Monday, 11 October 2010

Nine Seminars, Five Mini Seminars, Ten Signed Books and Four Days: The Göteborg Book Fair 2010, Pt 2

So, time for part two of my report from this year's Book Fair.

Saturday opened with my third and final Africa-themed seminar: "Maktens språk och språkets makt" (Eng. trans. The Language of Power and the Power of Language) featuring a discussion between Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o and Professor Raoul J. Granqvist of Umeå University. The conversation focused on the importance of not depriving humans of their native languages through colonial or neo-colonial school systems. Ngũgĩ also spoke both of oriture (i.e. orality's equivalent of literacy's literature), stressing the connectivity between 0ral and textual language, and what he called cyborality/cyboriture. The latter of which, to my understanding, refers to the oral language impulses that the internet currently feeds directly back into written language; in essence generating texts that end up functioning much more like spoken language than written, in that it often tends towards a greater immediacy.

They also discussed the vicious circle of African publishing, that is, that there are few authors writing in African languages (Chinua Achebe's books for instance are not available in his native tongue, Igbo), which in turn leads to there being few publishers who publish books in African languages; which in turn... I guess, you get the picture. In this context, the importance of translation – of transferring important texts between smaller languages so as to not be overly dependent on bigger languages (i.e. the languages of the colonisers) – is of the essence.

The rest of the Saturday (four mini seminars and one more regular seminar) was coloured by the fantastic. This started with the mini seminar "Kick-ass chick-litt-fantasy" (I somehow think translation is somewhat superfluous here), in which Karin Waller ("Cap'n" of Science Fiction Bokhandeln's store in Malmö) and Nene Ormes (author and "crew") introduced the aforementioned fantasy subgenre which comes out of a combination of elements from chic lit (e.g. Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary), urban fantasy (e.g. Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and Jim Butcher's Dresden Case Files series) and paranormal romance (e.g. Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Saga). This heroine based genre includes romance but never allows this to be its sole plot purpose or drive. Rather than stumbling over the mouthful of joint nomenclatures, Waller and Ormes offered the hopefully more catchy and snappy "fantzy". We will have to wait and see if the name catches on, but if you are a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the seminar suggested that this might be your kind of genre (with titles such as Jaqueline Carey's Santa Olivia and Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series).

This seminar was followed by two short solo flights by Johan Theorin and John Ajvide Lindqvist respectively: "Mord på Öland" (Eng. trans. Murder on Öland) and "Med absolut gehör för skräck" (Eng. trans. With Perfect Pitch for Horror). Both authors were a lot of fun to listen to. I had attended seminars with Ajvide Lindqvist before, but Theorin was new to me, and he really made me interested in reading his books about Öland.

After this brief interlude, it was time to see more of Ormes, this time in a mini seminar entitled "Fantasy på svenska" (Eng. trans. Fantasy in Swedish). Here Ormes was interviewed by her publisher Anna Henriksson from Styxx Fantasy. The full seminar is available on YouTube (albeit in Swedish) and is highly recommended viewing.

Finally, Saturday's seminars ended with "Det magiska norden" (Eng. trans. The Magical North), in which four Nordic authors discussed elements of the fantastic in their fiction together with moderator Janina Orlov. The authors in question were Lene Kaaberbøl (Denmark), Jo Nesbø (Norway), Andri Snær Magnason (Iceland) and John Ajvide Lindqvist (Sweden). Finland should have been represented by Maria Turtschaninoff, who for some reason or another was not able to attend the Fair (although, I did pick up her book Underfors about a secret fantastic city underneath Helsinki). The discussion was interesting even though some of the question were a bit hit and miss. That being said, the questions that really hit home went down very well indeed, and really made it a worthwhile seminar to have attended.

The evening ended with a lovely dinner with some friends from Bookcrossing, all gathering in these glorified days of bookishness.

On Sunday, I only visited two seminars: the added seminar with Jan Lööf and "Livet, universum och allting" (Eng. trans. Life, the Universe and Everything). After having had the pleasure of listening to Jan Lööf in discussion with his sometimes-partner-in-crime Carl Johan deGeer last year, I jumped at the occasion for something of a repeat performance. Granted that his discussion with Kartago's Rolf Classon did not quite match that of the preceding year, but it was nevertheless an amusing and insightful seminar, and I have certainly no regrets for having spent my time on it.

The second one featured a panel debate between science fiction writer Peter F. Hamilton, publisher, journalist and writer Johan Ehrenberg, astroparticle physicist and blogger Anna Davour, and Glenn Petersen from Science Fiction Bokhandeln's Göteborg store. The panel was moderated by Math Claesson from Science Fiction Bokhandeln's Stockholm store. The discussion touched on questions of technology (and its theoretical limits), human norms and what it is that constantly drives us to wonder what is out there among the stars. All in all, a very good seminar with a lot of highlights, and earlier in the morning, I had also had the chance to buy Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained (the first two novels in Hamilton's Commonwealth Saga) and get them signed by the author.

The afternoon was spent mingling about a bit on the floor, meeting up with friends (both old and new) and also getting my copy of Karin Tidbeck's debut collection of short fiction, Vem är Arvid Pekon? (Eng. trans. Who Is Arvid Pekon?), signed. This book is not only very good and an extremely charming read, I would also dare to say that it is a book that is necessary on the Swedish literary scene. Writing in a tradition of short fiction that sports such names as Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, Ray Bradbury, Philip José Farmer and Harlan Ellison, Tidbeck tells us stories which are unabashedly fantastic in nature, yet which adhere to no strict mainstream conventions of fantasy or science fiction (in particular as such definitions are understood on the Swedish literary market). I strongly doubt that this beautiful little book will match Nene Ormes' urban fantasy debut in terms of sales and audience (sadly), but it is a truism that short story collections sell worse as if by an unfortunate default setting, and the very fact which makes Tidbeck's contribution so necessary (even more so, perhaps, than Ormes' book, which I rate very highly) will most likely be part of the obstacles it (and she) will have to overcome. The fact that the book is out there, however, speaks well for the future of the fantastic in Swedish literature.

So, nine seminars, five mini seminars, ten signed books (and a few more bought) and four days of mingling, browsing, and having an awful lot of fun. I would not trade that away for the world.

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