Finncon/Animecon 2008 Report

(Cross-posted with Der Übergeek. )

Last weekend, I had the pleasure to attend Finncon/Animecon 2008 in Tampere.

Finncon has long traditions as a science fiction convention, while Animecon is a later add-on to the event, probably because it’s too young to go off on its own. Finncon started in 1986 and Animecon kicked off in 1999.

Unless I am mistaken, it’s the biggest science fiction convention in the Nordic Countries, if not the whole of Europe. It’s also free.

Anyway, on Friday the 25th, early in the morning, I embarked upon my epic odyssey northward, to the fabled city of Tampere, where time has stood still since the fucking seventies and nobody told the city planners that cars have grown slightly in size since Ford’s Model T. Trying to maneouvre a Volvo V70 around town proved rather difficult. Fortunately, we could walk to the con site from where we were staying.

Then I spent the rest of the day cleaning my future apartment in there and buying critical appliances. Over the weekend we also had to figure out how to get the fridge to work, but it interests me even less than it interests you. In any case, during the con I slept on my own, cold floor in a sleeping bag, along with five other friends.

It’s not a proper con unless you wake up groggy and in a strange place.

On Friday, we also went to see The Dark Knight, which was all sorts of awesome, but that will be discussed elsewhere, once I have rewatched it to make sure I missed nothing.

Day One

The first day of the con dawned bright and sunny. After regaining feeling in all our limbs and scaring up some breakfast, we walked to the con site.

My companions soon deserted me, considering the Animecon programming or board games more interesting than the opening ceremony or the science fiction stuff that I was there for.

Fortunately, I easily located other friends from the Helsinki region sci-fi clubs, who had set up a table next to TARDIS. I hung out at the table on and off during the weekend, occasionally even taking my place on the other side to sell stuff. Me, I’m a member of the Espoo Science Fiction and Fantasy Club, or ESC, and the Helsinki Science Fiction Club, or HSFS. In Helsinki region there also exists the Helsinki University Science Fiction Club, or GooGooMuck. There also used to be Spock’s HUT, the sci-fi club of the Helsinki University of Technology (located in Espoo), but that one seems to be dead. The membership overlap is huge and in practice, it’s the same twenty or thirty people everywhere.

The con was held at the Tampere-talo, which is one of the largest conference centres in the Nordic Countries. We did not lack space. Even more importantly, there’s a park right next to it, offering the anime fans a place to swarm. Fortunately, the weather was lovely for the whole weekend. I dread to imagine if it had rained and forced them indoors.

After the opening ceremony I hit the award ceremonies for Atorox and Tähtifantasia (Star Fantasy). The former is an annual award for the best original Finnish speculative fiction short story of the year. It takes its name from Atorox, an android who starred in the science fiction stories of a writer called Outsider (aka Aarne Haapakoski), written in the late 1940’s. Atorox, among other things, fought Nazis on the Moon.

This year, the robot noggin went to Susi Vaasjoki, for her short story “Taruntekijä” (“Myth Maker”).

Then there was the Tähtifantasia award, given to the best speculative fiction translation released during the preceding year. It went to Variksen velho (Wizard of the Crow), by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

After these, guest of honour Petri Hiltunen (a prolific Finnish comic book artist and director of small-budget feature films, upon whose works the Praedor roleplaying game is based) did a presentation on the weirdest and stupidest superheroes ever, concepts that weren’t meant as parodies but stuff that was really far out but someone had apparently considered good ideas. The pot smoke must’ve been thick in Marvel’s and DC’s offices back in the sixties and seventies – or what do you think of Satana, the daughter of Satan, who devours people’s souls that take the shape of butterflies?

Then there was a panel discussion whose name probably best translates as “Besserwissers”, in which four panelists talked at length about geek miscellania – the background of Klingon forehead ridges, Nazis on the Moon (a recurrent feature in Finnish science fiction), and most interestingly, a tidbit about Tolkien and English fantasy, related by the manga writer Johanna Koljonen.

In the University of Oxford, there is a Rhodes scholar named Maria Cecire, who is working on her dissertation where she explains how Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, both professors at Oxford, pushed for changes in the curriculum so that Old English literature is studied for its literary content, not just the lingo. That’s stuff like Beowulf.

So, it continues, both Lewis and Tolkien were inspired by these sources, as were the bunch of fantasy authors who have since gone to Oxford and studied the exact same stuff. Diana Wynne Jones and Susan Cooper are just a couple of examples.

In addition to this, there’s the milieu of Oxford, with its medieval architecture and strange, mystical, even magical rules of behaviour.

There’s also the observation that for the Oxfordian hero, a stout sword arm is not enough (as opposed to an Arthurian hero, which Tolkien didn’t much like). An Oxfordian hero will also be spending time in libraries, seeking forgotten knowledge and studying dead tongues.

Now, remember how Tolkien’s goal was to establish an English mythology for England to replace King Arthur, that French interloper? Well, he seems to have somewhat succeeded.

My explanation isn’t probably the best possible and may be inaccurate, but I can’t find anything in English to link to.

Saturday culminated in the evening party at the restaurant Telakka, complete with a masquerade and a competition for the best dress. Well, not exactly the best, as it turned out. The contest was judged by the guests of honour. We had a team of three, with a theme of characters from Petri Hiltunen’s comic books. I was dressed as MacDuff from MacBeth, Veikko was the Gentleman Avenger from a western comic of the same name and TC, who I play D&D with, was something really obscure from an old magazine that I no longer recall.

Did I mention Petri Hiltunen was a guest of honour? We won the award for Most Obvious Brownnosing. The physical award was a diploma with the autographs of all the guests of honour. I had mine framed. If nothing else, it’ll make a good conversation piece.

Also given out were awards for Most Unexpected (for a Spanish inquisitor), Most Bloodthirsty (Sweeney Todd), Most Inventive Use of a Toaster (Starbuck and Gaius Baltar), Tightest Outfit (Black Cat) and some others that now elude me.

The party was pretty good, too, but I had to leave early because we only had one key for the apartment and I had to give it to the others sleeping there that they might get in. I, in turn, had to get back before they went to sleep.

Though I missed most of the party, this did have the advantage of avoiding a hangover the next day. Also, I am told the place ran out of drinks. It happens when the scifi fans are in town.

Day Two

On Sunday, I started by checking out a panel about young adult fantasy. I don’t read a lot of it, these days, but it was the most interesting thing in the time slot and the panel chair threatened a ban from to those who did not attend. I’m fairly sure she was not serious, but if I get banned from a forum, I want it to be for something I did, not for something I didn’t do, dammit.

As a side note, the continued existence of my forum account bewilders me.

After that followed Petri Hiltunen’s guest of honour speech, which was both entertaining and edifying. Among other things, I learned that Mytek the Mighty was known as King Kong in Finland, and that Tex Willer was behind everything.

Following that was the single funniest program item of the con, the Fandom Trivia.

It was hosted by the critic Jukka Halme, and the contestants featured some of the usual suspects of the fandom, like the author Johanna Sinisalo and ESC’s giant ape mascot, who initially hid under the table. Also present was a 19-year-old anime fan, who scored a point for being born in the same year as one of the cons picked for questions was held and originally picked on the basis of knowing nothing about the topic.

The questions were impossibly hard, including minutia from con reports from the eighties that even the writer of the report could not remember, and the scoring was arbitrary, based more on what was funny than what was correct. Inside humour was rampant. I laughed so hard I wept, busted a rib and lost control of my bowels.

Among other things, we learned that Pizza Veintie contains vomit and that in Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, the parasites that try to take over the world can’t conquer Finland, because Finns go to sauna and see each other naked, preventing the parasites from hiding under clothes.

Well, it was written in 1951, but still…

Additionally, continuous references were made to Finncon 2005 Lahti. To everyone in the know, this is obviously strange because a) there was no Finncon in 2005 and b) there sure as hell has never been a Finncon in Lahti. The joke is apparently based on a badge made and sold by ESC.

The fandom’s badge culture and its myriad obscure inside jokes (I still have no idea who or what this “Stendec” is) are probably worthy of an entire academic study.

After that I went to see the Definitive War Panel, where Petri Hiltunen, the author/roleplaying game designer/LARP writer/goth idol/actor/political activist/Chinese fortune cookie Mike Pohjola, Veikko the Gentleman Avenger and Kummari, who I also play D&D with, spoke about war, and whether it is genetically encoded in humanity, and why is it so cool. Interesting and amusing.

In the closing ceremonies, people and donors were thanked and prizes were given out, and the torch was passed on to the next connitee, the connitee for Finncon 2009, Helsinki. With the torch, there was a small robot dog that on closer examination proved to be Doctor Who’s K-9, a.k.a. David Cowie, the sainted cow given to the Tampere connitee at the end of Finncon 2007, a.k.a. the 40-pound block of concrete that resulted from Finncon 2006’s Destroy the Useless Crap auction. There’s useless crap, like an L. Ron Hubbard novel, embedded into it.

What goes around, comes around. We’re witnessing the birth of a tradition here. It’s beautiful. *Sniff*

Unless they dumped it into Lake Näsi on the way home, which is a distinct possibility, and in which case you consider the tradition aborted.

In Closing

It was not a good con. It was a positively awesome con. There was room to breathe even in the midst of all the pint-sized cosplayers, and there was good programming.

However, I feel, as many do, that the time has come for Finncon and Animecon to split up. Animecon has grown huge compared to the science fiction convention it is attached to. Most of Animecon’s attendees don’t give a squat about the science fiction side of the convention and the science fiction side is slowly getting suffocated in the press of scantily clad teenage girls. Not to mention slightly embarrassed and worried about possible criminal charges.

Though the cosplayers bring a great visual component to the convention and are mostly an agreeable lot, what we have here are two groups of people with nearly wholly divergent interests. There’s little to no synergy.

So, let Finncon 2010, be it in Jyväskylä or Yli-Ii, be just Finncon. Animecon is old enough to find its own place in the world.