Finnish Fandom: an Overview

Fandom started getting organized in Finland when the first sf club (the Turku Science Fiction Society) was founded in 1976. Next year saw the birth of its clubzine Spin. Both TSFS and Spin are still active today. In the early days the active fans were few and far between, but they kept in touch and formed other clubs and founded other fanzines. Fandom was alive.

The Finnish fandom is pretty active considering Finland is not that big a country. The cities that are most active are Helsinki (the capital and largest city), Espoo (which is right beside Helsinki but vigorously maintains they have their own identity), Turku (the oldest city in Finland and also the city where our fandom first got organized), Tampere (which has one of the oldest sf societies in Finland, but also one of the most active new ones), and Jyväskylä (which is a small but very energetic city and a pioneer of getting fandom co-operating with the local culture scene). There are occasional bouts of fandom activity in other cities (Oulu and Lahti, for example), but these five are the regular centers of activity. They all have their own sf societies, Helsinki and Turku also have University sf clubs, and Tampere—as mentioned—has another society alongside the “old one”. In addition to these, there’s also the Finnish Science Fiction Writers Association, plus a few smaller clubs. Nowadays there are also several online communities formed around common interests and not the cities where people live.

There are regular pub meetings (called “mafias” in Finland) in these cities usually once a month (biweekly in Helsinki). These tend to get between ten and twenty people together (again, Helsinki is the exception with maybe fifty people present on a good night) doing what fans do all over world: meet friends, talk about all kinds of things (sometimes even science fiction) and drink beer. There are also other meetings like video clubs, book discussion circles, club meetings, convention committee meetings, online community live meet and greets, and so on, but the regular pub meetings are the stable core of fandom and the way to meet with like-minded people.

All this is normal fan activity, of course. But in addition to this our fandom does active promoting of both science fiction and conventions (and is proud of this). We don’t want to be secluded in our own little margin, we want the world to know science fiction is interesting, thoughtful, well written, accessible (as long as you pick the right books to start with) and great fun. Many good books have been translated into Finnish thanks to active lobbying by fans, and Finncon, our national convention, is (after years of work) recognized as a national cultural event that regularly gets prominently reported in newspapers and is eligible for sizable cultural grants. There are also numerous writing competitions (some especially aimed at young people), writing courses, and other happenings which have helped establish science fiction in Finland more as part of the “accepted” culture and not just a “pulp phenomenon” to be looked at down one’s nose. (That of course still happens to a degree, but the work continues.)

One aspect of Finnish fandom that has made this possible has been the ability (and will) to work together. Maybe we’ve always been a small enough group to function as a whole, or just been really lucky to have few personalities that would seriously clash with each other, but fandom tends to pull together. For about a couple of decades, all societies have met once a year at a “cooperation meeting” to exchange information, talk about future plans, see how people might help each other, and so on (plus of course go to the sauna, swim in the frozen lake and consume refreshing beverages). Also, there hasn’t traditionally been any separation between science fiction and fantasy fandom, and neither are there separate book and media fandoms—everyone is welcome and gets along with the others. There’s some overlap with other fandoms, such as role playing, LARP, and lately anime in particular, and they’re often invited to participate as well. Of course some individuals (and clubs) gravitate towards different things than others, but still I personally think this standing together instead of separating into (even smaller) factions is maybe the most important reason for why sf (and fandom) are appreciated here as much as they are.

So, that’s a brief introduction to fandom in Finland. More on conventions, fanzines, etc. later.