Con report: Fantasticon 2018 in Copenhagen


I'm on the way back from Fantasticon 2018 in Copenhagen, Denmark--this was my 2nd time visiting the city and even though getting there meant rushing straight from work to the airport, I'm glad I came. This was my first experience attending a convention as a guest, not just a member, and it feels like some kind of positive turning point.

Weird coincidence: there was a completely different Fantasticon on in Fort Wayne, Indiana on the same weekend. I'm sure that was fabulous too, but the USA's Fantasticon was probably not held in an ornate Masonic lodge.

The theme for this year was steampunk. While this isn't my core genre I have a passing familiarity and the program guide took my short piece "Filigree and Ice, Ash and Atoms" which fit the theme (I'm thinking about what's next for the story, as it would be a reprint in any future appearance...I might just post it here). On that basis, and the idea that as a teacher I can talk about anything for 30 minutes and sound like I know what I'm talking about, I proposed two program items.

I ended up on four. Oh god, I have to write four talks.

So arriving at the Con on Friday was a study in perpetual motion. I stepped out of school onto the metro to the train to the airport to the plane to the metro to the restaurant where I downed some oysters before I ran to the bus to rush into the venue and delivered a talk about the limitations of steampunk computing. (Main takewaway: a mechanical computer can store information better than the best current transistors can, but you're screwed when it comes to processing speed...unless you drop the whole contraption down a black hole.)

That was the end of the Con's first day and I didn't get to see much programming on Saturday morning as I was busy composing the second talk, a discussion about the golden age of Danish cosmology in the late 16th to late 17th centuries. I learned a lot from delivering that one: normally when I do these presentations I draw on my academic background and I'm in the position of knowing more about some esoteric topic (gravitational waves, Hawking's multiverse, bizarre models of universes) but here I was telling a bunch of Danish SF fans about two of the most famous scientists in Danish history.

I had to remember that I was there as a writer i.e. a storyteller thus so what if they already know it--I'm here to entertain by telling a story.

The audience at Fantasticon was consistently among the nicest I've encountered. One of the program items I made a point of seeing on Saturday was a talk led by the dauphines of Swedisn and Danish fandom, Fia Karlsson and Sanna Bo Claummarch respectively, titled Come with me if you want to squee! whose thesis was, simply, there should be no guilty pleasures: we should feel free to enjoy what we enjoy, and break down barriers of "you can't like this because you're a girl, or boy, or too old, or to young" and so on.

And this is something we need to keep reminding ourselves of because those barriers are continually being reconstructed for us. Now that I am A Published Author people can read what I write in an "official" way; but part and parcel of that is that the publisher and Amazon will both try to quantify me like census takers because that's as indivisible and fundamental a component of marketing books as carbon is a component of sugar, and we authors and fans are complicit too when we try to promote the work by putting it in a familiar context ("you like young adult romances with aliens, right?"). We owe it to ourselves as writers and fans to break down the barriers even as we take part in building them up through how we present our work.

That was heavy. Luckily on Saturday evening there were dry-ice gin & tonics before the banquet.

Before, during and after the banquet I spoke quite a bit with Fantasticon guest of honor Jeanette Ng (I'm chewing my way through her debut novel Under the Pendulum Sun now. So far, so good). Ng, who's from Hong Kong originally, has good reflections on the legacy of colonialism, and these were good thoughts to keep in mind while walking through the palatial streets of Copenhagen: someone dug all that marble.

But talking with Ms Ng, I found, was amazingly psychologically helpful. Remember, Fantasticon was my first time appearing as a guest at a convention, and I was a guest on the basis of having published a whole five things, four of which weren't even out yet. What am I doing here kept echoing in my head.

But while I've been going to SF conventions for a while, a decent amount in the early 2000s, then more and more regularly since I moved to Finland, this was the first convention where I felt like a peer rather than a newcomer.

And Fantasticon provided an ideal atmosphere for such openness. On Sunday, a school group came by to take part in the convention and throughout the weekend children clambered around the dealer's room. Acquaintances and total strangers bought each other drinks and loaned each other a few coins for the bus as needed. The whole thing was very deliberately optimistic, and closed with a panel about looking forward.

There are conventions coming up in Norway and Iceland which alas I won't be able to get to this year. Åcon 10 is expanding to a five-day event. Finncon 2019 in Jyväskylä will feature Charles Stross, one of my favorite writers, as a guest of honor. On top of all this, there was clear committment for fandom across the Nordic countries to work more together; rumors build of Nordic fans working together toward a Eurocon bid, likely for 2023; and I am happy I am part of it all.

I don't know how much is a change in the weather, a change in the sea, and how much is a change in me but the facts remain:

I sat down in the lounge and heard another attendee recount a story from the talk I had given.

I handed out leaflets promoting my stories and people took them, people took them.

I went out with the guests of honor and Fia Karlsson and Jukka Halme and a litany of other Nordic fandom grandees and sat and listened as Ian Sales and Lavie Tidhar argued loudly about whether or not novelettes are real, twiceSo Fantasticon was the kind of convention I'd read about in Larry Niven novels, heard about for years, but that I wasn't ready to be part of until now. The future is bright.

Copenhagen remains a charming city of towering brick and palaces around every corner. I recommend you visit sometime.

In other news: my leather mailbag is dying. This is the faithful bag I have carried since I was in high school 25 years ago, but in May the strap broke, in August the handle wore through and today the pawl that holds it closed came off. It can't hold things in anymore; bits and pieces all come spillitng out.

RIP, faithful satchel.

Edmund Schluessel

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