Copenhagen, Denmark, June 1-3, 2012
Like the last Fantasticon I visited in 2010 this con was also located in Vanløse, where the ”culture house” is well suited for this kind of event. I first listened to Klaus Æ. Mogensen who entertained with a show called SF Covers: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Quite often covers are directly misleading and sometimes the features displayed have no connection whatsoever to the content of the book. In the book shown there are no skateboards, blonde girls, rainbow dragons, Valley girl fashions, or palm trees. There is, however, a passing mention of cats. Found at goodshowsir.co.uk.
At Finncon last year in Turku I listened to a panel discussing optimistic science fiction, where the anthology Shine was mentioned. At the present con there was a similar panel, entitled If the world doesn’t end: Optimistic science fiction, with a group of authors and fans. According to the GoH Alastair Reynolds Shine had not had any impact; it did not change anything. He considers that sf got it right – it is a better world now, with e g the Internet and Google translator, and he is optimistic about the climate change – we will manage. H. H. Løyche likes to write dystopias since they are more colourful, and Tue Sørensen likes to read utopian stories even if it is difficult to envisage a perfect society since it is likely that many will not like the basic ideas. Reynolds tries to mix dystopias with utopias. Negative stories have always existed, e g the Bible and Gilgamesh. In New York in the late 1800s horse manure was a major problem, which changed with the subways. Reynolds considers that the same will happen with peak oil. In 50 years we will look back at the oil problem as we now do on the horse manure problem. He is also optimistic regarding space engineering which will get progressively cheaper, and in medicine we will manage antibiotic resistance. A problem may be sudden catastrophes, like an eruption of a volcano in Yellowstone. A warning 100 years ahead is OK, but one week?
Niels Dalgaard and Jesper Rugård Jensen talked about Niels E. Nielsen and Danish science fiction, unfortunately in Danish which made me miss quite a lot. Nielsen was considered to be the Morten Korch of science fiction. Korch wrote romantic stories about rural Denmark. There was no literary tradition in Nielsen’s family. He was both influenced by American culture and critical to the politics of USA. He spent some time in Germany during the war and the ruins he saw appears in his books. Especially in the beginning he wrote stories about a thirld world war with nuclear weapons. Thus, in Kunskapens träd (The tree of knowledge) people did not dare to have sex after the war due to the risk of getting a damaged child, and in To sole stod up (Two suns rose) the second sun is an exploding atom bomb. The latter book describes a return voyage reminding of The Odyssey. Later he wrote stories about disasters due to ecological catastrophes and pollution, and another theme was totalitarian states and the protest against them.
The short stories are more humoristic and varied than the novels. Many describe space travel and are hard sf. His Martian stories are similar to Bradbury’s, and many short stories are sentimental.
In the Science café: The mad scientist and the end of the world a panel discussed not only the mad scientists but also realistic portrayals of scientists in fiction. Frankenstein is a classic example of the mad scientist, at least in the films. The mad scientist disappeared due to more pressing world problems, but seems to have returned in the introduction to the new Hulk film and in Fringe. According to Klaus ”Evil Morgenstern” ”Mad bankers” are a more serious problem and there should be a film about them. Realistic scientists appear in the films Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Contact, and in Perdido Street Station. I could add the scientists in books by Gregory Benford (Cosm) and Robert J. Sawyer (Frameshift).
I went to listen to another panel, but Margareta stayed on: The scientist today has a low value in society, research does not give status in the West. Nicolas Barbano is seen as the geek (nörd) by other film makers, and according to Reynolds a scientist is the same as someone with Asperger in the media. This is seen e g in quiz programmes where culture has status. This attitude in the media is discussed in Denmark as a reason for the problems to recruit to science-based education programmes. Forensics on film and tv has caused problems for the education programmes since those who apply are “wanna bees” and have not understood what the subject is.
Reynolds has earlier worked at ESA where many were sf readers and also worked with ideas from sf texts, and it happens that a clue in sf leads to an idea that can be developed in reality. Thus “count down” is not necessary but stems from sf. However, when Reynolds “came out” at ESA many others came up to him and confessed. But they kept quiet since many really dislike sf and they took care of their careers. Still he sees a difference. In the 70s a film maker was rejected if he asked for help from a scientist, but this is not the case today. Sf terms are used today to name craters on the surface of Titan since mythologies are exhausted as sources.
The panel Stories we haven’t seen: The good short story started with the question what makes a good short story. Ellen Datlow considered the character to be most important. If there is no character she doesn’t get interested. The character does not have to be an actual person, rather a voice. For Knud Larn the storytelling is most important and the first ten lines has to grip him. The character could be a tree or even the setting. Henrik Harksen thought that the ideas are most important, like they are in H P Lovecraft’s stories. In horror stories the atmosphere is most important.
The GoH Ellen Datlow was interviewed by Lars Ahn Pedersen. She worked in a library, went to college and travelled a lot, came to Copenhagen in 1972. She came to Omni and worked with Ben Bova and Robert Sheckley. Omni closed in 1997, she went to Sci Fi Channel and its web magazine Sci Fiction which closed in 2005. She has done the horror for The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and works now for NightShade and others as free-lance editor. For the future she is most worried about the possibilities to get paid in the new electronic delivery systems for literature.
Tatiana Goldberg delivered an interesting talk about Creature design from a psychological perspective. Anthropomorphism enables relating and empathy, e g by mimicking human facial expressions and showing emaciated or twisted figures. Visual cues may be positive, as childlike big eyes and appealing features, or negative where common anxieties or phobias are incorporated (insect eyes, spiders), associations with death and disease and elements of disgust, like open sores. Cognitive dissonance, which is disturbing to the psyche, can be e g anthropomorphic vs monstrous, human vs not human, innocence vs danger, beauty vs beast and mechanical vs biological. Fear of the unknown might have had survival value, and is most effective when we scare ourselves. This can be achieved by showing that something is wrong, but not what is wrong, and by engaging the imagination or by unpredictability and symbolism. Human anxiety, especially repressed, sexual anxiety (penis and vagina in the film Alien), violence, shaking off moral and societal norms, existential anxiety about life and death and meaninglessness (the film Psycho). The drive to deal with our own anxiety should be engaged.
She uses these ideas herself when she produces her horror comics.
Knud Larn shared his knowledge about the unknown one of science fiction’s fathers, J.-H. Rosny aîné. His first novel, Nell Horn, was probably written in London since it is a realistic novel set in the London slum. After moving to Paris he wrote the prehistoric adventure Les Xipéhuz, and he then wrote several novels about aliens, parallel worlds, vampires, doppelgängers and witchcraft. Brian Stableford has translated several of these French novels to English , e g Les Xipéhuz, Another World, The Death of the Earth and The Navigators of Space in The Scientific Romances of J.-H-. Rosny Aîné.
In the future in Mort de la terre there is no longer any water and biological life has been substituted by mineral life and in a novel about Mars women give birth when they think about men. Rosny was an evolutionist in contrast to Verne who has change in the titles but has static stories. Rosny can be considered the father of hard sf since science drives the story.
The panel Living in space started with a collection of film clips, e g space wheels for artificial gravity. This is not needed if robots are used instead of humans. The moon is easier to colonize than Mars which is too far away, but habitats are even easier. Why should we leave earth at all? One reason can be that there might be risks for humanity, and it is always wise not to have all eggs in the same basket. The tests with biodomes have not been successful so far. Perhaps the attempts have not been serious enough, or they have been too complicated or earthlike.
Recent trends in science fiction novels was a panel discussing a couple of recent famous novels. Niels Dalgaard talked about Connie Willis’ Blackout and All Clear, which he found to be far too long. The time travel part in them described all problems which have already been discussed in sf. The stories are repetitious with endless chases to find each other. But on the other hand Willis obviously loves the period (the London Blitz) and she has done her research but unfortunately does not follow her own rule not to put it all in. The stories touch upon the question of free will, but this is done much better by Kage Baker who writes a much better “time opera”, i e stories where the technicalities of time travel are taken for granted as space opera ignores the problems with space travel. Still, the books work as historical novels, where the people from the future discover the past together with the reader. Unfortunately the future Oxford is very similar to our own times.
Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf started the discussion about The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder. This is a steampunk novel from an alternate London about 1850, based on the legend of a man who assaulted women and then rapidly disappeared by jumping. The story contains gene-manipulated birds, dogs who can deliver letters, flying velocipedes and of course zeppelins. The book is funny and the described London is smelling. The characters are interesting and you don’t have to read the sequels. Possibly steampunk books with its Victoriana have another audience than sf readers.
Flemming Rasch had been assigned Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City which reads like a cyberpunk novel. It is a crime story with a cyberpunk girl and animals as familiars, but has no real sf elements. Since it is set in South Africa it can be said to be part of a trend where the story takes place in other countries, like in many of Ian McDonald’s books. It is a mixture of urban fantasy, cyberpunk and new weird, and reads like Tim Powers. The animals are used as punishment for criminals; you cannot survive if the animal dies.
Stig W. Jørgensen had read China Miéville’s Embassytown, which was not New Weird but traditional, space operatic sf with FTL and life on other planets. The setting is used to discuss the philosophy of language, and the main protagonist is the language. The aliens have a concrete language and cannot lie, but with the aid of the humans they develop a symbolic use of words. It was considered to be fun and easy to read, and the description of addiction was interesting. The characters are hollow, wooden, and are just tools.
The panel The fairy tale in modern fiction mainly dealt with films and was thus less interesting. Ellen Datlow mentioned the retellings by Angela Carter and Tanith Lee, and the anthology series that started with Snow White, Blood Red. There was a discussion on definitions and borders, and Datlow divided the fantasies into religious stories, myths, creation myths and fairies. Obviously there is much overlap, and stories which could be used in retellings may be found in e g Russia, Japan and in old Arabian tales. Naturally H. C. Andersen was also mentioned.
The GoH Alastair Reynolds was interviewed by Niels Dalgaard. Early in life he watched Star Trek, The Time Machine and Fantastic Voyage, and when he was seven or eight he started to read sf that he found in a magazine aimed at little boys. He read an easily understundable A. C. Clarke story and the robot stories by Isaac Asimov, and he was then set for life. Being a scientist he has never been intimidated by science. His take on new space opera started with Revelation Space, that has no FTL and thus no galactic civilization. Instead, it makes the galaxy seem huge. He found Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix to be an eye-popping novel with all the new science, genes, nano, AI etc. He also mentioned another early cyberpunk novel, Michael Swanwick’s Vacuum Flowers, where a human-derived hive mind rules the Earth.
In Asimov’s The Naked Sun a person drops his glasses which brake, and he considers this to be highly unlikely in the future described. I think it is even more unlikely that smoking will be allowed on space ships as in Revelation Space or on Mars as in Terminal World.
A new series of space operas, translated into Danish, have far-out crazy ideas. Merlin is an egotistical womanizer who has fun and tries to save the universe.
Terminal World describes a weird planet where technology is impossible in certain areas. It is a planetary romance with a doctor figure who becomes an angel in the book. The story has steampunk aesthetics from the 20s or 30s, and strange cities around high mountains which the characters believe are space elevators, but are actually entrances to the hyperspace transportation mechanism inside the planet, which is Mars. This is not revealed in the book however. There will probably not be a sequel.
Blue Remembered Earth is a kind of mundane sf, optimistic and realistic. It is not overly violent. Humanity is diverging, and elephants have implants to interact with humans. There will be two sequels.
Reynolds likes writing, both short stories and novels. He worked hard to become an sf writer, and the reward now is when he has written a scene that works. He is now writing a Dr Who story.
In the talk Cthulu at the End of the World Henrik Harksen proposed that August Derleth never understood H. P. Lovecraft’s philosopy even though he was responsible for saving Lovecraft’s work for posterity by founding Arkham House and publishing Lovecraft there. Lovecraft was an atheist who did not believe in his invented monsters whose purpose was to create an atmosphere and show that the cosmos does not care about us. This is rather an “antimythos”, in contrast with the Cthulhu Mythos introduced by Derleth. In Lovecraft’s stories, e g The Call of Cthulhu, there is an external apocalypse where the universe dies. This is not the case in stories by the catholic Derleth, who writes about Good and Evil and how the demon is averted. The books by Brian Lumley about Titus Crow are a continuation of the Derleth mythos rather than the philosophy of Lovecraft.
In The last panel with the GoHs and Klaus Æ. Mogensen Ellen Datlow told that there are opportunities today for non-Americans to get published in the US, taking as an example Aliette de Bodard. The convention conventions where also discussed, and both GoHs had been surprised by the drinking, e g in the panels. Alastair Reynolds called Real Ale real boring. They were both quite happy with the system of no fees for invited guests, but were worried about the possibilities to get paid for writing in the future. Reynolds considered the problem to be similar to the music business that had found ways to get paid, and also suggested Crowd funding.
Saturday night there was a banquet, which is not so usual at cons any longer. This is pity since it is an extra opportunity to talk to other fans. I talked a little with the Finnish NoFF delegate, Tomi Mäntylä from Turku and the old Danish fan Joen Juel Jensen.
After this excellent con I and Margareta did some sight-seeing in the Carlsberg Brewery area which is now being used for flats, shops and various other purposes. The elephants are still there.