Sunday, 24 August 2014

My first Worldcon

This years Worldcon, the 72th, was set in London, UK. It was a five day con, from august 14th to augusti 18th with over 10 000 memberships sold, rougly less actually attending but still making this the biggest worldcon to this day. The Swedish fans were about 100 people or somewhat more, I think. 

The convention took place in ExCel, a really big conference center that served as the perfect location with its fresh fascilities, handicap access, auditorium and capital lounges. It never seemed too crowded to me, or that the air was to stale or that it was too hot. The fact that it was a bit outside of central London wasn't a problem as it was easy to get there by train. And noone was really there to do sightseeing anyway, right? ;)

The guests of honour were Iain M Banks (in Memoriam), John Clute, Malcolm Edwards, Chris Foss, Jeanne Gomoll, Robin Hobb, Bryan Talbot. Also attending were authors like Scott Lynch and Elizabeth Bear, Connie Willis, George RR Martin, Audrey Niffenegger, Jo Walton, Ken MacCleod. I was really excited about Connie Willis, and if you read swedish you can probably read my reviews of Blackout and All Clear and understand why she's one of the absolut best, according to me.

To my disapointment I never saw any of her panels, mostly because they were so popular that in order for you to see them, you had to queue for half an hour or more. 

The Highlights
Many of the panels touched on the subject of the fact that science and technology is progressing in a speed that makes science fiction seem dated much sooner than before. In other words, we already live in a science fiction world. This is a big challenge for science fiction authors, trying to think ahead and imagine the future or scientific progress that isn't there yet. Charles Stross is one of the science fiction authors who struggle with this, and at one of the panels he desperately cried out something along the lines of "I'm writing as fast as I can, but still by the time I'm finished with a book, there's some smart guy who developed the techique I wrote about."

Charlie Stross
"LOL-cats in space" with Charles Stross, Andrea Phillips, Adam Roberts and Jean Johnson (moderator) was one fun panel about social media, humour and SF narratives, and how the zombie invasion is already here with everybody looking down at smartphones, not really interaction with others unless online. Adam Roberts thought that the online communitys has done wonders for shy people, and can be seen as a feature instead of a bad thing. They talked about they way we use social media in stories, how you tackle the mob on the internet (or not). 

The challenges of science fiction today is somewhat similar to those of contemporary fantasy, or urban fantasy as we call it. At the panel "The Fantastic Now" the authors Kelley Armstrong and C E Murphy talked about how they handle dealing with supernatural creatures in a world where everyone is online, everything can be seen on youtube, everyone needs ID:s, passports and identification to travel and credit cards to buy things. How do you handle the werewolf transformation in this online reality and still keep them a mystery? How do you handle the fact that vampires live on forever, never aging, without raising eyebrows when you go to renew your drivers licence? CE Murphys explained that her googling about "How do you defeat face recognition at airport" might have gotten her name on a list somewhere. ;) "The fun thing about contemporary fantasy is to ask yourself how your supernatural characters get away with stuff", says Kelley Armstrong. I think that mirrors my idea of why I read it. How do the supes adapt in our modern world? 

Another memorable panel was "The Retrofuturism of JJ Abrams" with Pawel Frelik, Erin M Underwood, Ashley Pollard, Sorcha Ni Fhlainn and moderator Val Nolan. The panel had some problem agreeing on what retrofuturism is, and also a bit of a strange moment where Ashley demanded proof of statistics that wasn't ment to be precise but an example, but otherwise it was good. We all got into some of JJ Abrams series and talked about Fringe, Almost Human and other shows. And of course Star Trek. The panel seemed to agree on JJ being great at creating mysteries, but not very retrofuturistic. For example, Fringe can be seen as a remake of X-files, which actually was a remake of Twilight Zone. The remaking in it self doesn't make it retrofuturistic, using tropes from yesterdays visions of tomorrow does.

A little later on, I went to "Into every generation, a Captain Kirk is born", a panel about remakes that actually made a lot of intresting points about how next generation might consider JJ Abrams Star Trek a more truer version of Star Trek, in the same way we today view the next generation of Dr Who as "The Dr Who". Almost noone has seen the original series. Some question arised as to how icon the original Star Trek show is, and if that makes the remakes and reboots be the secondary versions.

One of the young adult panels was "Killing your parents" were I had a great laugh when YA-writer Sarah McDougal was talking about Harry Potter. She was abhorred about the fact that all the adults were so irresponsible. "He's eleven years old and you're leaving him to deal with really dangerous situations?! The only way to maintain the idea that parents can be good is to kill them." The orphan trope is well used in YA-literature today, and not without reason it seems. 

Another great panelist was the historian Gillian Polack, whom I listened to in many panels, the most memorable being "How To Read Safely in a Science Fictional Universe: Coping With Time Travel Narratives" (one of the best one, actually). She said that historians can only tell you what they think happen, for them to know they would'd have to had been there. As an historian she would love go back and study the past, but it would probably be somewhat tedious as there didn't happen as much as you would think. That's why someone on the panel suggested ”that's why we have to send the graduates!” There were some really interesting moments were they discussed paradoxes and the alternative realitys that follow, and how you solve the paradox problem. (Time Travel-narratives are the bestest.)

Kari Sperring
On several other panels, I listened to another historian and writer named Kari Sperring. She really got my attention with her knowledge and enthusiasm about women in history. On one hand she's writing historical fiction and on the other hand historical fantasy. I have to get a hold of some of her books! In the panel ""Your 'realistic' fantasy is a washed out colourless emptiness compared to the Rabelaisian reality.” Discuss". she went on to debunk some of the myths about women in 12th century, like how celtic women are portraited as adorned, independent, strong women in all of fiction (thank you for this misconception, Marion Zimmer Bradley) when the fact is that celtic women were no more their own being than the cattle that the men owned. And at the same time, in Egypt, women could get a divorce from her husband and move up the social ladder.

Also, Kari recommended Katharine Kerr books, and since I love Kerr, I was immediately inclined to like her as well. 

One of the best panels was ”The deeper the roots, the stronger the tree” which discussed the roots of modern science fiction and fantasy, and the ongoing appeal of authors such as Jane Austen, Arthur Conan Doyle, and what it is about them that lends itself to genrefication (love that word).

Mary Robinette Kowal was on that panel alongside Kari Sperring, and she was another ”Wow, I have to read her books!”-person. I think Maria Nygård's description of her as a one-liner machine was spot on, she really said some funny things. "They are wearing their underwear (corsets) on their clothes, they're like superman!" and "It's no accident the age of enlightenment came when the tea culture came to Europe. People went from drunk to highly caffeinated."

But on top of that, she also really knows her stuff, especially about Jane Austen (and you cannot do anything but love a Janeite) she quickly and very politely corrected Zen Cho who argued that she would have loved for Jane Austen to have taken a stand against such things as slavery in her time. Mary quickly explained about how Austen through subtle remarks make – for that time – good critic of the slave market as such and the ones dealing with it. It may be said that reading her literature as a 21th century person, the subtle remarks can sometimes be too subtle and not be understood in our time and age (she took the example in Mansfield Park with the way she portraited Mr Sir Thomas Bertram.)

The panel "Imagining resistance" was a good one. Moderated by Jeff VanderMeer, with authors like Robert Jackson Bennett, Pat Cadigan, Daryl Gregory and the psychiatrist Sarita Robinson. It brought up the really hard issues and what writers don't want to write about, childabuse and rape being the first mentioned. The panel came to the conclusion that there are certain places we just don't go to, issues has a tendency to censor themselves. We can go on and on about a fighting scene, we can describe in great details how people are being tortured, but we cannot describe sexscenes with any great detail. And why is that? Noone knows. But RJB wants to write a book where he deals with violence as we deal with it in reality, where people become these damaged persons, never getting the revenge of the perpetraitor. Violence is often glorified and used as a means of character growth. RJB also adresses the issue of authors who are making a point about something. He brought up the example of an essay by Neil Gaiman that describes the first time Gaiman realised that CS Lewis is making a point about christianity. Pat fills in that there is a great difference between advancing the plot and advancing the authors point, and some authors fail greatly at learning this difference.

Patrick Rothfuss and gang
Last but not least, I really really liked "These are not the elves your looking for", the trope-panel, mostly because of Patrick Rothfuss and his description of how he likes to take a trope, break it apart and put it together in a different way. He talked a lot about anticipation and overthrowing peoples anticipation, using his kid as an example. The first trope he introduced the kid to was "one, two, three" *raises the kid up on three* and he showed us the imaginary kid bouncing in his lap. He explained about how at first, there where no anticipation, the second time the kid started to get the idea that on "three" he was going to have fun. Then Pat changed the trope and raised him up on "four". Not so fun, thought Pat Jr, 'cause then he wasn't prepared for that to happen. It wasn't what he wanted. (Really, this was the most hilarious thing to watch). Patrick talked about Buffy as being a good example of how you can gradually show people how tropes work and how you can take them apart. The way Whedon builts up the show is that he slowly introduces the strong female characters, not making a point about it, and before you know it you are loving this show that has all these exceptional women like Buffy, Willow and Arya, and where the main guy Xander is the "token" man. Wonderfully done. Now I have to read Wise Man's Fear.

All in all, the panels had great diversity, and almost all the panels I saw mostly consisted of women (so, yeah! good job guys!), the moderators were good, the audience asked good questions, the seats for access at the front was available (since I'm hard of hearing, I always sit in the front).

I also went to The Hugo Ceremoni and the PEN-lecture by Audrey Niffenegger. Audrey was a great speaker and as the first to do the PEN-lecture in the spirit of H.G. Wells, she talked about what his work had meant to her. The speach can be found somewhere on the internetz, I hope. Oh, and she's working on a sequel to The Time Travelers Wife! YAY!
As you can see, we got *great* seats.

The Hugo Ceremoni was a great show to watch (and as you can see, we got great seats... ehum) with funny moments like when Cory Doctorow accepted the award for best graphic story on behalf of Randall Munroe (XKCD)... in superhero costume. It was built up to be kind of like the Oscars, and the celebrity crowd consisted of people like George RR Martin, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, David Tennant (!!!), and so on and so forth. It was really glamourous and fun.

Ann Leckie won the hugo for best novel (Ancillary Justice), to noones surprise, and John Scalzi tweeted that the only sad thing about it winning is that his blurb was going to be crowded off the cover by ALL THE AWARDS IT WON. (LOL)

If you want to rewatch it, here's a link.

The Parties a.k.a. ”It seems like the whole party came early to help set up for the party.”

The evenings mostly circled around the Fan Village, or more precise: The Helsinki Telt. Which for one night served as the Scandinavian tent, and for another night as the Archipelacon tent. As you can see, here is a nice finnish fan with the infamously dangerous swan Archie.

I spent my time making new friends (mostly Finns), and I even ended up sort of being adopted by one nice lady (Whom thought she was old enough to be my mother. She really wasn't.) Me and another finnish woman named Nina discussed weird food. Or she thought dillcrisp sounded weird, and I thought she didn't have a say in the weird-food department since the Finns drink tar soda. (?!). 

The punster; David Weingart
I got tips on how to write from the swedish author Kristina Hård, had an quote-war on twitter with David Weingart (who as it turned out, is also working in the committee for next years worldcon Sasquan, and also is a very good filk-musician, you can find his stuff on youtube here). 

One night I helped out at the Scandinavian party where I served the really awful swedish ”delicacy” schnaps, making sure everybody knew that ”THIS STUFF IS REALLY AWFUL, but you have to try it all the same!” And people did. And strangely enough, people seemed to like it. Most people seem to have less developed taste buds than me ;) Or maybe they just like strong liquor.

I had a lot of fun talking to an norwegian fan named Tore. We connected talking about social wellfare. He was this smiley pensioner who could pop up from around the corner and say something interesting like explaining about virtue ethics and how this ethic isn't as widely thought about in ethics today as it was in the antiques :) 

The thing about fans is that there are no age differences. Well, physically the ages wary from about 18 to 98, but we all connect on the same level or somewhat same level and understand each other. We all speak the "language of nerds".
Jukka and Mikko, two really agreeable finnish fans, preparing for Dead Dog!

An honourable mention goes to Bellis, one of the swedish (although he is also greek) fans that I've gotten closest to during the years. He came storming in late thursday night after a long flight from Athens. He had been held up at the airport in Copenhagen due to three drops of rain, he proclaimed angrily, and took a cab ride to the hotel just to hurry to meet me. (We were going to have beers at ten pm). It had been so long since we had met, so the first thing we did was share lots and lots of hugs. Great Scott, I'd missed him! He then gave me a present, Virginia Wolf's "Orlando" which he signed for me. Thank you Bellis! 

We met sporadically during the week, mostly in the vicinity of the bar, but one night we went a little crazy and went to the eighties disco (!!!). I watched Bellis dance, do the moon walk, be cheered on by the other dancers. It was beautiful! I actually have the video on my phone. And no, you can't see it. (Unless you pay me a big sum of money, naturally).Later on I managed to shake my booty a little too, in my stiff sort of way. 

"There was a shocking lack of London Pride"
One thing I learned from this trip is that the britts overcook everything. Especially the chicken. It was always dry. Always. No exception. And the hamburger at the bar will be remembered throughout history as the worst hamburger ever. I tried to warn people, some listened, some did not and an awful experience ensued. Horrible horrible hamburger-trauma. Food wasn't that bad in other restaurants like the pizza place and Subway. I didn't really go looking very far for a good restaurant though. Just kept it short - I had better things to do than sit and eat! I ate a lot of Marie-crackers and Estella dillcrisps from Sweden in my hotelroom (had three bags with me, it's my favourite snack). The instant coffee I brought along from Sweden was also a lifesaver, as I didn't manage to find a coffee place serving a decent cup of coffee during the whole week.

The bar in the Fan Village had a shocking lack of London Pride, but as I soon noticed, free London Pride were given out in different places in the Fan Village. This makes for a very drunk Fia, or as I call it - even harder of hearing. (Ask me about this at your peril!)

Of all the embarrasing moments, one that I recall with great clarity is when I got to meet Connie Willis during her signing. I was so starstruck I really didn't know what to say, so I started to babble on about how much I really love her books. As I was talking I noticed how my voice did this highpitched sound at the end of every sentence. I blushed like a school girl and excused myself as soon as she was done signing. To her credit, she was politeness herself and genuinly pleasant to talk to, recommending me to visit S:t Pauls Cathedral in London if I ever go sightseeing. 

One evening in the finnish tent, I started talking to a fellow swedish friend and fan Johan Anglemark and a scottish guy (I can't remember the name, sorry). When I heard that he was scottish I immediately had to explain that I love Scotland, and also name drop Ken McCleod, a scottish sf writer, as being one of my favourite SF-writers. I read ”Night Sessions” in my book circle ages ago and really, really liked it. And then it turned out, that Johan Anglemark and the scottish fan know Ken, and that he was there, and would I like to meet him? I was like.. ”I'm not worthy!”. (Yeah, I got shy.) But Johan dragged me to him (okay, I ran after Johan) and I got to shake Kens hand and talk for a bit.

A little bit later Jukka Halme and we where strolling in the fan village, and I explained to him that I really liked Patrick Rothfuss in the panels. Patrick Rothfuss is the author of ”Wise mans fear” which is really big here in Europe as well as in US. I have not yet read but (of course) plan on doing so. I really liked him in the panels, as he is clever and funny and a Buffy fan like me. Jukka pointed out that Pat (as he calles himself) was in the fan village and asked if I wanted to meet him, but I said no since I really didn't want to bother him as he must be swamped with fans and also, I haven't read his books so I didn't feel worthy. But then the sneaky Jukka stopped, turned around to this guy in a beard and say ”Oh hello Pat, have you met this swedish fan Fia who is really shy but wants to say hello?” Damn you, Jukka. I love you.

Awkwardness ensued, but he was really nice and we had a laugh about being a little drunk. Also, I said hello from my friend Simon who couldn't be there to meet him, but really loves his books. He asked me to thank Simon and to tell him that he was sad he could not be with us. (Simon did not comment on the post I did about this on Facebook, I think he turned into a green eyed monster. ;))

"The Things I Do For Love"
To sum it up, Loncon 3 was about so much more than just meeting your favourite authors and revelling in anglofilia like Dr Who, London dystopias and regency fantasy. It's about meeting friends, new and old, and hang out with the only people in the world who truly understand the side of you that dreams about different worlds, about superheroes and endless wonders. And in the end of the day, when you go back to your hotel room to sleep and dream, it's the memory of those people and the connections you've made that makes you fall asleep with a smile on your face. It's pure love, is what it is.

Me with the fellow swedes Karl-Johan Norén and Martin Andersson
Me and Hanna
Also, if you like this report and want to go to a Worldcon too, you can start by helping Helsinki win the bid for Worldcon in 2017. Trust me, you really want to do this. What YOU have to do is buy a supporting membership to next Worldcon, as only members of next Worldcon can vote for the Worldcon in 2017. Supporting membership is 40 USD which is 276,56 SEK and you get it here

And why should you vote for Helsinki in 2017? Not because of the closeness and the fact that this might be a very rare event that may never come to the nordic countries any time in the next ten years or so (although that weighs in too) but because of the finnish fandom, and the fact that they are awesome people. But it should be empathized that mainly, the worldcon bids are from the US, and that makes it hard for some europeans to attend, and this is going to make it easier for europeans to attend and be able to promote future european worldcon bids. And also, the americans are many, we are few, and they are all going to Sasquan (next worldcon) and they're probably going to vote for Worldcon 2017 to be in Washington DC (the competing bid). There's going to be a tough competition, so EVERY VOTE COUNTS! Make your friends vote, make your neighbours vote, make your family vote! Can cat's vote? If so, make them! 

Let's make it happen!

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