Now that I’m back from Finland and suitably recovered from jetlag to do substantive work, I feel ready to tell you all how it went. Curious? Read on!
One of the primary reasons for me to go to WorldCon this year was to just check out Helsinki, as I rather doubt I’ll have many excuses to get to that corner of the world again. Overall, it was a really nice place – calm, clean, and easy to get around. The convention gave all members a metro pass for the duration of the convention, which was super convenient.
Though I didn’t get a chance to see a lot of the city, what I did see showed me a few things about how much nicer some American cities would be if they made necessary investments into public transit and bike infrastructure. The noise level in Helsinki was surprisingly low, traffic and congestion were minimal, and everybody seemed fairly calm. The quality of life there looks pretty high.
I was worried when going over that I would have trouble communicating, as I was having a hard time picking up any Finnish. Lucky for me, most of the Finns I met spoke enough English for me to get by (and a great many were wholly fluent). Everybody was very nice and I really don’t have much to complain about regarding my stay.
The Convention Center
It became clear really early on that the Finns had vastly underestimated how many people were going to want to go to WorldCon this year. This wasn’t exactly their fault – they based their estimates on previous years’ WorldCons in Europe and expected, based on membership sales, to host about 3500 people. They evidently got about 6500, many of whom purchased in the final week leading up to the kick-off.
Messukeskus, the Helsinki Convention Center, isn’t the biggest convention hall and, with that many extra bodies, it was really crowded. The corridors were kind of narrow, making it hard to get around, and getting into panels was difficult. You really had to line up at least a half-hour ahead of time to make it into any given panel, meaning the best you could hope for was a panel every other hour. The first day I was there (Thursday), I failed to get into most of the panels I wanted to because I hadn’t quite figured this out yet. It was a bit frustrating.
To their credit, the organizers *did* manage to get some extra space for Friday and Saturday panels, but even still it was a mob scene.
My book signing was on Friday afternoon. It wasn’t exactly crowded, but I did manage to sign a few things and even sold a book to a convention goer (I had brought 4 books of my own, since the dealers floor didn’t have any of them – largely my own fault, as I should have been in better communication with my publisher). I also met urban fantasy author Russel Smith (writing under RA Smith), who was sitting next to me. We had a lovely chat.
Of the panels I attended, perhaps the most interesting was the last one – it was on how to write a fight scene and featured Elizabeth Bear, Sebastien de Castell, and a few others whose names are slipping my mind at the moment (sorry! Can’t find my program schedule!). Anyway, there was a lot of back and forth about how detailed a fight scene should be, but the biggest take-away was that fights aren’t interesting or entertaining unless the stakes were clear and the audience is engaged with the characters’ plights, which I agree with and is good to be reminded of sometimes.
I attended a bunch of other panels – too many to go over individually – but one thing I will say is that this particular convention had a much more academic slant than other conventions I’ve been to. Pretty much every panel had one or two academics on the subject present, rather than just a table of writers, editors, and agents. This gave a lot of the panels a more serious tone than usual and meant that a lot of the discussions reached into realms of literary criticism and academic theory rather than concrete craft-building advice or idea brainstorming. The academic side of me found this really interesting (at times), but the writer in me kinda wanted a little bit more practical and concrete writing discussion and less theory.
My own panels went well. The first – “Any Sufficiently Immersive Fantasy is Indistinguishable From Science Fiction” – featured me as moderator, Max Gladstone, Finnish academic Hanna Rikka-Roine, and British academic Farah Mendelsohn. The discussion was basically a genre distinction discussion: does Science Fiction do worldbuilding differently than Fantasy? The basic answer there was “not necessarily” and we talked a bit about what allowed fantasy or science fiction to be what was termed as “immersive.” One interesting point brought up was that science fiction more often had a clearer “what if” driving concept that affected how worlds were built, whereas fantasy often did not. Of course, all of these distinctions were subject to exceptions and variations and we were hasty to point out that rules in literature were made to be broken.
My second panel, on Saturday, was “It Can’t Happen Here.” It was a panel about the horror show of modern politics and how science fiction and fantasy can (or should) work to improve the world around us. It featured Cenk Gokce as moderator, me, Edmond Barret, Evil Ivo, and Cat Sparks. Overall, this panel was a surprising amount of fun (especially considering the subject matter) and, while we did spend a lot of time complaining about politics, we also spent a lot of time talking about how science fiction has the means to potentially reach people, give them ideas, and present problems in such a way that future generations can be inspired to find solutions. That is, of course, if global warming doesn’t kill us all first, I guess. Fun times!
While there, I met with my agent and my editor (good discussions both) and saw a few friends. I also made a bunch of new friends, too, including Russel Smith (my signing buddy), fellow swashbuckling fantasy author Sebastien de Castell, German military scifi author Robert Corvus and his friend Martin Schneider (who runs one of the best scifi conventions in Germany). I met a variety of Finns (Pasi Kallinen, in particular – hello!), Dutch, Irish, Americans, and British – new friends all. I also spent quite a lot of time alone, riding the trams and looking at the city.
I saw Max Gladstone (again) – I seem to see him at every con these days – and I met Joe Abercrombie for the first time (though I doubt he remembers me). I saw George RR Martin everywhere I went, but I didn’t talk to him (he always had a gaggle of fans around him). I met my editor’s wife (whom I gave a copy of
my book), and met a great many other people besides.
Overall, a successful trip to Finland for WorldCon 75! Hopefully I’ll be able to go next year, too. Maybe I’ll see you all in San Jose!
In a few hours, I will be boarding a plane. This plane will cross an ocean and land in one place, and then I will get on another plane which will cross a continent and land in…
That’s right, campers – I’m off to Worldcon! To distant Scandanavia! So close to Russia and yet so far from Japan!
(but seriously, I need to get that song out of my head. The Finns will think I’m insane.)
Hopefully I will see some of you there. If not, hopefully I’ll see somebody I know. If, by some lucky confluence of events, you will happen to be there and happen to also wish to see me/meet me/accost me, this is where you’ll be able to find me:
Panel #1: Any Sufficiently Immersive Fantasy is Indistinguishable from Science Fiction
Thursday 15:00 – 16:00, 216 (Messukeskus)
In Rhetorics of Fantasy, Farah Mendlesohn made the observation that “immersive fantasy is that which is closest to science fiction”. Might there be any corollary on the side of science fiction, and what rhetorical devices make a work feel more as fantasy or as science fiction? And can the method used in Rhetorics of Fantasy be used fruitfully on science fiction too?
Signing: Auston Habershaw
Friday 14:00 – 15:00, Signing area (Messukeskus)
Panel #2: It Can’t Happen Here
Saturday 18:00 – 19:00, 216 (Messukeskus)
It can’t happen here: Looking at the headlines these days, and many people seem to be thinking bad things can’t happen where they live, but then we get Brexit. President Trump. Turkey sliding into authoritarian theocracy. Russia annexing Crimea with the international community watching. What can history teach us about things that can happen, and how do we write SF that is not going to be dystopias after dystopias? Heinlein’s story, Logic of Empire ends with the line “Things are bound to get a lot worse before they can get any better.” Is this inevitable? What can we do about it, and how can SF offer hope for the future with our fictional worlds?
So, there it is – my schedule! I hope to meet new people and see new things and learn new stuff. I also hope my book signing isn’t an hour of me sitting alone at a table (grand ambitions, I know).
See you all on the other side!
I am beginning to plan out my convention-attending plan for the year. As of a few years ago, I’ve made it something of a point to go to two or three each year. I’ve found them to be useful networking opportunities, I’ve usually come away with a few interesting ideas to turn over and apply to my writing, and I’ve always wound up having fun. So far, I’ve been restricting my travel to the lower 48 states. This year, though, a new opportunity presents itself:
This year, the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) is going to be held in Helsinki. I had a lot of fun at WorldCon last year – met up with some old friends, made some new ones, ate some good food, and so on. I’d really like to go again. Finland, though, presents some difficulties. For one thing, I’m not really sure anybody I know is going this year (Finland is a bit of a hike for most of my writer-friends). Going to an American city all alone is one thing, but going to a completely foreign city where I don’t speak the language and also don’t know anybody sounds even more lonely. My first convention experience was just me wandering around a convention hall, not talking to somebody, until an acquaintance pulled me out of the crowd and started introducing me to people. Would this happen in Helsinki? Maybe. But I’d also be paying more money for that gamble – that first convention I just drove to.
Then again, there are some really good reasons to go, too. This year I might get to sit on some panels, which would be worth it. The cost is actually surprisingly low (living in Boston, I have probably the shortest distance to go compared to anybody in the US)–it would cost me about as much as it cost to go to Kansas City last year (well, a *bit* more, since I’d probably stay an extra night or two to make the 13 hour flight worth it). Also, from a sheer adventure standpoint, when is the next time I’ll have an excuse to go to Finland? That seems pretty cool, honestly.
So here I am, still going back and forth. Perhaps, as I often do, I should go back and read the old masters and follow their wisdom. Most notably, the gentlemen of Monty Python: