28th October - 24th November 2005 saw the first ever
joint Spanish and Portuguese convention. Sue Burke reports.
The first-ever joint Spanish-Portuguese convention, IberCon I, was held in Vigo, a seaside city in Galicia, the north western region of Spain. I arrived after an eight-hour, 600 km. train ride through scenic countryside from Madrid, where I live. In Galicia, tree-covered mountains plunge into the sea, creating beautiful estuaries, or rías. Vigo, located on one of those rías, began its existence as a prehistoric Celtic fishing village. Later, Romans named it 'Vicus', 'small village', which later morphed into Vigo. In the 19th century, the village began to grow as an industrial fishing centre, and the 20th century brought an economic boom. An elegant theatre and opera house was built in 1926, now the Caixanova Cultural Centre, which was the site of the IberCon. The city is still a busy harbour and fishing port, and luxury ocean liners regularly dock to allow passengers to visit the winding streets of the city's centuries-old historic centre.
I arrived at the same time as remnants of Hurricane Wilma, which blew across the Big Pond to deliver a downpour. It rained throughout the IberCon, but Spain and Portugal have been suffering disastrous droughts, and in any case Galicia is always rainy, so no one complained much.
Guests of Honour were Laura Gallego and João Berreiros. Gallego writes children's fantasy adventures that rival Harry Potter as best-sellers; some of her books are available in English. Barreiros is a Portuguese writer, translator, editor, and teacher whose latest book, La verdadera guerra de los mundos [The True War of the Worlds], had just been translated Portuguese to Spanish; it's a humorous sequel to the H. G. Wells classic. David Lally, the lively Irish chairman of the European Science Fiction Society, also attended, working to expand links among countries across the continent.
Overall, the convention was a disappointment, with only 165 people attending, half the usual for a Spanish convention, and barely more than one event at a time; the organizing team simply didn't put together a good program. The events were in a different part of the building from the sales tables - merely six vendors - accessible only by going outside and around the block in the rain. There was no on-site food or drink service, so the de facto convention hospitality suite became the Cafeteria Cosmos across the street, which was being repaved. The bilingual nature of the events also caused some problems, though translation was available.
IberCon served as an umbrella for several gatherings, among them Spain's 23rd HispaCon. The first convention occurred during Franco's dictatorship, when public meetings were banned, so it was conducted in secret. At IberCon, the Asociación Española de Fantasía, Ciencia Ficción y Terror held its annual events, which included a presentation of the annual Ignotus Awards (Spain's national SF awards) during a gala seafood dinner with plenty of wine at a restaurant overlooking the fishing docks. The Ignotus winners included (titles translated): The Dream of the Red King by Rodolfo Martínez, best novel; The Carpet Makers by the German writer Adreas Eschbach, best foreign novel; ['Road of the Dragon'] by George R.R. Martin, best foreign story; and The Machinist by Brad Anderson, best audiovisual production. Winners received little black stone trophies that recalled Arthur C. Clarke's monoliths. The Association also welcomed its incoming team of officers, whose goal for the coming years is growth.
In addition, IberCon included the 7th AznarCon, organized by fans of the Aznar Saga, a series of 59 Spanish novels written between 1953 and 1978 by George H. White (pen name of Pascual Enguídanos Usach). The books chronicle the lives of the Aznar family in a space opera of mega-epic proportions. Members of the "Delta Squadron," with special tee shirts and photo ID badges, organized panel discussions and showed videos. Reprints of the books were on sale. [Editorial note: We are saddened to report that since IberCon Pascual Enguídanos Usach has died.]
IberCon also included the 7th Encuentros (Encounters), the convention of Simetria, a Portuguese SF organization. During panel discussions, members described the situation in Portugal: "worse than in Spain," said Barreiros, one of Simetria's founders. The organization began, according to writer Ana Cristina Luz, to attempt to improve the image of the genre by bring in foreign writers for conferences and sponsoring prizes. But the genre remains second class, usually considered children's literature, which is why the Encuentros are subtitled 'On the Edge of the Empire' - the empire being 'respectable' literature.
In Spain, SF/F/H works occasionally get reviewed in newspapers; in Portugal, never. Mainstream Spanish bookstores often display genre works; in Portugal, they are hidden "as if they were pornography," Barreiros said. Even Stephen King does not sell well. In Spain but even more so in Portugal, books sell better if they are marketed as historical novels, adventure novels, techno-thrillers, or any other kind of designation besides science fiction. "The Portuguese don't want to think about the future," Barreiros said. Simetria's efforts to raise the profile of its writers includes a series of anthologies in Portuguese with English translations. (I bought a couple and read them; Portugal has talent.) Spain's genre community is stronger - much more than IberCon would suggest - but it too struggles for respect and success.
But there were highlights. Alfonso Merelo presented a colloquium on "Fantastic Music" and invited attendees to identify the themes to old television programs like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,Avengers, Sea Quest, Xena, Dark Skies, Thunderbirds, Space 1999, Alf, Battlestar Galactica (original and remake), and Lost in Space, "the most tacky science fiction show ever," Merelo said, and Spain had not been spared from it.
A radio celebrity presented a delightfully gossipy talk about Jules Verne and Vigo. The novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea includes an episode in the Vigo ría. Legend says that in a 1702 sea battle at the Rande strait in the ría, ships laden with gold and silver from the Spanish empire in the Americas sunk and were never found. In the novel, Captain Nemo's men plunder the fabled treasure. Three years after its publication, Verne visited Vigo and was welcomed with parade, and today a statue of him (with a giant octopus) stands at the harbour.
The video track included a fan movie from Finland called Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, in Finnish with subtitles, that combines Star Trek and Babylon 5 in a hilarious parody. It is available for download at www.starwreck.com.
On Monday morning, encouraged by the merely intermittent rain, I took time off from the convention to climb the hill that towers over the old heart of the city to inspect the moss and fern-covered remains of the castle, vauban fort, and ancient Celtic village. A monument to the Rande battle displayed rusting anchors and cannons from the galleons. The fort's battlements offered a commanding view of the bay ringed with mountains and valleys, and, out on the Atlantic, I saw the next rainstorm heading right at me.
At best, the weekend was a mini-HispaCon, but some links were forged between Portugal and Spain, editors presented new publications, writers and readers got to meet (I had a story in an anthology that was released at the convention), and old and new friends got plenty of time to chat. Organizational weaknesses were revealed and have since been explored in excruciating detail on e-mail lists. IberCon II might be held in 2007 in Lisbon, though details are still unsettled, and it could be another, better chance to help fandom consolidate in both countries.
Sue Burke is a lifelong fan of SF, born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, where she wrote for 'zines and helped with conventions. She attended the Clarion Writer's Workshop in 1996, and has had a number of short stories and other works published. She move to Madrid, Spain, in December 2000 and is a member of the Asociación Española de Fantasía, Ciencia Ficción y Terror [the Spanish Association of Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror].
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