Report: Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, Part 3

The final installment of this three part report on Worldcon 75 no-one is ever going to read is here! But what a whopper of a story it is – after a contemplative, spiritual first part and the pure adrenaline rush of the sequel, this conclusion to the trilogy delivers everything you could ever expect and then some. So dive right in…

Friday: The Hugos are awarded and some  partying ensues

Worldcon 75 Hugo awards

Busy day at work so I missed a lot of good stuff during the day – again. But at 17:00 I fitted into a room with a panel about self-publishing that was pretty nifty for aspiring writers and also a good follow-up to the slushpile-talk the night before.

The self-published authors all had different degrees of success; some made a living just by writing (five or even seven figure numbers, I was a bit amazed actually) while others did other jobs besides but they all seemed to love what they were doing. And it all seems to be possible because of two things: 1) e-books and 2) Amazon. Those factors have made the self-publishing market a viable alternative, and of course I’ve been reading the blog of Wool-author and self-publishing/Amazon-afficiando Hugh Howey so this was familiar territory. But it was interesting to hear about the pitfalls and rewards that this type of authorship comes with.

Some great tips were also given, the most helpful ones being that when your book is ready two important things should always be done at a (small) cost: 1) pay for an editor to rip through your darling, and 2) pay for the cover art – commission it from a good artist! It wasn’t even that expensive as figures on both sides of 1.000 $ were thrown around for this work combined, which isn’t like the 10.000 $ I was expecting. Otherwise self-publishing is pretty much Benjaminless for the author.

Also, print-on-demand was an interesting phenomenon that I hadn’t really taken notice of before this, as it means that self-publishing doesn’t involve printing costs – those who want a paper book can buy it at no extra cost to the author! Damn, that has to be the future of textbooks at schools, for example…

The Hugo Awards

I went to check out where the Hugo awards were going to be held in advance, and a line (surprise, surprise) had already started to grow so I decided to join it in order to get a good seat.

Now, anyone who has ever read science-fiction in their lifetime has probably noticed that some of the novels sometimes have “Hugo Award winner” or “Hugo and Nebula award winner” printed on the cover. Seen that text? And that those novels usually tend to be of very high quality. Well, Worldcon is the place where the Hugo awards for different categories are awarded annually during a small ceremony – it most definitely can be likened to the Oscars of the sci-fi world (the Nebula is more like the Golden Globe then, if I’ve understood correctly).

When I buy books for the summer, I want to at least have some *really* good ones in the mix in case the ones I’m not so sure about turn out to be less than exciting. And the Hugo winners usually come in handy then.

So it was pretty exciting seeing history being made.

The ceremony wasn’t a big show like the Oscars, but it was similar in its “American award show”-style with award categories presented by different people in the industry – nice and suitably geeky yet festive. I can imagine what a feeling it must be winning and getting to accept your award at the podium, emotions were certainly surfacing that evening. And, it is probably quite a career boost too – even if you’re just nominated for the Hugo award.

The thing I hadn’t really understood about this con – and the con-culture in general, though, is the fandom concept but I might have now gotten some insight of that too. Fans are important in the entertainment industry, of course, but the kind of fandom at play here might be a bit deeper than what usually is meant when someone is a fan of, say, Taylor Swift (*those* fans might need deep pockets, but that’s another kind of deep). Here, fans and authors are more symbiotically entangled than in the movie or music business it seems like, as fans are also awarded and celebrated during Hugo awards. I had no idea who all those people winning the podcast,  fan art and such categories were, but it is a fun concept nonetheless.

Now, I’ve never idolized authors or rock-stars – only their books and music – and never thought of myself as a “fan”, but I do appreciate those who are… it’s basically two sides of a coin, really. And this occasion made me think about that, and perhaps cherish what good fandom might mean.

The awards for 2017 are listed here on the official awards site.

An unexpected party

After the Hugo awards I figured people would go out for drinks, and since the weekend had begun it was an option for me too. Thinking that the real authors and longtime worldconners probably had their own private parties I just went to the conference centre lobby bar.

The lobby was pretty packed, and I bought a beer and sat down in one vacant table on the sides where I could observe the surroundings like Aragorn in the animated Lord of the Rings movie. Sipping the cold, dark Krusovice  I thought this was just like when we played AD&D with my friends back in the day, all our adventures usually began by going to a bar for drinks and listen to rumours for quests…

Lo and behold, soon a party of darkly dressed fans from Joensuu in eastern  Finland came to the table and asked if they could sit down. “Of course”, I replied.  Soon it became clear that we all spoke finnish. They were just the 100% kind of stereotypical sci-fi & fantasy fans I had imagined to meet here,  and it was nice chatting with them about the scene in Finland and what they thought of Worldcon. Also, we talked about the Hugo awards and the controversies (read GRRM’s blog, for example) that had surrounded this happening for the last couple of years and I got some surprising info that the city of Kouvola in Finland was even somehow connected to this. That is quite a depressing city, from what I’ve heard, although I knew a hot girl from there that I slightly regret not banging when I had the chance (story of my life)… but, back on track:

The Joensuu-people soon left and people started leaving the lobby bar as it closed at 22:00. The only open bar in the Messukeskus was Terra Nova near the entrance, so I thought that I’d have one more there and then go home.

Well, that was the plan until another group of fans joined the table I occupied and ordered some shots and I got one too so I ordered a round as well and then the next guy ordered a round and so on. Some of those fans had some polyamoric habits and one married guy headed off with two girls (of which one was his ex who was now married but still dating other women) for a threesome at some point, but the night continued with the rest of us until closing time at 04:00 when I take a cab home.

Nothing really happened but it was a much needed night out and it was good to hang out with some nice new people who shared your interests, like a young danish guy who was so optimistic about everything and worked with disabled people making very little money and just believing in kindness etc. I wish him the very best, hope to some day buy him a beer if I see him again. The best nights out are sometimes like small movies, or an TV-show episode at least, and perhaps I’m always searching for that American Graffiti -type vibe when I’m going out.

Saturday: Before they are hangover’d – Abercrombie. And a storm.

Worldcon 75 Joe Abercrombie (on the left) interview
Ouch… slight hangover, which resulted in me missing the earlier events – I especially regret missing the My First Novel -panel. But last night at the bar was just about worth it, so it balanced out this mishap.

The State of E-books -panel was perhaps not that informative after the nice self-publishing panel – it mostly covered the same problem with e-books that has existed since the beginning, which is the antiquated ways the publishing rights to books are sold according to territories. Which of course doesn’t make sense in today’s digital, no-boundaries-world anymore. Buying e-books is fortunately easier now than ten years ago, I personally use the Kobo store for my 2009 Sony e-reader, but it is kind of annoying not being able to buy from whichever site you want to because of from what country you are.

I was going to get a signature from Joe Abercrombie next, but somehow I didn’t have it in me to join the line to his signing so went to eat a second breakfast to the café instead. My inner Homer Simpson was going “mmmm…” for a jelly doughnut and some coffee.

So I just went to the Joe Abercrombie interview later on, and it was fairly entertaining too – this guy is like some charismatic ad-agency guy who says he just writes the kind of adventures he himself (and I) would like to read.  Anyone who appreciates Sergio Leone westerns knows what (s)he’s talking about, in my book. Joe is one of my go-to authors when I want some good fantasy that I can just read and enjoy, that is dark and humorous at the same time. You can read my reviews here.

Garden party

And that was it – there was a masquerade later on in the evening, but I had a friend’s 40th birthday party to attend to nearby at the Kumpula botanical gardens, so I went there in a really oppressing sort of hot weather. Soon after, an epic storm broke out in Helsinki causing all sorts of chaos (but no casualties fortunately) so I just stayed at the party having fun for the rest of the night with old biology student friends.

Sunday: All Good Things…

Worldcon 75 cool science of the future panel

The last day of any event always tends to have the least content and a sort of sad feeling lingering around it when things are about to end… *sniff*. It dawned on me now that this event was soon over, an event that for so many months and years had been in the making.

Still, I attended three more panels:

Tomorrows cool physics – which was maybe more about “what’s not cool anymore”, but still had a nice group of panelists including a very pragmatical missile engineer as opposed to the much more abstract string theorist. I’m sorry to say, but string theory seems day by day to seem more like some kind of abstract construction than anything real in my mind. That space engine was mentioned, the “Cannae Drive” which is a mystery still waiting to be sorted out, but the scientists believed it had to be some sort of measurement error.

It’s more complicated than that – a panel discussing the popularization of science which I went to see only because of Joe Haldeman, the legend behind Forever War.  An important theme widely discussed in Finland as well, since scientists aren’t as well regarded anymore in this age of simple truths and alternative facts. Still, I don’t remember much more than Joe Haldeman (yeah!).

Defamiliarising Europe – a talk, or lecture if you will, on something called “hypernormalisation”, definitely bringing the science fiction theme back towards reality with brexit and Trump and such dystopias of our age… perhaps this was more science from the Arts and Humanities -department than the Hard Sciences -department so I was a bit raising my eyebrows here but it was interesting being drawn back to Earth from the stars with this theme.

So, Worldcon 75 was a fun and inspirational event, but now I won’t dwell on that anymore for as you know – All Good Things…

Worldcon comes to an end

Report: Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, Part 2

…in which I tell you in my usual, self indulgent way what panels and talks I attended, what the whole experience was like etc. The full programme schedule is still available here. Part 2. covers Wednesday and Thursday!

Wednesday: Vacuum bubbles and stuffed squares

Vacuum bubbles

I was a bit surprised that Worldcon was a whopping five day event, and hadn’t really prepared for it… should have taken the week off from work but didn’t, so unfortunately the first three days I couldn’t attend the program during the day. But kudos to the organizers for packing a massive amount of events into all five days,  lots of stuff to experience and enjoy.

Running (well, taking the bus really) to Pasila after work, I excitedly got my Worldcon 75 -badge and strolled around for a while getting a feel for the  atmosphere and taking some mental notes:

  • Quite many people walking around but there seems to be lot of space unused
  • Yes, this… *checks how people are dressed* … is definitely a sci-fi and fantasy convention, the ratio of  geeks-to-normals is maybe 5 : 1
  • Whoa, some of these geeks are old! Cool!
  • Also some pretty hot geek girls, which is… nice
  • Fuck, I probably look too old and stupid to make any moves on those girls, better to forget any notions for now…. damn!
  • The fair centre restaurants seem empty and boring

Well, those were my impressions before I went to the see the talks in the conference rooms…
Worldcon 75 - the Trade Hall

As a science geek, my obvious first stop was the physics talk “Destroying the Universe with Vacuum Bubbles” by Arttu Rajantie, in which he explained how stuff related to the Higgs boson and quantum mechanics can, or rather *will* cause the end of the universe at some point. Nothing to be really worried about, though, just a theoretical event that takes places billions of years from now and accelerating the process seemed to require amounts of energy with the need for technology like machinery that can consume entire galaxies in order to speed things up, so… keep calm! Still, a nice snippet of science that has apparently already been used in some stories.

Read a brief version of the theory here (Cosmos magazine).

(Now, after a good start I decided to take a break and have a beer and plan my next move, because I hadn’t really checked the schedule in advance because… well, that’s just how I roll, I like to plan out some things but mostly improvise. Because I’m lazy. There, I said it.)

Next stop was going to be the “Infamous Bad Books Covers“-panel, which seemed interesting just based on the title, and then it was time to go home. Well, turns out  Worldcon had sold an unusually large amount of memberships in the last days, causing capacity problems in the individual rooms. Finland is a small country after all, and most of the meeting rooms are small, meant for maybe 50-100 people. With over 10000 attendees at the con there were certainly going to be certain events that more than 50 people wanted to attend, no matter what. Meaning, when I went to the panel half an hour before it started, the room was already full.

In the news (YLE): Worldcon75 restricts ticket sales amid huge queues

As I’ve been to some conferences before, this is sometimes just how it is – you can’t attend two interesting events in succession, but need to pause for one hour and start queueing well in advance for the next during the following hour. On wednesday the situation was probably worse than usually in these cases but the arrangers did what they could to smooth out things by getting more space from the venue (which is usually expensive) and shuffling supposedly more popular talks around… so, once you got into the rhythm of “one hour event – one hour pause – one hour event – one hour pause…”, it was easier to plan ahead.

Missing out on the bad book covers, I quickly checked the online schedule for a Plan B, and found it almost immediately – a panel called “Queer pirate smut fantasy” where some female authors discussed… well, precisely what the title says. Plan B definitely succeeded in providing a suitable level of entertainment, because of course I’ve always liked pirate stories. Who doesn’t?!

To sum the first day up: two nice talks, a cold beer and getting a feel for what the whole event was about.

Thursday: Scott Lynch, alien minds and the slushpile

Worldcon 75 talk on alien minds
Authors reading excerpts from their books might not sound that interesting, but on Thursday there was the chance to see and hear Scott Lynch live so that made the event compulsory for me. He is, of course, the father of the Locke Lamora fantasy books, a.k.a. The Gentlemen Bastards -sequence. With Patrick Rothfuss and George RR Martin he sort of forms the holy trinity of contemporary fantasy.

First, however, there was this guy I’d never heard of – Lawrence M. Schoen – reading stuff from his books. Both he and Scott Lynch were very funny and verbally gifted in person, making small quips all the time which made me think that somehow Americans are so much better at talking than Finns. Mr. Schoen’s reading seemed to revolve around some comical sci-fi series of his, and not knowing the main character I didn’t get that much out of his story other than what seemed to be something that fans of the TV-series Babylon 5 or perhaps Killjoys might enjoy. Mr. Lynch then took the stage, and he’s actually also a very broad shouldered and handsome guy in person (also a trained firefighter), so not all fantasy authors are these nerdy looking guys, you know! “Damn, if I only looked like that”, I thought.

Scott Lynch didn’t read anything related to his bastard gentlemen, but instead an excerpt from a forthcoming anthology short story.  He has a really great writing style, and the tale of the – apparently – unlucky swordsman sucked you right in with its narrative. I highly recommend the Locke Lamora books as they are something special definitely, but it was also nice to hear something outside of that realm as well.

Next up, after a pause (because the queues, y’know) I listened to another science talk:  What science can tell us about alien minds.  It revolved around contemplating what the odds are that conscious minds evolve on different worlds. The examples were definitely familiar stuff from my biology days, and the talk almost turned into a lecture on primates at some point perhaps even going slightly off the rails. But the conclusion of the talk was probably that yes, minds developing through evolution is not too improbable an event as to make the situation on Earth a one-off happening. In fact, on our world other animals beside humans have been found to have some form of consciousness, like squids. But readers of Lovecraft already knew that…

Last but not least, I listened to an enlightening talk with some publishing house editors about “the slushpile“, i.e. when unknown authors blindly send their manuscripts to publishers with the hope that the brilliance of their submitted work just shines through the text… and really, I sort of guessed but had no idea that it is *so not* the way that talent gets found. At all. Writers almost always come through agents who the editors know, and even then their works are most of the time dismissed.

Apparently, a lot of the writing sent to the slushpile seems to be quite bad anyway but some good tips were given if you still want to try: write the best stuff you can write (without typos), send in your manuscript in *paper* and just the first 30 pages or so… if it’s good excellent, you’ll perhaps (even then unlikely) be contacted for more. But, getting a name elsewhere and an agent seems to be a better way to start your career.

So, writing and getting published as a total unknown by just sending in your manuscript does seem like a gargantuan task!

After this talk I so did not feel like quitting my day job to become an author – back home to sleep and an always enjoyable bout of office work the following day before Worldcon REALLY began!

…to be continued in Part 3.