Posts Tagged 'Charles Stross'

Chicon 7 / 70th Worldcon

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

Cloud Gate in Millennium Park

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

My mirror image in the Cloud Gate

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

View from Hancock Center

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

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

Philosophy and Science Fiction

Sandra M. Grayson, Deb Geisler, Dale Cozort

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

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

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

SF Scene in Europe

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

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

The Exploration of Gender Roles in Science Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you a Dickhead?

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

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

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

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

The Bob and Connie Show

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

The Art of Writing Effective Book Reviews

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

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

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

Jo Walton Reading

Jo Walton

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

Filling the Magazines

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

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

Evil in Lovecraft and Tolkien

Philip Kaveny, Jan Bogstad

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

Carolyn Ives Gilman Reading

Carolyn Ives Gilman

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

Looking Back 70 Years in Fandom

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

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

Last Man Standing: Frederik Pohl

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

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

Why Fantasy Dominates Science Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

The Secret History of Science Fiction

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

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

Science Fiction in China

Ruhan Zhao, Yan Wu, Jan Bogstad, Emily Jiang

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

Medical Myths and Errors Perpetuated by Genre Writers

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

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

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

Collaborations

Charles Stross, Eric Flint

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

The Future Evolution of the Short Story

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

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

Victorian and Edwardian Science Fiction

Matthew Bernardo, DDavid Malki, Randy Smith

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

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

Getting it Right: Religions

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

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

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

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

Incorporating the Personal into Speculative Fiction

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

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

Myth and Religion in SF&F

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

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

Magic Realism vs. Traditional Fantasy

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

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

Erle Korshak

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

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

Peter de Weerdt, Tommy Persson

Alice Hedenlund and The Carrot Cake

Anders Hedenlund continuing on The Carrot Cake, Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf

Advertisements

Kontakt / Eurocon 2012 / SFeraKon

Zagreb, Croatia, April 26-29, 2012

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

Carolina buying honey.

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

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

The Castle in Varazdin

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

Carolina having tea with strukli.

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

Carolina and Frank Beckers in Samobor

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

The castle ruin in Samobor.

Carolina and Frank Beckers in the castle ruin of Samobor.

 

 

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

Marble triskelion, 16th-14th century BC

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

Carolina and Bridget Wilkinson at the market.

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

Workshop for children.

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

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

GoH Tim Powers, Cheryl Morgan and Charles Stross.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dmitry Glukhovski

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

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

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

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

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

Winners of the SFERICA awards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vlatko Juric-Kokic and Milena Benini

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

Bella Pagan and John Berlyne

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

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

Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf, Dave Lally and Petra Bulic.

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

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

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

Fantasticon 2009

IMG_0436a

Air-goddess

For Fantasticon 2009 I arrived in Copenhagen already on the Friday, August 28th. Since I was free for a couple of hours I strolled around in the old university quarter of Copenhagen, the latin quarter, which I got to from Nørreport. I had planned to check out some antiquarian book shops in order to extend my collection of Niels E. Nielsen, and was lucky to find that there was a clearance sale so I bought a copy of Lilleputternes oprør. I also visited Fantask but the sf book shop in Stockholm is definitely bigger. After a smørrebrød and beer I went to the museum Glyptoteket, and walked from there to my hotel, Fy og Bi in Valby. It was a very cosy hotel and the name probably referred to the film studio close by. In the evening I went to the restaurant Riz Raz in the center of Copenhagen to eat together with the organizers and the guests of honour.

My hotel in Valby: Fy og Bi

Gwyneth Jones and Lea Thume at Riz Raz

Gwyneth Jones and Lea Thume at Riz Raz

Olav Christiansen at Riz Raz

Olav Christiansen at Riz Raz

On the Saturday I walked to Vanløse, and had time to print flyers and posters for Eurocon 2011 and Imagicon 2 at the library in the same house. The congress localities were nice and suitable, and I spent quite some time at the big book table where the fan Morten Søndergaard sold his collection of sf books. The program was surprisingly rich for a two-day con and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Flemming Rasch opening the con

Flemming Rasch opening the con

There was no program in English directly after the opening, but already at 13.00 Charles Stross was interviewed by Niels Dalgaard. Stross’ story collection Wireless has been translated into Danish, Antistof. Stross remembers that he wanted to become an astronaut after the moon landing. He then wrote instead, but sent out his stories much too early. His first 10-15 years of selling were not successful. He studied pharmacy but felt that he was not cut out for that job. He “did not have a good 1980s”. He wrote on an Amstrad PCW but it lacked a word counter. [Oh, the Amstrad! I had one at home and one at my job, and I still think it was a lovely machine, with its Locoscript word-processing program and acceptable printer. Sadly, it was not compatible with later PCs.] He got a masters degree in computer science and went into that industry for a decade. Around 2000 the dotcom bubble burst when he was between jobs. He spent 2 months free-lance writing for computer magazines.

Charles Stross, Niels Dalgaard

Charles Stross, Niels Dalgaard

He sent his first novel, that he called A Festival of Fools, to Patrick Nielsen Hayden who let it lie for quite some time, but actually had considered buying it. This space opera, targeted at the US market, was published after some years titled Singularity Sky, referring to a paper by Vernor Vinge on singularity. Stross’ real singularity novel is Accelerando, first published as a series of short stories in Asimov’s. He considers the sequel Iron Sunrise to be a better book than Singularity Sky.

He considers that scarcity of food is not necessary; it is due to bad distribution. He is not a big fan of capitalism, but not of communism either.

Stross does not want to write the same novel again and again. Readers tell the publishers that they want the same, but what they really want is the same experience.

In his novel Glasshouse there are references to the film The Village and the tv series The Prisoner. He wrote it because he was annoyed waiting for John Varley’s novel Red Thunder. Glasshouse is Stross’ own John Varley novel, the one he felt that Varley should have written. One basis for the book is the Stanford prison study in psychology, where half of the students were assigned to act as “prisoners” and half as “guards”. The experiment had to be cancelled after three days due to gross abuse and dehumanisation. “Glasshouse” is British military slang for a military prison.

His “Laundry novels” are written just for fun. He likes British spy thrillers and H P Lovecraft. Here magic is a branch of mathematics. The Jennifer Morgue is a “James Bond novel”.

He is infatuated in Woodehouse, but the parody Scream for Jeeves has already been done. Stross’ short story “Trunk and Disorderly” could be Woodehouse for the 21st century?

For Saturn’s Children he picked Heinlein, but the late Heinlein instead of the juveniles. The plot is one of Heinlein’s three plots, “The Man Who Learned Better”. Nipples go “spung” in the story and apparently it is not about a human but instead a sex robot.

Halting State is a serious novel. The computers are faster and the bandwidth increased. Cyberspace will be draped over the reality. In a sequel there will be vat-grown meat and the transplant industry will produce human meat that might also be used as food, i e in cannibalism.

Dalgaard mentions the name Stroctorow for the collaborations with Doctorow, and Stross admits to some similarities. Traditionally sf was defined by travel and speed, but the speed revolution has ended. Instead there is a revolution in information processing. The sf of the 50s and 60s was written for engineers, but traditional sf does not talk to the engineers of today.

Stig W Jørgensen, Klaus Æ Mogensen, Charles Stross, Niels Dalgaard

The science of near-future science fiction was discussed by Stig W Jørgensen, Klaus Æ Mogensen, Niels Dalgaard and Charles Stross, who actually dominated the discussion. Brunner’s “black tetralogy” and Christopher Priest are examples of near-future sf, but today there is very little. Vampire stories may be near-future but are hardly sf. Real near-future sf is very hard to write. An example is that when the financial crisis hit it stole his plot. Sf about near future has dealt with surveillance systems which know where all mobile phones and cars are. Rather, probably genomics will change the near future. It is getting cheaper, and by portable gene scanners the entire human genome may be analysed. Then proteomics and artificial organisms will have an immense impact. 3 D printers may be used for illicit handguns or for making copies of the anatomy of your neighbour’s daughter…

“Property” will change. “Intellectual property” is not transferable, since you do not lose it when you keep your copy. The scarce limits that are constructed are just fakes. However, artists should be paid for their work but a better way has to be found. According to economic theory infinite supply leads to zero cost. The real problem is how to cope with the excess of information. Karl Schröder writes far-future sf with the opposite of singularity, where all subjects of research have been researched, or are to difficult to pursue further.

Stross is angry with Bush. The money spent in Iraq could have been used for five Mars programs.

The worst horror scenario might be the grey goo, with self-replicating nanomachines. However, this is what bacteria are.

Ellen Miriam Pedersen, Gwyneth Jones, Ralan Conley

Ellen Miriam Pedersen, Gwyneth Jones, Ralan Conley

Jesper Rudgård Jensen, Knud Larn

Jesper Rudgård Jensen, Knud Larn

.

.

.

The panel Men travel to Mars, women live on Venus was manned (sic) by the moderator Jesper Rudgård Jensen, Knud Larn, Ellen Miriam Pedersen, Gwyneth Jones and Ralan Conley. Knud Larn doesn’t distinguish between male and female writers, but thinks that feminists opened up a portal to other kinds if writing. Although he is not gay himself he finds stories involving homosexuality interesting. Gwyneth Jones finds gender important from a historical point of view, when women started to emerge as readers and practitioners. Also, feminism in the real world had an impact in the 70’s. She also interprets the early sf stories: They are basic adventure stories and the reward is access to females. The symbolism of male rockets penetrating the female void indicates the deeply sexual content of sf in the 50’s and 60’s. Ralan Conley thinks that there is more versatility in female roles in sf than in fantasy, where the roles are either a damsel in distress or an amazone. There are few horrific women in horror stories. Interestingly, the term android is used for sexless, but gynoids for sex machines.

Gwyneth Jones indicated that female writers are subjected to disqualification. As an sf writer she wants to write about science but encounters that “women should write about womanly things”. She thought that things had changed when she started writing, but found that it is very difficult for a woman to be accepted as an sf writer. It is hard to get the readers to accept the science. Interestingly, after the unmasking of James Tiptree, Jr., she was no longer in the top of sf.

Klaus Æ Mogensen gave a Science talk: Anarchonomy, where he talked about his work at the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies. “Anarchonomy” is formed from anarchy plus economics, and follows Peter Kropotkin’s definition of anarchism as a network society, explaining the workings of the internet. He gave several examples of value for free on the internet, like Wikipedia, technorati, delicious, Myspace.com. These are examples of the process described in Eric von Hippel’s Democratizing Innovation (www.tinyurl.dk/2435). Another example is Ohmynews, an amateur journal on the net that is the most read in South Korea. The information overload necessitates someone who finds out what is worth reading.

Copyleft with a mirrored © sign is a symbol for free utilities like Mozilla and BitTorrent. There has also emerged social lending, without banks. The idea to give one laptop to each child (www.laptop.org) would lead to a decentralised internet that is impossible to police. Fab@Home is an open source project to make 3 D printers that can make Lego pieces etc., and in the “reprap” project self-replicating printers are made. These processes are good for the environment since there is less transportation and garbage can be used for the processes. Drawbacks are that there is no liability for the manufacturer, and that it is hard to streamline.

The idea to give information away for free is nothing new. Universities have given knowledge away (but there are signs today that this might change).

H H Løyche, Flemming Rasch

H H Løyche, Flemming Rasch

The Danish sf author H H Løyche was interviewed by the congress coordinator Flemming Rasch, but unfortunately in Danish so I missed quite a lot. Løyche first wrote a short story with time travel. He read both Perry Rhodan and Ballard. He has written short stories for a weekly supplement to the journal Jyllandsbladet, and he thinks his writing corresponds to about four novels a year. In the anthology Dystre Danmark he has an authentic story, but he writes mainly sf and detective stories. Two novels that he mentions are Støj, which is a detective story containing a climate catastrophe, and Mission to Schamajim. He has also made a threesided chess and a lot of posters, and his latest project concerns H C Andersen’s sf. In order to find that he read everything that H C Andersen had written, and he thinks that his novels are much better than the short stories. He found 27 texts that could be used for a collection of Andersen’s sf, e g about a civilisation on the bottom of the sea. He also made illustrations for these stories and for the front of the book. This has a comet over Copenhagen, since there were many comets during H C Andersen’s life which might have influenced him.

Gwyneth Jones

Gwyneth Jones

Gwyneth Jones gave a Kierkegaardish talk called Either/Or. In her North Wind there is a riddle from the bible, where Isak has to kill his son in order to have a future, but thereby also makes him lose his future. There is an opposition between an esthetic and an ethic way of living. In sf there is often progress or utopia. It can be a road to heaven or hell – but which is which? And how to build a good state, a utopia? Tom Paine wrote The Rights of Man in 1791 and the ideas have developed to the UN declaration of human rights in 1948. But there has also been a development of technology that took us to the moon. Where are the bodies of the space race buried?

In early sf there was no conflict between progress and utopia, and many sf authors were happy to be invited as experts in the star wars initiative. Just as for Stalin “art serves the cause”; the perfect future is the reason.

Utopia itself brings on the violence, and Jones cites from Che Guevara’s diaries. Also in U K LeGuin’s The Word for World is Forest gentle people had to go to war to protect themselves. Jones referred to a statement by an anonymous sf fan, “if 95% of the human race doesn’t make it and 5% does, it is still worthwhile (e g to go to space)” that she found reprehensible, and she went on to cite U K LeGuin again. In “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” it is common knowledge that the good fortune of Omelas requires that an unfortunate child be kept in filth, darkness and misery. Those who cannot accept this walk away to an unknown fate. This is a devil’s bargain, and there is no guidance in the story. Who are subject to the worst tragedy, those who stay or those who leave?

However, Jones suggests that by small increments, small improvements in living it might be possible to achieve a utopia. “Small is beautiful”.

Jones also mentions her own story “Identifying the Object”, Karin Boye’s Kallocain and the film Bladerunner. Someone in the audience translated Sören Kierkegaard fittingly into “Grim Graveyard”.

Jesper Rudgård Jensen, Ralan Conley

Jesper Rudgård Jensen, Ralan Conley

Ralan Conley  was interviewed by Jesper Rudgård Jensen. Conley is an american who has lived in Denmark for the last 20 years. In the early 90’s he had free time that he spent on writing a novel, 700 pages on paper. He got a no from every publisher and instead wrote short stories to get some practice. He then wondered what market there could be and what he learnt he now spreads via his website. The idea is that authors could help each other via the web or email.

Conley writes epic fantasies which are really sf. He has done variations on the Jack the Ripper theme where he goes west. He likes the stories to unfold since he then entertains himself. Having an outline makes him bored. He types with two fingers and if he tries to use all he loses his creativity. He enjoys editing his stories afterwards. He likes to put people in extreme situations, like mining on other planets. In Tales of Weupp there is a planet where magic works.

Much sf is now being marketed as mass market stories, e g Michael Crichton’s. There are markets for short stories and about 700 such markets are listed on his website http://www.ralan.com. This page is funded by donations.

Michael Kamp, Gwyneth Jones, Lea Thume

Michael Kamp, Gwyneth Jones, Lea Thume

In the panel Writing for children and young adults, Gwyneth Jones told that she started writing for children and thought that as she grew herself also her intended readers would be older. She worked as a script writer for the sf cartoon Tellybugs, where she made 3’55” stories for Chip, Sam and Bug. After that she wrote ghost stories for teenagers under the name “Ann Halam”. She likes writing for young adults, and mentions as inspirations Arthur Ransom, H C Andersen, Tolkien, C S Lewis and Diana Wynne Jones.

Michael Kamp tells us that he has published six books, which the libraries classify as 13+. He does not aim at teenagers and believes that you shouldn’t. However, the language should be understandable for teens.

Lea Thume thinks that children need books they have to grow into; they should have to “stand on tiptoe”. Jones responds that you should be as straight as possible. Simplicity should be an ideal. A successful example is Alan Garner’s Red Shift, which most children won’t understand although it is simply written. It has strong and strange sf ideas.

Kamp comments that you have to downplay the sex parts; the teens can take all the other stuff. Jones agrees and thinks that there is too much graphic description in Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, about a 16 year old girl who falls in love with a 14 year old boy. You should have pity on your readers: they might be embarrassed since they might read the book in class. These books would stand behind the librarian. Thume comments that this is not the case in Denmark where sex is treated in a very open-minded way. Still, Kamp thinks that sex should be avoided since it detracts the attention from the story you want to tell. As Jones says, pornography kills character.

Jones also adds that it is unethical to mention underage sex. [Personally, I think it is strange that you can describe an act of murder but not an act of love.]

Asked about recommendations Jones says that she can only answer what she liked. Among films her favourite is Kurosawa’s Tokyo Story that describes Tokyo before the war, and among books she prefers juvenile books written by U K LeGuin and Diana Wynne Jones. A favourite is Archer’s Goon. Kamp mentions Pratchett.

According to Jones, horror and ghost stories should be short. A puzzle detective story by Agatha Christie is about 30 000 words. M R James inspired Jones to write ghost stories, and she also mentions influence from H P Lovecraft and Sheridan Le Fanu.

Johan Anglemark asked the panel about the possible influence of role-playing games on the plotting in young adult books, and Jones considers that Sheri Tepper’s early books were heavily influenced by role playing.

Charles Stross, Gwyneth Jones, Niels Dalgaard

Charles Stross, Gwyneth Jones, Niels Dalgaard

The last panel I listened to was about British science fiction, with the two GoHs, Stig W Jørgensen and Niels Dalgaard. Jones pointed out that the differences between individuals are much greater than the differences between US and UK authors, in the same way as they are greater than the differences between men and women. Still, Stross thought that there might be differences between US and UK sf. John Christopher, Wyndham and Christopher Priest wrote about an England where the best was over and the empire dead. There was a feeling that the British were let down – “hey, you were on the winning side, you don’t need any support”. Jones answered that British sf had stronger links with US than with the rest of Europe. She was born in a socialist utopia. US was worried, due to other socialist utopias.

Stross read Interzone in his teens and wanted new stuff, radical in an undefined way. Interzone was published by a “collective” that found out that they were actually slaves of David Pringle. Many new British sf authors were first published in Interzone in the 80’s. Britain did not get cyberpunk but instead a second “new wave”.

Damgaard mentions that Denmark had “cosy catastrophes” like in UK.

Jones sees herself more as a European author, and Stross as an american one. He answers that you have to sell to US to get a proper career.

Jones and Stross had different views on the early “new” space opera Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks, whether it was influenced by the Falklands war or the Vietnam war. Banks is a very British author who does not sell in the US. Peter Hamilton is right-wing and best-selling. Stross is surprised that Ken McLeod has won a libertarian award, and that he himself was nominated. McLeod is the son of a preacher and picked up Trotskyism at the university. Stross says that McLeod’s tetralogy describes different types of socialism in the four volumes [I missed that…].

British sf authors cheat since they can sell in the US and still have the healthcare of UK. In a space opera future the disadvantage of being British vanishes making it easy to sell in the US.

Jones comments on the “mundane manifesto” of Geoff Ryman. She finds it quite restricted, but when she sent in an invited short story to an anthology she could include FTL and aliens and still get it accepted as “mundane sf”. Stross read the manifesto differently: Go back to the basis of sf and skip the tropes. It is possible to write mundane space opera, and an example is Saturn’s Children. [True, actually].

Jones resisted writing space opera but her latest is definitely that. It features a capital similar to Brussels, and she feels that space opera gives you a good possibility to write about the present.

Michael Pargman and others at the book sale

Michael Pargman and others at the book sale

I left the congress by the new driverless metro, strolled around in the center of Copenhagen for a while looking at the new theatre and opera buildings and generally had a wonderful time, to finally continue with the metro to the airport. A fantastic weekend!


Swecon i Stockholm 15-17 juni

Västerås 17-18 november