Finding Relevant & Interesting Names Gets Excruciating

Issue 12 April 2003

A Bit Delayed

I think that at one stage I might have promised that this kind of thing wouldn't happen any more, in which case I have broken a promise and I'm sorry. Winter is long, cold and dark in Finland, and since I am quite new here and don't have a social group, I decided to take on some activities to keep me busy. Work also became quite busy, I was doing some fairly long hours. The result was that my life became insane for the past four months, and I did not have a moment of free time. But Spring has finally arrived (or maybe it is my wishful thinking) and I have my life back. More on this below.

Now a very exciting announcement: I've decided to instigate a competition! Prizes range from beers, which can be claimed whenever you find yourself in a pub with me, to, er, autographed copies of FRINGE, and... your name online! To enter, all you have to do is think of a good phrase for FRINGE to stand for next month. Judging will be done by me, and the winner announced here. So get thinking! Just email me your suggestions. And seriously, I'm getting really stuck for names. I would so appreciate some help.

Another exciting announcement: enough people (er, 4) have asked me to contact them when a new issue of FRINGE is published that I am creating a mailing list. If you want to subscribe, just email me with any old subject line, I'm not fussy, and I will send you an email when I publish FRINGE. It does exactly what it says on the tin, see? Oh, and I will not sell your email addresses to anyone, I do this out of the goodness of my heart, my only expenditure is on the books that I buy and I would spend that anyway. (Somebody, and I forget who, suggested that I could become an Amazon associate and give links to the books I talk about. No. It won't happen.) And a final, not so exciting, announcement: has everybody seen my new shiny logo? I'd pretend to be interested in your views on it, but to be honest I like it and it is staying until I get bored of it, no matter what anybody says.

In Winter, Summer is a Myth

Winter started in the middle of October last year, two or three weeks early, and it is only now finishing. Unless it decides to get cold and snowy again. This is the first time I have experienced a "real winter" compared to Irish weather, although Finns will insist on telling me that Helsinki doesn't get real winters. It's been dark and cold, the start of this year had day-time temperatures down to -25C, but being a strange creature, that didn't really bother me. It's just so long!

I've done everything that I wanted to do in a real winter: I've been the first to walk across virgin snow, I've made a snow angel, I've got to the point where -14C is "alright" and -2C is "warm". I've walked across Helsinki harbour to visit the islands (Fionna O'Sullivan is Jesus, in the upcoming motion picture release Jesus! You Live in Helsinki?!), I've mastered the art of running across a sheet of ice (or, "pavement" as they are known here) without falling over, I've stopped feeling silly about the fact that it takes five minutes to wrap up before going out. I haven't had a sauna and then cooled down by jumping into a hole in the ice, but then again I have no intention of ever doing that. Please, let it be over.

Thinking about it, the sheets of ice replacing pavements bother me too. Months of snow has been compressed beneath people's feet, gravel is added daily to improve grip, and then it is frozen. Fresh snow covers it when we have snow, but then (and this drives me crazy) people come out and brush away the fresh snow, in the act polishing up the ice beneath, and you end up with banks of dirty snow by the side of the road and a skating rink. Most fun when you are going downhill.

Oddly enough, the worst time is during a thaw. When the temperature is well below freezing, the ice and snow become slightly sticky, but when it thaws the top layer melts, then is frozen by the layer below again, getting smoother and smoother and more and more treacherous. Then there are areas of semi-melted slush keeping puddles of icy water from dispersing into drains, and getting to the busstop becomes a very great adventure.

I'm well on my way to forty words for snow, mainly of my own invention. There is starfish snow, small individual flakes that despite not being orange or living in the sea remind me of starfish. There's Ajax snow, which is similar to powder snow except that it scours. There's "Oh, arse!" snow, that falls horizontally and very wetly right into my face. Lazy snow dances around in the air for a while before deciding to drift in a downward direction. Recycled snow is the stuff that gets blown off roofs and windowsills, usually with unerring accuracy down the back of your jacket. Dandruff snow is basically frozen bits of air, tiny flakes that melt into dirt rather than liquid. I could go on.

We are back to over twelve hours of daylight a day now, but it is still hard to imagine what summer was like. Which might be just as well. I might not get excited at the fact that it is still light at six o'clock if I remembered 11pm sunsets too clearly. And if I remembered the nights spent hunting mosquitos with genocide on my mind, I might be looking forward to those long days less than I am.

The Finnish character becomes clearer now that I know what winter is. Making small talk distracts from thinking about warmth. There's no future tense in Finnish, peculiar in a language that has 18 other ways to conjugate a word, but I understand a bit better now how it might be hard to talk about what will happen, and easier to focus on what did happen. In Ireland it is often said that we don't have seasons, we just have weather. In Finland, the exact opposite is true, so tomorrow will be like today, and the day after will be as well. The flip side is that seasons change at the flick of a switch.

Hence my wishful thinking about Spring. I haven't worn thermal underwear for weeks now, even though there have been days when I could have really done with it. The sun has been shining, and I have been out on my still quite chilly balcony sunbathing in it, I have put away my warmest hats, gloves and scarves, and the past week I'm walking around with my jacket unzipped. This feels as adventurous as streaking, by the way. It is possible that everything will turn around, we'll get more snow, the world will be frozen until early May, but by refusing to believe in it, I can't conceive of Fate conspiring against me in this way.

Light Music

I've been a fan of Kathleen Ann Goonan since I read her first book, Queen City Jazz shortly after it first came out a few years ago. Since then, I have read all of her books, and have even reviewed a few here in FRINGE, as alert readers will know. So it was with pleasure that I started her most recent book, Light Music.

Tragically, it wasn't with pleasure that I finally finished it. In Mississippi Blues, Queen City Jazz, and especially in Crescent City Rhapsody her extended metaphor of music worked, and in my opinion worked well. In Light Music it didn't. And I think I know why. She seems to have extended it to include (and you might guess this from the title) light as well. Now, not only is every character's actions interpreted in terms of music, but also in terms of light. And whilst music and light can be superficially linked together, and admittedly light is a fundamental part of the Universe we live in, it can be taken too far, and Goonan does so. "We are all made of light" is not true, we are carbon based, and whilst carbon is also a part of stars, that doesn't mean that carbon and light can be equated. But I go on.

There are some nice parts of this book. She continues to build an interesting world formed after an Electro-Magnetic Pulse changes the shape of our current world, and after nano-technology takes off. There is a group of characters who have been inflicted with a disease that causes them to age backwards, until they "cross over" and cease to live (without actually dying, if you think about it). There is an Artificially Sentient doll who becomes human, or as human as he is able to become. And there is a city that takes off for the stars.

Take that summary, and skip the book. There is obviously a next one coming, which of course I will read, and hopefully it will be back to her usual standard.

A Book Written Just For Me!

I have mentioned several times that I also read a lot of detective and crime fiction, the odd thriller here and there. I have also revealed that I like theatre. Obviously, as author of FRINGE I like science fiction. So imagine my excitement when I read the blurb for John Varley's The Golden Globe. "All the Universe is a stage... and Sparky Valentine is its itinerant thespian. He makes his way from planet to planet [...] bringing Shakespeare - a version of it anyway - to the outer reaches of the solar system. Sparky can transform himself from young to old, fat to thin [...] by altering magnetic implants beneath his skin. Indispensable hardware for a career actor - and an interstellar con man wanted for murder..."

That was just the start of my love affair with this book. I hadn't read any John Varley before, although his works had been recommended to me. Touched on, but not gone into in any detail in this book, is the fact the humanity has been exiled from Earth (and Jupiter) after an incident called the Invasion (this is detailed, I believe, in Steel Beach). Most of the rest of the solar system has been colonised, the Moon, Mars, the moons of the outer planets, and some converted asteroids. We join Sparky on Bremonton, an asteroid with assorted attached junk yards, as he takes over the role of Juliet, in addition to his normal role of Mercutio, minutes after the curtain has raised but before the alcoholic actress supposed to play Juliet has arrived at the theatre. Anybody who knows the play will realise that this signals that start of a very fun book. People who don't know the play very well, will realise ten pages in what playing Juliet and Mercutio entails, and that this is the start of a very fun book.

He makes it to the end of the performance, because Sparky always does, but unfortunately the Law make an appearance and it is time to blow Bremonton. Sparky, his performing dog Toby, his friend Elwood, his travelling case (to rival anything Pratchett ever came up with) and eventually a girl called Polly take off across the solar system, avoiding first the Law on Bremonton, then the Law everywhere else they get to, and finally a group of Mafioso called the Charonese. Why? Well, apart from the need to keep moving in order to avoid several outstanding charges of fraud, Sparky needs to get to the Moon because he has landed himself the part of Lear.

It's roller coaster of a book, a showcase of Varley's Eight Worlds, but I didn't care one bit whilst reading it. Sparky is essentially a good guy, an extremely engaging narrator, and whilst what happens to him can't be considered ground-shaking by normal SF standards, his adventures are wonderfully written, humorous, touching, and I loved this book more than I have loved any book for quite some time. Nigel Quinlan: read it. Everybody else: unless anything I said above actively turns you off the idea, read it too!

My Own Theatrical Endeavours

Or, Why My Life Has Been So Crazy.

Sometime in September or early October, I was offered the chance of being Stage Manager for the most recent production of the Finn-Brit Players, the Rodgers and Sonderheim musical "Do I Hear A Waltz?" If you haven't heard of it, neither had I at that stage, although by now I think I could recite the entire thing from memory. Whilst not a huge show by way of musicals, cast and crew, including the band, reached a total of about 40, and as Stage Manager one of my tasks was to keep them all happy.

Although long before that stage was reached, my task involved going to every rehearsal (I think I skipped five of them, over four months), clearing the room so that we had space to move in (with help from the cast, but still a hefty lifting job), observing the actual rehearsing itself to keep an eye on set movements, prop movements, actor entrances and exits, and fast costume changes. And acting like the voice of sanity to keep Director and cast able to function in an increasingly stressful situation.

It took up what I thought at the time was a lot of my time and energy. I thought that, until the weekend we opened, I was at my limit. But I discovered a wonderful drug called Adrenalin, and almost two weeks after we closed, I am only now coming down off the high I got.

It is hard to give a good idea of what kind of chaos opening night was. We had a movable item of the set that we had never rehearsed with, that took three people to lift on and off the stage. We had had a Dress Rehearsal (which I have wiped from my memory as being too traumatic) but no other opportunity to rehearse in the space we were actually using. I saw during the Dress things that didn't work the way I had expected them to, but had no chance to try other ways to see whether they would work. We had a female lead who had had the flu for the previous two weeks. We had a male lead who had caught the flu from her and been unable to even speak for the previous week. We had another female soloist with a fever. Come to that, we had two members of the stage crew, including myself, running fevers.

And yet somehow, to my absolute amazement, it all went smoothly the first night. I still don't know how. There were a couple of fluffed lines, which normally wouldn't be noticed except that we had a translation in Finnish being projected above the stage, and there was one hairy moment when a bit of the set slipped and almost sent the female lead into a tumble. But it didn't matter to the audience, who loved it, it didn't matter to the cast, who performed their hearts out, it didn't matter to the crew (although I fixed the problem with the set), and we ended up with a damn good show.

The rest of the performances (there were five in total) were also successes. The second to last one, which was on Friday 14th March, saw some troubles - a long wait for a certain person who shall remain nameless to remember that he was supposed to be on stage, a panicky moment when someone who shall also remain nameless forgot that he was supposed to have brought a table off stage, an extremely panicky moment when I saw the movable set piece start to topple over into the band, just before somebody very tall and broad stood in front of me to make his entrance - but again, the audience missed most of it and didn't care about the bits that they noticed going wrong.

We have finished now. It is over. We have partied ourselves close to death (at least, I have), we have promised to stay in touch, we have made plans for reunion parties. But one of the things that I love most about theatre is that it is ephemeral, impossible to recapture, a creation that happens for a short time, with a certain cast, a certain crew, and that can never be recaptured. It was fun. I found a could cope with a task that was bigger than any other I had ever taken on. But I will never do it again.

Letters of Comment, Again!

Firstly, my heartfelt thanks to all who have emailed me with feedback, it's nice to know that FRINGE doesn't disappear into a readerless void. Secondly, I'd like to note that I reserve the right as editor to cut comments mercilessly, quote out of context, and introduce or correct random spelling mistakes. Therefore, the views expressed below cannot be said to truly belong to anyone, and may indeed bear little resemblance to what was originally said.

James Bacon writes: December's issue reads well, I enjoyed it, and you published loc's, getting serious there!! Gossip, sure there is loads over here, but none that can be printed; that's the problem, you see, people can know what's going on, but god forbid that it is made common knowledge, people will look like squabbling kids then. And thus my first attempt at looking knowing about SFnal gossip is foiled. Never mind my desire to keep abreast of what my friends are up to.

Martin McGrane writes: An excellent read. It's handy to have someone saving me the hard work of reading all those books and sorting out the dross. As soon as my to-read pile is low enough, your recommendations are going to bulk it right back up again. A proper sauna sounds great but I don't think I would be game to jump into the snow afterwards. Not unless there was someone with me I really wanted to impress. Even then, we would probably be back in the sauna being 'unreliable'. The poetry recital sounded fun. I had never felt an urge to go to a poetry recital before reading this but I do now. Myself and Martin seldom agree on anything, obviously because he is usually completely wrong, so I can't help but think that he is sentencing himself to a pile of books that he won't enjoy and evenings of sitting quietly listening to poetry recitals and feeling miserable. But it is his life. I expect. Endearingly, he signs off: Your devoted fan, Martin You can allow anyone anything for that, can't you?

Jukka Halme writes: I've been re-acquainting myself with Fringe during this rather chilly Xmas/New Year -period and I find myself reading that besides you are FRINGEing again, you're also living n Finland. Congratulations on your job and thank you for your zine. It's been fun reading your thoughts and comments on SF/F and things fandom. Up until recently I had no idea that anyone outside of Ireland and the group of friends I bully into reading each month either knew of or cared about the existence of FRINGE, and now suddenly I have a Finnish reader who read FRINGE even before it gained its Finnish flavour. Plus, this means that there is someone who can point out all the errors in what I write about Finland. Since sending me this mail, Jukka has introduced me into the Helsinki SF circles, for which I owe him more appreciation. This is one of the first demonstrations I have had of Fandom connections at work and I'm very impressed. To the crowd back home: Finnish Fandom is alarmingly well organised and very large, considering we are talking about a population about the size of Ireland's. And their fanzines are so professional looking I'm trying to think of a redefinition of FRINGE. Crapzine, maybe.

James Shields writes: Good issue! A friend of mine did a rather excellent one man poetry show called "An Evening with the Great Writers". Unfortunately he lost money on it, but it was very enjoyable. Do let us know how you get on with "Sex in the Sauna"! You know we're all dying for an update on that one. I hope my novel writing is newsworthy enough to get a mention! Of course! James Shields has finished the first draft of his first novel, Andromeda Rising, as part of the National Novel Writing Month. Inspired by an Octocon panel, no less. I'm deeply impressed. As for the updates on my sex life, I am far too discreet to do anything but drop heavy hints. The lack of recent heavy hints therefore speaks volumes. Or perhaps that's because I know there is at least one ex-boyfriend who still reads this. Who knows?

Eccles writes: "However, if there isn't something new here by the start of April, you can take me out to be shot..." Would never dream of just shooting you! Be assured we will send in the UN Fringe inspectors first! I don't really have a reply to this, I just thought it was very funny.

Lloyd Penney, another foreign and unexpected reader, writes: You're living in Helsinki these days, looking to get back home to Ireland soon? I've never received a fanzine from Finland before. You're a little bit away from home...I've lived elsewhere in Canada, but never in another country. Guess I'm a homebody. Then again, I can move a great distance, and still be in Canada. Most fanzines from Finland are in Finnish, Jukka Halme (see above) has set me the task, once I accomplish world peace, of learning Finnish fluently and then translating some of them into English for the rest of the world. I've read a lot of Card novels, and I find some of them so similar as to be rewrites. I've met him a couple of times, and he's pleasant enough, but he sometimes allows his politics and his religion to overpower his story lines. I should maybe let Dr Mark answer this, but that all sounds too complicated. I read a lot of Card's novels, because I'm a fool, and whilst I don't actually find his politics and religion content overbearing, I understand why some people do. I just don't think he's able to finish series, so I wish he wouldn't start them. Sauna would be a welcome heat source in this country right now... we've a horrendously cold winter, with many times the thermometer dropping down to -35 or -40 Celsius, with additional wind chills. Toronto is further south than Helsinki, but we've been getting low pressure systems over the Pole from Siberia. Northern Europe is much warmer than equivalent latitudes elsewhere, we have the Gulf Stream to thank for that. I think I'll just sit back now and be glad about the fact that I don't actually know what temperatures of -40C feel like. Although maybe I'll be tempting Fate and causing an extreme late winter in Helsinki...

The Bit At The End

This probably wasn't worth the wait, and I apologise. Yet again, I have ignored what I said I was going to write about last issue, and at the risk of overburdening people with apologies, I apologise again. I am only just back to something resembling a normal life, and am up far too late writing this at it is, but I hesitate to promise anything that I won't be able to deliver on. Watch this space?

Copyright © Fionna O'Sullivan, 2003.



Visit for more Irish SF