Posts Tagged 'George R R Martin'

Chicon 7 / 70th Worldcon

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

Cloud Gate in Millennium Park

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

My mirror image in the Cloud Gate

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

View from Hancock Center

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

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

Philosophy and Science Fiction

Sandra M. Grayson, Deb Geisler, Dale Cozort

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

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

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

SF Scene in Europe

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

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

The Exploration of Gender Roles in Science Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you a Dickhead?

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

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

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

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

The Bob and Connie Show

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

The Art of Writing Effective Book Reviews

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

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

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

Jo Walton Reading

Jo Walton

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

Filling the Magazines

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

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

Evil in Lovecraft and Tolkien

Philip Kaveny, Jan Bogstad

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

Carolyn Ives Gilman Reading

Carolyn Ives Gilman

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

Looking Back 70 Years in Fandom

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

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

Last Man Standing: Frederik Pohl

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

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

Why Fantasy Dominates Science Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

The Secret History of Science Fiction

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

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

Science Fiction in China

Ruhan Zhao, Yan Wu, Jan Bogstad, Emily Jiang

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

Medical Myths and Errors Perpetuated by Genre Writers

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

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

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

Collaborations

Charles Stross, Eric Flint

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

The Future Evolution of the Short Story

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

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

Victorian and Edwardian Science Fiction

Matthew Bernardo, DDavid Malki, Randy Smith

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

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

Getting it Right: Religions

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

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

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

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

Incorporating the Personal into Speculative Fiction

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

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

Myth and Religion in SF&F

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

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

Magic Realism vs. Traditional Fantasy

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

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

Erle Korshak

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

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

Peter de Weerdt, Tommy Persson

Alice Hedenlund and The Carrot Cake

Anders Hedenlund continuing on The Carrot Cake, Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf

Finncon 2009 / Animecon VII

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

First a few pictures from the Animecon.

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The con

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maria Candia, Maria Turtschaninoff, Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo

Maria Candia, Maria Turtschaninoff, Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo

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

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

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

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

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

Maria Turtschaninoff, Linnéa Anglemark, Johan Jönsson

Maria Turtschaninoff, Linnéa Anglemark, Johan Jönsson

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

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

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

Ben visar upp P C Jersilds efterkatastrofenroman Efter floden.

Alastair Reynolds

Alastair Reynolds

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

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

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

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

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Marianna Leikomaa, Cheryl Morgan

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

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Tommy Persson, Adam Roberts, Ben Roimola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheryl Morgan, Marianna Leikomaa, Johan Anglemark, Jukka Halme

Cheryl Morgan, Marianna Leikomaa, Johan Anglemark, Jukka Halme

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

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

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

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Irma Hirsjärvi, Parris McBride, Cheryl Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Swecon i Uppsala 26-28 maj

Worldcon 75, Helsingfors 2017

Eurocon 2017 i Dortmund