Issue #109 - September 2004
Hi there, and welcome to the post-Hugo-winning now traditional giant Worldcon report issue of Emerald City. This issue is a little light on books, but crammed full of stuff about Noreascon 4. If this isnít to your taste, normal service will be resumed next month. But the Worldcon issue of Emerald City has had the highest hit counts of the year for some time now so I think Iím doing something right with this.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
You guys are awesome. As Frank Wu once said, "I love you all!!!"
Due to the huge amount of Worldcon coverage, thereís no mainstream book or translated book in this issue. However, we do have the start of a new series. As part of the run-up to Interaction I am asking fans around Europe to write about science fiction (and fandom) in their countries. Interaction is, after all, a European Worldcon, not just a Scottish one. Our promotions office is in Ireland, our servers are based in Norway and one of the Co-Chairs lives in The Netherlands. With any luck, by the time we get to Glasgow, weíll have a collection of articles about SF in twelve countries around Europe. We kick off this issue with Jukka Halme talking about Finland.
In this issue
Who, Me? Ė Címon, pinch me, surely we didnít really win a Hugo
Lobsters in Space Ė Worldcon reportage that doesnít involve my doing Tigger impressions
Hugo Analysis Ė All of the other pointy, shiny things
My First Worldcon Ė Jeff Vandermeer sums up a new experience
Past Painting Future Ė Judith Clute looks at the N4 Retro Art Show
Regency Magic Ė Susanna Clarke provides some very elegant fantasy
Lifeís A Gas (Giant) Ė Iain M. Banks contemplates life among the slow folk
War Against the Gods Ė Steven Eriksonís epic Malazan Empire series arrives in America
Once Upon a Bank Ė M.M. Buckner creates a fairy tale for the cyberpunk age
Sisters of Mercy Ė Rebecca Locksley creates an interesting family
Interview: Old Earth Books - Cheryl talks to Mike Walsh
Short Stuff Ė Short Fiction from Avram Davidson, M. John Harrison, Hannu Rajaniemi and TTA Press
The World of Finndom Ė Jukka Halme opens up our series on SF around Europe with a look at his native Finland
Miscellany Ė All those Worldcon awards, and more
Footnote Ė The End
And the winner isÖ
Well knock me down with a feather. This wasnít supposed to happen.
General comments on the Hugo ceremony will follow later. This, quite shamelessly and unapologetically, is about me, Kevin and Anne.
So there I was sat in the nominee section with Charlie Stross and Bob Eggleton. Kevin was busy elsewhere and Anne was off being Neil Gaimanís brain. Iím looking down at my Palm as they announce the Best Fanzine nominees. After all, it isnít done to applaud yourself. Suddenly there is this big gasp from the audience. I look up. Jack Speer is gamely carrying on with opening the envelope, but Neil is looking up at the heavens as if heís about to be struck down by lightning. "Whatís happening?" I ask people, "whatís all the muttering and laughter about?" No one will tell me. Then Jack announces that I have won and the whole incident goes out of my mind.
Sometime later I am wandering around the Sheraton and people keep asking me how it felt when I saw my name flash up. Slowly but surely the awful truth dawns on me. Some poor geek in Tech accidentally flashed up the winner of Best Fanzine before Jack had a chance to open the envelope. And I was the only person in the auditorium who didnít see it.
So off I went up on stage. People told me afterwards that I looked deliriously happy. I certainly didnít hear anyone cheering, even though many people told me that they had been. Beth Gwinn said I looked like it was a dream come true, and it was.
Up on stage, and away from the mike, Jack Speer looked at me mischievously and asked me if I really wanted the rocket. There was only one answer to that. And then I had to say something. I had actually scripted two speeches, one for each Hugo Iíd been nominated for, but one was more important than the other and I had to do some quick edits. I also forgot a few key points. Here is approximately what I meant to say.
It used to be traditional for Martin Hoare to collect this award. That was in the days before Dave Langford moved himself up a weight class in his ceaseless quest to win more Hugos than Charles Brown. But it would only be appropriate if Martin were up here now, because this is all his fault.
Twenty years ago, when I was a young and naïve computer programmer, my boss, a long-haired, beer-swilling Oxford graduate named Martin, told me that I had the makings of a science fiction fan. "You should come to an Eastercon," he said, "youíll enjoy it. Iíll introduce you to my friend Dave, heís quite funny."
So I went, and I did enjoy it. I met John Brunner. And two young lads called Neil Gaiman and Kim Newman, who had just published their first book, something called Ghastly Beyond Belief. Dave was indeed quite funny, and also a tremendous inspiration to a young fanzine editor.
I didnít go to many cons after that. There had been a Hawklords concert at the Eastercon and it took a while for my hearing to recover. But when I got a job in Australia I knew that science fiction fandom would be a good place to make new friends and keep in touch with old ones. As a result Emerald City was born. And now here I am.
So thank you very much to Martin, and to Dave, without whom I would not be here today. Thank you also to Anne Murphy, my proofreader, and to Kevin Standlee, without whose enthusiasm and encouragement I would have not have kept publishing this long. And thank you most of all to my readers, and everyone who voted for me. Thank you!
The post-ceremony photo shoot was a bit of a scrum, and having people shoot up at us while we are on stage makes me look like I have about twice as many double chins as I actually have. Anne was already about, able to leave Neil to the media for a few minutes, and Kevin got through the crowds in the end. Chris Barkley kindly took some pictures of the three of us. You have doubtless already seen one on the Emerald City home page. Frank Wu and Jay Lake were busy doing Bob Eggleton impressions with their hair, much to the delight of the assembled paparazzi. The press all wanted to talk to Neil. I donít remember seeing Lois at all. I think she was submerged in happy fans.
Hereís a piece of advice for you. Even if you think that you have no chance whatsoever of winning a Hugo you have been nominated for, eat lots at the pre-ceremony reception. I was way too busy taking photos. But I hadnít eaten since having lunch with Jeff and Ann Vandermeer, and by the time I got to the Hugo Losersí Party it was heaving and there was a mob around the food. I went in search of something else, and discovered it was midnight and all of the restaurants were closed. Fortunately Farah Mendlesohn and Liz Williams found me and rescued me before I fainted. This is not a good way to celebrate winning a Hugo.
The next few days were decidedly crazy. My email in box filled up with messages of congratulation, many from people I had never heard of, and from all over the world. It was impossible to walk more than about 10 yards inside the convention center without someone stopping me and congratulating me. It was an amazing experience. Langford tells me that people start getting bored with you after the first half dozen wins or so. I shall try very hard not to get boring.
(I did actually consider retiring, but in his Guest of Honor interview Peter Weston revealed what happens when you fold a long-running and well-loved fanzine. "It is rather sad," he said, "but then people ask you to chair a Worldcon." I think Iíll just keep publishing.)
Which brings me to a very important question. Next year Kevin is managing the Events Division, and I am serving as his PA. He is not on the Hugo Administration Sub-committee, but he does have management responsibility for its operations. By WSFS rules, he cannot even see the votes, let alone influence them. However, fandom has a bad habit of seeing conspiracy everywhere and given the reaction in some quarters to my win (of which more later) I am anxious not to bring the Hugos into disrepute. I am therefore considering declining nomination, should I be nominated. I would appreciate your views on this.
On the one hand, were I a potential nominee, Iíd not want my competition to withdraw. I have always maintained that I want to beat Dave Langford fair and square, not because he has taken himself out of the running (and that is an ambition yet to be achieved). But on the other hand I will be very busy at Interaction helping Kevin run Events and I donít want that to suffer because Iím being distracted by being a Hugo nominee. And, as I said, I donít want there to be any suspicion of voting irregularity. The success of the Worldcon, and the good reputation of the Hugos, is far more important than my winning a rocket. I would be particularly interested in hearing from past Hugo administrators and from my potential fellow nominees.
I always knew that if I won a Hugo it would be vastly unpopular in certain quarters. Having someone post a vituperative rant about me all over the Internet was no surprise at all. I should note to begin with that many people who produce fanzines are my friends, starting, of course, with Dave Langford. Mike Glyer and Bob Devney have also been good friends for some time. Steve Davies and Giulia de Cesare have stayed at my house and I at theirs. Guy Lillian has been hugely complimentary about Emerald City, and Richard and Nicki Lynch have always been very gracious fellow nominees. Alison Scott invited me to the Plokta Cabalís post-Hugo party. Fanzine editors are, in general, very nice people.
Unfortunately there is a small group of people who think that they are the true guardians of fannish tradition, and that anyone who breaks their rules is a potential antichrist who must be opposed at every turn. Emerald City breaks just about every rule that they have. It is published on the Internet rather than sent through the mail. It is free, rather than exchanged for "the usual". It doesnít have a letter column. And worst of all it is actually about science fiction. Having such a publication win the Best Fanzine Hugo is causing certain people to have major heart failure. The Whore of Babylon (thatís me) has triumphed and the End of the Fannish World is Nigh. How sad for them.
For the most part Iím trying to stay out of this. If people want to set themselves up as "trufen" and insist that everyone else produce fanzines the way that they say, well thatís their right. But I also have the right to ignore them. The only thing that really annoyed me was the guy who claimed that Bruce Gillespieís SF Commentary was a proper fanzine because it contained real SF criticism whereas Emerald City just contained worthless book reviews. But there is a serious point behind all this, and it is as follows.
I donít break sacred fannish traditions out of ignorance and a love of vandalism. I break them because Iíve thought about them. I had eight years of producing a paper fanzine, on a mimeo duplicator, which I posted to subscribers and traded with other editors. It wasnít a science fiction fanzine, so the trufen crowd wonít accept that it was a real fanzine ó one of the myths that sustains them in their bunker is that SF is the only community that ever produced fanzines. But I have done the fanzine publishing thing. When I came to start Emerald City I knew that I had neither the time nor the money nor the resources to do that again. Email, and later the Internet, allowed me to publish much more economically.
And I was right. Thanks to the Internet we are seeing a flourishing of fan writing such as has never been seen before. More con reports have been written about Noreascon 4 than any other Worldcon. Many of them have been by authors as well as fans. The trufen wonít recognize a blog or LiveJournal account as a fanzine, but what it contains is fan writing nonetheless.
Now you can quite fairly say that Emerald City is elitist in its own way. It doesnít carry fan fiction, it rarely touches on TV or film or art, or even tie-in books. These are things that do not interest me much. But the difference (I hope) between me and the trufen is that I donít maintain that what I do is the only way that fanzines should be. I revel in diversity. Emerald City might not be the sort of zine that everyone wants to read, but it will defend to the death the right of all science fiction fans to pub their ish on whatever subject they see fit, in whatever medium they see fit.
Lobsters in Space
Three years ago I commented that Philadelphia might have the perfect Worldcon site. Boston, however, runs it close. There are points in favor of both locations.
The Hynes convention center itself is an exceptionally boring building. The Philadelphia convention center is built into an old railway station and has a Victorian exuberance to its architecture. The Hynes is all blocky, bricky functionality. It does the minimum necessary to fulfill the needs. It is huge, but it is on three floors and can be a little confusing.
Where Boston scores is in the surrounding neighborhood. Downtown Philadelphia was somewhat intimidating, and the convenient market closed down over the holiday weekend. The Hynes is embedded in a high class shopping mall that has everything from Krispy Kreme donuts to Legal Sea Food (lobsters, yay!!!), not to mention some very nice shopping. If my bank account hadnít been seriously in the red during the trip I would have spent a lot of money on clothes. The surrounding streets are full of restaurants of all kinds, and yet more shops. When packing to leave on Monday night I realized I had forgotten to buy the strapless bra I needed for the Hugo ceremony. At most Worldcon locations that would have been a disaster. In Boston I just trotted round to the nearest department store.
The convention was using two hotels, a Sheraton that connected directly to the convention center, and a Marriott that connected to the mall via a skywalk. I stayed in the Hilton, just across the road from the Sheraton, and I think I got the best deal. Of course I was there because I could get some nights free on Hilton points, making the stay cheaper than using the con hotels, but having seen the rooms that Farah Mendlesohn (Sheraton) and Liz Williams (Marriott) got I have to say that the Hilton was by far the most spacious of the three. It also had a very good corned beef hash for breakfast.
I have heard from several people that the bar in the Sheraton was terrible. The service was slow and rude, and they apparently ran out of Guinness on Saturday. Like many an Eastercon hotel before them, they had been warned how much fans drink, and they chose not to believe the warnings. There were also huge queues for check-in on Thursday (maybe Friday as well, I canít remember). They double-booked Neil Gaiman with a wedding and the Gaylaxian party. They charged $9.95/day for Internet access whereas the Hilton charged $9.95/week. The video check-out system was broken on Monday and Tuesday. Lots of people apparently had trouble with their bills. There were reports of security problems. The performance of the hotel was so bad that Deb Geisler commented publicly on it on the convention blog. I hope that someone from Sheraton corporate HQ is reading this. I havenít heard of such a poor hotel performance at a Worldcon in a long time.
The Marriott, on the other hand, appeared to get things right. And they had a sushi bar. I can forgive a lot for good sushi.
One serious problem with the site was signage. At the beginning of the con there was very little of it. More started to appear later on, but many people never discovered the direct connections between the third floor of the Sheraton and the second floor of the convention center (where the ConCourse and Dealersí Room were). This wasnít helped by the fact the Registration was on the first floor of the Hynes, so peopleís first experience of the con was heading for there.
This was by no means entirely the fault of the convention. They had planned to have signs. Indeed, their space usage plans (and prime dealer space allocation) were all based on people coming in direct from the Sheraton. But the convention center wanted $30,000 to put up signs, so the con bought a sign printer. Which promptly expired on them and took two days to repair. Which is why the signage was all late. Sometimes you just canít win.
In past Worldcon reports you may have heard me talk at length about what I call the Hall 2 Problem. Most Worldcons make use of three major open spaces: the Dealersí Room, the Art Show, and the Exhibits Hall. In almost every Worldcon I have been to, the Exhibits area has been a disaster. David Levine quotes Teresa Nielsen Hayden as complaining that San Antonio had "too much white space", but it was positively crowded compared to the Exhibit Hall in Philadelphia. The problem is that most Worldcons just take in the Worldcon History exhibits, add a few fan tables, and donít care much after that. ConJosé made the space look busier by putting autographing in it. But it was still very dull. It wasnít an area where you would spend any great deal of time, except in a queue.
So Noreascon 4 decided to attack the Hall 2 Problem. I donít think they killed it, but they certainly won by a knockout.
To start with they made a serious attempt to get exhibits in. There was a NASA stand, and a really good costume exhibit. The place was decorated, and pathways through it designed to make it look busy. They put the Fanzine lounge in there, and the Internet lounge. Because they had wi-fi access, and because of a lack of funds for computers, there were not many terminals, and unless you had mobility problems you had to stand to use them. There have been some complaints about this, but it sure kept people from hogging the terminals.
Another clever use of space was to put several of the con offices in Hall 2. Newsletter was there, as were Exhibits themselves. The Masquerade office was a table next to the costume exhibit (though there was an Events office as well for storage). This helped make the area look busy, made the con staff easy to find, and freed up rooms for use in programming.
But the best thing of all about the area, which N4 called the ConCourse, was The Mended Drum. Believe it or not, the con actually went through the effort of building a mock mediaeval tavern in Hall 2. They had reasonable food (though at the usual extortionate convention center prices - $2 for a Snickers bar!) and they did not run out of Guinness. Plus some mad people had loads of fun making up the scenery.
The tavern was used for a lot of programming. As well as Kaffeklatsches they had "Literary Beer" sessions in the Drum. And in the evening Tech piped live coverage of the major events into the Drum. Savvy con-goers quickly realized that the sound in the Drum was far better than in the auditorium so the place was packed every night.
All in all it was the best Exhibits area I have ever seen at a Worldcon. I think it could still do with a few more commercial exhibits, and a little more dynamism. I gather than Interaction has some interesting ideas along those lines. But N4 has raised the bar for quality of Exhibits. I hope that other Worldcons at least manage to live up to the standard they have set (and this is kind of appropriate because Kevin tells me that he thinks Noreascon 3 was the first Worldcon to have a specific Exhibits hall).
Registration & Publications
One of the first things that happens when you arrive at a Worldcon is that you get your membership badge and publications. This can often set the tone for the rest of the convention. I was pretty confident here. Sharon Sbarsky did a superb job on Registration at Chicon 2000, and with her in charge of the whole Member Services Division I was expecting everything to run smoothly. And so it did.
The only comments I have seen about N4ís Registration are that it was so quiet it gave the impression that the con would be very small, and embarrassingly that it was much better than ConJosé. Still, Iím not entirely surprised by that, and at least it means that people are starting to forget how truly awful Registration was at ConFrancisco.
The names on the badges were blessedly readable for once, though not quite as large as ConJoséís. The badge itself was a large laminate with a clip being the only attachment option. Fortunately the badge was just small enough to fit into my handy ConJosé badge holder, which I now take to every Worldcon.
The Souvenir Book (and I am stopping calling it a "program book" because there are some foolish people out there who think it should actually contain the program ó the production quality would suffer badly if it did), edited by Guy Lillian III, is a splendid example of the species. Torontoís Souvenir Book was an absolute disgrace (I canít say this too often: it was), both in its quality and the way in which it was deliberately rude to both its contributors and the World Science Fiction Society. In contrast Bostonís has just about everything right. It is quite beautiful, has nicely balanced content, and even has the "long list" of past Worldcons spot on, though of course Mark Olson would have died of embarrassment if it was not.
Sadly I canít say the same for what N4 called the Convention Guide. Youíll note that the term "pocket program" has gone out of the window, and understandably so. Even Godzilla would have trouble getting this monster into his pocket. Most of it was the program schedule. The majority of fans were, of course, expecting some sort of small, light program grid that they could carry around with them. But, as Deb Geisler explained at the Gripe Session, there was so much program that they couldnít manage to fit it onto daily grids. Is there such a thing as too much program at a convention? I think we may have just found a definition of when this might be so.
The other problem with the Convention Guide is that it tended to describe where important places were rather than state is clearly. You need to have a bunch of paragraphs explaining that there are such things as an Events office or a photo gallery, but you should say clearly at the bottom H201, or 3rd Floor Corridor. This publication wasnít up to the high standards set by the convention.
The restaurant guide looked pretty good, but to be honest it was almost superfluous. There were so many good places to eat just in the block around the convention center that no one needed to look further away unless they had serious dietary restrictions or were very short of cash. Iím told that several of the vendors in the mallís food court shut down early on some days because they ran out of food, which just shows you how far people went to eat.
The newsletter was churned out on a regular schedule and there were always plenty of copies available, from the main stand in the ConCourse if nowhere else. It was functional rather than scintillatingly entertaining, but that is the curse of the Worldcon newsletter editor: you have a job to do and much of the time it is boring.
What I did miss was a decent hoax newsletter. The newsletter team themselves made a game effort, but they were a little busy and very tired so they can be forgiven for not producing something brilliant. I know that the Plokta Cabal are not doing the newsletter next year, so Iím looking forward to them doing something good on the hoax front.
Of course Worldcon just isnít the same without the Daily Frefanzine. Sam Konkin, we miss you.
Something that N4 pioneered was a convention blog. They started up a month or so before the con with a bunch of announcements, but come con time they opened up a new blog with invited contributors, including author Michael Burnstein. Naturally those of us who were already planning to do blogs and Live Journals did so anyway, but Leslie Turek finally caught on to that and started linking through to other peopleís coverage as well. As I think I have said already, this was the best-reported Worldcon ever.
Obviously reading Worldcon reports on the Internet canít in any way replicate the experience of being there. Even if we did things like put up short video clips of masquerade entries and Hugo acceptance speeches Iím sure it would only whet peopleís appetites for the real thing. I think the more coverage we can have, the more likely people outside North America will be to want to try to make it to the US and Canadian cons, and the more keen they will become on having a Worldcon of their own. Plus, of course, the American regulars will be less put out about overseas Worldcons. Iím hoping that Interaction can do a really good job here. Worldcon will always be an event that the majority of fans around the world cannot afford to go to. But giving it good Internet coverage will increase the numbers who make up their minds to get the money somehow, which will in turn help us lower prices, and it will make many more people feel part of the Worldcon community.
The convention started in the most embarrassing way possible: the auditorium wasnít ready in time for opening ceremonies. A huge line developed at the door, stretching all the way around the rotunda and much further for all I know. Mike Glyer and I were stood halfway down the queue and were quietly giggling to ourselves. Oh, how the might of Boston fandom was fallen. Priscilla Olson scurried past muttering, "Itís a glitch, it wasnít supposed to happen." Well no, I donít suppose it was.
The reason for the delay is bound up with the nature of convention center-based Worldcons. In most cases there is no purpose-built theatre in which to hold major events. One has to be built in one of the exhibition halls, and that means building a stage, putting all the tech in place and so on. Despite working very hard in the past few days, N4 was about 20 minutes behind their final deadline. The Tech folks are not keen to take the rap for this, and that seems fair. One of the most commonly quoted problems with N4, if you talked to people working on it, was "horizontal communication", that is communication between the various divisions. The Tech people are inevitably the servants of many masters, and it appears that in the last few days before the con they had been run ragged with demands on their time.
The mark of a good convention, however (and Iíll probably say this several times) is not whether or not it has failures, but how it copes with them when it does. As I said, Opening Ceremonies were about 20 minutes late getting started. I donít know how long they were scheduled to run, but probably some last minute cuts were made in the script because they got us all out in good time to go to the next set of program items.
I note with interest along the way that Peter Jarvis handed the Gavel of WSFS on to Deb Geisler (along with the traditional pile of silly presents). This is perhaps surprising because the word out of Toronto is that Jarvis has been kicked off the board of Torcon 3. See the Business Meeting section for more on this.
But anyway, N4 recovered well from an embarrassing start. And then, on Thursday evening, they blew us all away.
Normally nothing much happens on the Thursday night of a Worldcon. N4 was determined to do something about this, and they invented something called First Night. To a certain extent it was like the Wiscon Gathering writ large. Fan groups from all over the world were invited to reserve a booth and do something, anything, to entertain the crowds. All sorts of things were on offer. There was face painting, there was a magic show, there were blackjack tables, there was an artist doing a live demonstration, Ellen Kushner sang, Interaction ran a tombola, and Bob Devney was getting people to contribute to a fanzine.
Anne, who was working for the Science Fiction Oral History Association, had borrowed a few Hugo rockets and had set up a ring toss stall. Kevin tells me it was a lot harder than it looked, and of course no matter how well you did you could not win a Hugo that way. There were belly dancers (very popular) and quizzes and fortunetellers and a bouncy castle. One group was running an election for the "First Citizen of Fantopia." Rather parochially, if you voted they gave you a sticker with an American flag on it, implying that Worldcon was only for Americans. But most of their candidates were not American, and fandom duly voted Mary Shelly into the job. Thatíll teach them.
It was phenomenal. I have never seen a Worldcon start with so much buzz. This didnít just raise the bar, it put it way out of reach. I think it will be a long time before any Worldcon matches this. (Certainly we have no plans for such a thing in Glasgow.) Leslie Turek, whose brainchild this was, deserves enormous credit, although of course all of us con-runners were going round telling her how she had shown us up and given future Worldcons a target that they couldnít hope to live up to.
The Locus Awards
Due to a breakdown of negotiations with this yearís Westercon, Locus ended up presenting the awards from the Locus Poll at N4 instead. But before they got started there was a brief interlude on behalf of the Cordwainer Smith Award. As I understand it, N4 had decided not to present this award at the Hugos, which is understandable because the Hugo ceremony is very long, but had then forgotten about it. So Charles Brown made space for it in his program slot. John Clute, en route to another panel, turned up to breathlessly announce that the award was going to the husband and wife team of Henry Kuttner and Catherine L. Moore.
I understand that from next year onwards the Cordwainer Smith Award will be presented at Readercon. I think this is a win-win for all involved. It is a great idea for an award (being presented to great writers who have been unjustly neglected) and Readercon is just the sort of place it will go down very well. And on behalf of the Hugo ceremony team at Interaction I have to say that we are much relieved. There are far too many people wanting a place in the Hugo ceremony for their award. No matter how good a claim they might have, we simply donít have the space. Many thanks to Robert Silverberg, John Clute and the rest of the Cordwainer Smith team for coming up with this excellent solution.
So, on with the Locus Awards. Connie Willis was in charge once again. Some of the jokes seemed suspiciously familiar from last year in Seattle (even down to the Hawaiian dolls, which thankfully escaped unscathed this year), but I suspect that very few of the audience were at both events so it didnít matter.
A more serious problem that Connie had was competition from a couple of British jokers, Mssrs. Gaiman and Pratchett, both of whom were in fine form. Latching on to the Hawaiian shirt theme, Neil apologized for wearing his usual black, something he does even in Hawaii itself. When someone in an elevator in Hawaii asked him if he wasnít too hot in a leather jacket he responded, "But they told me at the airport I was in Denmark!"
Terry had a complaint. Well, two of them actually. Heís been writing books for adults for years, "with no more reward than a pile of money the size of St. Paulís Cathedral." Now he has started doing books for kids, suddenly he is flooded with awards. Why? Whatís wrong with his adult books? Furthermore he noted that despite the fact that Wee Free Men is full of miniaturized, foul-mouthed and scandalously behaved Glaswegian thugs, schools and libraries in America are actually recommending the book to youngsters instead of demanding that it be burned as they normally do. Terry is deeply disappointed, because having your book burned is really good for sales. Please contact your local Fundie group now and tell them to get their act together.
A less happy note was struck by the absence of Gardner Dozois. He and his friend Susan Casper had been in a taxi accident earlier in the week. Susan got away more or less unscathed, but Gardnerís shoulder was broken in three places, necessitating an emergency operation and a new titanium shoulder joint.
Cory Doctorow read his speech off a mobile phone. It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but some judicious monitoring of the airwaves revealed a highly compressed signal coming in from the direction of the Mended Drum. My spies later confirmed that Charlie Stross was sat in the bar frantically typing away and transmitting the speech to Cory in real time. Cory tells me that he is getting a Bluetooth implanted in his jaw and next time Charlie will be able to beam the speech directly into his mouth. Ah, the wonders of technology.
British jokers apart, the star of the show was Jennifer Brehl of Harper Collins. She is the editor for both Dan Simmons (unavailable to collect his Locus Award for Ilium due to being chained to a desk finishing Olympos) and Lois McMaster Bujold (delightedly accepting her Locus Award for Paladin of Souls and keeping her fingers crossed for a Hugo the next day). Brehl-edited books are doing an impressive job of sweeping up awards this year, and Iíve added her to my list of book editors who ought to be getting Hugo nominations. (And for those who are interested, she doesnít look a bit like Tyreena Wingreen-Feif.)
The Retro Hugos
Moving on quickly to Friday night, we come to the Retro Hugo ceremony. Knowing that the Retros are not exactly popular in some sections of fandom, N4 hit upon the brilliant strategy of combining the presentations with their Guest of Honor speeches. This meant that I had to be there to cover the event for Locus. Furthermore, Beth Gwinn told me that she was covering the Chesley Awards (a more regular Worldcon event) and that therefore I was official Locus photographer for the Retros. This meant that I needed to be seated down in front.
So I did the obvious thing and went to ask for a Press Ribbon so that I could get into the reserved seating area. And at this point we come to a lesson in Worldcon running. One of the defining features of a Worldcon is the vast number of volunteers it uses. It is great that so many people offer their time, but they donít get much training and they canít be expected to know everyone, even double-Hugo nominees. If Chris Barkley had been in the Press Office when I turned up I would have got a ribbon without any trouble. He was, after all, my boss at Press Office last year. Peggy Rae Sapienza, who was running it this year, would also have known me. But the ordinary staff are told not to give a press ribbon to anyone without evidence of their press status, and I donít have a Locus business card (yet, please CharlesÖ). They are probably also told specifically not to give press ribbons to fanzine editors, because young and naïve faneds are in the habit of trying to acquire press ribbons and even free memberships on the grounds that they are important journalists.
So, no press ribbon for me. I go looking for somewhere to sit up front, and very quickly a polite steward ushers me away from the reserved seating. What do I do? I pull rank. I go and talk to Deb Geisler who says, "Sure, sit behind me." Problem solved.
Not only that, but I learned on Saturday that the issue had been discussed at the Executive meeting and that my press ribbon was waiting to be picked up.
The lessons here are multiple. The most important thing is that sometimes things will go wrong simply because a volunteer doesnít know who people are. Ideally you want well-informed people in the right places, but there are never enough of them to go around. Lesson two is, of course, that if something goes wrong then you try to fix it. And lesson three is for attendees. If you run into someone being obstructive it is probably because they have been given very simple instructions that they are not supposed to deviate from. In such situations, donít get mad, find someone who knows you, explain the problem, and ask to get it sorted. In all probability it will be.
Meanwhile, back with the Retros. Given that we were going back in time to 1954, the obvious theme was time travel. Peter Weston tried gamely to conduct a session of interviews, but he kept being interrupted by Bob Eggleton (a.k.a. The Dude) who wanted to drag us back in time and present a few more awards. Suitable time travel music was presented by The Lothars, who had an actual theramin, the sort of thing that makes those spooky woo-woo noises that they used in SF movies before the synthesizer was invented. There are those who think that the theramin rivals the bagpipes for awfulness of noise, and Iím not sure Iíd want to listen to one for too long, but as a time machine noise it was just perfect. The staging was good too. Susan de Guardiola and partner did a fine period dance, and all of the staff involved with the Retros were dressed in black and white.
It was in the interviews that we con-goers first discovered what a delightful and mischievous old fellow William Tenn is. Weston did, of course, have to ask him where the pen name came from. Phil Klass (his real name) explained that he just tried a different pen name with each story he submitted, and Tenn was the first name to achieve a sale. Once he had done so, of course, the editors wanted more "William Tenn" stories, so Klass was stuck with the name.
Tenn/Klass then went on to tell a succession of amusing stories about the great magazine editors, John W. Campbell and Horace Gold. Campbell, as usual, came out rather badly. It is well known that he thought rather a lot of himself. Gold, on the other hand, seems to have been a nicer fellow, even to the extent of advancing Klass $500 for an unwritten story to help him out with medical bills.
The Retro awards went largely as expected. Thereís a full list in the Miscellany section, but I want to note a few things. It was a good move, I thought, to have James Bacon, the Irish TAFF delegate, to accept on behalf of James White, another famous Irishman who at the time was famous for his fan art, not his fiction. Arthur C. Clarke scored a notable coup taking the Short Story Hugo on a knockout (no redistribution of preferences necessary) and James Blish also did well, scooping the other two short fiction prizes. With so many of the winners being too infirm, or in many cases too dead, to attend, it was great to see Blishís children, Ben and Beth, attend the ceremony on his behalf. Ray Bradbury won Best Novel fairly comfortably with Fahrenheit 451, and quite right too.
The final interview saw Terry Pratchett turn the tables on Peter Weston and interview him. This proved to be the best entertainment of the night. The two men had already warmed up when Weston interviewed Pratchett, and were well into a riff about their first Eastercon (was it 1963 or 64?). Weston revealed that an issue of one of his fanzines had sold on eBay for $250 because it contained an article by the young Pratchett. The star moment came when Terry started asking Peter about manufacturing the Hugo, something that Weston has done almost every year since 1984. "Donít you have a spare somewhere?" asked Terry. "I have lots of money." The probably pre-planned skit ended up with Pratchett on his knees and Weston trying his best not to laugh and look horrified instead.
If there was one thing that went badly wrong at the Retros it was the photo session at the end. No one had thought that people might want to take photos, the winners ran off in all directions, and the auditorium lights never came up properly. I suspect that Charles Brown wonít be too pleased with my attempts at being the official photographer. That was one thing that there was no chance to fix later. Oh well.
Since the Retro Hugo results were announced (they are in the Miscellany section) there have been the usual complaints of "things were so much better back then." Doubtless the same will happen when we are old and doddery. I can just imagine us moaning away, 30 years or so from now. "Oh, you young folks, you go on about these hot young writers like Madelaine Gaiman, Jonathan Cain and Sierra Glyer. But I remember back in the 90ís. We had Lois McMaster Bujold then, you know. And we had to read books on paper. Turning the pages by hand, Iíll have you know."
Well, those are the breaks. It is the best looking Worldcon Dealersí Room I have seen in a long time, and my bank balance is negative. Fortunately there were not that many books that I wanted to buy. But it was a good Dealersí Room. And I did go delving for second hand stuff. I want to say a particular thank you to the folks from Eyrie House Books for trotting back to their shop on Friday night and fetching me everything they had by Phyllis Gotlieb.
The contents of the Dealersí Room were more or less as expected. There were t-shirts, there was jewelry, there were costumes, there were videos, but most of all there were lots and lots and lots of books. It made me happy just looking at it.
What we could have done with was a map. There was a list of dealers in the Convention Guide, but no indication as to where they could be found. It took me a long time to track down Red Jacket Press, for example.
The dealers themselves always complain. It is traditional. They complained about the seats they had been given, for which once again ludicrous convention center prices can be blamed. (A Chicon 2000 staffer noted on the N4 blog that they had threatened to go and buy chairs from a store because it would be cheaper than the convention center rental fees, which is the sort of thing you have to do with convention centers to get the price down.) But mostly the dealers complained about sales. This year the complaint was "it could have been better" rather than "it was a disaster." I suspect that under the current economic conditions this is the best we could have hoped for.
The Hugo Ceremony
Despite certain obvious distractions, I do think that I remember some of the Hugo ceremony. I spent most of the reception snapping pictures of the many fine dresses on show, the best of which can be seen in the photo section of the web site. Congratulations to Aynjel Kaye for winning this yearís Emerald City Fashion Award.
Talking of fashion, Neil looked rather splendid. As a man who is never more at home than in jeans, t-shirt and a leather jacket, he tends not to look his best in a suit. However, as well as acting as Neilís brain, Anne had taken on the post of his fashion advisor and I must admit that he looks rather good in tails (which Anne tells me were Neilís idea). Indeed, he looked rather like I imagined Jonathan Strange to look (despite Susanna Clarkeís protestations to the contrary, I just canít see Strange with red hair).
Neil opened the show with a succession of Langford jokes. This went down very well with the audience, for whom Dave is a much-loved but little-seen figure. There was also a little interlude about use of language in which Neil warned nominees against embarrassing themselves by uttering profanities in their acceptance speeches. There was an amused silence, into which Neil said, "well, it was either that or say, Ďfuck, Iím MCíing the Hugos.í" The entire audience collapsed, and Neil proceeded to have them in the palm of his hand for the rest of the evening.
The length of the Hugo ceremony is always a matter of great contention. With the Cordwainer Smith Award having decamped to Readercon that removed one item from the program, but there is still a fair amount of stuff to get through before you get to the actual Hugos. Iím sure that the First Fandom people havenít always presented quite so many awards in their slot. But while one might occasionally question why some of those of those "other awards" are in the schedule, but I donít think anyone would have wanted to deny a place in the limelight to this yearís Big Heart winner. Erwin Strauss (a.k.a. Filthy Pierre) has been attending Worldcons seemingly forever. He invented the voodoo board, he provides the racks in which clubs and conventions place fliers, and he compiles a nightly party guide. Most importantly, he turns up, does his work, never gets involved in fannish politics, and never asks for any reward. Worldcon could not ask for a more tireless and selfless worker. Many of us, including me, gave him a standing ovation. He deserved it.
Between the other awards and the Hugos, the N4 committee had scheduled a little light entertainment. It ran fifteen minutes over time, but no one complained. Indeed, nominees aside, we would probably have been happy to sit and listen to Robert Silverberg for another half hour. It turns out that Silverberg is the only person to have attended every Hugo ceremony, and he had a wealth of amusing stories about them, including the infamous Baltimore Crab Feast (although he politely refrained from uttering the awful word, Diamondvision). Hugo ceremonies are a lot quieter these days, and thereís a good reason why we donít let the audience have food.
I want to put in a special word here about Jay Lake and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. A few people reporting on the convention on the Internet have commented on the fast that the phrase "not a Hugo Award" is always attached to reports of this award and have suggested that there is some sort of campaign to belittle Jay and/or the award. This is certainly not true. Think about it from the other angle. The award isnít a Hugo. It is sponsored by Dell Magazines. What is supposed to be happening is that this is being made clear and Dellís involvement is being highlighted. They deserve to be acknowledged.
Frank Wu made by far the best acceptance of the night, bounding onto the stage and yelling out, "I love you all!!!" before being led off in a daze. Ginjer Buchanan, in presenting Best Professional Editor, made a rousing plea for recognition of book editors. More on this in the Hugo Analysis. Gardner Dozois could, of course, not be present at the ceremony. Jack Dann, in accepting the award on his behalf, reported that he had spoken to Gardner on the phone that day and he was now back home and recovering well. Gardner is now officially bionic.
As with last year, no one from WETA or NewLine was able to attend the convention. However, a member of the Lord of the Rings team did collect the expected Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) prize. Norman Cates, the DUFF delegate, is a New Zealand fan who had worked on the film. To be precise, he had been responsible for making the elf ears. Every single one of them. This is a man who has intimate knowledge of Orlando Bloomís ears. Not many people can claim that.
George Martin got to present Short Story this year, and carrying on the joke from Toronto he got out a tape measure to see whether there is indeed a Big One, or whether all Hugos are created equal. The real joke, however, is that this yearís Hugos are not all equal. The Hugo base, designed by Scott Lefton, features a copper and brass tower of flame on which the Hugo rocket is rising into space. Each set of flames was individually sculpted, so it is indeed possible that some of this yearís Hugos are bigger than others.
By the way, Lefton and Frank Wu are good friends. Having been involved with the bases, Scott knew that Frank had won a week or two before the con. Having been in a similar position regarding Neilís Best Novel win in 2002, I know how hard it is to keep that sort of thing secret. My sympathies, Scott.
My heart goes out to Catherine Asaro. It must be every presenterís nightmare to miss out one of the nominee names. And hey, she had six to read. Thatís not normal. But to have your mistake compounded by having Tech flash up the winner before you can open the envelope (again!) must just ruin your evening. Full marks to Neil for spotting the error and telling Asaro in time for her to correct her part of the job. I think the Tech guys probably thought the extra name she read out was the winner, which is why they flashed up the winner slide.
Lesson for future Hugo ceremony organizers. Do not use PowerPoint unless you know someone who can program it to give you a preview of the next slide before committing to it going up. And ideally do not use PowerPoint at all.
And that was pretty much it. Lois McMaster Bujold won Best Novel, as I expected. The Jennifer Brehl domination of the world continues. We all got photographed, despite the lack of organization, and then it was off in search of parties and food.
Rumblings that reached me afterward were that Charles Brown was not happy at Locus only getting one rocket. Normally they get one per editor. Apparently the BDP winners only got one rocket each as well, whereas there is normally one each for the Director and Producer. This is a real shame for Jenni Hall who is no longer with Locus and might have expected a rocket for her good work last year. And it is odd. Ben Yalow has been heard arguing that the award is for the work, not the editor. But the Best Related Book winner had three editors and they got a rocket each. In the past Richard and Nicki Lynch have got a Hugo each for Mimosa. Given the budget of a Worldcon, the rockets themselves donít cost a lot, and I think it is admirable that Charles is trying to spread some of the apparently inevitable glory around his team. This seems like a bad corner to have cut.
As usual, I had difficulty finding the time to browse the art show. I finally got up there on Sunday afternoon, by which time much of the display had been taken down for the auction. There was still plenty left, however, and I was very impressed with the quality of the work on show. Here are the web sites of some of the fine artists whose work I saw on display.
Jody Lee: http://www.jodylee.net/
William OíConnor: http://www.wocillo.com/
Ruth Sanderson: http://www.ruthsanderson.com/
John Picacio: http://www.johnpicacio.com/
Stephen Youll: http://www.stephenyoull.com/.
The star pieces in the show, as far as I was concerned, were Michael Whelanís covers for Joan Vingeís The Summer Queen and The Snow Queen.
As Iím not a great expert on art, I asked Judith Clute to write something for me. Iím delighted to say that she chose to concentrate on N4ís excellent Retro Art Show. You can find her piece later in this issue.
Aside from a slight difficulty in finding it, due to it being squirreled away on the third floor, I heard no serious complaints about the art show. There are always complains about opening times, but you canít run the auction and keep the show open all day Sunday so making a fuss is pointless. Frank Wu, who has rather more interest in art shows than me, said he was very impressed. All in all it seems to have been a very successful part of the convention. I understand that the total revenue for the show was around $134,000, excluding tax. Thatís very impressive.
This is where it gets potentially embarrassing. There were a number of problems with the masquerade at N4. Kevin and I, who were backstage soaking up as much of the process as possible before having to run Events at Interaction, were wondering what was going to go wrong on our watch next year. Given that weíll be making a lot of the decisions, weíll also be in line for much of the blame if things do go bad.
But there are decisions to be made. Having been backstage at the event, and sat through the traditional post mortem panel item, I now know why Richard Hill and his team made most of the decisions that they did. Let me try to explain.
In recent years there has been a lot of criticism that costuming is losing its attraction for fans and that consequently masquerades can be scrapped. The rumor was that Torcon 3 had only 9 entries registered before the con. And of course Boston costumers are sick to death of tales of the masquerades at L.A. Con II and ConFrancisco that seemed to go on forever. So they made up their minds to ensure that they got a big show, and they succeeded.
Prior to the convention Richard had 33 entries, which is quite enough for a decent show. But that is never the end of it. There are always people who turn up at the convention saying that their costume is almost done and if they can have just a few more hours they should be able to enter. Should you turn them away, given that they may have spent weeks or months in preparation? It is a hard thing for a masquerade director to do. So Richard kept registration open until late Sunday afternoon, by which time he had 50 entries (three of whom later scratched).
So we had a good show in prospect. In particular there were 12 kiddie entries and around 20 novices. Thatís all new blood, which is wonderful. But the large number of entries has costs. Firstly, knowing that he had a big show, Richard chose to start at 8:30 rather than 8:00 to give everyone more time to get ready. Secondly, he held registration open so long that there was no time to print a program for the audience. And finally backstage was packed solid. Kevin spent much of his time doing "look out for me, Iím a big, clumsy bear" impressions. It was chaos.
If you have a late start time, the last thing that you want is a delayed start, but that is just what we got. Kevin and I were talking to Byron Connell in the Green Room when Richard came in with the news, so I know that Green Room wasnít an issue. I very much doubt that audience load-in was a problem as the auditorium was open in plenty of time. Probably there was some sort of Tech delay. I do hope that a judge being late back from dinner wasnít the issue, but it has happened before.
The kids were great. There were some fine Pratchett costumes. Eric Weingart as Death of Dust Bunnies, "The Grim Sweeper", got a huge laugh. Michael J. Perlow, as a Thunderbirds character escaped from his strings ("Gone Wireless") clearly had star quality Ė he was irrepressible. And Best in Class went to Stephanie Sue Kastan as "Death of Rats goes to Worldcon."
But in order to make sure that the kids get their prizes before they go to bed, you need to get them judged and awarded straight away. Some fill-in had been arranged, but it was nowhere near enough. Poor Susan de Guardiola improvised as much as she could (and we all love that vampire sheep, Susan, Baa!!!) but in the end there was nothing to do but leave the stage empty and wait for the judges to make up their minds. For Interaction we are seriously considering having a separate kiddie judge or two so that we can get the main show started while the kids are being judged.
The adults had a lot to live up to after the superb kids, and sadly some of them failed. I know that there were a lot of novice entries, but even novices need to know the basics. No matter how good your costume is, just walking around the stage with no music doesnít cut it at Worldcon level. The kids got it right. Adults should too.
Then again, there were some superb entries all through the classes. Here are a few of my favorites.
Margaret Gentile, as "Commissar-Colonel Ibram Gaunt", from Games Workshopís Warhammer 40,000, had a fabulous costume. I was delighted to see her get the Best Workmanship (Novice) prize. My friends back at Games Workshop were over the moon and are hoping for some more Warhammer-inspired costumes in Glasgow.
"Blight, the Unseelie Fey", by David Agro, had some of the best make-up in the contest. Again a great achievement for a Novice, and a well-deserved Best in Class.
In the Journeyman class Sionna Klassenís "Dragon Priestess" caught everyoneís eyes backstage. She looked fabulous, and did a great presentation as well. But she had some really stiff competition.
"Adventurers in Time", a large entry by J. Clinton Alvord, Brian Culver, Amy Johnson, Bonnie Kenderdine, Karl Winkler, Cheri Winkler and Carol Jean Zelman, had an amusing presentation involving famous historical persons and a time machine, but the star of their act was the time machine itself. It was clearly a labor of love. Much of the detail on it would never be seen on stage. My photos really donít do it justice. They won Best in Class (Journeyman).
And that was something of a surprise, because "Arctic Circle", another big entry featuring Janet C. Johnson, Jill Eastlake, Don Eastlake, Carol Botteron, Pat Vandenberg, Alan Kent, Kate Waterous, Rob Hupp and John Hatch, was very good indeed. It won Best Workmanship (Journeyman), but no presentation award.
On to the Masters. "The Future Ikons", by Sandy Pettinger, Pierre Pettinger, D. Jeanette Holloman and John R. Blaker, was one for costuming connoisseurs. Each of the entrants had a pair of wings and they were so cunningly constructed that they flapped of their own accord as their wearers walked. Very clever but, unusually for this group of superb costumers, not in the frame this year.
The funniest entry of the night was "Not the Usual Unusual" by Jennie Faries, Mark Van Name, Marty Gear, Bobbi Gear, Vicki Warren, Ken Warren, Jeff Poretsky and Ron Robinson. This was another Discworld entry, which for some bizarre reason involved Tom Jones. Terry gave it first place in the special Discworld contest (which brought with it a $300 prize). Iím not sure if that was for the jokes or because Marty Gear was the absolute spitting image of Cohen the Barbarian.
Second in the Discworld competition (winning $200) was "A Pale Rider" by Chris Kramer and Matt Ragsdale, featuring Death on a superbly detailed motorbike (check the photos again) and a radio-controlled "Luggage" that ran about the stage with great glee, snapped its lid ferociously, and even waggled its legs. Unsurprisingly they won Best in Class (Master) and Best in Show (Workmanship).
So who won Best in Show? Like the audience, youíll have to wait.
After the contestants have left the stage they normally go through a "fan photography" area in which fans who are competent with cameras, and members of the press, get to take high quality shots of the entrants. In his Worldcon review in SF Revu Ernest Lilley complains that this area was without proper lighting. But Ernest wasnít actually there on the night. Heíd had to go back home. What I understand happened is that provision of lighting had fallen through the cracks, but a couple of experienced photographers helped get things back on track by the time the show started. Sadly this was another example of N4 falling down on the photography front.
The half time entertainment was provided by someone doing a one-man version of Star Wars. I didnít see the show as Kevin and I were backstage at the time, but I understand that the guy capered around with great enthusiasm and got lots of laughs. Personally I donít like having fixed-duration acts at half time. It means you canít bring the judges back quickly if they finish early. But this guy seemed very popular and the judges were anything but early. Yes, I know judging a masquerade is hard. Iíve done it myself once. But the judges need to understand that they are part of the show too. If they take ages in deliberating they ruin it for everyone else. There was yet another embarrassing blackout. And by the time we got done with the presentations it was 1:30 in the morning. Not surprisingly, only 100 or so hardened costuming fans stayed to the end.
The workmanship judges did have one very interesting idea. They were accompanied in their work by a guy with a camera who took close-up photos of really good work. What they wanted to do was put up slides showing why they gave out particular awards. If it had worked it would have been great, but apparently it delayed the judging process, and it further lengthened an already-late show. Iím hoping that we can figure out how to make this idea work at Interaction.
So, back to the big prize. Kevin confesses to being quite confused. We had seen all of the big master entries come through and get prizes. Were the judges really going to give Best in Show to "A Pale Rider", as well as both Best in Class prizes? I had a theory. "Arctic Circle" hadnít got any prize in presentation. I figured that something wonderful was about to happen, and it did.
Letís be clear about this. No one enters a Worldcon masquerade at Journeyman level expecting to win Best in Show. It just doesnít happen. Especially when some of the people in your group are only Novices. But at N4 the formbook was stood on its head. Janet is a long time friend of mine (I think sheís been to an Eastercon or two thanks to London postings for work) and I was absolutely delighted for her. And of course Kevin and I were delighted too for our friends Don and Jill Eastlake, veteran con-runners both. Jill had directed the Time Machine event on Friday night, and Don was once again Chairman of the Business Meeting. That has to be the most remarkable event of the entire convention: the Chairman of the Business meeting won Best in Show at the masquerade. Who says that SMOFs are boring? Of course, Kevin now has to match Donís achievement.
To wrap up I have a few Tech issues. Firstly, sound in parts of the auditorium was awful. Thanks to the Pratchett prize, there were a lot of comedy skit entries. In many cases the voiceover was inaudible. I donít blame N4ís Tech for this. One look at the exposed pipes in the ceiling of the auditorium was enough to tell you that they were screwed from the start. But if costumers are going to do a comedy skit they need to make sure that their tape is very clear indeed. And in most cases good costumers do not make good comedians. Stick to the knitting, guys. (Or sewing, or whatever.)
Secondly, I spent a long time on Monday night discussing video issues with John Maizels, a guy from Sydney who has done camera and video work at many Worldcons. This year the video guys did something brilliant. They had a magic box that could do frame capture on the fly. So as each entry left the stage they were able to flash up a couple of stills from the performance, overlaid with the entry name. John tells me it is easy if you have the right box, but it impressed the hell out of the audience.
The real issue with video, however, is that with the now traditional use of big screens to help the audience see what is happening on stage, and the use of remote broadcast to hotel rooms or places like the Mended Drum (which was packed out on masquerade night), audience perception of an act is heavily dependent on camera coverage. The judges are OK. They sit down the front and they watch what the contestants are doing on stage. But almost everyone else watches the big screen, and what they see there is determined to a large extent by the decisions that the camera operators and their director make during the show. I think the time has come for people entering a Worldcon masquerade to start thinking about how they want to be filmed. Not everything you want will be possible, but I think a quiet word with the camera crew during rehearsals could be very beneficial.
So how will we do next year? I wish I knew. Given the debacle over the masquerade at Eastercon this year, I worry about the number of British costumers who are going to compete. Thankfully many Americans came up to me in Boston and said that they were thinking of taking part. And I know how popular anime cons are in Britain, and how big their Cos-Play competitions get. Giulia de Cesare and I are currently working on an assumption of somewhere between 10 and 60 entries. Either extreme would cause serious problems. Running a Worldcon masquerade ainít easy, folks.
As I have already commented, there was a huge amount of programming at N4. So much so that the committee found it impossible to devise quick-reference program schedules that fitted on normal-sized paper. There can, I think, be such a think as too much programming.
That said, most of the con reports I have seen on the Internet go on at some length about the excellent panel items that they attended. Clearly the members were happy, and N4 has to be congratulated for that. As do the panel participants.
Of course you canít please all of the people all of the time. One of the areas in which N4 appears to have done a less good job is programming for young writers. I had my ear well and truly bent about this by one irate young lady on Monday night. There was no writersí workshop. My contact says she tackled Priscilla Olson, the Head of Programming, about this during a panel on Worldcon Orientation for SF Professionals. Priscilla reportedly responded that, "we donít want to run that sort of convention." David Levine, who was on the panel, confirms that something along those lines may have been said, but in Priscillaís defense he points out that her intention (as stated in email to writers before the con) was "weíd prefer not to have the writers sequestered away for most of the weekend." There were some writer-related program items, but perhaps not as many as he would have liked. Certainly the Convention Guide, which listed panels under innumerable topics from science to gaming to filk to education, had no section on writing-related panels. My contact said that as a beginning writer she felt she was being made unwelcome at Worldcon, which is not the impression we want to create.
Talking of being made unwelcome, the panel title that caught my eye was "The Risks of Recruitment", in which the panelists were apparently to discuss the dangers of allowing new people into fandom. WHAT!!!! This is absolutely NOT the sort of message we ought to be sending out. By all means have a panel in which you talk about how recruitment can be handled. There are, after all, real problems. But donít pre-judge the issue by assuming that things will go bad. This was an absolutely terrible panel to be running at a Worldcon. Kevin was on the panel and was able to put the case for bringing in new blood. Thankfully he tells me that there were not too many angry neos there, but goodness knows how many just looked at the write-up in the Convention Guide and felt unwanted.
Quite a few people came up to me at the convention and asked why I wasnít on any panel items. I must confess that I didnít go to the N4 web site and express an interest. I figured that it was likely that Iíd be a Hugo nominee again and, given that it is traditional to use Hugo nominees on panel, I wanted to see if I would get invited. I didnít. More to the point, when one panel asked if they could have me join them they were turned down. (They sneaked me on anyway, which was very kind of them but really not the done thing.)
Iím not too fussed about this. Looking at the people on the N4 programming team Iím not in the least surprised, fannish politics being what it is. It wasnít worth complaining to Deb Geisler. But I note that I was not the only Hugo nominee who was present at the convention but not used. William J. Widder, the author of the Hubbard biography, whom I met at the Hugo ceremony, is very old and might not have wanted to be on panel. But John Flynn was not on panel either. That surprised me because being involved in programming for Interaction I had seen a list of people N4 intended to invite. Flynn was on it (I wasnít). Yet at the con I heard reports that he was disappointed at not being allowed to be on panels. This is not good. Hugo nominees are Hugo nominees. It doesnít matter how much you might dislike their politics or their religion, of be in a huff over some slight you think that they have done to you, you offer to put them on panel.
One thing I was pleased to see was a genuine attempt at creating international interest. There were several panels on fiction and fandom around the world. I learned about an interesting project to create an anthology of stories translated from European languages (which we may see launched at Interaction). I learned a little bit about fandom in Sweden and Italy, though the Worldwide Fandom panel could have been a lot better. There was the usual panel on British SF, which Iím delighted to say was packed out. There was even a panel on Islam in SF. I was disappointed that the convention hadnít managed to find a Muslim to put on the panel, but John Courtenay Grimwood was his usual excellent self and I was very impressed by Sarah Zettel.
By the way, while I was at the con I noticed a new web site dedicated to Islam and SF. Worth a look.
There was a lot of very interesting science program as well. I had good intentions to go to a lot of it, but in the end due to being very busy, very tired, or more both, I didnít make any of it. Sorry.
Nor did I make it to the New Weird panel. I so wanted to stick my hand up and claim that New Weird was a hoax that China and I had cooked up to wind up Jeff Vandermeer.
One of the things that Worldcons struggle with is how to deal with publisher freebies. A smaller convention, if it is lucky, can hand out one book per person. Worldcon never gets that many books. So how to deal with the problem? Tom Whitmore was given the task of finding a solution. The one he came up with was good. Heíd give a couple of books to people he knew and ask them to hand them out randomly to strangers. I liked my idea too. Give me a box or two, I said, and Iíll hand them out at the Best Books of 2004 Panel. Anyone who gets up for a 10:00am panel on Sunday about good books deserves a freebie. Sadly it seems we still didnít have enough to go around. My apologies to anyone who didnít get one. But I did get the list of books that the panel mentioned online. You can find it here.
The Business Meeting this year was expected to witness a titanic battle over the projected return to 2-year lead times. You will have read all about it in Kevinís article in the last issue. But one of the skills of business meeting management is to ensure that the argument is already won before you get to the actual meeting. If enough people have read enough persuasive arguments beforehand, it doesnít matter what people say on the floor of the meeting. Most minds will already have been made up. So sure, Tom Veal spoke very well, and Iím sure he means well. But heís wrong, and he lost, quite comprehensively in the end. The motion was passed by 112-59.
Of course since then there have been all sorts of predictions of doom and disaster on the SMOFs mailing list. People are saying that weíll never be able to get facilities and that what we really need to do is go to 5, 7 or even 10 year lead times. They donít seem to quite realize that what they are asking for is for us to set up a professional organization to run Worldcons, because that is what it would take to plan that far ahead. Or maybe they think we already have one.
Something else that has attracted the ire of some SMOFs was the motion clarifying the meaning of the Best Dramatic Presentation split. A lot of people are complaining that this was some perfidious plot to damage the split and get it revoked. This is very odd considering that both Chris Barkley (the original proposer of the split motion) and Craig Miller (who works in Hollywood) spoke in favor. Trust me folks, what this was actually for was to prevent Hugo Administrators who are opposed to the split making bizarre rulings so as to discredit it (of which more very shortly).
There were a number of other pieces of nitpickery designed to clarify the rules, in particular one firming up on exactly what happens to nominations when Hugo Administrators move items between categories. This was again motivated by concern that a rogue Administrator might interpret the rules in a very strange way. Both this and the BDP motion require ratification in Glasgow.
If you donít believe me about the need for this, or the BDP changes, consider what happened in the Retro Hugos this year. Most movies made in 1953 were below the 90 minute dividing line for long and short form works, but well within the 20% gray area that would allow the Administrators to move them between categories. I have pointed this out before, and recommended nominating those works in Long Form. I know that Kevin and I did so.
Some of the people involved in the Hugos for N4, however, have spoken out against moving dramatic presentations between categories under any circumstances. And if you look at the nomination lists you will see that they have stuck rigidly to the 90-minute dividing line. Had they moved the movies, we would have had two dramatic presentation categories. The Long Form nominees would have been War of the Worlds, Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Invaders from Mars, It Came from Outer Space, Peter Pan and 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (six entries as the last two tied). Short Form would have had Duck Dodgers, Duck Amok, Robot Rabbit and TV of Tomorrow (four entries because a nominee must get at least 5% of the total vote to qualify).
Personally I think that would have made for a far more interesting contest than a single category with poor Duck Dodgers up against four movies. Iíll admit that Short Form only manages four valid nominees, but Best Related Book only managed three. Nevertheless, despite all of my warnings to contrary, the expressed views of former Hugo Administrators, and the expressed views of people responsible for creating the BDP split, N4ís Hugo Administrators stuck rigidly to their own eccentric interpretation of the Hugo rules. The fact that at least one of them has spoken publicly against splitting the BDP doesnít exactly give one confidence in their motives.
Fortunately this happened in the Retro Hugos, which are, after all, just a bit of fun (though they would have been much more fun if Duck Dodgers had got a Hugo). However, I hope you now see why motions like those presented at the N4 Business Meeting are necessary to prevent maverick Hugo Administrators trying to bend the rules to fit what they want to happen rather than follow accepted practice.
The other item of business close to my heart was the Hugo Eligibility Extension. I think I am pleased to say that it passed again, but it has wreaked havoc with my Hugo nominations for next year. The effect of the motion is to make any work published elsewhere before 2004 but first published in the US in 2004 newly eligible for a Hugo. One of the books affected is Steven Eriksonís Gardens of the Moon, reviewed elsewhere in this issue. But what has got me in a tizz is that two of my favorite books of all time are now eligible for a Hugo next year. They are Light, by M. John Harrison, and The Course of the Heart, by M. John Harrison. This is like tossing Casablanca and Citizen Kane into the Oscar mix for next year. In one way I am delighted because they are superb books that really deserve a second chance. But in another way they take up two of my Best Novel nominations in a year where there are actually a lot of good books around.
Much to my surprise, the Business Meeting also voted to extend eligibility to three works of SF criticism on the grounds of limited availability. Such motions generally get turned down, but the BM seems to have been in a very generous mood this year. The works in question are: Up Through an Empty House of Stars (Dave Langford), The True Knowledge of Ken MacLeod (Andrew M. Butler and Farah Mendlesohn, eds.), and The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn, eds.). Given that the MacLeod book actually finished sixth in the nominations for Best Related Book this year, and that it is now available in the US through Old Earth Books, it must stand a pretty good chance of a nomination next year.
Kevin got re-elected onto the Mark Protection Committee. I thought I had escaped that particular job, my time as ConJoséís representative being up, but Pat McMurray decided to step down as Interactionís representative and asked me to take the job instead. Given that Kevin is now chairing the committee, I donít suppose it will prove too onerous (especially as Linda Deneroff has kindly volunteered to be secretary Ė thank you, Linda!).
Possibly the strangest thing about the Business Meeting was the Torcon 3 financial report. As I mentioned earlier, Peter Jarvis did the hand-over of the gavel to Deb Geisler at Opening Ceremonies. But hereís Larry Hancock telling us that Jarvis is no longer involved with Torcon 3, and that furthermore they canít give a financial report because their finances are in complete disarray and they need to undertake a major investigation. Peter Jarvis is in the room, but says nothing.
It gets worse. The Millennium Philcon folks have finally sorted out their finances (hooray!) and have made some more Passalong Fund payments (even bigger hooray!). That Passalong money went to ConJosé, Torcon 3 and Noreascon 4, as required by the Passalong Funds agreement. ConJosé immediately passed the money forward to Interaction and N4 as they were both "in progress" and could potentially use it. Torcon 3 is hanging on to theirs. Apparently their finances are in such disarray that they donít know whether they need the money or not. A source close to the T3 Board assures me that they do intend to deal responsibly with the money once they get themselves sorted out, but really, this is no way to run a Worldcon. What is going on in Toronto?
One small piece of good news that I can offer involves the Torcon 3 thank you party. A number of SMOFs were wondering how, given that all T3 funds have been frozen, the party was being paid for. Especially as Peter Jarvis seemed to be in charge of the event. Iím told by a reliable source that the money for the party was approved before the funds were frozen. Thank goodness for that.
A full agenda for the Business Meeting, including the text of all the motions, is available here. The Business Meeting was adjourned in memory of George Flynn.
This year had two of the most unimpressive bids I have ever seen. The Japanese have something of an excuse. It is expensive for them to get to North America to attend Worldcons, the language barrier forces them to rely on Westerners to make their case for them, and cultural differences resulted in their not being comfortable with the sort of gung-ho campaigning that we normally see from Worldcon bids. They were modest and diffident, which sometimes made it seem that they werenít too serious about bidding.
Columbus had no such excuse. They have a fine site and a lot of experience in running big conventions, although not Worldcons. They should have pushed Japan close. Instead they seem to have thrown in the towel early. They just didnít try. As a result, Yokohama won by the fairly large margin of 935 to 692.
The Guests of Honor in Japan will be: Sakyo Komatsu and David Brin (writers); Yoshitaka Amano and Michael Whelan (artists); and Takumi Shibano (fan). The chair of the convention is Hiroaki Inoue. Congratulations to David, who Iím sure will be delighted. His work is very popular in Japan. Indeed his Heavenís Reach won a Seiun this year for Best Translated Novel. Michael Whelan, Iím sure, needs no introduction.
The Nippon 2007 web site is currently a little short on information, though they promise that this will change soon. However, a PR #0 was distributed at the convention and Iíve been doing a bit of research on the Web. Sakyo Komatsu is one of Japanís most respected SF writers. Several of his works have been films. One of his short stories, "The Savage Mouth" is available in the anthology, The Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories, by John L. Apostolou and Martin H. Greenberg (eds.). It was originally translated by Judith Merril and also appeared in a 1978 Australian anthology, Rooms of Paradise (Lee Harding, ed.).
Yoshitaka Amano has his own web site. He has worked on a range of anime shows and video games. He is a four-time winner of the Seiun for Best Art, but his best-known work in the West is his collaboration with Neil Gaiman, Sandman: The Dream Hunters. The book was nominated for a Hugo and won the Eisner, Dragon*Con and Julie Awards.
Takumi Shibano is well known at American conventions. He won the Big Heart Award in 1987, and a Special Committee Award for his translation work at ConFrancisco in 1993. Back in Japan he founded one of their first fanzines, Uchujin, in 1957, and the Japanese National Science Fiction Convention in 1962. He was also the founder of the Nippon 2007 Worldcon bid.
Hiroaki Inoue is an experienced producer of anime whose credits include the very wonderful Tenchi Muyo. He will be a special guest at Cascadia Con, the 2005 NASFiC, in Seattle.
Yokohamaís PR#0 includes details of hotel rates (about time too) and also some all-in tours. Hotel prices range from $57/night to $254/night or a single room, $86-$304 for a twin. Packages for airfare from LA or San Francisco and 4 hotel nights start from $1,300 per person (assuming 2 persons sharing a room). There are also post-convention tours of Japan on offer. All of the rates, including the hotels, are 2004 prices. The Japanese donít seem to understand the idea of guaranteeing a price for the convention, and actual prices will presumably be rather higher.
Around the Blogs
As Iíve already said once, there has been a lot of online reporting of the convention. Noreascon 4 has a huge collection of links available off the front page of their web site. Iíve not read all of these by any means, but there is a lot of good stuff there. Note that with blogs and LiveJournals the material you are looking for may be in an archive by now rather than on the main page. (I know mine is).
I want to say a special word of thanks to rushthatspeaks who said that Worldcon is "small and intimate and relaxing and totally non-pressured", at least compared to the vast anime cons she is used to. That sure puts us tired and frazzled con-runners in our place. Hey, and sheís a fan of Angela Carter and John Crowley as well. Obviously my kind of girl.
First Worldcon Experiences
Quite a few people I know were attending Worldcon for the first time this year. Some of them might even have done so on my recommendation. I thought it might be a good idea to get some feedback from some of them. Jeff Vandermeer, bless him, sent me a whole article, which I have reproduced below. Jon Courtenay Grimwood had the following observations:
"All the old hands kept telling me, ĎOh, Worldcons used to have more people. They used to be bigger....í And Iíd just look around and think, ĎGod, isn't this enough?í"
Hey, the old hands were exaggerating, Jon, as they always do. As for high points and low points, Jon said:
"High-ish: (apart from all that Boston lobster)
"Highest: Neil Gaimanís brilliant, self-deprecating master of ceremonies act at the Hugos.
"Low point: listening to someone on already bad panel say she couldnít work out why women suicide bombers blew themselves up, only to pause, before adding, Maybe theyíre all gay? (It must be those 70 free virgins in heaven, you see...)"
All in all, this was a darn good Worldcon. Many of the things that went wrong were very quickly fixed. There were no major disasters with late publications or program confusion. I do have a few reservations, as follows:
Overall, however, this was one of the best Worldcons I have attended. The level of enthusiasm shown by the N4 staff in getting things like First Night and The ConCourse up and running was exemplary. After last year Worldcon needed something good, and we got it. Thank you, Noreascon 4.
Fishy Goings On
I want to start the coverage of the Hugo voting by mentioning a very strange remark printed on the cover of the voting breakdown handed out at the convention. It reads as follows:
"This yearís voting included a larger than average number of late-joining supporting members who wished to vote but not attend the World Science Fiction Convention. Because of the mixed process of balloting (mail-in and online both), a statistically larger than average percentage of unsigned ballots or ballots without correct PIN information were rejected."
Very odd. I wonder what was going on.
Wow, Frank Wu superstar! He got more first place votes than all of the rest of the nominees put together. Only things like the Lord of the Rings movies are supposed to do that. Is Frank bigger than Gandalf? It would appear so.
Spare a thought, though, for poor Steve Stiles, who started off second in every round of balloting, only to finish last after preferences were distributed.
The Fan Writer race was very close. Dave Langford, despite having only the fourth highest number of nominations, held a narrow lead on first place votes. He lost that lead to John Flynn (who had topped the nominations) when votes from Jeff Berkwits were redistributed. Flynn lost that lead when votes from Bob Devney went largely to Dave and me. At this point Flynn had 158 votes, but only 38 of them had further preferences. In the end Dave beat me by just 11 votes. When the minor place run-offs were calculated Flynn ended up fourth behind Devney.
You know, this is a challenge. Dave has now won that Best Fan Writer Hugo eighteen years in succession. I canít imagine any greater honor in fandom than being the person who finally topples him from his perch. The hunt is on.
A quick word too for Lloyd Penney who was dreadfully disappointed by his bad showing at his home convention in Toronto and was greatly cheered to finish sixth in the nominations in Boston.
The thing that surprised me most about the fanzine category wasnít that we won, but how emphatic that win was. Emerald City topped the nominations and was well clear on first place votes. It was close in the end because preferences from traditional paper fanzines tended to go to other paper fanzines. I see my standing with British fans has not improved much. When Plokta was eliminated, 26 of their votes went to Emerald City and 47 to Mimosa.
I note that SFRevu was a close 6th in the nominations list. With Mimosa now ineligible, it should make it into the nominees next year. That will make two web-based fanzines in the running. I think that will make things a lot more interesting.
As usual, people are griping about Locus always winning Semiprozine. I donít think that there is a lack of quality competition. There is simply a lack of awareness of that competition. If Andy Cox makes a good job of the re-launched Interzone he could do well in Glasgow. If people really want to do something about the category, they could probably change the circulation limit. They could probably lower it from 10,000 to 5,000 and only knock one magazine out of the running. But I canít see anyone introducing such an obvious anti-Locus motion to the business meeting, let alone succeeding with it.
The other solution is to get 1,000 of your friends to go out and subscribe to Locus so that Charles goes above the 10,000 limit. Iím sure he wouldnít mind too much.
Ginjer Buchanan made a brave call for recognition of book editors at the Hugo ceremony. While I fully support the sentiment, and will continue to nominate the likes of David Hartwell, Juliet Ulman and Jennifer Brehl, Iím afraid this one is a lost battle. I have come to the conclusion that a much better solution would be to change the category to Best Anthology/Collection. Magazine editors would still be eligible, because a single issue of a magazine is, in effect, an anthology. And of course the likes of Gardner Dozois and Ellen Datlow do book-length anthologies as well. The novel editors would be cut out entirely, but weíd share the Hugo around a lot more people.
Why is that important? Look at the nomination figures. Ellen was top with 93. Patrick Nielsen Hayden was 6th on 51. The next highest number of nominations was A.J. Budrys with 18. That is a sign of a category with too few serious contenders.
By the way, I note that Gardner was only 4th in the nomination lists. Like Langford, he is only still winning because the much larger number of people who participate in the voting stage are more likely to behave like sheep and always vote for the same person each year. Those who nominate and vote seem to have acquired a taste for diversity.
Yes, Bob Eggleton won again too, but he didnít have it easy. He was 3rd on both nominations and first place votes. He was still trailing Donato Giancola on the forth round of balloting, but the preferences from Frank Kellly Freas went overwhelmingly to Eggleton. All round popularity is important in winning Hugos.
Yay!!! Go Gollum!!!
The only thing that could have made Hugo night better for me was if Gollum could have made it to the ceremony. Sadly, being a big name movie star, he was too busy to hang out with the likes of me.
Can someone else win the Long Form category next year, please? There arenít any more Hobbit movies, are there?
Best Related Book had a really strange voting pattern. William Widderís L. Ron Hubbard biography led on first place votes, from the Lambshead Guide and the Chesley Award book. But it only picked up eight preferences when Scores, the Frank Herbert biography and Spectrum 10 were eliminated. Being eliminated itself, the Hubbard book only distributed 11 preferences out of 186 votes. That sure looks to me like a book for which lots and lots of people voted for it and it only. Hmm.
Hey, but well done to Jeff Vandermeer, Mark Roberts and all of the very many doctors for a terrific second place. Congratulations too to Thog the Mighty on the rocket. Surely Thog, being the star attraction of Ansible, deserves more Hugos than that Langford fellow.
Short Story was unremarkable for the expected comfortable Gaiman win, but quite remarkable for the fact that Michael Burstein had stories in 1st, 6th and 7th in the nominations lists. Once again Short Story saw a very wide spread in nominations, with only 25 needed to make the ballot.
The battle for Novelette was an intense 3-way race between Michael Swanwick, Jeff Ford and Jay Lake. Jay has a huge number of first preferences, but ended up third. I feel very sorry for Jeff, whose story was truly wonderful.
Kage Baker put up a good show in Novella, but as I expected the wide popularity of Vernor Vinge saw him through in the end. Best Novel was never really in doubt. Lois McMaster Bujold is very popular indeed. I was a little worried at the huge cheer Robert Sawyer got when his name was read out in the list of nominees, but he finished last.
The Novel also-rans are always interesting. Congratulations to Kevin J. Anderson for finishing 6th in the nominations with A Forest of Stars. William Gibsonís Pattern Recognition was 7th, and the Nebula winning Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon, 8th.
And now to next year. I have made a start on the Recommendations List. There are an awful lot of good novels out there. I have four obvious nominees, and a huge list vying for the fifth slot. Choices, choicesÖ
My First Worldcon
By Jeff Vandermeer
This was a rather different convention for me. I have devoted a good part of the last two World Fantasy Cons to shepherding fake disease guide writers to various events and taking care of things for Ministry of Whimsy authors. But none of that was required at Worldcon, so I took it upon myself to get a chance to talk in more depth to people I havenít to this point had a chance to meet. I found it rather delightful, and more relaxing than usual, even though it was busy.
For example, on Saturday Ann and I had a relaxing lunch with Cheryl (or at least as relaxing as you can in an empty hour between two con appearances). On Thursday night I went out with the "Austin Axis of Unevil" ó Chris Roberson (and his lovely wife, baby, and mother-in-law), John Picacio, Lou Anders and his charming wife, David Coe (great guy), and Jonathan Strahan (another great guy, who Iíd met for the first time as I was checking out of the hotel at the last World Fantasy Con). And I actually had some opportunity to talk to Kelly Link, Gavin Grant and Charles Brown. And so on and so forth.
I also met Matt Cheney for the first time. I had pictured Matt as looking a bit like Damon Knight in his later years ó with an old gray beard, perhaps even with a cane or staff of some kind. Imagine my surprise when he turned out to be bearded, yes, but considerably younger than I had imagined ó this is probably a testament to the maturity of his prose style. I had also expected him to be about six foot five.
As for Worldcon itself, it has been more than 10 years since I went to a convention that had a "fan base" with costume parties and all of that, and I found myself enjoying it quite a bit. It was a little like Carnivale, or being in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. And I really enjoyed seeing the "props" in the convention center ó the colorful dragon and other papier mache/wire/cloth beasties theyíd put out. It really added a nice touch. And everyone was really friendly.
I found the convention one of the best organized of all the conventions Iíve attended. The packet I received as a moderator and panelist included tips on moderating, which if read by all moderators (and clearly some moderators did not read the tips) would have saved all of the panels from some unnecessary annoyances. As a first-time Hugo award nominee, I canít compare my treatment by the organizers this year to past years, but I have to say I was made to feel very welcome and they took very good care of me ó went out of their way in one case.
The panel topics were generally interesting, well attended, and made me think. (Although on one a novelist named Wen Spencer kept trying to steal my microphone before I was done speaking, which I found more than a little annoying.) I enjoyed the New Weird panel because it was a lively discussion and I think it was clear to everyone that any acrimony was over the term not over the works described by the term. I felt I was able to speak my mind without anyone taking it personally, which is always good. Jon Courtney Grimwood provided some insightful commentary from the audience as well.
I also enjoyed being on the Hiking the Enchanted Forest panel with David Coe, Greer Gilman, Beth Hilgartner and Rebecca Moesta. It was another good panel, with Rebecca not having known she was moderating until she arrived, but doing an excellent, excellent job on the fly. I liked the way in which Gilman, Coe, myself, and the other panelists all had different entry points to creating a credible setting, but they were all really means to the same ends. Very interesting stuff. The Disease Guide reading also went very well ó jam-packed.
Again, Iíve never gone to Worldcon before, so I donít know what theyíre normally like, but I found the distance between hotel and programming quite amusing. I felt like it was a forced march to Bhutan every time I went from the hotel to the panels and then to the dealersí room. This was bad on the three days Iíd gone to the gym in the morning, since I was already tired from working out, but great on the days when Iíd skipped the gym, since I still got a light aerobic workout.
Some of the dealers I talked to were irritated that only dealers got maps of the dealersí room. It would have been good to have gotten maps distributed to those visiting, so they could more easily seek out what they wanted. I know I only found Katmandu Books, one of my favorites, on the last day of the con. Dealers also seemed to be concerned about the depth of the programming ó it seemed like the multiple-track programming, and the quality of it, had actually made it hard for some people to spend much time in the dealer's room.
I had interesting conversations in the dealerís room with Justin Ackroyd, Sean Wallace and John Betancourt. Otto from Realms of Fantasy Books is a real cut-up ó I had a wonderful time bullshitting with him. I also was shocked to discover that Glen Cook was a dealer in the dealersí room. Iíd loved his stuff growing up (high school/college), and had him sign one of his Dread Empire books to me.
All day Thursday, and most of Friday, I had difficulties because no one recognized me. I hadnít realized the profound effect shaving my beard would have. I kind of enjoyed it, though, too. Passing Farah Mendelsohn and Graham Sleight three times and saying hello with a cheery smile only to receive a blank stare was kind of funny. As was passing F. Brett Cox about four times and being completely ignored (this was probably actually a form of rudeness on my part). I rather liked the anonymity. But it did lead to a very stupid moment at the Tor party Friday night when, after having been mis- or un-identified for so long, I actually said "Hi, Iím Jeff VanderMeer" when I met Ellen Datlow, who Iíve met and talked to at four or five conventions, only to have her say, "Yeah, I know who you are." Probably my dumbest moment of the con.
My reading Friday went well ó I had decent attendance (just as I was pleasantly surprised, despite George R.R. Martin's presence, to sign 15 to 20 books at the autograph session) and afterwards I received an offer to partake of absinthe, which I'd never had before. The absinthe (and its purveyor, Cliff) wandered over to the Polyphony party, where I wound up tasting it out of half of a human skull sealed in copper. Deborah Layne, co-editor of Polyphony, refused to believe me when I told her about it, but I have a photograph that proves it.
Ann joined me Saturday morning, which was good, because I was going into rather violent Ann withdrawals by about that time and missed her terribly. Except for lunch with Cheryl, Saturday was a bit of a blur. But I do remember that the pre-Hugo reception was delightful. I got to talk to Jeff Ford, Tim Pratt, Kathryn Cramer, Juliet Ulman, Mark Kelly, and others, but also got a big thrill finally having at least a few minutes to talk to Elizabeth Hand, who I had only met through e-mail before the convention. She was very sweet and as I am currently really enjoying Mortal Love, it was very nice for that reason, too. There is still a bit of the "fan boy" complex in me, Iím afraid, in that I sometimes freeze up when I meet a writer I admire for the first time.
The Hugo Awards ceremony itself surprised me immeasurably. Iíve only ever attended the World Fantasy Awards, so I had no idea that the Hugos would be like the Oscars. That was really the only thing that made me nervous. I was sitting between my wife and Juliet Ulman, with Jeff Ford on the end next to Juliet, and about five minutes before they announced in the Best Related Book category I began to go into a kind of rigid fetal position, despite the fact that I was secure on all sides ó wife, editor, friend watching over me.
Before that, I hadnít really thought the Disease Guide had a shot. But then I began to think it did, and I became extremely nervous until they announced the winner. I remembered something Jeff Ford had said to me the night before: "Gardner Dozois, I think, told me that every poor bastard nominated for the Hugo thinks they have a chance right before itís announced, even if they donít have a chance in hell." (When they announced the nominees, I laughed hysterically. There was something about hearing them announce the Frank Herbert and Chelsey books and then the Disease Guide that was kind of like a Monty Python skit: "We have Frank Herbert, the Chelsey Awards book, and spam, spam, spam, and spam.") Still, learning that the Guide came in second was nice, and the relief of having it over with was good. So, I did pretty well ó five minutes of stress about the awards over the whole weekend was very good for me, considering how hyperactive I can be.
The highlights of the Hugos for me were seeing Cheryl, Jay Lake and Frank Wu win (since I know all three of them), and also Neil Gaiman MCíing and Robert Silverbergís speech, which I thought was excellent. The low point of the Hugos was probably just the length, and the fact that the heavy appetizers promised for the pre-Hugo reception turned out to be things like a couple of globules of caviar served on a plank of lettuce. So Ann and I were really tired and really hungry when it was all over with. After some aimless wandering, we decided to just go up to the hotel room and crash. Unable to go right to bed, hungry and exhausted, we finally ordered room service at midnight and had a wonderful half hour unwinding with really good food as we watched the Boston skyline from our hotel room.
Then, of course, began the flight delays due to the Florida hurricane, with Ann and I finally making it back to Tallahassee on Wednesday. We kept saying goodbye to the same people weíd said goodbye to just the day before. I began to feel like a bit of a ghost, haunting the same territory. So Ann and I became tourists and made the most of our last couple of days in Boston...
Past Painting Future
By Judith Clute
When Cheryl asked me if Iíd do a note on the Worldcon Art Show for Emerald City I said "Yes!" because I wanted to commend the Retro Art Show. It was a separate and special part of the regular Art Show and several times a day a tour of it was given by Robert Weiner. I went on one of these and most of us in the gaggle following him had already spent some time quietly examining the works on display. His remarks built on an assumption of prior interest and he brought an infectious love for these early Science Fiction paintings. In fact he is a collector and lent many of the works.
I start with something of a personal discovery. An artist Iíd taken for granted. I mean to say I knew his work from covers from the early 1970ís, but the artwork simply existed. Iíd forgotten to think of it as created for the purpose. The artist in question had 50 original pieces in the Retro Art Show. He began as a fan artist and quickly learnt the right commercial skills when he apprenticed with Hannes Bok. Iím talking about Jack Gaughan. His works vary in quality. Robert Weiner spoke about the way Jack Gaughan sometimes had three works on the go simultaneously, each with imminent deadlines. He could do a painting in three hours.
Take the cover artwork for a DAW book in 1976, "The Galactic Buccaneer" by E.C. Tubb as by Gregory Kern. It was probably a rushed job, but itís a strong iconic SF painting. Thereís an updated Buck Rogers-like chap and his woman. They are shown in pulp formulaic dancing movement, hands outstretched. The helmets are painted in deft over-strokes and the suits are made of calligraphic marks on top of body fitting costumes. This space-suited couple is fleeing an orange flaming section on a bright purple planet. A slant-eyed alien is evoked as a mirage in an intense cerulean blue sky. Over-the-top stuff, perhaps, but sincere. Jack Gaughanís skills are obvious and competent.
In a painting titled "Farewell to the Artifacts" for Galaxy, early 1970ís, Gaughan has conceived a more graphic, less painterly design. Itís on the jokey side. A spaceship vacuum cleaner rears its snaky neck to a startled, short-skirted woman. A man waves goodbye from a receding doorway. The background is white, thereby demanding a confident composition to sit comfortably on the stark page. It does. This issue of Galaxy should have special significance for collectors because it features the first part of Robert Silverbergís "Dying Inside."
The next Galaxy issue had the second part of "Dying Inside" and it was featured on the cover. Of course, Gaughan did the artwork. In this Retro Art Show we saw Gaughanís same size sketch for it in black and white. Itís in "flat" format (back, spine and front) and tracing paper is taped on top with sketchy pencil areas showing the graphic placement of lettering relative to image. For me it was one of the joys of the show, this little exhibit from the collection of Tony and Suford Lewis. Where else in a formal exhibition can you touch the artwork? I gently lifted the translucent tracing paper and peeked at the handsome black ink work underneath.
Several Black and white works were sprinkled throughout the exhibition. One special group was placed at the end of a row on the far side. I hope people didnít miss this set of 15 beautifully framed interiors for Heinleinís Double Star by Frank Kelly Freas. They positively sparkled. We are lucky to have these survivors. All too often black and white interiors got lost after the printers used them. Interesting also to see how much more detail we have in the originals. The pulp reproduction tended to bring them down in contrast.
John Schoenherrís original black and whites are amazing too. Three dozen of them were in the show. All of them are gems, but I somehow chose to spend time gazing especially into one interior for Dune. Itís from the collection of Jim Saklad and itís in scraperboard mode. I couldnít help marvelling at the artistís control of parallel lines sculpting six individual faces looking down at a scaled down rendition of Dune.
Back to my opening remarks: yes, I certainly should have known more about Jack Gaughan, but there was the pleasure of discovery, and this pleasure principle played its way right through the rest of show. Looking at old friends. Schoenherrís paintings are always amazing. Here was perhaps the largest assembly of his work youíll ever see in one place. Around 40 paintings for Analog Science Fiction. Ed Emshwiller was well represented too. Some two and a half dozen works.
And Richard Powers. Ballantine was quite courageous to take his abstractions for their covers in the early 1950ís because he didnít depict the usual hardware. Robert Weiner reminded us of this in his talk, and itís true, his work really is different from everyone elseís. Iíve always like Richard Powersí work. Now however, in the context of a Retro Art Show, he seems sort of dated. Some of his cover work is almost "Festival of Britain" in style. I mean quite "fifties" in a fine art sense. And yes, several of his Fine Art paintings were there too. His Gorman Powers works.
Ed Valigursky was working at the same time as Powersí first works and was one of the most respected artists of the 1950ís. Several paintings for his Ace Doubles were in the show. Ah ha! Heís another I hadnít known by name. Thank you, Robert Weiner.
I conclude with a couple of artists mentioned at the end of Robert Weinerís perambulation. He noted that perhaps one of the finest paintings in the whole show was Robert Schulzís moody painting for Ballantineís 1968 Chocky by John Wyndham. The original painting is, indeed, a masterpiece by any standard. A young boy is rendered with photographic rightness in soft tones. His expression is perfect as he gazes at the accent of the composition ó a three dimensional diagram of a molecule in white, red and blue.
And nearby were works by Mel Hunter: his robot covers for F&SF. From the July issue in 1957: "Robot Sitting Reading Yellow Pages". Thereís a pile of magazines close by including a Sears Roebuck catalog. Something about the mood of these pictures comes through in the titles. "Robot sitting facing Swollen Moon". "Robot in Row Boat on Sand". Rick Berry ó one of my favourite contemporary Fantasy and SF artists who did the jazzy cover for the 1984 reissue of William Gibsonís Neuromancer ó strolled up as Robert Weiner was speaking about the ironic quality of these paintings and added his thoughts: he loved them, he said, partly because they were "utterly sad". Mel Hunter pulling the heart strings is a good place to sum up the exhibition. Enthusiasm, daring, sadness; time past. The Retro Art Show was a stunning addition to the 2004 World Con Art Show.
Unless you have been living in a sealed bunker in the Australian outback for the past year you can scarcely have avoided hearing about Susanna Clarkeís Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Bloomsbury is taking no chances that their adult-targeted follow-up to Harry Potter will sink without trace. The publicity campaign has been phenomenal. It has been reported that the entire 200,000 first print run sold out before the book was even published. Galleys were selling on eBay for $200. With all that hype going on, one has to fear for the poor author whose work is bound to struggle to keep up with expectations. Neil Gaimanís comment that the book is the best fantasy to come out of England in the past 70 years will have only added to the pressure. (And even Neil isnít perfect ó he has clearly forgotten M. John Harrisonís The Course of the Heart.)
To survive all this hype, the book clearly has to approach being all things to all people. And there at least it is in the ballpark. Being about magicians, it is clearly a fantasy of sorts. Being about a 19th Century England in which magic is used to defeat Bonaparte, it is perhaps an alternate history. But perhaps most importantly for its salability, it is a Regency romance.
And how to describe a London party? Candles in lustres of cut glass are placed everywhere about the house in dazzling profusion; elegant mirrors triple and quadruple the light until night outshines day; many-coloured hot-house fruits are piled up in stately pyramids upon white-cloathed tables; divine creatures, resplendent with jewels, go about the room in pairs, arm in arm, admired by all who see them. Yet the heat is over-powering, the pressure and noise almost as bad; there is nowhere to sit and scarce anywhere to stand. You may see your dearest friend in another part of the room; you may have a world of things to tell him ó but how in the world will you ever reach him? [Ö] Every body declares it to be entirely insufferable. But if it is all misery for the guests, then what of the wretchedness of those who have not been invited? Our sufferings are nothing to theirs! And we may tell each other tomorrow that it was a delightful party.
The year is 1807. The whole of Europe is wracked with war. The French tyrant, Bonaparte, is sweeping all before him. Only a brave little island, stuck out in the mists of the North Sea, seems willing and able to defy him. And yet with the death of Nelson at Trafalgar two years before, even the British may be faltering. What the nation needs is leadership, pride, and above all a new weapon. This is perhaps why a Mr. John Segundus was moved to ask the York Society of Magicians whether anyone actually practiced magic in England these days.
The members of the Society, being gentlemen, replied in the negative. A gentleman may study magic as much as he wishes, because study is a reputable occupation. But as for doing magic, that is the realm of charlatans and mountebanks, of gypsy fairs and street performers. It is not respectable. Segundus, however, was not to be denied, and soon after he heard tell of a Mr. Gilbert Norrell, master of Hurtfew Abbey and a notorious recluse. The world was about to change, and Norrell was to be the cause of that.
Those of you not of British origins may find the character of Norrell somewhat confusing. The thing to remember is that he is a Yorkshireman. Or rather, he is that type of person in whom supposed Yorkshire traits are so exaggerated that one might term him a Professional Yorkshireman. Cricket lovers might ponder upon the character of Geoffrey Boycott as an example of the breed (Dickie Bird is an even better example, for those familiar with him). For a man about to rescue English Magic from centuries of neglect, Gilbert Norrell is about as anti-heroic (not to mention cowardly, selfish, vain, miserly and curmudgeonly) as a man can get. But a man of such power as he possesses can always find advisors, hangers-on, fellow travelers who play upon his vanity and use him to advance their own careers in society. Sometimes they even give helpful suggestions.
"Ah, but, sir," said Lascalles, "it is precisely by passing judgements upon other peopleís work and pointing out their errors that readers can be made to understand your own opinions better. It is the easiest thing in the world to turn a review to oneís own ends. One need only mention the book once or twice and for the rest of the article one may develop oneís theme just as one chuses. It is, I assure you, what everyone else does."
Hmm, one might suspect that Ms. Clarke will be taking a fairly sanguine view of any reviews her book receives, then. And so she might, having had a long and successful career in publishing before hitting the big time as an author (not to mention being the partner of the very wonderful Colin Greenland). She is no newcomer to our industry.
But I digress, because there are three magicians in the book. The second is Jonathan Strange, who is everything that Norrell is not. He is young, good looking, out-going, friendly, brave and not a little reckless. It is Strange, therefore, who finds favor with London society; Strange who finds himself in the Peninsula with Wellington pondering how to put magic to the service of the army; and it is Strange who is perhaps unwisely unafraid of the denizens of Faerie, and of the mighty Raven King.
What marks the book out most as an alternate history is that for several hundred years during the Middle Ages the northern half of England was ruled by one John Uskglass, a legendary sorcerer who supposedly won a kingdom in Faerie long before he invaded England. Uskglass is a bona fide hero of the North; Arthur and Morgan Le Fay rolled into one. He is not merely sleeping, he is very much awake and busily watching. Uskglass, the Raven King, is the driving force of the book.
And here I must diverge briefly into British regional politics. Iím all for those nice Northern people having their own mythic hero (it might stop them trying to hijack Arthur). I also find it rather amusing that Uskglassís capital was at Newcastle whereas the Yorkshireman, Norrell, is a pain in the butt. But I do have to mention the location-finding spell that both Norrell and Strange use in the book. It divides the world up into four corners: England, Scotland, Ireland and Elsewhere. I suspect that many Welshmen will be rather put out by this. The English, of course, wonít understand, because they have always thought of Wales as a tiny corner of England in which people speak funny. But the truth of the matter is that Wales is the Otherland, the mysterious magical kingdom of which Norrell is so afraid. We Faerie folk acknowledge this and smile mischievously. (And we rather like the idea of Stephen Black as heís clearly an ancestor of Our Shirl.)
Meanwhile, back with the book. It is, I have to say, not without problems. It is very long (almost 800 pages), and more importantly it continues on in a linear fashion at the same pace for all of those 800 pages. From that point of view it is very like one of those slow Regency line dances. It has no great plot mysteries, and no interesting narrative structures. What it does have is a bunch of entertaining characters, some delightful language and a keen eye for the period setting. How Clarke managed to keep her language firmly in Regency style for such a long book is beyond me.
Perhaps most importantly, the book is highly entertaining. It is shot through with humorous asides and wry footnotes. The best bits, at least to my eye, are where real historical persons are involved. Some of Strangeís interactions with the Duke of Wellington and Lord Byron are hilarious, and I rather wish Clarke had made more room for the delightfully eccentric General Picton. But, as I said, the book has to be all things to all people. It canít just be a Sharpe pastiche, or a comedy of manners, or a tale of Faerie abduction, or a North Country myth. Sometimes it has to be Lovecraft.
They shewed great corridors built more of shadows than anything else. Dark openings in the walls suggested other corridors so that the engravings appeared to be of the inside of a labyrinth or something of that sort. Some shewed broad steps leading down to dark underground canals. There were drawings of a vast dark moor, across which wound a forlorn road. The spectator appeared to be looking down on this scene from a great height. Far, far ahead on that road there was a shadow ó no more than a scratch upon the roadís pale surface ó it was too far off to say if it were a man or woman or child, or even a human person, but somehow its appearance in all that unpeopled space was most disquieting.
This, I think, is the strength of the book. I donít think that Susanna Clarke has created a classic of fantasy literature. This is not a new Gormenghast, or Lord of the Rings. What it is, is an extremely readable and very entertaining book that will appeal to large numbers of people in many different ways. It is a book that doesnít stretch the casual reader, but at the same time does not insult the experienced one. Fantasy fans will enjoy it for the invocation of Faerie; Lois McMaster Bujold fans (and Jane Austen fans) will flock to it in droves for the Regency setting; book lovers will enjoy the elegance of the prose and the knowing asides. I suppose that your average Libertarian military SF reader will find little of comfort in it, but then you canít please all of the people all of the time. All that the book really needs to be a roaring success is something about cats. And lo, what have we here?
"Such nonsense!" declared Dr. Greysteel. "Whoever heard of cats doing anything useful!"
"Except for staring at one in a supercilious manner," said Strange. "That has a sort of moral usefulness, I suppose, in making one feel uncomfortable and encouraging sober reflection upon oneís own imperfections."
And thereís the rub. Because if you donít read this book, forever after every cat that you meet, and quite a few of the humans as well, will look down their noses at you in precisely that supercilious manner as if to say, "my dear, how can one possibly have polite conversation with a being so deprived of artistic taste as to not have read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell." And thankfully, unlike with Harry Potter, keeping up with the latest fashion in reading will not be a painful experience. If you want to be invited to all of the very best parties, and enjoy a good story, I suggest that you read this book now.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell Ė Susanna Clarke Ė Bloomsbury Ė publisherís proofFor information about buying through Emerald City please click here.
Life's a Gas (Giant)
The new Iain M. Banks novel is SF, because it has that "M." in the authorís name, but it probably isnít a Culture novel. I say probably because after Inversions it is never quite safe to trust Banks. Heís cunning and devious. And The Algebraist does contain a few characters who sound and behave suspiciously like Culture Minds. Also I find it very hard to trust what Iím reading in a book where the dominant religion of the galaxy, modestly known as The Truth, is a belief that the whole of creation is a giant simulation running on a computer somewhere and that when a majority of sentient beings are converted to belief the simulation will end. Banks has been known to talk about creatures that dwell in gas giant planets in Culture novels before, and The Algebraist is full of them. Of course if the book is Culture then it is more correctly post-Culture, because we are talking about a time after The Machine Wars, a time when AIs are hunted down as Abominations (presumably by a crack cadre led by a fanatic called MacLeod, though the book doesnít quite mention that). But the kicker, I think, is transport. Iím fairly sure that The Culture had FTL drives, and The Algebraist is a book about wormholes.
So if the book is not Culture, what is it (other than about gas giants and wormholes)? Well, it is clearly space opera. It is fun, and although it does spend a depressingly large amount of time in infodump it doesnít obsess over science. It does, for example, contain an alien species that bears a close resemblance to a very rare species of large, Scottish, water-dwelling reptile. If Stephen Baxter had written the book he would have spent 50 pages explaining how this species rose to sentience. Banks simply comments on how remarkable it is that the creatures should have done so at all given the disadvantages posed by their physiology. When Larry Niven wants a race of ghouls in a book he explains how they have evolved to fit a particular environmental niche. Banks, on the other hand, finds a much more entertaining and succinct explanation for their behavior.
The Ythyn had been collecting the dead for a billion years, the result of a kind of gruesome techno-curse visited upon them by a species they had fought against and been utterly defeated by. They had lost their small empire, lost their few planets, lost their major habitats and most of their ships and they had even lost themselves, coerced into a program of genetic amendment that turned them from intellectually rounded beings into creatures utterly obsessed with death.
But, as I said earlier, the book is mainly about the creatures that live in gas giant planets, and about wormholes. Just as Ken MacLeod has his "fast folk" (uploaded humans and AIs), so Banks has his "slow folk". The gas giant dwellers (Dwellers, as they are known) live for hundred of millions of years, sometimes even billions. On a timescale like that, it pays not to get hasty about things. The Dwellers have a very laid back, relaxed and long-term view of life; something that their impatient and rapaciously ambitious human neighbors persistently fail to understand.
Of course the Dwellers have certain bad habits, such as hunting and eating their offspring (something that they claim strengthens the gene pool), a love of prevarication, and getting drunk at every available opportunity. But hey, aliens are supposed to be alien, right?
Dwellers start out looking like anorexic manta rays ó this was their brief, occasionally hunted childhood phase Ė then grew, fattened, split most of the way down the middle (adolescence, kind of), shifted from a horizontal to a vertical axis and ended up, as adults, basically, resembling something like a pair of large, webbed, fringed cartwheels connected by a short, thick axle with particularly bulbous outer hubs onto each of which had been fastened a giant spider crab.
Our hero, Fassin Taak is a Seer, a member of a sect devoted to studying the Dwellers and their society. On one of his missions he comes across something seemingly innocuous which, when examined by those in the know, turns out to be Very Important Indeed.
You see, as I mentioned earlier, space travel in The Algebraist is by wormhole, and such things are Very Expensive to build. If your system has one, all well and good. If it doesnít, well you might as well be living in another galaxy for all the contact you have with the rest of civilization. Now, if you have a species that is billions of years old, known to be deviously clever, and found in just about every planetary system in the galaxy, a bright conspiracy theorist might reasonably conclude that said species had access to a secret map of wormholes that they are not telling anyone else about. Thus was born the legend of the Dweller List, and thereby Fassin Taak finds himself responsible for starting an inter-stellar war.
It was a truism that all civilisations were basically neurotic until they made contact with everybody else and found their place within the every-changing meta-civilisation of other beings, because, until then, during the stage when they honestly believed that they might be entirely alone in existence, all solo societies were possessed of both an inflated sense of their own importance and a kind of existential terror at the sheer scale and apparent emptiness of the universe.
On the suspicion that the Dwellers of Nasqueron might just have the secret List, fleets descend upon the system. One of them is headed by the Archimandrite Luseferous. This is a chap who read far too many Warhammer 40,000 comics when he was a kid and has dreams of becoming an Evil Overlord. An ambitious priest of The Truth, after his native system was Disconnected though the destruction of its wormhole, he managed to set himself up as a petty tyrant and build a war fleet. He is now in the process of extending his rule across the galaxy. But, like all Evil Overlords, his ego tends to get in the way. His flagship, named after himself, is a good example of the problem.
The Fleet tacticians had been positively cruel about this dinosaur of a ship. A vanity piece, they called it, an Idiot Aboard! Sign hung round the neck of the enemy fleet. Every space-faring species that built war craft quickly found out one way or another ó often the hard way ó that big ships just didnít work except as a hideously expensive way of impressing the more credulous type of native.
Of course there is a serious point to all this. Banks has things to say about the nature of society. It is doubtless no accident that his human galactic civilization is knows as the Mercatoria. Yep, you got it; they are Evil Capitalists (although they donít actually spend much time behaving as such). The Dwellers, on the other hand, have a sort of idyllic Anarcho-Libertarian society in which most people have fun but some people happen to have fun building and maintaining things that make Very Big Bangs. And being Dwellers these weapon-loving folks never get the urge to impose their will on anyone else. As long as no one annoys them.
The other political grouping in the story are folks called The Beyonders. They are basically a bunch of mindless, barbarian thugs who spend all of their time launching pointless and violent attacks on Mercatoria systems, specializing in destroying wormholes. The Beyonders are, to put it bluntly, a bunch of terrorists. Or at least that is the story that you get from the Mercatoria media. And if you canít see where the story is going by now then you donít know Mr. Banks very well.
The little man looked at him for a moment. "Mr. Taak," he said, sitting back, sounding patient. "Iíve inspected your profile. You are not stupid. Misguided, idealistic, naïve, certainly, but not stupid. You must know how societies work. You must at least have an inkling. They work on force, power and coercion. People donít behave themselves because theyíre nice. Thatís the liberal fallacy. People behave themselves because if they donít theyíll be punished."
I found The Algebraist to be an amusing and entertaining piece of space opera. It is, I think, too long. It was 200 pages in before the plot really got going. And as I mentioned before there are noticeable clumps of infodump scattered liberally through the text. But it is Banks, and therefore well above the standard of most SF these days. If I have regrets it is because I was hoping for something spectacular, something to make the Americans visiting Interaction sit up and say, "wow!" Instead The Algebraist is merely very good. Gosh, what a terrible thing to have to say about a book.
The Algebraist Ė Iain M. Banks Ė Orbit Ė publisherís proofFor information about buying through Emerald City please click here.
War Against the Gods
Steven Eriksonís Malazan Empire books have been a prominent feature in British bookstores for many years now. Because they looked suspiciously like Big Fat Fantasy (Gardens of the Moon, the first book in the series, is well over 700 pages in UK paperback) I didnít get in on them at the start, and there are now five of these huge things staring at me from the shelves and saying, "read me, everyone else says Iím very good." Oh dear, must I? But then Tor decided to buy the series, and sent me their new American hardback of Gardens of the Moon. It seemed like an opportunity. So I took it, and Iím glad I did, because Steven Erikson is indeed very good.
There isnít anything obviously new or innovative about what Erikson is doing. His books tell tales of the Malazan Empire, a pseudo-mediaeval society recently taken over by the usurper, Empress Laseeen. She is a nasty piece of work, and one of her pet hobbies is hunting down and killing anyone suspected of still being a supporter of the late Emperor. Her other favorite hobby is conquering all of the known world.
So Gardens of the Moon is a tale of various groups of people (factions within factions) caught up in the Empressís latest campaign; that designed to wholly subjugate the continent of Gernabackis. More specifically it is about the attack on Darujhistan, last and wealthiest of the Free Cities. The book has two maps, a four-page Dramatis Personae, six pages of glossary, and poems at the start of every chapter. You canít get much more cookie-cutter fantasy than that.
But, as I noted last issue in reviewing Michael Cobleyís Shadowkings series, one of the way in which formula fantasy can be made to work is to make it unrelentingly grim. And whereas Cobley doesnít take himself at all seriously, like his fellow Canadian, R. Scott Baker, Erikson rarely lets the mask slip. The early chapters of Gardens of the Moon are so grim that one wonders how the Empress Laseen manages to run her empire, given that all of the fields are trampled to mud by armies and all of the peasantry pressed into military service or dead.
What frightened Paran most, these days, was that he had grown used to being used. Heíd been someone else so many times that he saw a thousand faces, heard a thousand voices, all at war with his own. When he thought of himself, of that young noble-born man with the overblown faith in honesty and integrity, the vision that came to him now was of something cold, hard and dark. It hid in the deepest shadows of his mind, and it watched. No contemplation, no judgment, just icy, clinical observation.
Where Erikson scores, other than being a very good writer, is in having an interesting world and a very long-term view of the plot. He has taken on board the old pagan view of gods as being a bunch of quarrelsome egotists whom men can and do best quite often. Furthermore, the gods of Eriksonís world are known as Ascendants, clearly suggesting that those capable enough at sorcery may become gods themselves. It is not at all clear that the late Emperor is as dead as he might seem. There is a long game being played out here.
Of course gods have to be incredibly powerful, and Erikson deals with that by making high-level magic something like a game of poker. When two players come face-to-face they spend some time feeling each other out to see who might have the advantage, and then one of them folds, unwilling to risk his chips in what would probably be a fatal encounter. The winner is then free to wreak havoc upon the hapless mortals in the local area.
I also quite like the magic system, which depends on a system of "warrens". These appear to be provinces of an otherworld, roughly one per god, that may or may not have some basic connection to primordial chaos. In Eriksonís world it is absolutely true that magical power corrupts. The more you have of it, the more wicked and insane you get. Eriksonís books provide a setting that would make for a very good role-playing game. It has excellent balance.
However, the book isnít quite as grim as I have made out thus far. Some of the humans do seem to be almost decent folks. And once we get inside Darujhistan we even get some light relief. I particularly liked the character of Kruppe, the fat, self-important magician whose primary use of his talent appears to be to steal pies, pastries and confectionary from market stalls. Kruppe has very little time for the pomposity of high fantasy.
"Iíve brought you herbal tea," the old man said, as he entered the closet-sized room. "Has Alladartís Realm Compendium been beneficial, Kruppe?"
"Beneficial indeed," Kruppe said, gratefully accepting the earthenware mug. "Kruppe has learned the value of modern language. Such long-lipped dribbles common to ancient scholars are a curse Kruppe is thankful to find extinct in our time."
It also becomes clear as the book progresses that Erikson has spent quite a lot of time watching Mission Impossible and related war movies. One of the groups of viewpoint characters is the small unit of Bridgeburners, military engineers sent into Darujhistan to sabotage the defenses in preparation for the assault. Like all of their type, they enjoy making Very Big Bangs, preferably accompanied by large things falling down in a spectacular manner. There are no valiant knights in Gardens of the Moon, and the nearest the book gets to a beautiful young princess is a spoiled and vacuous tart.
In the end, however, the thing that matters most about a fat fantasy series is how you feel after struggling through 736 pages of paperback novel (which Tor, thanks to cunning use of very small type, has crushed into a mere 494 pages of hardback). When I got to the end of Gardens of the Moon the first thing I wanted to do was go and find a British bookstore, buy part two, and find out what happens next. And that, I think, is a sign of a very successful fantasist at work.
Gardens of the Moon Ė Steven Erikson Ė Tor - hardcoverFor information about buying through Emerald City please click here.
Once Upon a Bank
I found it easiest to approach M.M. Bucknerís new novel, Neurolink, by assuming that it was a fairy tale written for Americans. It is rather like one of those stories in which a snooty princess ends up living amongst poor peasants and learns a few lessons about reality. Except in this case in place of a princess we have the son of a fabulously rich banker sent to negotiate with a rebel group of runaway workers. And it is a fairy story. I can certainly believe that there are people in the world as ignorant, arrogant and insensitive as Dominic Jedes, but I canít imagine that such a person would have had the courage to undertake such a mission, and Iím certain he wouldnít have lasted 10 minutes down amongst the "protes". They would have killed him for his silk underwear, if not for his big mouth and very strange ideas.
Dominicís mind was fuzzy. He stared at the spectacles and subvocalized, "Why didnít this man have vision surgery?"
"Not covered by prote medical plans," the NP answered.
"Right," he said aloud. For the first time, it struck Dominic that a large number of workers must have poor eyesight. No wonder so many of them couldnít read. Heíd always puzzled over that.
It is an American fairy story because it has that inevitable father-son rivalry thing. Dear old Dad is a blustering plutocrat of an ogre with definite desires to live forever and own the world. He makes a good ogre, and being dead and uploaded he even has an excuse for being heartless. But it is also American because it has a very strange view of market economics. Just like American Libertarians like to define a free society as, "one in which I am free to become dictator of the universe", so American politicians and businessmen seem to view a free market as, "one in which I can put all my rivals out of business and become a monopolist." Buckner shows she understands in the end, but I had great difficulty in believing in a world that still talks about "markets" when there is only one bank in the entire Northern Hemisphere. Nor will most people understand why Pa Jedes wants a world in which all workers sign lifetime contracts with their employers. Thatís the very opposite of what most smart businesses want these days, but in certain parts of the Republican Party a return to slavery is still a wet dream.
The amusing thing about it all is that in a world where the company is effectively the government and provides lifetime support (albeit highly inadequately) for its employees and their dependents, Jedes Sr. describes the existence of an independently owned company as "Socialism." Some Americans have some very strange views of politics.
Thankfully, although I had severe difficulties with the background, Bucknerís fast-paced and entertaining prose carried me quickly through the novel. As cyberpunk goes, Neurolink is pretty tame. I think it is safe to describe it as Young Adult material. It is easy reading, thereís very little sex or violence, and assuming a YA audience means that I donít have to start banging on about how regulatory authorities measure market concentration and other sorts of economic nit-pickery. In short, entertaining, but donít expect too much from it.
Neurolink Ė M.M. Buckner Ė Ace Ė mass market paperbackFor information about buying through Emerald City please click here.
Sisters of Mercy
So, another fantasy book, another new name. Rebecca Locksley, whoís she? Hmm, but wait, thereís a brief bio at the back: born in Melbourne, worked as an occult librarianÖ Could this be someone I know? And donít I remember doing an Interview for Strange Horizons a few years back in which the author talked about a planned book about three sisters? Oh well, thatís the publishing industry for you. If at first you donít succeed, change the authorís name and try again. Hereís hoping it works.
So, The Three Sisters, by Rebecca Locksley: standard-looking fantasy cover with a princess, a warrior maiden and what looks like a ghost. Who are these people? Helen of Troy, Xena, and Neil Gaimanís Death. Well, not exactly, you understand. But sort of.
Locksley told me way back when she was someone else that this all started with her thinking about Helen of Troy. How did she feel about being abducted? Was she happy with Paris? Did she learn to put up with him? What happened when the Greeks took her back? It canít have been an easy life.
Thus we have Elena, cursed with what her people, the Tari, call "fatal beauty". Most men who see her, and many women too, fall helplessly in love. They fight over her. No one much thinks to ask her what she wants. Which is how she ended up married to Eldane of the Mori tribe, he being one of the few men in the world who treated her as a person, not as an object. Except that the Mori were in the process of being conquered by the Mirayan Empire, and the Mirayanís have some strange ideas about the role of women in society.
The best way to understand the set-up is if I tell you that the Mirayans are not-quite-Romans and the Mori, and their Seagani neighbors, are not-quite-Celts. And the not-quite-Romans are already not-quite-Christian. Get the idea?
So Elena ends up a widow and the prisoner of the Mirayan Prince Scarvan. Her sister, Yani, is a notable warrior who serves as a bodyguard to the Queen of Dania. Hearing of her sisterís capture, Yani sets out to rescue her. Of course when traveling in Mirayan-held territory she has to disguise herself as a man because the Mirayan religion does not allow women to be warriors, or indeed much else except breeding machines. But Yani has help, the third sister.
If we have Romans and Celts then what are the Tari? Why, not-quite-elves, of course. Elenaís "magical power" is her beauty. Yaniís is her fighting ability. But the third sister, Marigoth, is a powerful mage. Although the girls are triplets, Marigoth has refused to grow up and still looks and behaves as if she were twelve. This has its advantages when you are one of the most powerful mages around.
What we have so far, then, is a classic piece of female-targeted fantasy. And it is only fair to point out that if you happen to subscribe to a conservative political philosophy, or you are a devotee of a patriarchal religion, you will not enjoy this book. Locksley is quite merciless in lampooning you and people like you. You have been warned. But please donít go away from this book thinking that The Three Sisters is just a piece of feminist tub-thumping. There are some serious questions asked in the book.
Firstly Locksley opens up what might be seen as a dialog with the role of elves in fantasy. Many fantasies, of course, just use elves as super-powered assistance for the heroes. In others the elves are aloof and disdainful of mortals, deeming themselves morally superior. Locksleyís Tari, for all of their power, are not immortal, but do look down on the rest of the world and most of them insist on remaining in pure isolation. Our heroines are outcasts, being part of a rebel faction that believes it is a Tari duty to help less powerful people. This isnít an easy path to follow, especially as Tari are supposed to be pacifists. How exactly do you help out in a war without killing anyone?
There is a lesson here too for Western society. Most of the Tari know very little about the real world. They live in relatively luxury and safety, and never have to make life-and-death decisions. And that is true of us as well. We watch the goings on in the Middle East with despair and disapproval, but we have very little understanding of how people in Iraq or Palestine really think or feel.
While it is possible to read The Three Sisters simply as a piece of feminist frippery, if you start to think about the story that Locksley is telling you will quickly realize that she is not just peddling escapism. Inside that sugary pill there is some very bitter stuff indeed. More fantasy books should ask questions like this.
The Three Sisters Ė Rebecca Locksley Ė Eos Ė mass market paperbackFor information about buying through Emerald City please click here.
Interview: Mike Walsh of Old Earth Books
Mike Walsh is a familiar sight around major American conventions, and his company, Old Earth Books, is fast gaining a reputation for bringing interesting books back into print. However, unlike most dealers, Mike has also seen conventions from the other side of the table. As a former Worldcon chair, he is one of that rare breed: big name fans who have started publishing companies. I caught up with Mike at Worldcon in Boston, giving him a welcome opportunity to get off his feet after a long day in the dealersí room.
CHERYL: Mike, perhaps you would like to start by telling us a bit about your background in fandom.
MIKE: Fandom-wise my first convention was in 1968, a regional convention in the Washington DC area called Disclave. Thirty years ago, in 1974, I attended my first Worldcon, Discon II, also in DC. What I was doing there was selling books, so Iíve been involved in the dealersí room for a long time. Five years later I found myself chairing a bid, and in 1983 I ended up chairing ConStellation, the 1983 Worldcon in Baltimore.
CHERYL: And how did you get into publishing?
MIKE: The first book I published was in 1988, when the Washington Science Fiction Association got conned by the chair of Disclave (me) into publishing a book containing work by the Guests of Honor. There was a novella by Lucius Shepard called "The Father of Stones," which ended up being nominated for a Hugo. In í93 I started my own imprint, when Allen Steele was Guest of Honor at Balticon. Allen had been shopping around a short story collection that he wanted done in trade format. Ace was quite willing to do mass market, and later did, but Allen wanted a substantial edition, real paper. I thought this would be really neat to do, and I ended up doing it on my own because Balticon wasnít willing to take the chance on publishing a book.
MIKE: So in 1993 Rude Astronauts appeared. I had to drive up to the printerís on the Thursday before the con to get them. For those of you with an academic interest, Rude Astronauts was actually printed by Princeton University Press. They had their own printing plant at the time, though they no longer do.
CHERYL: You also work in the publishing industry, right?
MIKE: Since 1988 I have been the east coast sales rep for Johns Hopkins University Press. Prior to that I was an assistant manager and later manger at a Waldens, an American bookstore chain. Before that I worked at a B. Dalton, and before that a small independent bookseller that is no longer with us, as so many of them are not. When I first started working there they were starting selling paperbacks at the unbelievably inflated price of 95c. Terrible! Who would have thought that? I thought they were insane. So basically Iíve been involved in the book trade for most of my life.
CHERYL: Has it helped you in running your own small press to have that background in the industry?
MIKE: To some extent, in that I have a good idea of how things are done. Having been involved in fandom and the industry, there are contacts one makes. A lot of what happens in the book business is because people know each other. There are a lot of personal contacts.
CHERYL: One of the major problems that small presses have is distribution. Has being part of the industry helped you with that?
MIKE: Yes. My books are handled by the major distributors in the US. I plan for that in that when I decide how much to charge I sit down and work out how much revenue Iíd get if I sold everything through a wholesaler. Ingrams takes my books at 50% discount, which are the nominal wholesale terms. For small press publishers they generally ask for 55%. But luckily the Lensmen books I reprinted were in great demand and they were desperate to have them. They sent me a contract that had 55% discount in it. I crossed it out, wrote in 50%, signed it and sent it back. And they signed it too. I was impressed.
CHERYL: You donít often get people that big backing down.
MIKE: Well, they had enough demand. They have an online service that, because I work at Hopkins, I have access to. So I can see their weekly, monthly and annual sales. The buyer I deal with is a very happy camper.
CHERYL: Your books are conventionally printed?
MIKE: Yes, traditional offset; acid-free paper; the hardbacks have sewn signatures. The books should last longer than the owner.
CHERYL: Do you have an opinion on Print-on-Demand?
MIKE: Print-on-Demand is a very useful tool for the publishing industry. For an academic standpoint PoD has been extremely useful for keeping important but slow-moving titles in print for courses and the like. For a small press it can be useful if it is done right. The biggest problem I have seen with small presses is color reproduction. In PoD certain color combinations just donít work very well. If the designer is aware of the limitations then he can take advantage of it and avoid the weaknesses, but I have seen a lot of Print-on-Demand books that just look ugly.
CHERYL: What sort of print runs do you do?
MIKE: A minimum of a thousand. With traditional offset the costing is such that if you do a run of 800 then 200 more isnít going to add a lot more to the bill.
CHERYL: Old Earth Books Ė where does the name come from?
MIKE: Cordwainer Smith.
CHERYL: Ah, of course.
MIKE: And thereís an even more amusing connection, because Smith was a pen name for Paul Linebarger, who taught at Johns Hopkins.
CHERYL: And talking of Cordwainer Smith, you seem to specialize in producing works by past writers who are perhaps not as easily available in print as they should be. Is that a fair assessment of the business plan?
MIKE: You are assuming that there is a business plan. This is a very much seat of the pants operation. Essentially I publish what I want that I think will make money. I have, after all, published writers from "Doc" Smith to Edward Whittemore.
CHERYL: That was exactly the question I was going to ask next. You have published a tremendously wide selection of material.
MIKE: I have wide interests in reading. I like "Doc" Smith for what he is. They were great books for the time period, and they were fun in their own way. And Whittemore is an absolute crazed absurdist of the late 20th Century. I have a fascination with history, and the books play with history in a major way. The thing about Whittemore is that he has been praised on the one hand by Jonathan Carroll and on the other by Mike Resnick. Thatís a broad spectrum in itself.
CHERYL: Iíve just been talking to Ellen Kushner and she was enthusing to me about how wonderful Whittemore is.
MIKE: He is an acquired taste. If you can get your mind around his work it is an incredible read. My small press editions were reviewed last February in the Times Literary Supplement.
CHERYL: Thatís pretty good going for a small press.
MIKE: YEAH! I was very pleased.
CHERYL: Jeff Vandermeer uses a few riffs off Whittemoreís Quinís Shanghai Circus in Veniss Underground. At the risk of starting a new literary movement dispute, is Whittemore somewhat like Vandermeer, or is he like nothing else?
MIKE: He is like nothing else on Earth. Whittemore is a very unique voice. He was never part of our field. He is completely outside it. Before being a writer he was a CIA agent for ten years. He worked with what is called non-official cover. That means that if he were ever discovered the Secretary would deny all knowledge of him.
CHERYL: Moving on to other people you have published: Avram Davidson. Lots of people leapt up and down with joy when you said you were going to publish Limekiller.
MIKE: This is one of those occasions where the publisher was perhaps a little blind to things. I had read the "Limekiller" stories and thought that they were really neat. But the reaction in the field when I announced that I was going to publish them was quite breathtaking. I was very pleased.
MIKE: The book has sold reasonably well, but the critical reaction has been amazing. For example I have a quote from Lloyd Alexander. Wow.
CHERYL: Davidson seems to inspire a great deal of devotion in the field.
MIKE: He does. The introduction is by Lucius Shepard, and by the time you have finished reading it you have this impression of Lucius, who is a big bear of a man, wrapped around the finger of this elderly, wheelchair-bound fellow who is Davidson. You get the idea that if Davidson told Lucius to go jump in a lake then he would have. Lucius worships Avram Davidson, and particularly the "Limekiller" stories. Having people like Lucius and Peter Beagle praise the book is really satisfying for a one-man small press operation.
CHERYL: And you had little idea of how popular the book would be when you decided to publish it?
MIKE: I knew the stories were good, but I had no idea of the simmering desire for the stories that was out there.
CHERYL: Clifford Simak, on the other hand, is much better known. One of the books you are reprinting, Way Station, is a Hugo winner.
MIKE: Robert Silverberg was at my table yesterday, and he made a comment which is basically the same thought I had myself when I decided to publish Simak. He said, "why is a small press publishing these two novels? They should be in print from a major trade house."
CHERYL: But they are not.
MIKE: They are not, and I think this is indicative of the many changes in trade publishing over the last 15-20 years. Why Del Rey let their agreement lapse, I donít know. Del Rey were the last publisher to have Way Station. Ace had City, which is the other Simak book Iím publishing. It is very strange. Between myself, NESFA and a few other small presses, we are doing what the trade houses arenít doing any more.
CHERYL: And the reason that the trade houses are not doing it is presumably economics. Could they not keep the books in print using Print-on-Demand?
MIKE: They could, except they donít work that way. I think that for a trade house the bottom line is indeed the bottom line. They would probably say that yes, the books would make money, just not enough. The way that many trade houses work is that every book that they publish has to contribute a certain amount to the cost of running the publishing company. Simak, and Edgar Pangbourn who I have also reprinted, arenít going to contribute that much.
MIKE: That said, I think that if they really wanted to put some money behind a major promotion of classic authors, get quotes from contemporary people who are quite popular, then people would read them again.
CHERYL: The Classic SF series in Britain seems to have done moderately well, but the idea doesnít seem to have come back across the Atlantic.
MIKE: It is strange. You would think that it was the sort of thing that a US publisher would look at and say, "hey, those crazy Brits, they are doing quite well with that series, why donít we do our version?" I donít know why they donít.
CHERYL: You also have a number of non-fiction books in print. How did you come to publish a book of Michael Swanwick interviewing Gardner Dozois?
MIKE: At a convention Swanwick came up to me and said, "hey, you wanna publish this really wacky book Iíve been working on?" He explained what it was, and I said, "oh, thatís neat!"
MIKE: One of the things I like in a short story collection is writers who write about how and why a story came together. Harlan Ellison is a good example of this; I have always found his introductions to his stories interesting in their own right. And the idea of a whole book of this just struck my fancy. For some time Michael was just referring to this as "the interview book." A friend of mine in the DC area came up with the perfect title: Being Gardner Dozois, based on a certain well-known movie.
CHERYL: So will they be making a movie of the Gardner book?
MIKE: <laughter> No, they donít have enough Xís for that.
CHERYL: Is the interview particularly revealing? Does Gardner give away the secrets of being a top-flight editor?
MIKE: What he talks about is being a writer. Particularly the interesting thing of working with another person, or in some cases two other writers. He explains why certain stories work, or why they didnít work. I think that, for a beginning writer in the field, reading a top editor critiquing his own material can be very interesting.
CHERYL: You would recommend it to beginning writers?
MIKE: Yeah. They would have to get hold of the stories. They are not in the book. But I think from the context of what heís saying you can pretty much figure out what is going on.
CHERYL: You have also started carrying some British academic books, critical works: John Cluteís Scores; Terry Pratchett, Guilty of Literature; The True Knowledge of Ken MacLeod. Was there some plan of getting into science fiction criticism, or was it just one more thing that you wanted to do?
MIKE: It was something I wanted to do. The books will make some money, not tons. But in a more mercenary way it does bring people to my table at conventions, and it is a nice fit to everything else that I do.
CHERYL: You said that there is no business plan, so presumably there is no grand plan that one day you will retire from Johns Hopkins and found a great publishing empire.
MIKE: If I were to be more detail-oriented in some ways I could probably turn this into fairly profitable venture. That said I do like my job at Hopkins. I like the travel. Having grown up as an army brat traveling a lot I donít find it a discomfort. And there is that other situation that if I stay in the job for just a few more years now I get health benefits for a long time. Thatís very important in America these days.
CHERYL: You have talked about doing reprints, youíve talked about taking British-published books, but do you do any new stuff at all? Do you take submissions?
MIKE: Basically no. I do get material sent in: synopses or whatever, and I have to tell people "no." I donít have the time or the money to promote a new writer. With printing the classics there is an established knowledge about the author. It comes with the territory, and it makes the books much easier to sell. A debut novel by Joe Smith I canít really do anything with. It is best for Tor or someone like that.
CHERYL: So what can we expect from Old Earth in the coming months?
MIKE: Well, assuming that I survive having five books out for Noreascon 4, next year, probably in July for Readercon, I will be doing the US edition of Chris Priestís highly acclaimed novel, The Separation. It will be a hardcover, and I have made arrangements with him and his UK publisher to bring copies over to the Worldcon in Glasgow where Chris is, my gosh, a Guest of Honor.
CHERYL: How terribly convenient.
MIKE: In many ways it was coincidental. I had approached Chris about doing a US edition after John Cluteís review appeared in Sci Fi Weekly. I sent him an email asking if he had found anybody, and it was only about a month ago that we finally concluded negotiations. The book had been rejected by practically every US publisher. One rejected it twice over an 18 month period.
CHERYL: This is a book that has won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, which has the most prize money of any SF award in the world.
MIKE: Yeah, funny about that. And it has received critical acclaim from everyone who had read it. The only thing I can guess is that US publishers are afraid of the book because it is very English. Thereís no American context in it.
CHERYL: It is a story in which Britain wins World War II without help from America.
MIKE: There is that. At the same time I look at Robert Harrisís Fatherland, a mainstream alternate history that did very well, at Len Deightonís SS-GB. Both books are very non-American. I donít know, it is a very interesting story.
CHERYL: Do you think that this might be something to do with the genre industry, that the US publishers still think that SF is an American literature?
MIKE: No, I think not. If you look at the success in this country of China Miéville. His books are doing very well. I saw him in DC recently where he did an author event. I know the folks who run the store and they told me that this was one of their best-attended fiction events ever. Forget genre, just fiction.
CHERYL: China is a fantasy writer, and America has taken Tolkien to its heart.
MIKE: Yeah, but Chinaís novels are way different from Tolkien. They are much more grim, and bloody, and weird. Really weird. Delightfully weird. He reminds me in a sense of filtering Jack Vance, William Gibson and some bad drugs. He has just incredible vision. And I do think that American readers will read British writers if they canít find out about them. I just donít know why Priestís novel didnít make it over here. It is a mystery.
CHERYL: Thereís a whole lot of British stuff coming out in the US over the next few months: M. John Harrisonís Light; Jon Courtenay Grimwoodís Arabesk Trilogy; Justina Robsonís Natural History; John Meaney tells me heís just got a US deal. It will be interesting to see how those books sell.
MIKE: It will be, and it is good to see books that are not just big, fat fantasy trilogies that go on for five or more books. All of the authors you mentioned, I have seen very good reviews in various places for. I certainly hope that the US publishers have great success with them.
CHERYL: Is it something that you might think of picking up if it turns out that the major publishers donít do well with them?
MIKE: That would be a long-term program, because the publishers undoubtedly have contracts with the authors for a number of books. I donít think that far ahead in terms of, "hmm, Bantam is publishing Harrisonís Light, in three years it will probably be out of print, maybe give it a couple more year and do a new edition." I tend to look for things that strike my interest that I can play around with more immediately.
CHERYL: So back to next year then, anything in addition to the Chris Priest?
MIKE: No, not at this point. However, I should point out that this year I have done five new books. I had originally planned only to do three: the Terry Pratchett book and two Edgar Pangborns, Davy and A Mirror for Observers. And then after two or three years of fairly casual negotiations the agent for the Clifford Simak estate decided to give me a yes for the project. And Iím looking at City and Way Station and thinking, well, thereís only one convention where these books can be adequately premiered, so Iím looking at five new books for Worldcon. If someone had told me last year that Iíd be doing five books I would have said that they were crazy, and Iíd be crazy for doing it.
CHERYL: Is your bank manager still speaking to you?
MIKE: I have a credit card. At it earns me hotel points. I travel a lot for work.
MIKE: Also the printer I use I have been dealing with since í93. They know that sometimes things might be a little slow. Thereís interest on the past due, it is a reasonable interest rate. But basically they are quite used to small publishers being a little slow.
CHERYL: It is good to know that small presses can get that sort of treatment.
MIKE: It is one of the reasons why I have stuck with this printer over the past decade or so. You can establish a relationship with them. They are one of the best short-run printers in the US. They are not the least expensive, but they are very, very good.
CHERYL: Are you prepared to say who it is, or is it a trade secret?
MIKE: Oh, it is a company called Thomson-Shore. They are in Dexter, Michigan. That area has a whole bunch of short-run printers, people who specialize in doing 10,000 copies or less. And they are all in some way corporately related, that is people will be with one company for a few years and then go off and start their own companies.
CHERYL: Any final thoughts?
MIKE: When it comes to small press books, it is great that people order them. I realize that people like to order through Amazon: discounts, consolidation and stuff. But I would ask anybody who can to try to order direct from us. The margins are tight. I try to price the books at a reasonable rate.
CHERYL: And they can buy direct from your web site?
MIKE: Yes, thereís a secure shopping cart feature there.
MIKE: Of course the great thing about Amazon is that it allows people all over the world to buy these books. They are not reliant entirely on the local chain store.
CHERYL: Which probably doesnít stock the book anyway.
MIKE: No. One of the great things about the Net is that you can get enquiries from all over. I got an email the other day from someone Iíd never heard of asking when a particular book was going to be out. It was a simple .com address, so there was no way of knowing where they were. So I emailed back and asked. Where are you? Japan.
MIKE: Selling books worldwide is mainly a matter of letting people know that the books are there.
CHERYL: Well hopefully this interview will help a few more people know that your books are there.
MIKE: I hope so too.
CHERYL: Mike Walsh, thank you for talking to Emerald City.
The World of Finndom
By Jukka Halme
(with grateful thanks to Ben Roimola, Pasi Karppanen and Shimo Suntila)
Finland is a small country, cleverly disguised as half-Scandinavian and half-Slavonic, with a twist and a language that could give half of its vowels to Polish in return for some of their consonants. But weíre neither a Scandinavian country (try Nordic instead) nor are we Slavonic (try Fenno-Ugrian). To read more about the actual republic, try googling with "Finland". This article concerns speculative fiction and fandom.
In the beginning
Fandom in Finland was born in the late 70ís. The first Finnish science fiction convention was organized by the Studentsí Union at Turku University way back in 1969, but fandom as we know it wasnít born until the Turku Science Fiction Society was founded in the town of Turku in 1976. The first fanzine was born when this club started to publish its Ďzine Spin in 1977. Presently there are twenty-something SF&F clubs spread around the country and a dozen or so regularly published Ďzines ó plus numerous unofficial SF&F, anime and role-playing clubs and Ďzines. A recent new study has shown though, that as early as 1953 an ex-army officer Lassi Huttunen tried to organise something that couldíve been called proto-fandom in Finland, but as Fate has a strange way of making some rather freakish decisions, Huttunen died in a motorcycle accident the following year and Finndom was in labor for the better part of next two decades.
Finndom is pretty much like fandom anywhere else. And different. Like anywhere else, we have cons, clubs, Ďzines, awards, and all the other bits and pieces that come together to make this thing we call fandom. One thing that has always been characteristic for Finndom has been its ability to work together. There has never been a "Finnish Science Fiction Association" nor will there most likely ever be such an organisation. Our little community has pulled together from the very beginning and made Finndom what it is today.
Another thing that should be mentioned when speaking of Finndom is that there has never been that big a difference between science fiction and fantasy, or even horror for that matter. This is in a great extent due to the circumstances in which Finndom was born. In late 70ís and early 80ís both genres were just as marginal and the fans of SF&F naturally teamed up.
The third thing one should mention when speaking of Finndom is the Finnish SF-magazines. The fact is there are no commercial SF magazines published in Finland. There have been many attempts to publish one in Finland during the years of fandom, and even before, but each attempt has failed. In their place, however, thereís a wide range of professional looking fan-, and semi-prozines. They are very slick, printed on glossy paper and look just as good as any professional SF magazine, with a content to match. There are short stories, both domestic and translated, articles, fantastic artwork, comics, and all the rest you would expect to find in any professional SF magazine.
Meeting the fans
Some Emerald City readers may have read about Finncon, our national convention. Finncon is like any other big con in Europe or USA, with lots of programme going on simultaneously: panels, speeches, lectures and other program items, Guests of Honor giving speeches and autograph sessions.
The one thing that sets Finncon apart from foreign cons is that attendance is free. Since Finncon Ď89, one of the main principles of Finncon has been that everyone interested should be able to attend. One can say that the message of Finncon is to spread the Good Word to the Unbelievers.
Finncon is supposed to be a big event, free of charge and concentrating on literature. So far most, if not all, Guests of Honor have been writers instead of television figures. This has proved to be a very successful formula, and so far all Finncons have been successes. Over the years cons have gotten bigger and better, becoming a major cultural event in Finland. This is partly due to the fairly feud-free atmosphere that has always existed here.
Naturally, Finncons wouldnít be possible without money and over the years the con organizers have gotten very good at gathering funds from government grants and looking for sponsors and other co-operation partners. In 2006 Finncon will celebrate its 20th anniversary in Helsinki. Maybe youíd like to come and see how we Finns do things SFnal?
Finncon is a large-scale mass event, Finndomís showcase to the world of mundanes. Other, much smaller and informal gatherings take place in most of the towns with an SF-club. These monthly (or like in case with Helsinki bi-weekly) meetings, or "mafias" as they are also called, usually take place in a bar or a cafe.
And then there are other convention-type meetings: like Ropecon, a three-day celebration of SF in games; and Animecon, so far always coinciding with Finncon, but which may well soon be an individual effort in explaining to the masses the attraction of Manga and Anime. There is also Tähtivaeltajapäivät (Star Rover Day), a real honest-to-god minicon arranged by the Helsinki SF Association.
A relatively new form of co-operation within Finnish fandom is the science fiction researcher meeting. By now several Finnish universities have students doing their thesis research on science fiction and fantasy. Science fiction researcher meetings are oriented to these students. They aim on the one hand to share knowledge and experience among researchers, on the other hand to prevent overlapping research. The meetings are often organised in connection with or immediately before Finncon or some other big event.
[Irma Hirsjärvi, who chaired this yearís Finncon, is also a well-known academic Ė Cheryl]
The annual must-go-to event for everyone used to be the Roadside Picnic. This was an SF-picnic on Viikinsaari (an island in the immediate vicinity of the city of Tampere). The picnic was originally arranged by the Tampere SF Society since 1983. The tradition was renewed this year by Spektre (SPEKulative Fiction in TampeRE). Spektre is also the host of the more official meeting between the SF societies in Finland. This late-winter gathering is almost a relaxacon (with sauna and winter swimming, i.e. dipping into a hole carved to frozen ice) where representatives from all the clubs and Ďzines recount the past year and talk about their plans for the coming year. Thus they can hopefully avoid booking events on the same date.
Awarding the deservedly so
The most important Finnish SF award is the Atorox award. It has been presented annually by the Turku Science Fiction Society since 1983. It is awarded to the best Finnish science fiction or fantasy short story published the previous year. The winner is decided by a vote of a jury that comprises of jurors from all the Finnish SF clubs. The name of the award is a tribute to Aarne Haapakoski and his classic robot Atorox who appeared in numerous novels in the 1940ís and 1950ís. Johanna Sinisalo has won the prize six times already, no wonder her first novel won the Finlandia-prize too!
The Tähtivaeltaja award (Star Rover award) is presented annually (since 1986) to the best SF book (novel or short-story anthology/collection) published in Finland the previous year. The book doesnít have to be an original Finnish work. It could also be a translation, indeed it usually is. In 2001 it was, for the first time, awarded to a Finnish book, the short story collection, Where the Trains Turn, by Pasi Jääskeläinen.
The aim of the award is to encourage publishers to publish better SF. Especially during the last few years, the awarded books have tended to be SF of a somewhat slipstream nature. In 2003 for example, it was presented to Ray Lorigaís novel Tokyo doesnít care about us anymore (Tokio ya no nos quiere). The winner is decided by a jury and the award is presented by the Helsinki Science Fiction Society.
The Kosmoskynä award (Cosmos Pen award) is presented by The Finnish Science Fiction Writers Association. The award is a recognition of excellence in the field of SF in Finland. Last time it was presented, in 2001, it went to the Finlandia award winner Johanna Sinisalo for all the PR work she has done over the years for Finnish science fiction.
The Kuvastaja award (Mirrormere), presented annually by the Finnish Tolkien Association, is the latest addition to the Finnish SF award family. It was presented for the first time in 2001. It is being presented annually to a Finnish fantasy novel and its purpose is to encourage publishers to publish better fantasy.
Far more fannish awards are the Lumimies ("Yeti" award), with categories such as "Humanoid of the Year", "Chauvinist SF Act of the Year" and "Disappearance of the Year", and so on. They are presented by Polaris, the Oulu Science Fiction Society. Another fannish award is the Tuestin ("Bracer") award for Special Behind-the-Scenes work for Finndom, presented by the ultra-fannish Mundane-collective.
The one thing that we Finns think makes Finndom so different from fandom in other countries is our fanzines. Finnish fanzines are generally very professional-looking magazines with good short stories (both domestic and translated), interesting articles, fantastic artwork, great comics, and all the rest you would expect to find in any professional SF-mag.
[Several of what Finns call "fanzines" most other people would call semi-prozines because they look so good Ė Cheryl]
Although these fanzines were generally started by societies, in some cases the society itself has more or less disappeared and all thatís left is the magazine it publishes. This is especially the case with Tampere Science Fiction Societyís Portti (Gateway). The same can be said with some reservation about the Helsinki Science Fiction Society and its Tähtivaeltaja magazine.
Portti (Gateway) is edited by Raimo Nikkonen and is the official magazine of the Tampere Science Fiction Society. Portti (published since 1982) is the biggest and most successful Finnish SF-magazine, at least in the terms of page count and circulation. It is printed on glossy paper with a color cover and even color on some of the inside pages. The Ďzineís print-run is 3500 copies, with about 1000 subscribers. The Tampere Science Fiction Society also arranges an annual SF short story competition, the single most important Finnish SF&F writing competition, with big cash-prizes. This year the winner gets 2000 euros and 2200 euros is split between the runners-up. The competition has been run since 1986 and the prizes have become bigger and bigger.
One canít deny the fact that Portti is the most successful Finnish SF Ďzine. On the other hand it tends to be an island of sorts in Finnish fandom and one could argue whether it is a part of fandom anymore. The winners of Porttiís competition also tend to dominate the yearly Atorox poll.
The second largest Finnish SF-zine is called Tähtivaeltaja (Star Rover). It is edited by Toni Jerrman and published by Helsinki Science Fiction Association. From the very beginning (since 1982) it has been the Finnish SF magazine with The Edge. In the early days Tähtivaeltaja looked almost as much a punk Ďzine as an SF one.
Although the Ďzine has mellowed a bit over the years and become a "real magazine" it hasnít lost most of itís edge and for many fans Tähtivaeltaja is still the best SF Ďzine in Finland. Domestic short stories have never been Tähtivaeltajaís thing as the role of a purveyor of fiction has never been its point. On the other hand, especially in the early days, the branch of SF that Tähtivaeltaja took special care of was comics. In recent years Tähtivaeltaja has also done valuable work by presenting new and upcoming trends and writers in the field of SF to Finnish readers. As more or less a cross-genre cultural magazine, albeit a VERY much SFnal one, Tähtivaeltaja is constantly taking risks and trying to stay on board with the Current. Usually succeeding.
Founded in 1976, the Turku Science Fiction Society is the oldest of the Finnish SF clubs. TSFSís Spin is also the oldest of the Finnish SF zines. It has been published since 1977 and has had its ups and downs over the years. In recent years there has been a radical rise in the profile and the quality of the magazine and currently it can be counted again as one of the "big three" of Finnish SF magazines.
TSFS went through a complete blood transfusion in the late 90ís, as the old guard stepped aside and the new generation of fans took over. Thanks to this TSFS is now possibly the most active and energetic SF society in Finland, with more going on than probably all the rest of the clubs put together. Because of its long history TSFS is also in many ways one of the cornerstones of Finnish fandom.
Other things worthy of note are clubs/ízines like the Finnish Science Fiction Writers Association, which has published Kosmoskynä (Cosmos Pen) since 1984. FSFWA is a small, but relatively active organisation and Kosmoskynä a worthy read for both beginners and advanced writers. Legolas is the fantasy-zine of the Finnish Tolkien Society, founded in 1991 and the only Finnish fanzine purely concentrated on things fantastical. Helsinki University Science Fiction Club is another small, but active club with a delightfully quirky Ďzine called Marvin ó the Lehti ("The ĎZine") Of all the Ďzines in Finland, Marvin is probably the one that looks most like an actual fanzine. It is Xeroxed-looking and usually filled with lots of weird inside humour and other baffling bits. You pronounce HYSFK GooGooMuck. Donít ask.
In the mythic history of Finndom there were many weird little societies and Ďzines that would make a subject for an article of their own. One might say that starting societies is one of the favourite activities of Finndom. Clubs like Ye Olde Cavaliers Scientifiction Boozing Guild and The Grumpy Bald Sci-fi Fans Association have managed to create a lively subculture of their own, not to mention more established clubs like #42 (oddly really nothing to do with Douglas Adams) and Mundane.
Charlie donít surf
Considering Finlandís reputation as being in the forefront of new technology, it is surprising that there are only a few actual SF&F webzines in Finland. Most Finnish SF&F societies and Ďzines have their own web pages, but almost in every case they exist merely to promote the actual Ďzine, not as an independent publication. But there are exceptions. Like Kalaksikukko (Galaxy Rooster) from the Kuopio Science Fiction Society. Editor Marko Ikäheimo has been producing the oldest Finnish webzine since the early 1990ís. Kalaksikukko has also kept its appearance over the years and remained as plain and simple as possible, without flash animations or fancy graphics. It publishes short stories, reviews, columns and other SF&F related material.
Aikakone (Time Machine) is piece of Finnish SF history. Originally it was a Ďzine for Finnish Astronomical Society, Ursa. It was published from 1981 and behind it were some of the early giants in Finnish fandom. In 1990 Ursa decided to stop publishing an SF fanzine and consequently the Aikakone Society was formed. For a number of years, Aikakone was undoubtedly one of the best Finnish SF Ďzines, if not the best. Unfortunately due to financial difficulties it began to have trouble getting new issues out on time. In the mid 90ís the zine finally changed into a webzine. Gradually the webzine also faded to a mere memory, but itís still available and who knows, maybe one of these days the time will be right again?
As far as websites acting as independent media, Babek Nabel is probably the closest one. It was started in 2001 by the fans in Helsinki as a fandomís discussion forum, the idea being that it would work better than several separate mailing lists. A very active place for all kinds of discussion, from frivolous to serious and everything in between, Babek Nabel is the place to look for Finndom.
Enhörningen (Unicorn) is the fanzine of the Swedish speaking Finnish fandom, established in 1987 by Ben Roimola, and publishing short stories and literary and audiovisual reviews. For most Finnish fans, however, Enhörningen is best known through its web pages. One could say Enhörningenís web pages are the Finnish fandomís best showcase to the Swedish speaking world. It also serves a wider national public with the best-kept up-to-date web news columns.
There are two other websites that really need to be acknowledged. The first one is the website for Finncon and the other is Jussi Vainikainenís irreplaceable fountain of information on Finnish SF in ALL its forms. Finnconís website gives information about the current and past Finncons. Jussi Vainikainen is a long-time Jyväskylä-based fan who has been instrumental in making Finndom known in the internet. His accomplishment is an amazing collection of links to various clubs, authors, articles and informative bits and pieces about fandom as a whole.
Looking for the next Harry Potter
The majority of some fifteen to twenty original Finnish SF&F-books published annually belong to childrenís and young adult genres. During the last few years a group of new Finnish authors have emerged who have been inspired by the current fantasy boom all over the world and have decided to exploit the marketing niche by mass producing their own, mostly juvenile fantasy books. If more than two solidly SFnal books come out per year, it is truly a reason to celebrate.
The situation with translations is slightly better, but the never-ending Quest for the next Big Thing has turned the publishing programs of most Finnish publishing houses into a veritable feast for all aficionados of childrenís fantasy books. The Epic Fantasy is still very marketable, thus the new books by Eddings and Jordan and Salvatore are dutifully published as soon as they appear in original. Pure science fiction books are more of the domain of smaller publishers, with names like Banks, Reynolds and PKD reigning supreme at the moment.
Surprisingly the majority of original SF&F published in Finland is produced by mainstream writers. They use it as just a spice in their books, without knowing its conventions or history. The tradition of realism has always been very strong in Finland and therefore this trick has become quite popular and many well-known authors have experimented with the SF genre. One of the most popular Finnish authors, Arto Paasilinna (huge in France!) uses fantastical ideas (immortality, aliens, deities etc) on a regular basis. Critics tend to downplay this aspect of his writing as having nothing to do with fantasy, since "as we all know, fantasy is childrenís literature". The mainstream critics have, however, been bowled over by admiration whenever SFnal ideas are used as parts of mainstream novels. Not because the elements are terribly imaginative or new, but because they see those as daring avant-garde literary experiments. Which unfortunately doesnít always spell quality.
Something like may be behind the almost over-night success-story of the multiple Atorox award winner and SF short story writer Johanna Sinisalo, whose first novel Ennen päivänlaskua ei voi (Not Before Sundown) [Troll in the US Ė Cheryl] (2000) won the prestigious Finlandia award. The publicity value for Finnish SF is impossible to measure. Finlandia is the foremost Finnish literary award, comparable to Booker, with a very large check attached to it.
The book itself, however, is only marginally SF. Sinisalo herself has even said that she tried to write a mainstream work with speculative elements in the background. The speculative element in Sinisaloís novel is fairly frail, but for the mainstream public the idea of trolls as real living and breathing creatures was enough to raise the proverbial eyebrow. Sinisaloís book has also been quite a literary success story. In a few years, it has been translated into several languages.
Another fairly well known author is Risto Isomäki, with three SF novels and a short story collection. The majority of Risto Isomäkiís published work, however, is non-fiction and connected to his background as an activist in environmental issues. Isomäki has a tendency to write intelligent, if a tad dry fiction, with occasionally rather cardboard-flavoured characters.
Ilkka Remes, the Finnish counterpart to Tom Clancy and the success story of the late 1990ís, clearly got scared about the SF reputation of his first book, Pääkallokehrääjä (Deathís-head hawk moth). The novel is a political thriller, taking place in an alternative Finland where the country has become part of the Soviet Union because of different events in the Second World War. Remes himself, however, denied that his book would be anything even remotely approaching SF and since then he has kept his distance to the genre.
Jyrki Vainonen has been noted by Finnish fandom for his fantastical short story collections and a recent novel. Vainonen himself says that his work represents surrealism, and he has seemed uncomfortable about the fact his books are classified as "fantasy". To him fantasy appears to be a very limited field: heroes wielding magic swords and fighting Evil. Most unfortunate, but it doesnít really affect the fact that Vainonen writes sublime speculative fiction.
Other notable authors are Kimmo Lehtonen (also an respected expert on "new and happening foreign science fiction"), Pasi Jääskeläinen (winner of multiple Atorox awards), Sari Peltoniemi (YA-author and Kuvastaja-winner), Maarit Verronen (old Atorox-regular, who has been gradually getting rid of all SFnal elements in her stories), Boris Hurtta (the King of Finnish horror writers) and the inimitable Leena Krohn, who magically transforms even the most mundane events into fantastical episodes of sheer beauty and utter bewilderment.
Science fiction and fantasy seem to currently have definite commercial potential that has not yet been properly exploited, at least not by the domestic writers. Unfortunately for both the writers and readers, there is, as noted above, a serious lack of commercial magazines. As beautifully crafted and professional looking as our Ďzines are, they are not a paying market: the writers are forced to either work for free or write non-SF stories for other publications, and most of the potential readers are unable to find the small-circulation magazines.
Possibly the most enduring story-type in Finnish SF-stories is the combination of everyday reality with mysterious elements that start to appear. Not really SF in any shape or form, these stories seem to be very popular with the biggest trendsetter in Finnish short story writing, Portti magazineís annual competition. It would be interesting to know how much it is due to the juryís (un)conscious guidance through rewarding a certain type of stories, and how much writing such "fantastic" stories of everyday reality simply fits with the Finnish national character. The definite minor key and melancholy that are generally characteristic of Finnish SF, and literature in general, could be explained by the mixture of Nordic and Slavonic characteristics in us Finns.
One interesting feature is how the stories reflect the Finnish society. For instance, when Finland experienced a harsh economic depression in the early 1990ís, it was later reflected in the stories. In the beginning of the decade, Finland also experienced its own small scale "new wave". A trend of its own was also the short but intensive Lovecraft boom, lead by the virtuoso Boris Hurtta. This was visible in the Finnish fanzines in the 1990ís, when domestic writers continued the work of Lovecraft and started building their own network of stories around the Cthulhu mythology.
Stories of Tomorrow
During the last couple of years several writers who have started among the fandom have made their debut on the Finnish literary field, either with a collection of short stories or with a novel. In the last few years, more domestic science fiction and fantasy has been seen than during several earlier decades put together. The situation looks thus promising and gives reason for hope.
At times, there have been some voices among fandom saying that one should not even try to create a special niche of domestic science fiction or fantasy literature, since that would only mean its conscious isolation, out of the reach of domestic mainstream readers and the readers of translated SF&F as well. Instead of this there should be a continuum of literature, with "speculative elements" of differing degrees, where SF&F would be a natural part of the rest of domestic literature.
Whatever the end result, the future of Finnish speculative fiction looks very promising indeed.
Thereís plenty more information to be had from these web sites:
Babek Nabel http://leban.lasipalatsi.net/
Jussi Vainikainenís Finnish SF-resources http://kotisivu.mtv3.fi/jussiv/sf/suomisf.html
Rum and Bloke
As you may have noted in the interview with Mike Walsh, the most critically acclaimed book that Old Earth has produced is its eponymous collection of Avram Davidsonís Limekiller stories. Certainly the range of people who rave about it is impressive. Jonathan Strahan will talk about it given any opportunity. Paul Di Filippo praised it in SF Weekly. Lucius Shepard and Peter Beagle contribute enthusiastic introductions. Davidson has a very impressive following.
One of the benefits of this is the Shepard introduction, which at times is almost worth the price of the book itself. If, as Shepard claims, Davidson was responsible for his becoming a writer, we owe the man a much bigger debt than simply for his own stories. And Shepardís piece paints a delightful picture of a young writer entranced by a somewhat grumpy and manipulative old genius.
Once, when I was beginning to write my own Central American stories, I wrote him a letter expressing some insecurity as to whether people would think that I was encroaching on his literary turf. A few days later, I got back a postcard that read, "Thatís right, Shepard. Iíve staked a claim to the entire Caribbean littoral. Itís mine, all mine. Keep your grubby hands off." I was so confounded by this burst of acerbity, it took me a goodly while to understand that he was telling me I was an idiot.
But what of Jack Limekiller himself? Well, he is a Canadian, something of a drifter, who has bought himself a boat and gone to settle in the small Central American country of British Hidalgo. He has a boat called Saccharissa and a white cat called Skippy for a first mate. Skippy fancies himself as a pirate. Later in the sequence Limekiller acquires a girlfriend, an American woman called Felix Ann Fox. They sail around the Caribbean. Things happen to them.
British Hidalgo is fairly un-loosely based on the former colony of British Honduras, now known as Belize. Davidson lived there for many years. In some ways Limekiller is a sort Caribbean Kipling: British India on a very small and maritime scale. In other ways it is The African Queen with added Voodoo.
Some of the stories are indeed horror. "Bloody Man" is a ghost story. "Manatee girl, wonít you come out tonight" is a were-creature tale. But actually the stories are about as scary as Lovecraft. If you buy them for their horror content alone, or even as fantasy, you will be sorely disappointed.
What you should buy them for is Davidsonís writing. To start with he has a wonderfully dry sense of humor. Everything from Skippy the Catís piratical asides and contempt for foolish humans to Limekillerís bemused ponderings on the vague meanderings of British bureaucracy is cause for a smile.
Suddenly, no one was looking at him. Much interest was for some reason developed in looking at the large picture of the Queen, whose Royal simper Jack had long found insufferable ó until visits into republican waters and their ports, and exposure to the prominent display photographs of, instead, sundry scowling generals with fat chests covered by medals, had gradually made Her Majesty, simper and all, look very, very good and innocent in contrast.
Of equal interest is the skill with which Davidson evokes the atmosphere of British Hidalgo. I have to admit that I find his transcriptions of Caribbean dialect rather hard to follow (a problem I donít have nearly so much with Nalo Hopkinson), but his descriptions of life on the coast of Central America are superb. Iíve never been to Belize myself, but the basics of a boat-based island culture is familiar from Scilly, and that of the Caribbean from visits to Ft. Lauderdale and watching too much West Indian cricket. Pass the Red Stripe, Mon.
Although Limekiller is a white hero in a colonial setting, thereís little of Hemmingway here. Jack is no great fighter, and his hunting is generally confined to fishing for food (as heís often too poor to by any). Also, much to my surprise, the advent of Felix brings a welcome domestic touch to the tales. "A Far Countrie" has some wonderful passages about the simple act of being in love.
And Skippy the Cat, in no wise resentful of his demotion, since Felixís arrival aboard, from first mate to supercargo, at that moment rubbed his off-white pelt against her aft leg. She bent down to pet him and to utter endearments. Next she said, "Do you know, Skippy, what pleased me so much last night? It was when Captain Jack said, Ďour boat.í Not Ďmy boat.í But Ďour boat.í"
In a sudden up-flowing of joy, Captain Jack said, "Well Skip, if you want to know what made my night, it was when First Mate Felix introduced herself to Chief Minister McBride as ĎFelix Limekiller.í"
Skippyís comment was, "Must I put up with all this mush so early in the morning? Eeyoo. Blech. ó a little more scratching abaft the starboard ear, Biped. AhhÖ"
And then, for a moment, nobody said anything at all, but everybody seemed very well-content.
And well-content is, I think, what most readers will be on completing Limekiller. Excepting those amongst them who are actually writers and who therefore appreciate the technique that Davidson has brought to these tales. They, like many of their fellows before them, will be struck with jaw-dropping admiration.
Limekiller Ė Avram Davidson Ė Old Earth Books - hardcover
Those of you still unsure about buying M. John Harrison's wonderful Light might like to get a sample of the sort of treats in order. There is a short story, "tourism", set in the Light universe, available for free on Amazon.com. There are a few things in it that make more sense if you have read Light, but don't worry about the shadow operators, you won't be much the wiser after you have read the book. They just are.
"Joe Leone didn't follow that, even at seven years old which everyone agreed was his most intelligent time. He liked to fight. By twelve it was his trade, nothing more or less. He had signed with the Shadow Boys. From that time on he lived in one-shot cultivars. He liked the tusks, the sentient tattoos, and the side-lace trousers. Joe had no body of his own. It cost him so much to run those cultivars he would never save up enough to buy himself back."
Love it. Hugo nominee.
Meanwhile, if you should want to buy the novel (hint, hintÖ)
Light Ė M. John Harrison Ė Bantam Ė trade paperback
Shibuya no Love
So there were Charlie Stross and I, chatting over a few beers in the Mended Drum. I was just going to the panel on European SF. Charlie had a recommendation for me. He is in a writersí group in Edinburgh, and thereís this kid there from Finland. His name is Hannu Rajaniemi, and heís doing a PhD in string theory. He can speak in ten-dimensional differential equations. And he writes beautifully, in English. Charlie made him sound like Greg Egan with social skills. So far Rajaniemi only has one story generally available. It doesnít have anything much to do with string theory, but it is very much about Japan. The story is called "Shibuya no Love", and it is available on the futurismic fiction web site. Go here. Read. This kid is good.
Britainís premier SF magazine, Interzone, has risen from the grave, and very splendid it looks too. The masthead has the look of a web site, the cover art has an anime feel to it, and the styling inside is edgy and modern. It looks like a magazine that its publisher wants to shift off newsagent shelves, not just sell to fannish subscribers.
The content is interesting too. It chops back and fore between fact and fiction. The magazine leads off with Dave Langfordís news column, switches to a story, comes back to Nick Loweís superb movie reviews, and so on. There are columns on video games, comics, and of course books. The review staff includes Paul Kincaid, Rick Kleffel and Iain Emsley, which is a fine line-up. There is also a long interview with the magazineís former editor, David Pringle. The non-fiction side certainly looks promising.
Whether the fiction will succeed in rising from the abyss it had sunk into towards the end of the Pringle regime remains to be seen. The main feature in this issue is "Dreams of the White City", which is a science fantasy of a type Iím starting to see as typical of the very splendid Jay Lake. Or rather, it is one of Jayís typical styles, as he has several. I also liked Anthony Mannís "Air Cube". It is a fairly clichéd story about advertising, but it is nicely done and very well presented. The other stories were, I thought, less impressive, but then you know how I am about short fiction. Iíll be interested to see what other people make of it. But so far so good. I think Andy Cox will do well with his new charge.
The Third Alternative #39
In the same package as the new Interzone was issue 39 of The Third Alternative. This is pretty much as it has always been, majoring in dark fantasy and horror. Unlike Interzone it majors in fiction, although for some strange reason it continues to carry an interesting column on life in Japan, as well as book reviews, comment and so on.
The editorial reveals a probably overdue plan to change the name of the magazine. The Third Alternative is way too much of a mouthful and embarrassingly reminiscent of Tony Blairís Third Way. It also tells you nothing about the magazineís content. I think a new name will do a lot for sales.
I havenít had time to read all of the fiction. The prolific Jay Lake is featured again, but I donít think that "Daddyís Caliban" is one of his best efforts. I did very much like Christopher Barzakís "A Resurrection Artist", and the superb accompanying illustration by Joachim Luetke. The magazine has built up a strong following, and I suspect the advent of a TTA Press version of Interzone will only help that.For information about buying through Emerald City please click here.
Limekiller: Avram Davidson
Light: M. John Harrison
If it is Worldcon it must be award time. There are heaps of them.
Best Novel: Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold;
Best Novella: "The Cookie Monsterí by Vernor Vinge;
Best Novelette: "Legions in Time" by Michael Swanwick;
Best Short Story: "A Study in Emerald" by Neil Gaiman;
Best Related Book: The Chesley Awards for Science Fiction and Fantasy Art: A Retrospective by John Grant, Elizabeth L. Humphrey, and Pamela D. Scoville;
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Gollumís Acceptance Speech at the 2003 MTV Movie Awards;
Best Semiprozine: Locus, Charles N. Brown, Jennifer A. Hall, and Kirsten Gong-Wong, eds.;
Best Professional Editor: Gardner Dozois
Best Professional Artist: Bob Eggleton;
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King;
Best Fanzine: Emerald City, Cheryl Morgan, ed.;
Best Fan Writer: Dave Langford;
Best Fan Artist: Frank Wu;
John W. Campbell Award for New Writers (not a Hugo Award): Jay Lake;
Special Noreascon Four Committee Award (not a Hugo Award): Erwin "Filthy Pierre" Strauss.
Best Novel: Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury;
Best Novella: "A Case of Conscience" by James Blish;
Best Novelette: "Earthman, Come Home" by James Blish;
Best Short Story: "The Nine Billion Names of God" by Arthur C. Clarke;
Best Related Book: Conquest of the Moon by Wernher von Braun, Fred L. Whipple & Willy Ley;
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: The War of the Worlds;
Best Professional Editor: John W. Campbell, Jr.;
Best Professional Artist: Chesley Bonestell;
Best Fanzine: Slant, Walter Willis, editor; James White, art editor;
Best Fan Writer: Bob Tucker.
Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award
This yearís unjustly ignored authors are Henry Kuttner (a.k.a. Lewis Padgett, Lawrence OíDonnell, Kelvin Kent and probably few others as well) and his wife, Catherine L. Moore (who co-wrote the Padgett and OíDonnell books). Moore is, of course, anything but forgotten at Wiscon. Her story, "No Woman Born", is a classic of feminist SF.
Artistic Achievement: Todd Lockwood;
Best Cover (hardback): Donato Giancola for City (Clifford D. Simak, SF Book Club);
Best Cover (paperback): Todd Lockwood for Tangled Webs (Elaine Cunningham, Wizards of the Coast);
Best Cover (magazine): Bob Eggleton for F&SF, July 2003;
Best Interior Illustration: Todd Lockwood for "Crossing into Empire" (Realms of Fantasy, June 2003);
Best Color Work Ė Unpublished: Michael Whelan for She (acrylic);
Best Monochrome Work Ė Unpublished: Gary Lippincott for Autumn Fairies (watercolor and pencil);
Best 3D Art: Gary Lippincott for Jack (bronze);
Best Gaming-Related Illustration: Todd Lockwood for the cover of Draconomicon (D&D);
Best Product Illustration: Dean Morrissey for "Anna of the Celts" (fine art print, Greenwich Workshop);
Best Art Director: Irene Gallo for Tor Books;
Contribution to ASFA: Teresa Patterson
Gaylactic Spectrum Awards
For positive portrayal of GLBT themes.
Best Novel: The Salt Roads, Nalo Hopkinson (Warner);
Best Short Fiction: "Lark ĎTill Dawn", Barth Anderson (Mojo: Conjure Stories, Warner);
Best Other Work: (tie) Angels in America, Tony Kushner (HBO); Gotham Central #6-#10, Greg Rucka & Michael Lark (DC Comics).
Golden Duck Awards
For Childrenís SF.
Picture Book: Hazel Nut Mad Scientist, David Elliott (writer) & True Kelley (illustrator) (Holliday House);
Eleanor Cameron Award (middle grades): Escape from Memory, Margaret Peterson Haddix (Simon & Schuster);
Hal Clement Award (young adult): Gunpowder Empire, Harry Turtledove (Tor).
For promoting ideas that Libertarians like.
Best Novel: Sims, F. Paul Wilson.
Hall of Fame: "The Ungoverned", Vernor Vinge.
For Alternate History.
Long Form: Collaborator, Murray Davies (Pan Macmillan);
Short Form: "O One", Chris Roberson (Live Without a Net, NEL)
Blog Philosophy Update
Hopefully some of you did manage to follow Worldcon through the Emerald City blog. I know at least one person did (thank you, Barbara!). Iím finding myself posting more and more SF news on the Emcit blog these days, and there is correspondingly less material going on the Mewsings. I suspect this may continue.
George Flynn, RIP
George Flynn is not a name well known outside Boston these days. But those of us who got involved in what passes for management of WSFS ó running the Business Meeting and the Mark Protection Committee ó all knew him well. From my experience, George was remarkably tireless for his age, always willing to help out, a fount of historical knowledge, and very usefully wise. Iím sure that the folks at NESFA will miss him terribly, and for Kevin and I Worldcon will not be the same without him.
SF For Kids
David Brin writes to tell me about an initiative being run by the Washington Post Book World. They want people to write in with details of two or three books that really impressed them when they were in school. 200 words maximum. The best submissions will be published. Naturally David wants us all to suggest good SF books. Sounds like a great plan to me. Full details here. You need to sign in, but temporary registrations are available from BugMeNot.
Brand New Towels
The BBC is broadcasting a new series of Hitch Hiker's Guide programmes, based on the final three books in the series: Life, The Universe And Everything; So Long And Thanks For All The Fish; and Mostly Harmless. Broadcast schedule here. Note that "Listen Again" link on the right. That means that the broadcasts will be available from the BBC web site for a week after the broadcast.
Note that individual episodes will be eligible for the Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) Hugo. It would be nice to see a radio play nominated.
Tucker Turns 90
Wilson "Bob" Tucker, winner of the 1953 retro Hugo for Best Fan Writer, will be 90 in November. His birthday is the 23rd, and there are plans afoot to throw a party for him at MidAmericon on the 27th. If you are going to be anywhere near Bloomington, IL, do go along. For more details see here.
I am finding this more and more useful in explaining the behavior of people on SMOFs and in the WSFS Business meeting:
Cherylís Law of Fannish Statistics
One data point indicates a trend, two data points indicates a sacred and holy tradition.
I have 900 pages of Neal Stephensonís System of the World awaiting me. Aside from that I have Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Karen Traviss, Edward Whittemore, Eileen Gunn and a whole pile of books I could not find time to read this month. If all goes according to plan the issue will be out in time for World Fantasy Con.
And hopefully the next issue wonít be quite so longÖ
Love Ďní hugs,
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Cheryl Morgan - firstname.lastname@example.org