Eurocon 2007 - Denmark
The 2007 Eurocon was Denmark's first. Jonathan Cowie reports.
Eurocons are a recent international SF fan phenomena compared to, say, the Worldcon. The first Eurocon was only in 1972 (compared with 1939 for the first Worldcon) and at first Eurocons were just biennial, only becoming annual like the Worldcon in 1982. A consequence of this brief history -- combined with Europe having well over 30 countries and that come countries have already had more than one Eurocon -- means that half the European nations have yet to host a Eurocon not to mention that many Eurocons have been firsts for their host countries. Matters are further complicated in that Europe is a continent (unlike say India, North America or Australasia) that is fractured by a score of languages and until recently divided by superpower cold war. On the other hand this is what makes Eurocons such an adventure: they are an exploration of a common enjoyment of science fiction across a diversity of cultural and socio-economic communities. Discovering the commonalities and differences is what makes it all rather fun.
And so in 2007 Denmark found itself putting on its first Eurocon. This was held in Copenhagen just a 15-minute train ride from its international airport and rail station. This last meant that fans from Norway, Sweden, Germany and Poland could come by train: indeed we were warned to ensure getting the train going in the right direction from the airport as the next stop the other way was in fact in Sweden. Copenhagen itself is an historic, low-lying capital but, in common with most cities, has many modern buildings amidst the old. In short Copenhagen's vista ranges from the medieval to the 21st century. Many of the fans attending Eurocon stayed in the city centre near the rail station which itself was just two stations away, or a half-hour walk, away from Valby in the area of Copenhagen called Vesterbro. In one sense this was a bit of a pain, but in another it did ensure that fans saw a bit of Copenhagen going to and from the venue and that was to be welcomed.
The convention organisers had arranged to meet fans arriving at the airport in groups of four or five; this is always welcome by first time visiting fans from other nations. Organising such welcomes is actually easier for a Eurocon to do than it sounds in that nearly all arriving by plane did so on the Thursday within a 10 hour window so just a small team of three or four working in shifts covered this well. I arrived shortly after Guest of Honour Stephen Baxter (who was whisked straight away) and at the same time as the Belgian writer Frank Roger. The main thing these greeters did was to ensure we bought an appropriately zoned strip card that would cover all our travel needs through to the end of our visit, and then ensure we got to the right platform (so as not to end up in Sweden). What the convention organisers had not told anyone in the final Progress Report was where people were meeting up for a meal and a drink the Thursday night. However news did percolate through to a score or more that some of the Guests of Honour (Stephen Baxter, Harry Harrison and David Hardy) were gathering at the Mongolian Barbecue in Stormgade a couple of blocks from the station. The meal was a little different in that you helped yourself to a selection of raw meats and some vegetables and then a waiter helped you select and drizzle a variety of marinades over your selection. Having made a fairly quick, but decidedly select (marrying what went with what), choice this was taken away from me and handed over to a chef working a hot flat plate who then mixed everything up into a homogenous mass, which seemed to me to somewhat defeat the purpose of selection but there you go. Little were we aware that at this time one of our party was to get a mass lodged in his oesophagus that later necessitated hospital treatment. (Fortunately surgery was narrowly avoided.)
After the meal various groups went off for a drink. I went with an old friend of Concatenation Roberto Quaglia in search of a Russian party to which we had been invited. Suffice to say there was an encounter with a few vodkas and discussion ranging from Anglo-Italian-Russian cultural differences, SF news and gossip through to the mundane. There was also talk of the 2008 Eurocon being held in Moscow and I got my first sight of their printed Progress Report 1 that addressed a number of concerns that had been doing the rounds. Indeed there was a good Russian contingent in Copenhagen, I dare say this was in part because Moscow was to hold next year's event and in part because last year's the Eurocon was held in Russia's southerly neighbour the Ukraine (with which Russia has had good connections throughout much of the twentieth century). Having said that it is good to see that Russians are beginning to come to Eurocons (this was the third year in a row that saw more than one or two attend).
The conference venue was a short bus journey to Valby and its Kulturhus (Culture House). This was a rather worn but functional building that had clearly seen better days. Nonetheless it was more or less fit for purpose and that is what counts. The con covered four floors of the Kulturhus. The ground floor had registration, a book signing area, a (it has to be said a rather musty-smelling) main hall for principal items and a separate fan area which featured a bar and café. The other floors saw the remaining five programme streams, a dealers room, green room and so forth. The fan café/bar saw a continual throughput throughout the convention and served sound, albeit a little basic and pricey fare (this was expensive Copenhagen). There were also daily main course dishes and I sampled a traditional Danish one, 'stegt flæsk med persillesovs' -- pork belly in parsley sauce. There was an outside area with tables and this also was more or less continually used: both outside area and café/bar were ideal for encountering old friends and making new contacts. In fact once you have been to a few Eurocons and built up just a score or so contacts then, because each of these have their own network of acquaintances, you find that virtually everyone is connected by a short two or three person chain. A consequence of which is that Eurocons see you continually being introduced to SF professionals, semi-pros and fans from the breadth of the continent with conversations frequently being bilingual (but invariably with translation to English as the lingua franca). The thing is that this ground floor area was key to the non-programme fanac (fan activity).
It has to be said that without a doubt one of the things that shone in this Eurocon was the programme. Con programmes (let us face it) can be quite ropey. A few do deliver but the Danish Eurocon was one that certainly did! Six programme streams saw most items have a score to three score in attendance and most rooms had seating for 60 to 100. This worked well. The main hall could seat a couple of hundred (I guess) though I only attended one item there: I found the slight but distinct whiff of mould a little off-putting, but then I am a sensitive, delicate thing (despite the lock of tousled hair over my bronzed forehead, bulging biceps, legs like a gazelle and bionic blood). Most items saw rooms reasonably full. (My own 'Exobiology 101' item was one of the exceptions in that not everyone could get in despite folk sitting on the window sills at the back and side and people seeing it packed turning away at the door.) The programme was ably serviced by audiovisuals. The sole exception was -- you guessed it -- my talk as the technician had not been told I needed a slide projector even though I had confirmed in advance with the programme director that I was bringing individual film slides: indeed the programme broadsheet did say my presentation was 'slide illustrated'. The tech guy was, though, most apologetic saying that had he known in advance he could have provided one (shades of the 2005 Glasgow Worldcon - Eurocon) but at least there was an overhead projector (unlike the 2006 Eurocon). I stress this in case future con-runners do ever decide to book one of my talks: please note my one-hour presentations, plus at least 15 minutes of question and answers, are all illustrated with photographic film slides and overhead projector sheets as well. These are exotic science lectures with a dash of showmanship...) Nonetheless the audience seemed not to mind too much and we all did the Drake equation with the audience providing their own upper and lower estimates to the unknown factors as to the probability (hence proximity) of alien intelligence in our Galaxy.
The other science components were largely given by non-fans who were Danish scientists (as opposed to scientists who were fans). This did not matter too much as they were good at talking to an audience with school science knowledge (which most readers of hard SF seem to have). Alas there were too many good science items (given in English as opposed to Danish) for me to attend as -- to be quite frank -- the other areas of the programme were also rather good. The science items were largely astronomy/cosmology based. Susanne Vennerstrom, Morten Bo Masden, Hans Ulrik Nørgarrd-Neilsen, Steen Eiler Jørgsen, Ib Lundgaard Rasmussen and Tamara Davis are all to be commended. Then there were non-science items introducing aspects of European (and especially Baltic) SF and fandom, book readings, fan panels, and of course the Guest of Honour speeches. Here in addition to the previously mentioned authors Stephen Baxter, Harry Harrison and space artist David Hardy, there was also Anne McCaffrey (her book signing was extremely popular) and the writer Zoran Zivkovic.
The film programme was the best one at an SF convention (as opposed to an SF film fest) I have attended for the best part of two decades! This is not hype, I could have easily spent nearly all the convention watching the film stream. Itr was quite rare, we had a film programme organiser who knows how to choose films in the era of home video/DVD recorders. What he did was to get hold of material that is largely not available from the major European DVD distributors or hardly ever shown on TV. You really have to be a genre film buff to do this and such a buff is not somebody who simply watches films at their local cinema and buys DVDs from their nearest city centre vid-store. You need to be aware of what they show at fantastic film fests and the independent film scene. (There are series of such fests run in nearly all the larger western European countries and many are loosely co-ordinated by an international federation.) Anyway, such a film programme will have items that you know you may have to wait quite a while to see and/or have the technical equipment to access. So there was a selection of rather well-made fan films, films only commonly found in specific countries and nostalgic offerings rarely screened these days. They also covered a fair spectrum of SF cinema. Personally I managed to catch the Finnish fan film Star Wreck: In the Pirkining a comedy spoof that brought together the Star Trek and Babylon V universes with a surprisingly good script and (considering the budget) fairly decent special effects: apparently there were also 300 extras involved. If you have the technology to download it or stream it then you are recommended to do so. (It is an hour and a half long.) I also saw India's first SF film Kol Mil Gaya which is a Bollywood film that uses SF tropes (very much drawing on E.T.) within the standard Bollywood musical format to the extent that the ending is very much a disappointing cop-out with the heroine getting the hero. The music and plot, such as it was, was though fun.
I also caught a couple of shorts. Jim Walker's (an occasional Concat con reporter) own short ,The Morality Game, which had its mainland European premiere. This film, though constrained by budgeting, could have easily served as the basis for an Outer Limits episode. Then there was the zombie western It Came From the West which was a fun puppet production. Sadly I missed Exitz which is the second time I have regretfully has to pass up on this as it still has not officially come out; what is more, the director, Laurens Postma, was there for a post-screening discussion. (Sadly it all clashed with my having to give my exobiology extravaganza.) The other regret was being unable to attend the screening of GoH Zoran Zivikovic's Serbian TV adaptations (I was attending the science programme). There were many other worthy offerings but it is impossible to go over the entire programme here. Nonetheless items that got my attention included an interesting presentation on being an internet writer by Holland Rogers and Janus Andersen's summary of recent Danish SF novels was to the point and informative.
There was a book room and in addition, in prime ground floor sites, tables for the Danish SF Circle publishing house and the L. Ron Hubbard crowd.
Despite not being hotel-based there were a number of parties with the Russian one, promoting next year's Moscow Eurocon, being particularly good and lubricated with an excellent selection of vodkas: the organisers seemed to relish giving me Putin's vodka. (Well, there must be worse ways to go and a few days on I can say it doesn't appear to be alpha emitting).
There was the convention newsletter that came out each day but the reproduction facilities broke down meaning that not many copies were produced. Actually this was a shame as the Danes did their daily newsletter differently and rather innovatively. Instead of a list of programme changes (there were only a very few and this was very welcome) or the crap news of so-and-so's (irrelevant) adventures at parties (which we got at the Glasgow Worldcon), instead they used pictures with one or two line captions to say what had happened. Fantastic, a picture speaks a thousand words.
2007 ESFS Awards
The European SF Convention Hall of Fame Awards for 2007 were voted on at the second part of the business meeting and went to:-
Best Promoter: Nikolay Maharovsky (Ukraine)
Best Artist: Vladimir Bondar (Russia)
Best Author: Sandor Szelesi (Hungary)
Best Publisher: Eksmo (Russia)
Best Magazine: Robot (Italy)
Best Translator: Richard Podaný (Czech)
SF Grand Master (Posthumous): Johannes H. Berg
The 2007 Encouragement Awards (for young writers) went to:-
Anna Kantoch (Poland)
Dmitriy Gluhovsky (Russia)
Heidrun Jänchen (Germany)
Petar Kopanov (Bulgaria)
F. Tóth Benedek (Hungary)
Mikhail Nazarenko (Ukraine)
Lucie Lukacovicova (Czech)
Lene Fagerlund Larsen (Denmark)
My own personal nomination was for a Brit for 'Best Promoter'. This individual has done much for several years now to enable many mainland European films be shown in the British Isles (including a number of European and World premieres for European SF films) and who also has provided a resource for an event that foster excellence in UK literary SF, and who has just started a free on-line SF film channel. Though this person did not win, coming a came a close second was not bad. This website for this person's team's activities apparently gets something like 100,000 visits a month (not pages or hits), and so has bigger traffic even than Concatenation! Hopefully this individual will be nominated by someone else in the future.
Eskmo as the winner of 'Best Publisher' was an interesting win. It has to be remembered that we are still in the era of seeing new institutions and commercial enterprises form since the fall of communism in 1990. Eskmo is one of these. It was literally started at the dawn of the post-Soviet age in 1991 as a bookselling company. It first started publishing books in 1993 and it publishes across many subjects. This, combined with a truly phenomenal growth of over 20% per annum (that's a doubling every three years or so) has seen it currently produce 80 million copies of some 8,000 titles a year! Naturally they publish leading Russian SF authors such as Vasily Golovachev and fantasy authors such as Nick Perumov: both these were Guests of Honour at last year's Roscon (2007) and not surprisingly both rated as top writers by the 2007 MIR Fantastiki SF survey. Eskmo also publishes non-Russian European authors such as Anne McCaffrey and Terry Pratchett. The win was surprising, not because it was not deserved -- Eskmo is a true success story and if its Eurocon Award win means that UK and US publishers seek out their Eskmo counterparts and translate some of its top-selling writers then brilliant -- but because it contrasts with last year's Eurocon Award (2006) Best Publisher winner, Hekate (Latvia). Hekate is a small publisher which struggles to do a job of bringing quality speculative fiction which no other Latvian publisher will touch. If Hekate's 2006 win helped improve its standing locally then that too is something that justifies its Eurocon Award. These two wins in successive years demonstrates that the Eurocon Award is not just for the breadth of Europe but the breadth of size and roles of its winners' activities and that the ESFS church is a broad one.
Meanwhile the Hungarians are keen to promote Sandor Szelesi, winner of the 'Best Author' award, and I found upon my return to Blighty that I had been given an 'agency copy' of a translated collection of his shorts. (Which I may well review for you if I find out that it is available in the UK or by post. (I get all sorts of stuff at cons and go through it all afterwards.) Sandor Szelesi is comparatively young, being only 38, and has been writing novels for the past decade (since 1996) having two published most years. He appears to write both SF and fantasy.
As for predictions as to next year's ESFS Award winners, this is decidedly difficult due to the way nominations and then subsequent voting takes place. However because next year's Eurocon will be in Russia (Moscow) it is a fair bet that the countries with close links to Russia will vote for a Russian publication for 'Best Magazine'. Mir Fantastika [Fantasy World] (a colourful and glossy monthly covering books, film, TV and computer games as well as some conventions) and Elsi [If] have both won Eurocon Best Magazine wards in 2006 and 2000 respectively and so are not likely to be eligible. I therefore wonder whether the fairly new magazine Znanie Sila - Fantastika [Knowledge is Power - Fantasy] will be in the running? As for Best Author (assuming he has not won an ESFS 'Best Author' award before (I don't think he has but I could be wrong) then if I were a betting man (I am not) I would say that Vasily Golovachev really has to be a hot contender.
The bid for the 2009 Eurocon
There were two bids for the 2009 Eurocon and both were strong. First there was Finland. Their Fincons are big and free (due to sponsorship). They of course have previous Eurocon experience having held the 2003 Eurocon in Turku. Then there was a bid from Italy. The Italians too have previously held a Eurocon but not for a long while. In fact they held the first ever Eurocon, Trieste, in 1972. As it happened Italy won. The reason probably was because it was Italy's turn and that recently Finland had had Eurocon status and so it was probably a bit soon for them to have it again. Furthermore the Italian's promised a programme that covered SF's literary and cinematic as well as televisual dimensions. And so in 2009 it is off to Fiuggi in Italy. Apparently Fiuggi is 50 miles south of Rome. Whether there is a train link or whether the organisers will organise a twice day minibus pick-up to and from the airport (as did Romania in 2001) remains to be seen. The details can be found on www.deepcon.it.
As for the future, well the vote for 2010 will be held next year (2008) in Moscow. If it is true to form it will go to an Eastern European, as opposed to Western European, country: the Eurocons tend to alternate between these two. The Hungarians have been making noises for some years now that they might bid, indeed they did last year. Whether they will continue to be seen as Eastern European remains debatable. (Europe has moved further East so that Hungary now is really on the border between east and west.) The Hungarians did, though, in 2006 hold a very good Euroconference and I am sure they would run a fine Eurocon.
For details of future major SF conventions check out the diary page which is updated each New Year.