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Getting the "gist" of science fiction: A report from this year’s Worldcon

September 5, 2007 |  5:06 pm

Nippon 2007, the 65th World Science Fiction Convention (also known as Worldcon), took place from Aug. 30 to Sept. 3. It was the first one held in Asia and the second recently held outside the United States--in 2005, it was held in Glasgow, Scotland. Why did it take so long? This is supposed to be the future!

The Yokohama Convention Center in Japan (maybe 40 minutes from Tokyo) is much better than most U.S. convention centers--does your convention center have a Ferris wheel? Is it surrounded by good restaurants? Does it have a moving walkway from the subway?

The most fascinating panels had on-the-spot "gist" translations (as in, "you get the gist of it?"). However, in "New Wave and Speculative Fiction"--with U.S. author Grania Davis, translator-moderator Mamoru Masuda and four Japanese authors from the new wave--the translation only went from English to Japanese. At least there were reading lists.

Like an action movie, the convention highlights are the set pieces: the awards ceremonies, the art show, the Masquerade. The Hugo Awards began with an onstage battle in which Ultraman vanquished some monsters. That’s show business. George Takei, once a "Star Trek" actor, was the awards ceremony presenter (with translator Nozomi Ohmori); Takei was a trouper, standing ramrod-straight for two hours, and by turns funny and self-deprecating.

A few people (unscientifically polled) declared it a statistical anomaly that 19 of the 20 Hugo Award nominees for fiction were by men. Seemed weird when last year saw memorable novels and stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, Mary Rickert and Margo Lanagan, among others. Other people have been discussing it, so maybe the future will be different.

The Sense of Gender Awards, for speculative fiction that explores the idea of gender, were a relief; it seemed as if the future might again include women. (This isn’t a permanent hobbyhorse, just one that pops up during award ceremonies--or when looking at the New Yorker’s table of contents.)

And that was it: 2,500 people, a trip to the Ghibli Studio Museum of animation, a new Japanese speculative fiction anthology, a Ferris wheel used as a clock and enough miscommunication to start a war: Except that all the attendees, Japanese or otherwise, were so incredibly proud to have been in Yokohama at the forefront of the literary idea exchange.

Gavin J. Grant

Gavin J. Grant is co-editor of "The Best of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet."

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