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!