An Irish Worldcon, Part 4: Sunday

This blog post deals with my Sunday at the recent. World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin. I have previously written about my experiences on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Sunday saw me arriving to the Convention Centre somewhat on the late side. The previous couple of days were taking their toll on me, both in terms of sleep deprivation and my body revolting against the lack of wholesome food to which it was being subjected. Some sporting event meant that the Luas between where I lived and the CCD was essentially unusable, so I had to walk.

Trophy wrangling meant that I had very little time for programme items, but I did make it to an interesting panel on Satire and the Fantastic, at which Heidi Goody, Ian Grant, Ju Honisch and Juliana Rew discussed this important topic. I liked the discussion of whether satire had to be funny or not. I was also interested by the question of whether allegorical satire is something of a cop-out, in that the satirist avoids directly engaging with the real world issues by instead dealing with their fictional world. I am a bit wary of satire myself on something like that basis, as it favours smartarse nihilism over any attempt to combat problems or dismantle malign power structures. Satire can nevertheless have its uses in shedding new light on issues that are being left unanalysed. One example here is the way District 9 (and the short film that preceded it) used imaginary prejudice against aliens to highlight xenophobic attitudes in South Africa, by using vox pops of people giving out about immigrants and then editing them so that the respondents appeared to be talking about the Prawns (see also the disturbing Irish report on prejudice against culchies).

Comments at panels (as opposed to questions) are much maligned. However my friend Sam made an interesting interjection from the floor about satire going wrong and bolstering the ego of its targets rather than deflating them. Her example was Spitting Image, which apparently Margaret Thatcher loved because it made her look dynamic and authoritative. I can well imagine that while other people disliked how they were portrayed on Spitting Image and similar programmes, they liked the fact that they were important enough to be featured.

Hero of Worldcon
The satire panel sadly was pretty much the only programme item I made it to on the Sunday. Those Hugo trophies weren’t wrangling themselves and I did also spend a bit of time loafing in the dealers area, finally meeting in real life one of my social media pals. I also had the terrifying experience in the afternoon of being summoned to meet James Bacon, the chair of Worldcon. I assumed that word about The Incident had finally percolated up to him and I was about to be removed from the Convention Centre with extreme prejudice. But before I could launch into an unconvincing attempt to explain myself, James revealed that he was actually presenting me with a Hero medal in recognition of my work for Worldcon both before and during the convention. This was something of a surprise and I was truly honoured to receive the medal, which I wore with pride for the rest of the convention.

The evening saw me involved with the Hugo Awards. As with the Retros on Thursday, I lurked off-stage and handed trophies out to be given to people who then presented them to the actual winners. What happened onstage was largely mysterious to me, as although there was monitor it was too small and far away from the trophies to see much in detail. I enjoyed the poignant music that accompanied the In Memoriam scroll, even though I was unable to read the names as they went by.

As someone who has never read a book in the year it came out, the Hugo winning works were all strangers to me, but I think the most memorable moment came near the ceremony’s start, when Jeanette Ng won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (which is not technically a Hugo Award, the prize’s winner receiving a different trophy; however nominations for and the awarding of the prize work in the same way as with the Hugos, making the distinction a bit pedantic). As you know, the late John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding and Analog among other magazines was a giant of early science fiction and at the Retro Hugos he won the Retro Hugo for best editor, as I think he always does. Ng however began her speech by describing Campbell as a fascist, someone who actively strove to force science fiction down reactionary paths. That speech ignited a furore, and, while not everyone agreed with her assessment or the propriety of her making it, a few days later to Dell Magazines, the prize’s sponsor, changed the prize’s name to the Astounding Award for Best New Writer.

I had previously heard that Campbell’s political views were a bit unsavoury, though I have not delved into the subject sufficiently deeply to find out for myself whether the charge of fascism is warranted. I have seen people on the Internet saying that his more objectionable opinions are explicitly stated in many of his editorials; if readers have particular examples please let me know.

Ng also expressed her support for the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, the city of her birth.

Unmanned
From a trophy wrangling perspective the Hugo Awards ceremony went well. However, I myself experienced one untoward disaster. Somehow in all the unboxing and boxing of the trophies my ribbons got caught in all the bubble-wrap. At the end of the evening I discovered that they were gone. Sadface.

I had been invited to attend the Hugo Losers Party, in case any trophies ended up there by accident and needed wrangling. As the name suggests, this is an event for at which the Hugo losers drown their sorrows in the company of various other people, making fun of any Hugo winners who dare to show up (for the history of this event see this blog posts by Tammy Coxen). This took place in the Guinness Storehouse but the venue ran into capacity issues. By the time I arrived there were two queues of people waiting to be admitted, one for Hugo finalists and their plus ones/twos/threes, the other for lesser mortals. Rather than wait for an indefinite period, my plus one and I made our way home, which was probably the wisest course of action given how tired we were.

Popular author George R. R. Martin has in recent years generously funded and hosted the Hugo Losers Party. He has written his own account of what went wrong this year; not everyone agrees with his analysis or its tone. But the world has moved on and the event has receded into history.

Readers, this long road is nearly finished. There will be just one more short post in this account of my experiences at this Irish Worldcon.

image sources:

Master of the Hugos (File 770: 2019 Hugo Awards; photo by Olav Rokne)

Other pictures my own. See more of them here here.

An Irish Worldcon, Part 2: Friday

You can read the first part of my Worldcon write-up here.

Chuck Tingle Buckaroo
By now I had turned into one of those Worldcon weirdos who has a load of ribbons hanging off their name badge. These magic charms did not protect from the ministry of Satan, whose works meant that I failed to rock up to the Convention Centre in time for any 10.00 a.m. panels. Instead I tried to attend a panel in Point Square on The Continuing Relevance of Older SF (with the programme notes including works by Margaret Atwood as an example of what was going to be covered, which seems a bit strange as although Atwood is old she is a currently active writer whose latest SF novel is about to hit the shelves). However the room was full before I got near it, perhaps because the panel included both Robert Silverberg and Joe Haldemann, so I skipped off to another academic session (good iron law for Worldcons: you can always get into academic sessions and they are always worth attending). This saw Peter Adrian Behravesh looking at depictions of empowered women in the Persian fantastic, which was interesting but I did note that he was talking more about mythic tales than actual fantastic literature, for all that he was referring to written versions of the tales that named people had written in historical times. An interesting discussion could perhaps be had on where myth ends and fantasy literature begins.
The session also included a presentation by Katja Kontturi (the Ducktor), whom I had seen previously in Helsinki. Her thing is postmodernism in Disney comics, which are very popular in Europe generally and Finland in particular. European publishers produce their own Disney comics with minimal oversight from Disney’s central command, and some of these comics go in pretty strange directions. In Helsinki I remember her talking about a comic in which the characters start being attacked by the strip’s narration panels; here she discussed Mickey’s Craziest Adventures, which was published in 2016 but purported to be a reproduction of a tattered copy of a previously lost comic from 1965 found in car boot sale. The book sees Mickey Mouse and his pals enjoy the kind of adventure more commonly seen in the weirdo underground comix of that era. The description reminded me somewhat of Alan Moore’s 1963, while in some ways being more completely mental. I also found myself thinking of how surreal British kids comics could also be (and perhaps still are), which I think is something they could get away with because children have far less sense of the “normal” way a narrative should work.

A long stint thereafter on the Point Square information desk thereafter sapped my energy and left me unable to attend any further programme items. If you are one of the ten thousand people who came to the information desk asking where the Alhambra or Stratocaster rooms where then perhaps it was I who with a world weary sigh directed you out to the nearby Gibson Hotel. That these rooms were not in the Odeon complex but in the almost adjacent hotel was not something highlighted in the programme, so Worldcon attendees understandably found all this a bit confusing.

Unknown Pleasures
Late on Friday afternoon I was freed from the information desk and had a bit of a look at the Odeon art show, which had a lot of nice stuff. However I am not really in the market for original art and do not fully trust my own taste in that regard, so I did not put down any bids for the works, though I must admit I was tempted to throw down the five figure sum being sought for the original of the cover of one of the Gollancz SF Masterworks editions of Philip K. Dick. I then wandered back to the CCD and had my picture taken in my Unknown Pleasures t-shirt next to a poster showing the uninverted image. I was a bit surprised to not see anyone else wearing that t-shirt at the whole con. OK, I know most SF fans are not mad into post punk bands like Joy Division, but the image does show transmissions from the first pulsar known to humanity, the one discovered by guest of honour Jocelyn Bell Burnell when she was a PhD student. I was wearing the t-shirt to honour her (and because Unknown Pleasures is awesome and came out 40 years ago this year) and thought more people would do the same, but they did not.

Perhaps coincidentally, Friday evening saw me sneak away from SF fandom completely to instead hang out with music fan buds who like me are members of Frank’s APA, the amateur press association for people who like music. However sacred vows of secrecy oblige me to keep to myself the astonishing occurrences that happened during our meeting.

Keep coming back to Secret Panda for more Worldcon action real soon!

Mickey’s Craziest Adventures image source (Duck Comics Revue)

More of my Worldcon pictures, not all of which are of me

An Irish Worldcon, Part 1: Thursday

Worldcon is what they call the World Science Fiction Convention. My past form with Worldcon write-ups is not great: my account of Loncon was impressionistic and my more in-depth multi-part report on 2017’s Helsinki Worldcon remains unfinished. Nevertheless, I am now going to attempt to describe my time at this year’s Worldcon, the 77th, which was for the first time held on the island of Ireland, in Dublin. Programme events took place mainly in the Convention Centre Dublin, with spillover events 15 minutes away in Point Square.

For me this was a rather different event to the previous two Worldcons I have attended. I went to London purely as an attendee while in Helsinki I found myself doing a small amount of work in connection with the Hugo Awards, but frankly not that much. In Dublin however I was pretty busy with important Worldcon business. On the one hand I had the wonderful title of Hugo Trophy Wrangler, which basically meant that I had the key to the rooms in which the trophies were stored and spent much of the convention taking trophies in and out of the rooms and in and out of their boxes. I also did some volunteering on the information desks. Together these meant that I had far less time to attend programme items than at previous Worldcons (and when I had the time I was often too frazzled). So in a way that makes this easier to write, as less programme items attended = less programme items to write about.

The first actual panel I attended was one of the ones taking place on Thursday morning, just as the convention opened. This saw Heidi Lyshol, Robert Silverberg, Jukka Särkijärvi and Jo Walton discussing this year’s Retro Hugo finalists. As you know, the Retro Hugos are awarded for years where there no Hugo Awards. Dublin was awarding Retro Hugos for works published in 1943 (which would have been awarded in 1944 in an alternate universe in which a Hugo-awarding Worldcon took place that year). I am fond of the Retro Hugos, as many of the authors and works they honour are ones whose output appeared in the SF anthologies I read when I was first exploring the genre. This year I found myself researching Retro eligible material that people might want to nominate for blog posts that appeared on the Worldcon website; I also found links to where most of the Retro Hugo finalists can be read online, so I felt particularly engaged with the process.

If you have read the Retro finalists then you will surely agree that the stand-out work is the novelette “Mimsy Were The Borogoves“, published under the pseudonym Lewis Padgett by C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner. Moore and Kuttner, writing either together or separately were astonishingly prolific in 1943, managing to have at least one work in each of the four fiction categories. And yet the husband and wife team are not that well known today. Robert Silverberg offered two theories why this is so. Firstly after Kuttner’s early death his agent started demanding ludicrously inflated fees for reprints of his work, which meant that it tended not to appear in anthologies and so dropped out of public consciousness. C.L. Moore meanwhile did not suffer an untimely death, but her tendency to write under pseudonyms meant that she never acquired the reputation her work deserves. Perhaps the Retro Hugos will lead to an upsurge of interest in their work.

Beyond that there was much discussion on whether voters and nominators for the Retro Hugos should approach it with the mindset of today or attempt to do so as someone would in 1944. This is an argument that came up when I was researching the Retro eligible material (I recall someone telling me that Tintin comics should not be nominated as no one in US fandom in 1944 would have been aware of it). Hugo Administrator Nicholas Whyte spoke from the floor to say that no instructions are given to voters and nominators as to how to approach their task: as with real elections they can choose themselves the basis on which they will assign their vote. My own view however is that people of today can only vote as people of today and that it is simply impossible to realistically insert yourself into the mindset of the 1940s. Furthermore, the idea that people should vote in the Retro Hugos as a fan of the 1940s would vote is dangerously American-centric. SF fandom was basically a North American thing back then, and if we are to say that the Retro Hugos can only be voted on from a 1940s mindset then the votes of those of us from the rest of the world will be deemed less valid. Nevertheless, nominators and voters for the Retro Hugos are free to choose the approach they want; members of next year’s Worldcon will be able to nominate whatever material they like from 1944 for the 1945 Retro Hugos that will be awarded in New Zealand.

I had then hoped to attend a panel discussion on gothic literature (unlike SF a genre in which Ireland has historically excelled) but it was full, so instead I found myself at a manel on the Irish oddball writer Flann O’Brien (who also wrote as Myles na gCopaleen and whose real names were Brian O’Nolan and Brian Ó Nualláin), which featured Frank McNally, Nicholas Whyte, Pádraig Ó Méalóid and Nigel Quinlan. I was impressed that they managed to get half way through their panel before mentioning the thing in The Third Policeman about cyclists who have exchanged so many molecules with their bikes that they start displaying bicycle characteristics (while their bikes start going a bit human); this is pretty much the first thing everyone learns about Flann O’Brien.

When I came out of the Flann O’Brien panel I found the Convention Centre’s narrow corridors to be getting a bit overcrowded as people leaving panels became entangled with those queuing for the next ones; Dublin was starting to run into the congestion issues that had bedevilled the beginning of the Helsinki Worldcon. Fair dues however to the Con Ops people, they seemed to have this issues under control by the afternoon thanks to assiduous queue marshalling. In the meantime I paid a visit to Point Square, where I attended an interesting session of the Worldcon academic track. Unlike the panels, academic track sessions see brainy people present short papers. Academic track participants tend to be academics and not popular authors, but they make up for their lack of fame by being able to frame interesting arguments and the format allows for the well-developed exposition of intriguing ideas. At any Worldcon I have been to the academic track events are always a highlight, and Dublin was no exception.

At this academic session I caught three fascinating presentations, with the Nora E. Derrington’s discussion of Octavia Butler’s Kindred intriguing me so much that I subsequently bought the book as a birthday present for my sister. I also liked Eliza Bentley’s discussion of past signifiers in time travel classic Hot Tub Time Machine and Sorcha O’Brien’s exploration of design elements in Firefly/Serenity (a well-known TV series and film).

Space business meant that I was not able to enjoy much of the programme after that; my afternoon saw a lot of Hugo trophy related action in the run-up to the Retro Hugos being awarded as part of the opening ceremony. That saw me lurking backstage and handing trophies to the people who handed them to the presenters who handed them to the persons accepting the awards on behalf of the actual winners (all of whom have sadly shuffled off this mortal coil).

more Worldcon write-up action coming soon!

Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore image source: (Lewis Padgett and Mimsy Were the Borogoves)

More of my amazing Worldcon pictures

Octocon Day 2

New friends
Octocon is the Irish national science fiction convention, which ran in the Blanchardstown Crowne Plaza hotel from 19 to 20 October this year. I have already written about what I encountered there on the Friday here.

Saturday morning saw me first of all working on the Octocon reception desk, where we dealt with registering convention attendees as they arrived. If you arrived at Octocon on Saturday morning then maybe mine was the friendly face that greeted you (or the surly jobsworth who couldn’t find your reservation). I made friends with some pandas who had come to the convention to examine Octocon’s Hugo trophy.

Shady customers
The morning also saw me make my debut as an Octocon panellist. As part of my efforts to promote the World Science Fiction Convention that is coming to Dublin next year I took part in a panel intended to drum up enthusiasm for volunteering at Worldcon. It turned out we were rather talking to the converted as almost everyone present was already volunteering for Worldcon, but this did allow us to gang up on the others. If anyone reading this is not a Worldcon volunteer then I encourage you to get involved, as volunteering is fun, a way of meeting people, a way of giving something back to science fiction and a way of seeing the inside of what will be the biggest science fiction event to ever come to Ireland.

More time on the reception desk and then my own interest in lunch meant that the next event I attended was the guest of honour interview by Octocon chair Janet O’Sullivan with Pat Cadigan, an American science fiction writer who now lives in England. I was not previously familiar with her work (which is more a reflection on me than on her as I am a slow reader and am unfamiliar with most writers). I found the interview fascinating, as any question would set Cadigan off on a stream of anecdote that would lead very far from the initial starting point. I particularly liked her favourable recollection of Robert Heinlein, someone who now is perhaps unfairly and simplistically pigeon-holed as a right-wing ultra, but whom she recalls as a very generous character. I was also touched by the particularly star-struck question from a member of the audience and Cadigan’s gracious response.

Cadigan also mentioned having previously attended some class of event called a relaxacon. I don’t know what these are but I want to go to one.

Not the Monster panel
As you know, this is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and with it the birth of science fiction. Octocon had an entire programming strand engaging with Frankenstein’s legacy and I now found myself attending a panel discussion on the Monster’s perspective. This got a bit “could it be that we are the real monster?” but I was struck by the discussion of consent issues (e.g. Frankenstein’s Monster badgering him to create a Lady Monster for him, taking for granted that she will want to be his mate). More general discussion of how a simple shift of perspective can make monsters appear like victims led to an interesting recollection by one panellist of a story they read once about people in the remote past fighting Trolls, where the reader realises that the Trolls are the last Neanderthals being hunted to extinction; it occurs to me now that another work of this kind is I Am Legend, the 1954 novel by Richard Matheson, where the book ends with the protagonist’s realisation that he is a monster to the vampiric new humans (I wish I had thought of this at the panel and established my remembering-things-about-books-I-have-read credentials by mentioning it). I was also reminded of various works in 2000 AD by Pat Mills, where his writing was very evocative of the non-human mindset of dinosaurs and other monstrous creatures.

Of the panellists’ own works, Sarah Maria Griffin’s take on Frankenstein, in which a brainy teenage girl attempts to build herself a boyfriend, sounds like it might have a Christmas present date with my niece.

The last programme item I made it to on the Saturday was the Vault of Horror. This is always a highlight of Octocon but it is also an event that is hard to describe in a way that does not make it sound a bit rubbish if you have never experienced it. The Vault sees John Vaughan playing snippets from a terrible film and drawing attention to the film’s awfulness. He does this in a way that is actually funny rather than being some smug guy making fun of other people’s attempts at making films. This year he reported that he has almost run out of terrible films but then he had found a terrible Gerard Butler vehicle called Geostorm with which to delight us. He also provided us with the sad news that due to a progressive illness he will not be in a position to continue serving up the Vault indefinitely into the future, but he will next year be bringing the Vault to Worldcon and presenting one of the most terrible of the films with which he has previously charmed Octocon. Are you coming to Worldcon? Then you will come to the Vault, you will.

I sadly ate so much food for dinner at this point (a recurring theme for me at Science Fiction conventions) that I was too disgustingly full to enjoy the Monsters Ball and left early, thinking that next year is definitely the one where I find some kind of easy cosplay outfit to wear.

Octocon day 3 report coming soon.

Putting the ‘Irish’ into An Irish Worldcon panel image source (@jc_ie on Twitter)

See also:

Octocon website

Another view of Octocon Day 2, from blog name of Not Another Book Blogger.

Worldcon is coming to Dublin

Next year the World Science Fiction Convention is coming to Dublin. This is the first time Worldcon has taken place in Ireland, which makes this an exciting event. But what is this Worldcon? Well, Worldcon is a science fiction convention that takes place in a different city each year. The first Worldcon was in New York in 1939, taking its name from the World Fair of that year. After taking a few years off for the Second World War it has been running continuously since 1946. Worldcon moved outside the United States for the first time in 1948, when it took place in Toronto, and made its first trip away from North America in 1957 when the first London Worldcon took place.

The first Worldcon saw just 200 science fiction fans meet at the Caravan Hall in New York. Since then the event has expanded enormously. The 2017 Worldcon in Helsinki had an attendance of just under 6,000 while the 2016 Worldcon in Kansas City had some 4,600 people attending. There will most likely be numbers of that magnitude attending Worldcon next year in the Dublin Convention Centre.

The scale of a Worldcon can be stunning to a first time attendee and Dublin 2019 will be no different. There will be thousands of science fiction fans attending, loads and loads of authors and hundreds of multi-tracked programme items. Worldcon attendees will have a vast range of events to choose from, including panel discussions (which I think of as the real meat of the convention though others may disagree), film screenings, author interviews, readings & signings, presentations by academics (brainy people saying brainy things about science fiction and fantasy), art shows and so on. There will be dealers selling books and other items and places for attendees to eat, drink and hang out. Some people will be dressed up as their favourite characters and the Masquerade event will see the most spectacular costumes compete against each other.

A key event at any Worldcon is the Hugo Awards ceremony. The Hugos, named after early science fiction editor and publisher Hugo Gernsback, are voted by Worldcon members and are the most prestigious prizes in science fiction (do not listen to disgruntled winners of other awards who have yet to receive a Hugo). In Dublin, awards will be given for works published in 2018, which will include categories for novels, short novels, short stories, films, artworks, and other things, with both professional and fan works being honoured. The Dublin Worldcon is also taking up the option of awarding Hugos for items published in 1943, to make up for there being no Hugo Awards in 1944. If like me you are not great at keeping up with contemporary science fiction you might find you have read more of the works nominated for these Retro Hugos.

Unlike some other conventions, Worldcon has no Mr Big behind it raking in the $$$$s. Worldcon is fan-run, with a chair and organising committee that changes each year. People who attend buy membership rather than an admission ticket. In fact, apart from the guests of honour, everyone at Worldcon has bought their own membership. George R.R. Martin attends every Worldcon and is probably the biggest author of science fiction and fantasy in the world right now, but he pays more to attend than a first-time Worldcon attendee.

At time of writing, Worldcon membership is €110 for a first time attendee. That sounds like a lot, but for that you are in for the full five days of the convention and get to attend everything at it – there are no hidden extra charges. That will also get you the Hugo Awards voter packet (digital copies of all or most of the nominated works, depending on generosity of the rights holders), whose value can be considerable. It is possible to pay by instalments and there a fund to support people who would like to attend but are unable to afford to do so.

Worldcon membership is due to go up in September, so buy now at the lower rate while you can. However I understand that the price increase will be only incremental, so if you do not get round to buying membership until next week do not think that it will have increased drastically to a completely unaffordable level.

More information on the Dublin Worldcon can be found here, with it being possible to join this important event here. If you are still curious as to what goes on at a Worldcon then I have a sadly incomplete series of posts about the 2017 Helsinki Worldcon here.

I hope you decide to join us. If you have any interest in science fiction you will not want to miss this.

Helsinki Worldcon write-up Part 5: Translation, Cats, award categories #Worldcon75

My account of the recent World Science Fiction Convention continues.

Fear the buffet

Saturday at Worldcon was the day on which I hate a disgustingly large lunch. Or so I recall and have the photographic evidence to prove that this event took place, yet when I look back at the programme I cannot see a gap in events I attended large enough for me to consume an obscenely large meal. This may remain a Flaming Carrot Unsolved Mystery.

Because of all the post Hugos excitement of the night before I arrived a bit late at the conference centre where Worldcon was talking place. The first event I made it to was a presentation by Ken Liu on translation that was so brainy it could have featured in the academic track. Liu is an SF writer himself but he is also a translator; the English version of Liu Cixin’s The Three Body Problem is his. His talk was a quick run through the general theory and practice of translation before switching to a discussion of the particular questions surrounding translation to and from Chinese. The theoretical stuff (formal v dyanmic equivalence, metaphrasing or paraphrasing, domesticising v foreignising, etc.) will come in handy next time the London Review of Books has a big ding dong about translation and also had me thinking about my feelings with regard to translations into English of Tolstoy (broadly summarisable as Maude good, Pevear-Volokhonsky bad), with the different ways in which Denisov’s speech impediment in War & Peace is rendered in English being based on different theoretical approaches to translation.

He also talked about how power relations are hard to remove from translation, mentioning how Greek names are rendered phonetically in English but the names of Native Americans are translated. With that particular example I wondered if he might be over-egging things, taking two sets of conventions in translation that have emerged and making more of them than is really justified. I think I would need to hear Native Americans complaining that their names were being translated into English rather than rendered phonetically before feeling that this was another example of their oppression.

Still, this bit reminded me of how place names work in my own country. Most place names derive from the Irish language, with the English name being a corruption of the Irish pronunciation (e.g. Dublin in English is a corruption of the Irish Dubh Linn, which literally means Black Pool (though just to complicate things, the actual Irish name for Dublin is Baile Atha Cliath, which translates as Town of the Ford of the Hurdles or something)). The only exception to this seems to be those places that were originally given English names – in these cases the Irish place names tend to a translation (e.g. Newbridge is written in Irish as Droichead Nua). This may indicate that in Ireland the anglophone majority live under the iron brogue of the Gaeilgeoir.

I do not want to just summarise Liu’s talk as it would spoil the fun for any readers who find themselves with an opportunity to hear him speak in real life. Nevertheless I greatly enjoyed his account of how in the early 20th century Lu Xun translated early science fiction works by HG Wells and Jules Verne into Chinese. Lu Xun appears never to have come across the texts in the original languages and worked from versions in Japanese (a language he had studied for a year). His Chinese texts sounds like they are very far removed from what the original authors had written, yet sounded like they would make fascinating reading if translated back into English.

I was also intrigued by the discussion of how it is problematic to think of there being a single Chinese language or even of Mandarin as the official Chinese language. The relationship of regional dialects to a standardised formal version reminded me of the somewhat imaginary nature of Arabic as a single unitary language.

After that I needed something a bit less intellectually demanding so I went to a talk called Authors And Their Cats, in which authors talked about their cats. Jeff Vandermeer revealed an important top tip: always include a picture of your cat in social media posts. Here is my cat, name of Billy Edwards.

A discussion on future proofing the Hugos, chaired by none other than Hugos administrator Nicholas Whyte, was presented as being about how Hugo categories should be designed to accommodate changing practices (e.g. moves from print to electronic media, etc.). However it broadened out into a more general discussion of where the Hugos are going. One Hugo trend that I think is dangerous is category inflation. This year’s ceremony saw a new category introduced, for Best Series, while the business meeting of Worldcon has decided in its dubious wisdom to introduce a Young Adult fiction category to next year’s awards. Proposals have also been floated to split the best novel category into best science fiction novel and best fantasy novel. Other proposals have been made to split the current two best dramatic presentation categories into four (and in a way that would appear to exclude non- TV or film works like Clipping’s Splendor & Misery), with the best related work category also being eyed by some for division into multiple new award classes.

I mentioned previously that the Hugo Award ceremony goes on a bit. If all the proposed new categories were added then it would become interminable. I feel strongly that the addition of any new categories should be resisted and no additions made unless old categories are removed on a one-for-one basis. I also strongly oppose genre categories. Adding the YA novel category was a mistake and it would also be a grave error to split the novel into science fiction and fantasy categories (if nothing else, why would a science fiction convention be giving an award to a fantasy novel? And if it is giving awards to fantasy novels, why not also to fantasy short stories, novellas and novelletes?). I may have to start attending Worldcon business meetings and banging the table in front of me with a shoe while shouting “This aggression will not stand!”.

I need to go and lie down now but I will be back with more Worldcon talk soon.

Ken Liu image source (Wikipedia)

Lu Xun image source (Wikipedia)

More of my Worldcon pictures

More of my cat pictures

More of my pictures

Helsinki Worldcon write-up Part 4: New Wave, Hugos #Worldcon75

Continuing my account of the 75th World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki, this episode is mainly concerned with the Hugo Awards and the New Wave of Science Fiction.

The Hugos loomed large over my Friday at Worldcon. I had assisted with the preparation work for the Hugos in their earlier stages (doing the barest minimum quantum of work that counts as doing “something” rather than “nothing”). I also assisted on the day with a last-minute re-check of the ceremony’s In Memoriam scroll. At one point I was also going to be the person who clicked the next button on the ceremony’s PowerPoint scroll, but wiser counsel prevailed.

For various reasons I saw very little of the day’s programme stuff, being particularly disappointed to miss a discussion on The Prisoner. I did however make it to a session of the academic track that looked at the New Wave of Science Fiction. This began with a discussion by Päivi Väätänen on the influence of the New Wave on the fiction of Samuel R. Delany. Delany is one of those writers who sounds fascinating but whose work I have never got round to. The discussion focussed on two novels, The Ballad of Beta-2 (1965) and The Einstein Intersection (1967). Väätänen said that the two books are thematically somewhat similar but the second is much more experimental and “difficult”, with the difference arising from Delany’s discovery and embrace of the SF New Wave, in which ideas from modernist fiction and the counter-culture invaded Science Fiction.

The New Wave is again one of those things that I am interested in but have not read that much of. I know that some old school SF fans were very dismissive of the attempt to import modernism into Science Fiction (Kingsley Amis is very eloquent in this regard) while others saw the New Wave as a necessary reaction to a creeping formulaicisation of the genre. The New Wave opened the floodgates for stylistic experimentation and exploration of new themes in 1970s SF but in retrospect it seems sometimes to have been a failed experiment, with the rise of cyberpunk in the 1980s putting SF back into less literary and experimental territory. The 1980s was a decade of reaction so it is not too surprising that this was the case in SF too.

Coming away from this particular discussion I found myself thinking that it really is high time I actually read something by Delany and perhaps also the Gollancz SF Masterworks reprint of the Dangerous Visions anthology of New Wave short stories.

Then Audrey Taylor discussed Decision at Doona, an early novel by Anne McCaffrey that is apparently more formally interesting than McCaffrey’s later works (books I have a perhaps unfairly low opinion of). This one is about human-alien first contact on a planet called Doona, with deliberate misdirection being used in the chapters to mislead as to whether we are following events from the human or alien point of view. Taylor suggested that, unusually for McCaffrey, this showed the influence of the New Wave (or the ideas outside SF that gave rise to the New Wave).

Taylor asserted that normally in this kind of book we are presented with a Cowboys and Indians In Space setup where the human colonisers are portrayed as the good guys while they roll over the aliens. I felt like calling out “[citation needed]!” here, as I am unaware of books that take this line, being more used to books portraying colonisation as bad thing (which might be an effect of living in a country that was colonised). Be that as it may, in Decision at Doona the focus is more on the humans and aliens fumbling towards an accommodation and being determined not to repeat adverse events in their own histories of interaction with other species, all the while hampered by their difficulties in understanding each other.

The book sounded intriguing, playing with ideas of the kind of character who gets to be the hero and subverting normal plot models by having non-confrontational but still difficult resolutions of problems. I see also from looking at covers of the book online that the aliens are anthropomorphic cats, which makes this surely a book ripe for rediscovery as a lost classic.

That really was it for me until the Hugo Awards ceremony itself. Like many awards ceremonies, theses went on a bit. I am something of a slow reader so I had read none of the winning works or any of the nominees. I was a bit disappointed that Chuck Tingle did not win though I can see why voters might have decided to pick someone who had a more direct relationship with SF. Clipping did not win either though they did receive one of the biggest cheers of the evening. The most amusing moment at the awards ceremony was when the name of sinister dipshit Vox Day was read out as a nominee in best editor category; a couple of people clapped politely and then trailed off, with the other nominees all receiving thunderous applause. However the best bit was hearing my own name read out from the stage, though of course next time this will be because I have swept all the fiction categories.

For all that the Hugo Award ceremony goes on a bit, it nevertheless felt like an important celebration of the greatness of Science Fiction. These awards are voted by the fans and they reiterate the community aspect of SF. On that basis I have decided that I broadly approve of the existence of the various fan categories.

I must also praise the performance of Karen Lord as the Hugo Awards toastmaster. I would support having her do this at every Hugo Awards ever. I would also love to tell you about what happened at the post awards party in a Helsinki steampunk bar but Chatham House rules apply.

Hugo Administrator: Nicholas Whyte

Decision at Doona image source (Science Fiction Cover Art; artist: Bruce Pennington)

More of my own Worldcon pictures

Doona cover: http://www.djabbic.co.uk/BookCoverDetail.php?filter=1&ID=2&bookID=82&currentBook=14&totalBooks=64&currentEntry=0&totalEntrys=0&startCover=0&currentCover=1&totalCovers=2