Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Notes from Finncon

Finncon started on Saturday morning with opening words from captain Pirk; the warm-up act was Mike Pohjola with his appropriately lame puns (he continued much of the same during the day as a host/announcer for many of the program items). Pirk’s opening words were moderately funny (but then I’ve never found him more than that, so your mileage may vary), but only in Finnish despite all the foreign guests in the room, which was maybe not the best decision. Also, the opening ceremony didn’t note any of the guests of honor in any way, which I found a bit odd.

The main venue was the good old university building familiar from earlier Jyväskylä conventions. It wasn’t nearly as packed as Paasitorni last year, and the air conditioning was working better too (maybe because it wasn’t so damn hot outside this year). Even so, the place was quite crowded. I tried just hanging out for a while, but even though a lot of the anime program was happening in other buildings, the main lobby was still pretty packed, mostly with young people in anime costumes, so browsing the tables wasn’t that much fun and I quickly tired of it. In addition, the vendors’ tables were a big disappointment if you wanted to browse a lot of sf books and other such stuff—you can say the tables had a variety of stuff only if you count selling both manga and anime as variety. The fandom tables were packed away in a corner, with poor visibility and little room to browse and talk to people behind the tables.

The program clearly strived for diversity. There was a physics lecture (with dancing), Bollywood, mythical creatures of Finnish folk tradition, several items about queer & porn, writing, publishing and translating, fandom, and so on. And a lot of talk about manga and anime. On the other hand, a couple of sf fen with a more traditional taste said there were very few items that interested them, especially if one didn’t want to see very basic discussions such as “myths in science fiction” once again. Perhaps the thing that most bothered me in the programming was that there were no guest of honor speeches—usually my favorite con items—at all. Jukkahoo did a good job being very jamesliptonish (despite what he himself claims) on his GoH interviews, but come on—six guests of honor and not one speech!

Speaking of the GoHs: they were all wonderful people, and I’m glad I got to talk with them. Some I had met before (the Haldemans and of course Cheryl Morgan) and it was really nice to see them again. Liz Hand was great, and even though I didn’t talk to Ellen Datlow much, she too seemed to be a very interesting person with a lot of stories to tell. Nevertheless, I think this time there were too many guests of honor for an event this size. The reason to have a guest of honor is to bring a couple of individuals into the spotlight to celebrate their achievements. When there are just two days of con programming, there is no way you can bring in six guests of honor and not have them get lost in the crowd—at least to a degree—as just a few more people in the foreign-language panel discussions. I’m pretty sure the guests themselves didn’t feel unappreciated, though, which is of course the most important thing.

Another little snafu with the guests was the hassle with the other foreign “special guests” of the con. It didn’t seem it was clear to even the organizers themselves—not to mention to the audience—who was what, how they came to be, and what the heck were these special guests anyway. My suggestion to future con committees is to forget any extra categories such as “special guest”, “special foreign guest”, etc. Just have the guests of honor, and the rest are attendees. You can of course advertise some especially interesting members of the convention for example in the program book, if you like—and this would be a good opportunity to mention also for example people doing unusually many program items, in addition to prominent people traveling to the con from far away. But try to remember that the guests of honor should be special to avoid the PR mess this year seemed to have on their hands.

There were a couple of foreign fen visiting Finncon again this year. Not quite as many as last year (or at Åcon), but I met at least Tommy, Michael, and Ahrvid from Sweden, and Klaus and Tue from Denmark there. I think this is a good thing and hope the trend continues and grows—although very different from “normal” cons abroad (or maybe exactly because of that), I’m sure Finncon has a lot to offer to foreign visitors also. There’s plenty of programming in English available, and of course the guests of honor to meet. So if you’re reading this outside of Finland, mark the dates July 26–27, 2008 on your calendar for a trip to Finncon in Tampere.

This year’s con claims to be the biggest yet—around 7000 unique visitors—but didn’t feel nearly as crowded as last year’s. So in this sense the logistics were a lot better and distributing the program to several buildings a little distance apart seems to have worked. Still, I thought the “good old Finncon feeling” was largely missing from the con site (for reasons I mentioned earlier: being mostly crowded by anime fans and the lack of sf vendors and societies). Fortunately it could be found in the nearby restaurant, the legendary Sohwi, which the older fen seemed to gravitate towards on several occasions. Spending time in the bar has always been a big part of the fun of going to a Finncon, but sometimes it really seemed that’s where the real con and most of the science fiction discussion was this year. The evening party on Saturday was great fun, and the place was excellent (largely thanks to the big patio). I missed most of the masquerade because it was so hot inside I basically just grabbed my drink and dashed outside for air, but there were some gorgeous costumes, and the chaos costuming competition (where you made your costume on the spot with stuff provided by the organizers) was a terrific idea.

In spite of being plagued with illness, adversity, and plain bad luck, Jyväskylä managed to put up a con that ran smoothly and pretty well on time, with no major problems visible to the attendees, and they deserve credit for that. Thanks for the con, I’ll see you in Tampere in a year!

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