Eppu’s Worldcon 75 Highlights

A random assortment of memorable moments, thoughts, views, and quotes from our time at Worldcon 75 in Helsinki.

From the panel: Always Connected, It’s Mandatory with Effie Seiberg, Fred C. Moulton, Jo Lindsay Walton, Kristina K., and Tommi Helenius

  • I missed who said it and whether there were further details, but one panelist mentioned a study with the finding that merely having a cell phone on your desk, even if it’s off, lowers your ability to concentrate by about 20 percent.

The tidbit certainly gives food for thought. If true, it gives an added bonus my decision to keep my phone out the way on a small side table. Phone out of direct line of sight: +2 to concentration roll!

From the panel: Pronouns, Who Needs Gender Pronouns with Cenk Gokce, Johanna Sinisalo, Catherine Lundoff, Kelvin Jackson, and John Chu

  • Johanna Sinisalo shared a story from producing the freebie anthology given to congoers, Giants at the End of the World. The translator for a story she was editing asked the gender of a very minor character that passes by in the background in order to use the correct pronoun, so she passed the question on to the author. Their reply was: “Who knows?”
  • John Chu continued on the effect that grammatical details like that have on thinking: in English you have to specify, whereas in languages that have different pronoun systems, speakers may specify the gender of their characters.
  • There was an audience comment on the 3rd person singular pronoun it used of people (in reference to a panelist who remarked that that’s possible in some dialectal uses in some languages). In the commenter’s view, people want to contain multitudes, and using it of people would be taking something away.

Clearly, defining characters’ gender matters greatly to some people and not so much to others (like the “Who knows?” Finnish author). Of course, not all writing nor all works of fiction are or should be the same, or created for the same purpose. For example, when the mood takes me, I’m delighted to read fluffy comfort lit that at other times would drive me to distraction. I think the variety that exists is fantastic, and limiting our expressions—especially in speculative fiction—is, well, limiting. We as a species do indeed contain multitudes.

Instagram Lada ladule_b W75 Fandom Is Family

Autographs: I got my copy of Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff signed.

Maresi w Author Autograph

From the panel: Editor’s Dream with Thoraiya Dyer, Masumi Washington, Katrina Archer, and Robert S. Malan

  • Katrina Archer, a Canadian copyeditor who works with both Canadian and American writers, mentioned that she creates a style sheet for each individual story. She includes, among others, notes on word selections (in consultation with the authors) and the dictionary and spellings used.

Self-evident, when you think about the pragmatics of editing. I’m going to steal that idea to apply for my various projects.

From the panel: Reviewing 101 with Juan Sanmiguel, Markku Soikkeli, John Clute, and Fred Lerner

  • Fred Lerner, by his own description “a recovering librarian” (yay librarians!), quoted Sturgeon’s Law (to the effect of: 90% of everything is crap) and noted that it therefore follows 10% is of use, so if a reviewer cannot find that 10% maybe they should do something different.

I’ll have to try and remember this. Not that I review things that often, but to vet other reviewers. (Also, note to self, a related critique panel mentioned Mary Robinette’s method which I believe is the one she tweets about here.)

In the exhibits hall: On guest of honor Nalo Hopkinson’s table, a puzzle featuring her book covers had been set out for passersby to work on. Irresistible! And a really inventive, unintrusive promo method.

Patreon Nalo Hopkinson W75 Book Cover Puzzle

Made it: There’s photographic proof I was at Worldcon!

From the panel: Jack of All Trades, Master of Several with Carl, Roseanne Rabinowitz, and Jani Saxell

  • Carl remarked that “external brains” (=tech) can help us branch out because looking up information is very easy.
  • Jani Saxell noted that as SF operates at the edges of the new and strange, you cannot prepare for everything; there should be a place for generalists in SFnal stories.

As a Jill of Many Trades myself, I found the topic fascinating. I’d note that finding information may have gotten much easier, but a lot still depends on an individual’s ability to sift the useful from useless and absorbing the appropriate bits.

Seen in person: We’ve streamed it a few times before, so we knew the routine, but it was surprisingly exciting to be able to attend the Hugo Awards ceremony.

Instagram writer_aki Aki Parhamaa W75 Hugo Awards

Seen in person: I also had several nice random meetings with both old friends (some of whom I haven’t seen in over 15 years) and new-to-me people. For example, on Friday we saw a Finnish journalist and fan Jussi Ahlroth on morning tv talking about the con and later that day actually met him. Cool. 🙂

Speaking of cool: Did you know that John Howe (yes, THAT John Howe!) was at Worldcon?!?

Instagram writer_aki Aki Parhamaa W75 John Howe

From the panel: Older Women in Genre Fiction with Catherine Lundoff, Delia Sherman, Liisa Rantalaiho, and Helena McCallum

  • The panel noted among other things that women’s bodily needs aren’t usually present in stories. Older women don’t have to deal with e.g. menstruation, but they do have physical ailments due to age. Elizabeth Moon was mentioned as someone who is great at describing the difficulty of getting going in the morning, for example. The panelists also talked about how, just like in real life, older women in stories are often hiding in plain sight (i.e., ignored).
  • Liisa Rantalaiho noted: Older women have sex.

Another fascinating panel through and through. Elizabeth Moon’s name came up in other panels, too; clearly I need to look her up.

Seen in person: Speaking of looking people up, I found a few other new-to-me authors and artists to try. I often do that if I like what someone’s said at a panel or program item.

The end is nigh: At some point during the con, signs for marking the end of the line (when queueing into program rooms) appeared for people to hold up and pass on. Of course it would’ve been nicer if long lines hadn’t happened at all, but it was a practical and humorous solution to an annoying facilities problem.

Instragram Tiina Vastamaa tiinatupuna W75 End of Line Please Queue Here

From the panel: Gender and “Realistic History” with Cheryl Morgan, Thomas Årnfelt, Gillian Pollack, Jo Walton, and Scott Lynch

  • Jo Walton said that women are left out when canons get formed; if you go looking for women in extant documents, they are there.
  • Thomas Årnfelt mentioned a few examples of women’s occupations gleaned from 12th c. Parisian tax documents: various positions in food and textile industries, barber, goldsmith, locksmith, and night guard, among others.
  • Cheryl Morgan talked about how people have been constructing gender(s) in many various ways in history / around the world. E.g. beer brewing and tavern keeping are now seen as male professions, when in fact they were purely women’s work at one point. Another example she gave is that a man couldn’t work in Nelson’s army (or Napoleon’s?? can’t make out my handwriting) if he didn’t know how to sew.

Lively discussion and many, many examples. I kept missing references writing down others. I wish this panel had been videotaped!

Seen in person: A live astronaut. All three presentations / panels with Kjell Lindgren were fascinating! Here’s the video of The Kjell & Jenny Show: A NASA Astronaut and his PAO where Kjell talks about the astronaut selection and preparation process.

The Kjell & Jenny Show: A NASA Astronaut and his PAO by Worldcon 75

Once upon a time on a lunch break: I ate at the Messukeskus Hesburger fast food joint (also fondly known as Hese) purely out of nostalgia. And was proud of myself, both as a Finn and an introvert, for sharing a table and a conversation with a total stranger. I don’t typically do that. At the same place my top half was also, memorably but unfortunately, splattered with hot chocolate. Oh well. Accidents happen, and I wasn’t scalded.

From the panel: Pullantuoksuinen – Writing While Multilingual with Nina Niskanen, Aliette de Bodard, Emmi Itäranta, Ken Liu, and Jakob Drud

  • Emmi Itäranta commented that juggling two languages simultaneously is sometimes a hindrance (if you find a fantastic phrase in one language but not the other), but it also makes you a better writer because it forces you to be more specific in your meaning.
  • Ken Liu noted that it’s perhaps more important to explain a cultural concept for yourself than the audience.

I have a bad habit of code-switching out of pure sloth with Erik since he knows Finnish so well. Perhaps I ought to try and stick to one language at a time. Apart from making puns; that I won’t give up. 😀

From the panel: On the Care and Feeding of Secondary Characters with Fiona Moore, Carrie Patel, Mur Lafferty, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, and Diana ben-Aaron

  • “Knowing why characters exist tends to make them flat. Try not to know that.”

Really great quote. If you know who said it, please let me know! (Jo Walton???)

Another choice quote:

“I liked the way everyone was pleasant and polite. Panelists seemed to get along well with each other, even when they disagreed. Audiences seemed appreciative. The whole thing was good, low-tension fun. I sometimes think the discussions on the Internet leave people with a really wrong idea of what the experience of attending a convention is like. Problems are few, attitudes are positive, and people laugh and smile a lot.”

– Greg Hullender commenting at File 770

There were problems, and I witnessed some true clueless behavior first hand, but on the whole I agree with Greg. I saw so many examples of people greeting each other, sharing small moments of connection, helping each other out in general, troubleshooting tech issues, sharing tips and smiles, and giving up their seats to those who needed it or who might enjoy a panel more. Fandom definitely is my family. ❤

From the panel: Book Blogs with Cora Buhlert, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Shaun Duke, and Thomas Wagner

  • Shaun Duke of The Skiffy and Fanty Show (I think—please correct me if I’m attributing this to the wrong person) said some authors don’t seem to understand how the Internet works. Apparently he’s chosen not to review some people because he’s seen how they’ve treated other fans and reviewers online.

Yup. Rep gets around.

160204dingy

Images: Fandom Is Family by Lada (ladule_b) via Instagram. Maresi by Eppu Jensen. Nalo Hopkinson puzzle by Nalo Hopkinson via Patreon. Art of the Snapshot panel audience by Baron Dave Romm (david_e_romm) via Instagram. Hugo Awards ceremony collage by Aki Parhamaa (writer_aki) via Instagram. John Howe by Aki Parhamaa (writer_aki) via Instagram. End of Line by Tiina Vastamaa (tiinatupuna) via Instragram. Dingy bird via MTV.

How It Happens is an occasional feature looking at the inner workings of various creative efforts.

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Erik’s Worldcon 75 Highlights

A random assortment of memorable moments, thoughts, and quotes from our time at Worldcon 75 in Helsinki.

From the presentation: Crackpot Archaeology in Scandinavia by Martin Rundkvist

  • One of the distinguishing traits of the crackpot is the insistence on finding meaning in every discernible pattern. To the crackpot, randomness is never acceptable.

(This is a particularly useful observation for me as a historian who works on areas and periods where we have extremely limited evidence. When evidence is so scarce, it is tempting to squeeze as much meaning as we can out of every text or artifact. Sometimes we just have to accept the randomness.)

From the workshop: Beyond the Great Wall of Europe: Worldbuilding for Non-European Settings by Jenn Lyons

  • In this workshop, we were divided up into small groups and assigned to come up with various aspects of worldbuilding for a hypothetical fantasy world. The group assigned to government (which I was not part of) described a society of small scattered bands without permanent leadership who pull together in times of crisis and select a temporary leader. Their ideas were based on certain Native American societies of the northeastern woodlands and gave a fairly accurate description of how societies at that scale historically tended to operate. Some other folks in the room—including the workshop leaders—critiqued them based on a European colonial misunderstanding of native North American cultures.

(It was a good reminder of how difficult it can be, even with the best of intentions, to think ourselves out of Eurocentric traditions—and why it might have been a good idea to spend a little more time working through what we mean by “European.”)

From the panel: Non-Binary Representation with Nick Hubble, D Franklin, and Nino Cipri

  • Non-binary characters in fiction written by binary authors have a tendency to feel like thought experiments rather than people.

From the panel: Editor’s Dream with Thoraiya Dyer, Masumi Washington, Katrina Archer, and Robert S. Malan

  • Always follow the submission guidelines!

(As someone who has coordinated academic conferences, I cannot agree with this strongly enough!)

From the panel: Asexuality in SF with Todd Allis, Kat Kourbeti, and Jo Walton

  • The portrayal of asexuality in fiction tends to be gendered. Female asexual characters are often portrayed as inexperienced, with the assumption that she will blossom into sexuality once she finds the right person, while male asexual characters are often portrayed as quirky, damaged, or focused on obsessions that leave no room for romantic love.

From the presentation: Logic of Empire: Economics of Colonialism in Fantastic Fiction by Jesper Stage

  • North America in the age of European colonialism was a real post-apocalyptic setting, once European diseases had wiped out over 90% of the native population.

(I’ve never thought of it in those terms, but it’s one of the most apt descriptions I’ve ever heard.)

From a panel presenter whose name I didn’t catch, when the audience let him know they couldn’t hear him:

  • “You’re different to English audiences; they just sit quietly and complain at the end.”

From the panel Loses Something in the Translation: Conveying Humor, Idioms, and Cultural Concepts across Languages with Gili Bar-Hilel, Shaoyan Hu, Elena Pavlova, Dirk van den Boom, and Mirka Sillanpää

A few choice quotes:

  • “Writing something funny is actually very serious and hard work.”
  • “Toilet jokes work in most languages”
  • “As you know, Germans are not funny.”

From the panel: Fantasy Worldbuilding without Ableism with Fran Wilde, Marieke Nijkamp, Likhain, Nalo Hopkinson, and Leon Adams

  • Disability can be a too-easy go-to for authors who want to make a hero “unlikely” without engaging with the reality of living with disability.
  • What counts as a disability depends on context. Issues that are trivial to us, such as eyesight problems that are easily corrected with glasses, could be serious disabilities in a world without that technology. On the other hand, dyslexia, which is a challenge in the highly literate modern world, would be trivial in a world without writing.

How It Happens is an occasional feature looking at the inner workings of various creative efforts.

Worldcon 75: Successful Preparations

Our Worldcon 75 trip was a combination of a family visit and con activities. First we went to the north to see relatives, and the latter half of our visit we spent south in Helsinki. Although we were in town primarily to do the con, we did have a chance to visit family there, too, and enjoy some of Helsinki’s offerings, including some walking and eating at our favorite places.

Since it was a long trip and since our luggage needed to accommodate our clothes, presents for family, and books for the con, we needed to prepare more carefully than usual. I’ll share below some of our successful preparation strategies.

For more of our Worldcon 75 thoughts, check out the collected links page.

Accommodation sticker shock: Airbnb to the rescue

We tried Airbnb for the first time, because we knew we wanted to stay extra days in Helsinki both before and after the con and therefore hotel fares would’ve gotten hair-raisingly high. Fortunately, we managed to book an entire apartment in a quiet building about 10 minutes’ tram ride away from Messukeskus, with really considerate, friendly, and helpful hosts, plus in-building laundry, a neighborhood grocery store, all-round excellent transit connections and several restaurants in the vicinity.

Self-catering worked really well. Skipping a hotel meant also missing out on the fantastic, enormous hotel breakfasts, but we made hardy breakfasts ourselves. We also packed a few small ziplock bags for veggies and other finger food instead of buying overpriced snacks at Messukeskus.

Would I do it again: Yes. I would research the heck of the host(s), though, and pack cloth napkins to avoid using disposable ones at the flat.

Con notes: Add a folder

I typically keep notes of my con trips in small paper notebooks. In addition, I lug around a random assortment of A4 / letter-sized papers (notes on directions, restaurants, programming, etc.) folded and tucked into the notebook. At W75 I ended up picking up way more than my usual share of papers, though. For one, I was for some reason completely unprepared to get a bagful of freebies at registration, even though I knew we were going to get at least the pocket program and a souvenir book. (D’oh!)

Would I do it again: Yes, with improvements. I plan to continue using a small notebook for the actual note-taking, but upgrade to a letter-sized folder for the rest. Also, note to self: bring a few sheets of blank paper and maybe a Sharpie.

Day pack: Needs improvement

I traveled with a fairy sizeable day pack, because the trip was a long one and because Helsinki weather forecasts had looked unsettled and uncertain before we left the U.S. I tend to get cold easily, so I wanted carrying capacity for extra clothes, umbrella, water bottle, snacks, etc. Unfortunately, my backpack turned out too bulky for my comfort in the crowded Messukeskus corridors even when it was half-full.

Would I do it again: Probably not, unless I’m planning on cosplaying and need the space. I’m considering getting a smaller backpack (or maybe a cross-body bag) for my extra sweater, scarf, umbrella, book(s), and other bigger con gear, and using it with a small cross-body purse for faster access to water, snacks, pens, and notes.

Fun with flags: So. Many. Languages!

For the first Nordic worldcon, I wanted to flag myself as able (and delighted!) to function in more than one language, so I made myself a language tag to stick on my badge: Finnish and Swedish flags for my Nordic languages, and U.S. flag for American English. (I learned British English at school and at university, but I’ve since gone over to the dark side. Bwahahaha!) For good measure, I added my pronouns (she / they / hän).

Would I do it again: Yes, although I’d print out the flags instead of drawing them freehand. (Poor, butchered U.S. flag!) And make them larger. And as long as I’m including Swedish, I’d add those pronouns as well (hon / hen).

W75 Badge w Ribbons

Introvert care: Off days between activity days

We’re both introverts. When planning this trip, we knew we were likely to feel overwhelmed, so we consciously scheduled introvert care days into our itinerary both before and after the con. Introvert time before the con was necessary, because our visit in the north was a whirwind of family meetings. And it was necessary after the con, because the thought of flying into one of the high-traffic airports in the U.S. in a tin can stuffed full of strangers, then standing in line for goodness knows how long in a room stuffed full of strangers in order to get a shuttle stuffed full of strangers, and, finally, exhausted, to find ourselves driving on roads stuffed full of strangers was just too much immediately after a five-day event—you guessed it—stuffed full of strangers.

Would I do it again: YES! I’m not sure I would’ve been able to do this trip without blocking off the no-people days.

Introverted Tea Mug

Making many meetings succeed: Plan for a spot

I had heard through a Finnish contact that it’s very easy to lose track of people at a Messukeskus con. Although I have a Finland-compatible cell phone, Erik doesn’t, so we couldn’t count on being able to text each other updates during the times when we wanted to go our separate ways. So, after the Messkeskus floor plan was available, we found a spot that looked out of the way enough (to not clog any passageways) but easy to find and fast to get to. Each morning we’d go over our schedules and find at least one and preferably two times that we could meet at our spot to connect and re-plan if necessary. And if it should happen that we didn’t get into any programming we wanted, or didn’t feel like attending, or just had a change of heart and were available for doing things together again, our spot was where we’d find each other.

Would I do it again: Absolutely. We even arranged to met my sister at our spot a few times.

Maintenance medications and time zones: Make it into a program item

Figuring out the proper time, in Finnish time, to take my maintenance medications was easy. However, I had the darnest time remembering to do it, until I wrote it in my personal con schedule. (Outside the con I had an alarm on my phone, but in Messukeskus I kept the phone on silent.)

Would I do it again: Yes! So easy! If it’s Saturday and 4 o’clock, it must be Food Lies and pill time.

Public transit pass for the win!

The W75 membership included a 5-day transit pass for the greater Helsinki area, and it was marvellous. It allowed for so many options for the week. About half the time we just used it to get to Messkeskus and back, but half the time we took additional trips.

Would I do it again: Yes, even if I had to pay for a weekly ticket myself.

Pre-prep is next to godliness: Following Worldcon 75 online

I’m a preparer. Even though I’m a Finn and have visited both Helsinki and Messukeskus before, I’ve been away from Finland long enough to know my local knowledge is partially outdated. I followed W75 on social media and read each and every one of their publications. (I didn’t mind possible overlap; the info put out through different channels varied to some extent and any repetitions were really easy to skip.) Just before the con, the W75 KonOpas / Grenadine guide / online program guide was hugely helpful for updates of new, deleted, or moved program items.

Would I do it again: Yes. And enthusiastically yes for any possible future worldcons, too.

Images: Eppu Jensen

How It Happens is an occasional feature looking at the inner workings of various creative efforts.

What Makes a Fantasy World Feel European?

One of the workshops I attended at Worldcon 75 was about non-European-based fantasy worldbuilding. It was a lively and enjoyable workshop, but—no doubt for logistical reasons—the discussion of what exactly makes a setting seem European was cut rather short. It’s not a question that is easy to answer, even though—from Tolkien to Game of Thrones—it is obvious that a lot of fantasy literature and media draws heavily on European, and specifically medieval European, influences. What is it about a fantasy world that makes it feel European, and what kinds of things should we consider changing if we want to create something that doesn’t?

Our popular collective sense of medieval European history is a fairy-tale world of knights on horseback, castles, kings and queens, pageantry and chivalry. For people growing up in the West, fairy tales in this tradition shape some of our earliest exposure to storytelling and it is no surprise that their forms and characters continue to inform how we approach fantasy. If you want to make your fantasy world feel less European, one approach is simply to look around the world for different terms to slot into the formula. Instead of telling a story about a dashing knight riding his trusty steed to rescue the princess from the castle of the wicked queen, you can tell a story about a dashing jaguar warrior riding his trusty ostrich to rescue the geisha from the stone fortress of the wicked maharani. This kind of “palette-swapping” (as Jeannette Ng calls it in an excellent recent Twitter thread) can work, up to a point, but the more depth and detail you have in your story, the more shallow this kind of worldbuilding will feel.

Let’s take a closer look at the details of “fairy tale” Europe. Knights, castles, kings and queens all have some basis in reality, but they are complicated. Mounted knights played only a small part in medieval European warfare and only in certain regions and periods. The crenellated stone fortresses we think of as “castles” had a similarly limited scope. Kingship was a precarious position across most of medieval Europe (where it existed at all). The most powerful actors were often local warlords. Chivalry meant the rules of war, which were followed as haphazardly as rules of war generally are. Their more romantic aspects were an embellishment of popular literature. Indeed, modern fantasy literature that imagines a world of chivalrous knights and fair damsels wandering from castle to castle draws far more on medieval fantasy literature (not to mention the self-serving propaganda of a small warrior elite) than on any of the realities of European history.

Furthermore, many of the things we commonly associate with medieval Europe were not originally European. Heavily-armed cavalry had been pioneered by the Parthians and depended on technologies—most crucially stirrups and large, strong horse breeds—developed in Central Asia. Stone fortifications had a long history of development in the Levant, and European castle designs drew heavily on Islamic examples encountered by Crusaders. Speaking of the Crusades, the Christian texts and ideologies that guided medieval intellectual culture were rooted in Jewish traditions and the cultural turmoil of the Roman empire’s eastern provinces.

So, what, after all, is so European about Europe? When we say that the fantasy we’re reading feels European, or that we want to write something that doesn’t, what are the things that add up to that?

My basic advice for worldbuilding is: start with the land, so let’s look at the land of Europe.

Europe, geographically speaking, is not really a continent but rather the long, vaguely triangular western end of Eurasia. Compared with most other major land areas, Europe is relatively compact. Most of the landmass falls between the 40th and 60th parallels. Many bays and small seas penetrate the land and break it up into numerous peninsulas and islands. A long mountain system sprawls across the southern half, a smaller and more fragmented one across the northwestern diagonal. Wedged between them is a broad plain threaded with numerous rivers, with forests in the west giving way to grasslands in the east. The North Atlantic current brings warm water and wet winds to the western coast while the many bays and small seas bring the climate-moderating effects of water to much of the land.

This geography has several significant effects for human cultures in Europe. One is that the climate is relatively stable and uniform across most of Europe. The southern half tends more warm and dry while the northern half is more cool and went, but broadly speaking, the temperatures, rainfall, seasonal weather patterns, and growing conditions are similar enough across most of the land that the same crops can be grown and animals raised in most regions. (No, I’m not saying the climates of Spain and Finland are identical; I’m saying they have enough in common that a farmer from one place would not have to learn a whole new way of farming and acquire entirely new crops and animals to get by in the other.) The major staple crops are grains, primarily wheat and barley, with hardier alternatives like rye and oats appearing farther north. The principal farm animals are pigs, cattle, sheep, goats, and poultry, with goats being more common in the mountainous south and cattle more common in the northern plains.

The geography also makes travel and transport relatively easy. Most places in Europe are within a few hundred kilometers of the sea and much of the area is crossed by navigable rivers. Since waterborne transport is more efficient than overland, large cargoes can be carried around Europe more easily than in many other regions.

Put together the similarity of climate and the ease of transport and the result is a land where many basic elements of economic and social life—the organization of agricultural labor, the rhythms of the farming year, the structure of local trade—are similar in many different places. The relative ease of connecting local economies into long-distance trade means that goods, people, and ideas flow readily from one region to another.

Despite the ecological cohesiveness of Europe, this landscape has different effects on political life. The profusion of islands, peninsulas, and bays breaks up the landmass into many smaller regions. So do the mountains of the south and the forested areas of the north. While these smaller regions are connected by trade and travel, they are difficult to assemble into large coherent states. There are many places in Europe where one leader with a small following of warriors could easily control a handful of villages or a stretch of river valley, but these small territories are much harder to unite under one leader’s power.

These two tendencies have underlain much of European history and are still visible today: cultural and economic interconnectedness at odds with political fragmentation.

When people are united by culture but divided by politics, their warfare tends to focus on establishing dominance over the enemy rather than destroying them. The respect for shared institutions and values facilitates the development of common diplomatic customs which can limit the destructiveness of warfare and channel competition into symbolic contests. On the other hand, diplomacy can draw conflicts out by delaying a decisive clash. People are likely to find themselves at war repeatedly over the same issues, a feature we can also see in European history.

These factors tend to draw European societies into internal connections and conflicts, but Europe is also well connected to the outside world. The Mediterranean Sea is easy to cross to North Africa or the Levant and the there is an extensive land connection to the rest of Eurasia. A short overland trip from the southeastern Mediterranean leads on to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. North America can be reached either by riding the circular North Atlantic trade winds or by island-hopping by way of Britain, the Faroes, Iceland, and Greenland. People have always been moving into and out of Europe both individually and in larger migrations, bringing the influence of outside ideas and cultures into the region and taking European ideas abroad.

All of these factors are part of what makes Europe European. We can see their influence even in the fairy tale version. Many kings and queens (and other kinds of rulers) have competed for power across stretches of Europe, relying on knights (and warriors of other descriptions) who supported themselves on the agricultural produce of small local regions. In parts of this fragmented landscape, local magnates built castles (and other kinds of fortified dwellings) to secure their control of territory and resources. The cultural and economic connections between many of these warring parties fostered the development of a common set of norms for the conduct of warfare, which literature elaborated into a fanciful code of chivalry. Contact with the outside world and immigration of foreign peoples brought new ideas and technologies—like stirrups and stone castles—which then spread widely through networks of trade.

These forces are not always visible in storytelling, but they underlie many of the basic assumptions, social structures, and cultural habits that make so many fantasy worlds feel European. Even some of the most basic staples of fantasy literature have their roots in the European landscape—of course everyone eats bread and cheese when wheat is the dominant crop across most of Europe and cattle are the primary herd animal on half the continent.

If we want to build fantasy worlds that don’t follow the same familiar patterns, we need to understand where those patterns come from.

Images: La Belle Dame sans Merci via Wikimedia (Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery; 1901; oil on canvas; Frank Dicksee). Satellite map of Euopre via Wikimedia. A View of Tallanton Castle via Wikimedia (Scottish National Gallery; 1816; oil on canvas; Alexander Naysmith).

Post edited for clarity and to correct historical inaccuracies.

History for Writers is a weekly feature which looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write. Check out the introduction to History for Writers here.

Worldcon 75: What Went Wrong

Most of our Worldcon 75 experience was good, but there were, unfortunately, some failures that need to be discussed, so I’m going to get those out of the way first before moving on to the things that went right. I want to stress this at the outset: lots of things went right, and lots of things that started out going wrong were getting better by later in the con. We’re going to talk about those things, too, and soon. Right now, though, here are some problems that need to be talked about so that other people involved in planning and running conventions and similar events can learn from them.

Our first day at the con offers an illustration of a lot of the problems.

My day began with a bright spot at registration, which was swift, efficient, and easy—the best con registration I have ever seen. But things went downhill from there.

My first stop was the information table to sign up for a workshop later in the day, and it was a mess. Staff at the table kept moving sign-up sheets from one part of the table to another. I was about to sign up for my workshop when one staffer told me I had to wait, then walked away; another staffer came over and snippily told me that if I wasn’t signing up for something, I had to leave. I did finally manage to get signed up, but the experience left me so frustrated that I had to leave Messukeskus (the convention center) for the rest of the morning and distract myself with work just so I could go back for the afternoon sessions without a dark angry cloud over my head.

Unfortunately, the afternoon did not go smoothly, either. Only a few panels had been scheduled for the first afternoon, many of them in the smallest panel rooms available. I only got to see one presentation that afternoon, and only by going to the room and getting my seat an hour before the session started. I enjoyed that session, but most of my afternoon was spent in boredom and frustration.

When Eppu and I got together for dinner in the evening, we discovered that most of the restaurants in the convention center had already closed for the day or were running out of food. We got the last two slices of pizza from one of the few places still open. Since one slice of pizza is not enough of a dinner for me, I then went out looking for somewhere, anywhere, I could find something more in time to get back for the next panel I hoped to see. Although the con had provided a helpful restaurant guide, nothing close enough for me to get to was open. I ended up going to the nearest railway station, finding a kiosk, and getting a couple packets of nuts. Thus fortified, I went looking for evening panels, but everything I wanted to see was full. After another couple of hours, I gave up and left.

There were other problems that didn’t affect me directly but I was aware of happening around me. Signage was lacking. There were no maps or directions to help people find their way to off-site event locations. There were no designated gender-neutral bathrooms (a surprising oversight in a convention which featured several panels on gender identity). There were serious traffic flow issues between different parts of the convention center.

Some of the things that went wrong with my first day are just the usual snags and stumbles you can expect when trying to coordinate any large group of people, but some were signs of systemic problems and failures of planning. Here are some lessons I think we can take from the experience:

Know your space and watch your numbers. A lot of the gear-grinding on the first day of the con was caused by the fact that the con was planned for 3,000-4,000 people and almost 5,000 showed up. That kind of mismatch will throw the best planning into chaos, but it is not an unforeseeable problem. The con coordinators knew how many attending memberships they had sold, even the surge that came in the last few weeks before the con. It was not unreasonable to predict that a lot of those members were going to turn up and want to attend the scheduled programming. As some have remarked, getting more people than you expected to show up to your con is a nice problem to have. Maybe for the con-runners, but as an attendee, standing around bored and frustrated all day because you can’t get into any of the programming you came for is decidedly not a nice problem to have.

Plan all parts of the attendee experience. Just like it is reasonable to expect that your con attendees will want to attend something, it is also reasonable to expect that people will want to sign up for things that require sign-ups. How and where people should do this is something that should be figured out before the con begins, not when dozens of people are already waiting in line. Worldcon 75’s registration was a model of good planning. The same attention needs to be given to other aspects of the con experience as well.

Control the things you can control; communicate about the things you can’t. No one can blame the con organizers for the lack of food options in and around Messukeskus. They don’t determine the local restaurants’ opening hours or food stocks. But they knew the con schedule and the opening hours of local eateries. If your con events run until 10 but all the local food joints close at 6, that is something you need to communicate to your attendees clearly, emphatically, and repeatedly.

Take feedback early and often, and act on it. This is one thing Worldcon 75 got absolutely right. There were feedback sessions every day from the second day of the con on, and changes in response to feedback were visible day by day, sometimes hour by hour. This is what saved the con from the disaster that the first day had me fearing it would become.

More Worldcon thoughts to come, and happily a lot more good things to talk about, but anyone in the con-planning scene, please take note of what Worldcon 75 got wrong and got right.

Worldcon 75: Looking Back

We’re back! From Wednesday, August 9th to Sunday, August 13th we were in Helsinki attending the 75th Worldcon, the first Worldcon ever held in Finland and the northernmost Worldcon to date. Now we’re home again and starting to look back at our experiences.

We have a lot to talk about. As we post, we’ll gather those links on this page. In the meantime, here’s some appreciation from Eppu to some of the people who helped make our con a good one.

How It Happens is an occasional feature looking at the inner workings of various creative efforts.

Hidden Youth Illustrations Roundup

The anthology Hidden Youth, with Erik’s story “How I Saved Athens from the Stone Monsters”, is expeced in November. We don’t know exactly when yet, but we know that the file has been sent to the printer. It’s very exciting—almost there!

I rounded up some of the artwork commissioned for the collection, but first here’s my headcanon picture for “Stone Monsters.”

In the beginning of “Stone Monsters,” there’s a scene where Mnestra, one of the protagonists who works as a flute girl, uses her veil to try and attract customers. I don’t think it was Erik’s intention, but the scene immediately brought to my mind this amazing, dynamic Greek statue we’d seen years ago at The Met:

The Met Bronze Veiled Masked Dancer

Bronze statuette of a veiled and masked female dancer, c. 3rd-2nd century BCE.

When thinking about “Stone Monsters,” this is the image that I connect with the story. Unfortunately the dancer’s veil is drawn so close that we can’t see her face. That’s where the Hidden Youth artists come to the rescue. I just happened to see this sneak peek by Paula Arwen Owen of her papercut illustration for “Stone Monsters” on Twitter:

Twitter Arwen Designs Stone Monsters Papercutting Sneak Peek

That’s eggplant and egg, all right, with a herma in the background. 🙂 Love it!

Then I was curious and went looking for Hidden Youth art. Others have also posted glimpses of their work in progress. For example, Ellen Million:

Instagram Ellen Million Hidden Youth

(She’s shared a slightly bigger photo as well.)

Two girls by Veleries / Thio Wina Oktavia:

Twitter Veleries Hidden Youth

Kat Weaver’s dormitory(?) sketch:

Twitter Kat Weaver Hidden Youth

A sneak peek by A. D’Amico:

Twitter A DAmico Hidden Youth

A glimpse of Jay Bendt’s piece:

Tumblr Jay Bendt Hidden Youth

And, finally, Charis Loke’s almost finished illustration:

Twitter Charis Loke Hidden Youth

They all look so great—can’t wait to have the book in my hands!

Images: Bronze statuette by Eppu Jensen (Greece; c. 3rd-2nd century BCE; bronze). Papercutting by Paula Arwen Owens via Twitter. Attic room by Ellen Million via Instagram. Two girls by Thio Wina Oktavia via Twitter. Dormitory by Kat Weaver via Twitter. Street seller by A. D’Amico via Twitter. Leaning girl by Jay Bendt via Tumblr. Under clouds by Charis Loke via Twitter.

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.


Life Cycle of a Book Infographic

This may be of interest to prospective writers (or anyone wishing to better understand the steps involved with traditional publishing): an infographic by Rachel Doll, University Press of Florida, shows a book’s journey from conception to publication.

UPF Life Cycle of a Book
Life Cycle of a Book, screencap of pdf by Rachel Doll, University Press of Florida

It lays out explicitly at what point in the process the page proofs or the book itself, for example, will be available, and some of the times that each step requires. The graphic is available for download as .pdf from University Press of Florida.

How It Happens is an occasional feature looking at the inner workings of various creative efforts.