Hal-Con Japan 2015 Report

It was again time for our local two-day SF convention in Tokyo – Hal-Con to which we invite a non-Japanese writer GoH (guest of honor) who is published also in Japan, plus his Japanese cover artist. The guests this year were Hannu Rajaniemi and Noriko Nagano (thanks for coming!).

For the first time we repeated the venue and the convention happened at the Kawasaki International Center where Hal-Con 2011 has happened with Robert Sawyer as the GoH. The Hal-Con GoH’s so far have been Charles Stross, Robert Sawyer, Alastair Reynolds, Joe Haldeman, Peter Watts and now Hannu Rajaniemi.
On the first day, the highlights were a general interview with Hannu san moderated by fellow writer Preston Grassman, and the bi-lingual reading of Hannu san’s short story „Tyche and the Ants“. Hannu read the English original of course, but as a first for Hal-Con, the Japanese version was read by three young voice actors with alternating parts.

I had a little autograph session in the dealer’s room and thanks to Chie san and Rene san for coming! Lol. Next to me sat a Japanese YA author called Tsukasa Tsuchiya, who had as few guests as I did and we had a good laugh. 😉
During the GoH party in the evening, I tried out part one of two virtual reality demonstrations. Goggles and headphone shut you out from the real world and in part one you are inside a giant robot of Pacific Rim style (Gargantia) and bounce around an attack on two (or was it three) ships at sea. I kinda was expecting a kaiju to appear but was disappointed in that regard 😉

I am pretty resistant to motion sickness but felt a bit woozy despite that from the roller-coaster ride the episode put you through. I tried the other demonstration, the next day, Yamato 2199. You at first get a (longish = too long) tour of the ship’s outside, whilst „standing“ on a mobile platform wearing a space suit. At the end of the tour, hostile forces attack the Yamato and there was a bit more action, if far less stomach turning than the robot experience. The Yamato 2199 presentation also suffered from one of the main reasons for why I don’t like most Japanese anime. A „woman’s“ voice explains things to you and that voice is ridiculously high, cute and sounds embarrassingly stupid. = women are cute and stupid and I do NOT agree with that concept one bit.

The second day of Hal-Con was way more busy for me, starting with an excellent panel right in the morning with Hannu, the Japanese SF writer Taiyo Fujii, and myself, moderated by Rene Walling on writing in a second language. Hannu’s mother-tongue is Finnish, mine is German, and even though Fujii san is not writing in English, he checked an English translation of one of his works in detail.
One aspect we dwelled upon was that in Japanese, Finnish and German it’s very easy to make new words – just add nouns or kanji. It’s also easy to make verbs out of nouns and vice-versa in all three languages. Thanks to that we might be taking more freedoms or have less scruples to take them when writing in English. 😉
Another interesting topic was that in Finnish and Japanese you can hide the gender of a person whilst in English (and German) you have to state whether your characters are he/she/or its, otherwise your sentences do not work.
Multilingual people have a quite different approach to language than mono-lingual ones and I for my part am happy for my German background and Japanese capability, even if it makes my English imperfect.

Next up was a difficult to translate panel where a Japanese colleague and I shared the translating. Meiji University professor of information ethics Andrew A. Adams interviewed Hannu on the subject of privacy and information security in the future. The talk covered the privacy setting concept in Hannu’s novel Quantum Thief, current attempts at hiding or finding information by individuals as well as governments (how we don’t know what really happened at Fukushima nuclear power plant or what is happening between Russia and Ukraine, how individuals try to poison networks by randomly adding key-words like bomb or terrorist to unrelated texts, etc.) and that „lies run twice around the world before truth’s got its boots on“. We need a new awareness of how to deal with information, our own, as well as that of others. It will be interesting to see where the story goes, and how we will deal with our future memory.

Finally, it was my turn and I held my by now „traditional“ reading session at Hal-Con. This time I read from the third and last part of my trilogy around the modern day alchemist Hagen Patterson „Give Substance to a Thought“ and from a soon to be published space opera. (by the way, I’m planning to release this one under a male pseudonym, so the reading was not recorded ;-)) Then I got „grilled“ by one of the fans as to whether the space opera is an anti-theses to „normal“ space operas and whether my Hagen trilogy is an anti-theses to „everyone’s dead at the end of the Ring of the Nibelung“. Well, no, not really, the space opera is mainly about the protagonist’s special hearing and the Hagen trilogy is mainly about the ups and downs of Hagen and how he deals with the unusual circumstances he finds himself in. It was a nice dispute, but I’m afraid I got a little bit in the defensive ;-).
Here is the link to the reading from Hal-Con 2014 from my 2nd alchemist novel “To Mix and To Stir“. I’ll upload this year’s reading soon as well.

The dead dog party (the party for the staff at the end of a convention) was great fun and I successfully swapped souvenirs with another fan and got my hands on a signed copy of Katoh sensei’s (he’s my cover artist) a live paint of the aliens from Joe Haldeman’s „Forever War“ two years ago at Hal-Con 13, yeah.
Nothing is decided yet about Hal-Con 2016, but probably see you all there again 😉

The Trouble with Descriptions

In the workshops that I conduct I often use an „ice break“ (interactive, fun, gamefication activities to start a workshop session, to get people to talk, make them notice small (or sometimes big) things) called „Tangram“. It’s a puzzle game that consists of only 7 pieces, two big triangles, three smaller ones, one square and one diamond. Two people sit back to back, one person gets the puzzle, the other person a piece of paper depicting a shape that can be formed by those seven pieces.

The job of the person with the paper is now to explain to the person with the puzzle how to form that shape without showing him or her the piece of paper. It’s always amazing to see how difficult this is and how limited our powers of description are.
The first questions is with whether the person with the shape on the paper sees a form or just a seemingly random arrangement of the seven pieces. Some classic pictures you can form with the tangram are for example a fox, a bird, a soccer player, a rabbit, a dancer, a sitting person, a horse, etc. (it’s another absolutely amazing thing just how many shapes you can create with just those seven pieces). Some people completely lack the imagination of seeing those shapes and perceive nothing but a jungle of triangles.

Those who can recognize, for example, the fox or the bird have a little bit of an easier time explaining. It always helps to convey the big picture first to your counterpart who cannot see the completed shape. This advantage does not necessarily result in success, since your counterpart might have a completely different picture of a bird in his or her head than the person who explains.

Then the details – amazingly difficult to confirm. Some people work with cardinal points trying to convey where the top of a triangle goes, others use a clock for reference, others degrees of a circle and so forth, meaning every person has a slightly different set of references while desperately trying to convey what he or she sees.
Language does not matter. Even if two people speak the same mother tongue – no guarantee for successful communication.

On average one out of ten pairs gets it right. Many get it almost right – one or two wrongly set pieces. Many do not get it at all and the result has not even a faint resemblance to the shape on the paper.
Every time I let workshop participants do this game I have to think of the act of writing. Just how difficult it is to convey what is in my head, the story that I see, to the reader. Will the reader „get“ what I mean when I write it this way or that way? On top of that I am writing in a second language.

I’m looking forward to the upcoming Hal-Con (11th and 12th of April) where I will be in a panel with our GoH (guest of honor) Hannu Rajaniemi, who, like me, writes in English instead of his native tongue (Finnish for him, German for me). We’ll discuss about the difficulties, advantages and disadvantages of writing in a second language.

I recommend that every writer tries to play the tangram game once (or twice) to experience just how difficult it is to convey what you want to say with nothing but a bunch of inadequate words. And maybe I take the tangram game with me to Hal-Con and try it out there too 😉

Hal-Con 2014 Report

Hal-Con has gone into its fifth year and is still going strong 🙂
Our non-Japanese writer GoHs so far were in chronological order: Charles Stross, Robert Sawyer, Alastair Reynolds, Joe Haldeman and this year it was Peter Watts.
Hal-Con is two days long and always in April. Hal-Con means two things to us here, of course it is inspired by Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey but the Japanese pronunciation of “Hal” is somewhat like “haru” which is a word in Japanese and means spring.
So far we changed venues every year and this year’s event was held in the Sanpia Kawasaki a municipal gathering venue. A bit old and moldy but not without Showa-era charm.

Thanks to writing a lot I have currently six books of mine on offer and that starts to be a bit heavy for carrying it in suitcases via public transport, but, oh miracle, I’m more or less driving a car since X-mas, if driving is still a big challenge for me. But, I made it and arrived safely with my two suitcases full of books on Saturday morning. I am not a morning person at all and was thrilled to see whether traffic would be light at 9 a.m. on a Saturday. It is not, which I find very reassuring, no need to get out of bed for driving practice!

I placed my books into the dealer’s room right away, them being: “Dome Child”, “She Should Have Called Him Siegfried”, “To Mix and To Stir”, “Lord of Water”, the anthology “Clones, Fairies & Monsters in the Closet”, and the revised edition of what was formerly “Dark Matters”, now freshly enhanced and re-published under the title “The Glow of the Dark”.

The rest of the day was spent with translating for our formidable GoH Watts san and also with translating a bit at the “Build the World” program. This year we invented a wandering planet that has an alien intelligent core which is off-center and causes weird spinning and highly disturbs the indigenous species of the planet 😉
The day ended with the GoH party and for me with driving home again 20 km including traffic jam thanks to an accident with police and fire-brigade on my route 🙁

The next morning meant a slightly more relaxed driving for me thanks to now knowing the route to the convention venue, but at the gate happened what I had feared. The Sanpia guard man said I have to remove the car from their grounds after the convention is over and need to park somewhere else for the “dead dog” party (the party at the end of a con for the staff , usually with GoH participation). The “dead dog” party was supposed to be held at a restaurant close to the hotel where the GoH stayed, right behind Kawasaki station with no suitable parking far and wide.

Anyway, it was also the day of my two seminars and between lots of translating I held my “indie vs. traditional publishing” program. It was already the third round for this program and I discussed the good and bad points of self-publishing vs. small presses and elusive big presses with the audience.
Next up was my reading. Unfortunately the iBook program on my iPad with the galley proof of my not yet released second Dark Quest Books novella “That One Minute” kept on crashing and I gave up on recording this reading 🙁
The reading for “To Mix and To Stir” went better, since the book is on Kindle and I’ll be uploading it to YouTube soon (if it’s any good, that is. I haven’t checked the recording yet).

Due to my own two seminars I unfortunately missed Peter’s talk on consciousness together with Japanese biologist and author Hideaki Sena. It’s about time that humans can be in at least two places at the same time 😉

I feel honored that Peter had the guts to board my car after the con was over! He folded into my smallish Suzuki Swift and I drove him to his hotel. He survived! 😉 I let him out in front of the hotel and then ventured into a small side street in search for the hotel’s parking that I had been promised existed. I found it in a side street swarming with pedestrians and it turned out to be a parking elevator. There are a few of those in Germany I’ve heard, but I am not sure whether they exist for example in the US, so let me explain. You must drive your car onto a platform (you must aim well) and leave your vehicle and the platform lifts your car to lofty heights where it stores it out of sight and mind.
I told the operator of the thing, well, um, never did this before. He said he’s not allowed to park it for me due to insurance reasons and just drive slowly. What helped was a mirror, which allows you to check whether your tires are aiming for the rails they must go onto and I managed to park Alfie successfully on the thing in creep speed .

That done, I waited in the hotel lobby until someone else came from the con to pick up Peter and me and to guide us to the restaurant. Now that restaurant was a highlight: A wonderfully nerdy place with Star Trek, Thunderbrids, and whatever other SciFi movie memorabilia and of course also a screen where they played old SciFi movies. Astonishingly few Star Wars stuff in the restaurant, but loads of Enterprise models and also an awesome model of the 2001 Space Odyssey ship and and and. During our three hours in the restaurant there was Forbidden Planet on the screen, Star Trek – the Movie (man they were all still so young there) and an “alien invasion” movie from the sixties perhaps, whose title I don’t know. What an awesome atmosphere to finish off a SciFi con. The restaurant is called “Pepper Land” and is right behind Kawasaki station. I’ll surely go there again and am adding some photos of the restaurant below.
The con was over much too quickly and due to opposite scheduling I actually didn’t get into any of Peter’s seminars, which is a bit of a shame.
Next year’s Hal-Con’s GoH and place are not yet decided but I’ll be there again as always, unless heaven falls onto our heads 😉












Greetings from Hal-Con

Once a year, there is Hal-Con – our “local/international” little SciFi convention in Japan. It’s a 100 people con with a non-Japanese writer as the GoH (Guest of Honor).
This year it’s Peter Watts from Canada.
Day one is already over and I shall report about the Con in blog entries hereafter.
For now – too tired and one more day to go and tomorrow I’ll have my two programs, so see you later. 🙂