Coming Soon in That London: Nigerian Fantasy, Arabic SF

Geoff Ryman has alerted me to an event featuring top Nigerian fantasy writer, Okey Ndibe. It is taking place on Saturday at Book & Kitchen. Details are as follows:

Saturday 1st November, 2014
4.00 pm
at BOOK AND KITCHEN
31 All Saints Road
London W11
near Ladbroke Grove tube, parallel to Portobello Road

Mr Ndibe was editor under Chinua Achebe of the Journal African Commentary. He is a regularly published essayist and journalist. He co-edited Writers, Writing on Conflicts and Wars in Africa (Adonis Abbey, 2009). His first novel, Arrows Of Rain is a powerful story of injustice in an fictitious African society, the role of storytellers and journalists and much else besides. Foreign Gods Inc. is similalry multi-layered novel about Nigeria, its religions, and its relationship to itself and the West.

Looking slightly further ahead, I have email from Yasmin Khan about the forthcoming event on Arabic SF at the Science Musuem. The speakers will include top journalist, Samira Ahmed and Saudi author, Yasser Bahjat, whom you all should know, plus three names who are new to me. Hassan Abdulrazzak is an Iraqi novelist and biologist who is turning his hand to SF; Ehsan Masood is a science journalist who has worked for New Scientist and Nature; and Larissa Sansour is a Palestinian filmmaker. Further details here.

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This Week’s Radio – Food, Feminism, Lady Mayoress

First up on Wednesday’s show I interviewed Daphne Lambert who is crowdfunding a book called Living Food: A Feast For Soil & Soul on Unbound. There was some general chat about seasonal food, healthy food, environmental awareness and so on. Possibly the most interesting thing that came up, however, was the enormous amount of pumpkin flesh that gets wasted every year in the UK at Halloween. 18,000 tons of the stuff, according to The Independent. I shudder to think how much goes wasted in the USA.

Daphne was accompanied by her friend, Elizabeth Winkler, who provided that little titbit. For the second half hour Paulette took over and we had a bit of a feminist rant, in particular about how the UK has fallen down the international league table, as explained here by The Guardian. The fact that we rate 26th is bad enough, but to drop from 18th to 26th in just the past year is very worrying.

You can listen to the first hour here.

Next up, Judeline took over the microphone to interview our friend Sabitha (sorry love, don’t have your last name written down and don’t want to mangle it). This turned out to be mainly about the growth of racism in the UK in recent years.

And finally, we were delighted to welcome Shilpi Choudhury, the wife of Bristol’s last Lord Mayor, Faruk Choudhury. Her story of how a young couple of Bangladesh came to the UK to study and ended up as Bristol’s first citizens was tremendously encouraging after the somewhat negative tone of the past two segments. Also the deli that Shilpi has opened, Chai Shai, sounds very interesting. (And I note that the finding for the deli came via Outset, the organization that I talked to Amy Morse about a few weeks back. Paulette ran this one.

You can listen to the second hour here.

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Scary Monsters?

Halloween Moomins
What’s the scariest thing you can see on Halloween? Well for some people it is apparently Moomins. Not these Moomins, though. They definitely have teh cute. They were pointed out to me by a kindly Twitter follower from Japan. You can see more photos of the group here.

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Next Year’s Costume

Anarcho Witch - Simon Gane
It is a bit late for this year, but next year my Halloween icon is going to be this magnificent drawing by Simon Gane (who lives in Bath — hint, hint, BristolCon). You can find it, and a whole lot of other great Halloween-themed work by comics artists, over at Blank Slate Books.

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Halloween Sale – Monster Hunters

Monster HuntersIt is Halloween, and the world is full of Ghoulies, Ghosties, Long-legged Beasties and Things that Go Bump in the Night. What better time, therefore, to engage the services of Challoner, Murray & Balfour: Monster Hunters at Law?

And because we are a generous lot here at Wizard’s Tower (and don’t want to see you eaten by supernatural horrors), we are making this fine book by Juliet E. McKenna available at half price: just £1.49.

This offer is only available for the next 24 hours, and only through the Wizard’s Tower bookstore. Go grab it now.

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Translation Awards – The End

As you will see from various news outlets over the next few days, the Directors of the SF&F Translation Awards, of whom I am one, have jointly decided to cease giving out the Awards and wind up the corporation that administers them. You can find the official press release here.

What follows are purely personal reflections on why we had to do this.

As the press release says, the main issue was simply time. Several of us have had major changes in our lives since the Awards were started, and we simply can’t do the work anymore. I have tried on a number of occasions to get more people involved, and the silence in response has been deafening.

Of course you may be wondering why I couldn’t give up some of the other volunteer work that I do and concentrate on the Awards instead. There are a number of reasons for this.

Firstly, not being involved with the Awards will make it easier for me to publish translations through Wizard’s Tower. While I was a Director of the Awards I would have to recuse any new work I published from consideration. I am now free from that constraint and hope to publish some original translations.

More importantly, however, I couldn’t do it all by myself. Rob Latham and his colleagues at UC Riverside were key to the operation of the awards because they had the contacts and prestige necessary to find jurors and to get free books from publishers. There’s no way I could have done that, especially being stuck in the UK where who you are always matters far more than what you are doing.

Finally I have been telling my fellow Directors for some time that they needed someone else to be the public face of the Awards. Kevin and I are both regarded as “Old White Men” as far as many progressive voices in fandom are concerned. As a result of this I felt that the Awards were unlikely to get full support from pro-diversity campaigners if they were closely associated with me. It is far more important that translations should get promoted than that I should be involved in doing so. I have some hope that now I am out of the way someone will come forward and found a new set of awards that will be more acceptable to fandom.

Posted in Awards, Translations | 1 Comment

Orange October – Mission Accomplished

World Series 2014
Three in five. Absolutely amazing.

Of course I remember all of those freezing cold nights with Kevin at Candlestick Park. I’d bring thermoses full of hot food and hot chocolate to keep us going. In those days the baseball media regularly predicted that the Giants would finish bottom of their division. We rarely did. These days we just get the best odds going into post-season, so winning the World Series has become a habit. I’m sure that die hard Giants fans who gamble have done quite well over the years.

Credit is due to the Kansas City Royals. Our previous two World Series wins have been wrapped up in 5 and 4 games respectively. This year we were taken all the way to the last out of game 7. It was a 2-2 count with the tying run on third base. I’m sure that all of the neutrals were hoping for extra innings. The Royals are an exceptional team — they were unbeaten in post-season until they came up against us. The Giants only win in odd-numbered years, so I hope they’ll get their turn next year.

It is also worth noting that we only won because Madison Bumgarner and Pablo Sandoval both produced record-setting performances. Panda was MVP in 2012, so I’m pleased that this year it went to MadBum. I was also slightly surprised to find, checking the history, that Edgar Rentería got it in 2010. I guess we need to win again so Buster Posey can have one.

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Beer + Coffee = Strange Love

Some of you will know that I am very fond of Wildebeest, the Imperial espresso chocolate vanilla stout from Wild Beer Company. Generally I prefer stouts and porters, but the idea of adding coffee to beer is gathering momentum and I see via my colleagues at Bristol 24/7 that a local brewery (Wiper and True) has joined forces with a local coffee company (Extract Coffee Roasters) to produce a coffee-flavored ale. I have to admit that IPAs are not one of my favorite things, but how can I resist a beer called Dr. Strangelove? You can learn more about it here.

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Follow-Up Thought on Steampunk

On the steampunk panel at BristolCon we had to make a point of saying that the fiction we wrote critiqued the class system rather than taking it as a given. I figured that was an end to it. But today Jeff VanderMeer tweeted a link to this HuffPo article on steampunk by his Steampunk User’s Manual collaborator, Desirina Boskovich. The article is titled, “7 Reasons Why Steampunk Is Totally ‘Now'”, which sounds horribly Buzzfeed-like but I read it. When I got to point 5 I had a *headsmack* moment.

You see, point 5 is “It’s class conscious”. That’s important. I’m as fond of settings such as The Culture as the next SF reader, but the thing about The Culture is that it is supposedly classless. Now there’s a long conversation to be had about how a post-scarcity society will simply find a means other than wealth to indicate social class. Even in today’s Britain, wealth is no guarantee of status. But the point is that if you set your science fiction in a far future that has a classless society then your books can’t critique the idea of social class. However, because steampunk is set in an era in which massive class distinctions existed, it is very easy to write stories that critique such a set-up.

So there’s your argument: if you want to write science fiction that critiques a massively unequal society (and Goddess knows we need that right now), choose a setting that has such a society; choose steampunk.

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Resurrection Code In Stores

For the benefit of those of you who like to use specific stores to buy your ebooks, Lyda Morehouse’s Resurrection Code is now available in the following places:

Of course the book is also available direct from Wizard’s Tower. Prices will vary by a few cents between stores, but Lyda gets more money if you buy direct.

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News From Mr. B’s

There have been a couple of big announcements from the fabulous Bath bookseller, Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights. First up, they have launched their own publishing imprint: Fox, Finch & Tepper. They’ll be doing primarily literary fiction, but I can guarantee that it will be very interesting literary fiction. I see from the website that the company has been named after three favorite literary characters. That’s a lovely idea, though I hope Mr. B will forgive me if I assume that the company is actually named after Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s 9 Tail Fox, Jeff VanderMeer’s Finch, and feminist author, Sheri S. Tepper.

The other big announcement is that their blog will shortly be featuring a weekly interview with favorite authors, the first of whom will be none other than Margaret Atwood. Look out for that on Wednesday.

I’m never likely to be a good enough writer to feature in that interview series, but as I was at a loss for something to write about today I thought I would give their standard questions a go.

1) If you were to be stuck in a lift for three hours with any character from literature, who would it be?

Easy. Iron Man. Because he could get me out of there in three minutes. Except we might take the whole three hours because Tony and I would be, er, busy.

2) What was the last book that produced an out pouring of emotion in you? A snort of laughter or tears into a handkerchief?

Resistance, by Samit Basu. Samit does really funny superhero books, though with an equally serious edge.

3) Which book do you really wish you had written?!

Light by M. John Harrison. The Course of the Heart is still my favorite MJH book, but Light is just extraordinary. Jon Courtenay Grimwood said in his Guest of Honour interview at BristolCon that it is a book that makes you want to stop writing because you know you can never do anything that good.

4) What book did you make your parents read and re read to you when you were younger?

It was a book called The Land Where the Kangaroo Lives. I used to tell my parents that I was going to live in Australia when I grew up. And guess what…

5) What one passage from any book you have read has always stuck with you and why?

That’s kind of hard, but I’m going to plump for this one from Caitlín R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl, because it encapsulates trans life so well:

I began to understand why Abalyn lived the way she did, writing reviews for video games, avoiding conventional workspace. She felt safe cloistered in front of her monitor or television screen, with no prying, uninvited eyes studying her, drawing unwelcome, uninformed conclusions.

6) What is the current read on your bedside table?

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (which is entirely your fault, Mr. B.)

7) We know you are not meant to judge a book by its cover but we all do, so confess… tell us which book you read purely down to aesthetics, and did it live up to your expectations?

I glance up at my wall and see a print of John Picacio’s cover for Mark Chadbourn’s World’s End. I love the art. The book, sadly, did not thrill as much.

World's End - John Picacio

8) You meet a person who is not a reader at all but they’re prepared to give it a go with your ONE suggestion… what book do you press into their hands?

This one is really difficult. I don’t think it can be science fiction or fantasy, because some people simply can’t get on with such books, and I know nothing about my new friend’s tastes. I think it has to be a YA book, because it needs to be an easy read. Obviously I could recommend Harry Potter, because I know millions of people enjoyed it, but it fails my no fantasy rule. Besides, I didn’t think much of the first book. So I’m going to opt for a book I loved as a child and read many times: Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff. Like Nicola Griffith’s Hild, that is historical fiction that reads like fantasy, and I know lots of SF&F writers who adore it.

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Another BristolCon Wrapped

Well, that’s another one done. Six down, many more to go?

I started out writing a brief note, and it rapidly turned into a con report, so I have posted it as such. You can find it here.

Well done once again to Jo and her team, and thanks to all of the fabulous people who came and made it happen.

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Feminism is for Everyone

bell hooksI have another article up on the Bristol 24/7 website. Last week we ran a comment piece that was what people on the Internet tend to refer to as “white woman’s tears”. So I got a bit annoyed, and this is the result. As usual, help with the traffic is much appreciated. I suspect that I may get a bit of a kicking, because that always tends to happen when you talk about being trans in a very public space. But you never know, Bristol might surprise me.

Anyway, the point remains: feminism is for everyone, whether they are white, black, lesbian, Muslim, disabled, or even male. I’m pleased to have an article of mine that is headed by a photo of bell hooks. And yes, I do know that she doesn’t capitalize her name. My editor has kindly “corrected” it for me.

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Bristol Panel Requests

BristolCon starts tomorrow evening. I’ll be moderating two panels on Saturday, as follows:

Music in my Writing: Music might be even harder to write about than Sex or Death, and yet it’s a really important part of the process for most writers. Many authors write to music or put together soundtracks of their own books. How does music seep into and influence our work? — with Gunnar Roxen, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Kim Lakin-Smith, Sarah Ash.

Steampunk and the Class System: Does steampunk ignore what goes on below stairs? Is it all top hats and parasols, or should we be looking more at the dark underbelly of industrialisation and Empire? — with Robert Harkess, Scott Lewis, Roz Clarke, Adrian Tchaikovsky.

If you have any burning questions you would like put to one or other of the panels, I’ll try to find time to raise them, but what I’d really like are as follows:

1. Recommendations of the best author playlists that you have found in books you have read.

2. Recommendations of the best anti-Imperialist steampunk story you have read.

Posted in Conventions, Music, Science Fiction | 1 Comment

Resurrection Code Resurrected

Resurrection Code - Lyda MorehouseBristolCon starts tomorrow, and it seems only appropriate that I should have a new book out for the local convention. Of course it’s not paper, but hey, it is a great book.

Resurrection Code is a prequel of sorts to Lyda Morehouse’s AngeLink series, in that it tells the story of how Christian El-Aref, a street kid from Cairo, grew up to become Mouse, the world’s most wanted cyber-criminal. However, the book also has scenes that fall after the end of Apocalypse Array in which older and wiser Mouse and Deirdre visit Cairo in search of Mouse’s past, and in an attempt to right a terrible wrong that Mouse committed as a teenager.

Lyda wrote about the book, and how important issues of gender are to the entire series, for the Big Idea series on John Scalzi’s Whatever blog. Lyda didn’t know much about Trans people when she started writing the series. Of course then she met me, and many others. Inevitably ideas evolved. Resurrection Code was part of that process.

But in Trans politics things move very quickly. When proofing the book it became clear to me that there were a few things that could have been done better, and a few where the terminology used was outdated. So Lyda and I worked together to make some small but significant changes to the text. Doubtless in 10 years time it will all be out of date again, but we tried.

Anyway, the entire series is now available, so why not check out this stunning review from Alyx Dellamonica at Tor.com. My feelings about the series are pretty much the same as Alyx’s, which is why I was so delighted to get to publish it.

The book is available in the Wizard’s Tower store. It will appear in other stores in due course as their schedules (and the Piranhas’ obsession with publication rights) allows.

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Today on Ujima: BristolCon, Maya Angelou & Thomas Glave

First up on today’s show I had the fabulous Roz Clarke in to do a quick preview of BristolCon. We may have mentioned several people that you know. It gave me a warm and cosy feeling to note that almost all of the authors we mentioned had been on the show themselves at some point in the past.

At the half hour point I handed over to Paulette who had Rachel de Garang in from Breathing Fire, a black women’s theatre company, who are putting on a show in honor of Maya Angelou. I didn’t catch all of the content, but it sounded fun. With Rachel in the studio was performance artist, Joanne Tremarco, from the Nomadic Academy for Fools. They are in Bristol at the moment and Joanne’s contribution is something called Women Who Wank.

Of course we are not allowed to say wank on the radio. Tommy Popcorn and I were highly amused at the gymnastics Paulette went through to get the point over.

I provided all of the music for the show. Two of the songs Paulette played are from Maya Angelou’s 1957 album, Miss Calypso. She has a great voice, and was clearly thinking along feminist lines even back then.

I got the studio back for the final half hour and played a pre-record of an interview I did with the Jamaican LGBT activist, Thomas Glave, when he was in Bristol the other week. Amongst other things, we discussed anal penetration, which apparently you are allowed to say on the radio. I also played a couple of songs that have Kenneth Williams levels of innuendo in them, both about gay sex. I may also have had a thing or two to say about Mike Read’s pro-UKIP single, which I am delighted to note he withdrew from sale shortly after the show was broadcast.

If you want to listen to the show, you can find the first hour here, and the second hour here.

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Michel Faber in Bath

Last night I popped over to Bath to see Michel Faber who had an event at Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights. For those not in the know, Faber was born in the Netherlands, raised in Australia, and now lives in Scotland. He’s a highly respected writer of literary fiction, and would probably have been a Booker finalist by now were it not for his Dutch nationality. However, his last novel, Under the Skin, is about an alien visitor to Earth who kidnaps humans and sends them back to her planet. His latest novel, The Book of Strange New Things, is about a Christian missionary who is sent to an alien planet.

With such a record, it is inevitable that Faber gets asked whether his work is — *gasp* — science fiction. Unlike a certain Canadian author whom we might mention, he’s perfectly happy with this. He also has a pretty decent knowledge of SF history, having read a lot of it during his teenage years in Melbourne. However, he’s pretty clear that what he is writing is LitFic. The primary subject of his new book is the relationship between Peter, the missionary, and his wife, Beatrice, whom he has to leave behind on Earth. Sending Peter to another planet creates a degree of separation that isn’t possible on Earth with modern communication and air travel. Also it isn’t clear how much worldbuilding Faber has done. He noted that he hadn’t thought to create an ecosystem for his alien planet until his wife pointed out that it was daft not having one.

That said, Faber clearly has thought about a number of issues. I asked him about the theological issue posed by alien life, and he said that is in the book. He mentioned that his aliens, the Oasans, are more like a bee colony than individuals. He acknowledged the existence of colonial themes in the book. And he made a point of how the human mission to the Oasan world was very carefully selected to ensure that its members would get on well together. He felt that the fractiousness of so many space missions in SF tests his suspension of disbelief. I recommended that he read Joanna Russ’s We Who Are About To…, which speaks to exactly that frustration.

So I am looking forward to reading the book. I can’t spend too much time on it before BristolCon, but I read the first couple of chapters on the way home last night and boy that guy can write.

I note also that Faber’s wife, Eva, died of cancer in July. He was nursing her while writing this book, so I suspect a lot of very emotional content will have seeped into the story. Towards the end of the evening Faber read a number of exceptionally moving poems about losing someone close to you. I managed to get through that without turning into a blubbering heap. I do hope that Canongate publishes them at some point.

Posted in Books, Science Fiction | 3 Comments

Ann Leckie on the Guardian Books Podcast

I discovered from Twitter this morning that the latest edition of the Guardian Books Podcast features Ann Leckie. Naturally I had a listen, and I think it is well worth your time too.

The podcast actually starts with an interview with astrobiologist, Caleb Scharf, who has written a book about the place of life in the universe, and his view on the never-ending debate as to whether we humans are something special, or just one of thousands of examples of the variety of intelligent life.

Ann gets the second 15 minutes of the podcast. Some of that is spent reading from Ancillary Sword, but there’s enough interview to be of interest. The host, Richard Lea, has clearly done his research, because he manages to skewer Resnick & Malzberg (though not by name). Who knew that SFWA’s little internal disputes had become so famous?

Quite what American listeners will make of Lea describing Breq as something of a “Commie”, I don’t know. Americans and Guardian journalists have very different understanding of the meaning of “Communist”.

For my part I was pleased to hear some discussion of Breq’s love of music. I am, after all, moderating a panel on music in fiction at BristolCon on Saturday. Now I have an excuse to mention Ann. Yay!

You can listen to the podcast, and download the mp3, here.

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More From Simeon Solomon

The Sleepers, and the One that Watcheth - Simeon Solomon
Yesterday I blogged briefly about Simeon Solomon, the gay Jewish Pre-Raphaelite painter whose life was the subject of a talk I attended on Saturday. I promised you a bit more, so here it is.

As I noted, Solomon was one of the best, if not the best, of the Pre-Raphaelite artists. Had he not been convicted of “attempted buggery”, he would have gone on to bigger and better things, despite the enormous handicap in Victorian society of being Jewish. As it was, he had more exhibitions than any of his colleagues before his social ostracism.

Amazingly, Solomon carried on paining afterwards. He spent the rest of his life (32 years of it) living as a vagrant in London, and keeping going by selling fabulous work at knock-down prices to hypocrites who were happy to buy his art but not to welcome him into their homes.

One of Solomon’s favorite themes was the love triangle with two men and a woman, in which one of the men is newly married to the woman, and his boyfriend stands sadly to the side. The painting at the top, titled “The Sleepers, and the One that Watcheth”, is pretty clearly of Sam, Rosie and Frodo, though Solomon can’t have known that at the time. He would have adored slash.

Frank Vigon, who gave the talk, has spent years raising money to restore Solomon’s grave to a state befitting a great artist. That’s now done. Frank writes about Solomon and the project at The Advocate. His latest project is to raise money to fund PhDs in art history to be given to people interested in going out and researching other unjustly forgotten artists.

Below the cut I’m going to paste some more of Solomon’s work so that you can see the astonishing range of styles that he mastered.

Continue reading

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Introducing SofaCon 2

What will be you be doing on the weekend of March 14/15 next year? I very much hope some of you will be tuning in to SofaCon 2, the second virtual convention run by Tony Smith and the Star Ship Sofa team. It will be a great event, of course, but the highlight for me will be getting to interview Joe Haldeman.

Yes, that’s right, I’m doing one of the guest interviews, and it is with one of the greats of the field. That will be 6:00pm on Saturday 14th, though hopefully you’ll be following more of the program.

How do you get a membership? Interestingly, you do it by backing the Kickstarter campaign. There are some very nice rewards on offer, including Kaffeklatsch-like sessions with Jo, Kim Stanley Robinson and David Brin.

Posted in Conventions, Where's Cheryl? | Leave a comment