Finncon 2014

This year’s Finncon took place in the city of Jyväskylä which is 3 to 4 hours drive north of Heksinki. The airport is quite small and often closed over the summer, so I planned to fly into Helsinki and drive up with my friends Otto & Paula. This has the added advantage of allowing me to see more of the beautiful Finnish countryside.

There was some concern on the Wednesday because Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch were delayed leaving the US and missed their connection in Iceland. They did manage to make to Helsinki late in the day, but they missed out on the welcome meal we had planned for them. Such things do not faze Finnish con runners. After all, at a previous Jyväskylä Finncon an airline lost Joe Haldeman for a period of around 24 hours. Once you have coped with that you can cope with anything.

Traditionally Finncon begins (at least for me) with Finfar, an academic conference. We drove to Jyväskylä on the Thursday morning and I spent Thursday afternoon and Friday morning listening to and commenting on papers. The best of the material will be appearing in Fafnir in due course, so I’m not going to comment in depth, but I did enjoy the material.

I’m particularly looking forward to a PhD on post-humanism that will contrast what philosophers say about post-humanism with what science fiction writers say. If my suggestion is taken up (and please note that expanding the breadth of a project is generally not wise) it will also look at people doing actual body modification of various types.

Next year there will be no Finncon or Åcon. Instead there will be Archipelacon, which is something of a cross between the two. It will have multi-track programming, and at Finfar Merja Polvinen announced that there will be an academic track. I understand from Twitter that Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James are planning to attend. It should be an excellent event.

The Thursday evening saw the traditional Guest of Honor sauna. Poor Scott was feeling distinctly under the weather after the day and a half of travel, but Bear got the full experience. I see that she hasn’t posted to her LiveJournal since arriving in Finland, but I’m pretty sure that she survived it. She does, after all, have some Nordic ancestry.

On Friday afternoon I moderated a panel with Bear, Scott and the other writer GoH, Hannu Rajaniemi. The subject of this was “On Writing”, which is a subject they are far better placed to talk about than I am. I do, however, have a whole bunch of rookie questions I can ask, being very new at this fiction game myself. It seemed to go well. I note with interest that every single one of us has a background in role-playing games. Inevitably Jeff VanderMeer’s superb Wonderbook got a mention.

Talking of Hannu, the fine folks at Rosebud Books had acquired copies of The Causal Angel a full week before the official release. Otto and I went and grabbed copies while they were still setting up the stall because we didn’t want to miss out. As it turned out, they had huge piles and did not sell out, but I did have the book to read for the weekend. I loved it.

Bay Area folks please note that Hannu is likely to be moving to San Francisco later this year. I’m sure he’ll be willing to come to events such as SF in SF, and drop in on BASFA. Do we have an Ambassador to Finland yet? BayCon should also consider using him while he’s around.

My first panel of Saturday was a reprise of the LGBT Superheroes talk. I was pleased to be able to update this with a slide about Arnie Roth, who I hadn’t known about when I originally wrote it. Of course Marvel then went and announced the gender-swapped Thor a few days later, so now I need to update it again. I didn’t count attendance but it looked like several dozen, which was very pleasing.

Next up was Bear’s Guest of Honor interview, which was conducted by Sari Polvinen. Bear has written a lot of books, not all of which I have read, so there was a lot of territory to cover. Personally I would have liked to hear a lot more about the Jacob’s Ladder trilogy and the Eternal Sky trilogy, both of which I love. On the other hand, I got to hear a lot of things I didn’t know, which is a good thing.

Also on Saturday I did a panel on Likeable Characters, which was the brainchild of Australian writer, Rjurik Davidson (who is married to a Finn and currently living in Finland). Also on the panel were Hannu and Fan Guest of Honor, Jukka Halme. This made for a nice balance of two authors and two critics. We generally agreed that we much preferred characters to be interesting than likeable. I may have ranted a bit about book reviewers who slate a book because they can’t find a character in it whom they would want to be.

My usual Saturday afternoon gig is hosting the masquerade. This year things went a bit pear-shaped for various reasons. I’ve vented about this before, so I’m not going to do so again. All I’ll say is that a masquerade is not just another program item. You can just schedule it and assume that everything will work. Maybe I need to give my “How to Run a Masquerade” talk again.

Having said that, I was really pleased with the quality of the entries. Special thanks go to Alex Rowland, one of Scott’s fans who turned up with a fabulous hand-sewn dress, and to Simo Nousiainen who is always brilliant. Huge thanks also go to Jukka Särkijärvi for hosting the half-time show, which turned out to be a nightmare experience.

After the masquerade there was a dinner at Harald, the Viking-themed restaurant (which I explained to Bear & Scott as Finns taking the piss out of the Swedes). As usual, the restaurant did us proud. More people were converted to the cult of Cinnamon Beer. Hannu and I shared something huge and meaty that came skewered onto a sword. I was particularly pleased to see Scott’s conversion from extreme skepticism to total adoration on the subject of tar ice cream. He described it as tasting like the landscape of a Tolkien novel, which I think Harald ought to ask for permission to use in their advertising.

With the Saturday night party and filking in full swing, including Toni Jerrman’s 50th birthday celebrations, it was a very long day. I ducked out early because I had a very busy Sunday. It began with Hannu’s Guest of Honor presentation, which was superb. He began by talking about spacesuits. I had no idea that the suits worn by the Apollo astronauts were all hand-sewn by (mainly black) steamstresses working for Playtex. It appears that bras, girdles and spacesuits have a lot in common. I rather wished that Karen Burnham could have been there, as she has actually worked on spacesuit design. After the talk, Hannu read a story about one of those steamstresses and a haunted spacesuit. It is apparently sold to an anthology. More news when I have it. I want you all to read that story.

Next up was a lunch meeting with Suzanne Van Rooyen to plan the LGBT panel that we’d be giving later in the day. Suzanne is a South African writer currently living in Finland. I’ve read one of her books and it was pretty good.

From that I went straight into moderating a panel on Women & Publishing, which also featured Bear, Johanna Sinisalo, my Peruvian friend, Tanya Tynjälä, and a new (to me) Finnish writer, Salla Simukka. I don’t think we covered much new ground. Much of what was discussed simple covered the various debates about discoverability that have been going on online all year. Given what Tanya said, it sounds like things are even worse in the Spanish-speaking world than in the English-speaking one. Finland appears to be somewhat better, though by no means perfect.

Next was the LGBT panel, in which Suzanne and I were joined by Finnish academic, Markku Soikkeli. The program had us in one of the smaller rooms and I figured it would be something like the similar panels I have seen at other conventions where only a handful of people turn up, all of them LGBT-identified. I arrived about 5 minutes before the scheduled start to find the room packed out and people being turned away. Apparently it had been like that for some time. We are definitely doing this again at Archipelacon, this time with a bigger room.

The basic structure of the panel was in three parts. First I talked about how LGBT writers and material have always been about in SF&F, but have mostly been forgotten for all the same reasons that women writers disappear from the collective memory. Suzanne then talked about what is happening now in YA, where there is a genuine attempt to increase diversity (possibly even with a dedicated convention on Diversity in YA). Finally Markku asked us about how LGBT characters are represented in SF&F, and what it means if, for example, an alien species has three genders, or a gender change is achieved by magic.

Having finished that job, I then had to find Marianna Leikomaa and Jenny Teerikangas to judge the hall costumes. Thankfully they had done most of the work already, so all I had to do was make one decision. And finally there was the Closing Ceremonies, at which Eemeli ambushed me with a request for a speech, and I gave out the hall costume prizes.

There was an hour or so gap between the Closing Ceremonies and the Dead Dog. I went back to the hotel and went to sleep. Thankfully I woke up in time to get to the party before all of the food was gone, though I did miss Heli’s Tentacle Pie (which is apparently a bit like Stargazy Pie but with sausages instead of mackerel).

Bear and Scott bravely spent the evening sat outside on the grass enjoying the fabulous Finnish weather and endless daylight. I was somewhat nervous of the Finnish Airforce, who tend to attack me more in Jyväskylä than anywhere else. Thankfully I got away with only three bites this year. Also I have discovered a new treatment. Apparently the chemicals that cause the itching in a mosquito bite denature at above 40C. So if you get bitten the thing to do is give the affected area regular blasts with a hair dryer. It seems to work.

The trip back was fairly straightforward save for the inevitable summer roadworks and occasionally rumblings by Thor. We dodged the worst of the rain. Back in Helsinki I got to sample Finnish blood sausage (very like black pudding) and Paula’s home-made naga-spiced cranberry jelly, which go very well together.

Talking of food, one of my new favorite things is blueberry and cardamom ice cream. Yum.

And that was Finncon done for another year. I hope to see many of you at Archipelacon next year.

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