Part 2 of Roman’s report on the trip to the Finnish Worldcon, wherein he catches up with various fannish types and some unexpected encounters
Tuesday in Helsinki: Aug 8th
I caught the 11am flight with FinnAir to Helsinki, then the train to Central station, and a short walk to the hotel I was staying at, the Original Soros Presidentii. It had been recommended by Alan Stewart, and several other Melbourne fans (Perry, Robyn, Rose) were staying there, as were Spike and Tom. Claire and Mark were at a nearby hotel overlooking the station square. I got to the hotel around 4pm, and found a large room with writing table, queen-sized bed and windows looking out from a corner position facing east and north. Very nice! I dumped my bag, showered and changed to explore the surrounds and see what shops and cafes were nearby.
I discovered a cheap pizza/kebab shop on the same block as the hotel, a craft beer pub, a nice Greek restaurant, a Chinese, a Vietnamese pho shop, a tea-shop and cafe and several small pubs, including the Steam Hellsinki, which turned out to be a steampunk decor gin palace! There was a large shopping centre, the Kampii, just next to the hotel, which featured the metro line and underground connections to the rail system, as well as various shops.
While walking from the Central Station to the hotel, I noticed several outdoor cafes and pubs, whose tables were full of people basking in the afternoon sun; apparently a common reaction to the long cold winters in Finland. It was still light at 7pm, when I thought I would investigate the Craft Beer Pub, the Teerenppeli, on the same block as the Hotel. As I neared the Pub, I noticed familiar forms outside: Mark and Claire were waiting outside the Pub! They were meeting some other fans for dinner: would I like to join them? So I happily joined Spike, Tom, and a few others with the Fishlifters in the Craft Beer Pub. Luckily for me, they also distilled their own gin, so I partook of three of their custom gin cocktails. Among us we demolished several serves of toasted sandwiches (huge!), platters of olives, meatballs and other savouries, to support our drinking vast amounts of alcohol. And of course, lively conversation ensued. Several hours later, I was thankful I only had to stagger around the block to my hotel. The Teerenppeli became a fan favourite; later in the week I enjoyed drinks with Alison Scott and Steve Cain, Doug Bell and Christina Lake amongst others. Doug even showed us his new Legionnaires tattoo!
On the Wednesday, I caught the train one stop to the world con venue — just a six minute ride away! A large exhibition centre, the Messukeskus Exhibition centre housed the Kokoustamo Conference centre, a hotel, restaurant and outdoor beer garden adjacent to the southern (main) entrance, all a short walk from the nearby railway station.
There were steampunk blacksmiths’ tents arrayed outside the entrance, and registration immediately inside the venue. I arrived around 11am, to find short queues at the registration desk. After a brief two minute wait, I had my registration package, including convention badge, programme guide, restaurant guide, free transit pass, Hugo Awards programme and a collection of Finnish Weird, Giants at the End of the World, edited by Johanna Sinisalo and Toni Jerrman specially for the world con.
I was a programme participant, and found details of my panels and a nameplate at the participants table. And who should be standing nearby, but the current GUFF delegate, Donna Marie Hanson, with her daughter, Bean. I wandered around for a bit, checked out the fan lounge for the Diana Wynne Jones meet up — about 40 people, including a woman who had translated her work into Finnish!
I tried to make the opening ceremony, but it was so crowded I couldn’t get in. Long queues formed outside of programme rooms too small for the crowds. They insisted people left the room before allowing people to enter for the next programme item — making it difficult to attend two successive items. (It turns out that an unexpectedly high percent of the world con members actually turned up! On subsequent days they restricted day memberships and moved items to larger venues. This turned out to be the second largest world con ever!) The first item I actually managed to attend was a live Podcast of Tea & Jeopardy, hosted by Emma & Peter Newman. Their guest: George RR Martin. (You can view the video of the podcast)
Emma kept asking about works by George, each time making it sound as if she were referring to Game of Thrones, but actually talking about other works by him. It was fun to observe a live presentation of a favourite podcast.
I was on two panels on the Thursday: Podcasting at 4pm, and Alternatives to Capitalism at 6pm. I caught up with the moderator of the latter panel, Brad Lyau, around lunchtime on the Wednesday, and we reached broad agreement on the likely direction it would take. Unfortunately, we didn’t hear from the other panelist, Rosanne Rabinowicz until just before the panel.
I was also presenting a Friday workshop on Podcasting, so I had done some research on the best way to do an instant podcast on your smart mobile phone. It turns out that audioboom will let you easily record up to 5 mins and post it on their site, direct from their phone app; what’s more, they had apps for both iPhone and android phones. As part of my preparation for the podcasting panel, I wandered into program ops and printed off twenty copies of a double sided flyer titled 5 simple tips for podcasters.
As a consequence, on the Thursday, I didn’t attend many panels before the two I was appearing on. First up was the Podcasting panel, featuring five active podcasters, from the professionals — with audiences in the 1000s — to the casual. Unlike the other presenters, I was podcasting for the sheer joy of podcasting: I got together with my co-hosts once a fortnight. We would consume food and drink, chat, and produce four or five short (< 5 min) podcasts as a by-product. I would apply minimum editing and post them to the site: doxa.podbean.com It turned out my tip sheet was very popular, and all the copies were handed out at the end of the panel. I think I might have picked up a few participants for the following day’s workshop, too.
The other panel on Alternatives to Capitalism made me more nervous: smaller panel, and likely to attract rightwing loons from the US. As it was, we had quite a large crowd, thankfully well-behaved europeans who had an understanding of democratic socialism rather than a knee jerk reaction. A tough question near the end of the panel: “surely if you’re removing wealth from the 1%, that’s violent? How can you do this peacefully?” My response: “if you think the 1% maintain their wealth and position without doing violence, you are sadly mistaken. We will start with simple laws to restrict holding wealth and avoiding taxes. If a peaceful approach doesn’t work, the alternative will be violent.” At the end of the 45 minute panel, I grabbed small chocolate bars that were on the desk and threw them at (to?) the crowd. I thought of it as sharing the wealth.
One panel I did manage was the Coode Street Live podcast. Guests were Walter Jon Williams and Kelly Robson. Jonathan Strahan brought proof copies of Walter Jon William’s latest novel, Quillifer, which he gave out to those audience members who asked questions. (I got a copy.) I also attended various panels on Finnish themes: Tove Jansson’s Illustrations for the Hobbit, where we discovered that Tove provided illos for the Finnish and Swedish third editions. These illos won’t be licensed for any other versions — Tolkien changed various descriptions of characters which made them no longer appropriate, so the estate has banned use of Tove’s artwork in any other editions. There were panels on the Bear, a sacred creature in Finnish mythology; Finnish folksongs; Finnish Weird etc.
Late Thursday, I caught a game show panel, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, with Daryl Gregory, Emma Newman, Kameron Hurley and Mur Lafferty as the panellists, Lee Harris as Moderator. Lots of fun!
During the con, I caught two interviews with Nalo Hopkinson, both informative. The second one, where Nalo was in conversation with Farah Mendelson — they basically reprised one of their late night/early morning phone chats — was very interesting. Farah also distributed copies of two short stories from Nalo’s new collection.
The Podcasting Workshop on Friday was of some concern: where I had pitched a workshop for all ages, it had been transformed into a workshop for kids, then forgotten about and eventually resurrected for all ages. I visited Tech ops Friday morning, to visit the room and to make sure it could handle multiple wifi net connections. Internet yes, but no display. Luckily there was paper for presentations! In the end, we were oversubscribed, with 20+ attendees rather than the limit of 16 suggested by the sign-up sheet. No problem! We paired people up, two to a smart phone.
We managed to create 25 podcasts in 47 minutes! I think everyone managed two podcasts about topics which interested them. We were all sitting around a large conference table, and since I was walking around announcing “two minutes!”, “time to finish” and “upload now!”, there was lots of background noise (“atmosphere”) on the final product.
They all went up on a Space Echo podcast site on audioboom created specifically for this workshop. I posted my tips sheet, and warned people the podcasts would all be removed in a fortnight (as they have been). I think people enjoyed themselves, and I suspect we may have launched a few new podcasters.
James Shields thought it a good idea to try and capture GUFF winners on camera.
Eve Harvey (1985 winner) turned up a little late…Unfortunately, neither Damien nor Juliette (2005 winners) read James’ notice in the con newsletter.
There were lots of Aussie fans at the world con, including Sally Beasley (arm in a sling) and Dave Luckett; Damien Warman and Juliette Woods, and Nick Falkner from Adelaide (who discovered a great tea/coffee shop near my hotel!).
There were parties at the con, often two each night, at opposite ends of the same space, sharing a common bar.
A more interesting and intimate venue was short 5 minute walk away — the Rauhanasema. Basically a yellow wooden house, with several rooms and a sauna (“sow — nah”). I was there one night when Kylie had brought two bottles of “Gin & Teas” — suitable alcoholic drinks produced by her new beau. One was gin infused with earl grey, the other used a breakfast tea. Certainly made for interesting flavoured Gin!
I joined an expedition which decided to look farther afield for some food: Christina Lake, Doug Bell, Tim and Clarrie. We were joined by Jim Mowatt and others as we left the party for the train station. We ended up visiting the Craft Beer pub, where who should we find but Mark & Claire! [I note that Claire and Doug seem to stalk each other using a Beer App, in which they say where they are and what their beers are like. “An astringent drop, redolent of old dog’s piss”] I, of course, continued drinking gin. Another pleasant end to a busy day!
There was a huge line for entry to the Hugo Awards ceremony: it snaked back and forth through the conference centre, three or four abreast, perhaps a kilometre long. I didn’t join the line until shortly before the doors opened, but still managed to score a seat in the centre, though fairly high up in the seating. As you might expect from the shortlist, most of the awards were won by women.
What isn’t obvious until you look a the photo of the presenters was the variety of people presenting awards. The addition of non-white, non-American, non-English, non-male presenters made this ceremony noticeably more inclusive.
I suspect there was also a sigh of relief that the changes to nomination rules — and the apparent lack of further interest from the rabid puppies — meant that there were viable nominees in virtually all the categories.
Aside from the formal programme, there were various interesting chance encounters in the course of the con. I met Nick Falkner several times: at the tea/coffee shop near the hotel; sitting outside the really good café next to the registration area in the venue, or in the adjacent beer garden, but missed his panel on SF & Education (with Charles Taylor as another panelist!). I was lunching in the beer garden one day when a voice called out “Roman? It’s Lisa”
It was Lisa Konrad, a London fan I’d met at Aussiecon IV.
I bought her a pint and we chatted. She suggested we catch up when I returned to London.
Breakfasts were a fun meal, as I usually joined the table of Aussie/Kiwi fans. One morning, Perry told me to sit down, he had some news for me. Luckily he waited for me to sit before announcing that our deputy PM is a Kiwi! [ technically making them ineligible to sit in parliament]
Of course, there was lots going on aside from the official programme items. The hall which contained the dealers’ tables also had a large area for gamers, the fan lounge, in which fans could gather, chat, plot, and create the fake con newsletter, Offpiste as well as plan expeditions for food and drink. [ Yes, I know who the perps are. But I’m not going to spill the beans while sober…]
Most of the crowding seemed to be under control by the weekend. There was a well-catered dead dog party at a nearby hotel, so two of us wandered around, about an hour after the start. What did we find? Fans milling around outside, being told the hotel was “full up” with around 300 inside. Apparently, the organisers had underestimated the response and hadn’t considered the hotel’s licence which limited numbers in the licensed areas! Rather than hang around, we beat a retreat. Running into Kylie Ding on the way back, we broke the news to her. As head of Parties, she wasn’t amused and was soon on the phone to try and sort out the mess — apparently fairly quickly, as within the hour they were letting people in again.
We retreated to a nice pub near Central for dinner, then refreshments at the Steam Hellsinki.
Monday Blues: Aug 16th
I had tried to extend my hotel booking by a single day, but they charged so much for the extra day, I ended up moving hotels instead.
On the Monday, I confidently wandered off bright and early to check in to the new hotel as I planned to spend the rest of the day exploring more of Helsinki.
*Sigh* I took a wrong turn, and got lost. Luckily, I was near a Moomin café, so waited for them to open. I ordered a cup of tea, and sat down to try and decipher the map I had.
I struck up conversation with a couple of tourists at a nearby table: they not only suggested an excellent mapping app, maps.me, which downloads local area maps and provides a GPS like guide to your destination — allowing you to use your phone app without a wifi connection, but also remarked that they’d passed my new hotel on the way to the café.
Refreshed and armed with the new information, I easily found my way to the new hotel, checked in, and set out to explore Helsinki.
It was a glorious sunny day, so I wandered along the parks to the bay.
This statue, of two naked women holding birds caught my eye because of the seagull ironically resting atop one of the figures.
The central park, with associated ironwork teahouse, was made for the upper classes, but eventually thrown open as a public park for all to enjoy. There were some limits on behaviour, though:
I made my way down to the bay, stopping to photograph the iconic fountain.
I came back via the senate and university. I had an early night, because I was headed for St Petersburg — by train — the following morning. But the tale of my adventures in Russia will have to wait until next issue!