in a tent on the central square, where Carolina bought honey.

The Castle in Varazdin

On Tuesday 27 we took a bus to the former capital Varazdin, passing by trees in flower, small grape vineyards and even a stork in its nest on a pole. In this beautiful city we had a look at the castle which also had a small museum inside, and the cemetery that was dominated by clipped thuja trees.  We also managed to look around in an art museum by contacting the curator.  The  paintings were more interesting than good, but there was one Rubens.

Carolina having tea with strukli.

In a café we had tea with a cottage cheese strudel, called Strukli. Due to misunderstanding of the bus time-table we had to spend more than an hour in a café at the bus station, since we were not well prepared for the heavy rain. In the café we had to listen to a debate between a mother and a smoking man, and we were as bored as her daughter. Fortunately we had our books.

Carolina and Frank Beckers in Samobor

The next day Carolina, Frank Beckers and I went to the small village Samobor and did all that it was famous for: We climbed to the castle ruin from the 13th century, we had a look in the museum, we had tea with the delicious custard-filled cake kremsnite which was about as difficult to eat as a Napoleon cake, and finally Carolina bought a pot of local mustard.

The castle ruin in Samobor.

Carolina and Frank Beckers in the castle ruin of Samobor.

 

 

Back in Zagreb we went to the Museum of Broken Relationships. Zagreb has many museums but this was possibly the strangest. The exhibition consisted not so much of various small articles as of the stories connected to them, relating the end of marriages and friendships. Many were quite banal but some were gripping. On another day we visited the Contemporary Art Museum after a long walk out of the city. The works there were heavily influenced by the Balkan wars. At the Archeological Museum I found an ancient marble triskelion,

Marble triskelion, 16th-14th century BC

and at the Mimara Museum the most impressing were a bronze statue from the first century AD found in the waters outside Croatia, and a small painting by Hieronymus Bosch.

Carolina and Bridget Wilkinson at the market.

The convention felt very international. I stayed in the hotel International that also served as venue for the first 1.5 days. Thus I had breakfast together with fans from various countries and made plans for excursions. For example, the group that visited the Contemporary Art Museum consisted of me and Carolina from Sweden, Frank Beckers, Frank Roger and Peter de Weerdt from Belgium and Bridget Wilkinson from UK. At one breakfast I talked with Bridget Wilkinson about sf  poetry. She recommended Edwin Muir’s The Horses.

Workshop for children.

Although I am not quite sure I guess the number of participants was about 1000. There was a gamer’s room and a large dealer’s room where most books naturally were in Croatian. There were tables where it was possible to become a member of the Eurocons 2013 (Kiev) and 2014 (Dublin) as well as presupporter of the Worldcon in London 2014. In the art exhibition I was impressed by some photomontages with elf-like creatures on spiderwebs or branches, done by Zdenko Basic. In a Reader’s Corner various authors read from their work, and a small bar served beer and sandwiches if you were willing to make a donation (they were not allowed to sell…). I talked for a while with Pierre Gevart at a table for French sf. He recommended Xavier Mauméjean’s Rosée de feu and Roland Wagner’s Reves de gloire, if I wanted to try some French sf. He also had the magazine Galaxie for sale, but it contains mainly English texts translated to French.

For me, the programme started on Thursday afternoon with an interview of the GoH Darko Macan, conducted by the chairperson of the congress, Petra Bulic. Macan had always dreamt of being a cartoonist but has found that he is a better writer than artist. He wrote the short story “Koda” directly into a book that he was editing. He has also written a YA book about three girls, and he has done a lot of reviewing. However, reviewing killed hos enjoyment of reading: You are not looking for fun; you are looking for mistakes. Due to his many activities Petra Bulic named Darko Macan an “SF renaissance man”; a label that stuck with him for the rest of the convention.

GoH Tim Powers, Cheryl Morgan and Charles Stross.

It was also interesting to hear that the Ministry of Culture in Croatia and the City of Zagreb granted scholarships and funding for anthologies by Croatian sf authors which are published for the SFeraKons.

The interview of Charles Stross was amusing as usual, and he covered a lot of different subjects during the hour. He mentioned that he wrote fewer and fewer short stories, but in order to get a Hugo he now wrote one per month. We were told that the founder of PayPal wanted to use his money for mining of asteroids. Stross himself had been invited to a conference regarding what we should investigate in order to make a starship in the next hundred years. Saturn’s Children was his tribute to Heinlein, and in order to understand it you should have read Friday. It is very hard to make anything new in sf now, and according to the author Nick Mamatas the life span of an art form is about 70 – 80 years.

Stross’ Laundry stories are Lovecraftian spy stories, and they have been converted into role-playing games. Laundry Files #4, The Apocalypse Codex, is a tribute to Peter O’Donnell, creator of Modesty Blaise. The ideas for the Merchant Princes series came from H. Beam Piper and Robert Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber.

He admits to making mistakes in Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise; he got the stuff wrong regarding FTL and time travel. In “Palimpsest” the time police does not make these mistakes.

Regarding Christopher Priest’s famous comments on the shortlist for the Clarke Award he says that Priest wants sf to be respectable in terms of the literature in the 1970s. Stross writes fiction for the 2000s.

Glasshouse is his slowest selling novel, and thus there will probably not be a sequel since the agent does not want it. It could be about the grandchildren 200 years later. I am not sure whether a sequel actually is needed to this his most entertaining and thought-provoking novel.

Stross was pessimistic regarding space colonization. We have a complicated echosystem, i e some ten thousand microorganism species in the gut. Our technological infrastructure is much bigger than we usually think. Still, one possibility could be to fill Valle Marineris on Mars with oxygen and nitrogen and roof it over. This would give us a colony the size of  Germany.

After the opening ceremony we were served a glass of very good red wine and could have a look at the contestants of the Masquerade. We then went to a brewery to drink and eat. I and Carolina sat at a table with three Slovenian authors, Martin Vavpotic, Bojan Ekselenski and Andrej Ivanusa. At least a steampunk novel, Clockworks Warrior by Vavpotic, is available in English in electronic form. These authors told that they were starting a fandom in Slovenia, shaped after the successful fandom in Croatia. We were also joined at the table by the GUFF winner, Kylie Ding from Perth who had first visited the Eastercon Olympus.

Tim Powers writes fantasy in a real history setting, and he tries to minimise the effort needed for the necessary suspension of disbelief. He mentioned this in his interview. It is still escapism. He lets his subconscious handle any messages and recurrent themes. His stories may also be defined as secret history. To make a story he tries to find interesting events or enigmatic puzzles, and connects them. He was a friend of Philip K. Dick and had him living in his house when Dick’s house had blown up in the early 70s. Of Dick he said that he was rationally funny and generous. He invented a poet, William Ashbless, who was at the same time invented by James Blaylock, and this led to a collaboration with poetry “written” by this author. The novels he himself recommends are Declare, The Anubis Gates and Last Call. He does not like doing sequels. However, sometimes characters appear who have already been mentioned in an earlier novel.

Finally, he talked about German translations. When he saw them, they contained a few pages that he had not written, and which were set in another typeface. At the most exciting moment one of the characters asked if there was time for some soup? Another one answered “what kind of soup?”, and when they had had their delicious soup of a certain brand the story conrinued. Apparently this is a story he has told before but it is a good one. Interestingly, the powers went in the middle of Powers’ talk. It went almost completely dark.

Dmitry Glukhovski

It was interesting to listen to the interview of Dmitry Glukhovski even if I sometimes was surprised and disagreed. The dystopia Metro 2033 was based on the presence of the biggest nuclear shelter of the world, the Moscow metro. The time is 20 years after the war, when the world has shrunk to the metro. He used the subway two hours daily for six years going to and from his school, and he got tips of the presence of an underground city. He published the story on line and had visitors influence the story, chapter by chapter. Civilisation is fragile and can disappear in one generation. In the Soviet Union, nationalsocialists were renamed fascists since socialism cannot by definition be bad.

He considers himself to be part of a disappointed generation, bored of ideology. In the novel many subscribe to ideologies which they do not believe in. The mutants, or blacks, or in US “the dark ones”, symbolise immigrants. There is no love-line in Metro 2033, but there is friendship. There is also a lot of aggressivity, and like Richard Morgan he considers this to be impossible to throw away. We always fight and there is conflict in every movie. I am not sure I agree with this pessimistic view; conflict does not have to result in violence as can be seen from many novels, even sf novels. And even if inborn aggressivity has been necessary for the evolution of mankind, I believe that culture may provide sufficient barriers to reduce violence significantly. He stated that peace is unnatural. In Sweden we have had peace for 200 years and it definitely does not feel unnatural.

Metro 2034 is not a sequel but more of an antipode. There are different characters, and it is a different genre. He will not make a third novel in this series. Other authors are writing in different languages in the same universe. There are 24 novels describing the situation in Russia, Italy, Scotland, Cuba and other countries.

Surprisingly, he has disdain for contemporary Russian sf authors. They write action without ideas. In contrast, he appreciated the Strugatski brothers. Finally he says that sf is a fairy tale adapted to scientific facts.

Several hours on Friday were spent listening to motivations for nominations for ESFS awards, and the voting on Saturday also took up too much time. This is a pity since there were quite many interesting programme items that I missed. I was the last presenter of nominations, and naturally my computer suddenly refused to work when it was connected to the projector. I had to restart and I just had to apologize.

Winners of the SFERICA awards.

Of most interest in the ESFS voting was what country would host Eurocon 2014. Ireland won over the bid from Romania, and the Eurocon 2014 will take place in Dublin a week after the Worldcon in London. The Eurocon 2014 was named Shamrokon. The awards are listed on the web for the con. Ian McDonald, who was nominated from both Sweden and UK, got the award for Best Author. The other Swedish nominations did not result in any awards.

The award ceremony started with the SFERICA (little SFERA) awards for best children’s work on a given sf theme. All elementary and high schools in Croatia are invited, and about 1500 entries are received every year. From them about 40 are chosen for awards. This seems to be a very efficient way of recruiting new fans, not only among the children but also among their parents who were present at the ceremony. To organize this must be a real challenge, and I am very impressed!

The lecture entitled “Supernatural Beings and Phenomena in the Legends of Istria” sounded interesting, and the lecturer Evelina Rudan from the University of Zagreb was obviously an expert of the field. Unfortunately she spent most of her lecture describing the methods she had used to collect the legends. However, she briefly explained a few of the phenomena: There appears to be descriptions of fairies (“vila”), werewolves (“vukodlak”) and an impossibility to have sexual relationships in marriage caused by magical methods (“kljuka”). She also mentioned a hero (“krsnik”) who protects the community and predicts the future.

The sf scholar, author and fan Milena Benini gave a talk called “100 years of Andre Norton”, that was a delight to listen to. In Andre Norton’s texts there is no explicit sex and relatively little explicit violence, making them perfectly enjoyable for all. Her first published novel, The Prince Commands, is set in a small ficticious European country. During the war she wrote an alternate history spy trilogy, and after the war she worked as a children’s librarian. She used the pen name Andre North for her space operas. Star Man’s Son is an early (1952) YA dystopian space opera, and Sargasso Space (1955) seems quaint today but contains the essence of space opera. In 1963 she got tired of space and started her Witch World series, amounting to more than 75 novels and several collections of short stories. These were partly written together with fans, and she had a lot of communication with fans. She liked fan fiction and edited it making it consistent with her world.

In Witch World magic works, but only by women, and you have to be a virgin. Male magic is weak and despised. The society is a matriarchy. This is Earthsea in reverse, since in Earthsea male magic works but female is weak. Both authors discuss the male/female relation. Andre Norton describes a functional family, and she also introduced different races, consisting of people and not automatically inferior.

Andre Norton was not critically acclaimed but has a long list of awards, mainly for life-time achievements. She lived for 93 years. Two authors who were tutored by her are Mercedes Lackey and Louis McMaster Bujold.

In the lecture “Making the Reader Believe It!” Tim Powers talked about his methods for writing. He writes interesting episodes on cards and puts them on the floor and changes the order until he is satisfied. He makes a calendar with events for each day. He suggest that you throw away the first three pages and the last three pages of your draft, and all pages that the reader would skip. Dialogue should read as if you were eavesdropping, and it should not be too helpful. He does not believe in writer’s groups.

One of the more curious programme items was a lecture and demonstration called “Wireless Energy Transmission with Tesla Magnifiers” by Davor Jandrijevic. Nikola Tesla was born in what is now Croatia and there is a statue of him in Zagreb, but he made most of his work in USA. In the lecture we were presented with several schedules and diagrams providing the theoretical background for some demonstrations. From one antenna to another power was demonstrated to flow as shown by the lightening of a fluorescent lamp. People from the audience were invited to hold fluorescent lamps which also started to glow. To me this just shows that there was an electric field, as can also be shown with an ordinary electromagnetic field detector. The practical use for transfer of significant amounts of energy still has to be demonstrated.

Dmitry Glukhovsky, John Berlyne, Cheryl Morgan, Bella Pagan, Charles Stross, Neven Anticevic, and Luka Sucic (moderator).

In the panel on E-publishing Charles Stross claimed that ebooks are taking over the market in US much faster than anyone has realised. Cheap paperbacks will soon disappear. Bella Pagan said that this was not the case in other countries. The panel indicated some advantages like the possibility to carry many books or read erotica on the tube, but how can you show off when you have no bookshelves – a screen with shifting covers? Different readers have different codes, ePub readers use XHTML which allows Javascript whereas the Kindle used by Amazon uses old HTML without this possibility. Amazon was also accused of discounting paperbacks in order to discredit e-book publishers.

To me the prices of new e-books are ridiculously high, comparable to hardcover books, and this is not because I don’t understand that the paper and binding are a small part of the total cost. But a hardcover book can be read by many persons for at least a century or two, whereas the e-book may not be borrowed or resold and has a likely life-span of a decade.

Vlatko Juric-Kokic and Milena Benini

The panel “Steampunk in Literature” started with the moderator Milena Benini naming Tim Powers “the father of steampunk”, and he described how it all started. The Victorian era has been thoroughly studied and described in several volumes, and he, together with Jeter and Blaylock, realised that this could be a gold-mine for the setting of stories. Immediately Charles Stross, named anti-steampunk, critised this since you tend to ignore the late-Victorian holocausts and colonial atrocities performed by the British empire. He was worried by any positive descriptions of empire-builders, and felt that steampunk is escapistic literature, to which Tim Powers answered that yes, it is, but so are for example Westerns, they are not accurate either. The zeppelins are actually post-Victorian, but Ivana Delac is not interested in the science part, she writes fantasy. According to Vlatko Juric-Kokic the Victorian era was the las time when artist could produce beautiful things, then they were mass-produced. But Stross objected that they were mainly cast-iron everyday things, and we now look at the Victorian objects through “Bauhaus” – the charm comes from the distance.

Bella Pagan and John Berlyne

The talk entitled “How the Publishing Industry Works” started with John Berlyne talking for a very long time about what a literary agent does, unfortunately without saying anything more than that they have guide-lines on the website and that they send the manuscript to several editors which surprised me. This was absolutely forbidden when I sent scientific papers to journals. Bella Pagan who is an editor talked about what they do after the deal with the agent. First they edit which might involve rewriting the whole book, then copyediting with checking grammar, sense and style in every sentence, then finally proofreading. The author is involved and checks all stages. About a year before publishing a cover is chosen and the author is asked for a blurb.

I then went to a panel on graphic novels in the south-east Europe, but this was obviously intended for fans who knew all about these novels. It would have been much better if a computer with Power-Point had been used to show examples and titles.

Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf, Dave Lally and Petra Bulic.

We could see from the programme book that there was a lecture about Stieg Larsson. Both the lecture and the abstract were in Croatian however, but the abstract contained the words “SF fan”.

Finally the chairman of ESFS, Dave Lally, led a discussion with the chairpersons of the present and the last Eurocons, Petra Bulic and Carolina, about “How to Run Eurocons”. Since the present convention was very enjoyable and in all ways successful there was not much discussion. Obviously the SFeraKon committee is used to running big conventions!

A more direct impression of the convention and some interviews, a few actually in English, can be found here.


Stockholm 15-17 juni

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