Posts Tagged 'Worldcon'

Loncon 3 / 72th Worldcon

London, UK, August 14-18, 2014

My wife Margareta and I stayed at Travelodge London City Airport but had not been able to find a reasonable flight to that airport from Arlanda, so we spent the day travelling. At Paddington we got our tickets for the train and ferry for Dublin, actually with much less trouble than I had expected. The final part of the trip was by DLR – the somewhat futuristic Docklands Light Railway. The hotel was OK and fairly close to the convention. We went directly to the venue and since this was Wednesday we did not have to stand in the long queues which we saw on Thursday. ExCel was well suited for the convention although the programme rooms were a bit too small and sometimes the most popular items were in the smallest room. This was especially problematic in the very beginning of the convention when there were few parallel programme items.

Crossing Boundaries: Histories of International SF/F for Children

Catharine Butler, K V Johansen, Michael Levy, Sanna Lehtonen, Patricia Kennan (M)

Catharine Butler, K V Johansen, Michael Levy, Sanna Lehtonen, Patricia Kennan (M)

Michael Levy, an American who teaches sf and children’s literature, had never heard of Enid Blyton, but Harry Potter had amazed American kids.  The reason for the success was considered to be the agreement with the American stereotypes of the British. Regarding stories by Native Americans the question was asked whether it is fantasy if the author actually believes in supernatural phenomena, and this was resolved by the concept “Consensus reality”. What is incredible for kids can be real and vice versa. In order to make them more credible the books are sometimes changed during translation: The Finnish version of Tarzan of the Apes was converted to Tarzan of the Bears. In American adaptations of British books pounds is changed into dollars and madam to mam, which was considered strange. Should difficult words be explained or changed? Children’s vocabulary is expanded by words they do not understand, but the text must still be understandable.

The World at Worldcon: Nordic SF/F

John-Henri Holmberg, Anna Davour, Marianna Leikomaa, Tore Høie (M), Sini Neuvonen

John-Henri Holmberg, Anna Davour, Marianna Leikomaa, Tore Høie (M), Sini Neuvonen

To a large extent this discussion became a listing of authors in the different Nordic countries. The basic literature in Finland is very realistic, and the Finnish SF/F authors are friends and discuss with each other. Johanna Sinisalo has written a retelling of Kalevala. Examples of new Finnish SF/F can be downloaded and found in the anthology It Came from the North. Other web sites with information on Finnish and international SF/F are Partial Recall and Rising Shadows.

John-Henri Holmberg mentioned an interesting distinction between two kinds of SF in Sweden, made by Ulrika Nolte in a German thesis described in the Sweden entry of the SF Encyclopedia. One kind was written by Swedish sf fans in a tradition coming mainly from American and British sf magazines and the stories published in the corresponding Swedish magazines, and includes authors as Sam J. Lundwall, Bertil Mårtensson, Maths Claesson etc. The other kind Nolte called “social fiction” and entails dystopian fiction written since the 1930’s by established Swedish authors like Karin Boye, Tora Dahl and Harry Martinson. This has not previously been noted as a trend. John-Henri also pointed out the reason for the fantasy boom in Sweden in the 1990’s: The first popularity list based on sales instead of criticism was published in 1993.

It was also noted during the discussion that in the Nordic countries we do not read each other’s books. This is sad since there is a lot of good SF/F published at least in Denmark, and Danish is really easy to read even if it is not so easy to listen to. Most Swedes cannot understand Finnish.

Fandom in Fiction

Virginia Preston, Audrey Taylor, Erin Horakova, Lisa Macklem (M)

Virginia Preston, Audrey Taylor, Erin Horakova, Lisa Macklem (M)

Since I have enjoyed Diana Wynne Jones’ Deep Secret, Sharyn McCrumb’s Bimbos of the Death Sun and Zombies of the Gene Pool and several other stories where fandom and fan conventions are described I was curious about this programme item. However, I was somewhat disappointed since the four women on the panel mainly talked about funny scenes on some tv sitcoms that I have not seen (and would surely not have appreciated). In addition to the novels above they mentioned Jo Walton’s Among Others and Fallen Angels by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Michael Flynn. Ahrvid Engholm pointed out the masterpiece of fan writing The Enchanted Duplicator, but there was no mention of e g Barry Malzberg or the recent Osama by Lavie Tidhar which gives a very accurate and entertaining description of a fan convention.

Speculative Biology – An Introduction

This was actually four short lectures with Power Point presentations, and was quite entertaining. The moderator Lewis Dartnell pointed out that the colour of plants is complementary to the colour of the light from the sun, and could thus be quite different from green on other planets. Planets with high gravity might be expected to have balloon plants filled with gas. The convergent evolution of eyes on Earth indicates that the evolution on Earth can be used to predict that on other planets. Darren Naish talked about future or alternative animals on Earth and mentioned an early (1961) book by the pseudonymous Harald Stümpke, in English called The Snouters. He also talked about books by Dougal Dixon who was also present in the panel and whose After Man contains pictures of possible future animals.

Governing the Future

Charles E. Gannon, Nicholas Whyte (M), John-Henri Holmberg, Justin Landon, Liz Gorinsky, Farah Mendlesohn

Charles E. Gannon, Nicholas Whyte (M), John-Henri Holmberg, Justin Landon, Liz Gorinsky, Farah Mendlesohn

Earlier (50s, 60s) SF was essentially positive towards government but today it is either completely outside the story or is described as a failure. According to John-Henri Asimov was a welfare socialist and his robot stories promoted advanced welfare ideas. The cyberpunk authors reran the youth revolt of 1968 that they had experienced when they were 17-18 years; it is clearly anti-government. Europeans are more pro-government than Americans.

Books by Cory Doctorow and Nalo Hopkinson were classified as dystopias by Farah Mendlesohn, and YA dystopias are everywhere.  An example is The Diary of Pelly D by L J Adlington. The book Farah edited as a protest against censorship, Glorifying Terrorism, is now out of print.

In a Proprietary World Who Owns Your Body?

Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf, Simon Ings, Simon Bradshaw (M), Jody Lynn Nye, Richard Ashcroft, Joan Paterson

Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf, Simon Bradshaw (M), Jody Lynn Nye, Richard Ashcroft, Joan Paterson

After some discussion on the ethics of surrogate mothers and transplanting livers to alcoholics a lot of time was spent on HeLa

Simon Ings

Simon Ings

cells and the book about the patient who provided these cells from the beginning, Henrietta Lacks. I find it absolutely bizarre that a patient or her relatives could claim ownership to results obtained in research done on cells from a removed cancer. Finally there was a discussion on a possible development of AIs that help Alzheimer patients – who would own the AI when the patient dies?

Hard Right

Jaine Fenn, David G Hartwell, Neyir Cenk Gokce (M), Charles E Gannon, Alison Sinclair

Jaine Fenn, David G Hartwell, Neyir Cenk Gokce (M), Charles E Gannon, Alison Sinclair

Alison Sinclair is an author of four sf novels (I have read the somewhat juvenile but entertaining Legacies) and 5 fantasy novels, and she is an MD with an interest in evidence-based medicine. Charles E Gannon is the author of the Nebula-nominated novel Fire With Fire, and David G Hartwell has edited sf anthologies and written a history of hard sf. Jaine Fenn is the author of books in the Hidden Empire series, of which I have read the first two. She is liberal, not right.

The programme item was caused by an article by Paul Kincaid who argued that since hard sf depends on a world with inviolate rules it might have similarities with right-wing politics. The panel acknowledged that military technology always is popular in hard sf which could thus be right-wing. Politicised science as e g creationism is also right-wing, but Lysenkoism was popular in Soviet.  Space Opera might be considered right-wing, and Bank’s Culture novels was his project to save SO for the left.

Analog prints much hard sf, and Hartwell considered half of it to be crap whereas the other half can be superb. The core readers are technologists, not scientists.

Constructing Genre History

Takayuki Tatsumi, Gary Wolfe (M), Suanna Davis, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Ginjer Buchanan

Takayuki Tatsumi, Gary Wolfe (M), Suanna Davis, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Ginjer Buchanan

The average reader is thought not to care about the history of sf. It might be necessary for editors, and an sf teacher said that it is important for her students.  History can act as a gate-keeper if it is thought that you have to read a lot of old books in order to understand the present ones. On the other hand there is an ongoing conversation between authors in their work. This was especially so in the works of Heinlein and Asimov, but even Frankenstein is in the dialogue today. The adaptation of Lukianos, Thomas Moore etc into the sf canon was a way to defend sf, which is no longer necessary since it is not considered odd any more. Paul Kincaid’s blog with its timeline was recommended for those interested in the history.

The discussion turned into descriptions of personal histories of sf reading. When she was young Ginjer Buchanan found almost no sf in the library, only fantasy. She would recommend Alfred Bester rather than Heinlein to new readers and writers. Maureen Kincaid Speller found C S Lewis and Alan Garner in her local library and read a lot of children’s fantasy.

An Anthology of One’s Own

Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Dally McFarlane, Julia Rios (M), Jeanne Gomoll, Ann Vandermeer

Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Dally McFarlane, Julia Rios (M), Jeanne Gomoll, Ann Vandermeer

Pamela Sargent’s three Women of Wonder anthologies had different viewpoints and are a good beginning for finding sf by women. There were also women writers in the 17th century, e g Margaret Cavendish who wrote a feminist utopia in 1666, and the author Frances Stevens (real name Gertrude Barrows Bennett) wrote weird tales in the early 19th century which had a huge influence on H P Lovecraft. McFarlane has edited The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women which contains recent work by women and intends to capture what is happening now. Justine Larbalestier’s books were also recommended, and the June 2014 issue of Lightspeed Magazine, Women Destroy Science Fiction appears interesting.

Content and Form: Writing SF/F in non-Western Modes

Nick Wood, Aliette de Bodard, Amal El-Mohtar (M), Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, J Y Jang

The male white narrative has to be changed so that the centre is set in e g South-East Asia. This means that the surroundings have to be described in detail, otherwise the reader thinks the story is set in England. The Western paradigm has to be seen as one of many.

Stories from the Philippines are often communal and stem from oral traditions. Loenen-Ruiz pointed out that the colonial feeling has to be thrown off. The Western notion that there has to be a conflict in a story should also be challenged.

Interview with John Clute

Jonathan Clements, John Clute

Jonathan Clements, GoH John Clute

Jonathan Clements asked questions in a humorous way. In addition to the usual answers about life and career we got some information on Clute’s ideas. He defends spoilers in reviews. It is intellectual treason not to mention the end of a story. He also defended his introduction of the word “Fantastika” as a collective term for non-realistic literature – just as we already do in Swedish fandom. Fantastika should not contain metaphors, and an example is his novel Appleseed. He says that every sentence in it makes sense.

Finally he recommended Edward James’ exhibition about authors who took part in World War I, that could be seen in the Dealer’s Room and also on the web.

Classics in Speculative Fiction

The major problem with the presentations in the Academic Track was that the authors read their papers rapidly and without contact with the audience. Frances Foster’s “Lands of the Dead in Speculative Fiction” compared ancient heroic journeys like The Odyssey with the modern LeGuin’s Earthsea and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. The German Sibylle Machat made an excellent presentation of her paper “Ancient Philosophers as Characters in Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction”. Bernard Beckett’s Genesis (2006) is set in Plato’s Republic and the conflict between church and science in Robert Charles Wilson’s Julian Comstock has similarities with the conflict between Hellenistic paganism and the Roman church that Julian the Apostate was involved in in the 4th century. Liz Gloyn’s “A Common Thread: Representations of the Minotaur in London” failed to interest me and lacked connections to speculative fiction.

SF: What It Is, What It Could Be

Jeanne Gomoll, Tobias Buckell, Stephanie Saulter (M), Alastair Reynolds, Ramez Naam

Jeanne Gomoll, Tobias Buckell, Stephanie Saulter (M), Alastair Reynolds, Ramez Naam

This panel spent a lot of time on the eternal question why sf is not respected, exemplified as usual with Margaret Atwood who reputedly not considers her books as sf. However, I think her book about sf was fairly positive. Reynolds pointed out the two traditions – Wells and Shelley’s Frankenstein are just a part of general literature, whereas the pulps defined a new line (reminds me of the two kinds of sf in Sweden).

Fantasy vs SF: Is the Universe Looking Out for You?

Stephen Hunt (M), Anne Lyle, Ian R McLeod, Robert Reed, Rebecka Levine

Stephen Hunt (M), Anne Lyle, Ian R McLeod, Robert Reed, Rebecka Levine

One reason for going to Woldcons is of course to listen to authors. I have read many stories by Robert Reed and I have really liked his short stories and been less impressed by his “great space ship stories”. He now told that these stories tend to be more static or conservative than the short stories. SF is considered to be about change whereas fantasy is static. McLeod said that sf is basically one-volume works, since if you want to have change it is very difficult to have it in several volumes. Fantasy may be more engaged with the characters. The tropes used might determine if it is sf or fantasy. However, it is easier to make a dragon than a FTL ship.

The Politics of Utopia

Kim Stanley Robinson, Kathleen Ann Goonan, David Farnell (M), Adrian Hon, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Christina Lake

Kim Stanley Robinson, Kathleen Ann Goonan, David Farnell (M), Adrian Hon, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Christina Lake

Utopian fiction lacks descriptions of how to get there from here. They are often boring, but this is not true of Banks’ Culture novels which have conflicts with other parties at the edges. Challenges for utopias are human nature – people want to have more than others, and there are problems with market economy that underprices natural resources even if this may be democratic. Longevity might increase how natural resources are valued.

Nebula to Interzone: British SF Magazines of the 1950s, 60s and 70s

Malcolm Edwards, Robert Silverberg, Stephen Baxter, Curt Phillips, Gillian Redfearn (M)

Malcolm Edwards, Robert Silverberg, Stephen Baxter, Curt Phillips, Gillian Redfearn (M)

This was probably the most entertaining and rewarding panel I listened to. The GoH Malcolm Edwards showed some of the 14 different magazines that were published in Britain in 1954. Robert Silverberg told that Nebula was the first magazine to publish one of his stories. He liked the magazine with its attractive, archaic typography, which he got shipped to him by Ken Slater. The editor Peter Hamilton was 20 years at that time. His first stories were published as by Bob Silverberg, but Randall Garrett told him that Bob doesn’t look good on the Table of Contents. Silverberg also told about his visit to Loncon 1 in 1957 by air which took 12 h. There were 268 members at the convention.

In its prime Nebula printed 30 – 40 000 copies. The stories were pretty good, and Hamilton was a post-war reader in contrast to

Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg

Ted (John) Carnell who edited New Worlds. His taste had been shaped in the 30s. When Nebula folded Peter Hamilton left the sf field altogether.

Authentic was for a time edited by Ted (E. C.) Tubb who was very active. He wrote pretty good stories with quick action. When he wrote what he wanted he was very British. One example is his first novel, Saturn Patrol. The scientist Bert (Herbert) Campbell had started Authentic that had been called Science Fiction Fortnightly for a period. It was equal to New Worlds and had often American authors. Silverberg had stories in Authentic.

In the 50s magazines were replaced by books, first paperbacks and then hardcovers. Another reason for the death of the magazines in USA was that the distributor American News Company folded in 1958. Astounding, Galaxy and F&SF had other distributors and survived.

The World at Worldcon: French and Francophone SF/F

Elizabeth Vonarburg, Antoine Rouaud, Pierre Pevel, Tom Clegg (M), Bradford Lyau, Eric Senabre, Laurence Suhner

Elizabeth Vonarburg, Antoine Rouaud, Pierre Pevel, Tom Clegg (M), Bradford Lyau, Eric Senabre, Laurence Suhner

Since there was no blackboard or projector which could have been used it was very difficult to get the names of authors mentioned in this panel. It was also problematic that one of the participants did not speak English and relied on the moderator for translation. Clegg asked what stories had made an impact when the panellists were 14, and the answers included Jules Verne, Perry Rhodan, Michael Moorcock, Isaac Asimov etc. No fantasy was written in French. An interesting observation by Laurence Suhner was that Swiss SF/F has been influenced by myths and tales and the dangerous nature. This appears similar to the situation in Finland.

French SF/F can be found translated into English at Blackcoat Press, and the author Yves Ménard writes in English. Solaris is a Canadian francophone SF/F magazine, and in France there are Galaxie and Bifrost.

What is Science?

Andrew Jaffe, Richard Dunn, Richard Ashcroft (M), Ada Palmer, Anthony Fucilla

Andrew Jaffe, Richard Dunn, Richard Ashcroft (M), Ada Palmer, Anthony Fucilla

Unfortunately this discussion took place in the smallest room of the convention that in addition had windows in two directions and thus became awfully hot especially since it was very crowded. One of the panellists, Anthony Fucilla, had to leave after a while since he felt unwell. This was unfortunate since his view of science was ancient: Science should be used to prove that God exists.

Ada Palmer is a historian of the Renaissance and Enlightenment and told that in the 17th century there was no difference between philosophy and science. Da Vinci worked for the Duke and no collaboration was allowed. Bacon’s view was that science and religion should cooperate in order to improve the world. Authority has been replaced by empirism, and this change took mainly place in Galilei’s time. She also advocated teaching of scientific method in other courses than science, e g history.

Richard Dunn is a historian of Science who listed some boundary cases of different kinds like economics, string theory and acupuncture. Discussions are essential and result in consensus which is as close to truth as we can come.  The cosmologist Andrew Jaffe considered that science involves data gathering and forming of hypotheses. Most of the time scientific orthodoxy is right, and random things happen all the time. To sort this out can be difficult, and there can be bias when scientists stop doing experiments when the theory has been validated. An example given was a demonstration of gravity waves which was first believed to be true until it was revealed that false data had been injected.

A professor of Bioethics, Richard Ashcroft, warned against misinterpretations of large datasets which can show correlations although there is no causation, as is quite popular in the newspapers.

The World at Worldcon: The state of British SF

Jo Fletcher, Simon Spanton, Glyn Morgan (M), Lesley Hall, Paul March-Russell

Jo Fletcher, Simon Spanton, Glyn Morgan (M), Lesley Hall, Paul March-Russell

What has changed since last Worldcon in UK 2005? The recession made life difficult for publishers, and at the same time there was an explosion of new authors. Book chains have gone down and mainstream publishers went down, giving room for small SF/F publishers and ebooks. Thus, the field has not narrowed. The diversity has increased, since Britain now is very diverse. Labelling of books can be narrowing, e g New Weird, but booksellers need the labels.

What is impressing? Chris Beckett, especially his short story collection that has a cross-over appeal and has been praised by the general public.

The community, fandom, has been good but nobody else hears the discussions. The market listens to cultural assessments. Dr Who fans might come to cons and see the novels, but there is a marginal overlap between visual and literature readers. Still it is extraordinary that people read as much as they do. They read on iPhones which are always there. People still want a story.

Academia’s reception of sf has possibly improved slightly. It is possible to get support for conventions and loads of students want to do research in the field.

The Canon is Dead. What Now?

Kate Nepveu (M), Connie Willis, Joe Monti, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Chris Beckett

Kate Nepveu (M), Connie Willis, Joe Monti, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Chris Beckett

Like in the discussion of Genre History, most panellists had their own canons. Thus Chris Beckett had read sf from the 60s onward, and found most of it in his dad’s shelf. Connie Willis defended the general canon and at Clarion she told the members 50 classic sf stories they should read. One reason is that she does not want to read stories with an excellent idea that she has to confess was used already by Bradbury. Another reason is that some gimmicks should not be used again, and a third that the old stories really are good. An example of a book that suffers from lack of knowledge of the sf canon is John Updike’s Toward the End of Time.

Beckett considered it to be optional for the reader to know the old works, but many in the panel found a pleasure in finding influences and dialogues with older books. Thus Stross’ Saturn’s Children is in dialogue with Asimov’s robot stories (and Heinlein’s Friday), Ancillary Justice reminds of The Left Hand of Darkness, and The Dark Material is a response to the Narnia books. Have Spacesuit Will Travel is a parody of earlier space operas. For a canon of short sf the panel recommended The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, and Connie Willis lists her favourites on her blog.

We Can Rebuild You

Neil Clarke, Cherry Potts (M), Marieke Nijkamp, Tore Høie, Helen McCarthy

Neil Clarke, Cherry Potts (M), Marieke Nijkamp, Tore Høie, Helen McCarthy

This interesting panel raised more questions than it answered. SF usually does not represent disabled people, and the question is to what extent disabilities should be “cured”. This might just be a convenient way to tidy up. Aging can be seen as a disability whereas post-traumatic shock during World War I was not considered as such. Upgrades can be both from disabled and from “normal”, to superhuman.

Health records at hospitals and from implants can be misused if the security is incomplete, and leak to employers and insurance companies. Although security in hospitals is not a priority area it was felt that the benefits outweigh the problems and some privacy has to be sacrificed.

Two books on disabilities and prejudices: Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark where treatment of autism leads to decrease in artistic ability, and Louis McMaster Bujold’s  books where spacers having four arms are subjected to prejudices.

Ian M Banks, Writer and Professional

John Jarrold, Andrew McKie, Ken MacLeod (M), Michelle Hodgson, David Haddock

This panel had been announced to be a discussion of the career and work of the recently deceased GoH, but the panellists mainly related anecdotes from their meetings with him. He was said to have had a slight OCD and was interested in minutiae. He seldom lost the thread and entertained in every sentence. His aim was to entertain strangers. His last work, The Quarry, written before his diagnosis is strangely enough about a man who knows he is dying of cancer.

The Culture was invented as a stage for his characters, and is a society that is really good. He was an atheist and a socialist and in favour of Scottish Independence – “Let England go”. The novels that the panel especially recommended were Use of Weapons, Player of Games, Feersum Endjinn, and Walking on Glass.

I Can’t Do That, Dave: artificial intelligence, imagination, and fear

Tony Ballantyne (M), Tricia Sullivan, Madeline Ashby, Timothy Anderson, Anthony Fucilla

From a robots’ point of view humans are slow meat, but according to Peter Watts the difference is not marked. The brain may still be better for a lot of purposes. Robots that are similar to people are inefficient. AIs are still given information; they cannot pick it up, and are so far less efficient than humans. Still, in the future it may be important to program them that we are special, since it is their definition that is important.

To grant citizenship to AIs is too early. There are still issues with women, aborigines etc. and when it becomes something to consider we have probably moved beyond states and citizenship. A superpact for AIs seems more likely.

Some books that were mentioned: Sarah Zettel’s Fool’s War, where AIs are downloaded into human bodies, Cory Doctorow’s Makers and Charles Stross’ Rule 34.

Interzone and Beyond: British SF magazines of the ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s

Gareth L Powell, Wendy Bradley, David Pringle, Malcolm Edwards, Chris Beckett (M)

Gareth L Powell, Wendy Bradley, David Pringle, Malcolm Edwards, Chris Beckett (M)

At the Eastercon in 1981 there was a profit which traditionally should be used for a party. Instead, the organisers proposed to start an sf magazine. At the same time a group in a London pub had the same idea, and the group of eight together started Interzone in 1982 (for details see link). Extro had started slightly before, but folded. Many authors started in Interzone: Stephen Baxter, Charles Stross, Geoff Ryman, Greg Egan, Chris Beckett, Eric Brown. Beckett was especially thankful for the extensive rejection letters which learnt him a lot. He corresponded with Interzone’s Lee Montgomery who he thought was a man, whereas she thought Chris was a woman.

Powell had no friends who read sf and for him Interzone was proof that there were others reading sf. Bradley considered Interzone to have been a bit depressing and blokey. For many years Pringle was the sole editor, and he told that the contributors mainly were British and not so much from USA and Canada. It tried to revive hard sf, “radical hard sf”, which was taken over by cyberpunk. The circulation was 5 – 6 000. The most gross and discussed story was Brian Aldiss’ Horsemeat.

There are now other outlets, e g online sites where people can read for free. It may be difficult to find the good stuff and there is a need for curated spaces, like ARC magazine and Strange Horizons. Today it is not possible to make a living from a magazine, nor from writing short stories.

London and Other Futures

Simon Ings, Anne Charnok, Dev Agarwal, Helen Pennington, Nick Hubble (M)

From this panel I have noted some books: The early (1885) post-apocalypse After London by Richard Jefferies and John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids with its blind people that has an intertextual connection to Wells’ “In the Country of the Blind”. Ken McLeod’s Intrusion describes an extrapolation of surveillance and Ings’ Headlong takes us to West London. Ballard’s The Flood appears to be set in London. I might add some that I have read recently: Ben Aaronovitch’s The Rivers of London and Chris Wooding’s The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, but there are of course many more.

The Bottom Up: The Fantastical World of Human Waste

This late-night talk was given by Rachel Erickson who among other things works as a guide for tourists to find free toilets in London. This interest has led her to study the history of toilets, and she mentioned e g how urine was collected and used in the Roman Empire. A novel where faeces plays a major role is the satirical The Dark Light Years by Brian Aldiss.

When Genres Collide: Does SF/F have its own form?

Nick Harkaway, Peter Higgins, Amanda Bridgeman, Darlene Marshall, Duncan Lawie (M)

Nick Harkaway, Peter Higgins, Amanda Bridgeman, Darlene Marshall, Duncan Lawie (M)

Marshall writes romance and defines it as describing two people who meet and make a journey to a common destination. The panel considered sf to be more flexible than romance and mainstream, and considered Sense of Wonder to be specific for sf. A recent example is Ancillary Justice, and I fully agree. It makes you see things in a new and different view, and can push boundaries – “I did not expect that”. In general military sf and space opera are narrow and not as open as other sf.

If a story today is not sf it is instead historical: There are no emails, no sms etc. Interaction has become necessary. There is a weird resistance against acknowledging this in literature today. An author as Greg Bear is close to the now and thus to mainstream.

Critical Diversity: Beyond Russ and Delany

Aishwarya Subramanian, Erin Horakova, Andrew Butler (M), Liz Bourke, Fabio Fernandes

Aishwarya Subramanian, Erin Horakova, Andrew Butler (M), Liz Bourke, Fabio Fernandes

Contemporary queer criticism and criticism concerning marginalised groups can be found in writings by Kameron Hurley, Aishwarya Subramanian, Fabio Fernandes , Cheryl Morgan and Maureen Kincaid Speller, at the web sites Strange Horizons and Tor.com and in LA Review of Books.

Science Fact and Science Fiction

David Southwood showed impressive pictures of the comet 67P taken from the probe Rosetta. He also talked about Wells’ War of the Worlds and how the story of Martians in London was a criticism of Brits in Africa and the wiping out of the Tasmanians. He mentioned the radio adaptation by Orson Welles and recommended a musical starring Richard Burton.

When Dan Dare went to Venus in 1950 the planet was known to have a dense, cloudy atmosphere, and the guess then was that it rained and had tropical forests. Sadly, this has turned out be wrong.

I Am The Law

Melinda Snoddgrass, Liz Zitzov, Simon Bradshaw (M), Francis Davey

Bradshaw introduced the subject by distinguishing three historical origins of law: God’s law, the King’s law and the Common law, the latter being based on how judges have decided before. Most law today are constructed by administration. Other “laws” may be just based on shame, like local laws regarding trespassing cows. In sf Bujold is good on law, but her stories are not especially sf. Women decide on family matters and the tax law is judged by men.  Barry Malzberg is said to write about tax law. Another author who writes about law is Max Gladstone, and in Susanna Clarke’s  Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell there is a court in London for magical issues.

Your Atoms, From Star to Star

This popular scientific talk by Jane Greaves was entertaining and dealt with the formation of atoms and how they have been reformed and recycled several times since the Big Bang.

They Do It Differently

Karoliina Leikomaa, Cristina Macia, Ian Watson (M), Fabio Fernandes, Shaun Duke

Karoliina Leikomaa, Cristina Macia, Ian Watson (M), Fabio Fernandes, Shaun Duke

With Karoliina Leikomaa from Finland, Fabio Fernandes from Brazil, Shaun Duke from Florida and Ian Watson originally from UK but now in Spain together with Cristina Macia this panel could cover a couple of national fandoms. Actually the similarities are more surprising than the differences, and many of the problems are the same. In order to get more young participants at the conventions the fee could be zero for all as in Finland or for just those under 26 as in Sweden.

Thomas Olsson, Martin Andersson, Helena Kiel, Margareta Cronholm

Thomas Olsson, Martin Andersson, Helena Kiel, Margareta Cronholm

During the convention we met a lot of fans from various countries, and the bidding tent for the Helsinki in 2017 bid acted as a meeting point for Scandinavians and others. Still the enormous amount of people (8.000) and the large convention site made me miss several Swedish fans who definitely were there. The fast food area did perhaps not serve the most delicious food but it made it possible to meet other fans at lunch.

Chicon 7 / 70th Worldcon

Chicago, Ill., USA, August 30 – September 3, 2012

Cloud Gate in Millennium Park

This was my second Worldcon in Chicago. In 1991, when I attended Chicon 5, I had the impression that Chicago was a dirty and shabby town in great need of refurbishing and rebuilding, and evidently that this had been done. Especially the southern part, the ”Loop”, was much nicer and less intimidating. The first couple of days I spent strolling and sightseeing, alone or together with Carolina and Britt-Louise. We visited the Museum of Contemporary Art which had an interesting exhibition about skyscraper and other urban buildings, went up for a drink and superb view in the restaurant in the 95th floor of Hancock Center, took the train to Andersonville and visited the unexpectedly interesting Swedish-American Museum there. I spent almost a day in the excellent but enormous Art Institute of Chicago. A retrospective exhibition of Roy Lichtenstein caused me to upend my view of this artist whom I had previously considered unimaginative and dull.

My mirror image in the Cloud Gate

Britt-Louise Viklund and Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf in the Signature room of John Hancock Center

View from Hancock Center

The convention itself was of course impressing, with somewhere between 5 000 and 6 000 participants. I enjoyed many programme items, and will go into detail below. However, there were also some problems. The programme rooms were located in two separate buildings, connected at three levels, and it was really difficult to get to and find the rooms. Especially frustrating was to see that the small room was absolutely full when you finally found it, so that you had to run to the other building to go to another item instead. Most of the time there were at least two interesting programme items to chose from among about twenty in the programme at each time, but the last day was an unfortunate exception. Many panels were obviously directed towards aspiring authors, and when panelists asked the audience if they were writers most raised their hands. This is different from Swedish cons where most fans are just readers.

Unfortunately several programme items that I was interested in were cancelled. Thus the presentation of Dissertations on Fandom and the discussion Where Are the New Fan Historians? could have been interesting, as could some of the papers in the “academic” track like The Development of Fairy Tales.

Philosophy and Science Fiction

Sandra M. Grayson, Deb Geisler, Dale Cozort

There were several panels on Philosophy and SF. One of them had been moved from Saturday to Thursday and was not announced in the Programme Book but only in the programme sheets which were only given to the first who registered. Still, I thought that this might be interesting even if the description talked about Star Trek. The panel consisted of an expert on black SF writers, Sandra M. Grayson, an American SF fan and writer, Dale Cozort, an Australian SF author, Lezli Robyn, and the moderator Deb Geisler, who is an experienced fan and university professor of communication. In the picture an interesting notice can be seen on the wall: Only 50 people are allowed in the room, which would mean the first three rows out of at least twenty. Strange.

There are many philosophical issues that are discussed in SF, but in this panel only two were discussed and they were rather political or possibly ethical, and based on Star Trek. Having a black character in the original Star Trek series was considered revolutionary, but it was also thought that racial issues were handled less well later, and women were considered to be marginalized. The ”prime directive” in Star Trek (that there can be no interference with the internal development of alien civilizations) was seen not to be followed in real life. Thus, portable radios changed the music of Australian aborigines and the decision to ”help and educate” their children resulted in a ”stolen generation”. Much SF deals with the evilness of humans on other planets, e g LeGuin’s ”The Word for World is Forest” and the film Avatar. Enforcing goodness as in A Clockwork Orange is of course a dreadful measure. Much SF also deals with the superiority of humans over robots, e g Asimov’s robot stories, and there are also stories where the robots take over and have humans as slaves.

The ethics of terraforming Mars was discussed. The possibility to study whether there is any kind of life there has apparently been destroyed now since Curiosity was not sterilized before leaving Earth.

SF Scene in Europe

Debora Montanari, Luigi Petruzzelli, Mike Resnick, Barbara G. Tarn

Being a European myself I thought that it might be interesting to listen to this panel. It consisted of the Author GoH Mike Resnick who was also moderator, and three Italians, two authors, Barbara G. Tarn and Debora Montanari, and a publisher, Luigi Petruzzeli. I was surprised and annoyed that no other Europeans had been invited to the panel in spite of the great many countries represented among the preregistered. Mike Resnick had been invited to cons in France, and the Italians talked about the national con in Italy, Italcon, but e g Eurocons were not mentioned at all, nothing was said about SF cons or authors in e g Germany, and about Scandinavia the Italians just said that only thrillers were published. Instead the Italians talked about self-publishing and the importance of having a good illustration on the front-page, and Resnick talked about SF in China. Fortunately only about twenty people listened to the panel.

The Exploration of Gender Roles in Science Fiction

Sara M. Harvey, Graham Sleight, Deirdre Murphy, Paco Ruiz

This is something that I consider SF to be a very good literary form for. The subject was handled by the fantasy author Sara M. Harvey who has a lesbian protagonist in her steampunk novels, Deirdre M. Murphy who has transgender characters in her speculative fiction, and the Spanish author Paco Ruiz. The moderator was Graham Sleight who writes a column in Locus and edits Foundation. The panel started by listing novels where gender roles are treated: Virginia Wolf’s Orlando, which is a mixture of fantasy and SF, LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness where there is a convergence of male and female, and Brave New World where sex and reproduction are disconnected.

It freaks readers out when they don’t know the gender. One example is Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, where ”she” is used for all persons, and ”he” is used for someone you are attracted to. We learn at a very young age what a boy is and what a girl is. This is discussed in the short story ”Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation by K. N. Sirsi and Sandra Botkin” by Raphael Carter which can be found in the second Tiptree anthology.

One of the panelists had heard a teenage boy saying that the girls are ”dumbing down”. In Sweden I think it is more the boys who have this negative attitude towards learning.

It is socially acceptable for girls to play and dress as boys, but not vice versa. Boy things are ”better”, it is allowed to go up the ladder. Now there are quite many books with girl characters, e g in The Hunger Games. Dressing boys as girls was normal in the 17th century, and even up to the 1930’s boys could be dressed in girl dresses.

A few other works of interest were mentioned. In Asimov’s The Gods Themselves there are three sexes, and Sheri S. Tepper has written about cities with only females and men outside the cities. In Tiptree’s ”The Screwfly Solution” the men murder the women, and the construction of gender is treated in Michael Blumlein’s ”Brains of Rats”. Roz Kaveney’s Rhapsody of Blood – Rituals was also mentioned.

In society male homosexuals are more visible than female ones. It is quite ”normal” for women to go hand in hand. However, lesbians are two steps from the norm (the male) and thus less ”normal” than male homosexuals.

A small child in the audience asked his parents every second ”Can we go now?”. Since it was past ten in the evening that sounded like a good idea. The question was of course very disturbing for the rest of the audience but I mainly felt sorry for this abused child.

Are you a Dickhead?

Jonathan Vos Post, Guy Gillian, Tom Doyle, Bradford Lyau, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

This panel consisted of Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, who has coauthored a novel with Robert Silverberg, When the Blue Shift Comes, Bradford Lyau, who has been a Dick-fan since he was a teenager and has written his Ph D thesis on French SF, the fan Guy Gillian, the scientist and sf author Jonathan Vos Post, and Tom Doyle as moderator.

Why is Dick so interesting, with at least eight films based on his stories? It is easy to read in whatever you want, they are Kafkaesque, Dick is humane, i e he writes about what it is to be human and asks what we can do for each other. Dick looks at the present whereas Heinlein extrapolated. Another reason may be that he already is popular, which results in a demand for more. There is also a lot of humor in his texts, especially in the early works, e g “Beyond Lies the Wub”, and the later books as e g Valis are concerned with religion.

Books that were specially recommended included The Martian Time-Slip, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Ubik (a terrific thriller) and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which deals with empathy exploration and how humans become machine-like.

The Bob and Connie Show

As expected it was very entertaining to listen to Robert Silverberg and Connie Willis talk about various things, mainly SF conventions, but also literature. Harriet Becher Stowe, author of Oncle Tom’s Cabin and neighbour of Mark Twain alias Samuel Clemens and the English author Wyndham Lewis were considered to be unappreciated. Ivy Compton-Burnett was also recommended. Among his own works Silverberg considered the historical novel Lord of Darkness to be too little read. He had got stuck in the middle when writing Tower of Glass, but Barry Malzberg called and just told him to write on. Which he did.

The Art of Writing Effective Book Reviews

There should have been five panelists but only Sarah Stegall (www.munchkyn.com) and Doug Fratz (SF Site) showed up. A good review should be balanced, and it should be considered that a book rarely is perfect. How does the work fit in the work of this author, and in the rest of the field? To know the field is important as can be seen when mainstream reviewers wrote about The Road without mentioning e g Zelazny’s Damnation Alley. Spoilers should be avoided but may be allowed for the first third of the book. Sometimes the story turns upside down in the end, which makes it difficult to present in a review. Doug Fratz tells that he reviews from a scientific point of view, and considers five elements in literature according to Frost: Character, setting, plot, style, and theme. The plot can actually take place inside a mind, as in Shirley Jackson’s novels. The setting is special for SF where it can vary enormously. In Dune and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy the setting is the main thing. After a discussion of these five elements it is important to consider if the story “works”, and for that you have to use your gut feeling, and then consider why or why not. Did the book fulfill the expectations, and which were they? The expectations may be unconscious, e g in stories about alternate universes.

In literary critic the plot may be discussed more freely, and it is important to relate the work to other works by the author and the genre as a whole. According to Damon Knight the plot can be an “idiot plot”, being of the first order if the hero must be an idiot or second order if everybody except the hero are stupid.

Reviews of SF and fantasy books used to be found in newspapers, but today they should be sought in magazines like Asimov’s, Analog, Locus, Interzone, NY Review of SF, SF Review, and websites.

Jo Walton Reading

Jo Walton

Jo Walton read from her latest book, Turnover, which is about a generation star ship and the name comes from the point where acceleration is changed to retardation when half the journey is done. After that I asked her if she was willing to be Guest of Honor at the convention “Fantastika” in Stockholm in October 2013, and she made me very happy by accepting this.

Filling the Magazines

Stanley Schmidt, Jason Sizemore, Ellen Datlow, Gordon van Gelder, John Joseph Adams

This panel was moderated by Ellen Datlow. John Joseph Adams is editor of the online magazine Lightspeed, which can be read for free and also sells books. New authors are told to rewrite if their submissions are not acceptable. Lightspeed also publishes reprint. Jason Sizemore is the publisher of another free online magazine, Apex Magazine. Stanley Schmidt has been editor of Analog for many years. He edits it for himself, i e he choses stories that he likes. He thinks of himself as a matchmaker between author and reader. Later during the convention we learned that he now retires from the job as editor. The other paper magazine editor in the panel was Gordon van Gelder of F&SF. He says that an ideal issue contains at least one story that is ideal for each reader, but that different stories are ideal for different readers.

Evil in Lovecraft and Tolkien

Philip Kaveny, Jan Bogstad

This was announced as a paper by Philip Kaveny, but in the presentation he was assisted by Jan Bogstad. The paper discussed similarities between these two writers. They have both been reinterpreted, Lovecraft by Derleth and Tolkien by his son Christopher. Both authors were heavily influenced by World War I. Mordor represents Somme, where a folkloristic landscape is destroyed. Both were outsiders who lost their fathers early, and both have written essays on fantasy.

Carolyn Ives Gilman Reading

Carolyn Ives Gilman

Before reading Carolyn Ives Gilman told us that the room we were in, DuSable, was named after the founder of Chicago. She is a historian by profession, and she read from the book Isles of the Forsaken, which has a sequel, Ison of the Isles.

Looking Back 70 Years in Fandom

Dave Kyle, John L. Coker, III, Peggy Rae Sapienza

Impressive! John L. Coker, III, talked with Dave Kyle and Peggy Rae Sapienza about US fandom in the 40’s and 50’s. Chicon 1 in 1940 was Worldcon 2, and we were told lots of anecdotes from these early events. Fans from Denver rode under train-cars since they could not afford a ticket. The second worldcon was less political than the first, where several fans had been excluded. The number of participants was 128, of which 22 came in costume, thus starting the tradition of masquerades at the cons. Contacts were established with British fandom via contacts between Ted Carnell and Forrest J Ackerman.

Last Man Standing: Frederik Pohl

Edward James, Elizabeth Anne Hull, Robert Silverberg, Joan Slonczewski, Jim Frenkel

This appreciation of the 92 years old Pohl was a panel with his wife Elizabeth (Betty) Anne Hull, who is also a retired professor and SF expert and editor, the editor at Tor books Jim Frenkel, the SF author Joan Slonczewski, the expert on SF and fantasy Edward James, and Robert Silverberg. Fred proposed to Betty in an ad in Locus. They share an interest in geology that they have practised during their journeys. A manuscript had the title Complexities of Coupled Faults but Jim Frenkel told him that this was too long and would overshadow his name, so it was renamed The Voices of Heaven. Pohl insisted on the title The Space Merchants since it has a connection to the room rents on Madison Avenue at the time. This is a satire, as is also Gladiator-at-Law, both written with Cyril M. Kornbluth. According to Jim Frenkel “The Gold at the Starbow’s End” and “The Mayor of Mare Tranq” are about Jack Williamson. The panel named same favourites, Gateway, The Years of the City, and “Day Million”. In “The Age of the Pussyfoot” Pohl predicted pocket computers.

Why Fantasy Dominates Science Fiction

Scott Lynch, Farah Mendlesohn, Ty Franck, Daniel Abraham, Valerie Estelle Frankel

The panel consisted of fantasy author and Elizabeth Bear’s boyfriend Scott Lynch, “SF fan who writes about fantasy” Farah Mendlesohn, authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck who as James S. A. Corey has written the Hugo-nominated novel Leviathan Wakes, and the moderator Valerie Estelle Frankel who has written books about fantasy, e g Harry Potter. Farah Mendlesohn had some very interesting things to say about why fantasy has come to dominate the market, a change that was most marked in the 80’s and 90’s. The SF became more sophisticated, less accessible, and relied more on intertextuality as seen in e g the works of Banks. At least in Britain science education in schools has not kept abreast with the scientific development. Fantasy relies on science from before 1900, whereas modern SF relies on modern physics that the readers cannot relate to. You have to convince in the story, and according to Farah that is why she thinks Never Let Me Go failed (which I don’t agree with). There is also a role model problem; scientists are not cool any longer.

High fantasy has entered the public mind and is seen on bestseller lists. Lynch admits that a blurb by George R. R. Martin on his books has helped. Fantasy learned to write series before SF started to do that. There were also many good history books published in the 90’s, like Longitude, which might have started many fantasy books.

A negative attitude towards science and technology is seen in much SF for kids, which is not written by SF authors. In the shape of being environmentalist they are actually pagan, and do not accept that earth never was a “natural” planet. Fear of science is also apparent in many technothrillers, like those by Michael Crichton.

A statement by Paul Kincaid was cited, that I think is very relevant and apt: SF is an attitude.

The Secret History of Science Fiction

George R. R. Martin, Mike Resnick, Joe Haldeman, Robert Silverberg

This panel had some outstanding names: Mike Resnick, Robert Silverberg, Joe Haldeman, George R. R. Martin and the late-coming Gardner Dozois. We were thoroughly entertained by the stories from various conventions, but afterwards I had to admit that most of the jokes were either sexist or about alcohol. I don’t think SF was mentioned.

Science Fiction in China

Ruhan Zhao, Yan Wu, Jan Bogstad, Emily Jiang

A math teacher living in USA since 1999, Rhuan Zhao, the chairman of the Chinese SF Association, Yan Wu, a US citizen of Chinese descent, Emily Jiang, and Jan Bogstad who translates SF from Chinese to English, talked about SF in China. It was considered to be chilren’s literature before the Cultural Revolution when it was condemned, but now it is growing under the watchword “march to science”. The turning point was in ’89 when “market socialism” started. The major SF magazine in China is Science Fiction World. Young authors, Yao Wang and Qiufan Chen, have been translated by Ken Liu and published in Clarkesworld Magazine on the net.

Medical Myths and Errors Perpetuated by Genre Writers

C. D. Covington, Lisa C. Freitag, Susan Silverton, Henry G. Stratmann, Brad Aiken

In view of my former profession as a teacher of medical students I thought that this discussion could be interesting. The panel consisted of the Analog author and M D Brad Aiken, the author, cardiologist and researcher Henry G. Stratmann, the endocrinologist, university administrator (“the dark side”) and SF author Susan Silverton (Fern as author), the pharmacist and unpublished author C. D. Covington, and as moderator the lapsed doctor and Ph D student of ethics Lisa Freitag. They started with the effects of head injuries which, especially in films, seldom are as dramatic as in real life. For sepsis it is not enough to chew on a few leaves, and a flat line in EKG is most caused by an electrode that has got off the body. Restoring atmosphere does not repair hematomas as in Total Recall. Actually, reoxygenation causes more problems than anoxia per se. Emptying your lungs before being in a vacuum only very marginally decreases the hazard. Since many in the audience were aspiring authors the panel gave some advice on where to find facts: Pubmed, Wikipedia and Merck Manual.

Surprisingly, a panel with the same title and description was scheduled later in the same day. The panel was completely different, and since I did not go there I do not know if this is a printing mistake or if they actually talked about the same things there.

Collaborations

Charles Stross, Eric Flint

According to the daily newsletter, The Right Stuff, the number of memberships sold was 5019. This is of course impressing, but not when it is compared with the 52 000 attending Dragon*Con that took place at the same time in Atlanta, Georgia. Some of the programme items at Chicon were run together with Dragon*Con, with an internet link, and one of those was Collaborations. In Chicago the panel consisted of Charles Stross and Eric Flint, and in Atlanta sat fantasy novelist and illustrator Janny Wurts, NASA scientist Les Johnson and as moderator SF writer Jody Lynn Nye. All had some experience of collaborations, and we heard that in every collaboration each author has to do two thirds of the job. Question that has to be settled are who is in charge and who does the copy-editing. Collaboration via the internet may change storytelling back to the oral tradition that was not solitary. Technically the internet link between Chicago and Atlanta worked wonderfully with only the occasional pixelation of the picture.

The Future Evolution of the Short Story

Mike Rimar, Barbara Galler-Smith, Ellen Datlow, Eileen Gunn, Donald J. Bingle

Authors Donald J. Bingle and Mike Rimar, author and editor (OnSpec) Barbara Galler-Smith, and editor and moderator Ellen Datlow, discussed short stories. They considered them as training grounds and to be read (or listened to) by commuters. A problem they saw was how to make money by publishing on-line. Big books sell better. “Only short story writers read short stories”. This all sounded bad since I like reading short stories and consider them to be at the core of SF but not of fantasy.

Victorian and Edwardian Science Fiction

Matthew Bernardo, DDavid Malki, Randy Smith

Fan Matthew Bernardo and rev. Randy Smith who edits an anthology talked with the moderator David Malki. When “real” SF started with Frankenstein in 1818 there were also proto-SF like that by Cyrano de Bergerac. Examples of early 20th century SF are the detective stories collected in William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost Finder and the anthology The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. The character Craig Kennedy, created by Arthur B. Reeve, is also on the borderline between SF and detective stories.

Early SF can be found in Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archives. Sam Moskowitz collected some in SF by Gaslight, and much can be found in Hearst Magazines from 1880’s and 1890’s. Some social commentators were E. M. Forster who wrote about an internet-like technology, Samuel Butler (Erehwon) and H. G. Wells. Other examples of early SF are Jules Verne’s Robur the Conqueror, Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and its sequel Easy as ABC that is not as good), Jack London’s The Star Rover, Abbott’s Flatland, and stories by Stevenson, Conan Doyle (Dr Challenger), Mark Twain (time travel) and Poe. In The Inheritors Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford collaborated on a story based on the fourth dimension. George Griffith wrote many early SF stories before 1900, e g The Angel of the Revolution, its sequel Olga Romanova, and the Dr Who-ish Honeymoon in Space. Sinclair Lewis’ Arrowsmith may be called medical SF and his It Can’t Happen Here political SF. Edison’s Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss is an example of early (1898) adventure SF with rayguns, space suits and epic space battles, and William N. Harben’s The Land of the Changing Sun is a classic hollow-earth story.

Getting it Right: Religions

Leigh Ann Hildebrand, Teresa Frohock, P. C. Hodgell, Kameron Hurley, Petréa Mitchell, Guy Consolmagno

This panel, led by moderator P. C. Hodgell, consisted of Leigh Ann Hildebrand who does religion all the time in her theological Ph D studies on “lived religion”, i e what individuals actually do, author Teresa Frohock who has studied many religions and incorporates it in her books, e g Miserere, Kameron Hurley who remixes and reimagines religions in Nebula-nominated God’s War, Pétrea Mitchell, interested in human-computer interactions, and Brother Guy Consolmagno who has written about religion among scientists (God’s Mechanics). The latter wondered who else would carry out all that religion does today, like initiation rituals, marriage, burials etc. (My answer would of course be that that is no problem whatsoever, they can be skipped or performed without religion.)

It “costs” to have a religion and as author you have to show why it is there. You also have to consider if your own religion affects the story. Subconsciously incorporated expressions may show if you are protestant or catholic. You have to challenge your own biases and listen to people, how religion impacts your daily life, and you must not preach your own religion in your books. SF authors tend to treat religion as engineering. In anime there are lots of religious symbols that we do not understand. We do probably the same but we do not see it.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is negative towards religion, Bujold’s work is semireligious and Sheri S. Tepper’s Grass is about religion.

Incorporating the Personal into Speculative Fiction

Gwynne Garfinkle, Cat Rambo, Nick Mamatas, William Shunn, Inanna Arthen/Vyrdolak

Cat Rambo moderated fellow authors Nick Mamatas, Gwynne Garfinkle, Inanna Arthen/Vyrdolak, and William Shunn. Nothing sensational came out of this discussion. Personal experience is important and often the basis for what is written, and even SF stories are often just rewritings of present events but with a new slant. The characters have to be human enough for the reader to be able to relate. Some real life events seem completely unbelievable; they then have to be excluded or rewritten.

Myth and Religion in SF&F

Sara M. Harvey, Brenda Sinclair Sutton, Bradford Lyau, P. C. Hodgell, Martin Berman-Gorvine

Rev. Brenda Sinclair Sutton, author of books about SF Bradford Lyau, costume historian and author Sara M. Harvey, and fantasy author P. C. Hodgell were moderated by author Martin Berman-Gorvine. The latter has written 36, where a future religion is similar to the manicheism of the middle ages. Other examples mentioned were Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Nine Billion Names of God” and “The Star”, and Blish’s A Case of Conscience. It was considered that there is no limit between religion and myth, since at the time it was all true. Someone else said that “myth is false on the outside but true on the inside”. Literalism is often the cause of fundamentalism. There are two different creation myths in the Bible, making it impossible to take it literally. Other examples of books and authors doing a good job of treating myths and religion are Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, Lois McMater Bujold, Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, Orson Scott Card, Charles de Lint, and Katherine Kurtz. Robert Charles Wilson’s Mysterium is interesting since in it a gnostic version of Christianity won out in a parallel world.

Magic Realism vs. Traditional Fantasy

Lillian Cauldwell, Cat Rambo, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Nick Mamatas, Kat Richardson

Urban fantasy author Kat Richardson moderated this panel consisting of author Nick Mamata, who also edits Japanese magic realism in the Latin American mode, Dutch horror author Thomas Olde Heuvelt, author Cat Rambo, and author of multicultural magic realism Lillian Cauldwell. The panel had problems defining magic realism, stressing that it should have an element of surprise and wonder, “out there”, or that it is a species of realism that for political reasons has not been able to treat certain phenomena in reality, or that the magical is perceived as a normal thing. Ambiguity is a pleasure of magic realism. A way to indicate the difference is of course to list a few examples. García Márquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi are magic realism whereas the Ring trilogy and T. H. White’s Arthurian books are fantasy. Magic realism may work as a bridge between consciousness and unconsciousness. The session was briefly visited by Bruce Taylor who calls himself Mr. Magic Realism and has a website promoting his view if the genre.

Erle Korshak

In addition to all the scheduled programme items there were a lot of other events going on. I saw that the children were well provided in a special room and also had their own programme, ChiKidz. In a Con Suite we were all welcome to have free bread with peanut butter, salad, fruits and cans of soft drinks, and in the gigantic Concourse there were lots of stalls selling books and fan-related merchandise, as well as memberships to other cons. I sat for two hours at the site selection table, where votes were collected for the only announced bid for Worldcon 2014 (Loncon 3). The Art Show was as usual filled with fairly well done but too cliché illustrations. The exception were those by Youchan even if they were somewhat childish. The Opening Ceremony was performed as a talk show with host John Scalzi, and I was most impressed by Erle Korshak who had cochaired the first Chicon in 1940. The entertaining John Scalzi also presented the Hugo Awards (except when he was himself nominated). In that ceremony there was also an in memoriam of the fans who had died since the last Worldcon, and two Swedes were mentioned, Christoffer Schander and Arne Sjögren.

Of course there was a lot of socialising too, and various constellations of fans went out to dinner. Thus I met another old fan, Gabriel Setterborg and his wife Elisabet, Anders Hedenlund and his daughter Alice, Sten Thaning and Dessy, Tommy Persson, Michael Pargman, Urban Gunnarsson, Erik Fornander, Thomas Recktenwald from Germany, Peter de Weerdt from Belgium, Herman Ellingsen from Norway, Eemeli Aro from Finland, Flemming Rasch from Denmark and several others in addition to Carolina and Britt-Louise.

Peter de Weerdt, Tommy Persson

Alice Hedenlund and The Carrot Cake

Anders Hedenlund continuing on The Carrot Cake, Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf


Swecon i Stockholm 15-17 juni

Worldcon 75, Helsingfors 2017