Posts Tagged 'Copenhagen'

Fantasticon 2013

Valby, Denmark,  September 7-8, 2013

Opening: Karin Tidbeck, Nene Ormes, Tricia Sullivan

Opening: Karin Tidbeck, Nene Ormes, Tricia Sullivan

Organizers: Jesper Rugård Jensen and Lars Ahn Pedersen

Organizers: Jesper Rugård Jensen and Lars Ahn Pedersen

Fantasticon this year was an intimate and well organized convention in one floor of the building used for the Eurocon in 2007. Since I have been pretty busy with our own convention, Fantastika 2013, some time has passed since the con and the memories are now a bit vague. I listened to some panels in Danish but sadly I have big problems to understand it when spoken.

Thomas Winther, Henrik Harksen, Jakob Friis Andersen

Thomas Winther, Henrik Harksen, Jakob Friis Andersen

Still, I listened to the panel Lovecraft på Dansk (Lovecraft in Danish), with Jakob Friis Andersen, Henrik Harksen and Thomas Winther. I had heard Henrik before, Jakob had translated At the Mountains of Madness and Thomas produces a fanzine about Lovecraft. Should the science be that of the 30’s or should it be altered based on what is known today? It was considered better to have an explanation at the end, as for example regarding the bluff with the Piltdown man.

Bjarne Sinkjær, Asbjörn Rune Bourgeat, Toke Riis Ebbesen, Sven Damgaard Ørnstrup

Bjarne Sinkjær, Asbjörn Rune Bourgeat, Toke Riis Ebbesen, Sven Damgaard Ørnstrup

I read Danish fairly well and was thus interested in the panel Ny dansk fantasy (New Danish fantasy). In this panel Bjarne Sinkjær interviewed some authors. Avalons arm by Svend Damgaard Ørnstrup was defined as “English fantasy”, Natdværgen (The Night Dwarf) by Asbjørn Rune Bourgeat was said to be YA crossover sf/fantasy and is the first part of a trilogy, and Toke Riis Ebbesen was not yet published if I understood correctly. In the discussion fantasy was said to be the dominating way of telling a story, and the power play is of interest since it demonstrates what happens when you have power.

Tricia Sullivan

Tricia Sullivan

Tricia Sullivan, Klaus Æ. Mogensen

Tricia Sullivan, Klaus Æ. Mogensen

I was very happy that Tricia Sullivan was Guest of Honour since I greatly admire her novels and did not visit Åcon this year where she was. The interview was conducted by Klaus Æ. Mogensen. She is interested in the duality between mind and body, identity, and transformations. Now she studies physics, which is unusual for women. She has also experienced sexism in publishing – men are more confident. The 70’s and 80’s were a better time for woman writers. She has written fantasy as Valery Leith, and the reason for this is that she wanted to be free – sf is more rigorous. The publisher wanted another name than that used for sf. Moving to UK enabled her to write about USA, which she does in Lightborn. This novel is not about the future; it has the same cultural references as today but she has put a novel technology into it. In Double Vision there is some martial arts, but she does not believe that it is of any use against sexual harassments. She does not write short stories since that is harder for her.

Lars Ahn Pedersen, Karin Tidbeck, Michael Kamp, Henrik Harksen

Lars Ahn Pedersen, Karin Tidbeck, Michael Kamp, Henrik Harksen

One of the organizers, Lars Ahn Pedersen, moderated the panel Writing in English, that had to be moved to another room when a rock concert started just outside the window. Karin Tidbeck felt that she had to switch to get published, and she thought that there are some benefits to come from a non-English speaking country – Sweden is hot right now. The time at Clarion meant everything for her career, you need someone to read your stuff if it is not your own language. Still, translating is hard since the language is “hardwired” into us; there is a lot of cultural baggage in our words. Some concepts are really hard, as e g “Dansband”. She tries to retain a Scandinavian flavour in her texts. She ends by saying that you have to manage your own language first. Henrik Harksen writes in English since he reads horror in English and gets his ideas there. He has tried to get published in English but almost gave up after several rejections. He now sends his texts to friendly writers to get feedback, and has recently managed to get published. Michael Kamp had similar experiences; he also writes horror which is a narrow field. He writes in English and pays an editor to go line-by-line.

Majbrit Høyrup, Nene Ormes, Tricia Sullivan, Karin Tidbeck

Majbrit Høyrup, Nene Ormes, Tricia Sullivan, Karin Tidbeck

With female Guests of Honour it might seem unnecessary to have a panel called The women men don’t see, but with Majbrit Høyrup as moderator the discussion was revealing and rewarding. Tricia Sullivan started by mentioning an interesting author I haven’t read, Sophia McDougall, who “hates strong female characters”, which are cardboard cut-outs. All the smurfs have lots of character except the female one – it is enough that she is female. George RR Martin has recommended that authors should think of women as humans. According to Karin Tidbeck it has more status to read stories with male heroes. She was discouraged to read stories with female characters. When Tricia Sullivan wrote with “female gaze” instead of “male gaze” she was accused of homosexual writing. She also pointed out that when writing in historic settings you have to consider that the sources are written by men. Nene Ormes pointed out that there is male imaging at all times. The female British authors Tricia Sullivan, Liz Williams and Jaine Fenn were said to sell too little, and Justina Robson to be struggling.

This panel was very interesting and has been the subject of much debate after the con. There was a similar panel at Fantastika 2013 but I have not seen that it led to any similar debate. And unfortunately I did not listen to that panel.

At the dinner I and Margareta shared a table with Maybrit Høyrup and Bente Riis from the club Science Fiction Cirklen. They very kindly moved to us since we were alone, and we had a very nice time with them. At the morning coffee Tricia Sullivan came over to our table and I could tell her that I am a great fan.

Martin Schjønning, Liz Jensen

Martin Schjønning, Liz Jensen

Liz Jensen was interviewed by Martin Schjønning. She said that novels should not be propaganda vehicles, but voyages of discovery – “what if”. There is a futuristic style in The Rapture and her latest, The Uninvited. She uses a first person narrator; this “gets her away from being me”. In The Uninvited she has to be an anthropologist with Asperger’s, which is an exercise in perception.

SF is optimistic, even if there is an eco-catastrophe. If you have children you have to be optimistic. Still, we live in interesting times, with nasty but necessary shortcuts in GMO and nuclear power. The near future is far more interesting than now or history. For inspiration she reads a lot, newspapers, Google etc. In The Rapture there is a mixture of science and supernatural which she considers could be possible. The precognition in the novel could be similar to the feelings that animals have before an earthquake. Personally I had problems with that aspect in the novel which I otherwise liked.

Being a journalist she has learnt how to structure a story, and she is not shy to go to people for help. Especially scientists are very open.

Her first three novels were comedies, and she has also written satire and love stories. The Rapture and The Univited are parts of a loose trilogy. As influences she mentions Ballard, Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, Huxley (The Doors of Perception), H G Wells, and Cormac McCarthy (The Road). And she says that you should trust “the boys in the basement”, the subconscious.

Lars Ahn Pedersen, Karin Tidbeck

Lars Ahn Pedersen, Karin Tidbeck

The Swedish Guest of Honour Karin Tidbeck was interviewed by Lars Ahn Pedersen. She tells that after five weeks at Clarion her stories were longer, more like the American ones. Her stories were exotic and fresh to the Americans. Her novel Amatka has a peculiar history: She started by writing down her dreams, and mapped the place she visited in them. She wrote short prose pieces which were converted to poetry, part of which has appeared in the Swedish journal Lyrikvännen. When Catharina Wrååk at the publishing company Mix asked her for a novel she wrote Amatka in two months, based on the poetry. One question in the novel is “Is it always correct to revolt, even if you hurt other people?” The world that is described was colonized in the ‘70s, with that atmosphere.

She teaches creative writing, especially sf and fantasy, and this makes her consider how she writes. Fantasy and sf are to a large extent heteronormative and she tries to change this.

Lars Ahn Pedersen, Peter Adolphsen, Tricia Sullivan, Karin Tidbeck

Lars Ahn Pedersen, Peter Adolphsen, Tricia Sullivan, Karin Tidbeck

The industrious Lars Ahn Pedersen moderated the final panel about Mixing Genres. Karin Tidbeck told that she writes without thinking of genres, but she can play with the tropes in them. Tricia Sullivan felt that there are now more mixed genres, which she finds liberating. Peter Adolphsen mentioned P K Dick and Svend Åge Madsen as writers of stories in mixed genres. A recent example was Nina Allan’s The Silver Wind, which has an introduction by Tricia Sullivan.

Bjarne Sinkjær, Gudrun Østergaard, Flemming Rasch

Bjarne Sinkjær, Gudrun Østergaard, Flemming Rasch

My wife Margareta made some notes at the programme items I missed. Thus, she listened to Bjarne Sinkjær interviewing Flemming Rasch and Gudrun Østergaard. Flemming has now published his first book in many years, a short story collection “from the drawer”. Several of the stories are humorous. Gudrun says that she is new to the genre – she did not understand until 2002 that she wrote sf. She uses sf for social criticism because she sees sf to give good models by shifting the perspective from the present although that is what she actually writes about. Flemming also thinks that what he writes is in a way social criticism. They both find it harder to surprise the reader today, and consider most so called sf films not to be sf, they just show airships and space pistols.

When asked how they work Gudrun told that she writes down her ideas but most often starts with a description of a mood, then the story goes on by itself. Flemming only writes short stories but he has a plot before he starts, and he changes a lot in rewriting. They think that editors are important, but mainly for improving the language and they also point out characters which have to be better described. The readers today do not accept impossible technology, and sf is more demanding than e g The Da Vinci Code, it has to be sharper, and cut threads which are not good enough. Right now Flemming writes a humorous story set in the far future, whereas Gudrun is in the process of “interviewing” her characters for a new book.

The philosopher and Batman expert Carsten Fogh Nielsen talked about Superheroes and Philosophy. Comics with superheroes have been attacked both with the argument that they are dangerous for the young, and the argument that they are just entertainment. However, art is always a lie since no depiction is complete. As soon as something is popular the elite is horrified – this will destroy society and democracy! Later on it is considered harmless and mild, and then it may be incorporated in the culture, e g that drawers of comics make fine art. And suddenly it is considered that the superheroes maintain the law and protects society against evil.

Liz Jensen, Tricia Sullivan, Tomas Cronholm

Liz Jensen, Tricia Sullivan, Tomas Cronholm

Flemming Rasch moderated the panel about Science in Fiction, with Tricia Sullivan, Liz Jensen and me. The original reasons for science in sf, as proposed by Gernsback, was for education and for prediction. This is not the reason today; it is rather the stimulating effect, the sense of wonder that can be achieved. Tricia Sullivan has been an author for 20 years. Perhaps she writes more fantasy but she wants to include science, and she feels a pressure to be correct when she writes about science. Liz Jensen says that she uses and abuses science, and she does not want to be completely wrong and be revealed as ignorant, but she has no performance anxiety. She is married to a scientist and has two children who also are scientists.

Do readers know enough science to understand the science in the literature? It has to be believable even if you do not have to understand, and science is so important in society today that it would be strange if it was missing in any literature. Media and literature also drive the interest; forensic science became hot after application in a tv series. Old sf is mechanic, it is more complicated today and much that was predicted has become reality.

Utopias were often based on science, but today dystopias are written which show how dangerous science can be. Still, it is sad that there are so many dystopias for young – why not more about the possibilities? Lots of science is missed by the genre, like e g neuroscience.

Science in fiction does not have to be true, thus FTL travel is common in sf. It has to be distinguished from magic where it not even has to be made plausible. There is a contract between the reader and the writer – any scenario is acceptable but you have to stick to it.

Liz Jensen tells that she checks the facts with scientists. There is a problem with writing about environmental problems – they develop so slowly! Actually this is the same problem as with real space ships.

There are stories set in scientific environments as e g laboratories, and there is a website dealing with this kind of literature. Connie Willis and Gregory Benford have written sf set in believable research institutions.

You do not read sf to learn science, that is better done by reading non-fiction. There have been attempts to use sf stories in the classroom, but there is a danger of killing the pleasure of reading. The two authors deny that there is any educational perspective in their writing. However, the stories may help in looking at the world in new ways.

When we were in Copenhagen we also visited some museums. In the Design Museum I was fascinated by an illustrated book, and by an email exchange with an employee there, Anja Lollesgaard, I was informed that the pictures were done by the Russian artist and architect Iakov Chernikhov, and his futuristic visions can be seen on the web. Some of them remind me of Piranesi.

Finally, thanks to the organizers, and to Henrik Harksen and Martin Schjønning for corrections to the text above.

Fantasticon 2012

Copenhagen, Denmark, June 1-3, 2012

Klaus Æ. Mogensen

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

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

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

Niels Dalgaard, Jesper Rugård Jensen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lars Ahn Pedersen, Ellen Datlow

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

Tatiana Goldberg

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

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

Knud Larn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alastair Reynolds, Niels Dalgaard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henrik Harksen

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

Alastair Reynolds, Klaus Æ. Mogensen, Ellen Datlow

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

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

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

Fantasticon 2010



Copenhagen, Denmark, September 18-19, 2010

Fantasticon 2010 was a small and cosy con, and like in 2009 it took place in the culture house of Vanløse. This time I was accompanied by my wife Margareta, who took lots of notes which have helped me to write this report. I had a good time in the hotel Fy og Bi in Valby in 2009, so we stayed there this time too. The trains are absolutely fantastic in Copenhagen making me, living in Stockholm, quite jealous. Thus there were no problems to get to the con, and it was also very easy to get to Roskilde after the con.

The con was opened by the congress chairman, Flemming Rasch. I had not had time to get accustomed to the Danish so I had problems to understand him. This was followed by Fans in Scandinavia, in Scandinavian; Klaus Æ. Mogensen told us about fandom och cons, and I presented Eurocon 2011 with the aid of Power Point.

Flemming Rasch, Susanne Hodges, Catherine Asaro

The Guest of Honour Catherine Asaro was interviewed by Flemming Rasch and Susanne Hodges. Her first published work was a short story, “Dance in Blue”, for a Christmas anthology, and shortly thereafter Analog published her first story from the Skolian Empire. Many of her stories are part of this family saga, which is hard sf with some military sf. It can also be called planetary romance, and she writes a chapter on that for a textbook. She sees it as a way of looking at our own culture, and asking what is alien in ourselves. She believes that we will get brain implants for intellect enhancement, which might lead to a singularity and possibly a kind of immortality. AIs will also become smarter making it difficult to draw the line between humans and machines. An AI, or rather EI (evolving intelligence), is the main character of the sf novel Sunrise Alley. In the award-winning Quantum Rose, particles from her Ph D thesis in chemical physics are translated into characters, and even the language (“bound state”) reflects the thesis. The story is an allegory, or a fairy tale. She considers there to be similarities between her interests and abilities in the areas math, music and dance; ballet is pattern-oriented.

Catherine Asaro

Even if this sf-con must be considered as a small one, there were several parallels, and it was not always easy to choose. We next listened to Catherine Asaro singing, accompanied by her daughter’s boyfriend on the piano. The couple was good at entertaining us while we had a beer and a sandwich.

 

 

 

 

 

While I was sitting at the Eurocon 2011 table, or rather looking at the huge used books sale, Margareta listened to Thomas Winther interviewing Kaspar Colling Nielsen. Mount København is an absurd and strange book with 17 different stories about the mountain. These are not ordinary short stories and it is not a novel. It took three years to write and a long time with the publisher. He uses notebooks, “China books”, where he for years have written down small ideas for stories, and he reads the story “The pelican” about a doctor who transforms himself into a bird. Another story is about a “manolitic” man, who is magnetic, whereas in “The Tennis Player” a man restrings his racket with guts. One of the stories was from Valby. The publisher made a selection, but Kaspar Colling Nielsen had no impression that this was aimed at making the book easier to sell. A story about how the mountain was built, which took 200 years, was too long to be incorporated. He had sent the manuscript to several other publishers before Gyldendal accepted it. The long time between the acceptance and the actual publishing decision was tiresome.   

Carrie-Lynn Reinhard

 

We then listened to an interesting talk about Superheroes, by Carrie-Lynn Reinhard. She described the results of an international survey, questioning fans about their conceptions about superheroes. She got 112 answers, and the first question was what defines a superhero. He/She should have a sanctioned mission, superpower(s), a secret identity, a codename and a costume motif. The medium is often visual. To have an extraordinary ability was most important in the survey, and a strong moral code was also important. The best known american superheroes were from DC: 1. Superman, 2. Batman; and Marvel: 1. Spiderman, 2. Wolverine. The Phantom (Fantomen) is not a superheroe since he lacks superpower. From Argentine comes The Eternauta who fights against an alien invasion. Borderline superheroes are Robin Hood, Jesus and Pippi Långstrump. We were also shown an entertaining Italian parody of Spiderman.   

Catherine Asaro, Carrie-Lynn Reinhard, Rikke Schubart, Niels Dalgaard, Tue Sørensen

The panel discussion Researching the fantastic genre was moderated by Tue Sørensen. Niels Dalgaard mentioned that he had written a Ph D thesis about Danish SF but was thrown out of the university. Rikke Schubart had not yet been thrown out although she was teaching about computer games, TV and films. She started with horror fiction and films, then action films, and wrote a book on what they are all about. She has also written fiction, e g with vampires, and she is fascinated by emotions, especially bad ones like disgust, repulsion and anger rather than romance. Carrie-Lynn Reinhard, whom we had listened to just before, had studied how people use virtual realities, like Second Lifeor when watching a film. Catherine Asaro told us about her research in sf, where she had studied the planetary romances of E R Burroughs and M Z Bradley. She also used some research in her hard sf, when she tried to understand e g what the light would be on a planet with a certain tilt of the axis. She also does some scientific research in the university, but now she mainly teaches.

The moderator wanted to know how the research was done, and Niels Dalgaard answered that he went through gaudy magazines e g looking for mad scientists. For Rikke Schubart it took two years just to find out what she was interested in. You need to collect very much information in order to know that you do not need to know it. Carrie-Lynn Reinhardt uses questionnaires and wants fans to answer. You need to get allowance from a review board in order to do studies today. It is easier to study phenomena on internet where you don’t risk to hurt anyone. Catherine Asaro has used the library catalogue at Harvard, and gets the article via mail. She often uses Wikipedia for a start and then checks by looking up the references. She also mentions that she looked for a Jack Vance book in the Baltimore SF Society, where there are thousands of books.

Finally the moderator wanted to know how others react to their work. Catherine Asaro’s colleagues say: “You write what?”, “Are you still in high school?”, unless you win an award. Carrie-Lynn Reinhardt’s friends think she is cool. Fan culture is accepted since it makes money. The effects of games, with sex and violence, are of interest and grants are provided. Rikke Schubart first tried the department of comparative literature but there it was considered trash. She changed to the department for film and media, where her interests were accepted. Niels Dalgaard had no other department to go to. He was frustrated and wanted people to know what sf is before they look down upon it. This panel was interesting but would have gained by more interaction between the panelists who instead gave short lectures

The young, Danish author Camilla Wandahl was interviewed by Flemming Rasch, and Margareta listened. She has written sf since she was young, and in 2003 she had a short story in a competition at Fantasticon for stories written for those under 17 years. She won, and won also in 2005, and her contribution was published in an anthology. She knew nothing about fandom before; it was the competition that attracted her. She has not read much sf but has seen some films. She has worked in a writer’s group which generated a novel manuscript that has so far not been published. A good thing with these courses is that you learn how to handle a rejection; that you can send the manuscript again after a time. Hjerte i vente is her first accepted novel. She had good help from the editor; after five turns with the manuscript the contract was signed. From this she learned to prepare her manuscripts several timed before they are assessed. The first reviews pointed out that young authors write for young readers about young persons. After some novels she joined a group writing detective stories, where 15 pages were to be delivered every fortnight. In this way she wrote a YA detective story about four 13 year old youngsters who find a mystical role-playing book. She finds it difficult to write about children today because they live in secluded environments, they are in school or in leisure centers and are fetched by their parents, they are not as free as before. It is a challenge to create a thrilling setting and situation where they lose their mobiles and have to manage by themselves.

Camilla Wandahl is now a full-time author and earns her living from royalties and lecture fees. The society “HUF” (www.huf.dk), “hopeful young authors”, helps in application for grants, finding lecture opportunities, writing CV, making web page etc. (Which sounds extremely good!) She writes every day, even if only for half an hour or two pages, but in the writer’s group they write four times 20 min every day and discusses the texts in between. This produces much text in a weekend. She barely reads any adult books other than detective stories, but she reads YA books for inspiration, and now mainly realistic books since she wants to build identification objects for youngsters. She initially thought that it would be easier to write fantasy, but it also demanded its skill. It is not possible just to add a dragon. She does not always know the end of the book she is writing but she often writes a one page synopsis. She tries to write “first time”-stories: Love, deceit, boy/girl, and is not interested in writing for adults. Is there any risk that someone else writes the same story? A consolation is that there only are seven archetypical stories, and everyone writes them again and again. The library fee can be granted to anyone who has participated in an anthology; she knows all ways of financing from HUF. She believes that YA sf is coming. Her advice to others is to write much and often, and rewrite, and if possible join a writer’s group. She has her own blog about writing, http://www.camillawandahl.dk.

Svend Kreiner, Jeppe Larson, Niels Dalgaard, Flemming Rasch, Stig W. Jørgensen

The sf novel of the decade is a good idea for a panel, and the members of the panel had decided before which six books they chose. Flemming Rasch moderated the discussion, and Stig W. Jørgensen started by suggesting Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt. It is an alternate history, and goes back to e g Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. It tells about an aggravated pest epidemic. There are no historic persons but Islam gets an Age of Enlightenment in Samarkand. There are new world wars during the story of the book that spans from the 14th century to the future. It is a moral book in ten parts. The character’s thinking is dominated by a reincarnation theme. 

The literary scholar Niels Dalgaard supports the interest in that book and that it represents the core of the alternate history trend. The book reflects historical interpretations. He also proposes Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, in which the rotation of Earth is increased making it isolated from the rest of the universe, with an accompanying time displacement. How would humanity react? It is good old sf, and there is a sequel, Axis. 

Jeppe Larson would have chosen Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds, which takes a big perspective of the universe, with references to Arthur C Clarke and other classics. It is new Space Opera with Sense of Wonder. But the main characters are atypical, and there is super science like in the 30s, making one suspect that it is a parody. Two women are the main characters, but they lack characteristics.

Svend Kreiner preferred River of Godsby Ian McDonald (one of the GoHs at Eurocon 2011). The story takes place in a future India, that has collapsed. The main plot is a conflict between AIs and humans. Stig Jørgensen reads as a tourist, it is the background that is interesting. The book is demanding and should be reread a lot. It appears to be inspired by Neuromancer and is an example of neocolonialism. 

Charles Stross’ Halting State takes place in an on line game. The main characters are a policeman, an insurance manager and a young nerd in the IT-business. It is a typical example of a “close to now”-book.  

The last book was Flood by Stephen Baxter, where a group is kidnapped and in the meantime there is a catastrophe, and when the kidnapped persons return they look at a new world. There are many references to early sf, like Heinlein. The sequel, Ark, is not as good.

In the final discussion it was concluded that everyone likes Spin and The Years of Rice and Salt. It was remarked that there was no female author. Svend Kreiner suggests a new author, Neal Asher, who might be interesting in the future. 

Flemming Rasch, Jeppe Larson, Catherine Asaro, Klaus Æ. Mogensen, Asmus Kofoed

The hard science programme item, that Swedish cons today often lack, was entitled The future of space exploration, and Flemming Rasch moderated the panel consisting of Asmus Kofoed, Klaus Æ. Mogensen, Catherine Asaro and the cyber scientist Jeppe Larsen. We went to the moon before we really had the technology. Now we have the technology but lack the incentive. It takes ten years to build a space program but the US changes its government every eight year. There has to be a commercial drive, like interesting metals or 3He for fusion power, that might be found on the moon.

How would we travel further than the moon? Plasma engines for faster travel, and perhaps robots instead of humans. Possibly nanomachines which could send back information. A space elevator is another possibility, but could be vulnerable to lightning, terrorists etc. 

What could we expect to meet? Most likely robots, with their own civilisation. A possible reason why we have not met any other life is that it could be very strange. We might not recognize it as life. 

After the con we went to Roskilde and had a look at the impressive Viking ships.

 

 

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

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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

Worldcon 75, Helsingfors 2017