WorldCon’s been and gone and we’re all slowly recovering from the great whirlwind that is this epic convention. This year, WorldCon took place in Helsinki, home of the Wife Carrying Championships, squirrels (the city’s symbol) and Jo’s new favourite submarine. Luckily for you lot, we’ve managed to bully Jo into taking some time out from her glorious holiday to give us a roundup of the best moments of WorldCon this year. Take it away, Jo!
This is my extremely belated Worldcon 75 report, on account of Being on Holiday and having firmly announced my intention of Doing No Work Whatsoever – which includes reading only books published by Other People (I’ve talked before about the importance of recalibrating the brain!) – this holiday’s library includes (because in an Ancient Land one must return to the classics), the incomparable Mary Renault and my new love Anne Zouroudi, as well as Alan Furst, the modern master of the spy thriller, action-thriller king Nelson DeMille, Peninsula War japes courtesy of, respectively, Adrian Goldsworthy and Iain Gale, Lars Mytting’s first novel The Sixteen Trees of the Somme and this year’s new find, Michael Russell, who in two books has taught me more about Ireland’s place in World War II than I’ve ever known (or guessed). Fascinating.
Anyway, my beloved JFB colleagues have made it plain that, holiday or no, I am duty-bound to share my views of the first World SF Convention to be held in Finland, so I have dragged myself away from the discovery of the best stadium I have ever seen, at the little-known ancient city of Magnesia, the massed waders, including a small colony of breeding flamingoes and their fluffy brown flamingettes, grey and purple herons, pelicans, egrets, and the latest additions, a stunning pair of red-beaked Eurasian oystercatchers, not to mention the bathwater-warm Aegean to do just that.
And the easiest way, I’ve decided, is to get some of our Beloved Authors to tell you all about some of their favourite moments, starting, in no particular order, with Stephanie Saulter.
She says, ‘For me it was probably the reading I hadn’t anticipated doing, from the panel I wasn’t supposed to be on! The programmers hadn’t put me on the Caribbean SF panel, but as Guest of Honour Nalo Hopkinson (Jamaica, Guyana), fellow JFB stable-mate Karen Lord (Barbados) and moderator Brendan O’Brien (Trinidad & Tobago) entered the room, I (Jamaica) found myself summarily elevated from my front-row seat to a place with them on the platform. They’d already agreed to start the discussion by each giving a 2-minute reading from their own work, just to give the audience a flavour of how our region influences the way we write: in dialect, in imagery or in the cadences of our prose. I hadn’t been part of that pre-panel prep meeting, but as luck would have it my iPad was in the bag at my feet . . . and on the iPad was a sizeable chunk of my new novel . . . and said new novel is influenced by Jamaican heritage and folklore to a far greater degree than any of my previous books. (And no, I do not usually have work in progress to hand like that, but Worldcon arrived as I was busy editing the first draft; I’d had to substantially rewrite the first three chapters and had, almost on a whim, imported them to the iPad so I could review on the plane ride home. Serendipity.) So I whipped out the tablet, found a passage featuring my semi-invented trickster spirit and read it aloud to an audience without ever having even read it properly to myself. There was applause, there was laughter, there was an instant tweet from an audience member declaring that they had to have that book. It was a delightful and completely unanticipated moment — as was getting to talk about our work, influences and ambitions with the rest of that awesome panel.’
Stephen Jones enjoyed the Horror and the World Fantasy Award panel, featuring a star lineup of influential horror editors, authors and publishers, including fellow anthologist (‘the American Stephen Jones’!) Ellen Datlow, pictured above with him, who later was awarded her own Hugo Award for Best Editor – Short Form. They were joined by renowned critic and writer John Clute and our own award-winning writer Angela Slatter and moderated by Newcon Press publisher and writer Ian Whates. The panel was as much about the World Fantasy Convention and the Awards’ origins as anything, but Steve’s final summing up has certainly resonated across the web: ‘Write what you want to write. Don’t worry about what it’s categorised under. And if you think you’re going to win the World Horror Award and you win the Hugo instead – don’t worry about it!’
Lisa Tuttle’s great moment was getting to present the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer to Ada Palmer. ‘She was so excited and moved that she could hardly give her acceptance speech for crying. I certainly did not expect such a strong emotional response from someone who already had her first novel nominated for the Hugo, and also maintains an impressive academic career (she’s a history professor at the University of Chicago), but it was lovely to see. And later she turned up at the Hugo Losers’ Party and graciously allowed herself to be mocked and wore the cone-head of shame. Also, I got to shake hands with a real, live astronaut, Dr Kjell N. Lindgren!’
Like me, Sebastien de Castell thought Helsinki itself was the best part of Worldcon 75: ‘Walking to the convention centre through urban parks, past streets filled with old and new architectural sensibilities brought to life by a vibrant, friendly and distinctly Scandinavian citizenry. I got lost looking for one of the many city bicycle stops and met a Finnish medical student just returned from a trip abroad, sharing stories of our travels as we went in search of an available bike. One of my best convention moments was on the Top YA of the 2010s panel when fantasy author Elina Pitkäkangas named enticing Finnish novels that I’d never heard of before, reminding me once again that English isn’t the de facto language of great speculative fiction. With luck the voters of Worldcon will see the success and delights of Helsinki as a reason to venture even further afield from the traditional enclaves of sci-fi and fantasy fandom in future.’
Angela Slatter says, ‘There were so many excellent moments at Worldcon75, from the lovely reception at City Hall to the steampunk Viking blacksmiths doing demonstrations outside the con centre (yes, I was calling them Viking war-boys, what of it?), from the abundance of smoked salmon and reindeer to catching up with friends new and old . . . but I think one of my absolute favourites was the panel Other Side of the World: Space, Place and Australian Fantasy. The discussion was brisk and clever, the company excellent and the subject matter fascinating. A favourite not simply because I got to be on a panel with three very dear friends who also happen to be wonderful writers (Kim Wilkins, Juliet Marillier and Lisa L. Hannett), but because when an audience asked why female writers were dominating the Australian fantasy scene, I was able to answer “Coz we’re awesome” to a round of loud applause. :-)’
And finally, newest JFB author Mats Strandberg, whose bestselling Swedish horror novel Blood Cruise comes to our shelves next summer (you’re going to love it! Booze cruises will never be the same again!), had a hard time selecting one moment (his reply was “Ahoy mates! I was having far too much fun!’) but he did send this photo of us at the Like Oy dinner party and say, ‘I loved the dinner party thrown by Päivi Paappanen and Petri Leppänen, my wonderful Finnish publishers at Like Oy, for me and fellow Like authors Liz Hand and Tiina Raeva, as well as scout Catherine Eccles and some of my other foreign publishers, including Hannes Riffel from Fischer-Tor in Germany – and of course my soon-to-be British publisher Jo Fletcher of Jo Fletcher Books.’
As for me? Worldcon75 had around 6,000 attendees from all over the world, with all the great and the good from around the world – a galaxy of stars old and new in the science fiction, fantasy and horror firmament. There were so many old friends I couldn’t say hello to even a quarter of them. But everyone looked happy, the reindeer was tender, the panels (and there were a lot of them!) were packed, there were a great many first-timers who were clearly having a blast, and I’ve come away with a huge list of Finish authors to investigate. Next year the World SF Convention returns to America, to San Jose, but the year after, get ready to party in Dublin!
Oh, and we had a wonderful day at the Island Fortress of Suomenlinna, which included several military museums and a unique submarine . . .
Helsinki, you did us proud!