The virtual space you now perceive, the meaning of the words scanned and interpreted by your eyes and mind respectively, is only a microscopic fractal of the real Quagliaspace. Quagliaspace is just one of the simple, visible extensions of the complex, true and whole Astounding Quagliaspace invented by Roberto Quaglia -- inside his own mind -- so that his mind could invent Roberto Quaglia. When he came into this world, he found he was unable to return to the other from which he came, so decided to settle. It was then only natural, nay, inevitable that he would play an intrinsic part in the undercurrents of many a European Convention... Here then, gentle reader, is one transect compiled from that transcending dimension of Quagliaspace...
|Roberto Quaglia is without doubt one of Italy's most irreverent and iconoclastic SF writers with three novels under his belt and another in the pipeline. He has also published, a collection of shorts, a TV serial and various SF plays including Somebody up there is Lusting for me distributed at the 1993 UK hosted Eurocon. His construction of Quagliaspace has just begun. Enter it at http://www.robertoquaglia.com||
What makes a great Eurocon? The 1994 Eurocon was one of the most vital (literally) and enthusiastic expressions and celebrations of science fiction of recent years . It imbued an atmosphere of enthusiasm and importance, but was not held with great materialistic gestures or against a backdrop of commercialism, or even with the typical indulgence of many a Western European convention for it took place in Eastern Europe in, what for much of this century has been regarded by much of the World -- it has to be said, albeit unjustly -- as somewhat of a backwater, Romania. To be exact, and in the true pioneering spirit of the genre, it was held in the town that spawned the 1990 Romanian revolution, Timisoara. It was a remarkable convention in many senses. The Guest of Honour list itself gave the game away that what was to occur was something out of the ordinary. It included: (the late) John Brunner, Herbert Franke, Joe Haldeman, Moebius, Norman Spinrad and Peter Cuczaka. Additionally, Special Guests included: Jack Cohen, Jonathan Cowie, Gay Haldeman, Bridget Wilkinson, Lee Wood and even one cloud of electrons from Quaglia space.
There were SF celebrants from: Austria, Bulgaria, England, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland, Switzerland, Turkey, the Ukraine and USA. Strangely, the absence of any Czechs, Slovaks, Poles and Germans was particularly noticed for in past years they had always joined the Eurocon in great numbers: a modest act of snobbism or sheer chance? Yet the 1994 Eurocon was to be a great convention in many senses. True, the organization at times appeared a little shaky, but a great capability to improvise overwhelmed this deficiency. Indeed it was marvellous the way the organisers provided for every foreign group a charming young lady (university language student) to function as an assistant, translator and tourist guide. It was a useful initiative which made all foreigners feel very welcome and the traditional standard of Timisoaran hospitality was distinctly confirmed.
Importantly the theme for the 1994 convention was 'Building Europe'. A serious theme referring to the immanent future directly affecting all of us, and a theme very relevant to the ideals of science fiction. As important was the impact of the convention on Timisoara and Romania itself, as exemplified by the laser rock concert with its audience of tens of thousands(!) and the convention's national TV and media coverage (which owed much to the Romanian Minister for Youth and Sport, Alexandru Mironov). Both concert and coverage conveyed a profound sense of significance for SF, and for Romania more than any other Eurocon venue, a conscious will to face the future with a clear mind and a heart full of optimism's passion.
By contrast the 1995 Eurocon was quite a different affair, not just because it was held in the West, in Glasgow, Scotland, but also because it was combined with a Worldcon. Sadly, where Timisoara had John Brunner as one of its guests, the 1995 Eurocon witnessed John's death. He died from an apoplectic stroke early in the convention, and his sudden and tragic departure weighed heavily on the convention. Silverberg, among others, commemorated him with public eulogies. Instead of the usual minute of silence, Silverberg asked the audience to cheer John's memory. Such applause has rarely been so powerful at any SF event.
The convention programme was, without doubt, a rich one: over 500 items each about half an hour to an hour. Here was enough material for a congress lasting 3 months, but was compressed into 5 days. 500 programme items were really too much! Even with the greatest will in the World it would be difficult for anyone to follow more than about 10%: so everyone must have lost at least some 90% of the whole.
Yet the best part of these great Eurocons is not found so much in the quality of the formal programme, but rather in the human contact such gatherings make possible. Being at conventions is a way of interacting, even in a passive way, with your own interests. Looking at, and listening to, others speaking from a podium can certainly be instructive, and interesting too, but no more than a good book or audio-visual production. Information flows in one way only; from speaker to listener. This is not, in my opinion, the most important thing about a good science fiction congress. As the best science fiction embodies the latest researches in knowledge and imagination, a good science fiction convention should know how to facilitate the exchange of information between participants. Yet a small part of the convention's programme did provide this with the 'Kaffeeklatsch'. The Kaffeeklatsches enabled a dozen or so to meet around a table with an SF personality and chat with them for an hour or so. They also gave an excellent opportunity to find new persons with whom later to converse. But the best places to live to the full convention's potential were the corridors, over meals in the restaurants and in the hotels' halls. The convention's main highlights according to the programme book were: the opening, the closing, certain talks and the prize-giving ceremonies. These were more than anything rituals for the celebration of idols, nearer to the spirit of TV than science fiction. It was outside these rituals and programmes that the convention throbbed with a life more worthy of being lived. In the bars, pubs, with a pint of Guinness, in the restaurants in front of Chinese or Indian dishes, those who were interested in diverse cultures vivaciously exchanged opinions in a buoyant spirit of communion which enriched everyone. Every evening the great hotels in Glasgow's centre became theatres for gigantic parties, frequented by hundreds of people discussing and drinking until late into the night. If the body of the Convention was made up of the formal programme, its spirit shone at its brightest during those evening parties.
As this was the most stimulating aspect of the 1995 convention it is worth making a few observations. Of those present, the overwhelming majority were Anglophones (Americans or British). But the impression one got was that many Americans and Britons failed to note that there were many continental Europeans there too, and when they did they did not seem all that interested. It was an opinion shared above all by the hundreds of fans from East Europe, from Romania and Croatia, fans who came en masse for the first time to a Worldcon, often having made great economic sacrifices to attend. They were full of enthusiasm and hopes, so were somewhat disappointed by the indifference they met. Given that science fiction at its best is a mirror of an attitude towards the exploration of the unknown, it is puzzling that at the 1995 SF Euro-Worldcon there was so little curiosity shown towards the mass participation of a slice of the World that is little known and that previously remained excluded...
And now we come to the fatties. The cultural level of the spectacle can be discussed, but not the elevated level of fat. Do not ask me why, but the percentage of fatties in American fandom is very high, rather very heavy. A fair number were over the 200 kilos mark and some used strange electric tricycles due to their evident difficulty getting around under their own steam. The reader might say that this is not pertinent information for a Eurocon article, but I do not agree. The convention was made up of human beings and the greater part of these were obese, some even monstrously so. I cannot say why, but it was a fact and must have some sort of explanation. I report it here without adding my own speculations. In a way, though, these gargantuan human forms had a certain fascination.
The 1995 Euro-Worldcon was a memorable event and I cannot complain about having taken part. At the same time it was the occasion for some critical reflections about the world of science fiction as it is today. My conclusions are that there is a lot of room for growth in European SF in a global context. Perhaps the thrust of this growth will be the countries of the East where SF enthusiasm is reaching the stars? My impression of Anglo-American SF is, at present, one of decadence. By now many writers are turning out long-winded block-busters for commercial consumption, and are more inspired by the muse of marketing than that of genius. I know that many will think it heresy to seriously contemplate a jump in continental Europe's SF. Here I am moderately optimistic. As to when it happens, by chance I am not that strongly pessimistic. But the best convention that I can remember is the one that (is to take place at the time of writing) took place in Genova, Italy, in May 1997. If you want a review of this convention then in due course check out Quagliaspace on the Internet.
Now the Irish EuroOctocon 1997 could be a great Eurocon...?
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