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LonCon3: Squire’s Report by Francesco Verso (Italy)

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It is my first WorldCon  ever. Before this one, I’ve been to smaller Cons in Italy and England before and thus, this five-days full-immersion treatment into the world of Science Fiction, means a lot to me.

I’ve approached this moment as a squire, casually invited to the Celebration of Kings, Queens and Knights; a squire coming from a long forgotten land, once the territory of science and culture, knowledge and art, now reduced to a swamp of unmovable, stinky business and lack of vision called Italia.

The vision of the ExCel Center where the LonCon3 takes place this year, on the contrary, is shiny even under the hovering summer clouds of London.

I register at the welcome desk and get my badge one day before the excitement begins; I’ll take this chance to walk around in London, where I haven’t been as much as I would have liked.

Entering Prince Regent DLR Station I feel the acceleration on my skin as I walk by people clearly set on a higher level of functionality. London is a whirlpool of unstoppable transformation; cutting-edge architecture redesigns the city skyline – a fractured augmented horizon – where nature is reduced to pictures in ads or clips on video walls; the latest devices with face-recognition and people tracking are in place, the loud speakers in the tube shout out advice and good manners; no cash is allowed on buses; security and efficiency are the priority; long is the time since conservation meant real power, and changing was a sign of unfitness.

Besides me, there’s David Henley, my mate for the Con, my Australian publisher and fellow SF writer: we are here to enjoy the Con, and present a “diverse” book to the world. A book written in Italian – Livido – published by Delos Books and internationally from Australia, under Xoum’s SF imprint, Fantastica, as Livid. As the Con subtitle is “Diversity in Science Fiction”, we feel comfortably at home.

We walk past Buckingham Palace where Kurdistani people are protesting against the ISIS bombing. Some things never change. Covent Garden is so packed with people drinking, enjoying rare sparks of sun, that we continue up to Soho, looking for food. David and myself are total strangers, both to this place and to each other.  We’ve just edited a book exchanging emails and talking on Skype, but we get along well, as it comes to choose the corner from which to eat and stare at this multilayered reality. We sit in a Chinese restaurant, not fancy thus almost empty. The food is excellent: I’ve always preferred content over packaging.

After this we won’t see anything else of London, we’ll be inside a SF bubble. A shiny promising bubble.

What follows is the report of the most interesting panels I’ve had the chance to attend. I’ve planned a well-balanced mixture of English and Non-English SF panels. Since there are many Kings, Queens and Knights around the Excel Center, there will also be many less notable peasants and decadent aristocrats I’m curious to know more about.

 Thursday – Day 1) Approaches to World SF panel: David Henley talks about the time it takes for a novel written in English to be translated in other languages and the other way around. The result is clearly unbalanced and shows the cultural power of the globalized publishing industry. English language spreads like a virus while Chinese can’t get out of China but it’s starting to. The implications are striking even though not new. As Latin, French and Arab did in the past, and English at present, language and thus stories and thus fiction are formidable ways to conquer the world.

In the corridor I meet a just arrived Ian McDonald (who I met in March during the DeepCon15 in Italy) and he invites me to join him, Mike Cobley and David Wilgrove for a coffee. I am as happy as any good squire would be in front of his First Knight.

During the evening the Italian group (there are the most important SF writers such as Dario Tonani and Giovanni de Matteo, editors such as Silvio Sosio, super graphic artist Maurizio Manzieri and translator and academic Salvatore Proietti) meet the French contingent (led by Ugo Bellagamba who runs the Utopiales festival in Nantes and excellent author Jean-Claude Dunyach) for a drink celebration. David Henley joins us adding an Australian favour.

The last panel of the day is from Kim Stanley Robinson who read the letters that Virginia Woolf exchanged with SF writer Olaf Stapledon about books and writing experiences. Robinson addresses the relationship between summarization vs dramatization – otherwise called in MFA programs the “show, don’t tell” rule – as a “dead-zombie” rule and wishes we could all “bury it for good”. Once Damon Knight gave him the advice: “accelerate in boring parts, and slow down in exciting ones” so that the story pace will be more uniform. Still – Robinson says – some writers do the opposite (like Patrick O’Brian) creating a strange “time-shifting” effect of infinite time-lapse contraction or expansion. Thumbs up!

 Friday – Day 2) The morning it’s “Stroll with the Stars” time but, since we’re in London, the wind and bursts of rain limits the participation. Pat Cadigan is one of the Falling Stars and since I’m a big fan of hers, I introduce myself and invite her as a Guest of Honor to the DeepCon in Fiuggi: I’ve been appointed Squire of International Italian SF Affairs by the board committee Flora Staglianò: now I feel like I’m on a mission. Her answer is enthusiastic, as many other aspects of Pat Cadigan, from her mimic to her style, a true Cyber Queen of Punk.

I go to the KaffeeKlatsch with Ken MacLeod in high spirits. He’s also on my list of potential guests to invite. His talk is about his past and future novels. The Brit SF Invasion riding along the New Space Opera. After the meeting, I meet Andrey Malyshkin, taking care of the EuroCon 2015 in Saint Petersburg, the next place to be, at least here on the Old Continent.

At lunch, David and I are joined by James Patrick Kelly. Last March, he invited me to the Cambridge SF Workshop in the USA; an amazing experience for which I’ll be always thankful. We talk about SF in different geographies. It seems like Fantasy is taking over again, as it did in the ’70s following the success of Tolkien. But the quality of the latest Fantasy books is doubtful, as the market is widening and bending more and more to business reasons and neglecting literary concerns.

As for SF magazines (both printed and online) I sign up to the Literary Beer with Dutch author and editor of Shine anthology Jetse de Vries. He’s a big charming man, who enjoys telling his own story with Interzone and states clearly how important are face-to-face relations and PR strategies in order to get things going. Good or bad news? I personally feel like home, where we’ve always done so. Even an author disguised as a squire, could have his chances then.

A run down the stairs and I am in a panel about Eastern European & Baltic SF. There seems to be a lot going on over there, as Poland, Croatia, Serbia and Latvia all have an interesting scene, but again, the market is made for the most part by novels translated from English into the local language. Imants Belogrivs – one of the few SF Publishers in Latvia, with Hekate – tells me about Latvian author Tom Crosshill, whose amazing story, Fragmentation, I read last year and will publish in Italian with the Future Fiction label. Tom Crosshill is the living proof that you can make it, even if you come from a far away country, as long as your work is really good and you spend some time in the US. Well… that’s hard, but feasible.

Back upstairs for the panel “Translation-Wish, Translation-Obstacles”. There are many translators here and things start to get complicated. While in the Main Event Rooms it’s all friendly hugs and hands-shaking, here people share their pains and sufferings with total strangers. If Language is a Weapon, Translation is a Silencer. You can use it easily from English to Any Other (Arab countries are begging for more) while, if not used at all, your own Language becomes a Muted Transmission of Sense.

Question is: are we always better off with cheaper books vs more expensive ones? Isn’t the McDonaldization of Food spreading in Fiction as well? Basically how much is the cost of Fiction reflected in each and every book we read? Should we treat the cultural market as any other one, or should certain aspects of human life be preserved from business exploitation? Gee… I feel like a Panda, an endangered species, but, unlike the Panda, nobody cares if an author disappears. I wonder if Darwin would have approved such bizarre application of his evolutionary theories. But then again, if you can’t tell a Panda from a Black Bear or a Polar Bear from a Grizzly, does it really matter?

As I leave the room in a puzzled state of mind, I am pleased to see Russian author Dmitriy Kolodan sitting next to Ukranian Vladimir Arenev. This makes me realize how much propaganda is currently going on both sides of the Lugansk area conflict.

 Saturday – Day 3) Time to get some real science update with the panel on “Body Modification – From Decoration to Medication and Augmentation.” There’s a very good panelist, Paul Graham Raven, but too many people talking hampers the overall result and I am left with a scratching-the-surface feeling. I’d have liked to know more about the State of the Art in Artificial Prosthetics, 3D Printing and Bio & Nanotech. Instead time is up slightly after the panelists touched the Internet Revolution and the Personal Memory Outsourcing devices, see also Smartphones. As Paul Graham Raven brilliantly says: “we started that process a long time ago with paper, as we wanted our thoughts to get out of our minds.”

After three days of panels, it appears as though some panelists were not correctly informed about the subjects they were speaking on, and apart from the panel on architecture, visually amazing, very few could manage a slideshow. Overall, the WorldCon didn’t take full advantage of the technical possibilities – thought there was a remote participant connected with a walking device controlled with a joystick from the US.

I rush to the next panel on Chinese Diaspora SF: it feels promising. Asian-American authors, such as Ted Chang and Ken Liu, opened the Eastern Gate of SF and thus panelist John Cho can reassure everybody that the three book series Three-Body Problem will be Top Quality SF. I’m looking forward to reading it, as it will be published by Tor in autumn: a major hit in China, that finally comes out on the English market. Future looks bright on the Chinese shore of the Pacific.

In the afternoon, I sign in a KaffeeKlatsch with Ian McDonald: Ian reveals something of his new books Lunar 1 & 2 pitching them as “Dallas on the Moon”, though I preferred his alternative definition of “the Borgias on the Moon” that he gave me in Fiuggi. Then the questions are all about River of Gods and he says that he wrote the book because in Star Trek – regardless of the intentions of representing all the world diversity – there was no Indian character. That started the whole book idea. Thank you, Spock, but you were not enough alien for Ian.

The speech of Lord Martin Rees, was one of the highest moments of the WorldCon for me. A ride from the dawn of our civilization into the unknown future of mankind, depicting the obstacles that we humans, as a species, will face during the upcoming posthuman evolution. That a scientist such as Lord Rees – cosmologist, astrophysicist and former president of the Royal Society – could quote H.G. Wells and make examples from SF plots to illustrate the state of the present and future world, fills me with pride and trust. In my country when something looks pretty bad, or it sounds blatantly implausible we say: yeah, it’s “fantascienza” crap.

At night, David and me start thinking about tomorrow. We’ll have our own little space to present Livid  in the furthest corner of the Fan Village – loud and messy; it will be our niche.

 Sunday – Day 4) David has another panel, Generation of Genre. Again, as the talk proceeds, it seems like the differences between Fantasy and Science Fiction are melting away at full speed. At least for the market and the never-ending shelves association problem. Indeed such differences are trivial when it comes to the element far too often neglected: quality. Whether it’s fun and entertainment books or daring and literary ones, it’s just quality the real distinction that matters about what we read.

I feel the Long Tail of the Market Dragon snapping at my throat.

With these thoughts in mind, we approach the book launch of Livid. There hasn’t been many in four days; I’ve counted two or three. Perhaps Livid will be the only Non-English book presented at the WorldCon. Ok, this is not a Book Fair, this is a Celebration of the 2013′s Best SF; but still, curiosity has killed all the geeks & nerds? Why there hasn’t been a panel with the best writers from the US, UK, China, France, Russia, or Spain together? Or why there hasn’t been a single panel given in a language that was not lingua franca English? Somebody might enjoy the exotic taste of various tongues and brains. To say it with the words of Haruki Murakami: “If you read what everybody is reading, you think what everybody is thinking.”

But hey, I’ve got it all wrong. The man walking towards us in a pink shirt is James Patrick Kelly. Once he told me that, as a young writer, he was helped to get into the World of SF by other senior authors making his starting career less hard. In the US, the maturity of genre has reached such a high level as to have a whole network of Universities and Workshops running courses about SF. No wonder American SF rules the World. They sow the “sense of wonder” and enjoy the tasty fruits. This reminds me of the Hall of Fame, upstairs from the Fan Village, with some nostalgic pics of SF writers. Literary Acknowledgment should not be limited to Non-Genre Literature. As we do not need just writers, but storytellers.

And that’s when the squire turns into one of them. Not me, Francesco Verso in particular, but any other non-English guy who would have a 30-minute celebrity window to say, “I’m also here”. And that’s when David Henley starts saying how long and hard we worked on translating Livid into English, and preparing the final text for an English reader. I am truly grateful to David for choosing the hard way: an Italian SF novel in Australia. As the Zen saying goes: “between two paths, choose the hard one, the other will become it later.” I wish my fellow Italian writers Dario Tonani and Giovanni de Matteo would also have a place here.  Surely I will treasure this experience for all the missing South Americans, Africans, Arabs, Indians, and the whole bunch of “diverse” authors I haven’t come across.

Actually I’ve met the Arabs at Sinbad SF panel: there was one SF Publisher, Yasser Bahjatt, and three authors, Ibrahim Abbas, Noura Al-Nouman and Amal El-Mohtar, keeping up their flag. Lots of interest around them, which needs to be turned into more readers and authors.

So Livid was here, at LonCon3. The squire rode his horse, even for a short distance. It took me six years altogether, from vanity press to paperback editions, from the first Italian publishing contracts, to the latest international agreement with Xoum. From where I’ve started, it’s a quantum leap.

When it comes to talk about the fanciest Con peak, about the night we’ve all been waiting for… sorry, I wasn’t there. You can find much better articles about the Hugo Awards Night online. But I did see, once it was over, Male Winners waving Hugos like swords, while Women carried them like sceptres. I’m joking, but I didn’t attend not because I snobbed the We’re All So Happy Moment, on the contrary,  I’ve preferred to spend it with David at dinner, talking about how we could make the best out of this  meeting and wonderful experience.

There’s surely a need (and a silent, unspoken request) for more Non-English SF coming from The Other Side of the World. You can feel it in the “postcolonial” anthologies popping up. And indeed the seed has been planted, even though the meme will take much more time and energy to settle in a fertile field.

At night, among many parties around the venue, I notice some movement in the ALoft Hotel bar. It’s a Gollancz party and, after sneaking in, the Business Side of the Show materializes in the shape of Senior Wizard Editors, influential Gatekeepers, such as powerful Literary Agents and friendly Reviewers, mixed with Incorruptible Academics and Shape-Shifting Fandom Acolytes. Here’s where the next SF&F Smashing Hit Best Sellers will be drunk away, one drink at the time. Though the smell is tempting and seducing, I head back to the Hotel room. David and me are tired; we might as well watch “The Prestige” on TV. Power, just like deception and cheating, is as real as fiction.

Monday – Day 5) The WorldCon is almost over. The survivors, long-time veterans and SF freshmen like us, can still walk the huge Excel Hall bearing the signs of exhausting satisfaction. The feet are not hurting anymore, come on, just one last panel, before the time is up. When Genres Collide, with Nick Harkaway, is one of the best panels. A single quote will express it best: “as technological acceleration proceeds, mainstream and sci-fi will be just one genre.” You have it right Nick: as we live in an “ever-transformation time” the only genre able to capture the zeitgeist of our time is Science Fiction.

There is much more to tell. I beg your pardon if I wasn’t getting any deeper than this. Much of the LonCon3 celebration was an amazing thing, even though a one-way thing. Very good, inspiring, exciting. I wish the WorldCon will come soon to a non-English speaking country. I know it happened before. But now the time looks absolutely right. Many other countries have achieved the technological maturity and the subsequent level of SF quality to stand side by side with the masters. I bow in awe in front of your Excellence and Expertise. Something to be thankful, both as a reader and as a writer; something that taught me a weird and somewhat twisted way to get here to tell it.

© Francesco Verso

Reposted by permission of Francesco Verso. We’re thanking him.

The original article was posted on Francesco Verso’s site :

http://www.francescoverso.com/en/loncon3-squire/

Francesco Verso_Livid_Xoum

Set in a future where consumerism has made much of Earth into a junk heap, Peter Payne is a trashformer, a scavenger, a kid under the thumb of a world too brutal to stay human. When his one chance for love and to change his fate is violently torn away from him, he embarks on a quest to rebuild the object of his obsession.

Filled with themes of cybernetics, prosthetics, consumerism, over-consumerism, robotics and transcendence, Livid  expands on classic tropes to build a world as deep and compelling as the main character.

Francesco Verso brings classic cyberpunk attitude to grand romantic obsession. Alba is a nexhuman, uploaded into a beautiful plastic body. Peter is the impressionable young boy who falls in love with her. When he witnesses a brutal attack in which she is  dismantled and scattered, he begins a lifelong quest to restore her, a quest that brings him into conflict with his family and his throwaway society. Although the odds are long, only his love can save her.  LIVID is a thoughtful meditation on what it means to be human and an exciting peek into a world that is just around the corner.” – James Patrick Kelly, winner of the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards.

Livid
* Winner 2013 Odissea Award by Delos Books
* Winner 2014 Cassiopea Award
* Winner 2014 Italia Award for Best Science Fiction Novel
* Finalist in the Vegetti Award

Francesco Verso personal Awards:
2004 – Finalist at Urania Mondadori Award with Antidoti Umani
2009 – Winner of Urania Mondadori with e-Doll
2013 – Winner of Odyssey Award by Delos Books with Livid
2013 – Special Recommendation at Robot Award for Il Livello dell’Assassino
2014 – Winner of Cassiopea Award for Livid
2014 – Winner of Italia Award for best SF novel with Livid

Francesco Verso was born in Bologna (29th of march, 1973), he has a major in Environmental Economics at the University of “Roma Tre” and began to work in IBM PC Division where he remained until 2005. From 2005 to 2008 he worked for the chinese company Lenovo. Since 2008 he tries hard to be a full time writer.

From 2010 to 2013 he has been working at Kipple Officina Libraria as co-director – together with Sandro Battisti – of the ebook series, Avatar. With performers Katiuscia Magliarisi, Chiara Condrò and theremin musician Simone de Filippis, he worked on the SF show,  The Milky Way – A show on diversity quite unlike itself which was brought on stage 5 times in 2013 in Rome. Since 2013 he works with BCAA New Media Agency to develop the short story Flush into a live installation and movie.

In 2014 he founded the label Future Fiction (an imprint of Deleyva Editore) that he runs together with Francesco Mantovani and the Future Fiction Factory, a synergic group of people dedicated to transmedia adaptation from the written from to other types of storytelling: webseries, live installations, motion capture, theatrical performances, video-mapping and 3D printed objects.

Novels

  • Antidoti umani, (Human Antidotes) short-listed at 2004 Urania Mondadori Award, e-book version by Kipple Officina Libraria, 2011
  • e-Doll, Winner of 2008 Urania Mondadori Award, Urania series nr.1552, november 2009
  • e-Doll, winner of 2008 Urania Mondadori Award, ebook version by Future Fiction 2014
  • Livido, winner of Odyssey Award, Delos Books, 2013
  • Livid, Fantastica SF book series, Xoum, 2014
  • BloodBusters, (unpublished)
  • The Walker – Book I: The Pulldogs (unpublished)

Short Stories

  • La spirale del silenzio, in Robot 58, Delosbooks, 2009
  • Flush, Kipple, series Avatar Caspule nr.3, 2010
  • Flush, iComics nr. 4, Kawama Editoriale, december 2010
  • Sogno di un futuro di mezza estate, Kipple, series Avatar eCaspule nr.7, 2011 – Short listed at 2012 Italia Award
  • Italianski, tikaj, tikaj, in Scritto… e Mangiato: racconti di vita e di sapori, Premio Racconto Bonsai 2011, Giulio Perrone LAB, Roma, 2011
  • La morte in diretta di Fernando Morales, Graphe.it, series eTales, 2011
  • 90 Centesimi, iComics nr. 14, Kawama Editoriale, january 2012
  • Due Mondi, Future Fiction, april 2014
  • Formattazioni Celesti, Edizioni della Vigna, Monovitigno series, in “I Sogni di Cartesio” AA.VV by Giuseppe Panella and Luca Ortino, may 2013
  • Il livello dell’assassino, Fantasy Magazine #8, Delos Books, autumn 2013.

Short stories translated in English

  • Flush, series Avatar eCapsule, translation by Georgia Gili, Kipple Officina Libraria, july 2011
  • Two Worlds, Future Fiction, translation by Sally McCorry, april 2014
  • 90 Cents, self-published, translation by Sally McCorry, january 2013, available for free as pay-per-like
  • Two Worlds, International Speculative Fiction Magazine #5 – FREE TO DOWNLOAD.

Translations

  • Aethra di Michalis Manolios, winner of Aeon Award 2011, series Avatar Capsule, Kipple Officina Libraria, 2011
  • La mano servita by Robert J. Sawyer, short listed at Hugo, Aurora and Arthur Ellis Awards in 1998, series Avatar Capsule, Kipple Officina Libraria, 2012
  • La casa di Bernardo by James Patrick Kelly, Future Fiction, 2014

Other publications

  • Tre Utopie Letterarie in Citymakers, book series “Libreria di Transarchitettura” by Emmanuele J. Pilia, Deleyva Editore, 2013

Theatrical Adaptation

  • Teatro Tor di Nona, Roma, Formattazioni Celesti in the Science Fiction Show The Milky Way by Katiuscia Magliarisi, Chiara Condrò and Simone de Filippis
  • Animal Social Club, Roma, La morte in diretta di Fernando Morales in the Science Fiction Show The Milky Way by Katiuscia Magliarisi, Chiara Condrò and Simone de Filippis.
  • Teatro Valle Occupato, Roma, e-Doll in Da Mieli a Queer festival, adaptation of the scene “The Dungeon: a meeting with Berenice Cubarskij”, with Katiuscia Magliarisi as Angel and Daniele Ferranti as the butler

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