Book Review – Uprooted

I’m still traveling around Finland and trying to catch up after several days of Archipelacon. So that you don’t get too bored, here’s one I prepared earlier. It is a review of Naomi Novik’s latest novel, Uprooted, which is a very fine book indeed. You can read the review here.

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Archipelacon – Day 4

Well, that was fairly full-on.

First up on Sunday was my LGBT Superheroes talk. Ten minutes before I was due to start the room was already full to overflowing. Program Ops made inquiries, and we were moved to a much bigger room, which almost filled. I got through 73 slides in 35 minutes, which I was quite impressed with. The audience seemed to enjoy it. As I have said before, I can’t put the slides online because I’m not sure of the copyright situation, but when I get some time I will put together a reading list.

I had an hours to re-inject myself with coffee before the academic program session that I was due to present in. First up was Anders Sandberg, a philosopher from Oxford who gave a great overview of science fiction’s attempts to portray lifeforms more intelligent than us. My paper went OK, and I got a couple of really good questions. Thankfully there were no Fan Studies experts in the audience. (Irma couldn’t get in — the room was packed out — but she did check the paper out before I presented it.) Also in the session we had a great paper on Cat Valente’s “Silently and Very Fast” by Merja Polvinen.

There is a plan for an Archipelacon special edition of Fafnir. Hopefully all three of those papers will be in it.

Then there was lunch, followed swiftly by a two-hour panel on translations with Ian Watson, Sini Neuvonen, Tanya Tynjälä. Again there will be a reading list, but not right now as I need time to put it together. A special guest in the audience was Finnish author, Maria Turtschaninoff, who has recently signed a 3-book deal with Pushkin Press for what she described as feminist epic fantasy. Book 1 should be available early in 2016. To find out more about Maria and the books, check out the new edition of Finnish Weird.

After another brief respite there was closing ceremonies, at which I had to announce the masquerade results. All the guests were effusive in their praise of the event. Obviously they were being polite to some extent, but I have talked to them all, and to many of the other overseas visitors, and everyone seems to have had a great time. Lots of people were talking about wanting to come back to Finnish conventions again. We seem to have created a lot of goodwill for the Helsinki Worldcon bid. I am so proud of my Finnish and Swedish friends right now.

After dinner there was the dead dog party. Farah introduced me to a couple of lovely young men from Iceland and muttered something about organizing a convention. Sounds like a good idea to me. Sjón as Guest of Honor, of course. And maybe Tuppence Middleton.

Parties have been taking place around the pool at the main hotel. It wasn’t nearly as warm as Anaheim, and there are no guest rooms attached to the pool deck, but there was a lot more seating and a good bar. Some bottles of whisky may have found their way into the party as well. I got back to my hotel at around 2:00am. It had not got fully dark, and was showing signs of morning.

Over breakfast this morning a few friends and I were batting around the idea of holding a convention in conjunction with the Midnight Sun Film Festival. We’d have to persuade them to have an SF theme for the event, and get the Wachowskis as Guests of Honor, but it seems a suitably mad project. Finnish fandom can do anything, it seems.

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Archipelacon – Day 3

I think I need to check the convention program book so I can remember all of the things I did today.

I was up early because I had to be at the Other Hotel for 10:00am to record an episode of Coode Street. Jonathan couldn’t join us, so I impersonated him and Gary and I talked to Karin Tidbeck about her work, about vikings, about what Swedes think about Thor movies and a few other things as well. We also covered quite a bit of translation news. Apparently the next episode to be aired will be Kim Stanley Robinson, but I think we are after that.

Having done that we left Gary in peace for a while so that he could prepare for his Guest of Honor speech. I went to find more coffee. Gary was very interesting on the subject of the Impossible, the Not Possible, the Unpossible, the Dispossible and the Possible But Stupid. He did have coherent definitions for all of those things, but I can’t remember them all right now.

That was followed immediately by the Music in SF&F panel, which I chaired. Many thanks to Suzanne van Rooyen, J. Pekka Mäkelä and Bellis for being fine panelists. We talked about lots of good stuff. Suzanne, who is a music teacher for her day job, has promised to write a short story based on the symphonic form.

Immediately following that was Karin Tidbeck’s Guest of Honor interview, in which I discovered that she is a fellow fan of the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game. Also she has a novel out in Swedish. It sounds very interesting. There is an English translation looking for a publisher. Get with it, people.

Then it was off to get lunch at the Pride Picnic. Helsinki Pride is this weekend, and as we could not go we had a picnic here instead.

I spent the next couple of hours listening to academic papers. Kaisa, my review of the Greg Bear novels is here. And yes, I know I said I preferred John C. Wright’s politics to Sheri Tepper’s. This was before he discovered God. And in any case at least Libertarians let you think for yourself, even if they will shoot you if you think the wrong things. Tepper has a tendency to want to prevent people from ever having wrong thoughts.

There was a good paper about Leena Krohn’s Tainaron too.

I had an hour for dinner, which I spent with Irma. Then it was time for the Sex in SF&F panel, which was a lot of fun, though they did manged to get through an entire 45 minutes without mentioning t*nt*cle p*rn.

Then there was the masquerade, at which I was chairing the judges. My colleagues were Johanna Sinisalo and Parris McBride. Given that we only had 3 entries yesterday afternoon, I was relieved that we got a decent show. Congratulations to Jukka Särkijärvi for being an excellent host. We do need to persuade the Finns to be less shy and not run off the stage as quickly as they can, but the standard of costumes quite high. The prizes will be announced tomorrow and closing ceremonies. I have some photos but I haven’t had time to get them off the camera yet.

And then there was the Brotherhood Without Banners party. I didn’t last very long because I have a 10:00am panel tomorrow.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….

Posted in Books, Conventions, Costuming, Finland | 1 Comment

Finncon 2016 News

I’ve just seen an update on Facebook about Finncon 2016, which will take place in Tampere. The Guests of Honour will include the very wonderful Finnish writer, Anne Leinonen, and the equally wonderful Jasper Fforde.

Jasper mate, clearly we need to sit down at BristolCon and have a little chat. I can fill you in on all of the wonderful things you’ll get to do next year.

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Queering Archipelacon

I’ll leave Suzanne to talk about her YA panel as she can do so far more authoritatively than I can.

The LGBT panel was packed out again. There were a few vacant seats, but there were also people sitting on the stairs so I think we can claim that we maxed out. My thanks to Dirk and Suzanne for an excellent discussion. As promised, I have posted the reading list to this blog. To read it as a PDF, click here.

Tomorrow we have the Pride Picnic for those of us who are missing Helsinki Pride. On Sunday we have my LGBT Superheroes panel, Dirk’s Queering Star Trek panel, and my academic paper on Sandman: A Game of You.

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Archipelacon – Day 2

As I predicted, I spent most of the morning in my hotel room doing panel prep of various sorts. I think my academic paper is now more or less done. I have one panel still to prepare for, which I’ll get done tonight.

Today I saw a couple of panels about fandom. Firstly George, Parris and Gary talked about their life in fandom. Also Parris was joined by Edward James, Crystal Huff and Michael Lee to talk about Anglo-American fandom. Much apologizing for Puppies was done. Personally I feel that a bit of apologizing for other people might have been appropriate as well. I have spent a great deal of time being told that I’m “not part of our community”. Because I have a stubborn streak, and Kevin’s support, I stuck it out and finally won a Hugo or two. Torgersen and Correia claim to have suffered a small amount of rudeness, as a result of which they are now making like professional soccer players rolling around on the ground clutching various tender parts of their anatomy and screaming for an ambulance. Them I have no sympathy for, but while few people are as thin-skinned as them I don’t think that everyone is as thick-skinned as me either.

The bottom line is that we have won the Culture War. Everyone is a fan now, and we have to accept that, or get left behind.

Today also saw Johanna Sinisalo’s Guest of Honour speech. She certainly seems to have been a precocious child. She could read well at 2.5 years old, and at five, having discovered that books were written by people, resolved to become an author. One of the first SF-related books she read was Comet in Moominland. Being a smart kid, she worried that comets might actually strike the Earth, and asked her father if this was possible. As she tells it, “Then he made a very serious mistake”. Her father, perhaps hoping to reassure her, told her that this Tove Jansson person was a woman, and that women knew nothing about such things. Little Johanna immediately resolved to prove him wrong, and to see to it that women were never again told that there were things they could not do.

Johanna also read us a short passage from the novel she currently has in translation. It is set in a near future Finland where an authoritarian government has banned all “dangerous” drugs except chilis. Naturally everyone turns to the burn to get their endorphin rush. Apparently she and her husband had a lot of fun researching this book.

Today’s first piece of really good news is that the Finnish government has awarded Johanna a five-year arts grant to allow her to write more books. She now earns more than I do just for being an author, quite independent of any money she might get from publishers. I am absolutely delighted for her.

The other piece of really good news was, of course, the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. We celebrated by having a Diversity in YA presentation from Suzanne von Rooyen, and an LGBT panel featuring Suzanne, Dirk Weger and myself. More on those shortly.

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Archipelacon – Day 1

As you may have guessed, life has been a bit hectic. There has been a lot of travel. There has also been a lot of day job, though you won’t have seen that. But because of it there is now a lot of last minute preparation for panels and the like, which should have been done days ago. Add that to a distinct lack of sleep and it is a minor miracle that I can type straight.

Anyway, I am here in Mariehamn. The con is going well. It has been great to catch up with a whole lot of people I haven’t seen in ages, especially George & Parris, and Gary K. Wolfe, all of whom are GoHs.

Thus far I have done one panel. It was about the Puppies and what to do about them. Hopefully I managed to convey the fact that there’s not much any individual can do because of the determined way in which WSFS refuses to give anyone any power. All that Kevin, or I, or anyone else can do is try to make things better and hope that sufficient people come along with us. No matter what we do, large numbers of people will think we failed, because so many people refuse to believe that there isn’t a secret cabal running everything.

Tomorrow I just have the one panel, which is the LGBT one, but I am so massively behind on everything that I’ll probably be spending much of the day in the hotel doing preparation.

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Travel Day

If it is Tuesday evening I must be in Helsinki. Goodness only knows where my brain is. I had to get up at 5:30 this morning in order to get to Heathrow on time. This is not good for me. Still, it was lovely to see Karo & Tommi in London, and good to see them breeding more Finnish con-runners.

Fortunately the travel all went fairly smoothly. Also World Of Whisky had Jura on sale. The Prophecy was still stupidly expensive, so I picked up a bottle of Superstition instead. I am giving a paper about Sandman, so it seems rather appropriate.

Otto tells me that the train from Helsinki airport into the city center is almost ready to open. I hope to get some photos of it next week.

I appear to have brought English weather with me. It is a good job I’m leaving tomorrow as I want it to be nice here for Helsinki Pride.

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Book Review – Shadow Scale

I’m heading off for London today, and will be flying to Helsinki tomorrow. I’ll be offline much of the same, save for Twitter, so to keep you folks amused I have written the promised review of Rachel Hartman’s Shadow Scale. It does interesting things with gender. You can find the review here.

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WSFS is not FIFA

One of the plus points of Puppygate is that we’ve had a brief respite from people yelling about how the Evil Right Wing Hugo Committee is fixing the awards to favor right-wing authors. Thankfully people have realized that VD does not run WSFS.

Nevertheless, there are an awful lot of new people taking note of what happens in WSFS these years, and most of them seem to assume that it is run by a shadowy cabal of well-paid administrators who control everything that happens at Worldcon. I mean, VD says it is so, so it must be true, right?

Well no. There is no Hugo Committee, just a bunch of people who count the votes and who change each year. There is no WSFS Board, everything is decided by popular vote at the Business Meeting. Anyone can propose business to be discussed, and this year it seems like everyone is doing so.

The agenda for this year’s Business Meeting is filling up fast. Motions are being posted to the Sasquan website as they are submitted. You can find them here. Each of these proposals has been submitted by an independent group of people. None of them are “official”.

Nevertheless, last night on Twitter I found people complaining that the Evil WSFS People were using Puppygate as an excuse to oppress short fiction writers.

What has actually happened is that a group of individual fans have proposed the creation of a new Hugo category, the Saga, which will be for extended series of books. This would be for things like a multi-volume story such as A Song of Ice and Fire, an open-ended series such as Seanan McGuire’s October Daye books, and indeed The Culture were Iain still writing books. The idea is that the Saga will be newly eligible each time a new volume is published.

The idea has some merit, in that books of this type tend to do poorly in Best Novel. However, the originators of the motion have also proposed to delete the Novelette category so as not to increase the total number of categories.

Whether you think that is a good idea or not is debatable. As Kevin notes here, the removal of Novelette can be debated separately. There’s no need for it to be passed in order to create the Saga category.

However, getting rid of Novelette is not an official WSFS policy. It was not put forward by the WSFS Board because there is no WSFS Board. If there was, I can assure you that the proposal would not get submitted until the last minute. I’ve attended the National Union of Students conference so I have seen political skulduggery close up (and I see from this year’s goings on that the National Organisation of Labour Students is just as vile as it was when I was a student). Proposed changes to the WSFS Constitution are posted to the Worldcon website to warn people that the proposal has been made, allow people to debate the issue beforehand, and give those affected by any chances a chance to organize a defense.

Update: By the way, if you are interested in the merits, or lack thereof, of the Saga proposal, John Scalzi has a debate going.

Posted in Awards, Fandom | 15 Comments

Gender and Spirituality Workshop

I spent Friday in Exeter at an event billed as a Variant Sex and Gender, Religion and Wellbeing Workshop. It was run primarily by academics who study intersex people, but there was plenty of trans involvement as well. The event was hosted by Exeter University’s Centre for Ethics and Practical Theology. I do like the sound of “practical theology”. More on that later.

Obviously most of the people involved were Christians. There was one Buddhist and one Jew amongst the speakers. Some of the audience may have had other religious allegiances, but I don’t recall anyone other than me mentioning that.

The day opened with a presentation online from Dr. Stephen Kerry of Charles Darwin University in Darwin, Australia, who identifies as genderqueer. His paper was mainly about the difficulties of engaging the intersex community, though he talked a bit about Buddhism as well. More on that later. He also confessed to being a science fiction fan, so I guess he and I will be talking a lot in future.

Next up was the Reverend Dr. Christina (Tina) Beardsley who is a trans woman and head of the Multifaith Chaplaincy at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital NHS Trust. She talked mainly about how evangelicals have poisoned the Church of England’s attitude towards trans people, and her hopes for improvement.

After an excellent lunch, we were treated to a superb presentation on being a religious transgender Jew from Max Zachs (whom some of you may remember from My Transsexual Summer). Max was really good. More on that in a little while too.

Finally Maria Morris, the Clinical Team Leader from The Laurels, Exeter’s Gender Identity Clinic, gave the cis folks in the audience an update on the current state of treatment protocols. I knew all of that anyway, but it was so good to see it officially confirmed. The treatment of trans people by the NHS has come a very long way since I transitioned.

So what was the importance of this event? Obviously I have an historical interest in the involvement of trans people in religion, but the key is in that term “practical theology”. Whether you like it or not, large numbers of human beings have religious beliefs. Most of them belong to faiths that are currently strongly transphobic. While I was at the conference, my Twitter feed lit up with discussion of the latest pronouncements on trans folk by the Pope. There’s some push back from devout Catholics that he’s being misrepresented (he does, after all, only issue pronouncements in Latin), but it is still very worrying. Given this, I think it is absolutely essential for trans activists to engage with people of faith. There are those who support us, and from a practical point of view I think we are far more likely to convert some to our cause than we are to end religion.

Also, as Tina pointed out, trans people are often in need of a great deal of emotional support. If they are religious themselves, and can get help from supportive people with spiritual authority, that has to be a good thing. Sadly they are unlikely to get it from anyone else. One of the points that Max made in their presentation was that their left-wing friends had provided no support for Max’s attempts to become a rabbi, partly because many of them felt that all religion was the enemy, and partly because some were anti-Jewish on principle.

The reason I loved Max’s presentation so much is that they made such a good argument for using theology to make the case for trans people. They started off by emphasizing the importance of ritual and tradition in Judaism, and noting that the penalty for desecrating Shabbat is death. Nevertheless, Judaism exists in the real world, and rules adopted thousands of years ago may not work so well these days. Max noted that there are now many exceptions to the rules for Shabbat that allow Jews to do things like phone an ambulance if a family member has a heart attack. The point is that theological arguments can and have been made to change religious laws, and trans Jews have been busily working away to make their faith more welcoming to gender variant people.

This, by the way, is not new. Max provided examples from the Talmud giving advice to mothers of obviously intersex children. We’ve been discussing other things about the original Hebrew version of the Old Testament as well. Some of this may find its way into my history talks.

Stephen’s comments on Buddhism highlighted the importance of context and translation when discussing historical attitudes towards gender variant people. Some Buddhist texts contain prohibitions against “hermaphrodites”. As someone who studies intersex people, Stephen is naturally concerned about this. However, he’s aware that the word “hermaphrodites” may have been used to mean something quite different. My research suggests that, prior to the 19th Century, it could be used to mean trans people, and even gay people. In a Buddhist context, any prohibitions could be a response to the widespread use of eunuchs in China and Vietnam, or it could be in reaction to Hindu faith groups that were accepting of trans people.

Finally I want to talk a bit about the term “intersex”. As I noted earlier, several of the academics at the conference (including Stephen Kerry) study intersex people. There was some debate as to the acceptability of intersex as a term. I’m not intersex-identified myself, so it is very important to me to use terms acceptable to the intersex community when I’m talking abut them.

Given that I keep using “intersex”, you will have guessed that I think it is still the preferred term. That’s because activist organizations such as UKIA and OII use it. Nevertheless, Stephen and his colleagues are being told that the term is offensive. The alternative term is DSD. That normally stands for Disorders of Sexual Development, and I know that any mention of “disorder” tends to be greeted with fury by activists. Some people apparently claim that the first D stands for “differences”. That sounds a little weasely to me, but I am open to being corrected by intersex activists.

Having made a few inquiries, it appears that the people pushing for the use of DSD rather than intersex are medical professionals and support groups run by the parents of intersex children.

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Sense8 – Final Thoughts

I have now watched all 12 episodes of Sense8, and overall it is getting a strong thumbs up from me. Of course I am very much part of the target audience. So let’s try to break things down a bit.

I’ve seen a number of people online complaining about lack of plot, or the confusing nature of the early episodes. It is worth spending a bit of time talking about the structure of the series.

Some TV series are entirely episodic. The original Star Trek series, for example, had almost nothing of a connecting theme beyond being Wagon Train in space. The modern fashion is for story arcs, and some series have a very strong one. Sense8 does not. There is certainly a long-term plot concerning the sensates and the evil Mr. Whispers, but that isn’t close to being resolved in this series. There are no distinct plots for individual episodes either.

What we get instead are story arcs for individual members of the sensate cluster we are following. Sometimes they interact. Will and Nomi are crucial to the story arc for Riley. Other times the characters pretty much solve their own issues. Kala and Lito briefly turn up to help Wolfgang with specific tasks, but mostly he’s on his own. Some character story arcs are still unfinished at the end of the series.

Obviously if you are someone who needs a tight plot and a satisfying ending then Sense8 is likely to disappoint you. I’m rather more interested in it from the show-runner point of view. It is nicely open-ended, and yet still has multiple interesting story arcs. It is also very much character-focused. Compare that to shows like Star Trek, and even Babylon 5, where characters mostly existed to serve the plot, and only developed when it was their turn to take point on an episode.

What about the science fiction content of the series? Well, there are no invading aliens, no rebellious robots, no rampaging dinosaurs. If you were hoping for those things you’ll be disappointed. Sense8 is very much about humanity: two species thereof. It is, if you like, a story about mutants, except that the only super power that each sensate has is the ability to communicate with, and share skills with, other members of their cluster.

So, for example, if someone needs fighting skills then Sun can turn up and do her martial arts magic. If someone needs computer skills then Nomi is on hand. Capheus is a brilliant driver, Lito lies smoothly, and eventually Kala got to show off her scientific knowledge. The cluster is, in effect, a group of 8 people pooling some extraordinary but not supernatural talents in a single being.

Except they are not a single being. Some of the write-ups of the series say that the members of the cluster are all the same person. Certainly they are all born at the same time, but they are all very much individuals. Wolfgang, by his own admission, is a monster. Nomi has criminal tendencies, though she’s doing it for what she believes are good reasons. Capheus has a strong moral sense, while Lito is something of a coward. As with their skills, the cluster embodies many different aspects of humanity.

That, of course, is part of the diversity theme of the series. The characters represent seven different nationalities, half of them people of color. They include a gay man and a lesbian trans woman. It would not surprise me to discover that Sun is asexual. Their careers include a cop, a banker, an actor, a chemist, a bus driver and a DJ. The whole point is that they gather together diverse aspects of humanity.

In episode #9 Jonas makes a short speech that I think is key to the entire series. He tells Will that a key difference between sensates and humans is that sensates have the ability to share experiences and emotions with their rest of their cluster. Humans, being isolated individuals, lack that basic empathic ability, and as a result are pathological and dangerous. It is a very Hippy way of looking at the world. I’m sure that Amanita’s mom would appreciate it. Being of a similar age, I do too. How well it will go down outside of California is another matter.

In addition, of course, we have the LGBT content. As I noted above, the cast contains a gay man and a lesbian trans woman. I’m not in a position to pass judgement on the former (see Matt Cheney for that), but the treatment of the latter is exemplary. Lana Wachowski (I’m assuming she’s responsible for those parts of the script) has managed to include some of the awful ways in which trans people are treated with making Nomi an important part of the plot for reasons that are nothing to do with her being trans. Plus she has cast a trans woman in the role. Jamie Clayton does a good job with the part. It is hard to see how it could have been much better.

There’s also something about the way that Nomi is portrayed that I hadn’t spotted until I read this interview with Jamie at After Ellen. She notes that the relationship between Nomi and Amanita is the most stable and functional one in the series. All of the other characters have relationship problems of some sort, or no relationship. The cute, loveable couple that everyone ends up rooting for are two lesbians: a trans woman and a woman of color.

As I have noted before, some of the other aspects of diversity in the show have been less well handled. That’s almost inevitable. The whole point of doing diversity is that you include as many different aspects of humanity as possible. The chances of the script writing team being as familiar with all of those as one of them is with trans issues are pretty much nil. When you are judging a highly diverse show like this, you do need to be aware that it won’t get everything right. I absolutely accept that some people in, for example, India and Kenya, might entirely understandably be annoyed at how their people are represented. I expect them to understand that I’m delighted at how my people have been represented. Overall, it is far better that the program tried to do all of these things than it did not try.

Claire Light has written a very interesting review of the series in which she points out that by recruiting a far more diverse production team — scriptwriters, directors and so on — the Wachowskis could have got a far better handle on the non-US aspects of the story. Like her, I hope they do better in subsequent series. I suspect that there is pressure on them to not make the series too hard to relate to for a US audience. The show has an essentially white American worldview because it is intended primarily to sell to white Americans. It takes bravery to move away from that, but some significant steps have been taken.

Sadly, I don’t expect the show to be terribly well received. As we have seen with the Puppies, any attempt to add diversity to what has previously been a straight white male preserve is seen as threatening by some. Equally others will say that they are just not interested in the stories of Korean bankers, Mexican actors, or trans people.

To understand how easily this sort of thing happens I recommend that you check out this blog post by Foz Meadows which demonstrates fairly clearly that the plots of The Matrix and Jupiter Ascending are more or less identical, and are equally wildly implausible. The two films diverge in that one is cyberpunk and the other space opera, but that doesn’t make a lot of difference. The major difference between them is that they are gender-swapped. In The Matrix the central character is male, and his concerns are male; in Jupiter Ascending the central character is female, and her concerns are female. As a consequence, The Matrix is held up as a classic of science fiction cinema, while Jupiter Ascending has been almost universally panned.

That, dear readers, is how sexist assumptions about fiction work. Those assumptions will affect Sense8 too. So while I accept that there are some very dodgy things in it, I still love it.

I understand that four series are planned. I’m very much looking forward to the next one.

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Archipelacon Program

The full program for Archipelacon is now available online. Here’s what I’ll be doing.

Thursday 17:00 – Fear and Loathing in Hugoland
This year’s Hugo Awards received an unprecedented amount of coverage in mainstream media. Sadly not about the quality of the finalists, but rather a highly successful campaign to fill the final ballot with works that have a particular political slant. Our panel looks at “Puppygate” and asks what can/should be done about it.
with Jukka Särkijärvi

Friday 18:00 – LGBT in SciFi / Fantasy
It was standing room only at last year’s Finncon, so we are doing it again, this time with added gay guy. The LGBT+ (Lesbian Gay Bi Trans+) panel takes us over the rainbow to see what is new and topical in queer SF&F. Where are we today, What way did we come, Where may we go? Come and join us on the way.
with Dirk M. Weger & Suzanne van Rooyen

Saturday 13:00 – Music in Science Fiction and Fantasy
Many writers publish a playlist of music they listened to while writing, sometimes even in the book. What are the benefits of writing to music? What sort of music is suited? Does the music get you in the mood for the book, or is it just background? Our panel discuss their various musical tastes, and try not to come to blows over them.
with Bellis, J. Pekka Mäkelä & Suzanne van Rooyen

Saturday 20:00 – Masquerade
Take the stage on your own or bring your friends. Costumes from SF and fantasy, from books to films to comics to games to original work, are all welcome. Both performance and costume will be scored by our panel of judges, with prizes awarded at the Archipelacon closing ceremony.
with Jukka Särkijärvi

Sunday 10:00 – LGBT Superheroes
Are Batman and Robin actually a gay couple? Which famous superhero hired a New York gang to beat up some lesbians? How far back can we trace queer characters in comics? Cheryl Morgan peers into comics archives and reveals that sometimes wearing brightly coloured spandex tights really is as gay as it gets.

Sunday 12:00 – Hell Is Other People: Gender Issues and Reader Response in Neil Gaiman’s “A Game of You”
My contribution to the academic conference

Sunday 15:00 – Science Fiction and Fantasy Translated in English
Much SF&F is written in languages other than English, but the Anglophone world is generally the most lucrative market. What recent works are available in English translation? Which problems face writers trying to get translated into English? And how can we increase the number of published translations?
with Ian Watson, Sini Neuvonen & Tanya Tynjala

The rest of the program looks really good too. In particular I’m impressed at the international nature of the panels. They have panels on Spanish, Greek and Chinese fandoms, at a Finnish/Swedish convention. Awesome.

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50 Voices for Malcolm X : Movement for Change

Giving it the full title here, 50 Voices for Malcolm X : Movement for Change was a civil rights event staged over three nights in the Studio at Bristol Old Vic. The show was staged by Ujima Radio to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Malcolm X. We note with pride that Bristol is the only city in Europe to be home to a community center named after the legendary civil rights leader.

The structure of the show was 5-minute performances by a variety of artists, each with a different take on civil rights issues. The performances included spoken word, music, dance and film.

I was unable to be there for the Thursday and Friday shows as I was in Brighton, but the idea was to have different people on different nights. Some of the audience came to all three events.

The Saturday show was topped and tailed by Ujima director, Roger Griffith, reading from the speeches of Malcolm X. In between we had a range of performers, several of whom we have had the pleasure of interviewing on Women’s Outlook.

The first session included material from Shawn Sobers from the Haile Selassie House in Bath. Shawn spoke eloquently about the issue of names. Many Caribbean and African-American people bear last names derived from the slaver families who owned their ancestors, which is clearly problematic for them. I was pleased to hear Shawn talk about how the name “Sobers” is no longer associated with slavery, but rather with the finest player ever to grace a cricket pitch.

Also up in the first session was Joseph Langdon reading a powerful piece written by the brilliant Jamaican/British playwright, Alfred Fagon. Those of you who follow Women’s Outlook may remember my talking to James Peries of the Old Vic about Fagon back in 2013. James was the director for the 50 Voices show and he did a fabulous job of putting me at ease and giving me advice on my performance.

Next up was Michael Jenkins from 8th Sense Media. He’s making a film called Black Soldier, White Army, about Patrick Cyrus, a black British soldier who served in Northern Ireland. From the clips we saw it looks like being a very powerful film.

I was up about half way through the first session, and it seemed to go quite well. I managed to remember almost all of the poem, just needing a couple of surreptitious glances at my notes along the way. The acoustics in the Studio are amazing. Those of you who have seen me on panels know that I don’t have a very loud voice and generally need a microphone even in small rooms. I was able to perform in the Studio without a mic. I’m sure that helped a lot. Anyway, people were very nice about my performance afterwards, so I guess I did OK. Can I call myself a performance poet now?

I was followed by Paulette, Frances & Christine from Women’s Outlook, and a few other people, talking about various campaigns centered around refugees rights.

Next up were two amazing performers: Glen Cook, known as The Singing Chef, and poet Miles Chambers. I guess Glenn could be described as signing Gospel, but really it was far more innovative than you would imagine from that description. I was really impressed with how well Miles had worked various key quotes from Malcolm X’s speeches into his poetry, and with the power of his delivery.

The second session featured performance poet Shagufta Iqbal with a great poem about being a Mother of Color. She was followed by photographer Benny Benn with a lovely montage of images (including pictures of Janelle Monae, and of T’Challa & Ororo). Then there was John Dior from a community youth group.

We also had Jay Kallias who is a Krump dancer. I had never seen Krump performed live before, and was seriously impressed. It is very different, and perhaps not that graceful, but very powerful.

My friend Adam Murray, who was part of the Afrofuturism project at Watershed, talked a bit about the current film series he has been involved in there. It is called Come the Revolution and features a number of fine films about black history.

A couple of ladies from the RISE community action group came and talked about their work. Once they were done, one of them, Nia Bimkubwa, treated us to a fine performance of “Love Will Save the Day”. This was essentially karaoke, in that she was signing with a backing track, but it was way better than what you’ll hear in clubs.

Also on the music side, we had Kizzy Morrell, whose show you may remember I was a guest on last year. Kizzy is also a professional signer, and she treated us to a wonderful rendition of “Georgia on My Mind”, again just accompanied by a music track.

My thanks are due to Roger for making the whole thing happen; the James, Sharon and the crew from Bristol Old Vic; to Julz for compering the evening with style; to DJ Style for the music; to the young lady who announced the performances (her name’s not on the program, Roger!) and of course to all of my fellow performers. It was a wonderful evening and I’m delighted to have been part of it.

A couple of people asked whether my poem was available online anywhere. I’ve sent Roger a few suggestions about doing a book. I also know that the whole thing was filmed. When I know a bit more about what is going to happen I’ll let you know.

Posted in Feminism, Music, Poetry | Leave a comment

Intersectionality At Work

I’ll do a proper post about the 50 Voices event tomorrow. For now I want to talk a bit about why I was so pleased to be able to take part.

An event put on by Ujima Radio in memory of Malcolm X is pretty obviously primarily about civil rights for people of color. That’s not something that I have much of a place speaking about. What I can do is sympathize somewhat. I’ll never be able to know what it is like to be a person of color, but I do know what it is like to part of a marginalized social group. It is a different experience for me, but there are some commonalities.

As an illustration, take a look at this excellent article by Indigenous Australian writer, Ambelin Kwaymullina. I know even less about being an Indigenous Australian than I do about being of African descent, but two points in the article resonated strongly with me. Firstly Ambelin talks about the dangers of a single narrative, which is very much the point that Emma Hutson was making about trans people in her paper at the conference on Friday.

Secondly Ambelin says this about the fact that work by Indigenous writers will be mainly published (or not), read and reviewed by non-Indigenous people:

This doesn’t mean that non-Indigenous peoples cannot understand or appreciate Indigenous work. In fact, I’d suggest the very thing books are for is to challenge and bewilder and inspire us by opening windows into worlds other than our own. But it does mean that people outside the culture from which a book comes may well find it harder to understand, and may even feel uncomfortable or confronted by the extent to which a text does not conform to their pre-existing ideas of what it is to be Indigenous.

Exactly the same is true for stories about trans people. They are mainly published, read and reviewed by people who are not trans, who may well not understand the trans characters, and who may even be repulsed by the presence of trans characters in the work (not looking at any Puppies in particular).

Now, here are a couple of tweets about Sense8 by someone who ought to know better:

Why else would you watch a Wachowski production? Because they are the only people in Hollywood I trust to do a good story about trans people.

And I’m not the only one. Check out this extract from Janet Mock’s TV show, So Popular, in which she interviews Jamie Clayton about the series.

Ms. Wilson, of course, is famous for writing a superhero comic about a Muslim girl living in New York. Personally I can absolutely see the value in that.

I don’t know whether Wilson has watched Sense8 and hated it, or whether she just dismisses everything that the Wachowskis do out of hand, but I can assure her that Sense8 is important to trans people for many of the same reasons that Ms Marvel is important to Muslims.

Intersectionality is all about understanding each other’s experience of oppression, and respecting that experience. It is about helping each other, rather than trying to lever ourselves up on the backs of people even more marginalized than we are. The folks at Ujima gave me space at their event to read a ranty poem about trans rights. I am enormously grateful to them for doing so.

Posted in Feminism | 2 Comments

Trans Studies Now – The Conference

The purpose of my trip to Brighton was to attend an academic conference at the University of Sussex. The title of the conference was Trans Studies Now, and the objective, fairly obviously, was to present the very latest in trans studies across a range of disciplines.

Roz Kaveney was one of the keynote speakers, and she opened up the conference with a talk about her work. That included a reading from Tiny Pieces of Skull, some of her own poetry, including her Inanna poem, and a poem by Catullus that she has translated.

The Catullus poem is about Attis, the consort of the Goddess Cybele who, myth has it, castrated himself for the love of the Goddess. This is usually presented to modern readers as being the result of a fit of madness — being unable to possess the Goddess, Attis choses to castrate himself rather than have any other woman, or he’s driven mad by her beauty, anything but the actual reason. Catullus, Roz notes, make it very clear that Attis wanted to become a woman. He is, of course, the archetype of the Galli — the castrati priestesses of Cybele whom I mentioned in my trans history talk. I’ll be having a lot more to say about them in future.

For now let’s just note that Catullus also involves lions in the story. Lions are, of course, sacred to Ishtar/Inanna, and Cybele’s cult originated in Syria, which is not that far from Mesopotamia.

My paper was due up on the first session after Roz’s talk. I was paired with a Californian trans-male poet, Jonathan Bay, who is now based in Edinburgh, and with my new friend Emma Hutson with whom Roz and I had had dinner the night before.

Jonathan’s poetry centered on trans issues. I particularly enjoyed the one about his nervousness about going through US immigration (even as a citizen, as a trans person it is scary), and the one about his transphobic uncle who moved to Montana rather than live close to Jonathan.

Emma gave a really good paper about the “standard narrative” of being trans, and how one size definitely does not fit all. She clearly has a very good understanding of complicated historical narratives such the rise of transgenderism and the split in the trans community it engendered. For a first time giving a paper at a conference it was very impressive. (Believe me, I have heard a lot of bad papers, especially at ICFA.)

The audience listened quietly to my paper and seemed to have enjoyed it. Only Roz was sufficiently well-versed in SF to ask in-depth questions, and she’s heard most of the content before, so I didn’t really have much to deal with. In the absence of questions, I offered to give them an example of trans-themed SF. A few of you will know what I mean when I say I read “Goldilocks” for them, and that appeared to go down well too. My paper is available from Academia.edu.

After lunch we had the second keynote speech, which was by Katherine Johnson. She’s been in trans studies for a long time, and gave a fine overview of the history of the field, and where it is now.

The afternoon paper session that I attended featured three presenters from outside of the UK. Olivia Fiorilli is from Portugal, and gave a very nice summary of the state of trans pathology in a variety of European countries. Olivia correctly identified a growing trend towards depatholgisation of the condition, and democratisation of treatment. As I said to her afterwards, it is rather ironic that the roadblocks that gender specialists deliberately put into the pathway with the intention of weeding out “unsuitable” candidates for transition have ended up encouraging people to find ways around the standard treatment pathway, which in turn has caused the gender specialists to adjust their protocols in an attempt to retain control of the process.

Next up was Olga Lidia Saavedra Montes de Oca who is from Cuba. This was a really fascinating paper. Under the old Communist regime gender roles were strictly enforced. Adopting proper gendered performance was seen as being evidence of being a good Revolutionary. Of course trans people existed in Cuba, just as they do in every other country. Typically they would leave home so as not to cause embarrassment to their families. Now that there has been philosophical change in the government, many of these trans people are being welcomed back home, because for Cubans family ties are apparently paramount.

Finally we had Sabah Choudrey, who is one of the founders of Trans Pride and also a Muslim. He gave an excellent presentation about how trans people of color are excluded from trans narratives and trans activism. In the UK that generally means actual exclusion. In the US, where there are greater numbers of TPoC, it generally means separatism — there are white trans activists who are the ones who have a chance of getting the ear of the government and access to what little funding is available; and there are TPoC activists who have to do everything for themselves but seem to get a lot more done.

The final session was a film about trans life in Turkey, but by that time I had been off email for over 24 hours so I took time out to check email. I gather that the film was quite distressing.

Overall it was a very interesting day. I met lots of good people, and I hope that Sally Munt and her team as Sussex do this again.

Posted in Academic, Gender, Health, Poetry, Science Fiction | 1 Comment

Having A Word

I arrived in Brighton on Thursday afternoon. It was the first warm day I have experienced thus far this year (that is, the first day with sunshine and temperatures over 20C — the English call this a “heat wave”), and I had a very heavy rucksack so I was a bit sweaty after walking from the station to my hotel in Kemptown. I had just enough time to have a shower and change before having to go out for a dinner with Roz Kaveney and one of my fellow presenters from the Trans Studies Now conference, Emma Hutson. Roz was presenting as well, of course, but she was a Keynote Speaker, not a mere academic.

Kudos to Emma for finding a place to eat called The Troll’s Pantry. Actually it was just food being served in a pub called The Hobgoblin, but it was a cool name. I was somewhat disappointed that they didn’t serve spit-roasted dwarf, but I did get to eat a Minotaur. It is essentially an up-market burger joint, so the aforementioned bull-man was actually a beefburger-Cretan fusion thing. The important point is that the people running the place are serious foodies who are very particular about ingredients and it showed.

On the downside, there was no table service and getting served at the bar took a while. Also, it being a pub, there was a lot of background noise which made it hard for me to hear anything. I have old lady ears, and while I am by no means deaf I can’t hear nearly as well as I used to be able to. Yet another reason for avoiding pubs.

Having eaten, the three of us trotted down to the Jubilee Library for a Trans Special evening of Have A Word — Brighton’s LGBT spoken word event. This is run by Ellis Collins. Normally the event is held at his shop, but thanks to a contact at the Library he has been able to schedule two Pride-related events, of which this was the first.

The line-up for the evening was Alice Denny, Maeve Devine and Fox Fisher. I knew that Alice and Fox would be awesome, but I’d not heard Maeve read before. She was absolutely hilarious. Roz and I were in stitches.

Roz was, of course, added to the bill, and treated us to a few of her fine poems, including the one that she wrote to annoy people at the New Statesman when Neil and Amanda were guest-editing it.

And then there was me. Given the choice I would not have had my first ever public poetry reading be in front of Roz and Alice, both of whose work is so much better than mine. However, I did want to try out the 50 Voices piece in front of a friendly audience. While I hadn’t managed to memorise it, I did get through it OK, and people were very kind afterwards.

After the event we headed off to the Marlborough, where a lovely person with a mountain of electric blue hair was running a pub quiz. As I had been up since 6:00am I retired early after just one drink.

The hotel was had chosen is Legends, which is on Marine Parade just up the hill into Kemptown from the Sealife Centre. It is the place with the rainbow flags out front. The staff there were lovely. I couldn’t manage to get my email, either on the hotel wifi or tethered, which is potentially an issue. On the other hand, the croissants and pain-au-chocolat fresh out of the oven at breakfast were so good I’m going back there for Trans Pride.

Posted in Food, Poetry, Readings | Leave a comment

On the Road, Off the Net

I’ll be offline for much of the next three days. Today I’m traveling to Brighton, where I’m doing the Have A Word event tonight and the Trans Studies Now conference tomorrow. I’ll be back home late on Friday, and Saturday I’m off to Bristol to do rehearsals for and perform at 50 Voices for Malcolm X. I don’t expect to get much bloggery done along the way, but I’ll do my best to catch up on it all on Sunday.

When I get back, remind me that I owe you a review of Rachel Hartman’s Shadow Scale. It has lots of lovely things in it, though some I can’t tell you because of spoilers.

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

Tomorrow, In Brighton

Have A Word


Tomorrow I am off to Brighton, primarily to talk about science fiction at an academic conference. However, I have discovered that there is a spoken word event on at the Jubilee Library tomorrow evening. As you can see, there’s a stellar line-up. And now there will be me too, and hopefully Roz Kaveney as she’ll be in town as well. It will be transtastic. Do come along if you are in town.

Posted in Gender, Poetry, Readings | Leave a comment

Fury Road – Brief Thoughts

Wow. Two whole hours of solid stupid. As I said on Twitter last night, let no one now dare tell me that the plot of Jupiter Ascending makes no sense.

And this, remember, is someone who is a life-long fan of Formula 1. I like watching cars going round and round in circles.

I guess, though, that Mad Max is more for fans of stock cars and monster truck racing, where half the point is that the vehicles should look ridiculous and get destroyed during the race.

Of course it was funny. Furiosa was (mostly) tougher than Max. A small group of women managed to defeat an entire army of Gamergaters, sorry Warboys. Women deserve a chance at all roles in life, including idiot car chase movies.

As feminist science fiction, however, I found Fury Road wanting. I note that when it came to actually having a plan, as opposed to just running away, it was Max who came up with it. I wanted to see more leadership from the women. And I wanted a plot that you could actually believe in, because if the plot is nonsense all you have done is blow a few raspberries at the Patriarchy.

It will doubtless get on my Hugo ballot next year, if only to annoy the puppies. There will be films and TV that I will have enjoyed more.

Posted in Australia, Feminism, Movies | 1 Comment