Finncon 2012

By now Finncon is largely a routine experience. I know the people, I know the places, I know what will happen, I expect calm efficiency. This year was no different. My apologies if this report is not very exciting, but when conventions run very smoothly that’s what you get.

I arrived in Helsinki on the Wednesday night. Many thanks to Mika Loponen for picking me up from the airport. Work is now in progress on the airport rail service, but it won’t be in service until 2014 at the earliest. We headed into town where we expected to find the Guests of Honor in a bar, but Liz Williams had already gone back to her hotel, tired after a day being shown the sights, and Lois McMaster Bujold followed soon after. Several of us headed to Jukka & Sari’s place (where I was being put up in the elegant VanderMeer Suite) and some SMOFing may have taken place.

Thursday morning was the press conference, which Marianna Leikomaa had well in hand. She was not only chair of this year’s convention, but also the translator of the newly published Finnish edition of Snake Agent, Liz’s first book in Finnish translation. This made for a good combination as far as the local journos were concerned. With a female con chair and three female guests (the other being my dear friend Irma Hirsjärvi), we got a lot of attention from women’s magazines and websites. The Finnish journalists seemed particularly fascinated by the fact that Liz is a practicing druid.

Once the interviews were done we headed off for Tampere by road, stopping for lunch along the way at a little tourist centre that included the very fine Kultasuklaa chocolate factory. I do enjoy being able to say to people, “and then we’ll stop at the chocolate factory for lunch”.

That evening was the Guest of Honor sauna, which took place at a beautiful little lake house near Tampere owned by Marianna & Karo’s father. Farah Mendlesohn and M. John Harrison will remember it from 2008. It has an old-fashioned smoke sauna as well as a more modern one. The former can be a bit harsh on the eyes if you don’t vent it properly, and you do need to wash afterwards, but it is very pleasant. The food was excellent, and I was introduced to “smoked reindeer cheese”, which sadly turned out to be cheese flavored with smoked reindeer, rather than smoked cheese made from reindeer milk.

On Friday I needed to get down to serious work rather than just guest wrangling. It was the second day of the Academic conference, and I was joined as a guest commenter by Edward James who is writing a book on Bujold and took the opportunity of Finncon to get some time with her. The papers were mostly competent but unexciting, though Mika’s was fascinating and led to a lot of interesting discussion. His ideas are not easy to précis, so I’m afraid I won’t be describing them here, but hopefully he’ll be following it up with something at ICFA next year, and something for publication.

We finished in time for the writers’ conference, and I gather they got a good crowd, but I had stuff to prepare for Saturday so I went back to my digs for a few hours (I was staying with Marianna & Karo’s mother, who also gophered at the con). In the evening we went to Harald, the Viking-themed restaurant. I’m delighted to see that their food keeps getting better each year. They might be a cheesy tourist trap, but they have really good chefs. Also, of course, there’s the cinnamon beer and tar ice cream, for which I would keep coming back regardless.

Saturday was very busy for me. Opening ceremonies were followed by a panel on translating Gene Wolfe. Mika interviewed Johan Frick, who did the Swedish translation of the Book of the New Sun, and Johanna Vainikainen-Uusitalo, who is currently working on a Finnish version of the series. Translation is hard enough at the best of times, without having to puzzle out all of the wordplay and stylistic tricks that Wolfe employs.

Next up was a presentation by my friend Martha Hubbard on diversity in the work on N.K. Jemisin. This turned into a general discussion of diversity issues in fiction, which I tried very hard not to dominate. I thought it went fairly well, but Martha is a regular commenter here so perhaps she’ll give her own views.

While I was listening to Martha, Irma did her Guest of Honor speech. I would have been there, but she told me that it was in Finnish so I didn’t need to attend. Following Tero’s tweet stream, I discovered the real reason. Irma told the assembled fans that she had started traveling abroad to conventions, and had fallen under the unwholesome influence of foreigners. This was accompanied by a picture of a well-known redhead holding a bottle of vodka. Apparently everyone roared with laughter. Well played, Ipa. 🙂

The Hugo panel, featuring myself, Marianna, Jukka & Tommi Persson, is starting to become a regular feature at Finncon, and we are getting to be able to anticipate each other’s tastes. Embassytown was the most popular nominee amongst the novels, though we all agreed that if George Martin fans turned out en masse to vote then he’d win easily. Everyone was really impressed with the quality of the novella category, which made it hard to predict. Tommi even liked a Kij Johnson story for once. In novelette we mostly plumped for Charlie Jane Anders, and we all agreed that the short story nominees were very weak save for the Ken Liu and E. Lily Yu stories.

Irma and I presented the results of the Translation Awards. The audience for the panel was very small, and none of the nominees were present, but the response to the results online has been very positive so I’m not too worried. I managed to grab lunch while updating the Awards’ website and sending out the press release.

Then there was the ebook panel, which was in the same room and was standing room only. I made use of the excellent AV facilities at the venue to show the various websites that we mentioned. It seemed to go very well. Hopefully we encouraged some people to buy more books. My thanks to Lois, Kimmo Lehtonen and Tero Ykspetäjä for a fine discussion.

From there we went straight to the Masquerade, which as usual was being judged by myself and the GoHs. The number of entries was fairly small, but the quality was very high. We ended up giving Best In Show to a young lad in a Mr. Tumnus costume, complete with working faun legs. I thought he’d probably bought them from WETA, but it turned out he had made them himself. I was seriously impressed. Liz turned out to be really good at coming up with good names for prize categories (as usual, everyone got a prize).

I’d like to put in a special mention for the girl who did the Captain Jack costume. She had the look and attitude spot on, including fishing a small pistol out of her greatcoat pocket while on stage. When I presented her prize I could not resist asking, “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?” She responded, “Actually it’s a banana”, and pulled one out. I wish we’d got to do that on stage, but she was one of the contestants that could not make it to the official prize-giving later in the evening. I discovered later that it was Pride weekend in Tampere and many of the locals had other events to go to.

Finncon masquerades are always quite small, but over the years I have seen some amazing costumes. I think that if we persuaded all of the best Finnish costumers to go we could provide half a dozen top quality entries for the London masquerade in 2014. Someone from the London events team needs to come to Finncon next year.

I did get a lengthy break for dinner. Otto & Paula, who had been vacationing in the Far North drove down to Tampere for the day and joined us. We were a little early for the table booking and wandered around central Tampere for a while. The farmers’ market in the town square was just clearing up and I got a bargain pack of salami. Also we found some Turkish delight as a prize for the girl who had done a Jadis the White Witch costume.

Liz and I double-teamed the prize-giving at the evening party, which went very well. She and Lois were duly surprised and delighted by the filk songs written for them (which I guess goes to show that GoHs don’t read my con reports – you won’t be surprised, will you, Aliette & Bear?).

I baled on the party around midnight. In Tampere it is perfectly OK for a lone woman to walk home alone late at night. The only encounter I had was with a pair of hares who wandered across the path in front of me near the city library.

We were allowed a late-ish start on Sunday in order to give people time to recover from the party. Even so I had to be awake because I was interviewing Liz on the subject of magic systems, a topic which she is very well qualified to pronounce on having a PhD in the philosophy of science and being a practicing druid. It was a lot of fun, and hopefully the audience learned a lot.

My next task was a meeting with a Finnish scholar called Jari Koponen. He wanted to talk to me about a book he had written, and was having published in October. It is a bibliography, of every SF story he could find in other languages that exists in an English, Finnish or Swedish translation. Wow. Just wow. The work involved is incredible, and my academic friends have been salivating over the prospect ever since I told them about it. Thank you, Jari!

After that I attended both Guest of Honor speeches, which was fun but turned out to be a scheduling mistake as the university canteen had run out of food by the time I went looking for lunch. Fortunately I had a fridge full of salami. Also, by going back to my digs, I got to follow the Grand Prix online. There were good results for Jenson and Kimi, so there was happiness all around.

The dead dog party went smoothly, despite a strange event in the sauna which I have chronicled elsewhere. The whisky I brought went down well, and I was pleased to see that the Swedish contingent had bought whisky on boat from Stockholm. The alcohol laws in Finland are by no means as draconian as they are in other Nordic countries, but good booze is still ferociously expensive so presents of good malts are always appreciated.

Up until the dead dog I had managed to avoid the attentions of the Finnish Air Force (mosquitoes). I opted not to go out to the lake for a swim as I figured they’d be out where waiting for me, but a few of the little bastards found their way inside. Of course I took precautions, but they are very cunning and persistent. I ended up with five bites, all on my left foot. Thankfully it didn’t swell like it had in 2004.

A lot of SMOFing was done at the dead dog. Eemeli is still keen to run a Worldcon in Finland, and apparently he now has an accomplice egging him on. Everyone else is still very dubious. The 2016 bid is a hoax (Mariehamn is barely big enough to host BristolCon, let alone a Finnish Worldcon), and Finnish fandom doesn’t have much experience with dealing with large numbers of foreign visitors. Also, any con they run has to be free to attend or the locals will be outraged. But there may be news of something more ambitious in the near future. Watch this space.

Monday was pleasantly slow, featuring coffee with the departing foreign GoHs, a brewpub lunch with Irma, and the drive back to Helsinki which I spent mostly asleep. On Tuesday morning Jukka took me to the airport and all too soon I was back in London and in the midst of Olympic madness.

Looking back it is hard to find anything that did not run like clockwork. The university had moved into some new buildings since 2008 so there was a very different set of rooms for the concom to lean to use. The sizes were not ideal, and there was some overcrowding at times. Also some panels had queues to get in, despite the use of “entry only” and “exit only” doors. The signage was not the best in the world, but they learned quickly. By lunch time on Saturday all of the program rooms were sporting hand-written schedules on the doors because someone had spotted the lack and taken action.

Mention of numbers brings me to a perennial question about Finncon: how can they be sure about the numbers, given that entry is free? Well, with the room use issue in mind, the gophers were asked to count occupancy for each program item. Given the number of people simultaneously attending panels, and a generous number milling around the dealer stalls, fan tables and restaurant on Saturday, there must have been over 3000 members. Given that some of the people who attended on Sunday would not have been there on Saturday, actual numbers will have been much higher.

That might seem low compared to past reports, but Finncon is now run separately from Animecon so the vast flood of teenage girls in short skirts and cat ears has been reduced to a trickle. The con itself has not, as some feared, vanished in a puff of smoke from a magical girl’s wand. Everything is running pretty much as before, except with rather less stress for the con committee. Hopefully the anime folks are doing OK as well. And there is some overlap. I was delighted to see my friend Kyu, who MC’d the cosplay tournaments at many past Animecons, running Tech for Finncon.

My thanks to Marianna, Karo and their team for a fine con; to their mother and father for their separate forms of hospitality; to Jukka & Sari for the use of the VanderMeer Suite; to Hanna & Mika for transport; to Liz, Trevor & Louis for being fine company; and to Irma for being such a wonderful friend. Next year: Helsinki, with Aliette de Bodard, Peter Watts, J. Pekka Mäkelä and Stefan Ekman.

Also 2014 will be in Jyväskylä with Elizabeth Bear, Hannu Rajaniemi and Jukka Halme amongst the Guests of Honor. I can’t wait.

6 Responses to Finncon 2012

  1. Tommy Persson says:

    The explanation I heard about the counting was that you will count people more than once so it will be an overestimate but the method used is the official method all events use and what is required for them to use.

    But I was really happy that it probably was 2000 people there or more which had the result that even panels againts GoH items had a lot of people in it. So we did not have an empty room for the Hugo panel. Marianna was not in the panel this year, instead Carolina was there. You are right that it is both familiar and fun to have these panels with nearly the same people in them at each Finncon. And I think it worked will this year when we started with the novels and spent more time in them.

    It was a fun con and I really liked the Friday pub and Saturday party this year since there was no music and you could talk with people and it was not to hot.

    • Cheryl says:

      *headdesk*

      I’m so used to Marianna being on that panel that I entirely forgot she wasn’t. Very sorry, Carolina.

      As to the numbers, the 4,000 they are giving as the official attendance definitely over-counts, but there were more than 2,000 people in panels simultaneously on Saturday so I’m happy with the 3,000 estimate.

    • Tero Ykspetäjä says:

      Not required, but if you apply for the same grants, etc. than many festivals and cultural events, you put yourself at a disadvantage if you don’t use the same method for counting visitors all the others do. That’s why the method of counting attendees each day and adding the numbers for a total amount was adopted some years ago. So it’s not a matter of inflating the numbers but counting a different thing than cons with paid memberships. The estimate for individual visitors is the number for those comparisons (although even that isn’t exactly the same, of course, due to different nature of the event, encouraging walk-in visitors).

  2. Martha says:

    Martha wishes to thank you very much for your contribution to her program item. Not only did you NOT dominate, your comments were useful and thought-provoking enough to encourage the normally sit-on-their tongues Finns to pipe up and join in. It wouldn’t have gone half as well without you.

    Also, do remember that I volunteered to help with evaluating the next years translation awards entries. I was quite serious about that and look forward to being contacted by whoever is in charge.

  3. Fanny Viitaharju says:

    The girl in the Jack Harkness costume here…
    Thank you so much, I’m glad to know I managed to pull that off! And you asking ‘Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?’ was the highlight of my day 🙂

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