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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 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”.
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.
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.
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.
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!