WorldCon 75 in Helsinki

The 75th World Science Fiction Convention took place in Helsinki and seems to have had the second-highest attendance ever: more than 7000 people in the Messukeskus convention centre, 2000 of whom had (like myself) never attended a WorldCon before. There were 250 programme items only on the Friday between 10 am and 10 pm, so there is no way that I’ll be able to tell you everything that went on. (Check out the programme here.) Instead I’ll tell you the bits I enjoyed the most, plus some observations.

The WorldCon crowd was incredibly diverse even if you disregarded the cosplayers. Men and women and trans folks, old and young, white and brown, Western and Eastern and Sikh. Two couples that caught my eye, for instance, were a skinny Japanese guy and a well-favoured black lady who wandered about hand in hand, and a Scandy couple with their baby in a buggy where both parents wore dresses and lipstick but one appeared to shave daily. And the attendees awarded N.K. Jemisin the Hugo for best novel for the second year running. The Puppies movement of 2013–16 that wanted white masculine conservative technocratic Hugo winners, not a bunch of brown-skinned women and gay people, is well and truly an ex-parrot.

Awards that made me particularly happy (because here’s where my candidates won) were Hugos for Ursula Vernon (novelette), Ursula le Guin (related work) and Lois McMaster Bujold (book series). Also, my dear friend Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf won the prestigious Big Heart award for services to fandom, joining the august ranks of for instance Robert Bloch, Andre Norton and Jack Williamson.

The most interesting events I attended were Sonja Virta’s talk about Tove Jansson’s illustrations for The Hobbit, Karoliina Korppoo’s talk about boardgames in Finland, Kevin Roche’s talk about quantum computing and the Hugo prize ceremony.

The funniest events I attended were Lee Moyer’s presentation of weird and ugly book covers, Charles Stross’s reading from his forthcoming Laundry novel The Labyrinth Index (highly satirical – it has Nyarlathotep as main inhabitant of 10 Downing St.), the panel on mistranslations and the panel on Stockholm-Helsinki ferry culture.

My own programme items – a talk about crackpot archaeology in Scandinavia, a panel about Medieval reality vs fantasy, two Q&As about archaeology in the children’s room – all went super well, though the grown-up events could easily have filled much larger rooms than the ones we had been assigned.

I also enjoyed the short film programme, the art show and the socialising. I was lucky: my talk was one of the first events at the convention, so people learned early to recognise my face and several came up to me for a chat. Two of these conversations were particularly surprising.

1) The tall paunchy greybeard whom I didn’t recognise until minutes into the conversation, when I realised that he was an old Tolkien Society buddy that I hadn’t seen in a quarter century, and whom I remembered as a lanky beardless redhead.

2) The friendly Finn who had heard only 20 minutes of my talk before he and many other floor sitters were kicked out because of the fire safety rules, and who found the talk super interesting and wanted to hear more despite himself being a big believer in dowsing and several pretty far-out ideas about archaeological sites.

This was a super big, super rich and super well-organised convention. I found so much to do despite knowing nothing about the guests of honour and despite having no interest in several of the main strands of the programming (notably TV shows, comics, academic lit-crit and how to write fiction). Two years from now the WorldCon will be in Dublin, a city to which you can travel cheaply from Stockholm. I’ve never been to the Republic of Ireland. I’m thinking now that I’d really like to go to the con with my wife and then rent a car to spend a week at small-town B&Bs around the country.

Hiking In Abisko

Abisko national park is in the mountains of extreme northern Sweden, Sámi country, reindeer country, where half of the year is lit by constant sun and the other half is frigid darkness and aurorae.

Getting there takes 17½ hours by train from Stockholm Central. There’s a sleeper train with no changes, so if you only count time when you’re conscious, the trip takes 10 hours. You can fly to Arlanda airport and get right onto this train without making the detour into Stockholm. And the trail head is next to the platform when you get off.

Some friends and I went up hiking over the Mid-summer weekend 22–27 June, spending three nights in Abisko and two on the train. There are many huts and hostels in the area, so none of us brought a tent or a sleeping bag. Only Mårten brought a portable stove – to make espresso.

You don’t actually even need to bring a water bottle. There’s clean water in every stream. We arrived right at the start of the area’s hectic summer, with meltwater rivulets everywhere, innumerable flowers and a bewildering variety of bird calls. Very few mosquitoes bothered us. The treeline is near, so the landscape varies dramatically as your path lifts and dips. With a GPS or map and compass, of course, you needn’t even follow paths. The King’s Trail suffers from erosion, so the less people use it the better.

Check out the Swedish Tourist Association’s mountain hiking site.

Weekend Fun

Edmund de Waal at Artipelag
Edmund de Waal at Artipelag

It’s been a fun weekend! Here’s what I did.

  • Watched Jrette’s dance show, snappy and lively!
  • Inspired by Kate Feluś’s fine recent book Secret Life of the Georgian Garden, I made syllabub (whipped cream with lemon juice & rind, wine, sugar and a dash of grand marnier), and ate it while checking on the (encouraging) progress of our three tiny rose bushes.
  • Logged nine geocaches and failed to find two. One hadn’t been visited in the past nine months and contained no less than three travel bugs that had been languishing there. I brought them along and placed each in a different cache in a far more frequently visited area.
  • Watched the orange rabbit who has taken to munching for hours on the lawn outside our kitchen window, where hares sat a lot last year.
  • Visited the beautiful and beautifully sited art museum Artipelag, viewed a double-feature of Morando, who obsessively depicted pots, and de Waal, who obsessively mass-produces pots. At least Mrs. Rundkvist liked them.
  • Read Albert Sánchez Piñol’s 2012 historical novel Victus about an 18th century military engineer.
  • Played Yggdrasil (failing to prevent the Twilight of the Gods) and Plato 3000.
  • Scrubbed the carved 1970s sign with my surname on it that sits on the street end of the garden shed. It needs oiling.

What did you do, Dear Reader?

Weekend Fun

Space Wale
Space Whale

The past two weekends were a lot of fun.

  • The Royal Technical College’s orchestra and several combined student choirs from Sweden and Finland performed Giuseppe Verdi’s 1874 Requiem, an intricate and operatic farewell to fellow composer Gioachino Rossini and poet Alessandro Manzoni.

    Hallwyl House: carving in the doorway between the ladies' drawing room and the Golden Salon.
    Hallwyl House: carving in the doorway between the ladies’ drawing room and the Golden Salon.
  • Gig with King Khan and the Shrines. Imagine a tall, psychedelic, semi-nude, portly, Canadian Wilson Pickett of Indian extraction belting out soul rock with a band consisting of extremely enthusiastic Germans. First time I’ve seen a horn section playing to a microphone stuck down the front of the lead singer’s hot pants.
  • Played Elfenland and Plato 3000.
  • Watched the 1955 Brando-Simmons-Sinatra-Blaine movie version of the 1950 musical Guys and Dolls. Impressed by Brando, didn’t know he could sing. Ugly sets and boring dialogue though. The reason that we watched it was that Jrette is playing Nicely-Nicely Johnson in an upcoming school production. Made me want to read some Damon Runyon.
  • Gig organised by Undergången with three unsigned Swedish psych acts. Space Whale are four very young and very strong musicians with excellent songs. They really blew me away! Besvärjelsen are a heavier and more metal-oriented quintet that I would really like to hear studio work from. And the Magic Jove trio are basically Cream. Extremely proficient musicians!
  • Hallwyl House: Swedish logging magnate’s daughter marries Swiss count and has some of 1890s Stockholm’s best architects and artists build them a town palace, no expenses spared, which she proceeds to fill with Early Modern art and craft objects. All of this remains in place and is now a museum, large parts of which is free of charge, and which is located a short walk from the Central Station.
King Khan
King Khan

Weekend Fun

One of four grotesque male faces on a 17th century object in the Tre Kronor castle museum. The piece looks like a little baptismal font, but the label says "possibly a kitchen mortar". Neither function seems likely.
One of four grotesque male faces on a 17th century object in the Tre Kronor castle museum. The piece looks like a little baptismal font, but the label says “possibly a kitchen mortar”. Neither function seems likely.
Had some quality fun this past weekend.

  • Dinner at Tbilisis Hörna, a Georgian + Greek + Italian restaurant. Service was slow and unsynched but the food was great. The deep green tarragon soda in a bottle with almost exclusively Georgian script on the labels added to the sense of not being anywhere near Stockholm.
  • Gig at the Globe Arena’s annexe with psychedelic Australian genius Kevin Parker and his band Tame Impala.
  • Chinese banquet cooked by my wife and sis-in-law, to celebrate the end of the Year of the Wooden Goat and the beginning of the Year of the Fire Monkey. I got out my old mini steam engine and oversaw Jrette operating it with her cousins.
  • Visited the museum in the basement of the northern wing of Stockholm’s Royal Castle, to learn more about its Medieval predecessor that was torn down after a major fire in 1697. Not very informative, mainly a lot of 17th century sculpture fragments. A few Medieval coins were in a tiny, poorly lit glass-topped depression in the floor where you could barely make them out. But one wall of the basement is the castle’s 13th century perimeter and the other is 15th century building fronts, so that’s something. This level was the ground floor at the time: the closest you can get to visiting the Medieval castle.
  • First semla of 2016. Mmm…
  • Bach’s Mass in B minor at Nacka Church, the last major work he completed, played on period-style instruments by the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble. Silver trumpets!

Dear Reader, what did you do for fun over the weekend? It’s an important issue: fun is after all the meaning of life.

Weekend Fun

New Thing -- great Stockholm funk band!
New Thing — great Stockholm funk band!

Here’s what I did for fun this weekend.

  • Went to local bands night at Göta Källare (where I saw the Super Furry Animals and the Soundtrack Of Our Lives back in the day), saw two excellent acts: Slow Fat play soul and New Thing play funk.
  • Went for a long bike ride with my wife, had ice cream, logged three geocaches.
  • Played Glory to Rome with friends in the Octagonal Sauna because of the endless kitchen renovation at my place.
  • Started Iain Banks’s 1986 novel The Bridge.

What did you do, Dear Reader?

Weekend Fun

Here’s what I wrote in 2009 about weekend fun.

The way I like to lead my life is basically Epicurean: “Epicurus believed that the greatest good was to seek modest pleasures in order to attain a state of tranquility and freedom from fear as well as absence of bodily pain through knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of our desires.” I live for fun. But I try to emphasise the social side of my modest pleasures: I like to have fun together with people I love, not at the expense of others. Call it the Golden Rule.

Now, my work is largely fun, but still I distinguish between work-fun and non-work-fun, because I am by character pretty dutiful and work-fun is sort of related to my livelihood. And of course I have non-work duties that aren’t always fun, and I have to fight an urge to let duties take over my spare time, because that makes me unhappy.

In an effort to increase my fun (and hopefully yours), I’m going to run a weekly feature here for a while: Weekend Fun. I’ll write about the fun I have during the weekends (so I’ll remember those activities better), and I’ll ask you to tell me about yours (so I can copy you). This is serious business: remember that it’s about the purpose (I won’t call it “meaning”) of my brief life!

My reporting of fun has lapsed lately, but here’s an update about a particularly good weekend I just had.

  • Played boardgames: Mykerinos (about early Egyptian archaeology), Verräter (about warring highlander factions) and 6 nimmt / Category 5 (abstract, but ostensibly about cows that you want to avoid acquiring).
  • Went skiing on the golf course with my wife, my favourite logic lecturer and Jrette, who has never before joined us on such a long skiing outing and still did not complain.
  • Read Arika Okrent’s excellent 2009 book In the Land of Invented Languages.
  • Saw a great exhibition of beautiful Medieval bronze and terracotta sculpture from the Yoruba city of Ife in Nigeria.

What did you do for fun this past weekend, Dear Reader?

800 Hidden Plastic Jars

The other day somebody hid a geocache a short bike ride from my house at a spot where, I now know, an orienteering-themed fraternal order was founded in 1930. Today I rode out and became the second person to log the cache. And coming home I realised it was my 800th find since I started 8 years ago!

My geocaching stats reveal a hobby that starts as an obsession and mellows out into an on-and-off thing.

Finds no 1-100 took 2 months.
101-200 took 8 months (because of winter).
201-300 took 3 months.
301-400 took 4 months.
401-500 took 7 months.
501-600 took 1 year.
601-700 took c. 2½ years.
701-800 took c. 2½ years.

London Weekend With Both The Young Dudes

Spent Friday though Sunday in London with Junior and his buddy, both 14. My original plan had been to find a gaming convention with both a video game track and a boardgame track. But failing that, I got tickets for the Eurogamer Expo at the Earls Court Convention Centre in London, which is all video games. My once substantial interest in such has long evaporated, but I kept the Saturday free for other activities.

In order to be sure to get the boys into the fair I had to buy a ticket for myself as well, and I checked out the place without finding anything that caught my interest. It was all in all a fine setup and well worth visiting for the aficionado. But three things were positively repellent: the dominance for first-person military simulations, the poor wifi, and the (admittedly few) booth babes in scanty clothing. A small but considerable proportion of the attendees were girls and young women. I find it really embarrassing that they should have to confront skinny bottle-bleached models in orange hot pants. And as a male I’m insulted by exhibitors who think I’ll be more interested in their products if their representatives show cleavage. By all means, more women in the booths and as attendees! But as knowledgeable and interested people, not as walking Barbie dolls.

Friday while the boys were revelling in the digital, I went to the British Music Experience, a pop music museum housed in an annexe to the O2 event arena. Saw a lot of pop memorabilia and video clips and had a good time on my own. Then I picked up the young gentlemen, had a proper curry dinner and played two games of Munchkin at the hotel.

Saturday we went to the Science Museum, spending most of our hours there checking out the Alan Turing Centennial Exhibition and rocketry history in detail and participating in Google’s Chrome exhibition with interactive music, robots drawing in sand and more. The boys didn’t want to leave. The music thing was particularly cool, with a large room full of acoustic instruments jacked up to computers and all controlled by a sequencer. Some instruments were programmed by people on the net and others by us who visited the exhibition. Fun! I was also thrilled to see a V2 and learn that those rockets were the first spacecraft — though only in order to reach England fast. Then we walked along the Embankment from Westminster to the Millennium Bridge and spent an hour mudlarking at sunset on the riverbed as it was successively revealed by the ebbing tide. It’s one big culture layer: mostly brick, roof slates and bone, but also pottery, clay pipes, glass, flint and more. Judging from the darkened but otherwise pristine state of the bones, an 18th century culture layer has recently been washed out here. Then fish & chips at a Lebanese place and reading until bedtime.

Sunday the boys went back to the fair and I had lunch with Ed, one of the finest students who dug at Skamby in ’05, and his charming wife Olivia. Good people, good times! Then I shepherded the young masters back home (subway, train, plane, bus, subway, commuter train), our only mishap being that airport security confiscated the bullet-shaped caps of the freebie memory sticks they had scored at the fair.

I Am Sailing

My dad’s a member of a yacht club in order to have sheltered jetty space for his motorboat. It’s not a fancy affair, most of the boats being small and decades old. But many of them are sailboats, and for the past ten years the club has been organising family-oriented mini races in the evenings. A few weeks ago they were a guy short on a boat where my dad is a sometime crew member, so he asked me if I wanted to come along. I sailed dinghies as a kid, so I know the basics.

My first race was on a rainy evening. I got wet and I got cold and I still enjoyed it. The second race was on a lovely sunny evening, and it was great. And earlier tonight on my third race I had the pleasure not only of fine weather and a good wind, but there were only three of us in a J/105 so I had some more onboard responsibilities. Also the adrenaline rush of fast tacking in a stiff wind. And beginning to learn what goes where on a bigger boat.

A race takes only about an hour and then there’s hotdogs and soda and light beer. People mill around on the quay talking while waiting for the hotdogs to get warm and the judge to get the results out of his spreadsheet. (Allowing for people to compete against each other using sailboats of different sizes, makes and models involves complicated math.) And though this is in a very affluent community and sailing is an expensive sport, the people in the club are pretty down to earth. My high-school gym teacher is there, sailing with his grown-up daughter. The vibe is amicable and unpretentious. These are people who, instead of hiring guards, keep a watch schedule and walk the jetties at night in person to keep thieves from stealing bits from their boats. I find myself enjoying their company. And the sailing.