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.

Posted in Science Fiction | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Books, Wizard's Tower | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Books, Personal | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Conventions | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Feminism | 1 Comment

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 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.

Posted in Books, Gender, Wizard's Tower | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Conventions, Current Affairs, Feminism, Music, Radio, Theatre | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Admin | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Art | Leave a comment

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

I Talk Women in IT at Bristol 24/7

In what I expect to be the first in a series of monthly columns on women’s issues, I have done this year’s Ada Lovelace Day post (slightly late), at Bristol 24/7, a brand new magazine dedicated to life in Bristol. You can read it here.

Eyeballs are, naturally, appreciated. It is a new magazine that needs to establish credibility in the eyes of advertisers. Also I’m sure that my editor will be keeping a keen eye on whose columns draw the most traffic. I want to be able to do well without resorting to writing click bait.

Posted in Computers, Feminism, Journalism | Leave a comment

I ♥ @JanetMock

Today the Tangled Roots writing workshop that I featured on my radio show is happening in Bristol. I won’t be there, partly because I am way too busy, and partly because my experience of mixed cultures is insignificant compared to what people of color face. However, I have just seen a great interview on the Larry King show with Tracee Ellis Ross (that’s Diana’s daughter) about her new comedy series, Black-ish. It is good to see US TV exploring these issues in such a positive and high-profile way.

What really impressed me, however, was that Larry didn’t do the interview. He handed the job over to Janet Mock.

So this is what we have: a trans woman of color, standing in for Larry King, doing an interview with a top actress, on a subject that is nothing to do with being trans, and doing a superb job of it.

Possibility model, Janet. Possibility model.

The interview is online, but doesn’t appear to be embeddable. You can watch it via Tracee’s website.

Posted in Feminism, Gender, TV | Leave a comment

On My Art Want List

Heliogabalus, High Priest of the Sun - Simeon Solomon
Yesterday my colleagues at Out Stories Bristol hosted a superb talk by Frank Vigon on the subject of the unjustly forgotten Pre-Raphaelite artist, Simeon Solomon. Solomon was Jewish, and therefore at a huge disadvantage to start with in Victorian society. However, he was also a genius, and therefore despite his Jewishness he was welcomed into the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Or at least he was until 1873, when he was convicted of “attempted buggery”, after which Victorian society, and his artist colleagues in particular, dropped him like a stone.

The fact that Solomon was gay could easily have been discerned years before thanks to his penchant for painting pretty boys, lesbian scenes, and love triangles involving two men and a woman. Given his subject matter, I wondered if he had ever painted a portrait of someone like Stella Boulton. I asked Frank, and he said he didn’t know of one, but that didn’t mean it did not exist. When I got home I stared searching online. I had no luck with Stella, but I discovered that Solomon had done a magnificent watercolor of the transsexual Roman emperor, Elagabalus. The painting’s title says it shows Elagabalus as High Priest of the Sun (she was also known as Heliogabalus), but I am sure that most people looking at the picture would assume it shows a woman. The whims of emperors are, of course, notoriously difficult to predict, but I suspect she would have liked it.

At any rate, other people liked it. According to Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones described it as one of Solomon’s finest works. If I have understood the Christies website correctly, the painting last sold to a private collector for £26k. However, there are many online stores offering fine art prints, so I guess I will have to get myself one. Anyone out there got experience of using such companies and would like to recommend one?

I’ll write some more about Simeon Solomon tomorrow.

Posted in Art, Gender | 1 Comment

Kizzy & I Talk Trans for #SpiritDay

I was delighted to be able to mark Spirit Day by appearing as a guest on Kizzy Morrell’s show on Ujima talking about trans issues. Kizzy kindly let me do pretty much a trans 101. It wasn’t quite as slick as I would have hoped, but I was fairly pleased with it. Of course I haven’t listened back to it yet, and doubtless I will cringe at some of it.

Anyway, I got to enthuse about fabulous people such as Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Isis King and Geena Rocero. I also got in a plug for the Dwayne’s House appeal. Job done.

You can find the interview on the Ujima Listen Again service here. I start about 22 minutes in and I am on for most of the rest of the show. In due course I’ll excerpt it and put it in a podcast.

Posted in Gender, Radio | Leave a comment

Black Sci-Fi & Wangechi Mutu at The Watershed

Family Tree - Wangechi Mutu

We had another fine evening of Afrofuturism at The Watershed last night. The event was introduced by Ytasha Womack, inevitably, and by a new voice to me, Ingrid LaFleur. Ingrid is an Afrofuturist art critic, and for me the most interesting things she said were about using Afrofuturism to help with the revitalization of Detroit. Was she at DetCon 1? She should have been.

We began with a short film by the Kenyan artist, Wangechi Mutu. Again I had not heard of her before (except doubtless in passing while reading the art section of Ytasha’s book too quickly). Edson had brought in some books of her work, and I was totally blown away. If you are in London, she has an exhibition on at the moment at Victoria Miro. And if you are not some of the pieces in the exhibition are available on the Guardian website. I note that people often seem to use the word “cyborg” in connection with Mutu’s work. Donna Haraway should be proud.

The film by Mutu was The End of Eating Everything. It is around 8 minutes long. Part of it is available on YouTube. The part of the monster is played by the musician, Santigold.

The main film of the night was Black Sci-Fi, a BBC documentary from 1992 which features Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler, Steve Barnes, Mike Sargent and Nichelle Nichols. Chip and Octavia were on fire. I wanted to tweet just about everything they said. Sadly I wasn’t anywhere near fast enough. You can see some clips from the film at this post. Unfortunately for you it doesn’t include the best bits in which Chip reads from Dhalgren against a background of deserted and derelict parts of New York. (Of course that does mean that you don’t see how the BBC managed to mis-spell Chip’s name in the titling, but so it goes.)

The post says that the film has been lost, but it hasn’t. It is just unobtainable unless you have the sort of access to the BFI archives that The Watershed has. We had a unique opportunity to see an incredibly rare documentary featuring two of science fiction’s greatest writers. And the cinema was almost empty. Well, that’s your fault, Bristol. I saw it, and you didn’t.

Posted in Art, Movies, Science Fiction, TV | Leave a comment

Yesterday on Ujima – Off the Record, Coaching and Tangled Roots

Yesterday was one of those days when I arrived in the studio knowing next to nothing about the people I was going to be interviewing. We also had one or two technical issues that resulted in it not being the best broadcast I have ever done, but the content was great.

First up we had some lovely ladies from an organization called Off the Record which does amazing work with young Somali and Afro-Caribbean kids in Bristol, particularly in the area of mental health. That ran for 45 minutes.

Then we have two life coaches in the studio, and my colleague, Judeline, bravely volunteered to be a guinea pig and be coached live on air. You can find more information about my guests here.

And finally there was a half hour session on a literary/theatre project called Tangled Roots which is visiting Bristol at the weekend. I did my first ever live phone interview. The project is about encouraging people of mixed race backgrounds to tell their stories, and feel proud of their heritage. It sounds like a very fine thing, and I’m delighted that Bristol is one of the cities they felt it was worth visiting.

You can listen to yesterday’s show here and here.

I’ll be back in the studio this afternoon chatting to Kizzy Morrell about trans issues. That should be around 3:00pm.

Posted in Current Affairs, Radio, Writing | Leave a comment

Brief Booker Thoughts

I am, of course, very sad that Karen Joy Fowler did not win the Booker. However, I am heartened to learn from the Telegraph that her book, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, has sold more than three times as many copies as all of the other finalists combined. The jury has their opinion, but the public has a rather different one.

Having said that, Richard Flanagan is a darn good writer. I know because I reviewed one of his earlier books for Emerald City. That book was Gould’s Book of Fish, and it absolutely belonged in an SF&F review magazine. You can read the review here. You’ll note that it is a bit dated, having been written before Ricky Ponting and Tansy Rayner Roberts because the world’s most famous Tasmanians, but other that that I think it holds up.

Posted in Awards, Books | Leave a comment

Ada Lovelace Day, 2014

There won’t be a post from me today. That’s not because I haven’t written anything. It is because the thing that I wrote is in another venue that won’t be published until Monday. What venue is that? I hear you ask. Why, it is this thing, which has just launched. I note that it has an absolutely kick-ass books section, because my pal Joanna Papageorgiou edits it, and the first edition contains an interview with the fabulous Emma Newman. The article mentions BristolCon and the Hugos. Can’t ask for much more, can I?

While I am here, however, I’d like to make a quick mention of Ada’s mum, Annabella Milbanke. The story goes that Baroness Byron had her daughter educated in mathematics because it was the most un-poetic subject that she could think of. However, Annabella’s interest in educating girls was not limited to irritating her notorious ex-husband. In 1854 she purchased a building called the Red Lodge in Bristol, which she gave over to one Mary Carpenter to use as a school for girls. The Red Lodge is one of the oldest buildings in Bristol, dating back to 1580. I’m told it is well worth a visit, and it certainly looks so from the photos I have seen. Must drop in one day.

Posted in Feminism, History, Science Fiction | Leave a comment