Åcon 7

OK, this is a bit late. Though I did write a few blog posts while I was at Åcon, so hopefully I haven’t been too bad.

For those of you who don’t know, Åcon is a small relaxacon that takes place in the Åland islands, a small archipelago that stretches from Turku in Western Finland out towards Stockholm. Ferries from Stockholm to Finland (Turku & Helsinki) stop in Mariehamn, the capital of Åland, en route, so it is fairly easy to get to from both Finland and Sweden. Add that to the fact that the islands are part of Finland, but Swedish-speaking, and it makes them an ideal location for joint Swedish-Finnish events.

This year’s Guest of Honor was Karen Lord. Åland is a long way from Barbados, but both are island nations and Karen seemed right at home. Well, except for the weather, which was quite bizarre. It snowed in both Turku and Stockholm on the Thursday, but the weather cleared up as we set sail and the weekend was beautifully clear, if bitterly cold in the wind.

Programming began on Thursday evening with a panel on post-colonial science fiction. That featured Karen and myself, along with Sari Polvinen and Juha Tupasela, both of whom have academic interests in the topic. It went pretty well, and we recommended lots of good books by fabulous non-white authors. I complained about the colonialist attitudes of the English towards the Welsh, and Sari complained about the colonialist attitude of the Swedes towards the Finns.

Next up I gave my talk about LGBT superheroes. It seemed to go down well.

On Friday Karen & I, with my friends Otto & Paula for native guides, walked into town, which is something I haven’t actually done on any of my previous visits to Åland. Downtown Mariehamn is a nice little tourist location. This is important because next year it will be the location for Archipelacon, of which more later.

In the afternoon I got to interview Karen, which was great fun. She’s very easy to talk to. That’s just as well because I wasn’t supposed to do that. Sadly Merja Polvinen had to miss the con due to a family emergency and I got drafted in as a replacement interviewer.

In the evening we had Jukka Halme’s crazy quiz, Never Mind the Buzzaldrins, in which the questions are mostly impossible and the entertainment is watching the contestants embarrass themselves. Karen and I failed gamely. As I recall, her team won. Obviously they had cheated by drinking too much beer in advance.

The Book of the Night was The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia. It is a fine book, but I had to skip the discussion to get my room set up for the rum tasting that Karen and I were giving. The four rums we had on offer were:

  • Blackwell (from Jamaica, chosen by Stephanie Saulter)
  • Mount Gay XO (from Barbados, chosen by Karen)
  • El Dorado (from Guyana, chosen by Karen)
  • Kraken (from Trinidad via New Jersey, chosen by me, because tentacles)

I’m not sure that we came to any firm conclusions, other than that spiced rums like Kraken are very different animals from un-spiced. I have, however, decided that I’m very fond of rum.

On Saturday morning we headed out to Smakbyn, a local gastronomic tourist destination run by celebrity chef, Michael Björklund, There we tasted their various apple beverages. This is a thing that is well worth doing if you are any sort of foodie. You may remember last year I enthused about Applaud, their apple liqueur, which tastes like apple pie & ice cream in a glass. This year I got to try Röd granit (Red granite, named after the rocks for which Åland is famous), which is a cherry liqueur. Black forest gateaux in a glass. Yum. It is a real shame that licensing laws prevent Samkbyn from selling bottles of their wares on the premises (you have to go to a government liquor store), and the one in town is not well stocked.

Because Merja was missing, Mika Loponen had to carry the entire academic session by himself. Fortunately this was no problem as he had a very funny paper about orc sociology to present. Although he was playing it mainly for laughs, Mika had a serious point to the presentation. That was that the changes in the way that orcs have been portrayed in fantasy (from creatures of pure evil in Tolkien to much more sympathetic characters these days) mirrored a change in Western society whereby casual racism was becoming far less common in fiction. I made a case for Bloodbowl being the first time in fantasy that orcs were able to compete on an equal footing with other fantasy races.

Crystal Huff, Emili Aro & Karo Leikomaa gave a presentation about the current state of the Helsinki in 2017 Worldcon bid. Much to my delight, they are getting a lot of support, even in the USA.

One of the joys of Åcon is the range of fine restaurants that can be found in the islands. This year I discovered the Texan Longhorn Steakhouse, which is apparently a Swedish chain. While this is obviously fake Texan cuisine, they have done a pretty good job. I had ribs, and they were delicious.

The one thing I didn’t do was find the limited release cinnamon & vanilla beer produced by Stallhagen, the island brewery. Apparently it was only available on tap, so neither of the restaurants we visited had it.

My friend Dirk Weger gave a presentation on LGBT issues in the various Star Trek TV series, the general conclusion of which was that they are full of FAIL.

Karen’s final panel was about the use of myth and folklore in science fiction. I wasn’t on that one, which doubtless improved it substantially.

The final panel of the night was titled “Just a speculative fiction minute!”. I was very nervous when I was drafted onto this because I would be completely useless at the real Just a Minute game. However, this was Jukka’s weird version of it, which was nothing like the original. What happens is that the contestants take turns to get given a title of a story by the quizmaster. The audience adds a genre, and a plot element that must be used. The contestant then has one minute to tell the story. It was a lot of fun. Karen & Juha Tupasela did very well, and I did not disgrace myself.

At the feedback session on Sunday morning we discussed what would happen next year. For various complex reasons to do with Finnish fan politics, next year’s Finncon, due to take place in Turku, will not happen. Instead there will be Archipelacon, a much larger event in Åland. And consequently there will be no Åcon.

Because the con is planned to be much bigger, we have had to abandon the cozy Hotel Adlon and move to the very splendid Alandica Culture & Congress Centre in town. Guests of honor already announced are Karen Tidbeck and Johanna Sinisalo, and a third GoH is in negotiation. Like Åcon, it will be a joint Swedish-Finnish project; unlike Åcon it will have multiple program streams. It will also incorporate Finfar, the academic conference normally held in conjunction with Finncon.

The easiest way to get to Åland is to fly into Stockholm and take the ferry from there. Swedish fandom will doubtless be embarking en mass, so there will be plenty of people to help out, though you may want to spend a day or two in Stockholm on the way there or back. I see that SAS will soon be starting a service from Bristol, which could make it very easy for me. If you are allergic to boats, there is a small airport in Åland, though the fights will all be on puddle-jumpers.

Membership of Archipelacon is currently just €30, or €10 if you are under 26 when the convention starts. The dates are June 25-28, 2015, so the weather should be lovely. I expect to see it attract fans from all over Europe, especially because some of us are not keen on going to St. Petersburg (lovely city and lovely fans, but I don’t fancy ending up in a Russian prison). I hope to see some of you there.

One Response to Åcon 7

  1. No, I’m pretty sure it was your team that won Never Mind the Buzzaldrins-ish. The margin was a lot slimmer than I expected, though. Sitting in Karen’s team, I was sure we were getting slaughtered but I remember the final difference being only two or three points.

    I’m not sure what it tells about Jukka’s quizzes if everybody comes away feeling like they’ve lost.

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