Frivolous while waiting for the curtain to rise

The most active sf/f-website in Finland is called Risingshadow.net. It has both Finnish and English versions and is managed by active fans, who are not part of the more actively faannish group of people who arrange Finncon’s and/or make magazines. Obviously there is some overlapping, but for the porpoise of my hyperbola, we’ll let that pass us by. The users are mainly younger folk than us geriactics that are running the show (more like mouth, if you ask them youngsters), which makes the fora at the same time interesting and depressing.

You get questions that cover the entire length and wide of the speculative fiction spectrum, smart questions (and answers) about various authors and/or books, movies, comics etc. Occasionally you get mingled into something you should’ve had the intellect to steer away from, but were unable to do so since you just could not help yourself. Then there are those, that just have no idea and think that a forum like this could be a great place to make someone do your homework for you. Like asking for a brief summary of the history of science fiction. Which I thought I had to answer. Like this (“slightly” rewritten):

The Father of Scientific Fiction (abbreviated by ScaiFai, as you know of course) has often been called Issax Asimow, whose most famous sfici-novel is SpaceOdysseus 2000, perhaps better known as the motion picture, by the same name, directed by Stephen Spielberger. In the movie, astronauts find a great monolith from the Moon, in which a Starchild is living in (you can see the child in the poster).

Before Assimow, there were some so called proto-writers, like Danielle Defoe, who wrote the memorable Spacefamily Robinso, also perhaps better known as the movie Lost in Spacebar. Many remember fondly the robot-Friday, who is often compared to Frankenstein, which was a monster of the Mary Shelly novel of the same name (Lost in Space). Frankenbenstein was a creature of Count Dracula, who collected various bodyparts and joined them together with the help of a lightning strike to a kite. Obviously both the name and the incident relates to the famous American president Benjamin Frank, who was not only a president, but also an inventor (he invented for example phonogram, sonogram and tetragammaton, not to mention light bulb).

Of the most famous and important new fs-authors one should mention Richard K. Dick (author of such classics as Bladder Runner, Minority Reporter, Paycheck and Paul Verhoeven’s Partial Recall), Stanislaus Lemm (author of Solaris or Stalker), Alasdair Reynolds (famous for his Culture-novels, including Player of Names and Consider Leban) and definitely not forget such domestic talents as Johannes Sinisalo (Pessi and Illusia) and Leena Khorn of the Tainaroni’n’cheese-fame.

Many Scientific Fiction deals with ideas and themes like: Immortality (Washmen by Alan More and Dave Gibbon, a stunningly original take on Olive Newton-John’s classic Xanadu), Monsters (Predator: Sloth China Saw by Jeff VanderMuir about a fantasy-writer, who makes friends with a lovable slow-moving creature that turns into a harrowing monster), Immorality (Void Captains Table by Normal Spinradiator, a chilling remake of the TItanic disaster), Technological Development (Neuromanger by William Gibson Stratocaster, a bleak look at the way large corporations and their greed have slowed down interwebs, causing uncontrollable anger among young, frustrated teenagers, who are joined neurally by a virus to form a collective hivemind) and Computer Supremacy (1948, a dystopy of the world where pigs and other evil animals have taken over the planet), and Robots&Spaceships (Starhip Trooper by Robert Erwin Heinlein, to which Star Wreck is mostly based on).

Some other notables include Alfredo Bester and his Babylonia 5 -novels, Rank Herbert’s Doon-books and Ursula Le Quin’s UrthSea-sequence. Sime might include also Arthur C-Clarke, but I was never a big fan of his Robot-stories.

Now, an operatic interlude. I’ll be back though, with some parting thoughts. Wish me… What do people wish in these instances? Break a leg? Lose your voice? Ding a wombat?

At the Movies

How many science fiction films have we Finns made? Take a wild guess.

Give up? Me too. Actually, I don’t know really how many science fiction – or even fantasy – films has been made in Finland or by Finns, but I can tell you, that the number is pitifully small. Before the rise of the small-budget filmmakers of the last ten or so years, proper sf-films were done by the few, the proud, the weirdoes. None of them were particularily breathtaking or original or even entertaining. I mean, when we’re forced to count in movies like the lesser-talented Kaurismäki Bros, Mika, and his epically forgettable Last Border, you know were not in Happy Town.

There was a mention of Iron Sky in one of the comments. Yes, the makers of Star Wreck will be back eventually. With a script by none other than Johanna Sinisalo! Nazis on the Moon and they’re coming back home… Should be a lot of fun and by the look of it all, maybe the producers have finally developed a sense of humour that appeals to a wider audience than screaming adolescent fanboys (just kidding, guys, you know I love you!).

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Soliloquy and an interlude

A brief personal note. As I mentioned, I’m involved with a small-scale chamber opera production. Two musicians, four main roles (of which mine is definitely the smallest one) and a choir of… four? All in all, not really Met are we. However, it’s been fun.

Now, the last rehearsals are over. I know my lines, I have a grasp of how my music goes and what I should do while it all. All I have to do, is to click all these things together. Yup. Here comes the opera hero.

But, alas, that’s all just one piece in the larger puzzle of life. This has been a busy week, I’ve been working extra hours nearly every day and sleepy time has been a bit, shall we say, condensed. Havenät been able to read at all and I do have a few books in my to be read -shelf.

As a matter of fact, I do not have such shelf. Such shelf would be filled with far too many books from our library, for you see, I’m an accumulator. I collect books, but in reality, I accumulate books. A bought book is a good book. A book for free is also a good book. In fact, a book per se, is a good thing.

But I do read them, too. Recent reads have included Adam-Troy Castro’s Emissaries from the Dead (lovely little noir-sf that explores couple of interesting ideas, such as linked humans and – well – slavery), Jay Lake’s rollicking Mainspring (steampunk, or should one actually say gearpunk?), Mikko Karppi’s Unkarilainen taulu (Hungarian Painting, a somewhat X-Files’ish police procedural by an actual policeman), Eliot FIntushel’s Breakfast With The Ones You Love (brilliant, sad and at the same time funny urban fantasy), Jukka M. Heikkilä’s Germania (fresh take on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in which my namesake handles the feelings and motivations of the era very well, while adding an element of modern view-point with a Finnish character, a solid historical novel) and – to nicely round this up – Paul Kearney’s Ten Thousand (yes, a fantasy take on Xenofon’s Anabasis, always a personal favourite as historical legends go, alongside with the Great Siege of Malta in 1565).

Been a while since I last read anything. *sigh* Maybe I’ll manage to fit in a book or two these following four days I have off from work? Recommendations?

Safe Nest No More

We Finns have traditionally thought of our country as a safe little corner of Earth, far away from the crime and unrest of the big world. Even though the Finns own quite a lot of firearms (actually the third largest number of firearms per person in the world I believe), shooting incidents and other acts of violence are something that happens in America, or at least Someplace Else. This safety is as much just a hopeful vision as reality: there’s quite a lot of domestic violence here, as there is everywhere else, for example, and every now and then you read in the yellow papers about somebody chasing their family with a shotgun, usually drunk. There are of course drugs in Finland too, and if you go to the wrong parts of the cities at night, you increase your chances of getting mugged quite a lot. But still the public perception has been that Finland is a safe and idyllic place.

Until recently. A year ago today, an 18-year-old student walked into his high school in Jokela and started shooting around. In the end he killed six students, the principal, the school nurse, and himself. This had a huge impact on Finns. School shootings were something that just didn’t happen here. There was an outrage over how this could happen. The usual suspects like violent movies and video games were blamed. Action was promised. But this was after all a single incident committed by a clearly disturbed individual, so little by little the furor died down.

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Reading Finnish speculative fiction

Where can I find interesting Finnish speculative fiction?”, asked one fan once at a con. Well, from many places, unfortunately mainly in Finnish, of course. There are many wonderful local talents, whose ideas, style, love of language and pure uninhibited storytelling verve would deserve to be recognised by a larger audience. But, alas, not so.

As you know, Bob, Finnish is a member of the Finno-Ugric language family and is typologically between fusional and agglutinative languages. It modifies and inflects the forms of nouns, adjectives, pronouns, numerals and verbs, depending on their roles in the sentence.” Or so says Wikipedia. Whatever it’s worth, it might as well be from Mars for the billions non-Finns and the handful of gritty foreigners who have had the temerity to learn our beautiful language.

But, I digress. What I meant to write was about the current local speculative fiction field. I use the term “speculative fiction” here since it fairly well encompasses the field we’re talking about. Finns read a lot. We write a lot, too. Some science fiction, some fantasy, some horror, some new weird, even. A number of writers, that would generally be called mainstream prosaists, have this almost northern magical realist tendency to blur the borders of genres. Writers like Arto Paasilinna, who is HUGE in France. His Magnum opus Jäniksen vuosi (The Year of the Hare) was recently turned into a motion picture, starring Christopher Lambert [but don't hold that against Arto]).

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Top Five Reasons Why Finnish Is Cooler Than English

Today’s post is a short one, because I’m just back from a visit to the local sf pub meeting. Nice things, those. You go to the friendly neighborhood (or in this case, downtown) pub, order some food and a beer, sit down with people you know (and some you don’t if you’re lucky and there are new people at the meeting) and talk about stuff. You know, an ordinary pub night. Except with more sf. Which makes it even better.

Anyway. Lists are all the rage on the net, I hear. I’m lousy with lists: I can’t even list my favorite books if asked when I don’t expect it. Or when I do. Normally I just evade the question by starting to talk about the latest book I’ve read and hope the person I’m talking to forgets what they asked. If that doesn’t work, I ramble on until they get the hint and pretend they forgot the question. Or, in a pinch, I change the subject. By the way, did you know that the Finnish cavalry-men, called “hakkapeliittas,” were feared through Europe during the Thirty Years’ War? Apparently this was because they were used to fighting the Russians on the Eastern border and no chivalry was known in those battles. In other words, instead of civilized fighting, they were used to what we today would probably call total war. (My wife is currently preparing a lecture about Sweden as a superpower in the 17th century, and that’s where I got this interesting tidbit.)

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Obama, Steampunk, and Last Push on Novel


(Two punky steamers signing in the dealer’s room at the Steampunk con–thanks Carrie; more of her Steampunk con photos here.)

Thanks to Tero and Jukka for posting this week–I’ve really enjoyed their perspective on things. Expect them to continue through Saturday.

We had the privilege of being in San Francisco the night of November 4th, doing an event for the Steampunk anthology at Borderlands (great bookstore, wonderful staff) along with Richard Bottoms, one of the Steampunk convention organizers. Almost precisely when we ended, the election was called for Obama, and there were shouts and laughter from the street. Afterwards, the great and wise Jacob and Rina Weisman from Tachyon Books, along with their amazing managing editor Jill Roberts, took us out to dinner right across the street. Toward the end, we saw people running down the sidewalk outside, went to look, and saw that right at that intersection hundreds of people had gathered to celebrate. It was a wild, great way to end a stunning and emotional night. Jill blogged about it here.

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Finnish Fandom: Fanzines

Fan publishing has a long history in sf fandom. There are no commercial sf magazines in Finland, but here too many sf clubs publish their own zine. Some (most notably the Helsinki sf society’s Tähtivaeltaja (meaning “Star Rover” or “Stellar Wanderer”—for some strange reason my suggestion for the translation, “Star Trekker,” wasn’t received with very much enthusiasm) and the Tampere sf society’s Portti (“Gateway”) could be classified as semiprozines instead of fanzines: they are large (100 pages or more) and printed on glossy paper in color, and their print runs are in the four figure ballpark. The rest are smaller, in page count as well as in distribution, but many have their own distinct identities and therefore are of interest also outside of just the members of the club that publishes the fanzine.

Tähtivaeltaja is, in my opinion, the premier sf zine in Finland (and I’ve heard it called “The best sf zine in the world I can’t understand a word of” by many visitors from abroad). It’s devotedly and expertly edited by Toni Jerrman since the early 1980s, four issues per year, over 100 issues to date. Tähtivaeltaja is always on top of current trends in science fiction, and usually telling the rest of us about the next ones too. Its main emphasis is science fiction, but horror, comics, rock music, and other subcultures have also been strongly represented. The contents of Tähtivaeltaja are many: in-depth author interviews and articles, comics reviews, books and comics news, short stories, extensive movie reviews and articles, comics, humor pieces, and the best sf book reviews you’ll find in any zine here, all put together with uncompromising punk attitude.

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Global Storytelling

Risto Isomäki is a Finnish science journalist, environmental activist, and science fiction writer. He’s published several novels and short stories and been nominated for the Finlandia award (the biggest and most prestigious Finnish literary award) for his sf ecothriller Sarasvatin hiekkaa.

The reason I’m talking about this is because the book has recently been adapted as a graphic novel, and it’s also been published in English with the title The Sands of Sarasvati.

The story is set in the 2020s. A Russian scientist is invited to India because he’s invented a special submarine that might be suitable for researching the odd discoveries made near the Indian coast. There are traces there of ancient civilizations previously unknown to scientists, and as big a mystery as their discovery seems to be the way they’ve suddenly been destroyed. Meanwhile a Finnish eco-activist is developing potential means for stopping the polar ice caps from melting. And in Greenland, local research team makes some very strange and disturbing discoveries.

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Sticking Together

This post is of a much more personal nature than my previous ones. A while ago, an old friend (and a longtime sf fan) suffered a stroke. This left him immobile and unable to speak. His prognosis is reasonably good, but the struggle to recovery is long and hard.

The news of our friend’s hardship passed through fandom quickly, and people immediately started thinking of how he could be helped. Although we’re lucky to live in a country where medical bills don’t drive people to bancruptcy, the cost of his recuperation (and equipment he’ll probably need to get) will be considerable. To help with this, and to enable him to communicate with the world while he’s relearning to speak, a group donation from fandom was organized. In just a few days he was presented with a laptop (so he can use programs that aid in the recovery and also communicate with friends) and a nice sum of money to help with the expenses. And people are still giving to help him and his family.

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