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Finncon 04, Jyväskylä, Finland

Friday, 9th of July 2004

Before the actual Finncon, there was an academic conference on science fiction and fantasy. Robin Hobb and Gwyneth Jones were giving a lecture which I was planning to attend, but due to a changed schedule me and some other fans only managed to slip in for the final comments. Maybe Hobb and Jones had decided to speak together, not separately as the timetable had suggested? Even though I arrived late, it was still the public event I enjoyed most during the weekend (Hobb's coffee klatch of course being number one). The questions were good (much better than at the Q&A), the answers interesting and the feeling very relaxed and enthusiast at the same time. I should have asked Hobb about the North American tribes she mentioned... somehow I connected the thing she was talking about to the motherhouses of Out Islands. I remember her talking about the importance of research and being convincing. She recommended studying children's books of your chosen topic as well as gathering friends who are experts in that area. Hobb also explained why it is easier to tell your story through fantasy or science fiction than it is by more common means. She said that if she starts a story with "Once upon a time the richest man in the world was in a market place and met the poorest man in the world..." everyone will follow the story without problems. But if she'd begin the same story with "Once upon a time, Bill Gates went in to a market place..." everyone would go "Bill Gates does his own shopping?!" and would have much more difficulties with concentrating on the story itself.

After the lecture, I asked for a signature to my copy of the Wizard of the Pigeons ("To Mervi, with best wishes Megan Lindholm") and Hobb told me she was surprised to see the edition I had (HarperCollins paperback with Paul Gregory's cover art). She said a lot of people had asked her where they could get it. I told it was from a bookstore in Helsinki. The whole meeting was pretty hasty and I don't remember much about what I said except mumbling something about posting at her newsgroup - I don't think she had a clue who I was. :D

Saturday, 10th of July 2004

The first thing on the Saturday morning was to get as close to the main entrance as possible and to run to the info desk as soon as the doors opened. I had read about the caffee klatches beforehand (the info was released at the con website a couple of days before the con, but wasn't mentioned in the main news page, luckily I happened to check the "other happenings" pages). I got my name first on the list of thirteen people - after the staff had found all the papers and had a long laugh about me being such an early bird.

Hobb at the opening ceremony: [pic 1] [pic 2]

Next I sat through the Jumalaton Fysiikka (err... Godless physics?) and Ecological Science Fiction panels with my boyfriend. Then it was the Hobb q&a which was pretty boring because the answers are mostly already at her website's FAQ ("will you write more about Fitz and Fool"", "did you know how it was going to end" etc etc). Nobody asked about the sex of the Fool, though. One answer was particularly interesting. Someone asked why there were always trilogies, and Hobb said that it's actually an old tradition of telling the story in three parts. Just think of all the fairy tales you've heard that have three princes trying to win the hand of the princess or three goats going over the bridge or whatever.

Oh, I have to mention it here before I forget because it's somewhat related. There was a raapale (a scrabble?) in the con info booklet written by Robin Hobb. I thought it was hilarious: it was about an interviewer asking a fantasy writer where she gets all her ideas. The writer doesn't give a clear answer and only jokes about the matter, but when they shake hands at the end of the interview, she sort of absorbs all kinds of thoughts and life experiences from the interviewer - for her next story.

Hobb at the q&a: [pic 1] [pic 2]

Next was the official autograph event. I didn't go to line at all - I would have felt ashamed asking another one so soon. But after eating and then attending a panel about Aku Ankka (Donald Duck) and Science Fiction I went to the Hobb reading. It was very nice to hear her read her own work. Actually, it's very nice to hear her talk about anything - her manners are very calm and she speaks just so softly that everyone has to pay attention wholly to what she is saying. She creates a space around herself and those that are close by which is very comfortable to be in. After that I stayed and listened the Gwyneth Jones' reading. I haven't read her books, but I got quite interested in her work this weekend. It was very surprising that the Hobb events seemed to gather larger audiences than those of Jones - I thought Jones would have been more well known among the con people. There were about twenty people at most at her reading but when Hobb was reading the room was filled with people, some were sitting on the floor and others opened the door constantly to check whether there was still space. Hobb read the beginning of the chapter "Chade Fallstar" from FE.

Hobb at the reading: [pic 1] [pic 2] [pic 3]

Sunday, 11th of July 2004

On Sunday morning we missed the bus and arrived a bit late. (We stayed both of the nights at the house of a person we knew through the Finnish Tolkien board.) So the first event I attended was "the author and translator talking". How should I describe it? Embarrasing. The translator Sauli Santikko didn't really have much to say, his English was quite bad (not grammatically but it was hard even for us Finns to understand him) and he couldn't really answer any of our questions. He laughed when he thought he had been clever (and mostly at the points everyone finds are translated wrong) and in a lot of the cases could not remember how he had translated something. And of course Hobb was being really nice and not criticising anything or anyone. There were some really interesting questions from the audience this time. One was particularly tempting: in one of the books there's one character who is in two places at the same time. Hobb was asked if she wished the translator would fix the error in translation now that he knew about it. She didn't really answer straight to it, but I think we got the impression that she would not want it. There were no questions concerning the translation of the Fool's play on words in AQ or what the translator thought about his/her gender.
I asked the translator if it was true that he has translated Changer as Lunastaja (Redeemer) and what were the reasons, especially when Lunastaja has such heavy Christian meanings attached to it. He said yes it was true and he thinks it was the name Nighteyes gave to Fitz and continued with something that was already named something else... I still don't understand the reasons, but Hobb said to me "but didn't you understand that Fitz is the Christ?" Poor translator, I think we laughed quite a bit.

Now, I have to say that I don't hate the translator. I think he has done mostly very good job - especially with names like Patience (Mielenmaltti). However, there are also lots of very very bad mistakes - and it really shows that he is not a professional translator. So I'm really blaming it on the publisher, not Santikko himself.
I also met briefly Jarmo who runs the Finnish Hobb fansite

Hobb at the "author and translator talk": [pic 1] [pic 2] [pic 3] [pic 4] [pic 5]

Then I happily missed the meeting of our Kontu board (luckily I'd met quite a lot of Kontu people there already) and went to the coffee klatch thing with Sini and Queen of Ashes from the Hobb Ezboard. It was a nice meeting and though everyone seemed a bit nervous in the beginning it went very well. At some point we were asked to introduce ourselves. I told my name and that I've posted at her newsgroup and such and that I have a tiny little fan website for which she had given me the permission to post quotes from her books - I think that at this point she finally connected my name to something. I also asked her about the Forging and why she has mentioned (in an interview somewhere) that it was somehow connected to how we thought of the animals. The answer was really interesting but I had difficulty getting her to understand what I thought of the subject myself. Then there was a young man who sort of picked the thread and explained my thoughts quite well - and Hobb started talking about respecting the animals that you eat and so on... and it sounded so much for some seconds like she was Nighteyes answering to Fitz's questions that I just had to point it out. :) We also talked about Finnish words in her work and I understood that the ones in Reindeer People/Wolf's Brother were intentional. (Saivo, vaja and so on.) She mentioned that Galen in the Farseer trilogy and Mir in Wizard of the Pigeons were not intentional and said that nowadays she checks characters names with Google before using them. Hobb talked quite a lot about the process of editing and publishing a book and answered our spoiler-free questions. Noone asked about the gender of the Fool. ;) At the end of the meeting I asked for another autograph (for Fool's Fate) and got one (how terribly cool is that? Two different autographs?! I still can't grasp it.) It goes "To Mervi, Journey's End! Robin Hobb".

After the coffee (that most of us didn't drink :D) some of us went to eat and have a chat. I think I introduced my weird ideas about the land of the herdfolk being in the same world as the 6D as well as my thoughts on the similarity of the fates of F&F and Sam&Frodo - and to my pleasant surprise Eroica from the Ezboard agreed very much!

Then it was off to the ending panel titled "Sex and parallel universes" which could have been better but it was fun enough. I personally thought John Clute was a bit annoying because the others didn't have as much time to express their opinions - though I must say he made some good points. When asked about what her pet hate was (about sex in books), Hobb said something about the choice of words, ie "his towering manhood". :D The audience also wanted to know if it was difficult to write about sexual acts from the view of the opposite sex (a female writer writing through a male character or vice versa). I think Hobb answered that you can never get it wrong anyway, because even when people are discussing such things they never say "ooh, is that how it is for you? It's nothing like that for me" even if they are of the same gender. Hobb said that in a parellel universe, she would have spent her life catecorizing the mushrooms of Alaska (which at some point she dreamed of doing in this reality). She also said that the Internet is like a parallell universe, obviously referring to the endless amounts of speculation and fanfiction that alter the reality of her stories.
Still, noone asked about the gender of the Fool. :P

Hobb at the ending panel: [pic 1] [pic 2] [pic 3] [pic 4]

Finncon was really in itself a parallel universe - and one that I hope to be able to experience again. Hobb was just as nice and charming as you'd expect her to be.