A Whistle-Stop Tour of Worldcon75, Helsinki Day One

I got to go to a cool thing: Worldcon75, the global convention for SFF, this year based in Helsinki, Finland. In a dangerous move, Angry Robot sent just me and Penny Reeve, our inimitable publicity manager, to brave the crowds of geekdom. A day of travel got us into Helsinki airport at 11.30pm and we bumbled through bus routes to our quite lovely, if super-heated flat, by a mere half one in the morning.

Day One – Aug 8: Wandering Free

Dead animals at baggage retrieval, boozing, molesting statuary

Tommyknocker Craft Beer Bar

Refreshed and energised we rose for a day of acclimatisation (getting lost). Our flat was way over in Arabiata (check it out, you too can enjoy the weird sexually abusive Donald Duck artwork, and the nice view). First up: loading our flat with breakfast and lunchables – we rolled on sandwiches, bitches. So many delightfully familiar Scandinavian meats and cheeses and breads. Joy!
We selected BICYCLE as our vehicle of choice, swayed by the 10 Euro a week rental. The con venue was relatively easy to find, though Google Maps yelling incomprehensible Finnish placenames in my ear was quite stressful. It was closed. Since it was the day before the con, that made sense. We had found the most important place. Second most important: beer.   
This is not the rock church

Finland is definitely catching up with craft beer, but it’s got a way to go. We finally found Tommyknocker Craft Beer Bar, having discovered the worst thing about the bikes was finding one of the official places to park the bloody things. Very friendly, fine range of beers. We also found what Penny was convinced was The Rock Church, which turned out to be a pile of rocks, next to Storyville (the finest jazz club in Helsinki, apparently). We plunged on, frequently cycling on the wrong side of the road, and for a while with the loudest squeaking wheel imaginable.
We rode sea-lions, we mounted tortoises, we took a ferry to Suomenlinna. Boats and I are not friends, but we tolerated each other. It was a very smooth 20 minute trundle across the water. Suomenlinna  used to be a fortress island, but is now a weird community of 800-odd souls living in and around a bunch of museums. It’s very pretty. Having cycle-bumbled around for much of the day we only really had time for one thing – and it was an obvious choice: we went to the creepiest part we could find: the toy museum. Fuck me… Amongst the terrifying dead and ever-seeing eyes of the dolls were genuine treats like a stack of doll heads and limbs, a cute Nazi doll, nightmare hedgehogs, and of course, Moomins. My favourite part is that the creepiest, and weirdest things were presented with no explanation at all, like the Nazi doll. It also gave me a massive flashback to BRITAIN’S SPACE, a joy I had totally forgotten about. Thank you Finland, I shall now explore eBay… Penny and I demonstrated various ways to hug a bear.

After escaping from the fortress we took pictures of fancy buildings until we succeeded in making contact with one of our authors. A new venture: find the fucking restaurant. This was an exercise in rage, Google Maps and a three dimensional environment. As it turns out, Helsinki puts buildings on top of other buildings. That’s why we cycled under and around a massive Mega-City One style block forever until we saw some stairs that might, maybe lead upwards. I shall shelve my ire. We found the place – Bali Bagus. Amazing Indonesian food, and a great place to meet our author Alex Wells, Skiffy and Fanty podcast co-host Paul Weimer and their excellent friends.
I have no recollection of the rest of the evening… It’s possible that we got back at a reasonable time and grabbed some Zs.

SMASH NIGHT at The Angel Microbrewery – Wednesday 30 August 2017

One of the most fun gigs of the monthly calendar. I’m delighted to continue with my role of marshalling the Smash Night Social Club team. The line-up changes every month, as do the two other acts that make up the night. It leaves me happily free to heckle our compere, Liam, and a have a ridiculous amount of fun. We’ve got quite a line-up: our ever-selling-out musical improv team, these Chicken guys who I don’t know, and a cool mix of old and new folks in the Social Club. Join us!

MissImp proudly presents SMASH NIGHT: brand new improvised comedy theatre!

Never-seen-before… Never-to-be-seen-again! Watch in amazement as some of the finest improv teams around live life on the edge, experiment and push the boundaries of what they do with hilarious results! Witness them take to the stage with nothing but their wits and transform YOUR suggestions spontaneously into scenes and stories bound to be breath-taking and bloody hilarious.
What more could you want from a Wednesday?
This week’s line-up:
The Sacrificial Chickens
An improv troupe sanctified by Dionysus, god of wine, theatre, and madness. We’ll play three games, and after each game, you, the audience, decide who will be the next sacrifice!
Rhymes Against Humanity
What if you could choose the title of a brand new musical and then see it performed instantly? That’s what is going to happen to one audience member when the East Midlands’ favourite musical improv team takes to the stage. When you arrive you will be asked to write down the title of a musical that’s never been seen before; if yours is drawn out of the hat, Rhymes Against Humanity will perform a brand new, fully improvised musical immediately – no scripts, no conferring, no pre-planning, just totally spontaneous musical madness!
And always… Smash Night Social Club
Our in-house team is a revolving cast of longtime vets of the improv scene. This ragtag collection of comedy cowboys play fast ’n’ loose with the rules (and their metaphors), throw off the hand brake, and whisk you away to a place you never dreamed of.
The Angel
7 Stoney Street
Nottingham
NG1 1LG
7.30pm – tickets on the door £5/£3
Join the Facebook event
Find it!

A Whistle-Stop Tour of Worldcon75, Helsinki Day Two

Day Two – Aug 9: Back to Work

More cycling and not quite getting lost. THE CON IS LIVE! Thousands of charming geeky types swarming the venue. We have to queue to register. Penny takes the fancy queue for fancy people because she’s accepting at the Hugo’s should Foz Meadows win (spoiler: she doesn’t)… guess who registers first? Yup, I was amused. Got m’ID and first lovely ribbons – ‘First Worldcon’! Then we got to meet our colleague Mike Underwood for the first time in the meatflesh! He’s real, has legs and wears a hat. Most pleasing. (Thanks to Mr Paul Weimer for the fine *blink* shot of Mike!)

L-R Mike Underwood, Alex Wells, Penny Reeve, Nick Tyler

It was then that the profoundly British con-queue issue arose. We failed to get into Mike’s panel (Invented Mythologies), due to already insanely long queues. I then made a bid to get into Crackpot Archaeology, and managed to squeeze in (I could hardly breathe), and then got kicked out with 50 other people because of fire hazards or somesuch nonsense. This was to be a theme, oft-railed about by some of the more passionate attendees. So we went to the bar instead. BarCon, apparently, is a thing all of its own. They struggle to do beer well – 0.4L of Karhu for 6.50 in a genuine pint glass looks deeply disappointing. We also discovered the Long Drink – a vile gin and grapefruit concoction which looks like louched absinthe – became the hit drink for almost everyone. More of our authors appeared: Carrie Patel and Eric Scott Fischl (whose book, Dr Potter’s Medicine Show, was the first where I got a thank you in the acknowledgments!), which was pretty damn cool.
The front, the mascot, Alex’s first panel

After that I hustled to make it to Alex’s first panel, Global Warming and the Gaia Concept. Is Global Consciousness Already Here, and Doesn’t have a Clue? It was a fun topic, though I felt people took Gaia a bit too literally. It was enlivened by a real climate change denier skeptic wanker who the well-educated panel cheerfully took apart without being too vicious. The mood of the room against him was marvellous, as was the expression on all of the panel’s faces.
Worldcon, like all cons has one of my favourite features – the jumble sale, or dealer’s hall as people insist. Too many things to look at, but in short: a great display of the iconic Hugo awards from the last, well gosh, 74 Worldcons I guess. Some amazing Lego creations, geek junk and delights, and second-hand books. I immediately bought a book. Of course. The Outward Urge by John Wyndham under one of his many pseudonyms. I had it already, but only in hardback and it looked weird. Plus – one Euro? Yes please.
The impossible-to-get-into-anything-without-queuing-for-half-an-hour continued… I wandered around, unable to get into any other panels and instead found the Film Festival. A haven of non-touching speechlessness, seating and the dark. I saw the last film in the Alternate Realities slot, Strange Harvest by Stee McMorris. A splendid low-budget alien abduction tale with inventive camera work. That was followed by the first set of Documentaries: The Bus Trip by Sarah Gampel, a fascinating film tour around Israel and Palestine, with her conversations with her dad drawn over the top. Between the Lines: Fan Girls & the Appeal of Performing Slash Fiction by Cassie Yishu Lin, a live theatre version of two characters from Prince Caspian getting together in the real world. Then my favourite, The Secret World of Foley by Daniel Jewel.

Earlier in the day I’d noted that there was a Stand Up Comedy Improv Class on the first day, followed by a show the day after. I could hardly resist, but figured I’d blown it since Carrie told me she’d filled the last slot on the signup sheet. Dang it. I added my name to the top of a waiting list, and then just showed up. I needn’t have worried. The organiser had no idea there was a list, and in all fairness not much of an idea about improv – sure ya have to stand up a lot, but it ain’t stand up. But not to worry. The room was hilariously unsuitable – long and narrow, with a huge, immovable fuckoff table down the middle. We did some exercises, and I met Carrie’s husband, along with the thirty-odd random humans awkwardly having a go at improv around the edges of the room. I guess it was like much improv run with the best of intentions – a lot of fun, but even more confusion. I had fun though, and enjoyed myself. It’s a fine way to get to know people. I was definitely returning for the show…
Seeking an evening meal at Worldcon was constantly bedevilled by being out in the business district, so almost every restaurant closed either just before we thought about eating, or just as we left. Inevitably the Angry Robot mob ended up at Pasilan Pizza. Their pizzas were surprisingly good, the variation in size between small, medium and large being in depth, not diameter. While others chose based on content and translation options I picked a number and stuck with it. Good call. It tided me over into breakfast, which is the mark of a good pizza. It gave Carrie, Hiren and I a fine chance to dissect the improv workshop, and for me to persuade them to do the show!
Much of the gang had only arrived that day and were desirous of an earlyish night. Penny and I are not morning people, so we headed back to the con in search of action. Further failure to get into any damn panels… Drinks in the bar, naturally, followed by popping in to the Fright Night Begins… horror film festival. We caught the second half of Caravan, which was good and creepy, followed by the very funny and very dark Brentwood Strangler (trailers below).
After that we stumbled into the extremely lovely NS Dolkart and his family. Noah was being kicked in the head repeatedly by his frighteningly awake daughter, but nonetheless managed full conversation skills. We knew it would be a miracle if we saw him again since the con absorbs people and other than email we had no way to get in touch.
We called it a night, and enjoyed the fruits of our earlier supermarket purchases back at the flat. Having booked an apartment with only one bed by accident, Penny showed extraordinary valour in taking the air mattress with the car engine strapped to its back. What a star.