A shorter version of this article appeared in the August 2003 issue of Locus.
Close your eyes.
Seriously. Take a deep breath, and close your eyes.
I want you to imagine the Israeli sf world. It's slightly different from what you're used to. First of all, Israel has only six million people. What does a country that has only six million people look like? Well, do you remember that Kevin Bacon game? The one in which you could supposedly connect any actor in any movie to Kevin Bacon in three steps? It's the same thing here. Whenever something bad happens to someone and makes the news, you discover that your neighbor's boss' sister once dated this guy.
Now the sf community is even smaller, of course, and more closely-knit. With very few exceptions, a typical person attending the convention personally knows ninety percent of the other attendees and fifty percent of the lecturers. This leads to some interesting dynamics, in and out of the events. Let me give you a few examples.
David "Didi" Chanoch, an editor famous for being practically single-handedly responsible for the resurgence of sf in Israel a few years ago, gave a lecture concerning different sub-genres in Fantasy. In it he touched on China Mieville, claiming that his new brand of fantasy has creatures that are wondrous in how utterly ugly and revolting they are. To demonstrate what some of these creatures look like, he asked his friend, sitting in the first row, to stand up. The friend obliged happily. Outside, in the foyer, in a momentary tangent, a conversation touched upon the unseemly sides of a certain person. At that second, that person chose to appear behind the speaker. All eyes (opposite the speaker) were immediately raised. Without missing a beat, the speaker turned and said, "Ah! We were just talking about you!" Oddly enough, nothing bad followed.
Yet another famous incident has to do with Vered Tochterman, a prominent author and the editor-in-chief of the sf magazine 'Dreams in Aspamia'. A year ago, just as she was about to start a lecture, she stood up and threatened one of the attendees, telling him to stop taking pictures or she'll break his arms. I was startled, of course. A few days later, I learned that the man she'd threatened was her boyfriend. Most of you probably recall '4 Weddings and a Funeral'. Remember 'The Table of Girlfriends Past'? This actually happens here.
Everywhere you walk you see people you know or people you've heard of or people whose stories or books or magazine you've read. There are about ten people who walk around with the title 'this person is single-handedly responsible for X', and justly so. Everything is new, everything is fresh, everything is intense. Everything is still fragile.
But there were other things in Israel's Fantasy.Con 2003 that are probably different from the conventions you may be used to.
To begin with, more than ninety percent of the sf literature here is foreign. That means it comes from the States or the UK and is then translated into Hebrew. Most television shows are subtitled, and most books are translated. A book may be good and the translation awful. A book may be horrendous and its translation wondrous. You think translation's a straightforward deal? Surely you can imagine the horrors translators go through when translating Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams. Imagine how low a translator's heart sinks when he or she sees Ford Prefect saying to Arthur Dent "Eddies in the time-space continuum," followed by Arthur replying as if he's heard: "Eddie's in the time-space continuum."
Since translation is so important, Fantasy.Con regularly has a lecture on the trials and tribulations of the translator, given by Emanuel Lottem, one of the giants in the field. The audience is encouraged to bring problems, and the lecture is spent going over the more colorful dilemmas a translator faces.
Fantasy.Con also introduces the fans to shows they may not necessarily get here, shows like The Dead Zone, Angel and Firefly.. This in addition to featuring the usual TV shows that fall into the fantasy genre and have become mainstays of the conventions, like Buffy and Charmed.
The theme of this year's Fantasy.Con was Warriors of Light , Masters of Darkness. So while on the one side we had the light-hearted Willow, and on the other, the dark Manga movie Doomed Megalopolis, the theme also allowed Raz Greenberg, Fantasy.Con's manager (and our foremost authority on anything regarding Japanese legends, fantasy, and science fiction), to show movies that are a bit on the independent and quirky side: Donnie Darko, which sparked a long and heated philosophical discussion, was followed by the French film Pacte des Loupes (which means 'Pack of Wolves'). I should also mention that many people found Christopher Walken's part in The Prophecy unforgettable.
Just like elsewhere in the world, we had lectures and seminars. They were about Japanese ghosts and demons, about Michael Moorcock's heroes, about the different sub-genres in Fantasy, about Irish mythology, and more.
And, oh yeah, one last thing. The last day of the convention had filk singing into the night. Look, you've heard of the Middle East. You know what the heat does to us. Let it put it like this: You ain't seen nothing till you heard us sing. 'Nuff said.
Take a deep breath. You can open your eyes again.
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