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Typepad seems to be really acting up, so I will post this to LJ as well. It's a report of sorts, of last weekends Parcon.

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I’m back from Plzen and Parcon. And let me tell you, I had fun. Parcon is the Czech and Slovak national SF-convention. Named after the very first such occasion in 1982 which was (or should I say were, as the first few were) held in Pardubice, then Czechoslovakia, now Slovakia.

This year the gathering took place in Plzen, which is the world famous home of pilsner, namely Urquell, pretty much one of the proper kings of beer. Plzen is the 4th biggest city in Czech Republic and has about a) 30-50 000, b) 150 000 or c) 300 000 inhabitants. These were the figures we got from three different local fen. The one closest to actual number of about 170 000 was the young femmefan, Teresa, who was also Hal Duncan’s minder.

Yes, Parcon had Guests of Honour! Hal Duncan, Jeff and Ann VanderMeer (special guest), Ian R. MacLeod and Les Edwards/Edward Miller were all there, nicely fitting to the theme of the con: New Weird. Fancy me going to a con where focus is on new weird? What this really meant, was that every GoH had a presentation called “New Weird”, where they pretty much did what they wanted: read fiction, gave interviews, gave a speech and so on.

The more prominent New Weird –thing was the local publishing house of Laser Books, who has this amazing series thusly named, where they have so far published some twenty books of New Weird persuasion: China Miéville, Steph Swainstonova, K. J. Bishopová, Jay Lake and all guests of honours. Especially Edward Miller, whose artwork glorifies every single book in the series. They even took the typography from his first and probably most known work, the cover for China’s Perdido Street Station. These books look good.

Even Yours Truly has made the series! The VanderMeer’s New Weird –anthology was just published in Czech, with my tiny contribution included. Trochu divná fantastika!

How did this happen? And why was I in Plzen?

It’s all Tero’s fault. I first heard about Parcon last year at the Copenhagen Eurocon, where Peter Pavelko asked the status of Euroconference for the national Czech and Slovak convention, while Finncon 2009 seeked the Eurocon-status and didn’t get it. Peter and Parcon were however more luckier. The idea of a Czech SF-con sounded like a plan, not the least because of the theme. Many Finns seemed to be enthusiastic about it, but in the end (even after the GoH’s were finally made public) only the three of us went. Tero had decided early on, but I had the usual doubts, money and work. Then Juha Tupasela decided to join the team and I knew I had to go. Maybe I actually decided earlier, but anyhoo.

Juha is a great guy, intelligent and fun (remember to ask his of his Michael Jackson –story, it’s a KILLER!) person to have around. And despite only recently getting to know the Finndom (he was at Åcon2), a fully faannish bloke.

We managed to get straight tickets to Finnair flights, they were slightly more expensive, but well suited for our timetable. Nothing happened on the flight (which makes it the best kind of a flight) and we arrived to Prague airport at about 10AM, well in schedule, but since my intrepid companions managed to spend eternity at the baggage conveyor belt, we were seriously lagging when we finally managed to coach our way to Zlicin, which is (probably?) a suburb of Prague, where our bus left for Plzen. Pretty darn close call with the final bus, which we made in time, and with two minutes to spare. And luckily there were three seats left for us.

Apparently buses are very popular in Czech. Not only are they new (or at least the ones we used were), they are also cheaper and faster than railways. Fancy that. And they serve stuff there: tea, coffee, news papers, Czech pop videos… And they may even have WiFi, though that probably is a misinterpretation of the brochure, which was in Czech. No translation available. All this for four euroes in total. Cheap.

Pátek

In Plzen we were greeted by Peter who had the fun job of being the foreigner liaison, with only a handful of foreigners out and about. We saw quite a lot of Peter, which was fun, since he is a nice guy and looks a lot like a Helsinki fan! We managed to check-in, realise we have no towels, and very hungry. Plan was to seek out a store that sells goods ie. towels, but we only managed to get to the nearby restaurant, called Knight Lochoty. We tried to order something to eat and ran into the biggest problem of the trip: Czechs are very nice people and they treat you well, but they do not speak very good English. Not that I think myself as that much linguistically superior, but if I’m to believe Peter (and some other knowledgable Czechs – OK, backup here, Peter is a Slovak…) only about 15 percent of Czechs speak good English. I’m somewhat ready to believe that with my limited experience.

Thru hand signals, Really Old English version of the Menu and my ingenious phrase book (more of that later), we finally got something. Mostly meat, but that was good. And beer. Cheap, good Gambrinus. Only when Peter came to pick us up, we were told that the big, boldly written lines of incomprehensible Czech meant that the restaurace was also a brewery and had its own brew. We remedied that mistake the next day.

Belly full, we headed toward the City. You see, there is this pub. NO, let me rephrase that. There is The PUB. The PUB stands for Pilsener Urquell Brewery (or something to that effect) and has this amazing contraption: taps in the tables! You goes in, get a glass and pour your own pint. Apparently the beer is some extra special Urquell, non-pasteurized and whatnot, and really clean, crisp, cold and yummy. And costs about €8 for six pints.

Before we hit the joint, where Peter had reserved a table for the duration of the con, we run into the VanderMeers. They insisted on coming with us, and since we’re pretty easy-going bunch, we let them. Which led to the first Battle of the Beer Masterhood. You see, not only does the place have beer taps on the table, they also have this scoreboard, where you can see all the other places where such tables are and how much they are drinking. It’s a Beer-Drinking-Game! And were Finns! What to do…?

During the short time period we had to spend there, before the Opening Ceremonies, we Ruled the score board, until the Brnoans came in. Damn you Brno10! You drunkards! We decided to come back the next day, only this time with Hal Duncan. Shurely we would be invincible?

We headed back to the school (Parcon was held in some kind of a secondary school where you learned stuff about traffic, apparently) at 7PM. There we run into Hal and Les Edward/Edward Miller and some two hundred Czechs and Slovaks - and an opening ceremony, where everything was in Czech. SO, pretty much a Swecon kind of opening. We had a moment to look at the dealers, who were pretty much selling only Czech books, but just looking at them was a real treat. So much is being translated into local brogue, that it makes one ashamed to being a Finn. Some 300+ books are being translated every year and the local talents manage a substantial amount of books as well. I was especially interested in some Czech Conan novels, but couldn’t find anyone, who had both read them and spoke English as well.

At 8, we headed to Tero’s surprise appearance as the Guest Lecturer. Somehow, he’d been included into the programming unbeknownst to him. Furiously, me and Juha were rummaging thru the program leaflet, but evidently we had registered so late, that they hadn’t managed to put us into any program items. After a nice 40-minute chat with a dozen or so people, we headed to the Non-Stop Pub with Juha. Tero managed to find the only Frenchman at the con, who was curious about this many Finns.

Non-Stop Pub was fan-run joint, where you could buy beer, booze, food and other stuff, like t-shirts (200 korunas, €8). Language-block was evident, but we managed to decipher the menu and buy few beers and baguettes. Syr and sunka is cheese and ham. Pivo is beer. Dékuji is “thanks”. Lesson over.

We met Tomas, who seemed to be a media-fan, looked apparently like Juha’s ex-girlfriends non-existing brother and worked as a bodyguard at a German movie studio in France. As far as I know, the only thing that’s certain, is that his name is Tomas (more or less, don’t know about the ´ and ` and such), the rest is debatable. We also met Hal, who seemed happy, and why not, the man has gotten engaged! He is also skint, so I bought him a beer. And then Peter came and sat on the table with a gallon (could’ve been two) filled with honey mead. Sweet, 18 percent and gives you a headache in the morning. Or so Juha says. We all liked it and when I say all, I mean pretty much everyone, since Peter gave cups to everyone who had the temerity to ask a swig. Hal and Jeff seemed to have been really enthused about the mead. And why not, it was good.

Sobota

After we had slept good few hours (I guess we left the pub after 1AM and woke around 9), we decided to finally seek out some towels. Passing the local Lidl, we checked first supermarket Albert, but they didn’t have any towel-like products. I bought a bottle of local cola (Cofula?) which had a strange side taste to it. Not for me.

After some rather longish walking and cool-looking somewhat-Soviet-era blocks of flats, we found Hypernova. Name says it all: not big, not super – hyper. Bought some necessities, like breakfast and Cherry Coke and the towels, and headed back home. Shower-fresh, our trio headed down in order to look at the programming. We listened through the “Czech and Slovak fandom history”, which resonated well with Finnish experience, even if our national conventions are way different. First Parcon attracted some 400 members, which were diligently divided among all 40 or something Czechoslovakian SF-groups. The presentation could’ve been better and I was especially looking forward to more anecdotes, like the one about the club-president, who later formed the Moravian Independence Party!

Like we, the Czech have also co-operation meetings (and evidently the Poles do this too). They have them twice a year, but if I understood correctly, they also have some party-poopers, like this one guy, whoa had organised a media-con in Chotebor same time as Parcon. This had likely a lot to do with lower than expected attendance numbers. Skoda.

I mentioned the 300+ translations per year. A nowadays bestseller would sell something like 10 000, while median is somewhere between 1000-2000 copies. The print numbers are getting down, for example the 1980’s translation of Frank Herbert’s Dune sold more than 100 000 copies! Now that is a Bestseller!

I went and listened to Edward Miller after this. He seemed like a nice chap and clearly the most eagerly-awaited GoH as he was always somewhere else than the rest of the GoH’s, who seemed to gravitate towards us Finns. After Miller time, there was an autograph-session. I’d gotten my copy of the Czech New Weird anthology and asked scribblings from all contributors present. Later we ran into Alastair Rennie, one more author from the book and also a Scot living in Italy and a surprise visitor at Parcon.

We had decided to go back to Lochoty and order some food, while looking at a 1963 film Ikarie XB-1. Never happened, as we our table was invaded by the GoH-cohort, in search for English-speakers. Apparently the movie is excellent! As was the meat skewer I had for lunch. Delicious. This time we were able to order the homebrewed. It was a bit sweet, but good.

I skipped Hal’s reading, where the translator read same shit in different language after Hal stopped to take a breath, and headed to Ian R. MacLeod’s beseda. This was apparently local for kaffeeklatch. Hal was late and there was therefore only three of us at the beginning of Ian’s answer, which went well into the next hour. Interesting monologue of his writings, stories, coming works and whatnot, which made me want to seek out more of Mr. MacLeod than just his Light Ages.

Funny detail: Ian’s beseda was marked down to the program list as taking place at the room Ctyrka. Which is evidently “Fourth” in Czech. Which is also the room number of the room with a big orange plaque that says something like “Virtualni Cajouna”.

I headed to the Big Hall in order to listen to Jeff, but as every single time before that, the previous number was still on, running late. This time there were three people on stage, talking Czech and giving out liquor. There was also a yapping dog. Truly alien feeling.

Jeff gave a very funny (what else?) speech that was fact-based, yet unbelievable. One thing that he also mentioned was that New Weird has sold so well, that Tachyon is taking a second print! Wahey, this means, that they are also able to pay to those that were left out in the first round, namely us European editors. My first American sale! I explained that I wasn’t looking forward to a check, as that would more than probably mean that in order for me to claim the check, I’d be forced to pay more money than the check was worth. Or that’s my guess anyhow as I cannot believe I’d make too much money out of this one.

And then we headed back to The PUB. We were ten-strong, with us three Finns, Jeff& Ann, Hal, Alastair, Ian R., Fredrick the French and Teresa, Hal’s minder. We ate, we drank and after some heavy drafting, we had managed to climb all the way up to 4th spot, when we had to get back to the con-site. Late already, Jeff, Tero and I were want of a cigar. Teresa told us of a tobacco shop that was open 24/7 and promised to guide me and Tero there. We must’ve walked to the other side of the town (OK, could’ve been a kilometre or less), but finally we found the place.

And run into the problem le weekend. After some serious discussions and pointings, hand gestures and communication mistakes, we finally learned that sometimes a cigar is not a cigar. Especially when it is doutnik. After this bit of Czech language course, we were able to purchase nice, smooth and mellow Dominican churchills for 110 korunas a piece. Huge, monstrous cigars that take forever to smoke, which we three and Juha and Hal (we got five cigars) did later that night.

Meanwhile, the convention had turned into Czech tourist evening show, with jugglers and medieval musicians. We run into Jeff at the front door of the school, where he was suffocating from a sudden case of Giggleitis. Apparently the musicians had this instrument, which could only be described as “fart-drum” – sweet instrument, but making unfortunate sounds. We catched the rest of the show and my impression was that the singers and players were good performers, whereas the juggler wasn’t more than adequate. Could’ve listened to the minstrels for a bit more, but apparently they has played a fair bit, before we foreigners decided to show up… Sorry.

After the smoking, I chatted with the locals and wondered where the rest of the foreigners had gone? Finally I managed to dig them out. They were sitting around a table, filled with beer bottles and a big Finlandia vodka bottle. Evidently they were forced to accept it as a token of good faith. I joined the team, which consisted of some very tired-looking people, the usual suspects plus the lone German who was present at the con. We chatted happily, drank more and looked at the occasional Czechs who made a brief appearance at the door, evidently checking whether the English-speakers were still up. At around 3AM we finally managed to get few Czechs to join us (one of them might’ve been a Bulgarian?) and after quite a lot of lubrication, the locals managed to speak the lingua franca. Some where rather good in my opinion, but then again, I was…very, very drunk at the time.

Nedéle

Following morning came too soon, and was not definitely helped by Juha’s breakfast of pickled sausages. I had a packet of chips, while Tero had a nourishing bar of Twix. All the good stuff had been eaten by the locals, who had more or less already left the place. Parcon ends properly to the big Saturday boozefest, while the Sunday is really just the picking up pieces and a few ragtag-numbers that attract only a few viewers. So now we know.

Guests of Honours were nowhere to be seen, and since they were heading to a beer bath later in the day, why not? We decided to catch a relatively early bus to Prague. Peter gave us a lift to the station. What a lovely guy. If only we’d brought him more presents than the obligatory salmiakkikossu bottle and Fazer confectionaries. Maybe some Finnish heavy metal? Peter looked like a guy who might enjoy that crap kind of music.

Trip back home was uneventful. We had lunch at the airport and paid more for the measly burgers and pizza slices than we did for the rest of the food during the trip. In fact, the best food we got during the day was the Tuna pasta we had on the plane. Really!

Interesting bit: I didn’t buy a single book on the trip, yet I managed to gain a total sum of four books and as many copies of Weird Tales.

This was a good con. Not great, but interesting and fun. As always, Jeff, Ann and Hal were great Guests and we hanged a lot with the, maybe too much? If I’d been a Czech, I might’ve taken offense that the bloody foreigners come and steal Our GoH’s! But I might be wrong, too. It seemed like most of the Czechs were more than happy to be among themselves and get the autograph and listen to the GoH-interviews etc. They didn’t try to chat with Hal or Jeff, and Ghu knows, those guys are willing to talk to anyone, about anything!

Thanks Peter and all the rest of you guys& gals! Marta, Jolana, Tomas, Pagi, Lukas and the Unpronouncable (hope to see you some day at the Rally Finland)! I enjoyed this a great deal!

December 2013

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