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.

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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.

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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 Tor.com 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 Tor.com 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Black Superheroes at The Watershed

My Saturday evening was spent at the Watershed’s Afrofuturism season. The event in question was a screening of Will Smith’s movie version of I Am Legend, followed by a discussion of black superheroes.

The film was rather better than I expected. Will Smith is so much better on his own than when being the comedy black guy in someone else’s movie.

I wasn’t really there for the film, however. I was there to hear Edson Burton, Adam Murray and Jon Daniel talk about black superheroes. I mean, Black Panther, Storm — what’s not to like?

Adam is one of my colleagues from Ujima, and he knows a lot about the relationship between superhero comics and hip-hop. That’s certainly an area I can be educated in.

Jon is a fabulous graphic designer and, amongst other things, was responsible for the Afro Supa Hero exhibition at the Museum of Childhood in London last year. I was delighted to get to meet him.

Just in case anyone has missed me enthusing about this before, I am firmly of the opinion that Minister Faust’s From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain is the best superhero novel ever written. I am also a big fan of Samit Basu’s Turbulence. Both books use the superhero genre for hilarious and accurate satire of the author’s societies — black North American and Indian respectively.

I also note that Tobias Buckell’s Arctic Rising and Hurricane Fever feature a Bond-like character, and Bond is most definitely a superhero.

One thing I learned at the talk is that John Jennings, who created the fabulous cover for the Mothership anthology, is also one of the two people responsible for the Black Kirby exhibition. That gives me an excuse to post this:

Mothership - John Jennings

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The Abominable Crime

I spent most of Saturday in Bristol. In the afternoon I was at the Arnolfini for a screening of a film called The Abominable Crime. This follows the lives of two gay Jamaicans. Simone is a young lesbian and single mother. When the film opens she has just survived an attempt on her life by homophobic gunmen. Maurice is a lawyer and gay rights activist. When he is outed in the Jamaican press he is determined to return to the island to carry on the fight, even though his husband in Toronto fears for his life.

Simone and Maurice are real people. In Jamaica, being gay can be deadly.

The film was followed by a panel discussion chaired by Roger Griffith, one of the directors of Ujima Radio. Also on the panel was a Jamaican writer, Prof. Thomas Glave, who has won two Lammy Awards. Thomas and Maurice are two of the founders of J-FLAG, the current LGBT rights organization for Jamaica. Thomas and I did a brief slot on the radio last week, and on Saturday I bagged a slightly longer interview that I’ll air on Women’s Outlook when I get a free slot.

From my point of view, the most interesting part of the discussion was the discovery of the Dwayne’s House charity project. Dwayne Jones was a young trans girl from Jamaica. When she was 14 she was thrown out of the family home by her parents. Two years later she was chased through the streets by a mob and beaten to death. The Dwayne’s House project seeks to purchase a building where homeless LGBT kids like Dwayne can have a safe place to sleep. The project also hopes to provide medical care, counseling and education. Details of how to donate can be found here.

By the way, the panel was keen to make clear that while the situation for LGBT Jamaicans is not good, it is not always as bad as you might think from the film and news reports. Just like anywhere else, class makes a huge difference. Also things have got a lot worse over the past few decades. As with Africa, much of that is due to heavy lobbying by rich American religious fundamentalists. Of course the people behind Dwayne’s House are also Christians. Nothing in life is simple.

Posted in Feminism, Movies, Radio | 1 Comment

Karen Joy Fowler & Cats

This past weekend the Cheltenham Festival of Literature had a panel featuring the finalists for the Booker Prize. As you should know, Karen Joy Fowler is one of those writers, and on her way to Cheltenham she stopped off to do a reading for Toppings in Bath. She has, after all, written The Jane Austen Book Club, and had not visited Bath before. A visit was clearly overdue. Obviously I had to go along and show support.

I’m not going to say much more about We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. There’s a review here if you are interested. What I want to talk about (and those of you who have read the book will know why this is relevant) is animal behavior.

The thing that struck me most about Karen’s talk was when she got onto the subject of animal communities. Some animals, for example most cats (lions being the obvious exception) are fairly solitary. Other animals like to gather in groups. Humans are an example of the latter. We like forming tribes, and we are very protective of fellow tribe members. But there is a corollary, in that we are also very hostile to anyone we see as not part of the tribe.

Politicians understand this; right wing populists such as Nigel Farage build their careers on it. The more they can make people think that life is a constant battle of “us” against “them”, the better they do in the polls. For Farage, and Rupert Murdoch, life is a constant effort to shrink and homogenize the group of people that is regarded as “us”.

What Karen said in her talk is that it is the duty of Art to constantly try to grow the group of people that is regarded as “us”, until it encompasses the whole species, and even beyond. She thinks that it is the duty of Art to encourage empathy for our fellow beings. That’s a project I am happy to get behind.

With this sort of thing in mind, once the signing was over I had a chat with Karen about the recent BBC Horizon series on cat behavior, because some of it is also very relevant. In particular, in the second program, they noted how cat personality is very plastic. The period between around 2 and 8 weeks old is crucial for kittens. If, during that time, you give them constant contact with humans, then they will grow up to behave like domestic cats. If, on the other hand, they are kept away from people, they will grow up to behave like ferals. Where they were born, and the lives of their parents, is not relevant.

That’s a classic example of nurture over nature. But of course it isn’t the only aspect of cat personality. Hunting, it appears, is instinctive. Cats will display hunting behavior, regardless of how domesticated they are. They won’t necessarily kill if they are not hungry, but they will hunt. Some are better at it than others. Here’s the scary bit.

The program put cameras on a couple of the best hunters to see how they did it. One of the cats was caught imitating bird calls. Not song, obviously, as cats don’t have the vocal skills, but they can apparently mimic cawing and clucking noises. Cats are smart. I guess it is just as well that they don’t mimic human speech.

Posted in Art, Books, Nature, Readings | 1 Comment

Promoting Afrofuturist Writers

With a film on black science fiction writers due up on Wednesday, I was keen to do as much as I could to promote all of my fabulous friends. And as I have a whole pile of interviews with black writers, I could offer the Watershed some really great content. I’m pleased to say that they accepted, and my article, complete with lots of embedded audio, is now online.

Obviously I haven’t been able to mention everyone. I’ve stuck mainly to people who have novels out. But I’ve mentioned a lot of anthologies as well so hopefully the net will spread more widely.

And if you are in Bristol on Wednesday, do come along. The film has rare footage of Chip Delany and Octavia Butler, and I believe that the supporting short is Pumzi.

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Some Robot History

Today I caught a replay of Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams, a BBC4 documentary on the history of robots. It is by Professor Simon Schaffer, and it looks at clockwork automata, from the earliest mediaeval clocks through the magnificent toys of renaissance courts and on to the invention of industrial robots such as automatic looms. It is worth watching just for the early automata that he has working, but at one point during the program Schaffer says:

A science fiction novel written in the 1770s to attack the aristocratic regime described courtiers as: “Bodies without souls, covered in lace. Automata that might look like humans, but weren’t.”

Given that this was in the run-up to a section on the French Revolution, I suspect that the novel in question was written in French. Probably that’s why Schaffer didn’t mention the name or the author. But he does call the book a science fiction novel, and the date puts it before Frankenstein (though after The Blazing World). I want to know what it is. Can anyone help?

Posted in Books, Science Fiction, TV | 4 Comments

Book Progress

Thanks to a lot of time spent on trains, and one seriously good book, I have made some progress on the To be Read pile. Specifically I have finished Ancillary Sword. It is a very different story to Ancillary Justice, but still a very good book.

I don’t have time to write a full review, but there is one thing I want to highlight. The Radch is an empire, and like all such things it encompasses a variety of cultures. As is common, those cultures that were more recently annexed tend to be seen as the least civilized, and are therefore the worst treated. In this book Breq has to deal with a space station administrator whose attitude towards civil unrest amongst the poorest parts of the population in depressingly familiar way. Breq spells it out for her:

These people are citizens.” I replied, my voice as calm and even as I could make it, without reaching the dead tonelessness of an ancillary. “When they behave properly you will say there is no problem. When they complain loudly you will say that they cause their own problems with their impropriety. And when they are driven to extremes, you say you will not reward such actions. What will it take for you to listen?”

Let no one say that science fiction is not relevant to today’s world.

And now I can get on with Resistance, the new Samit Basu novel, because how can I resist a book that begins like this?

A giant lobster rises slowly out of Tokyo Bay. It is an old-school kaiju, three hundred feet long, and stands upright, its hind limbs still under water, in defiance of biology, physics and all codes of lobster etiquette.

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Peter Hamilton in Bath

Yesterday evening Peter Hamilton did a launch event for his latest book, The Abyss Beyond Dreams. It isn’t quite as thick as my hardcover copy of A Dance With Dragons, but it is fairly hefty. Also it is only half the story.

Peter and his publicist, Sam Eades, are working very hard on this tour. They were in Swindon at lunchtime, and at Forbidden Planet in Bristol in the afternoon, before going on to Bath in the evening. Let no one tell you that book tours are easy.

Having done a short reading, Peter talked a bit about his approach to SF, and why he writes. Having done the Dystopias panel last weekend, I was interested to hear him say that he doesn’t like them, and can only write SF because he believes that the human race does have a long term future. I suspect that’s true of most space opera writers — it was certainly true of Banks.

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Tobias S. Buckell Interview

Hurricane Fever - Tobias S. BuckellContinuing in the spirit of the Afrofuturism season at The Watershed, here the last of the interviews with Caribbean writers that I have in the can from Ujima. This one is with Tobias S. Buckell and was done around the time Hurricane Fever hit the streets.

The book is quite significant for Tobias because it touches on some of the reasons that caused him to leave the Caribbean and settle in the USA. We cover this in the interview. Another thing we talk about a lot is the origin of the character, Prudence Jones, who is a Bond-like secret agent working for a united Caribbean government. Tobias also goes into the future history that he developed to explain how that political union of the islands came to happen. We may have taken Karen Lord’s name in vain…

Towards the end of the interview Tobias talks about how he got to be a successful writer despite the fact that he suffers quite badly from dyslexia. It is a remarkable story of determination and well worth a listen.

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Black Pride on Ujima

As part of the Black History Month celebrations in Bristol we have a number of interesting Jamaican visitors in the city. That includes the Jamaican Poet Laureate, Mervyn Morris, who is doing a public event tonight at Bristol University.

Also in town in Thomas Glave, who is a well known gay writer with several Lammy nominations to his name. Thomas is also one of the founders of J-FLAG, the Jamaican LGBT rights group. I met up with Thomas yesterday at the Ujima studios where he was appearing on the Kizzy Morrell show. I’d been invited along as the LGBT expert.

As it turned out, Thomas was a bit late arriving, and Kizzy had a very packed show, all of which conspired to give us less time than we had hoped. However, the first hour of the show is well worth listening to because of the fascinating interview with a chap from Little Rock, Arkansas, who is in Bristol to explain how his city is helping is poorest citizens. You can find that first hour here.

Thomas and I are on towards the end of the second hour of the show. We start about 49 minutes in. We managed to cover a bit of what is happening in Jamaica these days, including the excellent news that J-FLAG is raising money to provide a safe house for trans teens who are homeless because they have been thrown out by their parents. You can find the second hour of the show here.

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Shadowboxer Launch in Bristol

Shadowboxer - Tricia SullivanTricia Sullivan’s Shadowboxer is now available in stores, but we’ll be doing a launch event for it on the Friday before BristolCon. This is part of our local outreach program. It is a free event in the Bristol Foyles (who have a lovely event space) with doors opening at 5:30pm for a 6:00pm start. You don’t need to be a BristolCon member to attend. We’ll be finished by 7:30pm because some of us need to be back in the Doubletree for the Fringe open mic session (which is also free and doesn’t require BristolCon membership).

Several of the other authors attending BristolCon are coming along to support Trish, and will doubtless also be willing to sign stuff while they are there. Thus far we have Jonathan L. Howard, Anne Lyle, and BristolCon GoH, Jon Courtenay Grimwood. If you hope to attend, please sign up here. It is free, buy Foyles need numbers to work out how many books to order.

PS – I have read the book. If you see anyone out there claiming that it is transphobic, send them to me.

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Today on Ujima – Afrofuturism, Prostate Cancer, Regulating Landlords, Somalia

Well you can see how busy that was just from the title.

Firstly I had Edson Burton in the studio to talk about the Afrofuturism season at the Watershed. Well, I should have done anyway. What actually happened was that Edson fell through a warp in the space-time continuum and was a bit late. Fortunately my colleague, Tommy Popcorn, had been at the screening of the George Clinton film and was able to talk about George for a while. My thanks to Tommy for filling in so ably. Also I related the story about the Playtex seamstresses who made the Apollo spacesuits (which I got from Hannu Rajaniemi’s Guest of Honor speech at Finncon).

Edson finally made it to the studio and previewed some of the up-coming Afrofuturism material. The item on black superheroes on Saturday sounds good, and obviously I’m looking forward to next Wednesday when they’ll be showing Pumzi, followed by a film about black science fiction writers, including interviews with Chip Delany, Octavia Butler and Steven Barnes. The later will be introduced by Ytasha Womack (live via Skype from Chicago), and I’ve just been writing a web article to go with it.

The second half hour was given over to a young lady called Vanessa from Bristol University who is studying Caribbean men who have had prostate cancer. I discovered the scary fact that as many as 1 in 4 Caribbean men in the UK can expect to be diagnosed with the disease, a much higher percentage than for white or Asian men. No one knows why, and Vanessa’s research is an important part of trying to find an answer so that something can be done about it.

I note in passing that most trans women will have prostates and can therefore get prostate cancer. Most GPs have no idea about that.

You can listen to the first hour of the show here.

For the second hour I handed the mic over to Paulette who had some more political material. First up were a couple of ladies from the City Council who help run a scheme to regulate private landlords. This is obviously great for tenants, but it can also be good for landlords too because going through an approved City Council scheme can be cheaper than using a letting agency.

In the process of doing the interview Paulette and I discovered, to our horror, that it is now mandatory for private landlords to check that anyone they let property to has the right to be resident in the UK.

For the final half hour we welcomed three young people from the Bristol Somali Youth Network. Many of you will have heard the story of Yusra Hussien, the 15-year-old Bristol girl who is believed to have flown to Turkey. The tabloid newspapers have been spinning this as “radicalized Muslim girl flies to join IS”. The story we get from the Somali community in Bristol is very different. The young people of BSYN have been trying hard to give their fellow teenagers a sense of community and belonging, but that must be very hard when so much of the British media is so openly hostile.

Talking of BSYN, they have a wonderful project going at the moment to collect unwanted books and ship them to the library in Mogadishu. Hopefully I will have them back to talk about this in a couple of weeks.

You can listen to the second hour of the show here.

The play list for the show was as follows:

  • Dance Apocalyptic – Janelle Monae
  • Alphabet Street – Prince
  • Children of Productions – Funkadelic
  • Clouds – Prince
  • Our House – Madness
  • Burning Down the House – Talking Heads
  • I Feel Alone – Maryam Mursal
  • Welcome – Maryam Mursal

The track “Clouds” comes from Prince’s new album, Art Official Age. My thanks to Edson and Charlie Jane Anders, both of whom enthused about the album to me. It is a very Afrofutrist piece, telling the story of a Mr. Nelson who is awakened after being in suspended animation for 45 years. One of Prince’s collaborators on the album is Lianne La Havas, a Jamaican-British musician whom Karen Lord tells me I need to listen to. And hey, if Prince thinks she’s good, and so does Karen, that’s good enough for me.

Maryam Mursal is Somalia’s best known musician. Both of the tracks I chose come from her album, The Journey, which tells the tale of the seven-month trek she and her five children undertook to escape from the Somali civil war and find a new home in Europe. The album is co-produced by Simon Emmerson and Martin Russell of Afro-Celt Sound System, and is available from Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records. Peter plays, and sings backing vocals, on it. To find out more about Maryam and the record, go here.

Posted in Current Affairs, Health, Movies, Music, Radio, Science Fiction | 3 Comments

Destruction Will Continue Until Dudebro Morale Improves

I should really have done this blog post last week, but I had lots of things to write about and got sidetracked. Anyway, as you may remember, the Women Destroy Science Fiction crowdfunding campaign was so successful that they managed to fund anthologies of fantasy and horror as well. Those magazines are now available, and you can find them at the links below:

And we will continue doing stuff like this until people stop pretending that our favorite genres are a boys-only club.

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