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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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
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.