Arisia: A Point of No Return for Us

We take this stand as a response to Crystal Huff’s blog post where she shared her experiences with Arisia’s response to serious safety concerns, including stalking both during the convention and elsewhere.

Arisia is a volunteer-run con for fans of science fiction and fantasy, in all forms of media, held annually in January on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in Boston.

The con staff and/or Arisia Executive Board have failed in following and enforcing their own Code of Conduct and problem reporting process. This failure has been long-standing, and has had the practical effect of protecting a stalker.

Therefore, we will not return to Arisia nor recommend the con in the future. It is unacceptable to hold people to a different set of rules depending on who they are.

Read more at Crystal’s blog (content note: references to rape, trauma, sexism, gaslighting, harassment, intimidation, and stalking) or Eppu’s open letter (note: an f-bomb or two).

Announcements from your hosts.

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Quotes: I’m Okay with Living in a House Where a Random “Han Solo” is a Thing That Happens

I love geeks and nerds, and being a geek / nerd. Sometimes it occurs to me, though, how terribly odd it must look like seen from the outside. Exhibit 6,430: the exchange below that Erik and I had last weekend:

Me: *mumbling to myself, trying to remember a detail from Star Wars*

Me: Han Solo

Erik: … I don’t know what that’s about, but I’m okay with living in a house where a random “Han Solo” is a thing that happens.

I’m okay with my life choices. 😀

Some things are just too silly not to share!

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.

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.

How to Helsinki: Concerning Finns

170119lippuWorldcon is in Helsinki this year. As a Finnish-American couple, we are very excited about this! In the coming months, we’d like to offer some practical advice about visiting Finland to our fellow fans who are considering going to the event but haven’t had experience with Finland and Finns before. Maybe we’ll see you there!

Today, we’d like to introduce you to your hosts: the Finns.

Erik here. As an American who’s been married to a Finn for over a decade, I’ve had a lot of time to learn, observe, and make mistakes, so let me offer you the benefit of my personal experience being a foreigner in Finland. Finnish culture can be hard to get a handle on for Americans like me. While some things will feel familiar, especially if you come from small-town New England like me, some of your basic social instincts can also lead to awkward situations. Like any group of people, of course, Finns are all different. There’s nothing I can say that will be true of every Finn you meet, but there are some things worth knowing so that you can be a good guest.

After many years of living between Finland and the US, here’s the best way I can describe Finnish culture: Finland is a small rural village of 5 million people.

Finland used to be a relatively poor, rural country dependent on timber, farming, and fishing. In the past couple of generations, it has become a wealthy, urban, high-tech country, but many Finns have held onto the values and social conventions of their rural ancestors. This is the root of many features of Finnish culture: the village mentality that we are all in this together and we all depend on one another. The rules of Finnish life are grounded in the expectation that you will take into account how your actions affect other people, their time, their personal space, and their responsibilities.

With that in mind, here are some specific dos and don’ts of being a good visitor in Finland:

DO be on time – being late is disrespectful of other people’s time and obligations. Even if it’s just for a casual social event, showing up late in Finland is as rude as not showing up at all in the US.

DO make room for others – when walking on the sidewalk, waiting in line, riding the bus, or anywhere else. Make sure your bag or purse isn’t in anyone’s way, either.

DO line up – and keep the line orderly if you’re waiting for something. Finns in general have a larger bubble of personal space than Americans, so be careful to make sure you’ve found the end of the line.

DO give people space – Finns expect a lot of it and they will give you a lot of it in return. If you’re talking to a Finn and they back away, don’t chase them. They’re probably not trying to get away from you, they’re just resetting comfortable boundaries. (See previous points.)

DO take your shoes off if you visit a private residence – so you don’t track in dirt that your host then has to clean up. Most Finnish homes have places for taking off and putting on shoes right by the front door.

DON’T interrupt – Finnish conversation tends to be slow paced, but people will usually make room for you to speak. Don’t jump in when someone else is talking.

DON’T suggest getting together unless you want to make concrete plans – “We should do lunch some time” is just a casual pleasantry in the US. It’s an expression of general good will with no commitment attached. In Finland it is a commitment to future plans and Finns will expect you to follow through.

DON’T make small talk – if you’re in conversation with a Finn and feel like there’s an awkward silence, don’t try to fill it. For most Finns, silence is not awkward at all, but comfortable. The conversation will start again when someone has something to say.

Another caveat: Finns are also aware of being a small culture in a larger world, especially younger Finns and Finns in the fandom community. In the company of foreigners, they may well make an effort to accommodate a different set of cultural expectations. They will still appreciate you making the same effort for them.

Hopefully this will help those of you heading to Helsinki for the first time. Finland is a wonderful country to visit, especially in the summertime. Being a good guest while you’re there will help you enjoy it to its fullest.

Image: Finnish flag, photograph by Yangtsefly via Wikimedia

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.