Posts Tagged 'Cheryl Morgan'

Finncon 2013

Helsinki, Finland, July 5 – 7, 2013

Tommy Persson, Marianna Leikomaa, Jukka Halme, Cheryl Morgan

Tommy Persson, Marianna Leikomaa, Jukka Halme, Cheryl Morgan

Since I did not arrive until 10.30 at the Helsingfors airport I did not make it to the Opening Ceremony at noon. The discussion of the nominations for the Hugo Awards at 13.00 was classic, with Marianna Leikomaa moderating Tommy Persson, Cheryl Morgan and Jukka Halme. This time they started with the short stories since the novels were less interesting. There were only three short stories, due to the fact that a story has to have at least 5 % of the nominations in the category.  ”Immersion” by Finncon’s GoH Aliette de Bodard describes a culture collision, in ”Mantis Wives” by Kij Johnson husbands are eaten by their wives, and ”Ken Liu’s ”Mono No Aware” was inspired by Japanese aesthetics and considered sentimental. All three stories were considered good, and no consensus was reached regarding which should win.

Among the novels the only one I would like to read after the discussion is 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, although it is very long. The zombie book Blackout by Mira Grant, the typical Bujold novel, the one-joke novel Red Shirts by John Scalzi and the ”average, competently written middle-eastern fantasy” Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, being part of a series, seem less interesting. The panel would have liked to see M John Harrison’s Empty Space on the ballot.

Mats Strandberg, Sara B Elfgren, Karin Tidbeck, Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo, Maria Turtschaninoff

Mats Strandberg, Sara B Elfgren, Karin Tidbeck, Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo, Maria Turtschaninoff

The panel about sf and fantasy on both sides of the Baltic Sea was in Swedish (Fantastik på båda sidor av Östersjön).  In Sweden fantasy for children and YA has been done before, e g by Astrid Lindgren and Maria Gripe, so Cirkeln (The Circle) was readily accepted by critics. The successful  books by John Ajvide Lindqvist have made it somewhat easier for critics to accept also fantasy for adults, but Karin Tidbeck was not happy with the reviews of her sf or fantasy dystopia Amatka, since they always started by motivating the review by mentioning works by Karin Boye, Harry Martinson and P C Jersild. A common question in interviews is “Why do you write fantasy (and not “adult mainstream”)”.  Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo was asked “why a vampire novel?” when she had written Svulten (Starved). Karin Tidbeck said that in Sweden good literature is “workers literature” as written in the 40’s by e g Moa Martinson. In a commentary on the tv series Game of Thrones the poet, critic and editor Göran Greider recently wrote that fantasy is a song of praise to fascism. Karin Tidbeck’s formidable success abroad has not been noted at all by the Swedish literary establishment.

Maria Turtschaninoff’s Underfors received good reviews in Finland. Possibly it was easier to accept than her other fantasy novels, since it is set in the real Finland, in “our” world. Selling her books in Sweden has not been easy, which might be due to the publisher being Finnish. Sara B Elfgren and Mats Strandberg considered that they had luck with their book series starting with The Circle, that has already been sold to many countries and translated to 22 languages.

Stefan Ekman

Stefan Ekman

The GoH Stefan Ekman talked about his life as a fantasy researcher. In his thesis he analysed the role of the setting in fantasy, and he is now doing research in several areas:  1. SF and medicine, together with a colleague in medical humanities in Lund. There are lots of patients and different diseases in sf. An example he mentioned is Geoff Ryman’s The Child Garden. 2. He cannot let go of Tolkien, and is now mainly studying the letters. 3. The concept urban fantasy, which has undergone a shift in meaning from the 80’s till now. It is impossible to define but automatically criticises society. 4. Collaborating with an art historian he studies the portrayal of women in role-playing games and how this has changed over the years, e g in Dungeons and Dragons.

Stefan also talked about his thesis. It has now been published by Wesleyan as Here Be Dragons: Exploring Fantasy Maps and Settings. He mentioned three kinds of limits: 1. Between the reader and the text, and on that border there is often a map, with names of places. 2. Borders against the ghastly world outside, like in Mythago Wood or Galadriel. This can be compared with the polders in The Netherlands. 3. Nature vs human culture and society, exemplified by China Miéville and Charles deLint.

Ben Roimola, Jenny Wiik, Mia Franck, Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo, Maria Turtschaninoff

Ben Roimola, Jenny Wiik, Mia Franck, Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo, Maria Turtschaninoff

In a presentation of Finland-Swedish fantasy four authors were interviewed by Ben Roimola. Jenny Wiik has recently published Bildbindaren (The Picture Binder) that is a book with a portal and internet, written mainly for pre-teenagers. She appreciated the feedback she got from the publisher, Schildt-Söderströms. Mia Franck had done research in the fantastic genres and has now written the novel Martrådar about mares which suck out the sexual lusts, after a writing course with Monica Fagerholm. She writes for youthful adults. Svulten (Starved) is Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo’s third novel and deals with obsession, decadence and idling. She has been interested in vampires for a long time, and this novel is a homage to the classic vampires, although female. Maria Turtschaninoff presented Arra at the last Finncon in Helsinki. It started with one person, and the world grew. Anaché takes place in a neighbouring country and also starts with the story of one person. The publisher considered it to be her best book, and I agree and am looking forward to read more by her.

Aliette de Bodard, Tom Crosshill

Aliette de Bodard, Tom Crosshill

The GoH Aliette de Bodard was interviewed by Tom Crosshill, who started by calling her texts “new new wave”, a fresh kind of sf, where identity is important. She is French by birth, lived in USA for a long time and now lives in France. Her father is French and her mother Vietnamese, and she has been well aware of being different. She works as a scientist and computer engineer, and is moonlighting in writing. Still, there is not much hard-core science in her fiction. She is more interested in how science influences people.

There is a pronounced “non-western” aspect in her writing. She has read ancient Vietnamese and Chinese texts. They have a different history of literature, and in that tradition brotherhood and studying together are more important than love. The stories are less plot-driven, and concern family. When she has adopted these ideas she has got rid of most of the misogyny. In her universe there are different cultures, and she is trying to show that different cultures have different merits.

In addition to her sf she has written a fantasy series, Obsidian and Blood, set in the Aztec culture before the Spanish invasion. It has devout warriors and magic that works. There is often a crime element in her books; they are speculative fiction thrillers. Regarding the state of the genre she sees two strands, the Golden Age stories emphasising science and ideas, and the more experimental stories. She appreciates the current discussion among authors, although it is not always friendly. Obviously I have to read On a Red Station, Drifting, in addition to the short stories by her that I have read and liked in Asimov’s and Interzone.

The panel On Writing took place in the hall Pannuhalli where a large ventilating fan dominated over the panellists and the moderator, Tom Crosshill. Still, I heard the Finnish GoH J Pekka Mäkelä point out that good writing leads to good reading, and that he makes a draught first and then the first and last sentences. Peter Watts tries to explore an idea when he writes, rather than aiming for entertainment. He considers himself to be a foul-tempered court jester, and he writes what he would like to read. And so does Aliette de Bodard.

Jakob Löfgren

Jakob Löfgren

The talk by Jakob Löfgren about fandom was interesting. It was called From fiction to reality. Fans under the microscope, and the speaker was a Ph D student in Nordic Folklore or ethnology at Åbo Academy.  He started out by an attempt to define fandom with references to studies from the 90’s and the present century, but he did not mention the origin of sf fandom as we know it. With a lot of references he characterised fandom as based on affection, being playful, a social group and a participating culture. Fandom provides a common identity with its own cultural expressions based on affectionate play. The cultural expressions that he mentioned were cons, cosplay, fan fiction including slash, filking, and buying and collecting stuff. It also includes artistic communication in small groups, and it depends on tradition, with repeated events like cons.  This description might be correct for fans of a special character or series, like Star Trek fans, Harry Potter fans and Sherlock Holmes fans, but I find it incomplete or even inaccurate for sf fandom, where fans and pros meet on an equal basis, pros quite often are fans and often have their origin in fandom where they started out by publishing short stories in fanzines. Even the Wikipedia article on fandom gives a better description of sf fandom.

Jakob Löfgren had studied fandom in the small British village Wincanton where Discworld fans celebrate Hogswatch weekends together with Terry Pratchett. He described an extreme variant of fandom where the people of the village took on the personality of characters in the Discworld books. This is pretty far from the fandom I know, even if there are masquerades at some cons.

Markus Rosenlund

Markus Rosenlund

The science journalist and sf fan Markus Rosenlund gave an entertaining talk called something like The twilight zone between science and magic (Skymningszonen mellan vetenskap och magi). He started by citing Arthur C. Clarke:  “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The risk of being burnt at the stake has been high for those who have challenged the present conceptions, and even today you can be ostracized for revolutionary ideas like cold fusion. He gave an overview of scientific revolutions with some entertaining anecdotes, like the one where Heisenberg and Schrödinger were driving a car and was stopped by the police. – Do you know how fast you were driving? – No, but I know where we are. – Did you know there is a live cat in the luggage boot? – No, but now we know.

Markku Soikkeli, Aliette de Bodard, Stefan Ekman, Tom Crosshill

Markku Soikkeli, Aliette de Bodard, Stefan Ekman, Tom Crosshill

SF as metaphor was discussed by Aliette de Bodard, Stefan Ekman and Markku Soikkeli with Tom Crosshill as moderator. SF can be read in different ways and what looks like a metaphor may actually be the described, imagined reality.

There should be a message and the text should deal with real-world issues, but not so much that it turns into mainstream. If the writer tries too hard with the message the text may end up as propaganda and is no longer interesting to read.

The predictive aspect of sf is not important and it is usually impossible to foresee breakthroughs. The text should instead deal with where we think the society is going now and what impact the technologies do to us as a society and as people. The text should make the reader think in new ways.

Eemeli Aro, Syksy Räsänen, Caitlin Sweet, Karin Tidbeck

Eemeli Aro, Syksy Räsänen, Caitlin Sweet, Karin Tidbeck

The less serious panel Speculative tv-series was led by Eemeli Aro, who asked the public for ideas for new tv-series which the panellists then had to describe. The panel consisted of Syksy Räsänen, Karin Tidbeck and Caitlin Sweet, who entertained us with stories about daycare of baby vampires and space sheep. Still, this is not the kind of programme item I like best.

Alexandra Davydova, Irina Lipka

Alexandra Davydova, Irina Lipka

East is calling – State of Moder Russian SF: Last year 776 original sf books were published in Russia. This was mentioned by the two Russian fans Alexandra Davydova, who is also a writer and game constructor, and Irina Lipka. The presentation showed that there really are quite many Russian sf authors, and a lot of sf is also translated from English. Unfortunately many translations are done very fast and also not by professionals and involving piracy. There is a lot of fantasy for mass consumption. Not much Russian sf or fantasy has been translated into English, but exceptions are Metro 2033 by Dmitri Glukhovsky, the Night Watch series by Sergei Lukyanenko and books by Max Frei. Serious authors dislike to have their books labelled sf. And if they have written sf before they easily ”forget” them. Just like in Sweden.

We saw a film based on Karin Tidbeck’s short story “Who is Arvid Pekon?”, entitled Kim jest Arvid Pekon? since it was made in Poland. It was made by a Swede, Patrick Eriksson, who went to a film school in Poland. He found a complete old switchboard in the cellar of the school, and used it for the filming. In the story old-time phone operators are answering calls. The film was very good and even scarier than the story.

Caitlin Sweet, Sara B Elfgren, Mats Strandberg, Nene Ormes, Jussi Ahlroth

Caitlin Sweet, Sara B Elfgren, Mats Strandberg, Nene Ormes, Jussi Ahlroth

The Sunday programme was not as well-filled as those for the other days. In the morning I listened to a panel called Soundtracks for books, led by Jussi Ahlroth. While writing, the authors listened to playlists or music chosen by others in a café or pub. Nene listens to scores from movies she hasn’t seen – if she has seen them she gets disturbed. She also listens to Philip Glass. They talked a lot about music that I don’t know, and also commented on lists of music on the back of some books. No one in the panel listens to music while reading, which I find strange. When I read I often listen to music that I know well, like string quartets by Beethoven or Shostakovich.

Merja Polvinen, Fionna O'Sullivan, Stefan Ekman, Tommy Persson

Merja Polvinen, Fionna O’Sullivan, Stefan Ekman, Tommy Persson

Other aspects of reading practices were discussed in the panel How do we read?, moderated by Merja Polvinen. Interestingly, the entire panel was irritated by too extensive descriptions of characters, e g faces, hair colour etc, and I agree with this. They visualise when reading, and this dominates over hearing, although bells or music may be heard. Merja distinguished different types of reading: skimming, scanning and deep-reading, but Tommy Persson did not consider the first two as reading – he reads every word even when reading purely for pleasure. Stefan Ekman admitted to being a story junkie and descriptions of places stops him in the track. He can also deep-read and spend an hour for a paragraph. Nowadays I can enjoy quite extensive descriptions of nature even if it slows down the story.

Mats Strandberg, Sara B Elfgren, Johan Anglemark

Mats Strandberg, Sara B Elfgren, Johan Anglemark

Johan Anglemark interviewed Sara Bergmark Elfgren and Mats Strandberg, the successful authors of The Circle and other books in the Engelsfors series. It was nice to listen to, but did not add very much to what I already knew.

Tom Crosshill, Emmi Itäranta, Karin Tidbeck, Aliette de Bodard

Tom Crosshill, Emmi Itäranta, Karin Tidbeck, Aliette de Bodard

Once more Tom Crosshill was used as moderator, this time in the discussion entitled Writing in a foreign language. The authors Tom Crosshill, Aliette de Bodard, Karin Tidbeck and Emmi Itäranta shared their experiences of writing in English although their native tongue was Latvian, French, Swedish or Finnish. Karin Tidbeck learnt English by playing World of Warcraft. She has translated her stories herself and found that Swedish is comparably passive, almost paraplegic, and cannot be directly translated. She also point out that there is a lot of cultural baggage in a word that is never fully understood by a foreigner.  Emmi Itäranta had been to a Creative Writing course in England. She found it helpful to write in both languages in parallel. Finnish has a small number of words but a complex grammar, whereas English has an extensive vocabulary. For Aliette de Bodard it was revealing to have her work translated into French, which has much longer sentences than English. She also thanked God for the Internet, that has taken down a lot of barriers. It is now much easier to publish in a foreign country.

Naturally there was a lot of talk between programme items and at the party on Saturday evening. I especially enjoyed the discussions in that evening where a Chinese fan, some Swedish fans and some Russian fans talked about fandom and conventions in our countries. I have bought a membership in the Russian Eurocon that takes place in St Petersburg in 2015, and look forward to it!

P1030523aThis was an excellent Finncon. Many thanks to the organisers! In central Helsinki I saw alien creatures so obviously the entire city was involved in the convention. Next year Finncon is in Jyväskylä which is less readily available from Sweden. Still, I hope to go there!

Läs också Johan Jönssons utmärkta rapport!

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.

Eurocon 2011

Stockholm, June 17-19, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest of Honour Interview: Elizabeth Bear talks to Nene Ormes

Elizabeth Bear, Nene Ormes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feminist SF

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

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

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

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

JHH: Ursula LeGuin, Joanna Russ.

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

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

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

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

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

KM: First feminist sf: Aristophanes’ Lysistrate.

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

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

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

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

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

EB: Nalo Hopkinson.

MN: Scott Westerfeld, Justina Robson.

JHH: Carol Emshwiller.

EB: Geoff Ryman: Air, Unconquered Countries.

AQ: Joan Slonczewski.

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

MN: Marge Piercy.

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

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

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

EB: Tricia Sullivan: Maul.

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

Women, Men and Neuters in SF and Fantasy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions from some other programme items

Elizabeth Bear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finncon 2010

The Finnish yearly con rotates between cities and Finncon 2010 took place in Jyväskylä 16-18 July. I arrived by plane in Helsinki (644 SEK!) already on Thursday morning and spent some hours in the city, visiting two art museums. The Amos Anderson Art Museum was surprisingly dull although the special exhibitions of modern art and photos were worth a visit.

By Jacob Dahlgren

In contrast, Kiasma, the Museum of Contemporary Art, was far from dull. The architecture in Helsinki was interesting already, and this wonderful building fits nicely, although it is the inside that is most amazing. In the exhibition from the Fire & Rescue Museum I was thrown back half a century (and to the SF of that time) when I looked at the information boards and posters presenting civil defence and fire fighting procedures before and after the nuclear attacks that the artist Jussi Kivi had secured from a former Soviet  underground shelter in Estonia. I then stepped into the Swedish artist Jacob Dahlgren’s 3 D world of coloured bands, reminding me of the new trade mark of the commercial centre in my home commune Sollentuna. I usually get bored trying to look at video installations, but this time I was stunned by several of them. A visit to Kiasma will definitely be on my agenda every time I am in Helsinki! 

Inside Kiasma

I chose to go by plane also to Jyväskylä where the airport was pretty small and located out in the woods. In the afternoon when I arrived I was surprised to find that there was no bus transfer to the city, so I had to take a taxi for more money than the flight from Stockholm. Jyväskylä was a nice city and the main problem was the tropical heat that the hotel room was not equipped to handle. 

I enjoyed walking in the evening when the temperature had fallen slightly. I had planned to take a look at the Wreck-a-Movie event but after quite some time of waiting I gave up. Instead, the first programme item for me was the Hugo discussion. I had some problems to find out where this took place and when I got to the veranda of a villa outside the university area it was crowded and of course very hot. I missed the first comments of the excellent panel, consisting of Cheryl Morgan, Tommy Persson, Jukka Halme and Marianna Leikomaa. They had started with the short stories, which I had found to be an unusually weak category this year. Jemisin’s “Non-Zero Probabilities” was considered to be fantasy rather than sf and to be well written. To me it only was ridiculous. The only story worth reading in my opinion was Will McIntosh’s “Bridesicle”, but if I understood the panel correctly they thought that Resnick’s “The Bride of Frankenstein” might win. The novelette category was much stronger. The panel considered Stross’ contribution “Overtime” to be a weak horror story and not one of his best. “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster was in my opinion an interesting and well written story, and the panel agreed but did not like the ending. The opinions differed regarding the robot-in-love story “Eros, Philia, Agape” by Rachel Swirsky, that was considered sweet and fine but still not very good. The entertaining ”James Bond goes steam punk” story by Paul Cornell, “One of Our Bastards is Missing”, starring prince Bertil of Sweden, might work as part of a novel, which Cheryl Morgan told that it actually was. The story of a world on a Dyson sphere, ”The Island”, by Peter Watts, did not work but was definitely hard sf and I thought it was of some interest but a bit hard to read. My favourite in this category was “It Takes Two” by Nicola Griffith, also hard sf but this time about mind-changing drugs in relation to lesbian love. Really well written and with implications regarding both sex and free will. I got the impression that this might have been the panel’s favourite too. 

Cheryl Morgan, Jukka Halme, Marianna Leikomaa, Tommy Persson

Tommy Persson’s favourite in the novella category was ”Shambling Towards Hiroshima” by James Morrow and he also liked Kage Baker’s ”The Women of Nell Gwynne’s”, which might win because the author died recently. Ian McDonald’s “Vishnu at the Cat Circus” in Cyberabad Days was appreciated by the panel as was also ”Act One” by Nancy Kress, the only story I had read in this category and although I was a bit sceptical when I read it I remember it well, which means that it affected me. 

Over to the novels. Cheryl Morgan thought that Boneshaker (Cherie Priest) was fun, and not traditional steampunk. It has a strong female character. The one she hoped would win was The City & The City by China Miéville. This is an extraordinary story with ethnic groups not seeing each other, but it might not be sf or fantasy. The story about a postapocalyptic America, Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson did not interest her, whereas the best one aside from The City & The City was Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente, describing a fantasy city that you can only reach by having sex. As probable winner she put The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi with its postcolapse Thailand. 

Tommy Persson really liked The Windup Girl which is not a fix-up although the characters appear in short stories. He also liked The City & The City, and he found Comstock and Boneshaker entertaining, whereas Palimpsest, although beautifully written, could have been told without sf/f. Marianna Leikomaa commented that the city is the main character in several of the nominated books. She loved Palimpsest but hopes that The City & The City will win. Jukka Halme’s favourites were The City & The City and The Windup Girl and he found Boneshaker entertaining and easy, almost simple. 

In the film category, the panel thought that Avatar would win. The panel considered the best and most important related book to be On Joanna Russ, edited by Farah Mendlesohn. Jack Vance’s self-biography, This is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This is “I”) was said to be a great book and a pleasure to read, although too much of a travelogue where he explains his writing. 

Finally, Cheryl Morgan announced that she is setting up a publishing company for e-books, Wizard’s Tower Press. She will get things back into print, and have them properly proof-read. There will also be a webzine, Salon Futura

The next programme item also took place in Kirjailijatalo, the authors’ house, or rather on the veranda with its 30 chairs. This was of course not enough when the GoH Ellen Kushner and her wife Delia Sherman talked about Science fiction and research. After a while the other GoH Pat Cadigan joined after having had a look on a particle accelerator. For Delia Sherman research was an everyday activity, since stories for her are things that happen to people. She reads folklore and fairytale, and tells us that the texts about leprechauns and pookahs on the internet are not correct. She prefers to look up historical details rather than constructing an entire world. Art, mythology and folklore are changing and shared, they cannot be copyrighted. Ellen Kushner tells that in the old days you went to your bookshelf or the library. She also criticized the notion that preference for some folklore follows bloodlines. Does she have to be Scottish to appreciate Thomas the Rhymer? 

Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman

To a question from the audience Delia Sherman answered that anything can be seen as uncanny. It depends on the point of view. She likes to discuss her work before it is finished, and thus not follow Stephen King’s advice. His book on writing can be recommended, but she strongly recommends to read several books on writing, and also not to think too much but rather write with the hindbrain. Pat Cadigan recommended that you should read loved books carefully to find out what it is that you admire. “Look under the hood, squeeze the tires.” Her copanelists added that you should read mindfully, and even type at least a page of your favourite stories. 

The discussions on writing continued in the afternoon in the panel On writing with Saara Henriksson moderating Ellen Kushner and Pat Cadigan. The latter always knew that she wanted to write. She read Judith Merril’s Best of the Year anthologies which were not stratified and contained stories by various authors like John Cheever and Ward Moore, and every shade of sf, fantasy and horror. She stresses the importance of readers and fans, and she wanted to be on the committee for the Worldcon 1976 in Kansas city since she wanted to meet the GoH, Robert A. Heinlein. Her first submission was to Analog when she was ten, in 1963, and her first sale was in 1969. She recommends everyone to send in their work! 

Saara Henriksson, Ellen Kushner, Pat Cadigan

Ellen Kushner has always loved reading, and thought that it must be a pleasure to write. She got praise from adults for her writing, but she never wrote to conclusion. She has written short stories but they always turned out as parts of novels. She has lots of unfinished stories and plans to go back to them, but so far she has not. About her novel Swordspoint she says that it is uncategorizable, being neither fantasy nor mainstream. It took her a year to write the first draft. It is important to first get it done. You can always rewrite! Phase two is to get input from readers. 

Pat Cadigan has a fragment box and keeps it handy. She is a short fiction person, and started by writing half the nights in addition to her day job. Every novel is a different creature. She begins in the middle and retrofits the beginning, which is not easy. 

Ellen Kushner got encouragement from older writers. She had coffee with Gene Wolfe and M. John Harrison wrote her beautiful letters. She admires Gardner Dozois who can both write and edit, with emotion and passion. She loves talking about her work and thinks better when she talks. However, she does not belong to any writer’s groups. In contrast, Pat Cadigan does not talk about her work until it is done. Writing is private. Her husband reads everything when it is ready. If she gets stuck and lost she goes out and tries to find herself. The environment does not matter when she is writing. It can be beautiful, noisy, smelly – it does not matter. When she wrote Mindplayers she had a baby whom her mother cared for, and now she has two children and a 90 year old mother. 

Pat Cadigan wrote a novelization of a movie, that turned out to be much longer than a script, and it contained lots of extra background and character descriptions. For her a good book is when you don’t see the words any longer but just pictures in your head. 

Ellen Kushner says “art feeds art”, and recommends going to museums, listening to music etc. Her aim is to be “read when dead”, to make a difference, affect. This is a sort of immortality. 

The fan table in the main building

The rest of the con took place in a house at the university, and there were many items in Finnish which I unfortunately would not have understood. The participants in the panel Introduction to Mannerpunk – Fantasy of Manners panel were the by now well known couple Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner, moderated by Kati Clements. The title is a pun or joke formed from the comedy of manners, as e g written by Jane Austen. It is not a tragedy since no one dies. There is tension due to rigid rules, and society is a character in the novel. It takes place in the drawing rooms, with everyday social fights. Traditional fantasy is not like that. Kushner read LeGuin’s The Wizard of Earthsea, and liked it better than Tolkien. She tried Jane Austen’s Emma but could not understand it, but suddenly it made sense when she came to college and experienced hierarchy. She calls Georgette Heyer the Jane Austen of the 20th century, and she thinks that women are more interested in human interactions. 

Delia Sherman, Ellen Kushner, Kati Clements

The Fourth Street Fantasy convention in Minneapolis was seen by Donald D. Keller as a literary movement, but Kushner prefers to name this movement “mannerpunk” from cyberpunk and call her book “A fantasy of manners”. Interest in human interactions is a rule, and a feature is an interest in language. The “interstitial arts foundation” did an anthology, Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing by Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss. 

The paper announces nazis on the moon

Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner has written together. They say that you have to have the same steps, the same approach, the same end goal, and it helps if they love the same authors, in this case Trollope. They give each other assignments, e g to write a scene. Kushner writes dialogue whereas Sherman writes descriptions. 

They want to do new things with the genre, like China Miéville does in The City & the City, which has strangeness without magic. The whodunnit is not the interesting thing in this book. This is the way fiction is going. 

Liksom 2009 hade Finncon 2010 en finlandssvensk programpunkt, 150 år av finlandssvensk fantastik. Ben Roimola ledde diskussionen med Kenneth Lindholm, Petri Salin och Vilgot Strömsholm. Titeln syftar på att Zacharias Topelius 1860 publicerat en berättelse från ett framtida Finland, Simeon Lewis resa till Finland år 5,870 efter werldens skapelse, efter de kristnes tideräkning det 1,900:de. Enligt uppgift en tråkig berättelse men med bl a luftskepp. Tillsammans med många andra finlandssvenska fantastikverk listas den på Enhörningens hemsida. Redan 1851 hade musikkritikern och satirikern A. G. Ingelius utkommit med den gotiska skräckrysaren Det gråa slottet, och i samma genre kom Topelius Den gröna kammaren i Linnais gård 1881 som blev film 1945. Fältskärns berättelser innehåller en hel del fantastik och antologin I Unda Marinas fotspår, berättelser från hav och land, av Gun Spring & Bo-Eric Rosenqvist från 1996 går I Topelius stil. T.A. Engströms Rymdkulan från 1957 är tidstypisk, klar sf, men knappast rekommendabel. Den innehåller svarta plastinylbyxor och kan möjligen vara lämplig för 12-åringar. Bo Carpelans Rösterna i den sena timmen från 1971 är också klar sf med en värld efter kärnvapenkriget. Det märks att det är en 70-talsbok från kalla kriget. Den lyriska stilen lindar alltför mycket in hemskheterna. När den gick som hörspel uppfattades den som verklighet. 

Ben Roimola, Petri Salin, Vilgot Strömsholm, Kenneth Lindholm

Kenneth Lindholm rekommenderade Sebastian Lybecks Latte igelkott och vattenstenen från 2009. Kjell Lindblads Resan till mitten är en fantasy för barn, men handlar om en författare som har svårt att skriva, och ser på dammsugare ur dammtussarnas perspektiv. Björn Kurténs Mammutens rådare om neandertalare ingår i genren paleofiction, ett för mig nytt begrepp som också var ett tema på en av de finskspråkiga programpunkterna. Yvonne Hoffmans Ögonen och andra spökhistorier är spännande och vardagliga spökhistorier, och Merete Mazzarellas November är mörka ihopbundna historier som är kryddade med sf. 

Carolina at the Eurocon table

At the Con presentation Carolina presented Eurocon 2011 in Stockholm, and Kati Oksanen Finncon/Animecon 2011 in Turku/Åbo July 14-17. Turku will be cultural capital in 2011, and the venue will have room for 3000 people. The GoH will be Richard Morgan and Nalo Hopkinson, and the theme myth and VR. The first day, Thursday 14/7, will be focussed on research on sf and fantasy, and Saara Henriksson will lead discussions on writing. There will be an extensive programme in Swedish. 

Kati Oksanen

A very informative and entertaining lecture on The roots of British TV-sci-fi was given by Kristoffer Lawson. He started by stating that a society without sf is a society with problems, where no one strives forward. UK, US and Japan have broadcast sf from early times. Rossum’s Universal Robots was sent by BBC in 1938. The first British TV sf serial was aimed at children, in 1951, followed in 1953 by the serious and scientific The Quatermass Experiment produced by Nigel Kneale. In the US at the same time there were heroic serials, e g Buck Rogers. A spy series, The Avengers, from 1961 had sf elements. Sydney Newman from that serial was also the first Doctor Who. This serial ran 1963-1989 with a new start in 2005. The Tardis and the Cybermen were present from the beginning. In 1965 Gerry Anderson produced the serial Thunderbirds with dolls, and later Space 1999 which had a US feeling and was aimed at that market. The mother of all paranoid serials, The Prisoner, started in 1967, and the year after Nigel Kneale produced another serial, this time a reality show called The Year of the Sex Olympics. Blakes 7 was created by Terry Nation in 1978, and the apparently far out Sapphire & Steel in 1979 by Peter Hammond. Douglas Adam’s The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy is from 1981, and in 1984 Richard Bates produced The Tripods based on a novel by John Christopher. This looked interesting from the film strip, in contrast to the Red Dwarf from 1988, a sitcom in space. After this Star Trek redefined the genre, and in 2005 Doctor Who appeared again. 

When Pat Cadigan was interviewed by Cheryl Morgan, she started in Finnish that I am ashamed to admit that I don’t understand. She told us that she got an Underwood typewriter from her mother and started writing short stories. An early favourite was Robert A. Heinlein, whom she met at a con in 1976. He has readability, and she wanted her work to have that. Tunnel in the Sky changed her life, and she recommends this juvenile for those who have not read anything by Heinlein. It is a rite-of-passage, problem-solving book, but not of the Lord of the Flies-type. 

Cheryl Morgan interviewing Pat Cadigan

Cheryl Morgan expressed admiration for Cadigans ideas – she has come up with computer virus and spam, which can be compared with Arthur C. Clarke’s invention of communication satellites and space lifts. Synners is about computer viruses. Morgan asks how to get women back into writing sf and not fantasy, and Cadigan says that this is up to the woman. The publication rate is low right now and women drop off first. Furthermore, sf is still perceived as a mainly male thing. “Sf for boys, fantasy for girls.” About her own books she says that Synners is better than Mindplayers, and that Tea from an Empty Cup is an accessible mystery that is easy to understand. Fools is a problematic book but won the Arthur C. Clarke Award. 

Build your dream convention was a panel on the ideal sf con, with Sari Polvinen, Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf and Johan Anglemark. The con should be organized with a programme, and according to Johan it has to be aimed at fandom. Sari prefers intimate, small cons with discussions rather than panels, and Carolina mentioned Conversation that had a lot of small discussions and a critic as GoH. Programming is important when you don’t know anyone, but Johan has shifted from wanting fannish cons to desiring good programming. Readercon almost killed his ambition since the programming was so good, with lots of professionals. Carolina was irritated by the panels at ArmadilloCon where a lot of authors just showed their own books. 

Sari Polvinen, Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf, Johan Anglemark

Cheryl Morgan stressed the importance of topic selection for panels, and to have proper moderators who contacts the other members of the panel. Programme items may be submitted from members of the con. This is done at WisCon, but according to Johan this does not work in Sweden since people are too shy. He also suggests that panel subjects are tested first by the committee. 

For Carolina, the idea of a con is a sort of family reunion, where you meet your friends. An efficient way to get involved is to be a gopher. Another way is to have quizzes etc, as they have at Redemption according to Tommy Persson. Sari points out that hotel cons make for good interaction, and for her the relaxacon Åcon is perfect. The number of members should be a couple of hundreds. For Carolina Eastercons are perfect, and Johan wants at least 300 members. He thinks that programming is good in Sweden, but a problem is that the panellists are not sufficiently prepared. He finds it fascinating that the authors come for free. The GoHs are very important, and it is important that they want to participate. 

To this discussion I would like to add: I appreciate that conventions are different; I want to be surprised. And I think that cons can serve to recruit new members to fandom, i e they should not only be directed towards fans but also to those interested in subjects close to sf/f.

Urban fantasy was discussed by a panel where Marianna Leikomaa started by defining this genre as stories where the city is a character, and Johan Jönsson added that it should be a contemporary setting. Delia Sherman modified this to a requirement for an industrial setting that hasn’t to be today. The important thing is that the country is left behind. Magical things can occur also in cities. “The city is the new forest.” Powerful urban fantasy has to be about this, and how to deal with this situation. Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf points out that this is not what people think of when they see the term urban fantasy – what do you get in bookshops? Marianna answers that you get paranormal romance, and the panel tried to draw the line between these two genres. Twilight is an example of paranormal romance. 

Delia Sherman, Johan Jönsson, Marianna Leikomaa, Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf

Urban fantasy is highly mannered and formal, like Palimpsest and Jeff VanderMeer’s books. Terri Windling has written many stories about a border town situated between fairy and mundane, in Neverwhere the city is very important, and Charles de Lint is important in the genre. Gormenghast is perhaps not really urban fantasy, but has probably influenced e g China Miéville by its grotesqueries. He writes from a deep knowledge of cities. In urban fantasy the city is used as a metaphor, describing a compressed society. 

Some vampire stories could be classified as urban fantasy, like Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite, The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas, where the vampire is interested in eating dinner and is very considerate. This could have happened in a city, and this is Delia’s favourite vampire book. 

Johan says that not much urban fantasy is published in Sweden. One example is the recent Udda verklighet by Nene Ormes. The setting is a strange city, and the story is clearly at the heart of urban fantasy. Delia Sherman’s own The Changeling, a children’s book, has been translated into Swedish, and is absolutely urban fantasy. Marianna mentions Johanna Sinisalo’s Not before sundown which is a sort of urban fantasy. 

Cheryl Morgan, Ellen Kushner, Pat Cadigan

The final panel was called Dreaming of reality, where we listened to Ellen Kushner, Pat Cadigan and Cheryl Morgan. I wrote down some interesting expressions: “All fiction is made up but sf/f is more made up”, ascribed to Neil Gaiman, and “Sufficient magic is indistinguishable from science”, ascribed to Jonathan Lethem. “In dreams you should follow your ethical compass since it might not be a dream.” “In life there is always an option”, says Ellen Kushner, and she loves to have her characters have dreams. The sf writer and editor Scott Edelman blogs his dreams, and Pat Cadigan based her stories in the collection Dirty Work on her dreams. The others say that they cannot remember dreams; they are as candy floss. If Pat Cadigan wants real life she goes out. Since all fiction is fantasy, why not write it big? 

Not an Anime con, but still...

Fans at the sauna

I volunteered as driver for the dead dog party at a sauna in the woods close to the city. This was a very nice ending to a well organized, entertaining and rewarding con, and I am deeply grateful to the organizers. I took a bus to the airport and had some time to look around, so I found a little lake close by.


Swecon i Stockholm 15-17 juni

Worldcon 75, Helsingfors 2017