Worldcon 75 & Helsinki

This post is almost two months late. I could never quite think of what I wanted to say in it, and I didn’t try very hard. Thinking about how I needed to write this up first stopped me posting other things. So it’s all been on big mess of procrastination. But I’m here now, and I’m gonna write some stuff about my holiday – though it’s likely to be more broad-strokes than anything, after this long.

Worldcon

First up: I didn’t fall apart. I had worried about it, but I never really got to that point of frustration and anxiety that I had at my previous Worldcon. I suspect this is less of a personal improvement, and more getting used to failing at being social, and adjusting my expectations accordingly. I spent pretty much the entire con on my own again; I just didn’t get too bothered by it.

As for the con itself, apart from some first day hiccups where they had too many people and not enough space – I missed two or three panels on Thursday because the rooms were full – the content was great. It didn’t hit my specific buttons the way Nine Worlds content tends to, but there was a wide range of interesting stuff going on at all times, and there were only a few points where I found myself with nothing to do (which usually means it’s a chance to go eat).

Among the panels I attended were discussions of colonialism and orientalism, of representation in dystopias and in historical writing, of Lovecraft, and fairy tales, and musicals (the latter of which involved significantly less sing-along than the Nine Worlds equivalent). I attended talks by Ken Liu (on translation) and Jeff VanderMeer (on the adaptation of his novel Annihilation to film), and took part in the ASoIaF Quiz (which was far too difficult, alas, as it focused on pretty much everything except the main series novels or TV show).

It’s hard to be specific on these things when I’m writing about it so late, but I remember one of the highlights of the convention being the panel Oral Storytelling on Audio, which my last panel of the weekend, and was both informative and funny (largely due to some anecdotes from Mary Robinette Kowal).

The low point was probably the Fantastical Travel Guide panel, which attempted to get three authors to answer questions on the settings of their books as if they’re pitching them to tourists. Unfortunately the questions offered by the moderator didn’t quite seem to give the panelists much to work with, though they did their best. Anne Leinonen was very enthusiastically in-character to pitch her book, and Jeff VanderMeer, who seemed somewhat aware it wasn’t going well, at least was having some fun answering as Mord, the floating, giant, murderous bear from Borne (with multiple costume changes).

I attended the Hugo Awards ceremony again, and to be honest I found it a bit of a drag. I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to watch the Hugos live is probably in private, with friends, so you can talk about it as it’s going on. The ceremony was also marred by some terrible live transcription, with frequent errors and sometimes entire chunks of speeches skipped after the scribe obviously lost track. I realise live transcription is a very difficult task, and most likely was being done by a volunteer, but I can’t imagine what it must have been like for anyone who had to rely on the text to follow the ceremony.

So Worldcon 75 was a positive experience, I don’t regret attending, but I ended it deciding that I probably won’t be attending the next one that comes close to home – Dublin in 2019 – unless I make new friends who I can attend with. It’s meant to be a social experience, after all, and I’m just no good at finding that side of it when I go in knowing no one.

Helsinki

Once Worldcon was pretty much wrapped up – I left a few hours before the actual end – I moved into a new hotel in the centre of Helsinki and started sightseeing. Helsinki Zoo, on Korkeasaari, is a short boat ride out of the centre and open late, and worth the visit if you like zoos – though you also need to like hiking up and down a very rocky island. I spent a couple of hours there on Sunday, tweeted a lot of photographs of animals, and then got caught out in the rain while we waited for the boat back.

On Monday, after picking up a two-day Helsinki Card (worth it, with the free transport and lots of museum entries), I went to the island fortress of Suomenlinna, which is a good way to fill up a whole day. There are a bunch of museums, including a German submarine you can walk through, as well as the islands themselves and all the old fortifications. I’m easily amused, so my favourite part was walking through the pitch black tunnels under the fortifications with only my phone flashlight to see by, though it doesn’t seem like the best thing to be letting unsupervised tourists do. Suomenlinna is usually the top listed attraction when you look up things to do in Helsinki, and rightly so.

(In a better world, I’d have arrived in Helsinki before Worldcon and signed up for the organised day trip to Suomenlinna. Alas, Nine Worlds being the weekend before meant I had to shift my sightseeing to after the con.)

Tuesday was meant to be “visit all the museums/churches” day. In reality, I had picked up a cold around Sunday and by Tuesday it’d gotten nasty. I managed to get through a few – the Natural History Museum, the Finnish National Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art (which, well, it turns out I don’t like contemporary art) – but by the time I got to the Ateneum gallery I was pretty damn sick. Since I couldn’t concentrate on looking around exhibits, I ended up going on a long walk around the south end of Helsinki instead. It turned out to be a great idea; the weather was great, my head cleared up, and I had some very nice ice cream. I ended the day with a boat tour of the islands (included in the aforementioned Helsinki Card) which may not have been my best decision, as having a cold and sitting on an open top boat with the wind blowing in your face for two hours isn’t the most pleasant experience. I must’ve looked like I was crying my eyes out.

I really enjoyed my stay in Helsinki – great place, great weather, lots to see and do. And I lost a lot of weight from all the walking I did (I have, alas, gained it all back since).

My trip home was a bit of a disaster, however, as a flight delay led to me spending five hours in Amsterdam Schiphol Airport waiting for my replacement connection. I didn’t get home until midnight, about six hours later than expected. But at least I got home.

The week after I got back from Helsinki, I spent a couple of days in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival, which I’ve done five years in a row now. I saw some very good stuff this year, the best of which was probably Two Man Show by RashDash, which I highly recommend if the words “feminist exploration of masculinity through theatre and interpretive dance” appeal to you.

I don’t have many plans for more trips at the moment. I’m likely to return to Nine Worlds next year, though that may change if they change venues from London to Birmingham (to be announced soon, I believe). I’m likely to go back to Edinburgh, too. But I’m not sure if I’ll have a job next year, so I’m not sure when I’ll next go abroad for a trip.

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Nine Worlds 2017

I got back from Nine Worlds Geekfest yesterday, and before I get working on my packing for Worldcon – it’s tomorrow! Aah! – I thought I’d get down some brief thoughts about it, particularly given my last post.

This year went better than last year, I’d say. The content was mostly great again, but the main thing is that I managed to not fall down an anxiety rabbit hole again, managing it by just giving myself permission to go off to my room and do something on my own a couple of times. Though I still spent far too much time standing around awkwardly on my own, the folks at Nine Worlds are pretty friendly and welcoming. I got onto quiz teams at the beginning and end of the con, and spent a little more time gaming than I did last year.

I’m still terrible at eating properly and looking after myself while on holiday. I survived on the included breakfast in the morning and a Tesco meal deal in the afternoon, which isn’t exactly a balanced diet. I’m not sure what I’ll do in Helsinki – in Norway last year I managed, but would spend far too much time trying to convince myself to go inside restaurants for each meal. I’ll survive, I guess.

But overall it was pretty good this year. I think if I keep going I’m likely to get gradually more comfortable there – at least in part because I might start to feel like I know people. I’m not quite there yet, since I still managed to feel like an outsider whenever I was around other people. Whether I go again next year might depend a little on my employment situation, though. We’ll see.

Anyway, Worldcon 75 awaits! I’m curious how the culture of the two cons will contrast.

Anticipation

(This is a personal post.)

In little over a week, I’ll be setting out for a long month of events, starting with Nine Worlds Geekfest, followed immediately by Worldcon in Helsinki, and then a week later my annual trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I’m excited and eager, but there’s one little bit of me wondering if it’s a bit too much.

The first convention I attended was Loncon3, the 2014 Worldcon in London. Overall it was pretty great, I enjoyed the panels and readings, but the whole thing was undercut with frustration at myself for not being able to socialise. I’m far too self conscious and uncomfortable to approach people I don’t already know, and I tend to end up staying isolated even among these big groups of people with presumably shared interests. I’m very grateful to Meg Frank, who generously showed me around and introduced me to a bunch of people at Worldcon, but even then I wasn’t really able to engage with people and didn’t feel comfortable approaching them again afterward.

The anxiety and frustration culminated in a bit of a breakdown in my hotel room on the last night, where I’d retreated after leaving the Hugo ceremony and finding I didn’t really know what to do with myself while everyone else was heading off to the various parties. I found myself venting on Twitter, which helped me calm down but wasn’t exactly a good idea.

The second convention I attended was Nine Worlds 2016. I loved Nine Worlds – it covers a very broad range of geeky interests, but comes at every part of it with a focus on inclusion, and the understanding you can love things and still be critical of them. It just ticked all my boxes as far as the programme content went, which is why I immediately bought a ticket to go again this year. But in between panels, I spent most of my time hanging around the edges, sitting alone watching everyone else. I managed to have some fun in the games room, but half my visits there still involved me standing around awkwardly for a few minutes then leaving. This disconnection from the other attendees wasn’t helped by having a hotel room ten minutes walk away. Once again, the con ended with me falling apart back in my room and venting on Twitter.

(I should probably be embarrassed at myself for those tweet threads, but somehow I’m not? I still don’t know if I was attention-seeking or just thinking out loud.)

Which brings me to next month. My third and fourth conventions, back to back. I’m really looking forward to it, and I expect to enjoy it a lot – I’m not really anxious, at the moment. But I think back on those two nights, the hour or so I let myself fall apart each time, and I wonder. What is it going to be like for me, going through that not for 3 or 4 nights but for two long weekends in a row? I don’t see any reason why I should struggle with it now, but I was hardly having a rational reaction the other times it happened. I honestly don’t know if this will get to me again on the same level, or possibly worse.

Overall I expect to enjoy the experience, I just feel like I’ll be going into it constantly anticipating those anxiety-induced tears.

(I guess I’m lucky I only get anxiety, and not depression.)

2017 – Looking Forward

As Hugo Award season begins with the opening of nominations, I’m thinking about my plans for the year ahead – which include attending Worldcon for the second time (after Loncon3 in 2014), where I’ll get to see the Hugos given out first-hand.

I don’t travel much, but 2016 was a bigger year for me than usual – I spent a week in Norway, I attended Nine Worlds Geekfest in London (which was a really good con, that I wish I’d managed to write something about here), and I took my usual trip to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. In 2017 things are looking similar – I’ll be heading to Scandinavia again, this time to attend Worldcon 75 in Helsinki – unfortunately that doesn’t leave me much time for sightseeing, but I’m going to hang around an extra couple of nights to see the city. I’ll be going back to Nine Worlds, because it really was that good last year. And I’ll probably be going to Edinburgh yet again.

Of course, there’s one issue with these plans: They’re all in August. That is going to be one long and expensive month, which is why I’m not 100% certain about the Edinburgh Fringe this year. The rest of my year will be uneventful, I expect. The first few months of 2017 I’ll be trying, as usual, to get as much Hugo-eligible novel reading done as I can in time for nominations (nominating for the Hugos is a big deal if you care about the results, by the way – in the past categories have been swept by a small handful of voters, though this year there are new rules in place to help with that), which I’m further behind after my shorter-than-usual 2016 reading list.

As for the rest of the year, well. I’ll keep reading, keep gaming, keep watching great films and TV, and maybe even get around to writing about some of it here. More often than last year, at least.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016

I’ve been in Edinburgh since Monday, on my annual visit to the Edinburgh Fringe. Usually I’d make a summary post each day, but this time I thought I’d just write it up in one post.

TL;DR my favourite shows this year:

  • Daniel Sloss, So
  • Chris Coltrane, Socialist Fun Times
  • Nicole Henriksen, Makin It Rain

But I didn’t see anything I’d say was bad.

Monday

My first day at the Fringe was a little shorter, and I mostly saw acts I’d seen before in previous years. The first show I saw this year was Tamar Broadbent’s Get Ugly; this is the third year in a row I’ve been to Tamar’s free show, and she was as good as ever, very funny with good songs.

Next was Rachel Parris, another musical comedy act. I first saw her in a free show a few years back which I enjoyed a lot, but her paid show the next year – which used character comedy – was a little disappointing in comparison. Best Laid Plans, her show this year, was back to something more like that first year, and I enjoyed it.

After that was the last repeat on previous years, Daniel Sloss’s So. Sloss is one of the best stand up acts I’ve seen, and this year was just as good as last year, highly recommended.

My final show on Monday was Russ Peers’ Bad Gay, which started off awkwardly when I was the only person who stepped forward when they called for people with tickets to go in. It was one of the shows that are free to get in but give the option of buying a ticket, which is not clear on the Fringe ticket website; it turned out I had a few tickets like this. As it was 10:30pm on a Monday, it was a pretty small crowd. Peers’ show was a little rough around the edges, but amusing enough.

Tuesday

I fell afoul of my indecision on Tuesday, and didn’t go to either of the first two free shows I’d been considering to start my day. In the end I started with The Punel Show, which is exactly what it sounds like. The show was a bit of a disaster, as one of the two hosts was absent due to an injury and the remaining host was a little lost, but it still managed to be a lot of fun (so long as you like a lot of bad puns).

After that was Laura Lexx, Tyrannosaurus Lexx, which wasn’t the greatest standup show, but was still worth the price (this was another of the”£5 or pay what you want” tickets).

My next show was James Wilson-Taylor’s Ginger is the New Black. Another musical comedian, this show was a bit shoutier and more absurd than most I saw, and got a lot of laughs out of me.

After I grabbed some food (I barely ate on Monday and was trying to do better), I moved on to American standup Ari Shaffir’s Ari-S-P-E-C-T, which I think was my favourite show off the day.

Finally, there was Gillian Cosgriff’s This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, which had my favourite songs out of all the musical comedy acts I saw this year.

I’d planned to see another after that, but it was late, wet, and I had a 25 minute walk to get to my hotel, and I really wasn’t feeling up to more.

Wednesday

Wednesday was my best day of the Fringe. Some of the crowds were small, I got soaking wet, but I had some of my best times at the shows I saw that day.

The day started a little weak with Sooz Kempner’s Queen; the show had strong storytelling elements and Kempner’s cover songs were strong (she has a good voice), but the original songs weren’t great and the humour wasn’t quite there. (I honestly think the show could be fine without being funnier because of that storytelling side, but Kempner kept calling attention to the weak laughs.)

I followed that up with Laurence Owen’s Cinemusical High, a one man high school musical, which was a lot of fun.

The next show was Chris Coltrane’s Socialist Fun Times. I’d tried to see Coltrane before a couple of years ago, but the venue had been packed full; this time was also packed, so much so that people were sitting on the floor. It’s political comedy, very left wing as the title implies, and very very funny. Really glad I caught this one, will probably try to see him again on future trips.

As good as that was, the next show I saw is possibly my favourite out of all five years I’ve been to the Fringe. Nicole Henriksen’s Makin It Rain is a one-woman theatre piece about her work as a stripper to support her comedy career. Henriksen gives a strong performance which is at turns funny, sexy, serious and poignant. As well as an autobiographical piece, it’s also a feminist discussion of the stripping profession, the impact it has on performers, and its position and perception in our sexist society. Strongly recommend seeing this one. (Note: includes nudity.)

After that, I went to a standup show by Danny Deegan, which had the smallest crowd out of all my Fringe shows with only 5 people present. Deegan handled it well, though, and delivered a solid set largely about his relationship with his father. I think we all had a good time despite the turnout.

After killing some time watching a street musician (or more honestly, taking shelter under a tree from the rain, which happened to be next to a performer), and getting well and truly soaked walking across town to the venue, my final show of the Fringe was Rahul Kohli’s Newcastle Brown Male. Kohli’s set about racism was a decent end to a very good day, I enjoyed it a lot.

That’s it for my 2016 trip to Edinburgh. Right now I’m on a train from Edinburgh to London, where I’ll be attending Nine Worlds Geekfest; more on that later this weekend. It’s been a good trip this year; here’s looking forward to next year.

Edinburgh 2015 – Day 2

Little late writing this one up. I’m back home now from my very short visit to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which was pretty good. The only real problem I had is that I turned out to be really awful at successfully attending free shows – nearly every one I went to was full when I got there. I guess in future I need to allow more time, because not only would I miss the show I’d wanted to see, but I’d also not be able to find an alternative because I’d only really given myself exactly that hour before I had to head for a paid show.

That started straight away on Saturday, when I tried to start the day with David Callaghan’s “No Momentum”. When that fell through, I decided I should work out where one of the other venues was while I had the time. My last show of the day was a long walk out of the centre, and I wasn’t entirely sure how to get there – and it’s a good thing I did a trial run, because I got lost. I eventually did find the place, then walked all the way back for a quick lunch.

My actual first show of the day, then, was Austentatious, who perform a different improvised Jane Austen novel every day. The title that came out of the hat this time was “Magic Mike at Pemberley”, and the group seemed to have a lot of fun with that.

Next up I was supposed to go see “Worst Show on the Fringe”, which is some short sets by comedians who have received one star reviews in the past. Unfortunately I got a bit lost and never made it to the venue. I headed into the nearby Free Sisters instead to see a show that was about to start, and that one turned out to be full. Not a great beginning to the day, really. I was determined not to miss the next one on the list, so for the next half hour or so I headed along the Royal Mile. Not the best idea, as it turned out, because it was packed so full you could barely move. I did however get to see a man juggling flaming torches while riding a unicycle balanced on a rope, so that was something.

The next free show on my schedule was Tamar Broadbent’s “Brave New Girl”, and I made sure I set off a lot earlier for this one. Turns out that was a good idea, because the venue was not making things easy to find. I had no idea which room it was in in Cowgatehead, there were no directions, and when I finally found the schedule which showed the room I was looking for, it was posted on the back of a closed door.

I saw Tamar Broadbent perform last year, and enjoyed it a lot, so I was glad to get to catch her again. She’s a really funny musical comedian, and I recommend anyone who’s at the Fringe try to catch her show (note: not for kids).

From that I rushed straight over to Pleasance Dome for more musical comedy in Yve Blake’s “Lie Collector”. Blake collects true stories of lies people have told and turns them into songs. It’s kind of a delightfully weird show, with a sometimes over-the-top and shouty performance from Blake, lots of ridiculous costumes and plenty of mugging. The show gets into some fairly serious material toward the end, and there was at least one of the true confessions used in the show that I’m not entirely sure how to feel about it being used in this way. Still, I overall enjoyed the show, it was an interesting mix of silly and serious.

Another quick rush down to the next venue followed. The next show up was Sarah Kendall’s “A Day in October”. This was a really strong show – funny and touching, and just a really excellent work of storytelling. I think this was probably the most well-crafted standup performance I saw on the fringe this year.

I had yet another free show in mind to follow, and bearing in mind that I’d missed three shows in two days so far because I didn’t get there early enough, I was making extra sure now. After a quick burger for dinner, I arrived very early at the venue for Sarah Bennetto’s free show… which wasn’t happening. If I’d looked into things further when I was planning I might have known this in advance: Sarah Bennetto wasn’t available this weekend, and instead her show was being covered by Amy Howerska, who was doing extra free performances of her usually-paid show, “Sasspot”. I didn’t find this out until the performance was starting, so that was a surprise. It turned out to be a pretty fun show, about growing up in a family of professional skydivers, and how funerals are much better than weddings. Funny thing: Howerska’s show was one of the ones I’d considered when working out what to see this weekend, and I’d come close to buying a ticket to her show instead of one of the others.

Finally, I walked a mile in 15 minutes to get to my final show of the day, Daniel Sloss’ “Dark”. This was yet another great show, and it got the biggest laughs out of anything I saw all weekend. It’s also the first time I’ve seen someone perform a Fringe show with live signing on stage for deaf audience members, which is a great idea. (It was also nice to be in a comfortable, air-conditioned theatre after a day of tiny boiling hot rooms.)

All in all, despite missing a couple of planned shows I had a really great day yesterday. My feet are killing me from all the walking (huge blisters), but I had a good time and that’s what matters.

Wish I’d not been so dumb as to go “well, I’ll maybe just do two nights this year” when I finally decided to book my trip. A weekend at the Fringe is definitely an annual thing for me now, and I’ll probably stick to three nights like last year. It’s impossible to fit everything in, and two days (one of which starts after 3pm because of travel) is hardly anything. Looking forward to next time.