Eurocon 2023

This year’s Eurocon took place in Uppsala, a small city in Sweden just north of Stockholm. Arlanda airport is roughly equidistant between the two cities so Uppsala is an easy destination for international travelers. This year there was a problem with the train service between Arlanda and Uppsala, but there is an express bus service that does the job almost as well and is much cheaper.

The convention recommended we use the Clarion Gillet Hotel, which seemed a bit odd because there were no convention functions scheduled in it and it was about 10 minutes walk from the venue. I later found out that SweCon often takes place in that hotel, which explains why the ConCom wanted to keep them happy. Anyway, it was a nice enough hotel, with an excellent breakfast.

The venue was Uppsala University, a venerable institution founded in 1477 and possessing a gorgeous main building. There were no obvious places to put a dealers’ room or art show, but the passageways were so generous that we could use those instead. All of the meeting rooms were well equipped with sound systems. My only real complaint was that the main hall was so huge and echoey that it made it hard for me to hear anything. I suspect other hearing aid users will have had similar issues. It was a splendid hall, though. You could have staged an opera in there and it would not have looked out of place.

I was scheduled for four panels, all of which went well. I also attended quite a few, which speaks well for the choice of program items. I gather that some panels went a bit off the rails, but none I saw did. I’d particularly like to commend Johan Anglemark who did a heroic job with a panel on “How do young people get into RPGs these days?”, for which he had been given a panel of three, two of which were older than him. As it turned out, they both started role-playing around the time I stopped, but we are still taking late 1980s.

As far as I was concerned, the most interesting event was the Guest of Honour talk by Merja Polvinen. She’s a lecturer in narratology at the University of Helsinki and the work she does on speculative fiction is fascinating. I will probably butcher the theory, but here’s a quick attempt at explaining what she does.

Many of you will be familiar with Samuel Delany’s idea that science fiction literalises metaphor. The best known example of this is, “then her world exploded”. That’s unlikely to happen in a story set in our world, but if you happen to be Princess Leia it takes on a whole new meaning. What Merja has been doing is taking that one step further and looking at how science fiction literalises narrative techniques.

What does that mean? Well, consider the concept of the novel with multiple point of view characters. If you are reading A Song of Ice and Fire you have one chapter telling you what Tyrion knows of the current political situation, and then a following chapter from Cersi’s point of view. Neither will have the full picture, but you, the reader, can see what both of them see. Now consider characters such as Breq or Anaander Miannaai from Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy. Both of them have multiple bodies that are in contact with each other. So both of them are literally multiple viewpoint characters in a single person.

If you are wondering why anyone would study this, one reason is that examination of narrative techniques is a very respectable part of academic literary studies, and this is a good way to get the older and stuffier academics to sit up and take notice.

Another highlight of the programme was the trip to the old Viking settlement of Old Uppsala. I’ll do a separate report on that.

Food is a key part of any convention for me, and Uppsala provided magnificently. One evening I went out with Farah Mendlesohn, Edward James and Vincent Docherty to a place called Domtrappkällaren. I had one of the best meals I have ever had in my life. I want to make particular mention of the pureed parsnips. There are things you expect to taste amazing. Parsnips are not generally high on the list. I have no idea how they got such concentrated flavour out of them.

Merja, who spent some time living in Uppsala just before the pandemic, recommended Hamberg’s Fisk. During the day they operate a pub-like restaurant in the garden of an old house that once belonged the a vice chancellor of the university. It is all fish, of course. I sat in the sun eating salmon salad and drinking white wine. It was lovely.

ESFS business duly happened. Awards were given out. I’m particularly pleased for my friends, Sara Bergmark Elfgren and John-Henri Holmberg. Sara won Best Written Fiction for her novel, Grim, which will be available in English by the time this issue hits the interwebs. John-Henri got the Grand Master award, which was entirely appropriate.

The 2024 Eurocon is already seated. It will take place in Rotterdam the weekend after the Glasgow Worldcon. That’s convenient for people travelling from far away, but these days there is a definite COVID risk. I’m not sure about booking to attend as I don’t want to have to cancel at the last minute. Jasper Fforde is the headline GoH.

There was only one bidder for the 2025 Eurocon, because no one was daft enough to bid against Archipaleacon 2. It will be wonderful. The GoHs are Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, Mats Strandberg and Emmi Itäranta. Mats, as well as being half of the most famous gay couple in Sweden, writes mostly horror. He has written a novel set on a ferry in the Baltic. I do not recommend reading it before you travel to Archipelacon. Wait until you are safely home.

Getting home was a nightmare of delayed aircraft and delayed trains, but I made it. I am once again very grateful to John & Judith Clute for their hospitality.