Posts Tagged 'Swecon'

AI & Robots in film, TV and literature

ConFuse 2015 was also Swecon, taking place in Linköping in August. Since I missed several programme items I am very glad that Jonas Wissting has recorded them and Oskar Källner released the recordings at the web site Sweconpoddar.

Panel discussion at ConFuse 2015: AI & Robots in film, TV and literature

Report based on a sound recording from August 8 at 8.00 pm, posted here.

Participants: Tommy Persson, Thomas Padron-McCarthy, Madeline Ashby, and Oskar Källner. Moderator: Patrik Centerwall.

The panel was asked about favourite robots and the answers were quite varied: Data in Star Trek since he wanted to be human looks like a human whereas the Tachikoma robots from the manga Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex look more like spiders who talk in voices of little girls but are vicious. The “tin-can” butler robot in the movie Robot and Frank, the knife missile drones in Banks’ Culture universe and the thinking bomb no 20 in the movie Dark Star were also among the favourites.

For Madeline Ashby, the fascination with AI is based on her catholic upbringing. The AI or robots are created in our own image and thus expected to be good. Like in the Eden myth this did not work, and they can reflect the worst in us. Her own stories deal with reproduction and since the parents built you they could also screw it up. Thus her AI stories can be considered to be about families. Oskar Källner also thought that strong AI would be our children; they would be like us but different, and this raises the question “what is a human?”

For Tommy Persson the fascination is based on the idea that people want something magical in their brains that is completely different from the processes in an AI, which is “not real thinking”. Thomas Padron-MacCarthy stressed that we like strange creatures but we don’t seem to have any aliens or mermaids and instead we consider AIs and robots.

The panel considered the robots to have become much sexier with time. Frankenstein’s monster was a disfigured hodge-podge who had no companions and no normal life, whereas today the robots are intended to be attractive, which makes some stories to be about objectification. Tin-can robots have become humanoid robots, and from a threat they have sometimes become helpful like in the movie Interstellar. In Big Hero 6 there was a helpful medical robot and in Short Circuit (Nr 5 lever!) the robot was cute.

The more alien a robot is, the more Madeline Ashby believes in it. Oskar Källner points out that a strong AI would have a perception that would be very different from ours. If a robot behaves like a human it is not credible. On the other hand, in Asimov’s stories it is the humans which are unconvincing.

Asimov’s three laws were a good idea at the time and are a part of the sf legacy. The stories are human-computer interaction stories which are actually written in a fairy-tale mode where you can have a magic wish but have to be very cautious to wish exactly right. Today when military funds pay for AI development the three laws cannot be used, and when a company develops a robot the main law is that this must not cause the company to be sued.

The panel was sceptical towards the warnings from e g Stephen Hawkings about the threat that future AIs might pose against humanity, when they become too smart. Why would the AIs care and be against us? Why would they have any drive for survival?

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 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!

Condense – den tunga kongressen

Göteborgskongressen Condense ägde rum mellan 18 och 20 juni 2010, en tid det kunde vara skönt att inte vara i Stockholm. Förberedelsen innebar denna gång att fylla bilen hos Johan Anglemark med banankartoner innehållande SAAM-antikvariatet. Vi åkte sedan från Stockholm till Göteborg genom ett soligt sommar-Sverige, och passade på att titta på Bottnaryds träkyrka och speciellt målningarna av mäster Anders Falck från 1695.

I Bottnaryds kyrka

I Bottnaryds kyrka

Efter att ha begrundat det hemska öde som kan vänta i gafians käftar, den undflyende enhörningen och svårigheterna att läsa sf på annat än svenska, engelska och danska fortsatte vi mot norra Göteborg för att till slut hitta fram till Apple hotell som faktiskt var lika sjabbigt på insidan som på utsidan men i gengäld bjöd på middag och stor frukostbuffé. Mindre kul var att vattnet försvann under lördagskvällen. Visserligen var inte det hotellets fel men man kunde möjligen ha tänkt sig att personalen skulle ha försökt att skaffa fram något mer än 33 cl Loka för tvätt och tandborstning.

Babels torn i Bottnaryds kyrka

Vi kom ner redan på torsdagskvällen och hade alltså en hel del tid på fredagen. Medan Margareta gick på ett jobbrelaterat möte vandrade jag runt i botaniska trädgården och lyckades hitta det träd som förser hela världen med näsdukar.


Mycket spårvagn blev det vilket onekligen är trevligt, i alla fall när man sitter i den och inte i en bil bredvid. Spårvagn alltså till Eriksberg och Eriksbergshallen som inrymde utställningen And There Was Light som uppgavs innehålla verk av da Vinci, Rafael och Michelangelo. Och visst var det trevligt att beskåda da Vincis La Bella Principessa men för 245 kronor per person hade man väntat sig lite fler original, färre reproduktioner och mindre pladder i hörlursguiden som närmast var ett måste för att man skulle få ut något av utställningen. Rekommenderas ej. Då var det betydligt mer givande att besöka Röhsska museet.

Kongresslokalen, Fräntorps Folkets Hus

Kongresslokalen Fräntorps Folkets Hus var från 50-talet med väl bevarad karaktär; riktigt trevlig men möjligen lite för liten. Speciellt saknades en ordentlig vimmelyta, och SAAM-antikvariatet hade svårt att bli exponerat och utnyttjat för de spontana diskussioner som är en speciell poäng med de gamla böckerna. Mängder av sf-illustrationer på väggarna gav den rätta atmosfären. Programmet var inte så omfattande, speciellt söndagen kändes tunn, men i gengäld var det omväxlande både till form, med paneler, föredrag och diskussioner, och till innehåll med fysik, litteratur, författare och fandom. Dessutom förekom film, spel, tävlingar och auktion, men från dessa aktiviteter kan jag inte rapportera. Baren var liten men utmärkt och tillhandahöll öl och mackor samt dessutom frukost! På lördagen serverades prinsesstårta.

Inge R. L. Larsson, Justina Robson, Nene Ormes, Peter Bengtsson

The opening of the con included the opening of the Russian doll to let out the spirit of fandom which is now traditional at Swecons. The Guest of Honour Justina Robson was interviewed by Peter Bengtsson, and she mentioned some influences: A favourite author is Robert Holdstock, whose Mythago Woods series becomes more and more sf as time goes on. She mentions Lewis Carroll, and likes Richard Morgan’s charismatic energy and how he puts his ideas in the background. She also mentions China Miéville and Kelley Armstrong who writes about werewolves and witches, and especially the early works by Ursula K. LeGuin. Justina Robson also likes the mind-bending stories by James Tiptree, Jr., and the completely alien aliens of Octavia Butler and her descriptions of racial prejudice.

Regarding her own work I noted that she had thought for a long time about the characters in Living Next Door To the God of Love and that she likes the characters. I found that book hard to read but it has stuck in my memory. Her plans for the future include sf with nanotechnology, looking like fantasy but actually being sf.

Sten Thaning, Justina Robson, Tommy Persson

Justina Robson

Justina Robson participated in the subsequent panel debate on whether there is a difference between hard/heavy and soft/light sf, together with Sten Thaning and Tommy Persson. Her opinion was that hard sf is extrapolation that has to be explained, whereas no explanation is needed in soft sf. Still, her Silver Screen is hard sf although not much is explained. Mundane sf is a sort of soft sf, where e g FTL is not allowed. Biology is no longer excluded from the “hard” sciences. Historically soft sf has human interest whereas technology dominates in hard sf. She wondered whether these distinctions really are of interest today. Fantasy where the rules are clearly defined could be called hard fantasy. Two hard sf authors are Alastair Reynolds and Greg Egan. Finally it was stated that sf should not be mistaken for predictions of the future.

Diskussionen vid Frukost med boktips med Johan Frick som ledare skulle mått bra av att fler åhörare släppts in. Nu blev det mest hans egna rekommendationer som i och för sig var intressanta: Paul McAuley’s The Quiet War, som dock hänger intimt ihop med efterföljaren Gardens of the Sun; Peter Watts’ hårda sf Blindsight, Catherynne Valente’s Palimpsest och Alastair Reynolds’ Terminal World, som till skillnad från hans tidigare inte är hård sf utan snarare påminner om China Miéville.

Från panelen Finns det mer sf än vi ser? med Nene Ormes, Marianna Leikomaa och Per Åkerman har jag noterat Nenes kommentarer om att vi lever i en sf-värld med intelligenta hus, Google etc, vilket sannolikt förklarar varför hennes kunder i sf-bokhandeln i Malmö frågar efter magiska böcker snarare än sf. Den sf som finns i böckerna är redan sann.

Patrik Centerwall, Nene Ormes

Patrik Centerwall gjorde en sällsynt lyckad hedersgästintervju av Nene Ormes. Förutom att hon är författare och arbetar i sf-bokhandeln i Malmö driver hon debutantbloggen på webben. Om sin egen debut med Udda verklighet berättar hon att boken såldes slut redan före recensionsdagen, vilket stämmer med ett sug efter svensk fantasy och sf. Tidigare har hon varit sagoberättare, t ex i live, rollspelare, och läst mycket fantasy som Inger Edelfeldt och Katharine Kerr. Hon har jobbat som arkeolog och som reseledare i Egypten för Temaresor. Hennes debutbok var också hennes examensarbete på författarskolan på Lunds universitet . Där fick hon ta mycket skit för att hon skrev fantasy – hennes lärare frågade, ”tror du på det där själv?” Hon fick en ny handledare, Therese Granwald, som förstod henne och som gav henne en lista över rekommenderad litteratur, som innehöll Nenes egna favoriter.

Nene Ormes

Patrik tycker att boken Udda verklighet känns svensk. Hon berättar då att hon gillar att skriva på svenska, som hon ser som ett fantastiskt språk som är som gjort för att berätta sagor på. Hon tycker också om gömda, okända platser, som det finns många av i Malmö. Hon berättar om en port hon hittat som inte fanns när hon efter några år sökte upp den igen. ”Udda” i boken är en person, som inte vill sticka ut. Andra personer i boken har verkliga förebilder men har förstås ändrats. Hon beskriver boken som ”urban fantasy”, egen vardag med fantasy pålagt.

Martin Cederwall höll ett fascinerande föredrag om strängteori. Riktigt hur strängar med en storlek runt Planck-längden, 10-35 m, förklarar hur det kan finnas flera parallella universa långt från varandra förstod jag nog inte. Och lite bekymmersamt blev det när han ansåg att vi inte kan räkna med några experimentella bevis för att strängteorin är riktig än på flera hundra år.

Stefan Ekman

Stefan Ekmans seminarium, Vad innebär det att forska om fantasy? handlade förstås om hans doktorandprojekt Writing Worlds, Reading Landscapes: An Exploration of Settings in Fantasy. Han konstaterade att världen är viktig i fantasy och sf, och kan t o m vara huvudperson. Ofta lånas berättelsen från gamla myter och sagor, men sätts i en annan värld som blir central. Forskning på fantasyvärldar saknas. Det man kan studera är hur världarna är konstruerade. Fantasyböcker har ofta en karta i början, och Stefan har funnit att det gäller för 33 % av det som kallas fantasy. Mellan fantasyvärlden, faerie, och den vanliga världen kan det finnas en skarp gräns som i t ex Gaimans Stardust. I Encyclopedia of Fantasy beskrivs begreppet ”poldern” som är den begränsade fantasyvärlden, en liten miljö som måste upprätthållas genom att gränsen försvaras. Exempel är Lothlorien i Tolkiens värld och Holdstocks Mythago Wood. Detta kan ses som en extremkonservativ, nationalistisk idé och ett försök att bevara det förflutna. Många moderna fantasyverk tar ställning för eller emot detta.

Helena Kiel, Henrik Otterberg

Intressant var också Henrik Otterbergs föredrag om Philip K. Dick, och speciellt handlade det om hans forskning kring Androidens drömmar, som lett till att han hittat referenser till René Descartes och kyrkofadern Isidor genom namnen Rick Deckard och John Isidore. Detta ger extra djup åt bokens innehåll kring artificiella och biologiska varelsers rättigheter och fria vilja.

Karl-Johan Norén, Johan Anglemark, Michael Pargman, Sten Thaning, Hans Persson

Under kongressen röstades om vilken svensk kongress som skulle vara Swecon 2011. Eftersom det inte fanns något motbud var det självklart att det blev Eurocon 2011, men det firades i alla fall med bubbel samtidigt som kommittén försökte sälja medlemsskap.

Gunilla Jonsson,Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf, ?, Katja Lindblom

Helena Kiel

Till slut infångades den fanniska anden och Helena Kiel förslöt den ryska dockan. En mycket trivsam kongress, som avslutades med Dead Dog Party på The Rover inne i Göteborg.

Eurocon 2023 Uppsala 8-11 juni