Aug 19, 2017

It Can't Happen Here

But it did.

Last night a man brutally stabbed ten people in the center of Turku, killing two and sending eight to hospital. His motives are still unknown, but it appears he chose his victims at random. The investigation is still ongoing, but terrorism hasn't been ruled out.

My heart goes out to the victims and their loved ones. The central market square is a place I visit regularly. This could have happened to me or any of my friends or family. I'm incredibly relieved they're safe.

When something like this happens in your home town, it gets under your skin, but that doesn't mean you should let it fester. This kind of thing is almost impossible to prevent, but we have to remember that the police stopped a terrorist attack on the Temppeliaukio church in the spring and are doing everything they can to keep us all safe.

Here are a few things about last night that make me proud to be Finnish:

First of all, the police response yesterday was very efficient: the call came at 4:02 p.m. and the police had stopped and captured the man at 4:05. You can't ask for a better response time than that. They shot the man but caught him alive (because in Finland the police shoot to stop not to kill, and even then as a last resort), which may help us understand why he did what he did and if there are ways to stop such tragedies in the future. If he's mentally ill, he'll get treatment, if he's a terrorist, he'll answer for his crimes.

Second, the authorities flat out refused to jump to the conclusion of terror attack before the matter had been thoroughly investigated, even though the manner of the attack fit and the fact that the perpetrator "appears to not be of native Finnish descent," but took immediate precautions in case it was. Our political leaders have condemned the attack and the President traveled to Turku last night to take part in a church service held to comfort people and help them grieve. The Turku University Hospital and the EMTs took the situation in hand, treating the victims and offering trauma counselling.

Third, many people risked their lives to help the victims. Swedish tourist Hassan Zubier rushed to help a woman bleeding out and got stabbed, as did Finnish entrepreneur Hasan Alazawi. A doctor stayed to perform CPR, and a woman tried to comfort the small child of the victim and helped contact the child's father. A bunch of bystanders grabbed makeshift weapons and chased the man with the knife away from the market square, screaming warnings to those in his path, probably saving many lives. It could have been much worse.

Yes, there are monsters out there. But there are heroes too.

I take comfort in that.

 

Aug 15, 2017

Worldcon 75



Yay, I made it through Worldcon in one piece! I'm probably the only pregnant woman ever to be totally okay with missing my due date... All in all, I'm glad I took the chance; the baby seemed happy to stay where she was and this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. According to the organisers, this year's con turned out to be the second largest Worldcon ever, with 10,516 members and day passes and 7,119 people on site. 

On Wednesday the con site was very crowded and a lot of people missed the panels they wanted to attend, including me. I didn't get into the opening ceremonies or the Tea and Jeopardy podcast afterwards, but as both can be viewed/listened to online, that wasn't the end of the world. Not that much could have dampened my spirits anyway; I was just so happy that I could attend the con after being sure it would be impossible for me to go because of the baby. 

I caught a panel on fashion in science fiction, but unfortunately they had technical difficulties and didn't get much discussion in. By then I had wised up about the queues and turned up an hour early for the next panel I wanted to see: Creating Effective Dialogue with Elizabeth Bear, Nalo Hopkinson, Nina Niskanen, and Ran Zhang. Most of the things they talked about were familiar to me from writing books, but the panelists did have an interesting discussion about incorporating dialect in dialogue and also about how writing dialogue is different in different languages. Hopkinson and Bear had taught Niskanen at Clarion, and both seemed like they'd be great teachers, not scary at all. If I have a chance to attend a workshop with one of them, I definitely will. This time I didn't sign up for any workshops because I didn't want to take up a spot and then have to skip it if I started to have contractions or felt ill. I'd have liked to see a few more panels, but the ones I wanted were full, so I decided to check out the art show and the Hugo awards on display. Nice, huh?


Hugo awards through the ages.

On Thursday the organisers had limited the sale of day passes, closed down the sale of memberships, and negotiated with the venue to get a few larger rooms. It made all the difference! The first two panels I attended, In Defence of The Unlikeable Heroine and Appeal of The Bland Protagonist, were both interesting. I missed Nalo Hopkinson's GoH interview though, because I didn't want to lose my seat. (My friends later told me that there had been plenty of room, but you can't have it all.) I especially liked the unlikeable heroine panel and the way the panelists pointed out the double standard happening with unlikeable male and female protagonists. Have you noticed that most unlikeable female protags are conventionally attractive to compensate being so unlikeable? And how readers will forgive a male protagonist a multitude of sins while condemning a female protagonist for something relatively minor? (Case in point: Jaime Lannister vs. Catelyn Stark. One throws a child out the window, the other one dislikes her husband's bastard. Who do the readers turn on? You guessed it...)

I also made it to a panel on working with editors and one on military science fiction by women authors. By then it was almost five o'clock and I was so tired I went back to my hotel to rest.  



On Friday I made it to astronaut Kjell Lindgren's space medicine lecture and learned some fascinating facts, like how they have to be extra careful on the ISS about looking for things in small compartments (the CO2 builds up and makes you sick) and that all the calluses slough off the soles of the feet in zero gravity.  Can't wait to use all this stuff in a story! Turns out space medicine is mostly about prevention: they pick the healthiest candidates to go up, have them do regular exercise and eat specially designed food to keep them healthy, and take lots of test to catch any problems early. If something unexpected happens, they'd rather send the patient down to Earth than try to treat him or her on the station. 

This is how they sleep on the station. Notice the puffiness of the face caused by fluid redistribution in the absence of gravity.

Another highlight was the Military SF: Pro-War or Anti-War panel with Joe Haldeman, a living legend. I also made it to Nalo Hopkinson's GoH presentation where she read excerpts from unpublished work. Intriguing. Can't wait to read more of her work. I also checked out a panel on monsters, which was fun. 


And of course I attended the Hugo awards. Extremely cool. 

On Saturday I made it to the Legacy of Buffy panel, a lot of fun and very nostalgic. The panel was so full that not everyone got in, so I guess Buffy is still going strong. Then I went for the Finnish Weird panel and a panel where authors talked about their cats. (Yes, really.) Again, I missed out on the extremely popular world-building panel with George R. R. Martin, but was first in line for the Joe Abercrombie interview, so that turned out okay. Abercrombie is a very entertaining speaker, so definitely go see him if you get a chance.


After the interview I hooked up with my Finnish critique group for some writing talk over smoothies and then headed to my last panel, Does Familiarity Breed Contempt in Horror?, before the Masquerade. 

My husband and I had decided to skip Sunday's program earlier, and it was nice to sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast before catching the train home. There's one good thing about being very pregnant when attending a con: I did almost no shopping despite all the glorious steampunky goodness on display at the trade hall. The idea of having to carry anything extra around with you while dealing with backache and joint pain etc. is a good deterrent. 

All in all, a great experience. I'm definitely happy I went, even though I caught a cold somewhere along the way. (The infamous con crud, maybe?) Hopefully it'll pass before the baby decides to make an appearance. The next Worldcon is in San Jose, but it'll be held in Dublin in 2019. Here's hoping I'll get to attend that one too.  





Aug 8, 2017

Worldcon in Helsinki!

It's almost Worldcon time! The con is held at the Messukeskus convention center in Pasila from tomorrow through Sunday. The registration opens at nine a.m. and the program begins at noon, but there's plenty to see in the evening too. Guests of Honor include Johanna Sinisalo, Nalo Hopkinson, and Walter Jon Williams, but many more authors will be participating in panel discussions, signings, and workshops.

Check out the program here: http://www.worldcon.fi/guide/

Don't have a pass yet? No problem! You can still buy a full membership or opt for a day pass sold at the door.



Aug 7, 2017

Giants and Uncertain Atmospheres at the Wäinö Aaltonen Museum



Gas Giant by Jacob Hashimoto 

The Wäinö Aaltonen Art Museum is having a really good year. Their exhibitions tend to go for the more "out there" stuff, some of which is amazing and some just going for the shock value; the shock value stuff tends to leave me cold, but art is subjective, of course. Fortunately, the current exhibition, Jacob Hashimoto's Giants and Uncertain Atmospheres, soars right into the "amazing" category.

Hashimoto's work is colourful, fun, and inspired by science fiction and video games, so it's right up my alley. He uses a lot of kites in his work, like the installation pictured above. A photo can't do it justice. You need to experience the scale of it to really get a feel for how beautiful it is. 


Super-Robots and Celestial Mechanics


I liked the mix of Japanese minimalism and playfulness. Kids would love this exhibition. Some of the pieces reminded me of fractals and vintage video games, and I loved the use of science fiction elements, like references to wormholes and spaceships.
   This one has the feel of '50s science fiction cover art.



The Air Smelled of Subversion and Boundaries, All Glitter with Bright, Sourceless Light


This piece showcases Hashimoto's interesting technique. Are the shadows cast by the piece part of the piece, or just coincidental? Could one construct a story based on the visual representation here? And don't you love that title? 


The exhibition is open until September 24th, if you want to check it out. 




Aug 5, 2017

Finnish Ingenuity


The news are so depressing these days, all doom and gloom about North Korea's missile trials, the latest stages of the Trumpocalypse, and how climate change and overpopulation will kill us all. Sometimes it feels like nobody is doing anything to solve these problems, but that's not true either.

Here's a few bits of news that won't make you want to curl up with a bottle of tequila:

Finnish scientists have found a way to make protein out of thin air and electricity. Are we on our way to eliminating world hunger? The process is powered by solar energy and it's ten times more efficient than photosynthesis-based methods, like growing soybeans, for example. On top of that, it should work in arid areas where farming is impossible, it doesn't use pesticides, and it doesn't produce greenhouse gases. Sounds like science fiction, doesn't it? The scientists speculate that the technology should reach commercial capacity in ten years. And hey, could this be used in space, too?

You can read more here: https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/finnish_breakthrough_making_protein_out_of_thin_air_and_electricity/9736360 

The Finns are also working on how to use the moisture in the air to create renewable electricity that could be used to charge cell phones, for example. It has to do with zirconium dioxide-based nanocomposites and the build-up and discharge of electricity on water droplets in the atmosphere.  

Here's the article in Finnish:https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-9738088

The research is done at the Lappeenranta University of Technology in collaboration with partners from Europe and the US, and you can read more about it here in English:

https://www.lut.fi/web/en/-/harnessing-the-energy-in-air-humidity

Maybe we're not doomed after all?