I’ve been silent here for two months now. This has not been my intention, but life has a way of placing distractions in our path, and especially my life has been noted more than once to be strange. Since the last post, I’ve been to Prague and spent three weeks in Edinburgh, and chaired a three-day, 160-attendee student event. That particular one was an event that redefined the concept of “stress” for me. I’ve been overwhelmingly busy and finding things to write about, let alone mustering up the energy to write about them, has been a secondary priority at best.
However, now the convention season is properly upon us and though I’m still overwhelmingly busy, they do give me material to write about with no extra effort.
Yesterday ended the three-day science fiction convention Finncon 2013 in Helsinki. It’s not strictly-speaking a gaming convention, but it’s my blog and I’m allowed to digress into related fandoms. Especially if they come with singing dwarves. There’s a gaming bonus at the end!
Finncon, for me, was the “easy convention” of the summer, which meant that my workload was limited to the duration of the convention and included no organization or management duties. I had a few hours of various gopher duties (“gopher” being local slang for general-purpose convention worker of the kind that mans sales desks, lifts heavy objects and runs the thousand little errands that make a convention work), and what seems to have become my thing at Finncon, hosting the masquerade. With both the other big Finnish cons I do every summer, Ropecon and Tracon, I’ve managed to accumulate an impressive collection of duties.
As a gopher, my convention actually started the day before the convention started. Before the guests can be allowed in, the convention has to be built. Tables and chairs and knitting corners and flea markets have to be set up, which involves a lot of heavy lifting. It’s the most exercise I get in a year. All this got done on Thursday, and was then undone on Sunday evening, after the con closed.
Due to my multitude of duties, I actually didn’t have time to watch a lot of the programming beyond the program items I had to gopher for. The first item I had time for was the traditional Hugo Awards panel, where four critics and fans with enough time to actually give an honest go at reading everything nominated discuss the nominees and give their preferences and predictions on how things will turn out. I’ve always found it an interesting talk, and this year it was even moreso since I’m registered as a voter this year and have actually read some of the stuff, and will be chugging through as much of the rest as possible over the next month.
For my part, I think the novel category was overall rather disappointing, but will probably go to Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312. Short story goes to Aliette de Bodard for “Immersion”, as it should, though Kij Johnson’s “Mantis Wives” gets props for a powerful, visceral ick reaction. The graphic story category is interesting this year since Phil Foglio bowed out after his hat trick and for once, there’s no Girl Genius album to take the prize. Personally, I consider Locke and Key 5: Clockworks by far the best of the category. I’m still working my way through related works and haven’t yet even taken a crack at the novellas and novelettes, and I fear I won’t have time for all the categories.
The other thing I got to see on my own time was titled Gone But Not Forgotten, a Friday-evening memorial panel in remembrance of all the people the fandom has lost in the past year, writers and fans alike. It’s been a grim year and several veritable giants in the field have passed away, such as Boris Strugatsky, Harry Harrison, Ray Harryhausen, Jack Vance, Richard Matheson, Iain Banks… Banks, especially, went far before his time. It is good to remember them, how they changed the field and contributed to it, how they were all around great people.
I also got to gopher for half of a discussion between the eco sci-fi writer Risto Isomäki and the guest of honour Peter Watts, which turned into an interesting “Biggest Pessimist” competition as they discussed the various ways we’ll probably end up killing ourselves as a species, and the traditional Bimbo Panel, which was strange and funny.
And then there was the masquerade. We had some pretty amazing costumes this year, including a really impressive Tony Stark and a Ghostbusters team. However, what really takes the prize from me (and took the prize for Best of Show as well) was a company of dwarves. Here’s a video of them on the stage.
We also very narrowly dodged an embarrassing and awkward situation through sheer luck. When I was writing the script for myself (I’m absolutely rotten at talking on stage without a script), I juggled two choices for the speaking in the dwarves. There’s the one I settled for, which you can hear on the video… and then there was the song “Misty Mountains”, which you can also hear on the video. It’s a good thing I went for original material. Basing the script too heavily on quotation about the masquerade character always carries the risk of great minds thinking alike and pre-empting the contestant’s own speech or performance, and the presenter should never upstage the contestants.
What you don’t hear on the video is that I do the presenting in both Finnish and English. Since one of our guests of honour, Aliette de Bodard, was French, I’d also prepared some lines in French, but unfortunately she was not part of the judges’ panel.
The guests of honour, by the way, were great. In addition to Aliette de Bodard, we had Peter Watts, Stefan Ekman and J. Pekka Mäkelä, and additionally as guests there were Caitlin Sweet, Nene Ormes, Sara B. Elfgren, Mats Strandberg, Karin Tidbeck, Tom Crosshill, and the ever-present Cheryl Morgan. They were funny, they were intelligent, they were warm, they were gracious and they were approachable. One could not have hoped for better. (Though it’s a dream of mine to some day see Neal Stephenson at Finncon.)
Some of Aliette’s work is available through her website. Peter has an entire novel, Blindsight, up under a Creative Commons licence. I gobbled it up overnight off my laptop screen, and loved it. It’s as cheerful as a wake, and provoked James D. Nicoll to comment that whenever their will to live grows too strong, they read some Peter Watts. I cannot comment on the other writers, since I have unfortunately not read their work (yet!), and a number of them write in a language that I do not, strictly speaking, know. Well, good excuse to improve my Swedish.
It was a good convention. Finncon, along with Ropecon, is one of the places where I feel truly at home, where everybody is a friend, where I can just walk into the restaurant and sit down, and good company will almost spontaneously manifest. It’s where a dinosaur on the yard is just business as usual, the convention security has nothing to do, and we all share the love of reading. Me, I bought 28 books.
This is a distinction from American conventions, as I understand. Finncon is primarily a literature convention. Other media are not excluded, but there is more stuff about literature than, say, film, and it’s especially visible in the guest lineup. Eleven people, and they’re all authors, editors and translators. I’m not sure if they’ve ever even tried to invite, say, a Star Trek actor, but I know they’ve never had one. I hear things about American conventions, and they always sound very different from what we’ve got going in Finland. I’ll be seeing it for myself at San Antonio in a couple of months, when I’m going to Worldcon to help with the Helsinki Worldcon bid for 2015.
Yeah, we intend to bring Worldcon to Finland. It’s not yet a done deal but neither is it an unrealistic ambition. We’re good at this, and I feel that if we’re given the opportunity, we can pull off a great Worldcon.
The Game Content
In compliance to Joesky’s Rule, I now present the outline for an alternative D&D rules variant related to us by Cheryl Morgan at the dead dog party on Sunday.
The variant is designed to be played in a bar, preferably well stocked and affordable, which probably makes this unplayable in Finland. In fact, it might be accurately described as a D&D drinking game. Instead of rolling dice, characters have a specific thing or way that they must drink in order to perform in combat. It’s a four-class system.
- Fighters are the easy class, as usual. Fighters drink beer. The faster they down their pints, the better they fight. The DM can be equipped with a stopwatch or they can just eyeball it. By the time they’re fighting the BBEG, that’s what he’ll be doing anyway.
- Clerics drink wine. To cast a spell, the cleric must identify grape varities in wines by blind tasting. At higher levels, they can graduate to whiskies.
- Wizards must create mixed drinks based on the spells they cast. I figure the old standby fireball could just be done with a shot of Fireball, though.
- Thieves can drink anything… as long as they don’t pay for it.
I suppose the ruleset could be refined further, though I also suppose that whatever you do with it, the end result will be pretty far from any conventional definition of “refined”.
Anyway, good convention. Next up, Ropecon in a couple of weeks!