Posts Tagged 'Alastair Reynolds'

Loncon 3 / 72th Worldcon

London, UK, August 14-18, 2014

My wife Margareta and I stayed at Travelodge London City Airport but had not been able to find a reasonable flight to that airport from Arlanda, so we spent the day travelling. At Paddington we got our tickets for the train and ferry for Dublin, actually with much less trouble than I had expected. The final part of the trip was by DLR – the somewhat futuristic Docklands Light Railway. The hotel was OK and fairly close to the convention. We went directly to the venue and since this was Wednesday we did not have to stand in the long queues which we saw on Thursday. ExCel was well suited for the convention although the programme rooms were a bit too small and sometimes the most popular items were in the smallest room. This was especially problematic in the very beginning of the convention when there were few parallel programme items.

Crossing Boundaries: Histories of International SF/F for Children

Catharine Butler, K V Johansen, Michael Levy, Sanna Lehtonen, Patricia Kennan (M)

Catharine Butler, K V Johansen, Michael Levy, Sanna Lehtonen, Patricia Kennan (M)

Michael Levy, an American who teaches sf and children’s literature, had never heard of Enid Blyton, but Harry Potter had amazed American kids.  The reason for the success was considered to be the agreement with the American stereotypes of the British. Regarding stories by Native Americans the question was asked whether it is fantasy if the author actually believes in supernatural phenomena, and this was resolved by the concept “Consensus reality”. What is incredible for kids can be real and vice versa. In order to make them more credible the books are sometimes changed during translation: The Finnish version of Tarzan of the Apes was converted to Tarzan of the Bears. In American adaptations of British books pounds is changed into dollars and madam to mam, which was considered strange. Should difficult words be explained or changed? Children’s vocabulary is expanded by words they do not understand, but the text must still be understandable.

The World at Worldcon: Nordic SF/F

John-Henri Holmberg, Anna Davour, Marianna Leikomaa, Tore Høie (M), Sini Neuvonen

John-Henri Holmberg, Anna Davour, Marianna Leikomaa, Tore Høie (M), Sini Neuvonen

To a large extent this discussion became a listing of authors in the different Nordic countries. The basic literature in Finland is very realistic, and the Finnish SF/F authors are friends and discuss with each other. Johanna Sinisalo has written a retelling of Kalevala. Examples of new Finnish SF/F can be downloaded and found in the anthology It Came from the North. Other web sites with information on Finnish and international SF/F are Partial Recall and Rising Shadows.

John-Henri Holmberg mentioned an interesting distinction between two kinds of SF in Sweden, made by Ulrika Nolte in a German thesis described in the Sweden entry of the SF Encyclopedia. One kind was written by Swedish sf fans in a tradition coming mainly from American and British sf magazines and the stories published in the corresponding Swedish magazines, and includes authors as Sam J. Lundwall, Bertil Mårtensson, Maths Claesson etc. The other kind Nolte called “social fiction” and entails dystopian fiction written since the 1930’s by established Swedish authors like Karin Boye, Tora Dahl and Harry Martinson. This has not previously been noted as a trend. John-Henri also pointed out the reason for the fantasy boom in Sweden in the 1990’s: The first popularity list based on sales instead of criticism was published in 1993.

It was also noted during the discussion that in the Nordic countries we do not read each other’s books. This is sad since there is a lot of good SF/F published at least in Denmark, and Danish is really easy to read even if it is not so easy to listen to. Most Swedes cannot understand Finnish.

Fandom in Fiction

Virginia Preston, Audrey Taylor, Erin Horakova, Lisa Macklem (M)

Virginia Preston, Audrey Taylor, Erin Horakova, Lisa Macklem (M)

Since I have enjoyed Diana Wynne Jones’ Deep Secret, Sharyn McCrumb’s Bimbos of the Death Sun and Zombies of the Gene Pool and several other stories where fandom and fan conventions are described I was curious about this programme item. However, I was somewhat disappointed since the four women on the panel mainly talked about funny scenes on some tv sitcoms that I have not seen (and would surely not have appreciated). In addition to the novels above they mentioned Jo Walton’s Among Others and Fallen Angels by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Michael Flynn. Ahrvid Engholm pointed out the masterpiece of fan writing The Enchanted Duplicator, but there was no mention of e g Barry Malzberg or the recent Osama by Lavie Tidhar which gives a very accurate and entertaining description of a fan convention.

Speculative Biology – An Introduction

This was actually four short lectures with Power Point presentations, and was quite entertaining. The moderator Lewis Dartnell pointed out that the colour of plants is complementary to the colour of the light from the sun, and could thus be quite different from green on other planets. Planets with high gravity might be expected to have balloon plants filled with gas. The convergent evolution of eyes on Earth indicates that the evolution on Earth can be used to predict that on other planets. Darren Naish talked about future or alternative animals on Earth and mentioned an early (1961) book by the pseudonymous Harald Stümpke, in English called The Snouters. He also talked about books by Dougal Dixon who was also present in the panel and whose After Man contains pictures of possible future animals.

Governing the Future

Charles E. Gannon, Nicholas Whyte (M), John-Henri Holmberg, Justin Landon, Liz Gorinsky, Farah Mendlesohn

Charles E. Gannon, Nicholas Whyte (M), John-Henri Holmberg, Justin Landon, Liz Gorinsky, Farah Mendlesohn

Earlier (50s, 60s) SF was essentially positive towards government but today it is either completely outside the story or is described as a failure. According to John-Henri Asimov was a welfare socialist and his robot stories promoted advanced welfare ideas. The cyberpunk authors reran the youth revolt of 1968 that they had experienced when they were 17-18 years; it is clearly anti-government. Europeans are more pro-government than Americans.

Books by Cory Doctorow and Nalo Hopkinson were classified as dystopias by Farah Mendlesohn, and YA dystopias are everywhere.  An example is The Diary of Pelly D by L J Adlington. The book Farah edited as a protest against censorship, Glorifying Terrorism, is now out of print.

In a Proprietary World Who Owns Your Body?

Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf, Simon Ings, Simon Bradshaw (M), Jody Lynn Nye, Richard Ashcroft, Joan Paterson

Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf, Simon Bradshaw (M), Jody Lynn Nye, Richard Ashcroft, Joan Paterson

After some discussion on the ethics of surrogate mothers and transplanting livers to alcoholics a lot of time was spent on HeLa

Simon Ings

Simon Ings

cells and the book about the patient who provided these cells from the beginning, Henrietta Lacks. I find it absolutely bizarre that a patient or her relatives could claim ownership to results obtained in research done on cells from a removed cancer. Finally there was a discussion on a possible development of AIs that help Alzheimer patients – who would own the AI when the patient dies?

Hard Right

Jaine Fenn, David G Hartwell, Neyir Cenk Gokce (M), Charles E Gannon, Alison Sinclair

Jaine Fenn, David G Hartwell, Neyir Cenk Gokce (M), Charles E Gannon, Alison Sinclair

Alison Sinclair is an author of four sf novels (I have read the somewhat juvenile but entertaining Legacies) and 5 fantasy novels, and she is an MD with an interest in evidence-based medicine. Charles E Gannon is the author of the Nebula-nominated novel Fire With Fire, and David G Hartwell has edited sf anthologies and written a history of hard sf. Jaine Fenn is the author of books in the Hidden Empire series, of which I have read the first two. She is liberal, not right.

The programme item was caused by an article by Paul Kincaid who argued that since hard sf depends on a world with inviolate rules it might have similarities with right-wing politics. The panel acknowledged that military technology always is popular in hard sf which could thus be right-wing. Politicised science as e g creationism is also right-wing, but Lysenkoism was popular in Soviet.  Space Opera might be considered right-wing, and Bank’s Culture novels was his project to save SO for the left.

Analog prints much hard sf, and Hartwell considered half of it to be crap whereas the other half can be superb. The core readers are technologists, not scientists.

Constructing Genre History

Takayuki Tatsumi, Gary Wolfe (M), Suanna Davis, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Ginjer Buchanan

Takayuki Tatsumi, Gary Wolfe (M), Suanna Davis, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Ginjer Buchanan

The average reader is thought not to care about the history of sf. It might be necessary for editors, and an sf teacher said that it is important for her students.  History can act as a gate-keeper if it is thought that you have to read a lot of old books in order to understand the present ones. On the other hand there is an ongoing conversation between authors in their work. This was especially so in the works of Heinlein and Asimov, but even Frankenstein is in the dialogue today. The adaptation of Lukianos, Thomas Moore etc into the sf canon was a way to defend sf, which is no longer necessary since it is not considered odd any more. Paul Kincaid’s blog with its timeline was recommended for those interested in the history.

The discussion turned into descriptions of personal histories of sf reading. When she was young Ginjer Buchanan found almost no sf in the library, only fantasy. She would recommend Alfred Bester rather than Heinlein to new readers and writers. Maureen Kincaid Speller found C S Lewis and Alan Garner in her local library and read a lot of children’s fantasy.

An Anthology of One’s Own

Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Dally McFarlane, Julia Rios (M), Jeanne Gomoll, Ann Vandermeer

Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Dally McFarlane, Julia Rios (M), Jeanne Gomoll, Ann Vandermeer

Pamela Sargent’s three Women of Wonder anthologies had different viewpoints and are a good beginning for finding sf by women. There were also women writers in the 17th century, e g Margaret Cavendish who wrote a feminist utopia in 1666, and the author Frances Stevens (real name Gertrude Barrows Bennett) wrote weird tales in the early 19th century which had a huge influence on H P Lovecraft. McFarlane has edited The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women which contains recent work by women and intends to capture what is happening now. Justine Larbalestier’s books were also recommended, and the June 2014 issue of Lightspeed Magazine, Women Destroy Science Fiction appears interesting.

Content and Form: Writing SF/F in non-Western Modes

Nick Wood, Aliette de Bodard, Amal El-Mohtar (M), Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, J Y Jang

The male white narrative has to be changed so that the centre is set in e g South-East Asia. This means that the surroundings have to be described in detail, otherwise the reader thinks the story is set in England. The Western paradigm has to be seen as one of many.

Stories from the Philippines are often communal and stem from oral traditions. Loenen-Ruiz pointed out that the colonial feeling has to be thrown off. The Western notion that there has to be a conflict in a story should also be challenged.

Interview with John Clute

Jonathan Clements, John Clute

Jonathan Clements, GoH John Clute

Jonathan Clements asked questions in a humorous way. In addition to the usual answers about life and career we got some information on Clute’s ideas. He defends spoilers in reviews. It is intellectual treason not to mention the end of a story. He also defended his introduction of the word “Fantastika” as a collective term for non-realistic literature – just as we already do in Swedish fandom. Fantastika should not contain metaphors, and an example is his novel Appleseed. He says that every sentence in it makes sense.

Finally he recommended Edward James’ exhibition about authors who took part in World War I, that could be seen in the Dealer’s Room and also on the web.

Classics in Speculative Fiction

The major problem with the presentations in the Academic Track was that the authors read their papers rapidly and without contact with the audience. Frances Foster’s “Lands of the Dead in Speculative Fiction” compared ancient heroic journeys like The Odyssey with the modern LeGuin’s Earthsea and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. The German Sibylle Machat made an excellent presentation of her paper “Ancient Philosophers as Characters in Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction”. Bernard Beckett’s Genesis (2006) is set in Plato’s Republic and the conflict between church and science in Robert Charles Wilson’s Julian Comstock has similarities with the conflict between Hellenistic paganism and the Roman church that Julian the Apostate was involved in in the 4th century. Liz Gloyn’s “A Common Thread: Representations of the Minotaur in London” failed to interest me and lacked connections to speculative fiction.

SF: What It Is, What It Could Be

Jeanne Gomoll, Tobias Buckell, Stephanie Saulter (M), Alastair Reynolds, Ramez Naam

Jeanne Gomoll, Tobias Buckell, Stephanie Saulter (M), Alastair Reynolds, Ramez Naam

This panel spent a lot of time on the eternal question why sf is not respected, exemplified as usual with Margaret Atwood who reputedly not considers her books as sf. However, I think her book about sf was fairly positive. Reynolds pointed out the two traditions – Wells and Shelley’s Frankenstein are just a part of general literature, whereas the pulps defined a new line (reminds me of the two kinds of sf in Sweden).

Fantasy vs SF: Is the Universe Looking Out for You?

Stephen Hunt (M), Anne Lyle, Ian R McLeod, Robert Reed, Rebecka Levine

Stephen Hunt (M), Anne Lyle, Ian R McLeod, Robert Reed, Rebecka Levine

One reason for going to Woldcons is of course to listen to authors. I have read many stories by Robert Reed and I have really liked his short stories and been less impressed by his “great space ship stories”. He now told that these stories tend to be more static or conservative than the short stories. SF is considered to be about change whereas fantasy is static. McLeod said that sf is basically one-volume works, since if you want to have change it is very difficult to have it in several volumes. Fantasy may be more engaged with the characters. The tropes used might determine if it is sf or fantasy. However, it is easier to make a dragon than a FTL ship.

The Politics of Utopia

Kim Stanley Robinson, Kathleen Ann Goonan, David Farnell (M), Adrian Hon, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Christina Lake

Kim Stanley Robinson, Kathleen Ann Goonan, David Farnell (M), Adrian Hon, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Christina Lake

Utopian fiction lacks descriptions of how to get there from here. They are often boring, but this is not true of Banks’ Culture novels which have conflicts with other parties at the edges. Challenges for utopias are human nature – people want to have more than others, and there are problems with market economy that underprices natural resources even if this may be democratic. Longevity might increase how natural resources are valued.

Nebula to Interzone: British SF Magazines of the 1950s, 60s and 70s

Malcolm Edwards, Robert Silverberg, Stephen Baxter, Curt Phillips, Gillian Redfearn (M)

Malcolm Edwards, Robert Silverberg, Stephen Baxter, Curt Phillips, Gillian Redfearn (M)

This was probably the most entertaining and rewarding panel I listened to. The GoH Malcolm Edwards showed some of the 14 different magazines that were published in Britain in 1954. Robert Silverberg told that Nebula was the first magazine to publish one of his stories. He liked the magazine with its attractive, archaic typography, which he got shipped to him by Ken Slater. The editor Peter Hamilton was 20 years at that time. His first stories were published as by Bob Silverberg, but Randall Garrett told him that Bob doesn’t look good on the Table of Contents. Silverberg also told about his visit to Loncon 1 in 1957 by air which took 12 h. There were 268 members at the convention.

In its prime Nebula printed 30 – 40 000 copies. The stories were pretty good, and Hamilton was a post-war reader in contrast to

Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg

Ted (John) Carnell who edited New Worlds. His taste had been shaped in the 30s. When Nebula folded Peter Hamilton left the sf field altogether.

Authentic was for a time edited by Ted (E. C.) Tubb who was very active. He wrote pretty good stories with quick action. When he wrote what he wanted he was very British. One example is his first novel, Saturn Patrol. The scientist Bert (Herbert) Campbell had started Authentic that had been called Science Fiction Fortnightly for a period. It was equal to New Worlds and had often American authors. Silverberg had stories in Authentic.

In the 50s magazines were replaced by books, first paperbacks and then hardcovers. Another reason for the death of the magazines in USA was that the distributor American News Company folded in 1958. Astounding, Galaxy and F&SF had other distributors and survived.

The World at Worldcon: French and Francophone SF/F

Elizabeth Vonarburg, Antoine Rouaud, Pierre Pevel, Tom Clegg (M), Bradford Lyau, Eric Senabre, Laurence Suhner

Elizabeth Vonarburg, Antoine Rouaud, Pierre Pevel, Tom Clegg (M), Bradford Lyau, Eric Senabre, Laurence Suhner

Since there was no blackboard or projector which could have been used it was very difficult to get the names of authors mentioned in this panel. It was also problematic that one of the participants did not speak English and relied on the moderator for translation. Clegg asked what stories had made an impact when the panellists were 14, and the answers included Jules Verne, Perry Rhodan, Michael Moorcock, Isaac Asimov etc. No fantasy was written in French. An interesting observation by Laurence Suhner was that Swiss SF/F has been influenced by myths and tales and the dangerous nature. This appears similar to the situation in Finland.

French SF/F can be found translated into English at Blackcoat Press, and the author Yves Ménard writes in English. Solaris is a Canadian francophone SF/F magazine, and in France there are Galaxie and Bifrost.

What is Science?

Andrew Jaffe, Richard Dunn, Richard Ashcroft (M), Ada Palmer, Anthony Fucilla

Andrew Jaffe, Richard Dunn, Richard Ashcroft (M), Ada Palmer, Anthony Fucilla

Unfortunately this discussion took place in the smallest room of the convention that in addition had windows in two directions and thus became awfully hot especially since it was very crowded. One of the panellists, Anthony Fucilla, had to leave after a while since he felt unwell. This was unfortunate since his view of science was ancient: Science should be used to prove that God exists.

Ada Palmer is a historian of the Renaissance and Enlightenment and told that in the 17th century there was no difference between philosophy and science. Da Vinci worked for the Duke and no collaboration was allowed. Bacon’s view was that science and religion should cooperate in order to improve the world. Authority has been replaced by empirism, and this change took mainly place in Galilei’s time. She also advocated teaching of scientific method in other courses than science, e g history.

Richard Dunn is a historian of Science who listed some boundary cases of different kinds like economics, string theory and acupuncture. Discussions are essential and result in consensus which is as close to truth as we can come.  The cosmologist Andrew Jaffe considered that science involves data gathering and forming of hypotheses. Most of the time scientific orthodoxy is right, and random things happen all the time. To sort this out can be difficult, and there can be bias when scientists stop doing experiments when the theory has been validated. An example given was a demonstration of gravity waves which was first believed to be true until it was revealed that false data had been injected.

A professor of Bioethics, Richard Ashcroft, warned against misinterpretations of large datasets which can show correlations although there is no causation, as is quite popular in the newspapers.

The World at Worldcon: The state of British SF

Jo Fletcher, Simon Spanton, Glyn Morgan (M), Lesley Hall, Paul March-Russell

Jo Fletcher, Simon Spanton, Glyn Morgan (M), Lesley Hall, Paul March-Russell

What has changed since last Worldcon in UK 2005? The recession made life difficult for publishers, and at the same time there was an explosion of new authors. Book chains have gone down and mainstream publishers went down, giving room for small SF/F publishers and ebooks. Thus, the field has not narrowed. The diversity has increased, since Britain now is very diverse. Labelling of books can be narrowing, e g New Weird, but booksellers need the labels.

What is impressing? Chris Beckett, especially his short story collection that has a cross-over appeal and has been praised by the general public.

The community, fandom, has been good but nobody else hears the discussions. The market listens to cultural assessments. Dr Who fans might come to cons and see the novels, but there is a marginal overlap between visual and literature readers. Still it is extraordinary that people read as much as they do. They read on iPhones which are always there. People still want a story.

Academia’s reception of sf has possibly improved slightly. It is possible to get support for conventions and loads of students want to do research in the field.

The Canon is Dead. What Now?

Kate Nepveu (M), Connie Willis, Joe Monti, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Chris Beckett

Kate Nepveu (M), Connie Willis, Joe Monti, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Chris Beckett

Like in the discussion of Genre History, most panellists had their own canons. Thus Chris Beckett had read sf from the 60s onward, and found most of it in his dad’s shelf. Connie Willis defended the general canon and at Clarion she told the members 50 classic sf stories they should read. One reason is that she does not want to read stories with an excellent idea that she has to confess was used already by Bradbury. Another reason is that some gimmicks should not be used again, and a third that the old stories really are good. An example of a book that suffers from lack of knowledge of the sf canon is John Updike’s Toward the End of Time.

Beckett considered it to be optional for the reader to know the old works, but many in the panel found a pleasure in finding influences and dialogues with older books. Thus Stross’ Saturn’s Children is in dialogue with Asimov’s robot stories (and Heinlein’s Friday), Ancillary Justice reminds of The Left Hand of Darkness, and The Dark Material is a response to the Narnia books. Have Spacesuit Will Travel is a parody of earlier space operas. For a canon of short sf the panel recommended The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, and Connie Willis lists her favourites on her blog.

We Can Rebuild You

Neil Clarke, Cherry Potts (M), Marieke Nijkamp, Tore Høie, Helen McCarthy

Neil Clarke, Cherry Potts (M), Marieke Nijkamp, Tore Høie, Helen McCarthy

This interesting panel raised more questions than it answered. SF usually does not represent disabled people, and the question is to what extent disabilities should be “cured”. This might just be a convenient way to tidy up. Aging can be seen as a disability whereas post-traumatic shock during World War I was not considered as such. Upgrades can be both from disabled and from “normal”, to superhuman.

Health records at hospitals and from implants can be misused if the security is incomplete, and leak to employers and insurance companies. Although security in hospitals is not a priority area it was felt that the benefits outweigh the problems and some privacy has to be sacrificed.

Two books on disabilities and prejudices: Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark where treatment of autism leads to decrease in artistic ability, and Louis McMaster Bujold’s  books where spacers having four arms are subjected to prejudices.

Ian M Banks, Writer and Professional

John Jarrold, Andrew McKie, Ken MacLeod (M), Michelle Hodgson, David Haddock

This panel had been announced to be a discussion of the career and work of the recently deceased GoH, but the panellists mainly related anecdotes from their meetings with him. He was said to have had a slight OCD and was interested in minutiae. He seldom lost the thread and entertained in every sentence. His aim was to entertain strangers. His last work, The Quarry, written before his diagnosis is strangely enough about a man who knows he is dying of cancer.

The Culture was invented as a stage for his characters, and is a society that is really good. He was an atheist and a socialist and in favour of Scottish Independence – “Let England go”. The novels that the panel especially recommended were Use of Weapons, Player of Games, Feersum Endjinn, and Walking on Glass.

I Can’t Do That, Dave: artificial intelligence, imagination, and fear

Tony Ballantyne (M), Tricia Sullivan, Madeline Ashby, Timothy Anderson, Anthony Fucilla

From a robots’ point of view humans are slow meat, but according to Peter Watts the difference is not marked. The brain may still be better for a lot of purposes. Robots that are similar to people are inefficient. AIs are still given information; they cannot pick it up, and are so far less efficient than humans. Still, in the future it may be important to program them that we are special, since it is their definition that is important.

To grant citizenship to AIs is too early. There are still issues with women, aborigines etc. and when it becomes something to consider we have probably moved beyond states and citizenship. A superpact for AIs seems more likely.

Some books that were mentioned: Sarah Zettel’s Fool’s War, where AIs are downloaded into human bodies, Cory Doctorow’s Makers and Charles Stross’ Rule 34.

Interzone and Beyond: British SF magazines of the ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s

Gareth L Powell, Wendy Bradley, David Pringle, Malcolm Edwards, Chris Beckett (M)

Gareth L Powell, Wendy Bradley, David Pringle, Malcolm Edwards, Chris Beckett (M)

At the Eastercon in 1981 there was a profit which traditionally should be used for a party. Instead, the organisers proposed to start an sf magazine. At the same time a group in a London pub had the same idea, and the group of eight together started Interzone in 1982 (for details see link). Extro had started slightly before, but folded. Many authors started in Interzone: Stephen Baxter, Charles Stross, Geoff Ryman, Greg Egan, Chris Beckett, Eric Brown. Beckett was especially thankful for the extensive rejection letters which learnt him a lot. He corresponded with Interzone’s Lee Montgomery who he thought was a man, whereas she thought Chris was a woman.

Powell had no friends who read sf and for him Interzone was proof that there were others reading sf. Bradley considered Interzone to have been a bit depressing and blokey. For many years Pringle was the sole editor, and he told that the contributors mainly were British and not so much from USA and Canada. It tried to revive hard sf, “radical hard sf”, which was taken over by cyberpunk. The circulation was 5 – 6 000. The most gross and discussed story was Brian Aldiss’ Horsemeat.

There are now other outlets, e g online sites where people can read for free. It may be difficult to find the good stuff and there is a need for curated spaces, like ARC magazine and Strange Horizons. Today it is not possible to make a living from a magazine, nor from writing short stories.

London and Other Futures

Simon Ings, Anne Charnok, Dev Agarwal, Helen Pennington, Nick Hubble (M)

From this panel I have noted some books: The early (1885) post-apocalypse After London by Richard Jefferies and John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids with its blind people that has an intertextual connection to Wells’ “In the Country of the Blind”. Ken McLeod’s Intrusion describes an extrapolation of surveillance and Ings’ Headlong takes us to West London. Ballard’s The Flood appears to be set in London. I might add some that I have read recently: Ben Aaronovitch’s The Rivers of London and Chris Wooding’s The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, but there are of course many more.

The Bottom Up: The Fantastical World of Human Waste

This late-night talk was given by Rachel Erickson who among other things works as a guide for tourists to find free toilets in London. This interest has led her to study the history of toilets, and she mentioned e g how urine was collected and used in the Roman Empire. A novel where faeces plays a major role is the satirical The Dark Light Years by Brian Aldiss.

When Genres Collide: Does SF/F have its own form?

Nick Harkaway, Peter Higgins, Amanda Bridgeman, Darlene Marshall, Duncan Lawie (M)

Nick Harkaway, Peter Higgins, Amanda Bridgeman, Darlene Marshall, Duncan Lawie (M)

Marshall writes romance and defines it as describing two people who meet and make a journey to a common destination. The panel considered sf to be more flexible than romance and mainstream, and considered Sense of Wonder to be specific for sf. A recent example is Ancillary Justice, and I fully agree. It makes you see things in a new and different view, and can push boundaries – “I did not expect that”. In general military sf and space opera are narrow and not as open as other sf.

If a story today is not sf it is instead historical: There are no emails, no sms etc. Interaction has become necessary. There is a weird resistance against acknowledging this in literature today. An author as Greg Bear is close to the now and thus to mainstream.

Critical Diversity: Beyond Russ and Delany

Aishwarya Subramanian, Erin Horakova, Andrew Butler (M), Liz Bourke, Fabio Fernandes

Aishwarya Subramanian, Erin Horakova, Andrew Butler (M), Liz Bourke, Fabio Fernandes

Contemporary queer criticism and criticism concerning marginalised groups can be found in writings by Kameron Hurley, Aishwarya Subramanian, Fabio Fernandes , Cheryl Morgan and Maureen Kincaid Speller, at the web sites Strange Horizons and Tor.com and in LA Review of Books.

Science Fact and Science Fiction

David Southwood showed impressive pictures of the comet 67P taken from the probe Rosetta. He also talked about Wells’ War of the Worlds and how the story of Martians in London was a criticism of Brits in Africa and the wiping out of the Tasmanians. He mentioned the radio adaptation by Orson Welles and recommended a musical starring Richard Burton.

When Dan Dare went to Venus in 1950 the planet was known to have a dense, cloudy atmosphere, and the guess then was that it rained and had tropical forests. Sadly, this has turned out be wrong.

I Am The Law

Melinda Snoddgrass, Liz Zitzov, Simon Bradshaw (M), Francis Davey

Bradshaw introduced the subject by distinguishing three historical origins of law: God’s law, the King’s law and the Common law, the latter being based on how judges have decided before. Most law today are constructed by administration. Other “laws” may be just based on shame, like local laws regarding trespassing cows. In sf Bujold is good on law, but her stories are not especially sf. Women decide on family matters and the tax law is judged by men.  Barry Malzberg is said to write about tax law. Another author who writes about law is Max Gladstone, and in Susanna Clarke’s  Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell there is a court in London for magical issues.

Your Atoms, From Star to Star

This popular scientific talk by Jane Greaves was entertaining and dealt with the formation of atoms and how they have been reformed and recycled several times since the Big Bang.

They Do It Differently

Karoliina Leikomaa, Cristina Macia, Ian Watson (M), Fabio Fernandes, Shaun Duke

Karoliina Leikomaa, Cristina Macia, Ian Watson (M), Fabio Fernandes, Shaun Duke

With Karoliina Leikomaa from Finland, Fabio Fernandes from Brazil, Shaun Duke from Florida and Ian Watson originally from UK but now in Spain together with Cristina Macia this panel could cover a couple of national fandoms. Actually the similarities are more surprising than the differences, and many of the problems are the same. In order to get more young participants at the conventions the fee could be zero for all as in Finland or for just those under 26 as in Sweden.

Thomas Olsson, Martin Andersson, Helena Kiel, Margareta Cronholm

Thomas Olsson, Martin Andersson, Helena Kiel, Margareta Cronholm

During the convention we met a lot of fans from various countries, and the bidding tent for the Helsinki in 2017 bid acted as a meeting point for Scandinavians and others. Still the enormous amount of people (8.000) and the large convention site made me miss several Swedish fans who definitely were there. The fast food area did perhaps not serve the most delicious food but it made it possible to meet other fans at lunch.

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.

Odyssey 2010

The 2010 Eastercon was perhaps not the most rewarding of the Eastercons I have visited, but still really enjoyable. A strike at British Airways took half a day away from my visit but on the Thursday I went to central London. First I went to Islington for a visit to a small Italian art museum, The Estorick Collection, where there was a special Futurist exhibition, also showing other examples of how motion has been depicted in art. From there I walked to Fantasy Centre, but the building was being renovated and the shop was “open as usual”, which apparently meant that it was closed during daytime. On my way to the Underground I passed London Metropolitan University, which looked like a cubist’s dream. 

London Metropolitan University

 
From Covent Garden I walked to Forbidden Planet which however is not as good as the SF Book Shop in Stockholm. With Jason Fforde’s Shades of Grey in the rucksack I continued to Piccadilly Circus and took shelter from the rain in a Waterstone’s before going back to my hotel close to Heathrow airport and the con. 
 

Nik Whitehead

  
Odyssey provided an unusually broad programme, and the first item I listened to was a serious scientific talk about the evolution of the universe as exemplified by the Life of a Hydrogen Atom. Nik Whitehead gave an interesting talk starting with the birth of the universe, where the main remaining question is why the universe inflated. The transformations in stars are well-known, but the fate of the universe could be the Big Freeze, in 1014 years, the no longer very popular Big Crunch in some 100 billion years or the Big Rip in just over 20 billion years. 
  
 

Juliet McKenna

Juliet McKenna discussed Homer’s Odyssey – The World’s First Fantasy Novel. She had found this to be quite modern in many ways, with modern ethics, where individuals shape their own destiny, as opposed to decisions by gods. The story is a rite of passage, and describes what it means to be a man, a hero. Women are positively depicted, and Penelope is a strong woman. There is no after-life, and the characters are opposed to blood-feuds, which also makes it modern. Finally, McKenna recommended some books about Homer’s Odyssey. Bettany Hughes is an academic who has written several books on the subject. For a lighter reading she recommended Charlotte Higgins’ It’s All Greek to Me, whereas Moses Finlay’s The World of Odysseus might seem a bit dated.   
 
Johan Anglemark moderated the panel European Fandom Today. He came to fandom in the early 80s, and mentioned that Swedish fandom has had contacts in Scandinavia and UK and to a lesser extent in USA. Roberto Quaglia with 21 years in fandom knows both the Italian and Romanian fandom. The former is closed and split into different parties, and the Eurocon in Fiuggi was to a large extent a media con. There is a popular portal, Fantascienza, and a lot of fans, but these do not go to cons and do not feel as a part of fandom. Romanian fandom used to be very big but is rapidly shrinking. 

Kirill Pleshkov, Roberto Quaglia, Gérard Kraus, Johan Anglemark

According to Gérard Kraus the fandom in Luxemburg is small and not organized. There will be an exhibition celebrating Hugo Gernsback who was born in Luxemburg. Kirill Pleshkov with 20 years in Russian fandom told that there are usually thousands of participants at Russian cons, but they are mainly professionals. The programmes are in Russian. Cheryl Morgan mentioned Finncon which she likes. It has been very big since it has been an Animecon at the same time, but this will no longer be the case. She also mentioned a free French con at the end of May with very little programming in English.    

Elizabeth Counihan, Edward James, Nik Whitehead, Ian M. Banks, Martin McGrath

  
The panel debate on Utopia – How the Concept Has Developed in Philosophy and SF took place in the large hall called Commonwealth, where it was almost impossible to write any comments due to lack of light. The discussion was interesting with Ian M. Banks, Elizabeth Counihan, Edward James and Martin McGrath with the moderator Nik Whitehead. According to Edward James the utopias of today are not static in contrast to those of the 19th century. American utopias are mainly libertarian, and it is possible to have fun in modern utopias as demonstrated by Joanna Russ in The Female Man and Samuel R. Delany in Triton
 
The hotel Radisson Edwardian Heathrow that hosted the con is an excellent hotel in many ways but some of the rooms that were used were very far away so you had to spend quite a lot of time running in stairs and corridors. Since the program items used all the 60 min there was no time for these changes of room which was a pity since interesting items often were far apart. There should be at least a 10 or 15 min break between programme items! 

John Jarrold, Claire Brialey, Caroline Mullan, David Hebblethwaite, Niall Harrison

The panel BSFA Survey of British SF Writers with Claire Brialey, David Hebblethwaite, John Jarrold and Caroline Mullan, moderated by Niall Harrison, would have been more rewarding if the results of the survey had been presented and not just discussed. Writers move around more inside the genre, as exemplified by Charles Stross and now also Richard Morgan. Dave Hutchinson’s stories set in Eastern Europe were recommended, and it was mentioned that paranormal romance has a big section in Australian bookshops. Actually this is something I noted to my surprise when I was there in 1999. 

Liz Williams, Kari Sperring, Nickey Barnard, Edward James, Raven Dane

 
The film King Arthur (2004) has been much criticised, but I enjoyed it, and was glad to hear that Raven Dane also liked it. The other panelists in Arthur and Merlin – Modern Interpretations were Nickey Barnard, Edward James and Liz Williams with the moderator Kari Sperring. Another reworking that sounded interesting is Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve. Mary Stewart’s books on Arthur got me hooked a long time ago, and it was mentioned that her Merlin was an engineer. According to Edward James Mallory’s story is wrong since there were no castles at that time. Historians may also be wrong since they get captured by the legend and lose their professionalism. I noted that it would be interesting to read Kari Sperring and Raven Dane. 
 

Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf showing a flying saucer

  
 

Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf

Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf gave an amusing talk called Patent Your Flying Saucer! showing patent applications for some very strange spacecraft and appliances that could be useful in space, such as a helmet with plants in it to provide you with the oxygen needed. Space ships should of course be driven by the whatness of light…       

At the Worldcon Bid Launch Party it was announced that there will be a bid for a Worldcon in London 2014. The venue will be in the Docklands.

Mike Cobley, Julian Headlong, Paul McAuley, Martin McGrath

Paul McAuley

Saturday morning started out with the question Living Forever – Is it a Good Thing? with Mike Cobley as moderator. Julian Headlong started with some historical roots like Gilgamesh, Morpheus and the tree of immortality. Paul McAuley wondered whether it is immortality if you make a clone and kill the original, and Martin McGrath commented that eternal life has not always been considered a blessing and mentioned the Sisyphos myth. It was mentioned that the cancer patient from whom HeLa cells originally were taken can be considered to be immortal since her cells live on. By extension bacteria are immortal since they divide. (But then we are all immortal?) Greg Benford was said to be working on longevity by breeding nematodes for it in a biotech company. The consequences were discussed. Breeding has to stop (and to me that is a major drawback that definitely makes it undesirable), or a small core of people could live forever. Probably the technology would spread if it exists, like the mobile phones. A comment from Paul McAuley that rings only too true while going through old papers in the attic was that after 40 you become a curator for your own life.      

Iain M. Banks, Jane Killick

The Guest of Honour Interview of Iain M. Banks was performed by Jane Killick, and was very entertaining, with humorous descriptions of a writer’s life.      

Ben Goldacre

This was followed by another entertaining talk, Bad Science – Ben Goldacre. He writes a column in Guardian where he exposes various questionable claims concerning nutrition, pharmaceuticals, and health scares.        

Henry Gee, Clare Boothby, David Clements, Jennifer Rohn

Some SF authors like Gregory Benford and Robert J. Sawyer have described life in the scientific laboratory in a way that I have found fairly accurate, being an old lab rat myself. The panel LabLit – Fiction Set In the Laboratory dealt with mainstream literature set in the lab. It was moderated by the scientist Clare Boothby and the participants were the astrophysicist David Clements, Henry Gee who is in charge of the SF in Nature, and Jennifer Rohn who is a scientist who has written LabLit and has a website devoted to it. She expressed her surprise over the rarity of novels set in the lab as contrasted with detective or police stories. This might reflect an attitude towards science with people being afraid and seeing scientists as wizards. Another problem could be the plot; trying to get funding might be less interesting than finding the murderer. Fermat’s Last Theorem and Longitude are popular examples, as are also novels by C. P. Snow. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Antarctica was also considered to be LabLit. The goal of LabLit could be normalization of science by for example removing the erroneous stereotype of the evil scientist who is working alone.        

Bridging the Gap: Del Lakin-Smith, Lee Harris, Danie Ware, Paul Cornell

Bridging the Gap – SF/F and Social Media sounded fun but it was actually quite boring to listen to people having contact via Twitter on their advanced phones instead of talking.      

Oliver Morton, Phil Huggins, John Coxon, Jonathan Cowie

The panel Geoengineering – A Broader Perspective was a discussion of ideas raised in the George Hay Lecture which I did not listen to. Still, there were some issues of interest in the discussion between Jonathan Cowie, Phil Huggins and Oliver Morton with the moderator John Coxton. Reducing the amount of sunlight might be achieved by solar sails or aerosols, and more CO2 could be taken up by the oceans if the algae growth was increased by iron addition. Acidification of oceans is a problem since this reduces the dissolved carbonic acid.     

Farah Mendlesohn, Edward James, Graham Sleight

The critics couple Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James, together with the Foundation editor Graham Sleight and the moderator Owen Dunn, had a discussion on Reading Critically. None of these has a background in literary critics; they have studied history and philosophy. Edward James cannot turn off being a historian when he writes about literature.   

Owen Dunn

  • In critics you do not have to worry about spoilers since they are meant to put the work in the historical context.
  • A better word than reading critically could be reading thinkingly, with a set of tools for reading more intensely.
  • Critics can sometimes find things that the author did not know or realise.
  • Mack Reynolds’ utopian novels are written in an awful style but are historically interesting.
  • Sf books are often responses to criticism of other books. This apostolic succession has to be understood and may be a reason why other people blank off.
  • As a critic, you cannot tell an author that he should have written another book, as exemplified by Adam Roberts’ critic of Farah Mendlesohn’s book about fantasy.      

Nicholas Jackson

Since the geometry of the hotel was very Euclidean I staid and listened to Nicholas Jackson describing Non-Euclidean Geometry, which was entertaining but hardly mind-bending.       

    

    

Paul McAuley, Michael Owem, Sharon Reamer, Gary Stratmann, Stephen Gaskell

 Big Biology – What Are the Biggest Biological Tropes in SF? Paul McAuley started by discussing the limits, e g is micro-RNA life, and Gary Stratmann thought that life on other planets probably would have arisen in similar ways as here, with carbon-based life, whereas the moderator Sharon Reamer wondered if arsenic could be used instead of phosphorous. Liquid water may be present on some of the moons in the solar system like Triton and Ganymede, making life possible there. Stephen Gaskell raised the reasonable question, has life arisen more than once on earth? There is extreme life on earth, extremophiles, like archaebacteria, and this indicates that life as we know it may be present on other moons or planets.   

Alastair Reynolds

The GoH talk by Alastair Reynolds suffered from computer problems making all pictures to be in black-and-white, and much of the talk was the same as the one I heard at Finncon 2009. Since it was dark in the lecture hall it was difficult to write, but I have a note that he considered Paul McAuley’s Eternal Light to be good hard sf and he also recommended Arthur C. Clarke’s early The Sands of Mars although it is no longer accurate.   

The  Eastercon Bid Session resulted in Illustrious as the Eastercon 2011 in Birmingham Metropole Hilton and the themes military sf and sf throught the ages. For 2012 Eastercon will get back to London Heathrow with another ancient greek name, Olympus.       

Tony Cullen, Ruth O’Reilly

 Not the Clarke Awards was interesting as usual. Claire Brialey moderated the panel composed of Tony Cullen, Edward James, Ruth O’Reilly and Graham Sleight. From 40 books on a long list six have been chosen for the shortlist. First to go from that list was Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding, since it did not have the same quality as the others. It was considered to be entertaining steampunk, but misogynist and shallow. Next to go was Far North by Marcel Theroux, a cold postapocalyptic story reminding of McCarthy’s The Road. It was considered to be an interesting take on apocalypse, with likeable characters, but more a book about society than sf. Next to go was Adam Roberts’ novel Yellow Blue Tibia which is a novel about sf rather than sf. Roberts uses sf as a critic of sf. However, it is also a comment on society, the story works and it has a sense of atmosphere. Galileo’s Dream is not a novel where Kim Stanley Robinson appears to have had fun, it is preachy and overly long. It takes place mainly in Galileo’s own time and would have been better if it had only been a history novel. It was slow to read and Robinson can do better. Next to go was Gwyneth Jones’ Spirit, a Monte Christo story with a female hero. It is a standalone and a good book, and the most sf-nal. Although the main character is very well drawn it was hard to fell passionate. The City and the City by China Miéville was considered to be the most worthy, and did actually win. It describes an aspect of city life, that you can avoid seeing beggars and homeless people. It appears to be set in the late Soviet Union. Ruth O’Reilly did not think that it worked as a novel, it had a destructive plot. Tony Cullen did not agree, and also thought that it made you think. It is not much sf, but feels like sf and the “breach” (when you see people in the other, parallel, city) is sf or fantasy. Although I have not read the other books I am quite content with this winner; a very original and thought-provoking sf where the “science” is psychology or sociology.       

For a book to win the award there has to be consensus in the committee, which might make it difficult for really pioneering and outstanding books to win. The shortlist might be more interesting, and this year the panel considered it to be very interesting. The panel suggested that Ursula K. LeGuin’s Lavinia and Paul McAuley’s The Quiet War could have been added to the shortlist.   

Farah Mendlesohn, Graham Sleight, Ruth O’Reilly, Chris Hill

An extra panel was called What do we Mean when we say Mainstream: Iain Banks’ black and white novels. This sounded interesting so I listened to Chris Hill, Graham Sleight, Ruth O’Reilly and Farah Mendlesohn, who first tried to define “mainstream”: Stories where the foreground consists of what happens in society and the characters, with a consensus of the world that is usually assumed. It is acceptable to readers who are not genre readers. If it can be read as metaphor it could be acceptable as mainstream, e g Michel Faber’s Under the Skin. Banks’ mainstream novels were considered to be politically pessimistic and have an interest in families, like Italian movies, e g The Crow RoadComplicity is a crime novel that the panel did not like. As the best mainstream novels they mentioned The Wasp Factory, The Bridge and The Crow Road. His books have naïve characters and quite a few are set in Scotland. He is not an easy author, and you have to pay attention to how they are written. Walking on Glass is difficult to read, and Dead Air is his weakest. Excession, Player of Games and Use of Weapons are three well-written Culture novels. M John Harrison’s Viriconium was mentioned as influence, and Banks was considered to be a gothic novelist with grimy cities and moral. He writes about vast physical structures like buildings and bridges. Transition is an sf novel with space ships, and was not liked by the panel. It is similar to Chris Beckett’s Traveller stories.   

Liz Williams, Elizabeth Counihan

 The Guest of Honour Interview of Liz Williams was performed by Elizabeth Counihan, and I noted one additional fact that I did not know: Liz Williams does not like children, which explains the harsh treatment she gives them in the excellent book The Ghost Sister. There children are put out into the wilderness with no help, in order to learn how to survive, and thus become adult.        

Terry Edge, Sabine Furlong, Elizabeth Counihan

Elizabeth Counihan was also present in the panel Fantasy and SF – Differing Attitudes to YA and Adult Readers. The other participants were Terry Edge and the moderator Sabine Furlong. Rowling’s Harry Potter-books were thought to be boarding school stories with fantasy decorations. The panel liked to read YA fiction since the stories are good yarns. Diana Wynne Jones’ stories were considered to be complicated but good, whereas Twilight and its followers got kids to read. It was asserted that YA fantasy is read by working class children. Technically YA in UK is written for the age group 13-18 years, but in Germany it is written for the 10-14 years old ones.   

Raven Dane, Esther Friesner, John Coxon, Donna Scott, Jonny Nexus

Humour in SF and Fantasy was discussed by the dark fantasy writer Raven Dane, the writer and editor Esther Friesner, the humour fantasy author Jonny Nexus (Gamenight) and the writer and stand-up comedian Donna Scott with John Coxon as moderator. The panel declared that Nebula awards never were given for funny fantasy. Pastiche novels cover the market now, e g by Terry Pratchett (best: Equal Rights) or Tom Holt. The best humour makes you think after laughing. The cartoon history of the world makes you think all the time. The comedy market in general is closed today, e g Punch is no longer published. Web comics are read, and the examples given were The Order of the Stick, Super Stupor and The Lord of the Peeps. An idea on how humour works was the exclusivity: some jokes are fun just because only you (you think) understand it.   

Caroline Mullan and Greg Pickersgill discussed Fandom as Gerontocracy, i e the eternal problem of the lack of rejuvenation in fandom. This was fun but I have not noted more than that the fanroom at cons is now obsolete.       

Andrew Patton

Another eternal question was raised by Andrew Patton in the lecture Intelligent Life in the Universe: Still a Believable Concept? The benefit of this was a list of interesting books: Intelligent Life in the Universe by Carl Sagan and LS Shklovskii from 1966, Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe by Peter Ward and Donald E. Brownlee from 2000 (arguing that the moon is necessary but rare), and the recent (2010) The Eerie Silence – Are We Alone in the Universe? by Paul Davies.        

Jane Killick moderated a panel called Researching Fantasy – How Do You Research the Imaginary? MD Lachlan writes werewolf stories and doesn’t think that it is necessary to do research. He is not inventing a world and finds it enough to do research on Wikipedia to get details. Jaine Fenn mainly writes space opera, and her background in role-playing helps her to have e g the economic system in her head. She leaves out things that the reader can figure out, and she does not describe details that are of no interest to the protagonist. Liz Williams does research before writing, and for her it is not a conscious choice what to leave out for the reader to fill in.       

Finally I listened to a panel on Clarke’s Law – Is Today’s Technology “Magic” to Most People? The only note I made was the statement from the moderator Martin Easterbrook: “We have a name for alternative medicine that is tested, and that is medicine.”       

OK, it was a great con, and if any organizer, panelist or lecturer reads this I would like to thank you. Since I can only be at one item at a time and also had to spend time selling memberships to Eurocon 2011, to say nothing of time spent drinking beer and buying books, I missed a lot of the programme. Much of the programme did not interest me at all, like Sock Knitting or Bondage Workshop, but still there were often several interesting items at the same time making it difficult to choose.   

The day after the con I went to visit Tate Britain for a look on Turner’s paintings and watercolours (which I don’t think I have seen before). I strolled along outside the House of Parliament where there were huge barricades which could apparently withstand a tank, possibly and hopefully just at that time because of the coming elections. In the National Gallery I enjoyed an exhibition of works by the Danish 19th century painter Christen Købke before I continued to Foyle’s, the book shop I try to visit every time I am in London. From the cosy atmosphere there it was shocking to enter Hamley’s toyshop on Regents Street. It was crowded with kids but the real problem was the absolute segregation into a girls’ floor with dolls and kid cosmetics, and a boys’ floor with toy cars and toy guns.      

Finncon 2009 / Animecon VII

Finncon 2009 in Helsinki was also Animecon. The con was impressive both by being well organized, the many sf fans present (1000?), the huge halls used for program items (in Kaapelitehdas) and perhaps mainly by the very many (10000?) anime or manga fans dressed in cosplay costumes. The event took place in the weekend July 10-12, and the weather was wonderful so the manga fans spent a lot of time outdoors, admiring each others’ costumes. Since many program items were in Finnish we got our own Alien Supplement to the Program Book, in English.

First a few pictures from the Animecon.

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The con

Tommy Persson, Johan Jönsson, J Pekka Mäkelä, Alastair Reynolds, Toni Jerrman

Tommy Persson, Johan Jönsson, J Pekka Mäkelä, Alastair Reynolds, Toni Jerrman

In the gigantic Pannuhalli I listened to the panel Science in Science Fiction. The chairman Tommy Persson started by saying that he considered accuracy to be necessary, and got immediate response from Johan Jönsson who does not notice mistakes since he is a humanist. Accuracy is important but most readers don’t notice mistakes. The idea is what is important. He admits to getting complaints on the science in his short stories. Pekka Mäkelä presented himself as a translator and pointed out that it is difficult to know what liberties you may take when you translate science-related parts of a story. For Alastair Reynolds, who is not only an author but also a space scientist, the story comes first. It must not be stupidly wrong like a square earth, but wormholes can be accepted. The science should be levelled down and be in the background. Toni Jerrman, the editor of the Finnish sf-magazine Tähtivaeltaja, says he is easily fooled but the fans criticize. The author should concentrate on the story rather than getting it correct.

Reynolds finds it hard to keep up with the development in science, and cites Charles Stross who has said that it is impossible to write near-future sf. It is always wrong since the world is rapidly changing. The present is not a particularly difficult period; the period 1910-1920 saw enormous changes. Perhaps the rate of change is less if you go back 200 years. Now genetics is moving rapidly but cosmology has stalled with the big bang. However, keeping up in science is fun, it is not a chore.

Tommy likes Timescape by Greg Benford because it describes the life at the university. This is true also of Greg Egan’s books. He then asks for books with too much science and Reynolds comes up with Greg Egan who can have too much cosmology and Kim Stanley Robinson who has too much geology in the Mars book. Among older books he considers that Herbert’s Dune books have aged better since they are mainly about politics, whereas Hal Clement’s books have aged worse. Reynolds contacts biologists to get the biology correct, but he also admits that the whole point of sf is to be a bit naughty; it must not be too correct.

Jukka Halme, George R R Martin, Adam Roberts, Alastair Reynolds

Jukka Halme, George R R Martin, Adam Roberts, Alastair Reynolds

On writing. In the likewise enormous Merikaapelihalli the GoHs were interviewed on their writing by Jukka Halme. Alastair Reynolds started in his teens. He wanted to write stories after having seen To Russia with Love. He wrote about future history and aliens, and never stopped. In school he regretted that he had to choose between science and arts. He studied physics and math in order to study astronomy, and he thus could not take history or English. He has never studied writing but is now a member of a writer’s group. He also likes reading books on writing and has taught writing. He recommends Brian Stableford’s book on writing sf, and also likes Stephen King’s manual. Most important is to write all the time.

He has written 40-50 short stories and still writes them. A novel takes about six months to write and another six for corrections etc. After writing a novel he is exhausted.

Adam Roberts finds being at the con, with its lots of people, to be a life-changing experience. He has always written novels, which come in fragments first. It is necessary to finish even if it is rubbish. Short stories are more difficult to write since they require compression.

The idea behind his novel Swiftly is that it is set in a world where Brobdignag and its neighbours are true history. He calls it alternative and steam-punky. The idea is new; no one has used Swift’s world before.

His last novel is a thriller, “James Bond in his 70’s”. He prefers to write in a Starbuck Coffee Shop, and he doesn’t pay much attention to his surroundings when he is writing. He despises writers groups. Instead you should write as much as you can, you should finish, and “show, don’t tell”.

G R R Martin wrote about spaceships before school. He wanted to be an astronaut but was not physically fit so he wrote about it instead. He took journalism instead of creative writing, because he needed a day job. “This led to adjectivitis, so he joined Adjective Users Anonymous.” Martin started to write short stories, and wrote for tv. The pay was good and you are in a work situation which is good, since writing can be a lonely profession. The other side of it is that people tell you how and what to write. As a whole it was a good experience. He stopped mainly because what he wrote did not reach the audience since it wasn’t produced.

Martin lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but was born in New Jersey in a federal housing project. His father was a longshoreman who never purchased a car. He went to his first sf con in 1971 in Washington DC, after having sold his first sf story. There “he met his people”. He talks about travelling, and the other way to go places, reading books. His first sf book was Heinlein’s Have Space Suit – Will Travel, which is a book that many started with, e g Connie Willis and Melissa Snodgrass. He remembers that book but not the school pals which is more real? We are our memories.

Tarja Rainio, Marianna Leikomaa, George R R Martin, Päivi Väätänen, Tanja Sihvonen

Tarja Rainio, Marianna Leikomaa, George R R Martin, Päivi Väätänen, Tanja Sihvonen

Saturday started with a panel on The New Breed – Modern Vampire Mythos. George R R Martin started with a description of the Transsylvanian “old breed”, that he wrote about in his novel Fevre Dream. All cultures seem to have some tradition of vampires, illustrated by legends from Africa and China. The classical vampire of Bram Stoker is a soulless creature. The vampire of Fevre Dream is a monster, but Fredrik Pohl has used vampires against nazis and then they were good. The new breed is more like a rock-star and tends to be the hero. The moderator, Tanja Sihvonen, adds that they are a symbol of otherness and therefore popular.

In the tv series True Blood the vampires can survive on synthetic blood. Still, blood is a symbol for life and there is also the relation of blood to genetics and race. Marianna Leikomaa commented that the risk of AIDS today makes blood more connected to death than to life. In the film Lost Boys it is fun to be a vampire; you are young forever, party all night and sleep all day. In books humans often want to be vampires, perhaps because they are sexually appealing. Stoker’s vampire is Victorian. Women should not have or like sex. Vampires have an irresistible force. You are taken, body fluids are mixed, and you lose consciousness.

The vampires of today, for example in Stephenie Meyer’s books, live in trailers and drink beer and are not threatening. The vampires of Poppy Z Brite are sexy and great characters, and the vampires in the Saint-Germain series by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro are old, nice and considerate. They do not reproduce but give pleasure to the woman. There appears to be a class system among those monsters, with vampires being highest, werewolves coming next and at the lowest rank we have the zombies.

Maria Candia, Maria Turtschaninoff, Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo

Maria Candia, Maria Turtschaninoff, Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo

Finncons höjdpunkt var en svenskspråkig panel om Ny finlandssvensk fantasy. Maria Candia, som skriver sf på finska, samtalade med författarna Maria Turtschaninoff och Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo. Panelen inleddes med att Maria T läste ur sin bok Arra. Legender från Lavora som jag sedan köpte ute i den stora mässhallen. Enligt Hannele finns det ingen ny homogen finlandssvensk fantasy, i så fall möjligen bilderböcker. Hanneles bok Fem knivar hade Andrej Krapl ser hon knappast som en fantasybok själv. Temat är liksom för Finncon resan både i denna och i Arra. Båda böckerna är uppbyggda som klassisk vardag, och det handlar mycket om att finna sig själv. Hanneles bok startar i en lerig by där allt är brunt och vardagligt. Det är en drömmens verklighet men konkret utifrån en konkret geografi, dock utan namn. Miljön finns på Finlands karta, den bygger på riktiga ställen. Geografin i Marias bok finns däremot bara i hennes huvud, men den har en klart nordisk touch. Handlingen är förlagd till Lavoras forntid. Vi följer en vardaglig kamp, med kvinnohjältar som städar och väver. Det finns ändå magiska element. I fantasy måste man få in läsaren i en fiktionsvärld, och för detta krävs igenkänningselement. Det är då lättare att åstadkomma den nödvändiga “suspension of disbelief”. Hanneles bok är mer realistisk. Det är en konkret värld men ändå surrealistisk med drömlika personer.

På frågan om hur mycket av de själva som finns i personerna svarar Maria att hon finns i alla, t ex har hon vävt. Hannele förklarar att på en gång är huvudpersonen helt hon själv och samtidigt är allt fiktion. Hon stjäl från sig själv och sin omgivning. Det roliga med fiktion är att man får vara någon annan.

Som förebild anger Maria Irmelin Sandman Lilius, och hon känner sig språkligt påverkad av henne. Indirekt har då också Tove Jansson påverkat henne. Maria nämner också Maria Gripe och Astrid Lindgren, och att hon dessutom läst mycket utländsk fantasy. Hannele svarar ungefär detsamma men tillägger Kalevala och Eddan. Dessutom har hon förebilder i den surrealistiska traditionen i finländsk teater och bildkonst. Så har Svenska teatern gett Sagan om ringen, och radioteatern har haft en fantasyserie med en medeltida touch. Frågan om de skriver noveller besvaras med att ingen köper dem. Och slutligen konstateras att finlandssvensk fantasy knappast säljs i Sverige, vilket känns egendomligt och tragiskt. Sf-bokhandeln har inte dessa författare, men jag lyckades köpa Hanneles genom AdLibris.

Arra läste jag när jag kommit hem, och den levde synnerligen väl upp till mina förväntningar. De magiska elementen smygs på en så långsamt så att man inte blir förvånad när Arra flyger. Och huvudpersonen engagerar genom sitt utanförsskap och hennes sätt att bemästra detta.

Riktigt lika givande var inte den inte att lyssna på Vilgot Strömholms föredrag med titeln Ursäkta mig, finns det någon finlandssvensk fandom. Det finns tydligen en organisation kallad Föreningen för underliga intressen vid Åbo Akademi, papperstidningen och websidan Enhörningen, en finlandssvensk Tolkienförening, Lindon, och Helsingforsfandom har pubmöten varannan torsdag.

Maria Turtschaninoff, Linnéa Anglemark, Johan Jönsson

Maria Turtschaninoff, Linnéa Anglemark, Johan Jönsson

Panelen Läslampan leddes av Enhörningens redaktör Ben Roimola, och handlade om svensk fantastik. I panelen satt Maria Turtschaninoff, Johan Jönsson och Linnéa Anglemark. Johan presenterade sig som tidigare ledare för Cathaya och berättade att han har websidan Vetsaga. På Finncon skulle egentligen Irmelin Sandman Lilius varit hedersgäst men det krockade men en resa. Hon hoppas komma på en annan con. Hennes novellsamling Mänskors och fåglars vingar hade gjort stort intryck på Maria när hon läste den efter att ha lånat den på biblioteket. Det var en aha-upplevelse att man kan skriva vuxenlitteratur på ett fantastik-sätt, och hon lyfter fram känslan för det absurda och humorn. Marias språk har påverkats av Sandman Lilius; hon beskriver det som en osmos in i hennes eget. Hon läser en novell, och rekommenderar också Fru Sola-trilogin.

Johan Jönsson rekommenderar John Ajvide Lindqvists debutroman Låt den rätte komma in. Det är en väldigt svensk skräckroman. Tyvärr har hans böcker blivit gradvis sämre efter denna.

Linnéa lyfter fram Tove Jansson. Muminböckerna är bra medicin mot lätt depression. Det gäller speciellt de två sista som inte är barnböcker: Pappan och havet och Sent i november. De handlar om samma situation. I den förra reser Muminfamiljen ut till en liten ö, och i den senare berättas om hur de kvarvarande reagerar.

Ben visar upp P C Jersilds efterkatastrofenroman Efter floden.

Alastair Reynolds

Alastair Reynolds

When Alastair Reynolds Speaks and Reads, he talks about the relation between sf and science. He starts by describing his own sf. Revelation Space and its successors take place in the same universe. It is far future sf whith a house of suns. He is now a full time writer but was a scientist working on e g pulsars. Space opera is hard sf having fun. Old space opera took place in the solar system which was possible when we didn’t know so much as today. Thus, Weinbaum could write A Martian Odyssey and Clarke The Sands of Mars, but Dune was written after the Mariner expedition and it was then necessary to go out further. In the 70’s stories were written about space habitats which were even bigger in the 80’s, with Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix and Joe Haldeman’s Worlds. In the 90’s we got the new Mars books, Paul McAuley’s Red Dust, Ian McDonald’s Desolation Road and Greg Bear’s Moving Mars. There were also stories located to outer planets and moons, like Ganymede in Greg Benford’s Against Infinity. In the recent The Quiet War Paul McAuley describes human life on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. These could have life in the salt water present.

Planets are now found everywhere by several methods, mainly by observing the wobbling of the star as the planet rotates around it. Thus Epsilon Eridani has a planet as Reynolds luckily assumed when he wrote The Prefect.

More speculative is the spin-off from string theory, the presence of brane-worlds, parallell to our own. Gravitons might slip between the brane-worlds allowing communications and disturbances. Why we are present in just this universe could be explained by The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (also a book by Barrow and Tipler), stating that the cosmological constants in this universe are suited for life.

Where do we go in the next 30-40 years? Probably we will go back to the mind-blowing technology of Apollo, and return to the moon. Perhaps we will be back there already in 2020.

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Marianna Leikomaa, Cheryl Morgan

The panel in the Hugo 2009 Discussion presented themselves. Cheryl Morgan is a member of the Hugo Awards Marketing Committee and has actually won a Hugo award, Tommy Persson votes for the Hugo, and Ben Roimola has read the nominees for ten years.

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Tommy Persson, Adam Roberts, Ben Roimola

Adam Roberts was also in the panel, and in the short story category he liked “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” since it was exciting and properly written. Also Cheryl Morgan preferred this but thought that Chiang’s “Exhalation” would win (which it did). No one in the panel voted for the excellent “Shoggoths in Bloom” among the novelettes. Instead they preferred Kessel’s pastiche “Pride and Prometheus or James Alan Gardner’s love story. The panel also missed the winner in the novella category, and instead voted for my favourite, “Truth” by Robert Reed or the unreadable and incomprehensible “True Names” which tries and, sadly, fails to describe different levels of reality in a computer. By showing pictures Cheryl Morgan demonstrated the superiority of the artist Shaun Tan over the other nominees. As best related book both Cheryl Morgan and Adam Roberts preferred Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn, but as Cheryl Morgan predicted John Scalzi won instead. Adam Roberts was seriously worried about the short-list for the novel category. They are all young adult books and very traditional. He hated Stephenson’s book but thought it was the best, since Stephenson actually did something new. Tommy liked Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and Ben predicted, correctly, that it would win. Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother was criticized for infodumping and for being a political runt and ploddingly written. Scalzi’s book was considered to be an unsuccessful attempt to write from the viewpoint of a 14 year old girl.

Adam Roberts Speech was interesting and dealt with the nature of sf and what in sf that captured his heart. He disagreed with Farah Mendlesohn’s recent book Rhetorics of Fantasy, where sf and fantasy is divided into categories according to “type of story”. There is a similar problem with The Encyclopedia. In this way you miss what is marvelous in the story. Fans like similarities and by division into categories it is easier to find what you like. However, you have to ignore a lot to put Beowulf and Terminator 3 in the same category.

Sf is metaphorical literature. It does not reproduce our world but it is concerned with our world. Poetry works by a metaphorical process, and sf is a poetic process. Sf provides the transport or ecstasy that is Sense of Wonder, and does that better than any other literature. The breaking out of the grid is absolutely contrary to the possibility of categorizing. Thus he got a profound sense of transcendence from reading The Lord of the Rings when he was 8 or 9 years old, but copying these books misses this completely.

Adam Roberts mentions that Ballard (Crystal World) and P K Dick see the world in an alienated way. By resonance this is also true of Jack Vance. He himself tries to take sf and “fuck it up” in different ways, like estranging books by making parodies. The Office is a marvelous parody of reality tv, causing laughter. Laughter is hard to explain. It could be caused by fear, embarrassment or disrupting cultural hierarchies, and be an escape from the grid. Comic authors of sf are e g Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. The best humour touches on something profound. His own comic sf book is Yellow Blue Tibia. He names the three best writers of the 20th century: Bulgakov, Wodehouse and Samuel Beckett. Wodehouse has a flawless style that makes you laugh.

During the final discussion Roberts comments that writing is a more immersed form of reading, and it is no problem to be both an author and critic. The best sf critic today is Roger Luckhurst. Finally he derogates fandom by the expression “fans are slans” and explains the categorizing of literature with the pleasure people get from it.

The Sunday started with a discussion between Alastair Reynolds and Antti Oikarinen on the subject Journey into Space. The first step is to go up in orbit. Using a cannon would crush the travellers, and linear accelerators are expensive. Marshall T Savage has suggested seven steps to colonize Mars. He is considered crazy but had some good ideas. Arthur C Clarke suggested the space elevator in 1979. It would take several days to go out to space in the elevator. Another possibility is a high tower that can be inflated, but according to Reynolds this would not work. Another project, called Orion, uses atom bombs under a plate at the end of the star ship.

The second step is to go from orbit. Probably new techniques will come, e g based on antimatter or fusion. The third step is to go to other stars, and one possibility is to use generation ships but this would surely lead to sociological problems. Freezing could be a solution since this has been done with mice already. The blood has to be replaced very rapidly to assure medical stasis.

Cheryl Morgan, Marianna Leikomaa, Johan Anglemark, Jukka Halme

Cheryl Morgan, Marianna Leikomaa, Johan Anglemark, Jukka Halme

In the Book Talk Cheryl Morgan, Marianna Leikomaa and Johan Anglemark discussed under the chairmanship of Jukka Halme, who first asked for the last really good book that they had read. Morgan picked Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente, which is a book where you go into a fantasy world. Marianna mentioned George R R Martin, and Johan the secondary fantasy world of Jasper Fforde. Jukka had found Thunderer by Felis Gilman. This is new weirdish fantasy, reading as easily understandable China Miéville. The mention of Miéville triggered the suggestion of his The City and the City and Un Lun Dun, but the latter was considered to be minor Miéville by Johan and Jukka, who instead mentioned José Saramago.

When asked for good entertainment, Marianna picked Justina Robson’s Quantum Gravity series, and Morgan suggested Adam Roberts latest, Yellow Blue Tibia, where Stalin demands an sf story of alien invasion, which then really happens. She also likes Liz Williams’ Inspector Chen series. Johan was entertained by Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword, but says that you should begin with Sword’s Point. Jukka suggests the sword and sorcery of Jeff VanderMeer, and David Gemmel who has written a reenactment of Troy.

As the best science fiction book, Cheryl Morgan chose Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin or Axis, I am not sure which she meant. Marianna’s choice was Ian McDonald’s Brazil or River of Gods, and Morgan added his Desolation Road to this list. Johan picked The Jiddish Policeman’s Union stating that it technically is sf, and Jukka also took an alternate history but instead the steampunkish Mainspring by Jay Lake, and the author Adam-Troy Castro. Other authors and books that were mentioned were Paul McAuley, Kari Sperring (Living with Ghosts, often at Eastercons), Seamus Heaney (Beowulf), M John Harrison (Nova Swing), John Meaney, Tim Powers, Zoran Živković, Daniel Abraham and Graham Joyce (The Facts of Life).

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Irma Hirsjärvi, Parris McBride, Cheryl Morgan

In the last panel I listened to three female fans talked about fandom. This panel was not announced before and I have no title. Irma Hirsjärvi from Finland has written a Ph D thesis about Finnish fandom, Faniuden Siirtymiä. Suomalaisten science fiction fanien verkostot (Mediations of fandom. Networks of the Finnish science fiction fandom, 2009). She interviewed lots of sf fans. The first signs of a fandom were seen in the 50:s, the first sf society was founded in Turku in 1976, the first Finncon took place in 1986, was supported by the Ministry of foreign affairs since 1995 and was combined with the Animecon since 1999. She met sf by reading Burroughs, and she read in solitude.

Parris McBride, George R R Martin’s partner, started by pointing to the greatest thing that happened to fandom, the appearance of girls in the 70:s. Cheryl Morgan went to role-playing cons in 1976, and was encouraged by Martin Hoare to go to an Eastercon. She then went to Australia and now lives in San Francisco. McBride says “we won” – the biggest tv series and films are sf, and in the states twice as many sf books are sold as mystery books. She found fandom when she lived as a hippie and sf reader in the 60:s. She contacted fans in the area, but did not meet them, and went to her first con in 1974. Then she “had found her home, came home to her tribe”. Morgan agreed that everybody is an sf reader today. Some want to put up the walls of the ghetto again.

Irma Hirsjärvi started to talk about the political aspects of sf fandom, and McBride commented that there is a broad spectrum of political views, but when fans or authors meet they distinctively avoid political discussions since this rapidly leads to feuds. Morgan agreed that fans may be inherently right- or leftwing.

McBride calls American fandom the grandfather of fandom. It gave women freedom to be sf writers. Gay, lesbian and bi are respected in fandom. In a sexist group started in 1989 no broads were allowed. This started a fight because it was against the idea of fandom. However, Morgan had to propose via her boyfriend since then men listens.

Fandom is non-profit, but media fandom may be profit-driven. Members of worldcon committees pay for their memberships, and any profit is transferred to the next worldcon. Finncon is funded by cultural foundations. Cons in the US or the UK are not funded. In the US there is less taxes and no funding of any culture, whereas in the UK taxes are used to support “high” culture like opera, classical music but not sf or pop concerts.

In the fan room: Ahrvid Engholm, ?, Kenneth Lindholm, Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf, Jesper Svedberg

In the fan room: Ahrvid Engholm, ?, Kenneth Lindholm, Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf, Jesper Svedberg

That was the last I saw of the spectacular event called Finncon/Animecon 2009. Together with Carolina I walked to the central station and took the bus to the airport. 


Swecon i Stockholm 15-17 juni

Worldcon 75, Helsingfors 2017