Finncon – The Report

With profuse apologies for taking so long, I have finally done a report from Finncon. Having done so I found to my horror that I hadn’t done a con report since 2015. I need more space in my time to write (and to edit audio).

Anyway, there is now a Finncon report. The tl;dr is that it was amazing and I had a wonderful time. But there’s a whole lot of stuff that went on, and you can read about it here.

Finncon 2019

This time next week I will be in Finland. I will be on my way to Jyväskylä where I am fortunate to have been invited to be a Guest of Honour at this year’s Finncon. Most of you won’t be able to go, of course, and I don’t think there are any plans to record the programme. However, it is going to be fun. I note in particular that on the Sunday I will be giving my GoH talk on the subject of the prehistory of robotics. There were a lot of artificial beings both written about and made before Karel Čapek wrote RUR. If anyone else is interested I’d be happy to give the talk again elsewhere.

Åcon – Part 2

I was having so much fun at Åcon that I didn’t get around to writing about it.

Well, that’s not strictly true, I did spend quite a bit of time publicising the charity walk for One25. Huge thanks once again to everyone who sponsored me. Last I heard, all of the various people participating had raised over £11,000 for the charity, and my personal total, including gift aid, was over £700.

I also spent quite a bit of time rehearsing the talk I was scheduled to give, which was about Janelle Monáe. I had decided to do something a bit different and role-play a far future version of myself. So the talk was given by a future historian looking back on the career of the time-traveling android rights activist, Cindi Mayweather. It took a bit of effort to put together a coherent narrative from the information provided in the various song lyrics, and someone else may have a different take on it, but that how historians work. From the reaction on Twitter, and from people thanking me in person, it seemed to have gone down well.

Most importantly, it seems to have led to more people planning to vote for Dirty Computer in the Hugos, because they now understand that Janelle is totally One Of Us.

While I was there I also grabbed a couple of interviews. One was with Amal El-Mohtar and aired on Wednesday’s radio show. The other was with Regina Wang and will air during the July show.

And after all that I still had enough time to enjoy myself greatly. And watch the football. And consume a fair amount of pizza and alcohol.

One thing that I do want to note is a late night event that I’d not paid proper attention to before because it was labeled as “karaoke”. No one wants me anywhere near a proper karaoke event. However, this event did not require any actual singing, because it was a William Shatner Karaoke event. That meant that everyone was expected to perform in the style of Shatner’s infamous “singing” career; so spoken word, hopelessly over-dramatic, and breath breaks in totally inappropriate places. If the audience laughs, that shows you are doing it right.

Finnish conventions are the best. Yes, I know I have said that before. It is still true.

Today on Ujima – HIV, Time Wars & Art

Today’s Women’s Outlook show was one of those where it seemed mostly calm on the surface, but it was all frantic paddling underneath. Yesterday I had one of my guests drop out, so I had a half hour to fill. Thankfully the pre-recorded interview I had would stretch to three segments, and I had enough to talk about to fill the final one I needed. Also Ben, my usual engineer, was unavailable, and the replacement we had arranged was unable to come in, so I ended up with an emergency holographic engineer. Huge thanks to Mikey who did a great job for me.

We began the show with Aled and Acomo from Brigstowe, a local charity that specialises in HIV/AIDS issues. They are one of two charities in England who are running pilots with PrEP, the drug which can protect you from HIV if you take it before having sex. PrEP is already widely available in Scotland and Wales, but as Aled explains the English authorities have fought tooth and nail to prevent it being made available. Now that the courts have forced the NHS to do some trials, Brigstowe needs help getting them done.

They are looking in particular for women from marginalized communities who are willing to get trained on the use of PrEP and can then go out into their communities to srpread the word. They’ll be working closely with my pals at One25 to make sure the drug gets to sex workers, who are some of the people who need it most. They are also very interested in recruiting trans women.

The pre-recorded interview with was Amal El-Mohtar and was made while we were at Åcon. We talked about a range of issues, but obviously there was particular focus on the forthcoming book, This is How You Lose the Time War. I loved this book. There will be a review coming soon.

As I had a bit of time to fill I played a couple of songs with Nordic connections. I have probably enthused about the Swedish electrojazz duo, Koop, before, but I should mention that the particular song I played had guest vocals from Ane Brun who is Norwegian and Sami. She has also worked with Peter Gabriel, taking Kate Bush’s part on “Don’t Give Up” when he was touring.

I also played the Miike Snow song that Amal mentions during the interview. The core of that band is Swedish too. If you are intersted in the very gay video for the song, you can find it here.

Finally on the show I was joined by Cai and Amie from Paper Arts who are a wonderful organisation that helps young people start a career in the arts.

You can listen to today’s show via the Listen Again function on the Ujima website.

The playlist for today’s show is:

  • Salt ‘n’ Pepa – Let’s Talk About Sex
  • Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing
  • The Human League – The Lebanon
  • Fairuz – Li Beirut
  • Afro-Celt Sound System – Further In Time
  • Koop – Koop Islands
  • Miike Snow – Genghis Khan
  • Janelle Monáe – Crazy, Classic Life
  • Prince – Purple Rain

Summer in Finland

The weather appears to have warmed up nicely, so I am looking forward to the summer which, as is traditional, will see me heading off to Finland.

At the end of May I will be at Åcon X, the 10th convention in the Åland Islands. This year’s GoH is Amal El-Mohtar, who I am very much looking forward to getting to know better. Not to mention there will be the boat trips on the Baltic and the lovely island destination.

In July Finncon will be in Jyväskylä, which is always lovely. I will get to hang out with the fabulous Irma Hirsjärvi again. Otto and Paula have promised me some tourism around central Finland. And best of all I get to be a Guest of Honour.

There are a couple of very interesting Finnish guests. Kersti Juva has translated The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Winnie the Pooh, Watership Down and many other famous books. Raine Koskimaa is a professor of Contemporary Culture, which basically means he gets to play video games for a living. The author GoH is Charles Stross, which means that Feòrag and I will get to hang out together, drink beer and be disreputable. It also means that Fluff Cthulhu will get to feast on Finnish brains.

I’ll doubtless be on programming with Charlie at some point, which may well lead to discussion of tentacled monstrosities from beyond the stars, but we promise to talk about things other than the Tories as well. I will be giving a guest lecture, the title of which is, “The Prehistory of Robotics”. It will cover the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Ottomans, the Kalevala and much more.

The Popelei Naked Podcast

As promised, here is the link to my interview on Tamsin Clarke’s Naked Podcast. As you’ll see, it is Apple only at the moment. If, like me, you would rather sit in a nest of fire ants than install iTunes on a Windows PC, and you have no Apple device to listen on, that may be a problem. I’ll chase Tamsin about other formats.

If you can listen (and thankfully iTunes works fine on my iPad) you’ll see that we discussed getting naked in the sauna in Finland, and the process that strongly binary trans women like myself have to go through in order to get a body they are happy to be naked in.

Åcon Happened

I have spent the weekend at one of my favorite conventions: Åcon, which is held in Mariehamn in the Åland islands, half way between Finland and Sweden. The weather was magnificent, and as far as I can see a good time was had by all.

Because of the location, Åcon is a perfect meeting place for Finnish and Swedish fandom. The ferry service from Turku to Stockholm stops off at Mariehamn roughly half way along the route. So the convention is always international. However, perhaps thanks to the Helsinki Worldcon, this year was more international than most. We had fans from Norway, Denmark, The Czech Republic, Poland and Wales (me), plus a Guest of Honour from Cornwall and her husband who is (I think) English. And to cap it all we had Eurovision on the Saturday night.

Wales and Cornwall do not yet have their own Eurovision entries. We shall have to work on this. They are bound to be better than anything the BBC can come up with.

Emma Newman was fabulous, as she always is, and the convention got two writer guests in one because Pete is excellent value as well. The large stacks of their books all sold out so obviously they impressed the convention members.

I got to do two panels. The first was on novellas and featured Pete, Johan Jönsson, and Václav Pata. In it we roundly disagreed with just about everything in the panel description, and everything that Gary and Jonathan had said about novellas in the last Coode Street. Nevertheless we appeared to agree that we all liked reading novellas. Mostly I think we agreed that weird things happen in publising because publisher are weird. Václav made a good case for prefering novellas to novels because he’s a screenwriter and they are much easier to convert to a script.

My other panel was on audio and featured Emma and new Danish pal Sanna Bo. Emma terrified us by explaining just how much work, and how many skills, are required to narrate an audiobook. After that we mostly talked about making podcasts, which is so much less complicated. Of course Emma and Pete use a lot more technical tricks in making Tea & Jeopardy than most people use on podcasts, but that’s them, insanely talented people that they are. I explained about Ofcom rules for live radio, which led to some epic swearing because we can do so on convention panels without getting fined.

I believe that the panels were all recorded, so there may be podcasts of the discussion available at some point. Emma and I will have earned “explicit” tags.

Åcon has a lot of game-show type programming in the evening. Fia Karlsson ran The Match Game. Much to my surprise, she had not heard of Kevin doing so at Worldcons. Clearly the game appeals to fannish people.

I decided to pass on the chocolate tasting this year because I have a lot to do and needed time in my room, but Emma and Pete were suitably awed by Mercedes and her top quality wares. One of the problems with Åland is that there is just too much good food to be eaten.

There’s no news of the guest for next year yet, but Åcon will be happening again. As it is tied to the Ascension Day holiday it moves around in the calendar and next year will be right at the end of May. Hopefully I can make it.

Åland Bound

Tomorrow I will starting my journey to the Åland Islands for this year’s Åcon. I’m staying over in London tomorrow night as I have an early flight from Heathrow to Helsinki on Wednesday. Then, ridiculously early on Thursday, it is off to Tukru and the ferry to Mariehamn. Thankfully I’m not driving. I will doubtless activate my cat genes and sleep on the road.

This year’s Åcon Guest of Honour is Emma Newman, and the convention gets two writers for the price of one as Pete will be going too. It should be an excellent weekend.

And for those of you who are wondering about that little accent mark above the A, the name of the convention is pronounced (more or less) Awecon. Because it is awesome, obviously.

Books from Worldcon

I only actually bought one book in Finland. That was a copy of Gender Identity and Sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction to give to Kevin as a birthday present. However, I still came away with quite a few books.

First up is Giants at the End of the World, an anthology of Finnish Weird fiction edited by Johanna Sinisalo and Toni Jerrman. I think this one was given away free to all attending members. I can’t see any way to buy it just now, but it does have ISBNs for ebook editions so hopefully it will be available soon. It includes short fiction by a variety of excellent writers including Sinisalo herself, Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, Maria Turtschaninoff, Emmi Itäranta and Anne Leinonen. There is also the first chapter of Summerland, the forthcoming (next year) novel from Hannu Rajaniemi.

The authors featured in that book have either had novels published in English, or have at least featured in one issue of the Finnish Weird magazine that Jerrman put together to help promote the Worldcon. However, as Sinisalo notes in her introduction, that is only the tip of the iceberg. To get a better idea of what is going on in Finland you need Never Stop, an anthology edited by Emmi Itäranta that features only writers previously unavailable in translation. This one is available to buy, though apparently only as an ebook rather than the paper edition I picked up at the launch party.

At the same event the publishers, Osuuskumma, were also promoting The Self Inflicted Relative, an anthology of 33 drabbles (100 word stories) by Finnish writers in English. It is also available as an ebook.

The other country that was heavily promoting translated fiction at the convention was China. At a party put on by Storycom, the organisation that has worked with Clarkesworld to bring Chinese SF to the English-speaking world, I was given a copy of Touchable Unreality. This is a beautiful anthology in both Chinese and English. All of the stories have been in Clarkesworld, and right now the book is only published in China. Neil talks about it here.

China is, of course, a huge country, and Storycom is by no means the only company publishing SF. I also spoke with a representative of Douban Read, the publishing arm of a massive Chinese social media company. Apparently they have been publishing a lot of science fiction, and are keen to make some of it available to the English-speaking market. I was given a small book containing two stories: “The Khazar Key” by Zhu Yiye and “Teartide” by Wu Fugang. Given the enormous population of China, there must be many more great writers there waiting to be discovered.

Finally in the translated fiction arena I was given a copy of the Worldcon 75 special edition of Parsek, the Croatian fanzine produced by the folks who put on SFerakon. It is entirely in English and includes both fiction and non-fiction. The fiction contributors include Aleksandar Žiljak who was a guest of honor at this year’s Eurocon, and my friend Milena Benini.

I also got given a sampler for one book written in English. It is Luminescent Threads, the latest non-fiction book from Twelfth Planet Press. Following in the footsteps of the hugely successful Letters to Tiptree, this book contains essays about the work of Octavia Butler. I’m pretty sure that I backed the Kickstarter, so I have effectively already bought the book.

I’m delighted to see all of this translated fiction about. If that’s what having a Worldcon in a non-English-speaking country means, may we have many more of them.

Update: Anne Leinonen has been in touch to inform me that both Never Stop and The Self Inflicted Relative are available in paperback from the Holvi store.

Tampere Site Visit

I have no idea whether the Finns are serious about bidding for Tampere in 2032, but just in case I paid the proposed site a visit today.

Tampere is just over an hour by train from Helsinki and has been the site of many successful Finncons. Right now it does not have the facilities to host a Worldcon, but there are plans to build a brand new convention center around the railway station. This is an ideal location. There are already many hotels in the area, including two Scandics, a Holiday Inn that appears to be undergoing a massive expansion, and a giant Sokos that might be the ugliest hotel in the world. There are cheaper hotels as well.

There are plenty of places to eat in the area, and as the university is close by some of them are very cheap. And there is a small shopping mall. The city is building a tram network that will be in operation much sooner than the convention center is built, so getting to other parts of the city will be easy. My only reservation is the airport, which is very small and currently only has bus links to the city.

The main attraction of Tampere is the brand new Moomin Museum located inside Tampere-talo, a massive arts complex located just 5 minutes walk from the railway station. I visited the Moomin Museum a few years back and, while it had lots of great things in it, it all looked a bit sad. The new museum has put a lot of work into presentation and is well worth a visit if you have any interest in Moomins (save for eating them, Paul).

The city also has a fascinating cathedral with some great art, and the world’s only Lenin museum. The great revolutionary lived in Tampere for some time while plotting his take-over of Russia and the city has lots of interesting material connected to his time there.

Today I visited Vapriikki, a museum complex a little further out of town. It contains several discrete exhibitions including a brand new games museum. Most of the material in it is concerned with electronic games, for which Finland is justly famous, but it has some board games and RPG material as well, including a whole section on Finland’s annual role-playing event, Ropecon, which was in Messukeskus two weeks before us.

Vapriikki also contains a natural history section, a geology section, exhibits about life in Tampere in 1918 and 1017, a doll museum, and Finland’s Ice Hockey Hall of Fame. It does not yet have an exhibition devoted to the sayings of Kimi Raikkonen, though I am sure that will come eventually.

Right now there is also a traveling exhibition with material from the Forbidden City in Beijing. It is Qing Dynasty, so relatively modern, and very impressive.

I put a whole lot of photos on Twitter today if you want to see more.

Still in Finland

As I had some suspicion of just how exhausting Worldcon would be I planned to spend a couple of days after the convention hanging out with my dear friend, Irma Hirsjärvi. This involved taking a trip up to Central Finland where the internet connectivity is not as world-beating as it is in Helsinki, so I am offline much of the time.

I am, however, getting to write. There will be a con report in due course. Nor have I forgotten about the Emerald City Best Dressed at the Hugos Award. I will do that post once I have been able to catch up with Paula again and get the rest of her photos.

In the meantime I continue to be absolutely mortified about the number of times during the convention that I mistook someone for someone else. Whether this was just tiredness or the signs of impending senility, I am not sure, but I’d like to apologize profusely once again for my rudeness.

I’m signing off now as apparently I have to go for a cruise on a lake this evening. It is a tough life, and I will probably get eaten to death by mosquitoes, but I am willing to make that sacrifice for you.

Tomorrow I will be spending a few hours in Tampere, the proposed site of the 2032 Worldcon. The convention center we plan to use has not been built yet, but work on the city’s brand new tram network is underway, and of course the new Moomin museum opened earlier this year. Guess where I will be going. Hopefully there will be photos on Twtter.

Worldcon: Day 5

Yesterday I had just one panel, at 16:00. It seemed to go well. The morning was spent catching up on sleep and the afternoon on bagging interviews with people for a Worldcon special show on Ujima next week.

In the evening I attended the Dead Dog and the Old Pharts (former Worldcon Chairs) parties. I confess to having had a few tears hearing people who have chaired good conventions praising Jukka for his achievement. These days most Worldcons take place in cities, and even venues, that have held one before. To run a successful Worldcon in a country that has never had one before and where English is not the first language is an amazing achievement. I am so proud of Finnish fandom.

The final stats for Helsinki were as follows:

  • 10516 total memberships of all types
  • 7119 “warm bodies” on site
  • over 2000 attendees were at their first Worldcon

The term “warm bodies” represents a formula for calculating memberships that takes into account facts like five people on one-day passes not being the same as one person on a full membership. If you need an explanation, ask Kevin.

In terms of total memberships, Helsinki is third behind Spokane (2015) with 11,742 and London (2014) with 10,718. Both of those conventions were boosted by high numbers of supporting members wanting to vote in the Hugos to counteract the Puppies. In terms of warm bodies it is second behind Los Angeles (1984) with 8365. That was boosted by being the first venue ever to show all three original Star Wars movies back to back. Helsinki was not boosted by anything other than a brilliant local fandom, and had they not had to start turning people away due to lack of space they might well have beaten LA’s record.

Worldcon: Day 4

I was so tired last night that It forgot to set my alarm and woke up 1.5 hours later than planned. While I did get around 7.5 hours sleep, I didn’t get breakfast because I had an 11:00am panel and it takes almost an hour to get to the convention from my hotel.

Thankfully the panel went well. This was the one on the history of gender, which I had suggested. Originally I had been asked to moderate, but Scott Lynch kindly stepped into that role to allow me to talk more. He did a great job of keeping order on a panel with three very opinionated women (Jo Walton, Gillian Pollack and myself). My apologies once again to Thomas Årnfelt who didn’t get much of a look-in, but had some great medieval history info when he did.

I spent most of the panel telling anecdotes about trans history, but I did also get to do some show and tell. There is a great company in the dealer’s room who make cuneiform tablets. If you have some text, they’ll do a custom one for you. So I got them to make this:

For an explanation, see this blog post.

I also got to attend (and I had to queue early to get in for both) two trans-themed panels. Neither of them told me much new, but it was great to see packed out rooms for such things. The first trans panel I can remember at Worldcon was in Montréal in 2009. There were about 15 people in the audience, one of whom was a very hostile feminist, and all of the other panelists were cis. Here we had several trans-themed panels with a variety of identities represented (including non-binary people with no wish to transition medically), and all of them were younger than me.

Despite having got a decent lunch, the no breakfast thing meant that by mid afternoon I was fading fast. Thankfully Otto managed to catch me and steer me to the staff lounge for some vitamins before I collapsed. However, that was not before I managed to mistake someone for someone else on several occasions and embarrass myself horribly. My apologies to all concerned.

In the evening Thor came to see the masquerade. Despite beating on the roof of Messukeskus very hard, he didn’t get in. Thankfully he got bored after a while and I was about to get out to the party run by the lovely people from Storycom. I got to meet some young Chinese writers and a guy who has started a convention in Hong Kong. And we got to see Neil Clarke on film, which partially made up for his not being here.

I didn’t see the masquerade, but I gather that Miki Dennis got a big prize, as is only right and proper. Best in Show, however, seems to have gone to a very young person in her first masquerade. I want to see photos of that.

Overall things have gone very smoothly today. There are still queues, and some panels do max out, but the vast majority of people are getting to see what they want to see. The discussions I’m hearing in the hallways are changing from, “why don’t these idiots do something about the overcrowding” to “wow, this is an amazing convention!”. One day left, and I suspect it will only get better from here.

Worldcon: Day 3

That was an even longer day, and I’m only back at my room now because I skipped the Hugo Loser’s Party.

The space issues are vastly reduced now. The panel I was on today had 20 people in the audience for a room rated to seat 200. Of course it wasn’t perfect. Sometimes programming guesses wrong when it goes to the popularity of a panel. But for the most part anyone who wanted a seat for one.

The text-based coverage of the Hugos went pretty well, which is good because the live video failed. Thanks to Kevin, to Susan de Guardiola who stood in for Mur, and to everyone who joined us online.

And most importantly:


Worldcon: Day 2

There has been a convention. I have done many things. Tomorrow I will do even more. Gods willing, I will be reporting live from the Hugos here. I am also being an emergency, holographic Neil Gaiman as the real Neil is busy working on the Good Omens mini series. I do not expect to have time to blog tomorrow other than that.

In the meantime the concom is getting a handle on the overcrowding. Everyone I spoke to today said that things were better than yesterday, and many panels had empty seats. Attending membership is, I believe, over 6100. There were almost 5000 people on site yesterday, which is more than the peak attendance of any non-US Worldcon save for Loncon 3.

Kevin and I were chatting with Jukka this evening. Someone, I think Kevin, said that Helsinki had scored a Critical Hit, but that doing so was not always good. No, I said. You have scored a Critical Hit. You are now covered in the intestines of the huge monster that you have slain with a single blow. You smell awful.

Slowly but surely, the Helsinki committee is digging its way out of the gigantic pile of shit that its unexpected success has caused.

By the way, it is worth noting that it has always been the plan that the Dealers’ Room would be open to the general public without the need for a membership. This has not changed. People who turn up and cannot get in can still see part of the convention.

Worldcon 75 Day 1: Where Did All These People Come From?

The Helsinki Worldcon is now well underway, and the big topic of conversation is the attendance. On the face of it, this is a good thing. We all want Worldcon to grow. The largest number of attending members in history is still LA Con II in 1984 with 8365. LonCon 3 in 2014 had more members in total, but only 6946 attending. The last I heard Helinki was up to 6001. Some of those may be day members, who have to be counted somewhat differently from full attending members, but even so it is an impressive number. Helsinki certainly looks like being in the top 5 Worldcons by size.

Unfortunately, based on previous Worldcons outside of the US/UK axis, expected numbers for Helsinki were more like 3500. Messukeskus could handle that easily. It is more than big enough in terms of exhibit space for what we have. But the function space, where programming happens, is stretched to the limit.

There are many things that a Worldcon can do to cope with the unexpected, but building new program rooms is not one of them. Seeing how memberships were going, Helsinki did negotiate some space in the library across the road. It did not try to turn empty exhibit halls into function space because we all know how badly that went in Glasgow in 1995.

Hopefully tomorrow, with more program streams in operation, the pressure on space will ease, but right now what we have is every program room packed solid and many people getting turned away. Messukeskus is very hot on fire safety. Personally I’m going to avoid program at much as I can because I have been to many Worldcons and there are lots of people for whom this is their first experience of the convention. Hopefully other regulars will do the same. I don’t envy the Helsinki team trying to sort this out, but I guess if you must have a major problem it is better to have one that was caused by your amazing success in other areas.

Everything else appears to be running fairly smoothly. There are plenty of food vendors open at the convention and they seem to be doing excellent business. The dealers, fan tables and art show are all up and running. If I’m not trying to get to panels I may see more of the convention tomorrow.

Toilets in Helsinki

One of the things that worries people most about visiting a foreign country is making sure they use the correct toilet. As you will have noticed from my videos, major venues such as the airport and Messukeskus doing the usual signage thing, which is fine unless you come from a country where men traditionally wear skirts and/or women trousers. However, bars and restaurants around the city may use words instead of pictures, or just have letters like they do in St.Urho’s, the fannish pub. So which door should you use?

Persons who are male-identified should use the door marked M, or Miehet. You may also see H or Herrar if the venue’s preferred language is Swedish.

Persons who are female-identified should use the door marked N, or Naiset. You may also seen D or Damer if the venue’s preferred language is Swedish.

Gender neutral toilets are very rare here.

Of course some places may try to be cute and use other terms, in which case the best advice I can give is to lurk and watch who uses which door.

Friday Night is Cruising Night

On the first Friday evening of each month proud car owners in Helsinki bring their beloved vehicles to the harbor where they can be admired by others. Otto and I took a trip to see the show. Here are some pictures.