Posts Tagged 'Sara Bergmark Elfgren'

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!

Eurocon 2011

Stockholm, June 17-19, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest of Honour Interview: Elizabeth Bear talks to Nene Ormes

Elizabeth Bear, Nene Ormes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feminist SF

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

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

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

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

JHH: Ursula LeGuin, Joanna Russ.

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

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

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

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

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

KM: First feminist sf: Aristophanes’ Lysistrate.

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

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

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

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

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

EB: Nalo Hopkinson.

MN: Scott Westerfeld, Justina Robson.

JHH: Carol Emshwiller.

EB: Geoff Ryman: Air, Unconquered Countries.

AQ: Joan Slonczewski.

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

MN: Marge Piercy.

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

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

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

EB: Tricia Sullivan: Maul.

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

Women, Men and Neuters in SF and Fantasy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions from some other programme items

Elizabeth Bear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Swecon i Stockholm 15-17 juni

Worldcon 75, Helsingfors 2017