|Confuse (Swecon) 2015: A Con Report
||[Aug. 11th, 2015|03:47 pm]
This year's Swecon was held at Frimurarhotellet in Linköping on 7-9 August, and was a very successful and well-run convention, even by the standards of the ConFuses. It also continued several trends that have been apparent in the Swecons since Eurocon 2011.
The first trend is that the Swecons have increased markedly in size. When I joined Swedish fandom in 1999, the regular size was around 100 people, with only the large Stockholm cons the following years reaching 200 or 250. But every Swedish Swecon since Eurocon has had more than 400 attending members. ConFuse reached "only" around 250, but then it must be remembered that no ConFuse had earlier managed to reach 100 or more attending members, not even the 2008 one with Cory Doctorow as Guest of Honour.
The second trend is that the locales has become far more respectable. The old standard was on local community centres or student union buildings, often in relatively remote places in the cities. The recent Swecons has been placed in central, easy-to-reach hotels, proper conference centres, or large museums. Actually, ConFuse had first been planned to be held in the main building of the student unions of Linköping, but that reservation had been cancelled on relatively short notice by the student union.
The third trend is the increased presence of small presses and self-publishers in the dealer's room (earlier a small thing at Swedish cons), and this is probably the first year when we finally managed to get a smooth and functional relation between the con, the members, and the dealers.
I arrived early afternoon on Friday, and helped unpack Alvarfonden's used books until it was time to meet Anna Troy, so we could make some plans for the filk workshop we were to run on Saturday evening. The opening ceremony was brief with the spiritual release of the Spirit of Swecon (its vessel had once again been mislaid), and the introduction of the Guest of Honours at the con. They were Canadian author and futurist Madeline Ashby, Swedish author Kristina Hård, and British author Ben Aaronovitch.
My wife Therese and I were hungry and went to the nearby pub De Klomp, which is the regular watering hole of Linköping fandom. It's expensive, but very good. Not to the level where we are given the pedigree of the cow found in the hamburger, but not that far away. Anders Holmström came over and said hi, but didn't join our table.
As a result, we missed Madeline Ashby's GoH speech The Privilege of the Future, which was held immediately after the opening ceremony, but it can be read in its entirety on her web site.
Back at the hotel (really just across the street) I continued to sit around chatting with friends and doing a tour of the dealer's room. I've cut back on buying books lately, but couldn't resist buying John-Henri Holmbergs anthology Häpna!, with stories (in new translations) from the Swedish 50's sf magazine of the same name, and essays describing its role in creating Swedish fandom and view of science fiction. JHH was happy to sign it as well.
David Nickle hosted an interesting group discussion on Lovecraft and race. Luckily, there were no Lovecraft apologists in the room, so instead we had a long discussion on how one is to approach and handle problematic (or deeply problematic works) and on different kinds of racism. (To take one example, both Tolkien and Lovecraft show deeply racist views, but their racism take wildly different forms: Lovecraft react with fear or revulsion, but Tolkien with pity or sorrow. Think of it as the difference between malign and benign cancer.)
I did get to sit and chat a little with Lars-Olov Strandberg, the grand old man of Swedish fandom and Fan Guest of Honor at Interaction, the 2005 Worldcon. He has missed several cons lately, and was very happy to be back. I was just as happy that he could attend. Since we moved away from Stockholm we meet him far too little.
Afterwards, I sat around far too late, and drinking far too much bheer in the hotel bar. There were plenty of mundanes in attendance, but unlike at the Archipelacon parties, we fans were always in the majority.
Saturday morning came with too little sleep, a headache, and an upset stomach. I did manage to eat some breakfast, including some linseed with youghurt, which helped. But I still decided on taking it easy on the bheer.
First thing in the morning after breakfast was doing a Gishwhes mission (my wife did her second year): photographing her dressed as a nun being presented with a miracle (bread and fishes being multiplied, in binary). I then systematically decided to sit around and ignore the programme, while chatting around. That said, one could tell that the programme was good: most members were in the programme rooms during the items, and there were very few people who left the items before they were finished. As Bellis said once in an old con report: the key to a good social experience at a con is that there is an excellent programme that one studiously ignores.
One weird result, due to the very well-run convention, the size of the most recent Swecons (not to mention Archipelacon), and a locale that was almost exactly properly suited to the number of attendees, was that I found myself sitting down in the lobby chatting relaxedly during a con I experienced as laid-back and soothing. It hit me that the con was same size or larger than Nasacon 2000 or Fantastika 2001, that both carried astounding amounts of Gosh wow boy oh boy and nervous energy over the size and success of them. Granted, I was on the committee for both, which has an impact, but the committee here looked almost as relaxed as I felt.
Therese, I, and a couple of other fans with connections to the north of Sweden went out to have lunch, finding a decent Asian buffet place. When I returned, I listened to a panel on influential science fiction short stories (including novellettes). Present in the panel were Eva Holmquist, John-Henri Holmberg, Anders Hedenlund, Bellis, and Tomas Cronholm (as moderator). With both JHH and Bellis in the panel, the risk was apparent that there would only be two people talking, but Tomas did a good job in giving everyone the chance to speak.
Some favourites mentioned were "University" by Peter Phillips, Philip K Dick, Clifford D Simak, Ursula K LeGuin, Ray Bradbury, and James Tiptree. An amusing event was when Bellis got to speak the first time, and said everyone had already said everything he had to say, but still managed to speak longer than everyone else other than JHH in the opening round.
HG Wells was mentioned as one early pioneer of many themes within science fiction, as well as Stanley Weinbaum (where the alien was first totally alien and incomprehensible) and Isaac Asimov (where robots were first made into machines, not monsters or anthropomorphic). I had hoped that the panel would mention some newer works as well, but I can understand them being hard to identify. But surely there should be something from the 80's or 90's?
Then I had to prepare for my own panel, on where Swedish fandom is headed, or using its proper name, "Conventions today and tomorrow (an hour of navel-gazing)". I was to moderate Sofia Karlsson, Saija Kyllönen, Anna Davour, Johan Anglemark, and Eva Holmqust. Given the heatedness of our planning exchanges, I had expected sparks to fly, but things were quite mellow. I think a part of that was that the panel mainly came to concern the goals that we want our cons to reach, and not so much the how or the methods we will use to make them reach those goals, mainly due to the time constraints. With such a large panel, I also was quite firm in my moderating, and focused only on moderation, totally staying away as a participant of the debate except for calling out a new question now and then.
After the panel, Sofia led a group discussion following up the panel. I was happy to see Lars-Olov joining that discussion, and he was quite happy he had joined it afterward.
I however had to start preparing myself for the (two-hour, ie a double slot) filk workshop, picking up some tea and cookies (that were excellent and home-made by gopher mom Cissi Persson) in the combined green room and gopher hole. When I arrived to the room, Anna Troy had already arranged some chairs in a circle. We mixed talking about filk with singing songs. We tried to get a proper circle going, but the only other attendee with songs to share was Ahrvid Engholm, He did spoken word renditions of some of his old filk songs, and could also cover the history of Swedish filking in the 80's better than I ever could (since he was there).
Anna is an old SCA hand, and had only recently discovered fandom and filking, so most of her songs had SCA themes. She is quite the talented filker, however. One amusing episode was when she sang a filk of a classic Swedish kid's song that I myself had filked, where we ended up with exactly the same theme but very different lyrics. I followed up with my version, of course. We were not many in the workshop, six people the first half, then down to three when the rest of the programme rolled, and later up to six again (including a baby).
The songs I sang were (not in this order):
The day's duties done, I helped my wife with some last chores for Gishwhes. One of her pieces for it was perfect for the NoFF (Nordic Fan Fund) auction that were to be held later that evening. We got it and some other items scanned with the help of the hotel reception (the hotel staff was very friendly, helpful, and professional), after which the painting "The Funeral of Death" could be brought to the auction to be sold as the very last item (more than half the items had been sold when I delivered it). Auctioneers were Sofia Karlsson and Bellis, and they did a good job raising funds. I bought a flying toy Enterprise for my daughter (it proved popular with her and her friends), and Therese's painting did bring in a decent amount of money.
Now I could finally sit down with a bheer or two. I spent most time chatting with the Finns, where Marianna Leikomaa started to give broad hints about me needing to get to Finncon next year. ("You need to get in touch with programming if you get to next Finncon. They're sitting right there.")
There were fewer international members than usual, I noted "only" eight or so Finns, Dave Lally, some of the usual Danes and Norwegians (who we hardly view as foreign fans anyway), and maybe one or two more. But I can certainly understand the draw of Archipelacon this year.
Johan Jönsson told us why con runners should do more strength training: so we can bodily carry out recaltritant lecturers who refuse to end their talks on time. Other than that, the programme, or for that matter the entire con, ran extremely smoothly. The committee of course had some luck in that (only a very few cancellations or things that needed to be changed), but a lot of it comes down to excellent planning and lots of experience.
Sunday started nicely, with lots of pleasant chatting over breakfast. I had toyed with the idea of joining the guided tour of Linköping, but skipped it in order to get our room in order for checkout. I very much appreciate these tours, but I had already been to one in Linköping, back in 2008, and I believe the closing day is not the best day for this, given the need to pack and check out from the hotel.
Again, I spent most of my time sitting around and chatting, but with a mouth which wasn't feeling that good. I took part of a nice discussion with how the small presses now has started to understand our cons. They are not vehicles for huckstering (like the book fairs), as many of them had the expectation at Kontrast, the 2012 Swecon, but for networking and connecting with readers. At the same time, the dealers were given a much better space by the con, and also placed immediately together with the used books of Alvarfonden, which always is a big draw, as well as some tables and sofas for mingling. It really helped to make the dealer's room into an integral part of the con.
Jonas Wissting, the con chair, came up and asked me if I had any preferences for the song I was supposed to sing as part of the combined Swecon selection and Alvar award ceremony - 10 minutes before that programme item was to start. I had managed to forgot that entirely in the morning, but told him to put me wherever it suited, and went to the green room to try to find some way to get my mouth fit for singing.
First came the selection of the next year's Swecon. The vote went, unopposed except for Bellis's spoof bid Motörcon (one month in Globen, Stockholm, with Motörhead as the guest of honours), to Fantastika 2016, to be held on 17-19 June. The core committee will be Carolina Goméz Lagerlöf, Tomas Cronholm, Anders Reuterswärd, Mårten Svantesson, and Alice Hedenlund. The preliminary location is Dieselverkstaden in Sickla, the same place as for Swecon 2013. The reason the location is preliminary is that there is a lack of public areas (for mingling and for dealers) at the centre, and we were very close to being too cramped in it last time.
I'm really happy that Alice joined the committee. She is young, and we very much need to nurture and introduce new con-runners. The flip side of the streak of very large and ambitious Swecons the last few years is that the old 3.5 committees in eastern Sweden (one in Linköping, one in Uppsala, and one-and-a-half in Stockholm) sort of has merged into one single committee pool.
This done, it was time for the Alvar award, a yearly award given in memory of legendary Swedish fan Alvar Appeltofft, after an advisory vote in Swedish fandom. This year Maria Nygård was the happy and very worthy recipient of the honour, a beanie-clad lightbulb, and a modest stipend.
But the foundation responsible for the Alvar award had another thing. Lars-Olov Strandberg stepped down last year from the foundation's board, after having been sitting on it continously since its start in 1976. Johan Anglemark held a short speech, and Lars-Olov was given a framed copy of my song honouring him. Last I performed the song, Strandbergs skål, based on "Gustafs skål" from 1772 by Carl Michael Bellman. I wasn't that happy with my performance, but the other fen didn't seem to notice and I was quickly asked if I could sing a short piece at the closing ceremony as well.
Lunch was had with Therese and one of her friends who lives in Linköping. He had been at the con the first two days, but had to spend the Sunday grading essays. We helped him get in touch with Magnus Redin and the local sf club in Linköping. Magnus and Margareta Cronholm spent most of their time in the reception, and did a fantastic job there.
I spent some time browsing a pile of old fanzines and other fan material that had been donated for a good home. First going by the names of the editors known to me, then first Lennart Uhlin and later Bellis came over and checked over first my pile, and then the pile of my discards and to-be-checked fanzines. Apparently my selection won their approval, because they only added a single fanzine to my pile, and had good things to say about the fanzines I had selected. (Like many other Swedish fans who joined in the 90s, I have a weird relation to the Swedish fandom of the 80's. It's a time of both fascination, inspiration, and horror.)
Therese had spent most of her Sunday not on Gishwhes (it had ended Saturday evening) but on preparing her talk on "Meta-fictional Characters in Supernatural and Their Relation to Fandom". She was quite happy with the way it turned out, and had a decent audience despite it being held on the tail end of the con and against some heavy-duty items.
Then it was time for the closing ceremony. I opened it by singing "När Linköping räddade fandom", leading the room into the chorus. Then Madeline, Kristina and Ben were thanked for their participation and said short speeches, and the Spirit of Swecen was placed in its now present and available vessel.
We said our goodbyes, and went to the train station, skipping the Dead Dog party. There we encountered a new fan returning home from his first con, and had a nice chat with him in the station cafeteria. Johan Jönsson also joined us for a short bit. Going out to meet our train, we found two more fen, waiting for their (delayed) train. It's a sign on how the Swedish cons have grown that I didn't recognise any of them, despite them having been present at two earlier Swecons!
The journey home went without trouble. All in all, Confuse 2015 was an excellent con, and if Swedish fandom doesn't seem enthusiastic about it, it only shows how their expectations has changed during the last five years.