Posts Tagged 'Karin Tidbeck'

Books read in September 2013

JagannathKarin Tidbeck: Jagannath.

Many of these stories are translated from the collection Vem är Arvid Pekon? and it was a pleasure to read them again. The ones that were new for me were generally longer but also very varied in theme and style. In “Reindeer Mountain” a sister disappears in a typical Swedish wilderness, and “Cloudberry Jam” also takes place in the mountains in northern Sweden, where a carrot, reminding of a mandrake root, is turned into a conscious being. The story “Pyret” about a Nordic cryptid is written as a scientific report, whereas “Augusta Prima”, dealing with time, has a Victorian air. In the final two stories, “Aunts” and “Jagannath”, strange biological phenomena are anthropomorphized resulting in fascinating allegories. It is not surprising that these brilliant fantasy stories with a Nordic character have been widely praised.

MartradMia Franck: Martrådar (Mare Threads).

This well-written Finland-Swedish fantasy is based on the idea that nightmares may be caused by another person, and the story leads back to what happened in the small town many centuries ago. It is also a story about being young in a small town, to be mobbed, raped, outcast and suicidal, and what this may lead to in the community. I found the story gripping and believable, although of course the supernatural elements had to be accepted by “suspension of disbelief”.

 

Father-ThingPhilip K. Dick: The Father-Thing.

The third volume of Dick’s wonderful short stories, mixing paranoia and humour and always saying very much about how human beings live and treat each other.

 

 

SvultenHannele Mikaela Taivassalo: Svulten (Starved).

Another Finland-Swedish fantasy, this one with the more classic theme of a female vampire, who is taking revenge on a line of fathers and sons the first of which had abandoned her. The language is excellent, a real pleasure to read, and the descriptions of Helsinki make you feel that you are there. There is also a Swedish historical interest since the lover was involved in the murder of King Gustav III and a part of the story takes place in the castle of Huvudsta where the murder was planned. 

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.

Finncon 2013

Helsinki, Finland, July 5 – 7, 2013

Tommy Persson, Marianna Leikomaa, Jukka Halme, Cheryl Morgan

Tommy Persson, Marianna Leikomaa, Jukka Halme, Cheryl Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stefan Ekman

Stefan Ekman

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

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

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

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

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

Aliette de Bodard, Tom Crosshill

Aliette de Bodard, Tom Crosshill

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

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

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

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

Jakob Löfgren

Jakob Löfgren

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

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

Markus Rosenlund

Markus Rosenlund

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eemeli Aro, Syksy Räsänen, Caitlin Sweet, Karin Tidbeck

Eemeli Aro, Syksy Räsänen, Caitlin Sweet, Karin Tidbeck

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

Alexandra Davydova, Irina Lipka

Alexandra Davydova, Irina Lipka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mats Strandberg, Sara B Elfgren, Johan Anglemark

Mats Strandberg, Sara B Elfgren, Johan Anglemark

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

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

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

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

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

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

Läs också Johan Jönssons utmärkta rapport!

Kontrast – Swecon 2012

Uppsala, October 5 – 7, 2012

Swecon in Uppsala was a hotel convention and apart from the worldcon this year it was the first time I stayed at the hotel where the con took place. It was very convenient to be able to fetch and leave things in the room. The hotel, Gillet, was well suited for the convention, although one of the programme rooms was too long. This would not have been a problem if the con had been less of a success. Now it was one of the biggest sf cons in Sweden with about 450 participants.

Linnéa Anglemark selling antiquarian books

I spent a lot of time with the antiquarian sf books of SAAM, the fund in memory of the deceased fan Alvar Appeltofft. This included transportation to and from the hotel and selling books, which was a very nice experience. Many books I sold were books that I had read with pleasure, but I also sold one Gor book by John Norman. I have tried to read one of them but could not stand it. I managed to listen to some panels and talks, when other fans and gophers took over at the desk.

Anders Björkelid, Joe Abercrombie, Linnéa Anglemark, Anna Bark Persson

The first panel I listened to was Fantasy with a twist: new writing in old clothes. Linnéa Anglemark moderated the discussion with Anders Björkelid, Joe Abercrombie, and Anna Bark Persson. I noted down a few comments. It can be satisfying when clichés are turned around in unexpected ways. An example is the elves in Richard Morgan’s fantasy books which have AIs. However, some readers prefer ”feel-good” reading, while others want surprises. There are also readers who try to control the text, saying ” you don’t want to kill N.N.” Fantasy can be used effectively to discuss gender roles, by using other settings than ordinary life. Steven Brust was recommended as a good fantasy author (I have not read him).

Vesa Sisättö, Gavin Grant, Niels Dalgaard, Jerry Määttä, Lise Andreasen

In the panel Science fiction and the future the first question from the moderator Lise Andreasen was whether sf is dying. The panel consisting of Vesa Sisättö, Gavin Grant, Niels Dalgaard, and Jerry Määttä considered that there is more good, hard sf now than ever before. It has always been a minority taste. Examples are Kim Stanley Robinson and Bruce Sterling. In sf it is possible to step back and look at our society, which is hard to do in other kinds of literature. There are always new things to write about and mainstream writers should if anything have less to write about. A problem can be a tendency to write sf about sf – an ingroup kind of literature that might turn away new readers, but mainstream authors do the same. In sf conversation between authors is fairly common, but this can be awesome for the readers.

In Finland there is a tendency just now to write dystopian novels. Regarding post-singularity stories it was said that when you can do anything as an uploaded individual, nothing matters. A question from the audience about animal stories was answered that they have to be antropomorphic to become interesting. An example is Brin’s Uplift series. Interestingly, cat characters appear mainly in fantasy whereas dogs appear in sf stories.

Peter Watts, Kelly Link, Karin Tidbeck, Lise Andreasen, Marianna Leikomaa

The short story and the idea was the title of a panel with Peter Watts, Kelly Link, Karin Tidbeck, and Lise Andreasen, moderated by Marianna Leikomaa. The panel felt that short stories is the place to go to test ideas. Kelly Link does not write novels, and says that in short stories you rely on the reader to fill in. Peter Watts thinks that in a short story you start in the middle of the story. Endings should both be logical and surprising. Some examples given of authors who mainly wrote short stories were James Tiptree, Jr., Fredrik Brown, and Ray Bradbury. To expand a short story into a novel is fairly common in sf, and it can work. Karin Tidbeck tells that Amatka started as a dream, then was a poem and finally a novel.

The audience was asked if they wrote short stories, and about half raised their hands. This surprised me but was about the same as at Chicon 7.

Niels Dalgaard

In Niels Dalgaard’s Guest of Honour Speech he talked about his 38 years in fandom, which started when he read Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles in Danish. This did something to him. He also entered a competition in an sf book with the first prize being a travel to the moon. When he went to cons he was impressed by the easy accessibility of sf authors, e g he talked with Arthur C. Clarke at the Brighton worldcon in 1969. He has had an academic career in sf, with a Ph D and teaching sf at the University of Copenhagen. Since its start he has been very active in SF Cirklen and been the editor of its fanzine Proxima and published many books. He told about a schism in Danish fandom during the last decade, mainly between those who like himself are purists and only are interested in hard, written sf and those who are also interested in fantasy, horror, films and tv series. He thinks that fandom as it was in the 60’s does not exist any more. I do not agree and remember that already in the 50’s and 60’s many fans were interested in films and fantasy – actually the Tolkien society in Sweden was founded by sf fans.

Nene Ormes gave an Introduction to Steampunk, and when I came into the room she was just showing a list of classic steampunk: Moorcock’s The Warlord of the Air, Sterling & Gibson’s The Difference Engine, and Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. In the “new wave” she listed Gail Carriger’s Soulless, Miéville’s Perdido Street Station, and Gordon Dahlquist’s The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters. She also mentioned comic books by Bryan Talbot, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright and Grandville. Steampunk culture consists of clothes, DIY & modding, music, artists & makers, steam songs, and meetings (e g Burning Man). We were shown an mp3 player modded by Anna Davour. Clockwork insects are also popular. Steampunk in film and tv are e g The Prestige, Laputa, Warehouse 13, and Wild Wild West (from 1999).

Nene defines steampunk as aesthetics that mixes technofantasy, neovictorianism, and retrofuturism. It is as if sf had been written before the Victorian era and shows the future. She recommends tor.com where there is “the great steampunk timeline” and the site “the steampunk scholar”.

Jerry Määttä

Under the title Why do we like the end of the world? Jerry Määttä talked about catastrophes and showed some clips from films where a single human is surviving: I am legend, 28 days later. He thinks that these show what it is to be human. In Sweden this autumn there have been quite a few books about catastrophes, like Jesper Weithz’ Det som inte växer är döende (What is not growing is dying) and Mikael Niemi’s Fallvatten (Water from falls). He recommended an essay by Susan Sontag on the lure of apocalypses, The Imagination of Disaster. She considers it to be a substitute for religion.

The tulip bubble in the 17th century was similar to the IT bubble, and inspired painters to still lifes with craniums, “memento mori”.

The tv series Life after people was characterized as apocalypse pornography.

Johan Jönsson, Sara Stridh, Anna Davour, Peter Watts, Torill Kornfeldt

Science fiction and the scientist was a very rewarding panel where the panelists demonstrated their different opinions. Johan Jönsson moderated the Ph D student Sara Stridh who was studying kidney function, Anna Davour who has abandoned research in physics and works as science journalist at the radio, Torill Kornfeldt who also was a science journalist but a former biologist, and the author GoH Peter Watts who had also been a biologist.

Having been a scientist might influence the style, since science writing is devoid of style. It should be clear, but on the other hand it should also impress fellow scientists, so that when you do not understand you should suspect that the author is smarter than yourself. When writing sf you have to know enough of the subject so that it doesn’t show, otherwise you might think that you are imaginative when you suggest something that has been known for long. If you know your field you will also know the present questions. On the other hand too much knowledge might hamper your imagination, and scientists who write sf seldom succeed when they write about their specialist area, e g when Alastair Reynolds writes about neutron stars. A couple of cool ideas outside the author’s expert field that were mentioned were the visualisation of virtual reality as space in Gibson’s Neuromancer, the presence of different constants in different parts of the universe in Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep, and Delany’s brain-computer interfaces in the 60’s.

In sf the universe follows laws, whereas fantasy has another attitude. Star Wars is fantasy. Sf is driven by curiosity whereas fantasy rests upon faith.

A good book about science and how it works is Bellwether by Connie Willis. I completely agree and I think that it is her most entertaining book.

Jerry Määttä (far to the left due to a cold), John-Henri Holmberg, Niels Dalgaard,
Mats Linder

As I looked through the programme for Kontrast I had problems to understand what the panel The Contrarians would be about. Was it global warming contrarians? This was not the case, and the panel instead discussed authors and critics who had criticised the present view and execution of sf. Mats Linder led the panel discussion which at first only was between Niels Dalgaard and Jerry Määttä, since John-Henri Holmberg had been delayed. According to Jerry, being contrarian is quite mainstream in sf, and many sf writers have been contrarian at some point. Niels pointed to the new wave writers who were also political contrarians, being more left-wing. He considered Barry Malzberg to have behaved badly when he wrote rude things about other authors, and he mentioned Stanislaw Lem who was thrown out of SFWA after having said nasty things about all US authors except Philip K. Dick. In Thomas Disch’s The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of sf authors are criticised for not letting sf live up to its potential; he saw mental laziness in other authors.

Jerry pointed out that the canons are different inside and outside the sf community: Heinlein is a major author inside, while Delany, Dick and LeGuin are major authors outside. John-Henri added that Bradbury was appreciated outside the sf world when he under a short period did his good stuff. Jerry, who has studied Wyndham, thinks that he was contrarian in his time by e g trying to reach woman readers, but Ballard and Aldiss were at least initially critical. In Denmark Bradbury was a “gateway drug” for many fans and he was published in slick magazines.

According to John-Henri Kim Stanley Robinson writes traditional sf, and he thinks that today’s contrarians may be John Varley, Allan Steele, and Joe Haldeman. They try to recreate the feeling that they got when they were teenagers. Heinlein was a contrarian who reoriented sf, and even during his late period he was contrarian when writing about aging and sex.

John-Henri considered that cyberpunk also was a result of a wish to relive the teenage period. The manifesto written by Sterling is actually a parody. Niels considered it unwise to write manifestos on what other authors should write, as exemplified by the mundane manifesto by Geoff Ryman. He also criticised steampunk for being alternate history that is hardly contrarian and rather escape literature, although it sometimes is feminist. John-Henri does not see much interesting now. The 70’s were enormously dramatic, with female writers coming in and gender issues being discussed.

Karin Waller, Mats Strandberg, Sara Bergmark Elfgren, Nene Ormes, Ola Skogäng

Fantastic literature set in Sweden of today was discussed in a panel consisting of Karin Waller from the Science Fiction Book Shop in Malmö, the authors of the popular Cirkeln (The Circle) Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren, Nene Ormes who has just published the sequel to her Udda verklighet (Odd Reality), and the comic book author Ola Skogäng. The magic city Engelsfors in Cirkeln and its sequels is a mixture of the Swedish town Fagersta and the tv series Twin Peaks. It is a depressed small city. The Sweden in these books is “here and in a time just passed”. Popular music, facebook and technical gadgets are avoided since they can rapidly be outdated. The authors think that it is better to include older music and techniques.

Udda verklighet takes place in Malmö with only minor changes. There are a lot of alleys and gargoyles. In Ola Skogäng’s comic books the main character is a big bear, and the setting is a twisted Stockholm with mummies, werewolves and vampires. He lives in Enköping which is boring. The readers like that the stories take place in Stockholm, but the editor wanted the setting to be New York instead.

Naturally there were awards ceremonies, and the sound expert of many cons, Jonas Wissting, got the Alvar. There were also a release party for new books by Karin Tidbeck and the GoHs Joe Abercrombie and Kelly Link, and the hotel had an excellent bar providing beer. Since I was busy packing up the unsold books I missed the closing ceremony where the head of the Fantastika 2013 committee, Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf received the spirit of Swecon for release on October 18 in Sickla in the Stockholm area. However, after delivering the books I returned and had a good time in the dead-dog party at Pipes of Scotland.

Kontrast 2012 was an excellent con with a broad programme where a lot of fans seemed to have a very good time. The committee can really be proud!


Swecon i Uppsala 26-28 maj

Worldcon 75, Helsingfors 2017

Eurocon 2017 i Dortmund