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.

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LinCon & SweCon 2017

Ascension with its four days off is shaping up to be the geekiest time of the year. This time I had three big events to choose from: the LinCon gaming convention, the Kontur/SweCon scifi convention and the 45th anniversary of the Tolkien Society. Tolkienians do things in nines.

I decided to spend two days at LinCon on the Linköping University campus and one day at Kontur/SweCon in an Uppsala hotel, saving the Sunday for family pastimes.

Here are the games I played at LinCon. And I had lots of free Nepalese tea from the tea bar!

  • Through the Ages II (2015). This update of a 2006 civilisation builder is currently rated second-best game on the planet on Boardgame Geek. I enjoyed playing it though I found it too fiddly and counter-intuitive. Also it took six hours for three players including rules run-down and a lunch break. So it’s not for me.
  • Biblios (2007). This is a short and sweet abstract game with cards, colours and numbers. The theme, about Medieval monks copying books, is thinly but prettily painted onto the mechanics.
  • Innovation (2010). Another civilisation builder, though short and abstract. I taught this favourite of mine to noobs and got beaten twice even though I’ve played the game nearly 40 times.
  • Lovecraftesque RPG (2015). In this interesting short-session role-playing game, the group improvises a horror story in the tradition from H.P. Lovecraft using cards. Participants serve as game master, protagonist and assistant game master(s). After each scene, these functions shift one step clockwise around the table, so that last scene’s protagonist becomes the game master, (one of) the assistant game master(s) becomes the protagonist, etc. We got a really good creepy story together about inheriting a closed-down Civil War veteran’s hospital that has more recently served as a mental asylum. Check it out! The PDF is only £10. Also check out the games designed by Simon Pettersson with whom I played!
  • Star Realms (2014). Space battle deck-building game. Fun!
  • Forbidden Island (2010). Beautifully illustrated re-make of the Pandemic co-op game aimed at kids.

At the convention auction I sold Glass Road, Great Dalmuti, Province, Race For The Galaxy, Space Cadets Dice Duel, Spank The Monkey and Yahtzee. Instead I bought Sid Meier’s Civilization and The Castles Of Mad King Ludwig.

At Kontur/SweCon I chatted with loads of acquaintances, old and new. I also heard interesting interviews with Guests of Honour Kameron Hurley, Ann Leckie and Siri Pettersson. Saladin Ahmed couldn’t come as planned but had sent clips of himself answering questions from con goers, which were interesting to listen to. Good academic talks too: Josefine Wälivaara about the relative absence of queer themes in scifi movies and television, and Jesper Stage about the economics of colonialism in scifi. And I bought a Lois McMaster Bujold paperback from the Alvar Appeltofft Foundation’s huge travelling used-books store.

My next con will be nothing less than the Scifi WorldCon 75 in August, in Helsinki! I learned from its organisers in Uppsala that I’m very likely to be giving a talk about Scandinavian pseudo-archaeology at the WorldCon, and I’ll probably also be on some panels. Everyone around the Baltic, you need to go to Helsinki! Not because of me, but because this is an extremely rare event for geeks in the region, pretty much like the Geek Olympics coming to your home town.

2017 was my fifth LinCon and the second one without my kids — see 2016.

Best Reads of 2013

Here are my best reads in English during 2013. It was a really good year for quality, though I didn’t read very much: 41 books, twelve of which were e-books. The latter number was boosted by the Humble E-Book Bundle that I bought at Junior’s recommendation (sadly no longer up for sale). Find me at Goodreads!

  • Pirate Cinema. Cory Doctorow 2012. A fun, engaging and optimistic piece of polemic fiction, slightly preachy in parts, about the social and artistic consequences of intellectual property law.
  • Old Man’s War. John Scalzi 2005. Energetic co-ed military sf.
  • Stiff. The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Mary Roach 2003. Excellent non-fic about the things our remains go through after death.
  • Stories of Your Life and Others. Ted Chiang 2002. Short stories: idea-based scifi.
  • Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. Carl Sagan 1997. Interesting and, again, just a little preachy.
  • Elves in Anglo-Saxon England. Alaric Hall 2007. What did they actually believe about elves and how did it change over time?
  • The Best of Saki. 1950. Short stories: misantropic, perceptive, elegant.
  • The Collected Short Stories of W. Somerset Maugham, vol. 2. 1951. Short stories: empathic, humorous, elegant.
  • Dagon and Other Macabre Tales. Howard P. Lovecraft 1939. Short stories: horror and Dunsanian fantasy, most of it great, some of it silly.
  • Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World. Nicholas Ostler 2006. Magisterial on the political history of not empires, not states, not nations – but languages.
  • Dangerous Visions. Ed. Harlan Ellison 1967. Short stories: ambitious and edgy sf.

Dear Reader, what were your best reads of the year?

Here’s my list for 2012.

Jules Verne at Disneyland

Though I really enjoyed my late 70s childhood visits to Disneyland and Disneyworld, I am no friend of disnification, and I’ve always seen the Paris Disneyland as a bit of a joke. But my mom wanted to treat my kids to a visit last week, and so I came along too.

The Paris Disneyland has five sections. The US small-town nostalgia section full of Disney memorabilia shops, the faux-16th century fairytale section, the adventure movie section and the wild west section didn’t do very much for me – though the Pirates of the Caribbean ride is admittedly hugely atmospheric, and the Small World ride provided a strongly hallucinogenic (though not altogether pleasurable) experience.

The Nautilus and the moon cannon

The Nautilus and the moon cannon

The best part of Paris Disneyland is instead the retro-futuristic section, because it’s the least disnified one, and because its design largely builds upon the characteristic settings and illustrations of sometime Parisian Jules Verne’s novels. We went on board the Nautilus and we got shot out of the moon cannon onto the Space Mountain 2 roller coaster – where the security seat couldn’t quite accommodate me, so I hurt my shoulders pretty badly in addition to being scared witless.

The kids though, 15 and 10, were very happy with it all.

See also Jules Verne’s awesome grave monument.

Parked Vernian dirigible

Parked Vernian dirigible