Born in 1943, award-winning British SF author Ian Watson launched in 1973 with The Embedding, and has since had 50 or so books published, as well as receiving screen credit for the screen story of Steven Spielberg’s film A.I. Artificial Intelligence, a project of Stanley Kubrick with whom Ian worked eyeball to eyeball for 9 months. Most of his books are available electronically through the Gollancz Gateway.
These days, Ian lives in the north of Spain and is an organiser of the 2016 Eurocon in Barcelona. His website, with fun photos, is at www.ianwatson.info.
Rachel Cordasco: Walk me through a hypothetical day in the life of a Eurocon attendee (i.e. what kinds of panels/papers would he/she likely have the opportunity to experience?)
Ian Watson: There will be 5 main tracks of programming for the Barcelona Eurocon, held in the rather splendid Center for Contemporary Culture (CCCB) as well as in the adjacent convention hotel. 2 tracks in English, an academic track in English and Spanish, plus 2 tracks in Spanish—as well as in Catalan, because Barcelona is in Catalonia. Due to politics, it’s even possible that Catalonia will declare itself independent from Spain by the time of our Eurocon; but there won’t be a civil war.
You might choose to go to a talk in English by a Czech astrobiologist asking “Is Venus Habitable?” because we have Science at our Eurocon; and the possibility of life on Mars or inside the moons of the gas and ice giants is becoming a bit, um, ordinary. Or you might prefer a panel about “Weird Fiction in Europe”, or about Steampunk, or about “Evil Females” or about “Queer Societies in SF”.
You might want to join a guided walking tour of one of the most famous streets in Europe, the Ramblas, just 5 minutes stroll from the convention, to see the places which George Orwell describes in the street-fighting chapter of his book about the Spanish Civil War 80 years ago—for our Eurocon is right in the center of the city, not ten miles away in a suburb.
Or you might want to walk a few minutes in a different direction to see some of the architectural masterpieces of Gaudí; or else plunge into the towering, labyrinthine medieval Gothic quarter for a good beer or a brilliant wine—you’ll still be back in time for another programme item, such as a talk about “Machines That Kill” or one of the eight Guest of Honour interviews. Eight? Are we mad? No, but we’re definitely being ambitious. In between, you can stroll the art show or the dealers room. (By the way, throughout these answers I use “SF” to include Fantasy, Weird, Horror et cetera.)
RC: I’d love to hear more about the academic track and the mini-conference around Stanislaw Lem this year.
IW: There will be a good half dozen items pitched at academics, such as “Monsters and Post-Modernism” and “Gender and SF”—these ones in English—and others in Spanish. Also, 2016 is the anniversary of the death of the great Polish SF author Stanislaw Lem, so we’re offering our Polish colleagues the opportunity of an academic half-day hosted by the University of Barcelona which is approximately just over the street, as well as a screening of a new documentary about Lem at the Filmoteca cinema—did I mention our film programme?
One thing we’re aiming for at our Eurocon is a sense of continuity with events elsewhere in Europe present and future. Thus there will be a panel about “The German SF Scene Today” because the 2017 Eurocon will take place in Dortmund, Germany, and a panel about the SF scene in France because of the bid to hold the 2018 Eurocon in Amiens, France, the home of Jules Verne. This bid will be voted in Barcelona. If you’re from Albania, you will probably automatically become the national delegate. In the same spirit we’re hoping to produce a Eurocon Passport, which can be stamped in Barcelona, in Dortmund, and so forth.
RC: What was your process for choosing these guests of honor? (Aliette de Bodard, Richard Morgan, Jun Miyazaki, Enrique Corominas, Andrzej Sapkowski, Johanna Sinisalo, Rosa Montero, and Rhianna Pratchett)
IW: ‘Eurocons’ — European Science Fiction Conventions — have been happening every year (or, in the more distant past, every two years), presided over by the European Science Fiction Society (ESFS). The ESPS was founded at the first Eurocon—held in Italy 44 years ago. A Eurocon is attached to the annual national SF convention of whichever country wins the bid to hold a Eurocon. This is voted for two years in advance, by the attendees at the Eurocon of that year. Barcelona won its bid at the Dublin Eurocon of 2014, against a bid from Wrocław (pronounced Vrots-waf), Poland, which is a European ‘City of Culture’ for 2016, and which is holding a big SF convention—the ESFS has designated part of this is as a ‘Euroconference’, which sometimes happens with Eurocon bids that don’t win.
At the moment the ESFS defines 39 countries as European, alphabetically from Albania to Vatican City. I don’t recall ever seeing anyone from Albania or from Vatican City at a Eurocon, but you do need to define which countries are included as regards nominations for the Eurocon Awards and as regards where Eurocons can be held. I believe that Israel has made overtures to join the ESFS, but Israel isn’t exactly within Europe geographically. True, Azerbijan belongs to the ESFS and may seem a bit distant, but it’s a successor state to the Soviet Union which certainly was once part of the ESFS—and Azerbijan enthusiastically takes part in the annual media spectacle of the Eurovision Song Contest, even winning first place in 2011, bringing the dubious ‘reward’ of having to pay to host this mega contest contest in the following year! In a sense, Eurocon is a bit like the Eurovision Song Contest but without the songs—and it isn’t televised. Not yet!
Eurocons are always held in English as a common language for Finns and Portuguese and Croatians, for instance (and anyone who comes from Albania or Azerbijan…).
We wanted our Guests of Honour to be from all parts of Europe. Thus we have a French woman author (who writes in English), a British author (who happens to speak Spanish), a fan GoH from Hungary in Central Europe, a Polish author from Eastern Europe, an Artist GoH and an author GoH from Spain in southern Europe—the home team, you might say—as well as a woman author from Finland representing the north of Europe, as well as a games designer from Britain, since SF is isn’t all about books. Intentionally, 50% of our Guests of Honour are women.
RC: There’s a plan for a panel discussion about promoting Euro SF- to any specific places, or worldwide? How can U.S. SF fans follow the development of Eurocon?
IW: We think it’s specially important that the different SF traditions throughout Europe get an English voice, to become deservedly better known, not only in the English-speaking world but also mutually within Europe itself. To this end, we’re hoping to give every member of our Eurocon a memory stick/flash drive loaded with several anthologies of Spanish SF stories translated professionally into English, and we will happily add any other high-standard national SF anthologies sent to us—Sweden and Finland are already participating. The more, the merrier. (Hullo, Albania…! Hullo, Vatican City!)
Plus, we plan a mini-conference of European small press editors and publishers—provided there is enough enthusiasm—with the aim of making the best of each nation’s SF better known, and published at small press level, mutually within Europe.
To follow the Barcelona Eurocon, just go to http://www.eurocon2016.org/ —and don’t miss the Progress Reports. On Facebook we are: https://www.facebook.com/eurocon2016bcn/
RC: This Eurocon is taking place in Barcelona- what is the state of Spanish scifi today?
IW: Spanish SF (including, as I said, Fantasy and Horror) is thriving, but not nearly enough gets translated into English nor is published visibly enough. Félix Palma’s Map of… trilogy is certainly a best-seller in English (as the New York Times says) but consider a genre-bending author such as veteran Rodolfo Martínez, a major award winner in Spain: you can get a Kindle ebook of his novel
The Queen’s Adept in an English translation so good, of a book so good, that it reads like an original novel by Gene Wolfe, but you’ll find it in no bookshop in the USA or UK. (While on the subject of actual books, devour The Shape of Murder and Zig-Zag by José Carlos Somoza.)
Recent professional labour-of-love productions include The Best of Spanish Steampunk (big, edited and translated by James and Marian Womack, whose Nevsky press is based in Madrid), the crowdfunded Castles in Spain put together by Mariano Villarreal, and (in progress) the likewise crowdfunded competition-winners anthology Spanish Women of Wonder edited by Cristina Jurado, title courtesy of Pamela Sargent. Mariano Villarreal is also responsible for an admired series of original anthologies entitled Terra Nova, published by Rodolfo Martínez’s own Sportula press, of which one is in English translation: Terra Nova: An Anthology of Spanish Science Fiction. Ebooks only, these last three.
On the whole, things are humming.