The 2006 Spanish national convention almost never happened. Sue Burke reports.
Spain's 2006 national convention almost did not happen. On 11th September the group supposedly organizing the HispaCon, scheduled for 3rd to 5th November in Cordoba, informed the Spanish Association for Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror that they could not do it.
Alfonso Merelo, one of the Association's officers, said the board quickly began to think about what they could do at the last minute on a limited budget. They considered booking a hotel meeting room in Madrid to hold the annual assembly and present the Ignotus Awards. Then, they remembered that the Association had participated in a science fiction conference earlier that year at the public library in Dos Hermanas, a suburb of Seville. Maybe the library director, Carmen Gómez Varela, would let them use a meeting room for free.
But, as she said during the convention's opening session, she and the library have a much deeper commitment to the genre. She told how she had once taken a summer course on fantastic literature, and Jorge Luis Borges walked in as the special guest. "I was petrified, of course, and delighted." She was just as delighted to offer the convention everything the library could do.
So, after 72 hours of scrambling and with additional support from city officials, the convention was on: same dates, new place, and renamed DH2006. Over the coming month, Association officers and the country's top fans and writers put together a respectable programme with up to three tracks of activities at once, and 170 people attended -- not the biggest HispaCon in history, but one of the most satisfying.
Dos Hermanas, with a population of 112,000, was founded in 1248 by King Fernando III and named 'Two Sisters' to honour the sisters of one of his military commanders. It is home to the singing duo Los del Rio, whose song Macarena became a worldwide hit. The historic downtown includes a charming plaza and, a block away, the modern new library, inaugurated in May, with a staff of seven and 25,000 books. The convention took over the south wing and used the upper lobby as a sales room; six booksellers attended.
The convention's welcome pack included a jar of locally grown olives and a bottle of olive oil, along with a novel, several magazines, and other gifts. Convention-goers filled the town's few hotels, whose quality varied.
Traditionally, the rain in Spain falls on HispaCons, and this year was no exception. Usually the conventions try to balance a strong literature track with film, video, art, gaming, workshops, science presentations, and other events, but this year, due to circumstances, literature prevailed completely. There were no guests of honour, but any of Spain's top genre authors participated; foreign authors were Richard Morgan and Ian Watson from Great Britain (both of whom speak Spanish); Kiril Yeskov from Russia; João Barreiros from Portugal; and Bernardo Fernández, who writes under the name 'Bef', from Mexico.
The programming included presentations of new books, author readings, panel discussions, and lectures.
- Most fun: a 'war of the sexes'-style debate over whether fantasy, science fiction, or horror is best. Top Spanish authors poked good-hearted fun at their opponents, and the best moment came halfway through the debate when everyone had to switch sides.
- Most nostalgic: a look back at the 40 years of Star Trek. It debuted on a secondary Spanish television channel and went unnoticed at first, but it slowly gathered a loyal following and fan clubs around the country.
- Most heartfelt: a tribute to Pascual Enguídanos Usach, who under the pseudonym of George H. White wrote a series of 54 space opera novels about the galaxy-spanning saga of the Aznar family, among many other works, and who died earlier this year.
- Most interesting (for me): a talk by Bef on Mexican science fiction. He told how the presence of high technology in a society trapped in frustrated modernity forms the daily reality of his country and is reflected in its science fiction, which tends toward cyberpunk.
- Most depressing: a round table of publishers on 'The Adventure of Editing Science Fiction in Spain'. Bookstores do not take the genre seriously and will not stock books. Readers cannot quite believe that Spanish authors might be as good as foreign writers, so they do not buy the books even if they see them. Sales are discouraging.
Fans of George H. White, always enthusiastic, held Aznarcon VIII, a convention within a convention, on Saturday afternoon. They examined specific aspects of the Aznar saga, and presented 'New Generation' novels and the winner of a short story competition based on White's work. The series is just too fun to let it end.
A gala dinner Saturday night culminated with the presentation of the Ignotus Awards, Spain's equivalent of the Hugos. The winners included: best novel, Danza de tinieblas [Dance in Darkness] by Eduardo Vaquerizo; best novella, 'La traición de Judas ['The Treason of Judas'] by Joaquín Revuelta; best short story, 'Días de otoño' ['Autumn Days'] by Santiago Eximeno; best foreign novel, Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin; and best web site, www.ciencia-ficcion.com for Sitio de Ciencia Ficción [Science Fiction Site]. A special Ignotus Award went to the Dos Hermanas library. The full list of awards is at the Association's website: www.aefcft.com.
HispaCons tend to be warm events where old friends meet and new friendships form, where literature is taken seriously, and where the genre gets a needed boost, but this year's had the special satisfaction of last-minute success. Victory had been snatched from the jaws of defeat, tradition continued unbroken, and Spanish fandom had accomplished something of which to be proud.
Next year's HispaCon will be held in Seville, organized by the Three Cultures of the Mediterranean Foundation, which fosters exchange between Arab, Israeli and European cultures and which hopes to showcase Arab and Israeli genre authors. But if for some reason that doesn't work out, a library in Barcelona is already willing to step in and save the day.
Alfonso Merelo's entertaining blog, with links to others, can be found at: http://memorando.blogia.com/2006/110801-cronicas-hispacomicas.php.
Sue Burke moved to Spain from the U.S. in 2000. She writes fiction, journalism, and poetry. More at www.sue.burke.name.
For details of future major SF conventions on planet Earth (that's the inner one in the Sol system, that wobbles only a little) check out the diary page which is updated each New Year.
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