B. Wilkinson, 2 Hobbs Close, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 3UX, Great Britain
Apologies to my English 'pub' readers. I haven't tried to make it to the London pub meet this time. The last four times I have tried taking the train from Radley (the local station) to London or other points south, I have been delayed by at least an hour, once over two. I simply couldn't face a five hour journey in each direction.
II'll have another try when the trains have recovered.
To those outside England, beware, the pub we use is changing – the old landlord decided he wanted a sports bar, not a good 'local'. Check which pub is being used before travelling.
As most fans know, you never get around to reading the convention programme book until you get home. And despite the attack of bronchitis which confined me to my hotel room for one full evening of the Eurocon, I was so zonked that I wasn't up to reading it then.
When I came to read it I was struck by two things. The first was that they had apparently selected their guests by their year of birth – 1948, most of them, unless a demented computer had been at work. The second was a glorious error made in the convention chairman Vaclav Pravda's account of winning the bid at the Eurocon in Gdansk, Poland, in August 2000. He said that his opposition had been the Jersey SF club led by Martin Hoare.
When all you Brits and Americans have stopped laughing, I'll explain why this was an all too easy mistake to make.
Most of European fandom, east and west, takes the form of city (or town) based SF clubs. These SF clubs hold their convention in their own area – and exceptions to this rule, like the 1991 Eurocon in Krakow, Poland, tend to suffer from horrendous logistical glitches. The fans form local clubs not because they are conformist, like sheep, or because their fandom has not yet reached anglo-american style maturity (I've met both suggestions), but because the legal systems (Roman law) are considerably more jittery about informal organisations than they are about formal ones.
Properly constituted clubs are respected cultural organisations, 'legal persons', with bank accounts, officers, meeting rooms, rubber stamps, and even (if they play the game well) government grants. I leave to your imagination the potential problems inherent in booking a convention hotel in the name of a nebulous quasi-organisation, conventionally regarded as being a conspiracy (no jokes about 1987, please...).
In Britain you can set up a bank account in whatever name you like, provided it is not obscene, also book hotels, publish magazines, etc. For that matter you can book a series of pubs over the space of 50 years, and while the police are no doubt aware of you, I doubt Special Branch give a damn.
If you come from continental European fandom this must all seem truly exotic. Why do we hide? What have we got to be scared of? We must be scared of something, or we'd have a formally constituted club. As things stand, we are slightly less a sitting duck for the tabloid rags, but the real reason by now is inertia. Maybe in the past the potential hostility was sufficiently great that taking a low profile was the line of least resistance, but now the tabloids will savage anybody – we aren't a special target.
So, the idea that a con run on Jersey would be organised by the Jersey SF club was completely logical.
Mind you, at Helicon I did get to hear mutterings from Jersey fans that it would have been nice if the convention committee had tried to involve them a little more. Perhaps we aren't local enough.
Eurocon took place in Chotebor, Czech Republic, from 4th to 7th July 2002. It had over 1000 members, about a hundred of which came from abroad (Slovakia didn't count as abroad as the con was also a Parcon, and Parcon didn't split when Czechoslovakia did).
Features: a parallel media con, complete with Star Trek filk; a large RPG convention with its own book 'room'; an SF book room with a superb second hand section; lots of films and videos; an English readme with a good grid; a bistro by the main con hall serving excellent coffee and good cheap food – 'tho this was getting more and more inventive as the days went on and their original food supplies ran out.
Bad memories – crawling around the con with an attack of bronchitis. Transport to and from the hotel became a personal nightmare, but there are lots of good memories too:
Seeing Rob Holdstock bait his Czech translator by getting him to translate a tirade of fantasy invective on the fly. You try finding precisely the right curse in front of an audience. Not a bad blood sport. Rob thought he was boring, but the audience were busy falling off their chairs. Seven in all by my reckoning. Yes, well, perhaps it was a furniture design problem rather than laughter, 'tho I don't think Rob realised quite how deftly he was torturing his translator.
Jaroslav Olsa's talk and slide show on Asian and African SF – the more obscure the better. He even had a Bollywood style SF movie going on nearly noiselessly as background. Every now and again there would be a groan from the audience as something particularly unbelieveable appeared on screen. Apparently it's fine to be an alien, and to marry into a respectable family, as long as you belong to the right religion. Hmm, perhaps better not to sneer... motes and beams...
Western attendees included David 'Trouble Maker' Lally (at least that was what George R.R. Martin reckoned), Billy Sterling who inadvertently tested the honesty of Czech fandom by losing his bag and getting everything back, Steve Glover, Lance Oszko, Pascal Ducommun, Jean-Pierre Moumon and numbers of others.
Apart from the programme book mentioned above, the convention also issued a CD ROM containing details on Czech fandom. No, it doesn't autorun in English, but click on Start.htm and you'll get to details including a PDF of Who is Who in Czech fandom (includes all parts of the SF community), photos of past cons, a run of the Czech SF newsletter Interkom, and a short film 'i was a teenage intellectual' (among other things). Useful reference material, give it to your favourite SF library if you don't want your copy.
Vaclav Pravda and his club are to be praised for putting on a good show – even if I was too tired and ill to be able to appreciate all of it at the time. Yes, better publicity, transport and less distant accommodation would have made it even better, but well done nonetheless. They are thinking of doing another one in ten years.
Before I went to the Eurocon in the Czech Republic I went to the Science Fiction Research Association conference in New Lanark, Scotland, near Glasgow.
Seems odd to start off a con report by raving about the site, but it was utterly superb and appropriate, 'tho the organisers could have booked better weather.
To hold an SF conference in a very early utopian community (Robert Owen's mill village) was a neat idea, and indeed one of the things that won the bid. The whole time you were never away from the sound of the river flowing not so very far below the converted factory building that the hotel is now housed in. And apart from some strange littel quirks (breakfast cereal eaten with soup spoons?) the hotel was very good indeed.
The most eye-opening paper to me was by Stefan Ekman of Göteborg University: 'Anima ex Machina: The Emotional Lives of Alan Ayckbourn's Robots'. He had been to huge numbers of Ayckbourn's plays, particularly chasing the SF related ones, and described the use of robots as dramatic characters. I'd known about J.B. Priestley's time plays, but not about this work. Apparently, he found that the amateur peformances often came across better than the professional ones. So, when your local dramatic society does one of Ayckbourne's robot plays...
I was also in on a session which had two papers on SF in Asia – one on proto SF in China in the early 20th century, the other on Taiwanese SF in the last few years. As there is practically no contact with the People's Republic of China, the only shared market is Hong Kong. Currently SF in Taiwan is dominated by one editor – but whether that is a reflection of the political situation, or the size of the potential market, Danny Han-Chang Lin (the author) didn't know. Too early to tell.
Paul Kincaid gave a paper on Moore's Utopia which was to be the first chapter of a new history of SF. Good, but it'll dwarf the encyclopedia if he's not careful.
Otherwise I was most struck by the contributions of the guest authors. An interview with Pat Cadigan was particular fun, and the talk with slides on Gernsback, SF and amateur radio by Mike Ashley was a gem.
The Science Fiction Foundation will be hosting a conference on the SF of the British Commonwealth in 2004.
Best Author: Valerio Evangelisti (Italy)
Best Artist: J.P. Krasny (Czech Republic)
Best Journal: Fantazia (Slovakia)
Best Publisher: Leonardo – Jiri Pilch (Czech Republic)
Best Promoter: Yurii Ilkov (Bulgaria)
Best Translator: Paulina Braiter-Ziemkiewicz (Poland)
Best Fanzine: Terra Fantastica (Bulgaria)
Encouragement Awards (Best New Author/Artist):
Alexander Karapanchev (Bulgaria), Vitali Kaplan (Russia), Alexandra Pavelkova (Slovakia), Miroslav Zamboch (Czech Republic).
Valerio Evangelisti (Fan site) http://www.cicciserra.net/eymerich.htm
Jan P. Krasny http://patrik.scifi.cz/
Sorry, I couldn't find any others.
Leonardo, based in Ostrava near the Polish Czech border, are known for their publishing of Polish books in Czech, and have been instrumental in the current popularity of the polish authers Andrezj Sapkowski and Konrad Lewandowski in the Czech Republic, and in Sapkowski's case far beyond.
Eurocon 2003: Finncon, Turku, Finland. 1-3 August 2003. Information: http://www.finncon.org. The Finns gave a lively presentation on their convention, giving out spare copies of the programme book for their previous event.
Features of Finncons are the free entry (this comes from sponsorship and the university location) the sercon SF conference forming the first day of the convention – for which students from the university can get credits towards their couses, but which is nonetheless part of the con and open to all attendees (this helps get sponsorship). There is also free crash space for those able to tolerate hard floors.
Finncon is usually large. This one will be even larger. They would like registrations of interest on the website, and floor space needs to be booked. Hotel space too, if you are not feeling that hardy.
Eurocon 2004: Plovdiv, Bulgaria. few details as yet. Some time in the summer. To be run by a young enthusiastic group that is publishing an SF magazine and fanzine, and runs local events.
The new European Science Fiction Science Fiction Society committee are:
Chairman: Piotr Cholewa (Poland)
Secretary: Bridget Wilkinson (England)
Treasurer: David Lally (Ireland)
Vice Chairman: Roberto Quaglia (Italy)
A vote of thanks was given to Roelof Goudriaan for his work on the European Science Fiction Society website.
Quite apart from the Avalcon crowd who put on the Eurocon, there is quite a lot of SF activity in the Czech Republic. The SF magazine Ikarie, set up in the very early 1990s, continues to flourish, while one siginificant feature in the scene is the popularity of fantasy role playing games. These have helped to create a large market for fantasy.
This love for fantasy and role playing games was obvious in the magazine 'Pevnost' which came in the convention package. Superficially a games and films magazine, it also carries reviews of fantasy books, of websites, fantasy short stories, and covers both RPGs and computer games. More familiar to me was 'Interkom' – the Czech newszine, going for over ten years now. This is a monthly 30 page A5 affair, with good coverage of SF cons, books, SF clubs, and eclectic essays.
There was a display of Czech SF fanzines and magazines, at the Klementinum (part of the University library) in association with the Eurocon. More recent material rubbed sleeves with 1980s fanzines duplicated onto rough paper. Also displays on the Czech SF awards and the Czech and Slovak con 'Parcon' (the Eurocon was also a Parcon).
One place which was particularly striking for the western visitors was the SF bookshop, internet cafe Krakatit (named after a book by Karel Capek). Being a Czech cafe, of course it sold beer. There was a large Dragon mural on the wall furthest from the counter, and numbers of wooden tables with benches. A group of us hung out there from some hours on the Monday morning after the con. Some of the informal Prague SF meetings are held there. We talked jokingly about persuading them to open up a branch in London, given the recent pub problems the London 'group' has had.
Open 10-19. http://www.krakatit.cz
Fans Across the World Particular thanks to Ales Koval for getting me out of a potentially very nasty situation in Chotebor, and to Piotr Rak for making me to talk to him. Also, Piotr Cholewa, David Lally, Roberto Quaglia, Jan Vanek, Vaclav Pravada and others of the Avalcon crowd, Ondrej Herec, and many others.
Thanks for help, info, etc. to BEM and many other people. Aussie events: annual calendar at http://www.vicnet.net.au/~sfoz/2002cal.htm