Thursday, September 15, 2005

Excellent Minicon

The Tähtivaeltaja Day minicon was held last Saturday in Helsinki, with author M. John Harrison as the GoH and main attraction.

The Place

Overview of the lounge to the stageThe Dubrovnik Lounge was a perfect setting for a con of this type and size. It seated an audience of a few dozens comfortably. (We arrived just in time to conquer a couple of tables and a very comfy sofa.) The bar was also right in the lounge, and had a decent selection of bottled beers and some ciders available. (The less said about the tap selection, the better.)

The stage was on the other end of the lounge, and the PA system worked ok—mostly—so the program participants could make themselves heard, even though the noise from the hallway, where the info & sales desk was located, grew a bit disturbing occasionally.

The Program

Toni Jerrman and Johanna Sinisalo sitting on the stageThe day started with the heavy hitters. First, Toni Jerrman talked with Johanna Sinisalo about science fiction and writing. This was followed by Jukkahoo interviewing Harrison. M. John Harrison and Jukka Halme sitting on stageThe topics varied from climbing to introducing his books to the audience to deconstructing pretty much everything. Both sessions were interesting and—even having heard the speakers before—managed to find new things and fresh points of view to discuss.

New Writers panelists on stageThe panel of the up-and-coming Finnish sf writers was more of a joint interview session, and worked well as such. I enjoyed seeing the faces of some of the writers that have appeared on the pages of Finnish fanzines lately (but haven’t been an active part of , at least for very long), and would be happy to see more items like this one at future conventions.

Turkey panelists on stageThe panel discussing movie turkeys was ok, I guess, but since the subject matter really isn’t my cup of tea, I’m probably the wrong person to judge. Extreme movements panelists sitting on stageAnd the definitive nazi pig panel (about extreme movements in science fiction), despite boasting its offensiveness, was quite civilized, rambled rather badly (had some funny speculation about Bush being thrown to Judge Dredd, though), and in the end, I’d be surprised if anyone managed to be offended by it. Could it be that the topics juicy enough for a “definitive panel” have run out, and the time has come to put this (many times in the past roaringly hilarious) program item out to pasture?

The World We Live In panelists sitting on stageThe World We Live In was the title of a panel discussion about the relationship between real life, politics and science fiction today. The panelists included the GoH Harrison and a member of the Finnish Parliament, Jyrki J.J. Kasvi. The topic was interesting, and there were some very good individual comments, but overall I didn’t think the discussion really got going. It might have benefitted from a little longer timeslot to get things in gear and a little tighter moderation to get in focus, perhaps.

The last program item for the day was “Huttu juttu,” a quiz show hosted by Jukkahoo & assistant. I can’t really comment on how this one looked to the audience, since as the show started I was drafted to be one of the competitors. The basic idea was to guess the most common answers to sfnal questions that 100 persons had been asked. There were two teams competing: Helsinki (including the judges, apparently) against the civilized world. The rules were complicated, with speed-tapping a table, stealing the other team’s answer and—no matter who won the round—giving all the points to the Helsinki team. Which still didn’t manage to win. The losers got pasta; winners were given appropriate buttons. Mine says, “50 % of people are stupider than average”. (By the way, did you know that when 100 persons were asked to mention a book that has the word “Mars” in the title, the fifth most common answer would be “The War of the Worlds”?)

The People

Overview of Dubrovnik Lounge; people standing in front of the barOne of the highlights of a small convention like this one is seeing friends. Even though I’d decided to watch the program for a change, there was still plenty of opportunities to talk to people you don’t get to see very often. And meet a couple of new ones, too. (Hi, Eemeli!) I hear that even though the lounge with the programming was filled nicely for the day, there wasn’t a shortage of people to talk to in the bar outside either (not a big surprise there).

Jukkahoo with a mic, smilingThe person of the day award goes to Jukkahoo. In addition to interviewing Harrison, hosting the quiz show, and managing to be his usual jolly self in between, he also MC’d the evening party with aplomb. He clearly had a lot of fun (as he himself admitted in Muffins), and so did we.

Mike Harrison (as he preferred to be called) was a splendid guest: charming, interesting and funny. I saw him last year at Swecon, but didn’t really get to talk to him then. People sitting at a table in restaurant ZetorThis time I was lucky enough to sit by him at a dinner after the program, and had a great time chatting with him. Kudos to Like for publishing his book in Finnish and helping bring him to Finland!

One thing that occurred to me was that a smaller con like this, with emphasis on fen, should perhaps try a Swecon-style banquet dinner: to arrange something for maybe 40 to 60 persons to attend. It’d be a nice way to continue the conversations after the day’s program, and would also eliminate the hassle of quite a lot of people going around asking who’s going to eat (and where) and wondering if there’s room in restaurants to accommodate any larger parties. Maybe next time?

The Party

People standing arund at the party, talking. Toni and J.J.J. in the front.The evening party was held at ravintola Kirja. The place was not typical for a sf con party, and at least in the beginning seemed maybe a little rigid with tables set in straight lines and people sitting in their own little groups. That didn’t bother anybody, though, as people started wandering around, and the feeling at the party was very good.

Petri (dazzled by the light) and Sisättö giving the Jet Ace Logan awardThere was some programming at the party also: The Jet Ace Logan award was given for the most improbable way to try to conquer Earth (War of the Worlds), and the stupidest way to save it (Signs). Blommila (back turned) reading, Jukkahoo holds the lightAnd then, “Sell a book”, in which the participants read a beginning of a book, their goal to convince the audience of the unique qualities of the works. Ilja Rautsi reading a book closelyThere were many magnificient performances, including reading The Unknown Soldier in Chinese and one so passionate that the book actually caught fire! The winner of this very enjoyable and extremely funny event was voted by the audience. The most audible cheer went to Ilja Rautsi for his rendition of Paikka nimeltä Plaston by Erkki Ahonen. Congratulations!

Conclusion

(Ran out of subtitles beginning with a “P”. Sorry.)

Our delegation wasn’t staying in Helsinki overnight, so we had to cut the party a little short to start driving back home. Everybody was happy, though, and we felt the con had been a great success. Big thanks to all the organizers and supporters who made the event happen. Here’s hoping for many more of these events!

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