Sunday 5 July 2015


Last week, I embarked on a great and marvelous adventure. I set my sails to Mariehamn, Åland, to attend Archipelacon, a convention created by nordic fandom, mostly from Finland and Sweden.

I've been looking forward to this convention ever since the worldcon last year in London, where I first heard about it and immediately decided to become a member. I heard that the Guests of Honour would include George R R Martin and Malmö-based author Karin Tidbeck. Both authors are amazingly good with words, I've read and loved all of their work. The other Guests of Honour were Johanna Sinisalo, the finnish author of "Not before sundown" (and writer of Iron Sky). The fan Guest of Honour was Parris McBride, who also happens to be GRRM's wife. Gary K Wolfe, also a long time fan, was the academic guest of honour. This was a really impressive list of GoH:s, but it wasn't just that, that made me want to go. I also wanted to hang out with the finnish fandom that I'd met in London. Who would say no to a four day long party with the finnish fandom!?

The journey

Since I live so far away from Åland, and the ferry from Stockholm left around 7 am, I decided to travel up to Stockholm the day before the con started, so I could arrive to Åland with the rest of the fans by thursday noon. So, the adventure started on wednesday morning with me and my friend Frida (she taged along for her first convention!) taking a plane from Malmö, spending the day sightseeing in Stockholm. We saw Gamla stan, SF-bokhandeln, ate some really delicious sushi and ice cream, and Frida found a store that had her nickname (Farraw) on it.

Since we were in Stockholm a day early, I had ordered my loyal subject the Stockholm fans to come to a pre-con-party. And so they did.

Bellis, Pebbles, Karl-Johan, Herman, Henrick, Karl-Johan, Hulda, Therese, Michael and Tommy met me at Monks, and later we were joined by the amusing brittish author Ian Watson and the lovely spanish translator Cristina Macia whom I met last month at Fantasticon in Denmark. It was a happy reunion, and a great way to kick off our Week of Fun with Fandom!

Henrick and me, on the way to the con, traveling by ferry to Åland.
Early thursday morning, slightly hung over and dead tired, we huddled off  to Värtahamnen and to the Baltic Princess. Me and my friends managed to get a few more hours of sleep in our cabin on the ferry and 5-6 hours later, we arrived at Mariehamn, checked in to our hotel Arkipelag and rushed over to the registery.

First impressions

Some things struck me during the con as unusally well organized. First of, the committee of the con seemed happy and relaxed, the registration went by in a flash and we got beautiful and well thought out programme and badges. The venue was spacious, with a high ceiling, glass doors to let the sun in, and the first floor had long stands of books and a chocolate stand. It was all centered around a lounge and a veranda (next to the sea) were fans met, drank beer and hung out.

The hotel where I slept was in crawling distance, the food market and the mainstreet was just around the corner, the bar at the venue was full of tasty Åland-beer (yum, Stallhagen Delikat and Baltic Porter!) and the staff was professional and good, and they selled easy-to-carry sandwishes. Never once did I go hungry, thirsty, or got lost from my friends, or had issues with noisy areas. And that is really, really good, since I have a hearing disability and can't really cope with noise. They could not have chosen a better spot.

The programme items

The convention started with an orchestra playing a song from Skyrim, and then Johan Anglemark and Sari Polvinen opened the convention ceremoniously with the guests of honour on stage. It was short and to the point. I didn't recognize the melody from Skyrim since I'm not a gamer, but I liked it all the same anyway. Frida was ecstatic. The ceremony took place in the main auditorium, which was a huge room and I felt sure everyone of us would fit in there if we wanted to. That meant that the most popular programme items would never have queues, unlike the worldcon London where we queued most of the time. As a Swede, I should be fairly used to queuing but it's really boring and I don't want to waste time waiting. When there's only four days of con I want to make the most of it.

Some memorable items on thursday's programme was "Nordic Weird" with Karin Tidbeck and Johanna Sinisalo. They talked about what genre they write, and what started their writing careers. Both agreed that neither of them have actively thought of them as weird fiction writers. Johannas readers mostly don't even find her by seeking out SF or fantasy. Karin said she just don't care about what genre she writes, and just focuses on seeing were the story goes. Karin started writing at a very young age, influenced by Tove Jansson, and Johannas writing career started while she was very active in finnish fandom. It was a good panel and I especially liked Karin's speech about what she wants to explore as a writer. The idea that reality is very thin, and that something lurks in the shadows and in the cracks, shaped her as an author and as a human being. It tickles my imagination.

The moderator Jukka Halme (who's name you all should know by now because I'm his number one fan) asked if their genre could be a sort of Janssonian fiction, and if there's something in the water that makes nordic countries write about this kind of things. Karins response came quickly: "It's the pickled fish."  And Johanna: "The light summers and dark nights." Karin also explained that other countries are drawn to her fiction because of the melancholy thing, which seems to be an aphrodisiac. Take heed, Nordic authors!

Another memorable thing on thursday was the orchestra playing songs from different sf-movies, which was ah-maaa-zing! More of that, please!

Quinsonitus playing Deep Space Opera. Photo taken by Henry Söderlund.

On friday, I went to four panels and sat for an hour in the Alvarfonden second hand bookshop-room, selling books and chatting with people.

The program items I saw was "Worlds of Water" which was a presentation about the Viking Age in Åland, "Life in fandom" with George R R Martin, Parris McBride, Gary K Wolf and Johan Anglemark as a moderator, "Zombies, Necrophiles and Spiraling Penises" by Torill Kornfeldt, and last but not least "Mad Scientists" with Torill, Anna Davour and Helena Kiel. I'm kind of shocked that I went to so few items, and in retrospect I'm sure I've missed a lot but I had a great time on the veranda, drinking beer and hanging out with my friends.

Bellis, Henrick, Johan, me, Frida and Marie-Louise. Picture belongs to Luke Smith.

The programme item about the Viking Age was really interresting, and the archeaologist Kristin Ilves was a good speaker. She talked about geomythology and explained that the nordic mythology of Ragnarök, and the fimbulwinter leading up to it, can be the result of an extreme weather phenomenon that happened around 536-545, and that early writings tell about some kind of meteor striking the earth, causing a blue sun and really cold summers. Readings indicate that sulfuric acid is found in the Greenland ice from that time, also indicating that there might have been some kind of volcanic eruption some years earlier.

Life in fandom was really awesome.I love these meta-panels about panels and life in fandom, and how the community has evolved over the years. Parris and George talked about how they met in a sauna in a convention in the seventies, which was cute and amusing. George also said an interesting thing about how fandom's been in the pasts that I hadn't thought about: When your family buy you books for christmas, they would mostly get it wrong since they don't really get you and sff. But in fandom in the sixties, seventies and eighties mostly all fans had read the same books and had great discussions about them. This was like your second family. That sort of thing is hard to do nowadays that the genre has expanded. But as common denominators go, nowadays you can be sure that you will find someone to talk to about your favourite tv-shows. And I still feel like fandom is my OTF.

It was interesting to hear about Parris experience as a woman in fandom in the early days when women wasn't that well represented in conventions. She had do endure sitting in a panel about "Women in sf - do we really need them?" for seven years. Archaic. She made a joke about helping to socialize a generation of fans who didn't really know how to talk to women. (Sometimes, I feel that way too. But that's something I'll save for another post.)

After that, Torill held an awe-inspiring and crazy presentation about the way animals and amphibians behave, mate and are designed. She's done this presentation before in swedish and the rumour of how fun it was had already spread to Finland, making it insanely popular. We completely filled the room, the floor, and people stood against the wall and in the doorframe. We were so many fans that we almost couldn't close the door. I talked to my mum the other day, telling her about Torill and her plans to go to Sibirien and visit the russian scientist whom wants to create mammoths, and mum was like: "Someone should make a movie about her life." I'm agreeing with mum, and adding "someone should give her the nobel prize, just because."

Mad scientists; Torill Kornfeldt, Anna Davour and Helena Kiel.

The last panel of friday was held by the awesome swedish scientists and fans Torill, Åka and Helena. They were funny and clever about the way scientists are depicted in films and litterature. Helena made the conclusion from Dante's Peak and Tremors that geologists are the sexy ones. Torill was unhappy with the biologists in Prometheus, whom seemed to be slightly to naive for their occupation. They also asked and answered very important questions:

"What would it be like if mad linguists ruled the world?"
"Just look at"

I LOL:ed. A lot. :D

On saturday, I listened to Maria Turtschaninoff, Kristina Hård, Petri Hiltunen and Johanna Sinisalo talk about "Trolls in nordic SFF". They all have different takes on the troll mythology, some have beautiful trolls (more like faeries), some have ugly ones, some trolls like treasure, some are more like seducers. The authors all consulted books, historic texts and nordic folk lore which gave them inspiration for their trolls. Sinisalo and Hiltunen often refer to their work as "troll punk" which I totally loved. (I must learn finnish so I can read Hiltunens graphic novels!) They talked a bit about tropes with trolls, that they've been used as cautionary tales for young women so they won't follow a beautiful stranger into the woods, or so they won't think the grass is greener on the other side. It has also been used as a way to talk about postpartum depression, as a way to relate to having children and becoming estranged to them. In the age of christianity, the devil took the place of the trolls, and so the cautionary tales lived on. The authors today often use mythological creatures as a metaphore for cultural and ethnic differences, and Petri Hiltunen explained that he's bringing evil trolls to the mix as a metaphore for greedy business men. Fascinating indeed!

Another item on my list for friday was at the library in Mariehamn, which was open for the public. What a great idea to show the public what we do and make it possible for them to sample a bit of our culture and happenings. A good way to find new fans, too!

In the library I listened to Torill (again, I seem to be stalking her!) talking about "Reality's Jurassic Park"and about extinct animals and what they have meant for us and for the nature. She talked about the passenger pidgeon and the auroch, and the thought of creating mammoths again through elephants to help the Sibirian tundra grow colder, which will help the environment. Torill was brilliant as always, and made everyone laugh, and also made us think about the world we live in and how we treat it.

Later on I listened to the english version of "Karin Tidbeck's guest of honour interview", where I made an awkward attempt of asking a audience question to Karin but then realized I hadn't thought it through, so noone could understand what I was asking. Afterwards, I hid in my hotel room for a while so I could sulk it out in private and go "OMG I'm so awkward!" until I got over it. I didn't remember anything that was said in that panel, due to the sheer trauma of the embarrasment, so I went to the one in swedish on sunday. Where I sat quietly.

The sunday interview I really, really liked, since it went deeper into the books and Johan Jönsson and Karin had such a funny, relaxed style. Karin joked a lot about the fact that she doesn't like her books being labeled dystopian, but then accidently said that they were dystopian and had to rectify it by calling it antiutopian.

Karin explained more about creating her novel "Amatka", and that she really liked the idea of a world reacting to language. Of course, then she had to clean out all kinds of metaphorical language, parables and stuff like that, which was a difficult job. There are so many interesting things said in that interview, but I'm going to have to narrow it down to one thing I want to highlight as very good: she wants to write about people whom suffer from mental illness, because these people exist in the world, and she wants them to have a part in it in her books. That was great, since I feel very strongly about the issue and feel that we need to hear these peoples voices and break the stigma that surrounds it. After all, depression is something about 50 % of human kind suffers from, it is a huge part of the human condition.

But now I'm getting ahead of myself. Lastly, on saturday, I sat in Alvarfondens second hand bookshop again, this time for two hours. It was a great way to meet new people, one of whom was Alexander Hallberg, Sveroks chairman and fellow nerd. We talked about creating associations (unifications?) and bringing people together, something we're both passionate about. And I sold some books, too.

On sunday, I went to two more panels except Karins interview, and then there was the closing ceremony. It all went by too quickly! *sobs*

The second item of the sunday programme was the panel "Translators and writers", moderated by the lovely Johanna Vainikainen, whom have the most soothing and pleasing voice and a relaxed and nice contact with her panel members. Listening to her moderating the panel was a joy in itself. The authors and translators were really good speakers too, Ian Watson and Cristina Macia make a fine pair and are funny to listen to. They are married, and like to tease and joke with each other, which is really entertaining to watch. Tanya Tynjala is a peruvian author and translator, but speaks and has translated to french too. Also in the panel was Karin Tidbeck and J. Pekka Mäkelä, both sf author, and also translators. Karin has translated her short stories collection Jagannath. I learned much about translating, about how different it can be from translator to translator depending on the publishing company, the pay, the amount of work and the level of collaboration with the author. And there are different styles of translators too. They had a good discussion about if a translator should translate word for word, or though for thought? Can there be nuances where the translator interpret the book, in the spirit of the author? Cristina felt the translators job is not to rewrite the book, and she has a more direct word for word approach. Tanya said her goal is to make the english reader feel the same as the spanish reader, to try to feel the voice.  Both had good points to make on the subject.

Cheryl Morgan, Tanya Tynjala, Ian Watson and Nini Neuvonen.

The discussion continued in next panel, "Science fiction and fantasy translated into english" were Cheryl Morgan took the helm of moderating Ian, Tanya and also Sini Neuvonen for an hour and a half. The panel was very informative about different translated works, and Cheryl Morgan mentioned she will post a list of the books mentioned, so I will try to get a hold of it and link it to this post. They talked a lot about the struggle of getting books translated, and mentioned "Finnish weird"; a impressing initiative made by the Finns, where they had fans translating their favourite Finnish writers. After that panel, I ran to the finnish bookstand and bought the magazine.

One point made about translated work is that the english speaking population has a tendency not to read translated work as there is so much written in their own language, and Cheryl Morgan asked the question "How do we encourage people to read translated work?" The question remains unanswered, but the panel gave a lot of good book tips which hopefully will help build some bridges.

The closing ceremony was a very fine thing, filled with applauds, hugs, and the guests of honour gave their thanks and said that they were really impressed with what the Archipelacon concom had done. GRRM encouraged everyone there to vote for Helsinki in 2017, and said that if they win the bid, he would be there in 2017 along with Connie Willis, Scott Lynch and the rest of the gang.

(I have voted, have you? Ask me how!)

The Finns are really good at this stuff, and I am thoroughly amazed by them all. I have made so many new acquaintances this weekend, and have gotten to know the Finns I met at Worldcon a bit more, and I miss them all terribly already, along with my fellow swedish fans.

The parties

Ah, the parties, What can be said about the parties? The parties were great! The Åland summer is very much like the summers in northern part of Sweden with the never dying light and the silence. Only, not as quiet... We had a pool! And karaokee! And I've even heard rumours about skinny dipping. Dammit guys, next time you have to tell me! ;)

"Look, the book matches the pool!"

The nights where bright and full of warmth from infrared heating. And full of mad scientist-laughter, Brotherhoods without banners, pool parties, singing, fezzes... Just an amazing buzz of people.

There were some really enthusiastic people singing Queen-songs in the karaokee-corner, and there were Jukka Halme and his evil gang, taunting me with the song "spiderpig" because I was scared of a humongously big evil spider of doom that hung in a fine thread from the ceiling. Jukka Särkijärvi and I stood shaking of shock and terror, hugging for comfort, until Karl-Johan Norén saved the day by smashing the spider with a pad. A brave man, that Karl-Johan, risking his life against the beast to save us.

We heard the drums in the distance, and saw Cthulu rising before us, from his watery grave.
We had a standing joke about me and Frida. The second day, when I had introduced her to a bunch of people, Frida was saying how she felt I was very much like Barney Stinson in "How I met your mother" with "Haaaaaave you met Ted?" and she was Ted. Not a bad comparison. (Although I'm not fixated on suits and getting laid.) But I do like magic. Frida mingled and got to know people and had a great time. It warmed my heart to see my best friend getting to know all these amazing people in my life and enjoying their company and the con too. Frida says that my hobby is to collect people, and I think the best thing about collecting people is when you're able to bring them together, and when they like each other as much as you like them all... it's like magic.

Another funny thing is when someone came up to me and accidently called me Frida. (That's how much they liked her. I'm starting to get jealous of her.) Later, Torill accidently called me Frida, and then I myself accidently called Frida Fia. (That was really weird.) Suddenly I had an identity crisis, which I confessed to having on twitter. That caught the attention of Tero Ykspetäjä, and all weekend long he enabled this crisis by said "Hello Frida!" to me. Thanks for that, Tero. Really. I'm gonna send my therapists bill to you. :P

Evil Tero!

I had a really great time, to which I owe many thanks to my very wonderful, understanding and good-for-waking-me-up-before-I-overslept-room mate Anna Bark Persson, and to our gang of Frida, Maria, Markus, Nahal, Veronica, Arina, Kristina, Hanna and Jan. We had a lovely dinner on sunday at Dino's were we squeezed together in a small booth and talked about the convention and other things. We also think we have figured out what killed the auroch. (Smoking is bad for you! What do you think, Torill? Could the aurochs have been nicotine addicts?)

I have made some big promises during this con, and all of them I intend to keep. I made a solemn vow to learn finnish when Jukka Särkijärvi started learning swedish, and to make a convention in Malmö the year after Nahal does one in Uppsala. Seems like a good plan. About learning finnish: I've actually downloaded an app and spent the better part of this weekend trying to learn words. Olisi. Jollekin.Työskennellä. Maito.

They say that learning another language is good for the brain, and prevents getting alzeimers, so I'm being healthy too. (And also it is good when wanting to read finnish sf-litterature).

There have been a lot of fans from different countries at this convention. But I started thinking, maybe, we're all from the same country; the fandom country. We speak the language of SF but have different dialects, and we don't let that hinder us from connecting and making friends. Frida's soon traveling to Japan for an exchange year, and will be seeking out the japanese fandom. The brittish fan Luke Smith has begun to learn swedish. Some Finns are talking about coming to Swecon and I'm definitly going to Finncon next year. And maybe Åcon. And maybe Eurocon in Spain, which will be in november 2016, hosted by the lovely Ian and Cristina! (Maybe I'll have to learn spanish too.)

There are so many things to be said about this convention, and I could talk about it for ages, but I think I'll just end this here before it become a novel. My very last words will be  an echo of Jukka Halme's eternal wisdom: Fandom is love.


Nahal said...

Jag vill följa med på Eurocon I Spanien, det skulle vara fantastiskt!! :D

Fia said...

Jaaa,jag har i princip bestämt mig för att åka. Let's do this! :)