Convention Review


The 2015 Swecon – Sweden's national convention.

ConFuse was held on 7th – 9th August, 2015 at
Frimurarhotellet in Linköping. Karl-Johan Norén recounts his personal experience.


ConFuse 2015, this year’s Swecon – Sweden's national convention – was a very successful and well-run event, even by the establishedstandards of past ConFuses. It also continued several trends that have been apparent in the Swecons since the Swedish 2011 Eurocon.

The first trend is that the Swecons have increased markedly in size. When I joined Swedish fandom in 1999, the regular size was around 100 people, with only the large Stockholm cons the following years reaching 200–250 attending members. But every Swedish Swecon since Eurocon 2011 has had more than 400 attending members. ConFuse reached “only” 247, but then it must be remembered that no previous ConFuse (that were not Swecons) had earlier managed to reach more than 100 attending members, not even the 2008 one with Cory Doctorow as Guest of Honour.

The second trend is that the venues has become far more respectable. The old standard was on local community centres or student union buildings, often relatively remotely in the cities. The recent Swecons have been placed in central, easy-to-reach hotels (2012 and 2015), proper conference centres (2013), or large museums (2014). Actually, ConFuse had first been planned to be held in the main building of the student unions of Linköping, but that reservation had been cancelled on relatively short notice by the student union. The committee did a heroic job in finding a new venue on short notice.

The third trend is the increased presence of small presses and self-publishers in the dealer’s room (earlier a small thing at Swedish cons), and this is probably the first year when we finally managed to get a smooth and functional relation between the con, the members, and the dealers.

I arrived early afternoon on Friday, and helped unpack Alvarfonden’s used books until it was time to meet Anna Troy, so we could make some plans for the filk workshop we were to run on Saturday evening. The opening ceremony was brief with the spiritual release of the Spirit of Swecon (its vessel had once again been mislaid), and the introduction of the Guest of Honours at the con. They were: Canadian author and futurist Madeline Ashby; Swedish author Kristina Hård; and British author Ben (Rivers of London & Moon Over Soho) Aaronovitch.

This was a proper hotel con; I estimate at least a third of the members stayed at the hotel. The conference facilities and bar were all on the ground floor. After going past the hotel reception, the hotel bar was on the right and a large lobby to the left. The con reception was situated in the lobby. The lobby was somewhat lacking in sofas and tables (it had a large empty space), but otherwise functioned nicely as a social area. Continuing past the lobby, one walked past the dealer's room, with two separate entrances, two smaller group rooms, and a kid’s room furnished by the hotel, before entering a second small lobby. Turning left, one passed the combined green room and gopher hole, a medium-size room (seating 70), before finally reaching the main room (seating 150). The lack of seating in the lobby was partly made up for with three alcoves with sofas and tables in the dealer’s room.

My wife Therese and I were hungry and went to the nearby pub De Klomp, which is the regular watering hole of Linköping fandom. It is expensive, but very good. Not to the level where we are given the pedigree of the cow found in the hamburger, but not that far away. Anders Holmström, a Swedish fan with profile, came over and said 'hi', but did not join our table.

As a result, we missed Madeline Ashby’s GoH speech 'The Privilege of the Future,' which was held immediately after the opening ceremony, but it can be read in its entirety on her web site.

Back at the hotel (really just across the street) I continued to sit around chatting with friends and doing a tour of the dealers' room. I have cut back on buying books lately, but could not resist buying John-Henri Holmberg's (J. H. H.) anthology Häpna!, with stories (in new translations) from the Swedish 50’s sf magazine of the same name, and essays describing its role in creating and nurturing SF and fandom in Sweden. J. H. H. was happy to sign it as well. J. H. H. is without a doubt the most knowledgeable person on science fiction in Sweden, and has authored good overviews and edited several anthologies, apart from being active in fandom since the 60’s. He is a worthy Pro and Fan Guest of Honour at the recently announced 2017 Worldcon.

David Nickle hosted an interesting group discussion on Lovecraft and race. Luckily, there were no Lovecraft apologists in the room, so instead we had a long discussion on how one is to approach and handle problematic (or deeply problematic works) and on different kinds of racism. To take one example, both Tolkien and Lovecraft show deeply racist views, but their racism take wildly different forms: Lovecraft reacts with fear or revulsion, but Tolkien with pity or sorrow.

I did get to sit and chat a little with Lars-Olov Strandberg, the grand old man of Swedish fandom and Fan Guest of Honor at Interaction, the 2005 Worldcon. He had missed several cons lately, including Loncon 3, and was very happy to be back. I was just as happy that he could attend. Since we moved away from Stockholm we see him far too seldom.

Afterwards, I sat around far too late, and drinking far too much bheer in the hotel bar. There were plenty of mundanes in attendance, but unlike at the Archipelacon hotel bars, we fans were always in the majority. The bar had some bottled local beers, which were nice but not spectacular.

First thing in the morning was helping Therese, with a Gishwhes mission (she did her second year), photographing her dressed as a nun being presented with a miracle (bread and fishes being multiplied, in binary, using small round crackers and liquorice candy fishes). The nice thing about being at a con is that you always can find people willing to help with weird requests.

I then systematically decided to ignore the programme, while chatting around. That said, one could tell that the programme was good: most members were in the programme rooms during the items, and there were very few people who left the items before they were finished. Everything also started and ended on time, but given that this was a Confuse, that was a given. As veteran fan Bellis said once in an old con report: the key to a good social experience at a con is that there is an excellent programme that one studiously ignores.

One weird effect from the very well-run convention, the size of the most recent Swecons (not to mention Archipelacon), and a venue that was almost exactly properly suited to the number of attendees, was that I found myself sitting down in the lobby chatting relaxedly during a con I experienced as laid-back and calm. It dawned on me that the con was same size or larger than Nasacon 2000 or Fantastika 2001, that both carried astounding amounts of Gosh wow, boy oh boy and nervous energy over the size and success of them. Granted, I was on the committee for both, which has an impact, but the committee here looked almost as relaxed as I felt.

Therese, I, and a couple of other fans with connections to the north of Sweden went out to have lunch, finding a decent Asian buffet place. Here I sadly missed Jukka Halme’s presentation on the bidding for Helsinki in 2017. When I returned, I listened to a panel on influential science fiction short stories (including novelettes). Present in the panel were Eva Holmquist, John-Henri Holmberg, Anders Hedenlund, Bellis, and Tomas Cronholm (as moderator). With both J. H. H . and Bellis in the panel, the risk was apparent that there would only be two people talking, but Tomas did a good job in giving everyone the chance to speak.

Some favourites mentioned were: 'University' by Peter Phillips; 'The Electric Ant' by Philip K Dick'; 'The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas' and 'The Day before the Revolution' by Ursula K. LeGuin; and 'A Sound of Thunder' and 'The Lake' by Ray Bradbury. It was amusing when eventually Bellis got to speak for the first time, saying that everyone had already said everything he had to say, but still he managed to speak longer than everyone had (other than J. H. H.).

H. G. Wells was mentioned as one early pioneer of many themes within science fiction, as well as Stanley Weinbaum (where the alien was first totally alien and incomprehensible) and Isaac Asimov (where robots were first made into machines, not monsters or anthropomorphic). I had hoped that the panel would mention some newer works as well, but I can understand them being hard to identify. But surely there could be something from the 80’s or 90’s that is worth mentioning, even with the shift to longer forms?

Then I had to prepare for my own panel, on where Swedish fandom is headed, or using its proper name, 'Conventions today and tomorrow (an hour of navel-gazing)'. I was to moderate Sofia Karlsson (new fan), Saija Kyllönen (Finncon veteran), Anna Davour (Swecon 2014 chair), Johan Anglemark (Archipelacon co-chair), and Eva Holmquist (SF author and new to fandom). Given the heatedness of our planning exchanges, I had expected sparks to fly, but things were quite mellow. I think a part of that was that the panel mainly came to concern the goals that we want our cons to reach, and not so much the how or the methods we will use to make them reach those goals, mainly due to the time constraints. With such a large panel, I also was quite firm in my moderating, and focused only on moderation, totally staying away as a participant of the debate except for calling out a new question now and then.

After the panel, Sofia led a group discussion following it up. I was happy to see Lars-Olov joining that discussion, and he was quite happy he had joined it afterward.

I however had to start preparing myself for the (two-hour, i.e. a double slot) filk workshop, picking up some tea and (excellent and home-made by gopher mom Cissi Persson) cookies in the combined green room and gopher hole. When I arrived to our room, Anna Troy had already arranged some chairs in a circle. We mixed talking about filk, internationally and in Sweden, with singing songs. We tried to get a proper circle going, but the only other attendee with songs to share was veteran fan Ahrvid Engholm. He did spoken word renditions of some of his old filk songs, and could also cover the history of Swedish filking in the 1980’s better than I ever could (since he was there).

Anna is an old SCA hand, and had only recently discovered fandom, so most of her songs had SCA themes. She is quite the talented filker, however. One amusing episode was when she sang a filk of a classic Swedish kid’s song that I myself had filked, where we ended up with exactly the same theme but very different lyrics. I followed up with my version. We were not many in the workshop, six people the first half, then down to three when the rest of the programme rolled, and later up to five again. Filking has long been non-existent in Swedish fandom, but I and a few others are starting to re-introduce it.

The day’s duties done, I helped my wife with some last chores for Gishwhes. One of her pieces for it was perfect for the NoFF (Nordic Fan Fund) auction that were to be held later that evening. We got it and some other items scanned with the help of the hotel reception, after which the painting 'The Funeral of Death' could be brought to the auction to be sold as the very last item (more than half the items had been sold when I delivered it). Auctioneers were Sofia Karlsson and Bellis, and they did a good job raising funds.

There were fewer international members than usual, I noted only eight or so Finns, an ex-pat Irish living in Britain, some of the usual Danes and Norwegians (who we Swedes hardly view as foreign fans anyway), and maybe one or two more. But I can certainly understand the draw of Archipelacon this year.

Over a beer Johan Jönsson told us why con runners should do more strength training: so they can bodily carry out recalcitrant lecturers who refuse to end their talks on time. Other than that, the programme, or for that matter the entire con, ran extremely smoothly. The committee of course had some luck in that (only a very few cancellations or things that needed to be changed), but in the end it comes down to excellent planning and lots of experience. The hotel staff was very friendly, helpful, and professional during the whole weekend, including when they had to confiscate a temporarily unattended rare beer bottle (it was later returned, once its purpose for a fan fund auction was explained).

Sunday started nicely, with lots of pleasant chatting over breakfast. I had toyed with the idea of joining the guided tour of Linköping, but skipped it in order to prepare for checkout. I very much appreciate these tours, but I had already been to one in Linköping, back in 2008, and I believe the closing day is not the best day for this, given the need to pack and check out from the hotel.

Again, I spent most of my time sitting around and chatting. The chatting was however hampered by that the hotel bar was closed on Sunday. The hotel reception had a limited selection of beer, but it was far from the same thing as a proper bar. I took part in a nice corridor discussion on how the small presses now has started to understand our cons. They are not vehicles for huckstering (like the book fairs), as many of them had the expectation at Kontrast, the 2012 Swecon, but for networking and connecting with readers. At the same time, the dealers were given a much better space by the con, and also placed immediately together with the used books of Alvarfonden, which always is a big draw, as well as some tables and sofas for mingling. It really helped to make the dealer’s room into an integral part of the con.

Jonas Wissting, the con chair, came up and asked if I had any preferences for when I would perform the song I was supposed to sing as part of the combined Swecon selection and Alvar award ceremony—10 minutes before that programme item was to start. I had managed to forgot that entirely in the morning, but told him to put me wherever it suited, and went to the green room to try to find some way to get my throat fit for singing. At least I had practiced the song a lot before the con.

First came the site selection for next year’s Swecon. The vote went, unopposed except for Bellis’s spoof bid Motörcon (one month in Globen, Stockholm, with Motörhead as the guests of honour), to Fantastika 2016, to be held on 17th – 19th June in Stockholm. The core committee is Carolina Goméz Lagerlöf, Tomas Cronholm, Anders Reuterswärd, Mà rten Svantesson, and Alice Hedenlund. The preliminary location is Dieselverkstaden in Sickla, a suburb of Stockholm, the same place as was for Swecon 2013.

With the exception of Alice everyone in the committee are veteran con runners. I am really happy that Alice joined it. She is young, and we very much need to nurture and introduce new con-runners. The flip side of the streak of very large and ambitious Swecons the last few years is that the old 3.5 committees in eastern Sweden (one in Linköping, one in Uppsala, and one-and-a-half in Stockholm) sort of has merged into one single committee pool.

This done, it was time for the Alvar Award, a yearly award given in memory of legendary Swedish fan Alvar Appeltofft, after an advisory vote in Swedish fandom. This year Maria Nygård was the happy and very worthy recipient of the honour, a beanie-clad lightbulb, and a modest stipend.

But the foundation responsible for the Alvar Award had another thing. Last year Lars-Olov Strandberg stepped down from the foundation’s board, after having been sitting on it continuously since its start in 1976. The current chairman, Johan Anglemark, gave a short speech, and Lars-Olov was given a framed copy of my song honouring him. Last I performed the song, 'Strandbergs skål', based on 'Gustafs skål' from 1772 by Carl Michael Bellman. For those who do not know about Lars-Olov's achievements in fandom, he has held board positions in our associations and foundations continuously since at least 1960 (and probably earlier), was instrumental in creating the Alvarfonden fan fund and the Science Fiction bookstore in Stockholm, and has been on the committee on just about every con held in Stockholm. His photo archive covers English, Swedish, and some international cons over six decades. He was the Fan Guest of Honour at Interaction, the 2005 Worldcon in Glasgow. It was an honour to be asked to write and sing a song for him.

Lunch was with Therese and an old friend of hers who lives in Linköping. He had been at the con the first two days, but had to spend the Sunday grading essays. We helped him get in touch with Magnus Redin and the local SF club. Magnus together with Tomas and Margareta Cronholm spent most of their time in the reception, and did a great job there.

Therese had spent most of her Sunday not on Gishwhes (it had ended Saturday evening) but on preparing her talk on 'Meta-fictional Characters in Supernatural and Their Relation to Fandom'. She was quite happy with the way it turned out, and had a decent audience despite it being held on the tail end of the con and against some heavy-duty items.

Then it was time for the closing ceremony. I got to open it by singing my filk song 'När Linköping räddade fandom' (When Linköping saved fandom, to the tune of 'Marching Through Georgia'), written for the occasion, leading the room into the chorus. Then Madeline, Kristina and Ben were thanked for their participation and said short speeches, and the Spirit of Swecon was placed in its new vessel.

We said our goodbyes, and went to the train station, skipping the Dead Dog party. There we encountered a new fan returning home from his first con, and had a nice chat with him in the station cafeteria. Johan Jönsson also joined us for a short bit. Going out to catch our train, we found two more fen, waiting for their (delayed) train. It’s a sign on how the Swedish cons have grown that I didn’t recognise any of them, despite them both having been present at two earlier Swecons!

All in all, Confuse 2015 was an excellent con, and if Swedish fandom does not seem that enthusiastic about it, then it only shows how our expectations have been raised over the last five years.

Karl-Johan Norén


Karl-Johan Norén is a Swedish fan and filker.

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