Finncon 2019: forever forward

Finncon 2019's Guests of Honor. Photo CC-BY-SA Henry Söderlund 
I had no idea when I moved to Finland three years ago that it was fast becoming the pinpoint around which Nordic fandom revolves, nor that it would build from the superb 2017 Worldcon to an even more thriving, more diverse, more accepting community.

Finncon 2019 took place 5-7 July in Jyväskylä, which as a town hardly seems like a place -- the city, center is just a half dozen square blocks. Nonetheless the University of Jyväskylä is a major center of learning in Finland and their hosting of the Con afforded a good venue eerily devoid of students in the high summer. The Con ran seven or eight program items at once, spread across three floors, and filled many of them up to the fire limit. As is the norm for Finnish conventions, there was no registration fee and many people simply arrived as they pleased.

The hallway space, meanwhile, was filled with booksellers and other vendors selling things congoers like. Two booksellers, Rosebud Books and Aavetaajuus, put "A Funeral for Massachusetts" on sale -- a huge psychological boost for me (and also, 8 copies sold)! There were also bookswaps and a flea market among the formal shops.

The con boasted four guests of honor, author Charles Stross, editor Cheryl Morgan, translator Kersti Juva and professor Raine Koskimaa who headed up the academic track. This lineup underlines one of the things that sets Finnish conventions apart and allies them more closely with Eastern European and Continental fandom: conventions in Finland are seen as not just fandom events but literary events, where people attend not just to enjoy and appreciate genre works but discuss them and their cultural contexts seriously and to examine the process of creating them.

As such, the first, shorter day of the convention was given over entirely as an Authors' Day, with program items focused on writing and publishing. Most of these items were in Finnish which I don't speak well enough yet to get much from, but Charles Stross's contribution to the opening discussion was memorable for being sharply critical of what Amazon has done to the publishing process: self-publishing has opened up access, but new authors are missing out on getting advice from editors while many people who become self-publishing superstars get there not through brilliance at writing but through brilliance at marketing and manipulating algorithms.

I agree with him but at the same time think it's not really such a new thing. The tyranny of marketing has always, at least since the Industrial Revolution, meant that "bestselling" doesn't necessarily mean "good." Still, the monopolistic dominance of Amazon -- especially since they require self-publishers to only publish through them -- needs to be organized against, not through feelgood boycotts but by Amazon's workers themselves uniting to deprive the company of the only thing it can't do without: the labor of the people who actually carry out the shipping.

Some of my thoughts along these lines are influenced by what was, I think, the most cogent AI series of program items I've ever seen. The conversation about AI seems to be moving forward from the "aagh Skynet" phase to a better examination of what the words "human-equivalent AI" actually might mean. There are a lot of absurdities that emerge pretty fast ("how do I know I'm not a robot" asked Philip K. Dick half a century ago, and every panel on AI since then...) but these absurdities are pointing at something deeper: a basic flaw in our premise about what "I am" means.

I'm back to paraphrasing Charlie Stross again. I'll mention him one last time: in his author interview conducted by Johan Jönsson, Stross casually mentioned being "slightly autistic" and so fascinated with the bureaucratic & economic systems he incorporates heavily into his world-building. This little moment of visibility, for personal reasons, warmed my heart. Also I think I have to actually start reading his Merchant Princes series now.

My own contribution to the program was just the one panel, a last-minute addition about radio interferometry and black hole imaging. Mostly, I gophered. I do wish I had the energy to have done more at the convention...I don't have it in me anymore to stay up 'til 6am at a party. I had a great time at Finncon. Next year is in Tampere, even closer to home, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Edmund Schluessel

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