Book Review – Some Sami Mythology

Fathoms of the Fenlake - Ante AikioI have a new book review up. It is a book based on Sami mythology, written (in Finnish) by an actual Sami, and translated into English. If any of you have an interest in the beliefs and practices of hunter-gatherer societies (and I suspect this might be quite a few of you) then you’ll find this fascinating. You can read my review here.

Aigi : Fathoms of the Fenlake is the first in what is planned to be a series of books bringing Sami mythology to the rest of the world. The book is available as a paperback here and as an ebook from the piranhas. If you happen to be at Worldcon I believe that the Helsinki bid people will have some paper copies for sale.

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Fixing the Hugos

As I can’t travel to the USA I won’t be able to attend this year’s WSFS Business Meeting. That means I don’t get to have a direct say in what gets done about Puppygate. So I am going to write about what I think needs to be done here in the hope that it might sway some people who do have a vote.

Before I get onto the actual Puppy-related motions, however, there are a bunch of other pieces of business that also deserve attention. The full text of all motions can be found on the Sasquan website.

Business Passed On from Loncon 3

A.1 Popular Ratification

I still believe that the 3-year timescale that was forced into this motion at Loncon 3 is a bad thing, but overall the idea of popular ratification is a good thing. The vast majority of fans cannot afford to go to every Worldcon. Giving those who can’t attend a stake in the convention’s governance is a something we need to work towards, and small steps are better than no steps at all.

Also all of the material about electronic voting is a Very Good Thing. I know Sasquan tried to make site selection available online, but the process was unnecessarily complicated and needs to change.

A.2 A Story By Any Other Name

Pass it. This is an amendment designed to ensure that things like the unfair exclusion of Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” never happen again. (The whole affair should also serve as a warning against activist Hugo Administrators. You may well think they’d be great for combatting Puppies, but what happens when they use their powers to do things you don’t like?)

A.3 Hugo Finalists

Pass it. This is a sad but necessary change in terminology brought on by people who describe themselves as “Hugo nominees” because they have sent in a ballot nominating their work.

A.4 WSFS Membership Types and Rates

Kick it out. This is an attempt to prevent Worldcons from offering a cheap “Voting Membership” in order to encourage participation in the Hugos. We need to do everything we can to encourage participation. It may be that voting memberships are a bad thing, but they have never been tried and I take a dim view of anything that tries to ban an innovation before it can be tested.

New Resolutions

B.2.1 I Remember the Future & B.2.2 Hugo Eligibility Extension for Predestination

These are both requests to extend the availability of works due to limited distribution. I know nothing about either work, but generally films that do well on the festival circuit and then go on to do well in DVD sales ought to get a second chance. WSFS members generally do not attend film festivals, and so don’t see the works premiered there.

B.2.3 Hugo Nominating Data Request

This is a request for some (anonymized) data from this year’s Hugos to help people decide what to do about Puppygate. I have no objection, but the Hugo Administrators might.

B.2.4 Open Source Software

On the face of it, this is a fairly reasonable request. It is asking that any software used by a Worldcon (excluding anything that is a commercial product and legally protected) have its source code be made available for inspection. Obviously we want Worldcons to use good quality software, but this Resolution is a disaster waiting to happen.

Two of the less good things about fandom are the tendency to busybodying and the habit of fans to believe that they know far more about any subject than anyone else. If this Resolution passes then it will be possible for anyone who wants to make a nuisance of themselves to demand access to code developed by Worldcons, to suggest amendments to that code, and to demand that the Worldcon in question either incorporate those changes or justify not doing so. It will be a nightmare for the people actually doing the work.

In the past I have helped build the website for a Worldcon. I wouldn’t do it under the conditions of this resolution. Everything you put on a website is effectively code, even if it is just a blog post. I do not want to have countless arguments with concerned fans about religious issues in HTML and CSS.

There are better ways of improving the software that Worldcons use. The first is that if you have real development skills then you can get involved with Worldcon committees and help write the software that they use. The second is that Worldcons should make a point of developing code that can be re-used every year. There should be no more of this re-inventing everything from scratch each year because someone on the committee is a software nerd who insists that everything ever written by any previous Worldcon is useless and he has to write his own versions. That’s largely a matter for Worldcon chairs to enforce, but IT policy is a question that can be put to bids, and the Business Meeting can set up a Software Development Committee to help pass on code from one year to the next.

B.2.5 MPC Funding

The better known the Hugos and Worldcon become, the more people trying to monetize fandom try to steal our service marks. If people want those marks to be defended, it will cost money. In terms of the overall Worldcon budget, the amounts being discussed are very small, and haven’t changed since the 1980s. This Resolution basically puts a little bit more money into the defense fund. Please support it. It will make Kevin’s life much easier.

Constitutional Amendments

I’m going to take these mostly from the bottom up, leaving the serious anti-Puppy stuff until last.

B.1.8 Electronic Signatures

This seeks to remove one of the excuses that the forces of conservatism might seek to use in order to prevent online voting. That sounds like a good thing.

B.1.7 Two-Year Eligibility

This is daft, and discriminatory. Please kick it out.

To start with the whole notion is stupid. The proposers of the motion effectively say that the science fiction field is too big for anyone to get a grasp of it all in one year, so Hugo eligibility must be extended to two years to give us all time to read everything. Have they any idea how many books get published each year? Let alone short stories. And fanzines. And…

Not to mention the fact that in the second year a whole lot more material gets published, which you also have to read.

In addition the proposal wrecks one of the basic principles of Hugo Award Internationalism. Worldcon has always recognized that the majority of voters come from the USA, and that therefore a work not published in English, and/or not published in the USA, is at a disadvantage. Also US voters would be prevented from nominating works they may love if they don’t find out about them until they get US publication and the work was no longer eligible.

So, the way things work at the moment is that works get up to three shots at eligibility: on first publication; on first publication in English; and on first publication in the USA. Obviously for some works two of those, or all three, are in the same year, but for others they can all be different years.

This proposal would change that. All works in English would get two years of eligibility, but those would be consecutive, regardless of country of publication.

What does this mean? Consider a work published in English in Australia in 2015, and again in the USA in 2018. Under the existing rules it gets two years of eligibility: 2016 and 2019. Under the new rules it also gets two years, but 2016 and 2017. By the time the book appears in the US market its eligibility will have been burned.

To repeat, this is a bad proposal. Please kick it out.

B.1.6 Nominee Diversity

This is what you might call the anti-Doctor Who motion. The idea is to prevent the Dramatic Presentation: Short Form category being filled up with episodes all taken from the same series. The motion would limit any such dominant series to two finalist slots. It would also prevent any given author from having more than two stories in any of the fiction categories, which may make it partly an anti-Puppy measure.

I have a certain amount of sympathy with this, but for reasons I shall explain in detail later I am generally opposed to rules which try to kick specific works off the final ballot when they have received enough votes to get there. It gives people the excuse to claim that the system is rigged against them. So I think I’d vote No on this one.

B.1.5 Multiple Nominations

Despite the title, this is not the same thing as B.1.6. Rather this proposal seeks to prevent a single work from being a finalist in more than one category. The commentary suggests that under the current rules a work could be a finalist in, for example, Related Work and Fancast. This is traditionally something that we have relied on Administrators to be activist about, but they may be less inclined to be so these days. Also having this rule explicitly stated removes one of the more common objections to a YA category. Part of me says that this rule is only needed because categories are badly specified, but perfection is never easy. On balance I think I’d vote for this.

B.1.3 Best Series

Now that the Trojan Horse langauge for getting rid of Novelette has been removed, this proposal is far less odious. I’m still not convinced that we need a Hugo category for ongoing series, though. When it was first proposed I saw a number of authors suggesting that it was a bad thing even without the Novelette nonsense. I’d want to hear the debate on this, but my instinct is to vote against.

B.1.2 The Five Percent Solution

This would get rid of the rule that requires that a work get at least 5% of the votes in order to make the final ballot. That rule is the reason why there have been fewer than five finalists in Short Story a number of times recently.

It is possible that if this rule were put in place we’d end up with 10 or more finalists in Short Story. However, the restriction causes a lot of upset amongst people who feel that they or their friends have been unfairly left off the ballot. Let’s give this a try for a while, and see what happens. If people get even more upset about large numbers of finalists than they did about works being excluded we can always revert. This may be a case for a sunset clause (that is, adding an amendment that says the change goes away after x years unless a Business Meeting votes to make it permanent).

B.1.1 4 and 6 and B.1.4 E Pluribus Hugo (Out of the Many, a Hugo)

I have lumped these two proposals together because they are both aimed at reducing the effectiveness of so-called Slate Voting, in which an organized group all put exactly the same works on their ballot. As such, these are both anti-Puppy measures.

4 and 6 simply adds an extra finalist slot to each category, while simultaneously restricting voters to nominating four works instead of 5. This would make it much more difficult for a slate to work. A simple slate could only get 4 works out of 6 onto each finalist list. Of course it is possible for a well-organized and well-supported slate to distribute votes in such a way as to gain all six finalist places, but that would require more work by the slate organizer and more supporters of the slate.

E Pluribus Hugo is a much more sophisticated approach, relying on a mathematical algorithm to detect slate voting patterns and disqualify works deemed to have benefited from slate voting. I have no doubt that it is a more robust solution to the Puppy problem. I also urge you to vote against it, and for 4 and 6 instead. Here’s why.

Many of the problems that afflict the Hugos are situations that large numbers of people deem “unfair”. Any time the Award rules get complicated you can bet that someone will call them “unfair”, especially if the rule leads to a work missing out on a finalist slot when it got enough votes to be there. So, for example, the 5% Rule is widely deemed “unfair” because it means that short stories that might otherwise have been finalists are denied that honor. You can bet that if an episode of Doctor Who were kicked off the final ballot because the Nominee Diversity proposal got passed then Who fans would be furious about how “unfair” this was.

Even the instant runoff system of vote counting in the final ballot is deemed “unfair” by some people. I have sat through far too many Chris Garcia rants about how instant runoff is unfair and un-American and the Hugo should always go the work that gets the most first preference votes like in proper elections.

So my concern is that if we adopt E Pluribus Hugo what will happen in the future is that whenever a work gets disqualified under that rule there will be a huge fuss about how the Hugos are fixed in favor of some special interest group. Because most people won’t be able to understand the theory on which E Pluribus Hugo is based (and for sure I don’t), this accusation of unfairness will be widely believed, even though it is correctly defending against slate voting.

If you think I’m over-reacting here, consider that Open Source Software resolution. You might wonder why it is there. Surely people aren’t actually worried about websites, or registration software. Nope. My guess is that it is there precisely because people don’t trust the code that will be used to implement E Pluribus Hugo and want to be able to check it.

In contrast, the 4 and 6 proposal is simple, straightforward, and easy to understand. Crucially it will never result in a work that otherwise had sufficient votes to become a finalist being disqualified. Therefore it will not result in future dramas that will have people sympathizing with a slate voting campaign.

If that doesn’t convince you, consider this. The Hugos are often criticized for being snobby and elitist (particularly by the Puppies). In response to that, what sort of idiot proposes a Constitutional Amendment with a Latin title? It is the very epitome of saying, “we are smarter than you, go away”. I don’t think that WSFS should behave like that.

Update: I have further thoughts about the two anti-Puppy motions here. As I explain, I now favor passing both of them this year.

Finally I’d like to note that the only real defense against the Puppies and groups like them is to get more people to participate in the Hugos, especially at the nominations stage. We’ve had a huge increase in participation this year. Let’s do everything we can to keep those people involved, and to get more people voting. This will probably mean that it is even less likely that works I like will become finalists, let alone win, but I’ll take that. If you want to have a high profile, international, fan-voted award then you have to accept a wide degree of participation; you can’t restrict the process to “people like us”.

Posted in Awards, Conventions, Fandom | 15 Comments

Women and Hugos Update

I got a comment from Nicola Griffith on yesterday’s post, and I want to make sure that you all see it as it is very interesting. This is the meat what she said:

Catastrophic drop-offs happened in lots of genres, I suspect. I haven’t pulled the data together yet properly but a glance at Edgar info from the 20th C shows a similar–though I wouldn’t swear to the exact timing–effect. (I haven’t even begun to ask questions such as: “Who/how many joined crime fiction organisations?”)

Obviously there’s a lot of work to be done yet to tease out what is going on, but having drop-offs in the number of women winning awards in multiple genres at the same time points to an external explanation to what is going on. Yes, that lets me off the hook, but you have to wonder what the heck is going on. Is it a cultural rise in misogyny? Is it publishers reacting to bad economic conditions by publishing fewer women?

The one thing that is certain is that the work Nicola and her colleagues are doing looks like being invaluable. Hooray for them!

Posted in Awards, Feminism | Leave a comment

New Verne Translation

Five Weeks in a Balloon - Jules VerneYes, I know it is supposed to be Women in Translation Month, but this is exciting.

Wesleyan University Press have sent me a review copy of a brand new translation of Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon. This is Verne’s debut novel, and the work that established his reputation as an author. Only Around the World in Eighty Days sold better. The press release describes it as one of the greatest debuts in literary history. While the likes of Margaret Cavendish and Mary Shelley had written novels about science before Verne, this is the novel that established the genre in the popular imagination.

The early translations of Verne’s work into English were hurriedly and badly done as British publishers sought to cash in on this wildly successful French literary trend. Francophone science fiction scholars are doing their best to put things right. This publication sees the first complete and accurate translation of a ground-breaking work of science fiction.

The book includes a lengthy introduction by the translator, Frederick Paul Walter, and extensive endnotes. The book is extensively illustrated with what I assume are pictures from the original publication of the novel.

This is pretty much an essential volume for anyone with an interest in the history of science fiction.

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Women and Hugos – Mea Culpa

Nicola Griffith is continuing to mine data about women and literary awards, now with the help of a bunch of eager volunteers. She has a new post up on Charlie Stross’s blog, and it includes the following fascinating chart made by someone called Eric.

Women and Hugos chart

The chart is using female membership of SFWA as a proxy for the number of women writing SF&F. It is not perfect but I’m happy with the assumption.

What we can see here is that from the foundation of SFWA through to around 1995 the proportion of women getting Hugo nominations tracked fairly well with the proportion of women actually writing. From around 1995 to 2006 there is a catastrophic drop-off in the number of award nominations, after which things pick up again.

One interesting thing to me in all this is that 1995 to 2006 is the period in which I was publishing Emerald City. So, by the standards of proof used by tabloid newspapers, clearly the decline in the number of female Hugo finalists is all my fault.

Or maybe not. Correlation does not imply causality and all that.

Rather more interesting is there seems to be a ceiling beyond which women are not allowed to go. If we get over 30% of the finalist slots there’s a backlash. The effects of Puppygate are not shown on the chart, but I’m sure you can all envisage what they will be.

The good news is that our ceiling appears to be considerably higher than the 17% reported by the Geena Davis Institute in its famous study of women in movies. Even so, a ceiling is a worrying thing, and I’m now eager to dig further into the results for the 1995 to 2006 period to see if there are any obvious drivers (other than me) for the collapse. I’m asking myself questions such as, Is the same pattern seen in the Nebulas? and, Is there a corresponding rise in women in the fantasy novel category of the Locus Awards?

Not that I have time to do any digging right now. Is someone else does it, I shall be very grateful.

Posted in Awards, Feminism | 10 Comments

I Am Cait – Episode 3

The latest episode of the trans sisterhood reality show continues the road trip started in episode 2. I seem to be getting the habit of reviewing each show, so here goes.

The material from the meeting at the HRC offices in San Francisco was used again at the start of this episode, and was much better edited. Some of it is still a bit weird. I don’t understand why the camera has to spend so much time on Angelica Ross but not when she is speaking. I dearly love Chandi, and Blossom is clearly an inspiring person, but there seems to be some sort of unspoken subtext that it is OK for the white girls to be both classically beautiful and articulate, but not for the black girls.

Much of the show was devoted to Caitlyn taking her new friends on some adventures. There was rollerskating, dirt biking, and wine tasting. I loved the fact that they did something that was not stereotypically feminine.

Jenny Boylan continues to shine through as a saintly elder. Judging from Twitter, she’s getting a lot of great response from fans of the show. Jen Richards didn’t get so many opportunities to be smart this time, but she was brilliant on the subject of being able to tell if someone is trans.

There needs to be a party game in which you give a bunch of pictures of pretty cis women to a group of men and ask if they would have known that these women were trans. Then you have a good laugh at all of the random explanations they come up with to justify the fact that of course they would have known. And finally you watch their faces when you tell them that the women are actually all cis.

The dating discussion was much less prominent than it had been trailed to be, and was fairly coy. Probably that’s a good thing because we don’t want the audience focusing on genitalia. On the other hand, there are myths that need exploding. The TERFs still go around claiming that trans women can’t enjoy sex because we have “mutilated ourselves”. I wish someone had addressed that.

Mostly it wasn’t a very interesting episode, though it did make me very homesick for California. Next week, however, Cait gets to meet Kate Bornstein, which should be fascinating.

Posted in Gender, TV | Leave a comment

Haz Car

Effie

Well, there’s exciting.

One of my cousins was trading up her car and, for reasons that I will get to shortly, the old one had no resale value. So she offered it to me for free. Obviously I had to pay to tax and insure it, and I had to go up to London to collect it, but aside from that no cost.

So this is Effie. She’s a Fiat Punto, and she’s 12 years old, which is almost as old in car years as I am in human years, so I guess we go well together.

Effie has some rather unpleasant scratches down her left-hand side. They are not my fault. They are, however, the reason I got her for free. She’s perfectly OK on the road, but she’s not saleable without a lot of expensive touch-up work. I got lucky.

Of course she’s Italian, which means we have disagreements about motorsport. I have promised not to mention Lewis Hamilton if she promises not to mention Sebastien Vettel. We are happy to support Kimi Raikkonen together. And of course Susie Wolff.

The other notable thing about her is that she has manual transmission. I had not driven a manual in almost 20 years. (I still had my Polo when I was at Worldcon in Glasgow in 1995). I was very out of practice. Thankfully I managed to get her safely home, despite having to spend a ridiculous amount of time on London’s infamous orbital parking lot, the M25.

I wish I had stopped for lunch at London Gateway services on the M1. Twenty-odd miles to the next services doesn’t seem too far when you are barreling along at 70mph, but it is an awful long way when you are crawling in first gear and thinking that it might have been quicker to walk.

On the subject of lunch journeys, I put the radio on, because Effie has… wait for it… a tape deck!

I don’t think I have used a cassette tape this century. I certainly don’t have the means to make tapes. I rather suspect that if charity shops get them donated they just throw them out. I shall have to investigate alternatives.

Anyway, now I need to get some driving practice. I don’t think that will include braving the Bristol traffic for quite a while, though. I might be daft, but I’m not completely stupid.

Posted in Personal, Travel | 4 Comments

July BristolCon Fringe – Nick Walters & Ken Shinn

I have another set of podcasts from BristolCon Fringe online for your listening delight. These are from our July Horror Special.

First up was Nick Walters who, amongst other things, has written a lot of Doctor Who tie-in novels. We won’t mention the BristolCon Quiz. Nick’s story is from a wonderful anthology called Killer Bees from Outer Space which is devoted to B Movies. It is entirely possible that Nick’s story is the silliest one in the book. Be prepared to scream as you listen to “Blood Slobber of the Scrunge Worms”!!!

I hope that came out OK. Nick is a serial microphone abuser. I think he must have been a vocalist in a heavy metal band at some point.

Our second story was very different. We had been promised pudding, and pudding we got. Cake, to be precise. Ken Shinn’s story started off innocently enough with a celebrity chef in Hollywood, and quickly had everyone in the room feeling itchy. Ken does have a story in Killer Bees from Outer Space, but this is not it. Oh dear me no. Ken’s insects are much nastier.

Finally I got to ask our readers a few questions. Nick revealed his total fascination with snails. I made what turned out to be a remarkably accurate prediction about the new Fantastic Four movie, and a pun so terrible it almost cleared the room. Everyone got nostalgic about B Movies and Jo revealed what is possibly the silliest title for a horror movie ever. We also preview Tom Parker’s appearance at Edinburgh Fringe. The Accidental Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is at C Venue and the first performance is on Sunday. If you are up in Edinburgh, be there.

Next month’s Fringe will be on Monday night (August 17th) and will feature the dynamic duo of Gaie Sebold and David Gullen. I may have to ask them about how they enjoyed Archipelacon.

Posted in Readings | Leave a comment

Trans Pride Reportage

Last night Shout Out devoted a large proportion of the show to my report from this year’s Trans Pride. It features Roz Kaveney, Sarah Savage, Fox Fisher, Kate Adair, Evie Andrew, a lady from Stonewall, a black family from London, and some fabulous kids from Mermaids. You can listen to the show as a podcast here.

I recorded a lot more material than the show was able to use. My apologies to the people who did not get in. I will be doing my own Trans Pride podcast in the near future that will have a lot more in it.

Posted in Gender, Radio | Leave a comment

Join the Fight Against the VATMESS

Regular readers will be familiar with the utter disaster of the new EU VAT rules on digital products, which have forced vast numbers of small businesses to stop trading and forced similar numbers (including Wizard’s Tower) to sell only through big corporations such as Amazon. You are probably also aware that Juliet McKenna is part of a small team of people who have taken it upon themselves to lobby the EU and try to get something done.

As Juliet reports on her blog, the EU has now started to listen, and to accept that it has a problem. Unfortunately EU decision making takes place on geological timescales, so getting them to actually do anything is a major problem. There is a major EU Finance Ministers meeting taking place in Dublin next month, and if we want anything done we need to lobby them, hard.

Of course most lobbying of such meetings is done by professional lobbyists with multi-million Euro budgets backing them up. Up until now, Juliet and her colleagues have been paying all of their expenses out of their own pockets. And they are just about out of money. So they have launched a crowdfunding appeal.

The initial goal was to send one person (Clare Josa) to Dublin. I’m delighted to see that goal has been reached in less than a day. That’s thanks in no small part to Rebellion (publishers of, amongst other things, 2000 AD and Solaris books). Sadly they can’t send Judge Dredd to Dublin to help Clare out, but it would be good to send someone else to give Clare some support. Also there are meetings in London that the team need to attend (which are often held early in the morning when rail fares are crazily high). Juliet is already out of pocket to the tune of around £500, and the other members of the team will have had similar expenses. It would be good to be able to reimburse them.

The objective in Dublin is to get the EU to agree to the immediate imposition of a threshold for VAT registration under the new system. This would allow small companies like Wizard’s Tower to get back to selling direct, and it would stop taxation departments around Europe hassling small businesses for amounts as small as 5p.

As I have said before on this subject, it makes no economic sense whatsoever to have taxation services spend more money to collect tax revenue than they will receive in revenue. And yet they are doing it. It is your money they are wasting (if you are a tax-playing EU citizen).

Also it is really important for the fight against DRM to allow small businesses to sell direct. I have been told, though I haven’t had time to check this, that since the new VAT rules came in both Nook and Kobo have stopped allowing customers to download a book, they will only send books to registered reading devices. It is not in your interests to be locked into buying only from big corporations.

Obviously publishers such as Rebellion and Wizard’s Tower are ponying up what we can afford here. It is in our interests to do so. I don’t expect readers to get anywhere near matching that. However, every little helps. Also, the more people donate, the more evidence we have to show the EU that people want this mess fixed. Send them the price of a coffee. I’m sure most of you can afford that. And think of it as a small finger in the face of Amazon and their Eurocrat friends.

The team has promised to only use the money for campaign expenses. Any excess will be donated to the microfunding charity, Kiva.

Donate here.

Posted in Current Affairs, Wizard's Tower | Leave a comment

Ignorance On Display

Today SF Signal put up a post titled, “Where Are All The People of Color in Sci-Fi/Fantasy?”. It’s a crappy title, but a decent article that has some good stats on just how badly people of color are excluded by the genre publishing industry.

The comments, on the other hand, produced an absolute classic of pompous, ignorant nonsense. If you don’t want to click through and read the whole thing, here’s a taster:

Based on what I’ve said, other cultures/races, seem primitive as they tend to be “grounded” on Earth. That mixed with the tendency for many ethnic groups being associated with crime, low tech living, and a lack of interesting folk history makes white people dismiss their existence and see it as a “primitive” remnant of Earth. Thus, they don’t tend to have evolved into the future in countless stories, but likely died out somewhere in the distant past.

You could probably write an entire thesis on racism just based on that comment, but I don’t have time to do that. I’m even going to be generous and note that lots of Americans are ignorant about countries beyond their borders, so the commenter isn’t that unusual in that respect. But he claims to be an expert on African-American culture, and he claims that African-American people have no interest in science fiction or fantasy.

Space is the Place

Mothership Connection

Thriller

The Archandroid

I rest my case.

Posted in Fandom, Music, Science Fiction | 2 Comments

On Publishing Damage Time

Damage Time - Colin HarveyThe second of the Wizard’s Tower re-issues of Colin Harvey’s novels is now available in most of the usual online venues. (Kobo, for some reason, is still selling the Angry Robot editions, which we will sort in due course.) Damage Time is in many ways a fascinating book. Lee Harris has kindly provided a new introduction to the book, which is great because Lee was Colin’s editor so he knew him very well. However, Lee talks mainly about what a great person Colin was (almost everyone who knew him does), not about the book. I don’t blame him for that. There’s only one person who ought to be talking about the content of the book, and that’s me.

This is going to be somewhat spoilery, which is one reason why I didn’t put it in the book.

Technically there is a lot to be impressed with in Damage Time. The memory ripping technology that Colin uses in the book is a brilliant use of science fiction to totally change the way that a police procedural works. I also love the way that Colin uses the memory rips to do all of his world building. It is very like the Dos Passos technique that people such as John Brunner in The Sheep Look Up, Kim Stanley Robinson in 2312, and Lyda Morehouse in the AngeLINK series have used so well. But there’s no need for newspaper clippings in Damage Time. All of the description of the world comes first hand from victims of memory rips.

It was very brave, too, for Colin to write a book whose primary point of view character loses most of his memories during the book and becomes, to a large extent, a different person. That’s a really hard trick for an author to pull off. I’m not sure that Colin is 100% effective in doing it, but I think he does very well and I have total respect for his ambition.

What really strikes me about the book, however, is the commitment to diversity. This is a book that was published in 2010, and therefore conceived long before then. The central character, Pervez (Pete) Shah is the son of an Iranian immigrant and is a Muslim. His partner, John Marietetski, is mixed race, though Colin carefully doesn’t let us know that until we meet his Jamaican grandmother, allowing us instead to make assumptions based on the Russian-sounding name. The bad guys are a family of gangsters who are immigrants from India. The book is set in New York, so the ethnic mix is hardly surprising, except that so many white authors manage to only see other white people.

It’s not Colin’s fault that in the last couple of years American police forces have garnered a reputation for gunning down people of color at the slightest excuse. When he wrote this book, it was still possible (at least for white people) to believe that the police were basically good guys.

Then there’s the social angle. The book is set in 2050. Bisexuality and polygamy are the norm, especially amongst the younger generation. Multi-person families are often the only way people in New York can afford the rents. While Shah is resolutely heterosexual, many of his work colleagues are not, and chide him for his old-fashioned prejudices.

Which brings me, of course, to Aurora.

The love interest in the book is intersex. Colin uses the term “intersexual”, which he appears to have got from Anne Fauso-Sterling. It never got to be widely used, and seems bizarre to us now, but I wanted to keep the book as Colin wrote it so I have left the term unaltered.

Colin certainly did his research. Levi Suydam, whom Aurora mentions at one point, was a real person from 19th Century Connecticut. I was very impressed at how Colin has Shah’s Imam tell him off for being prejudiced and quote the Qur’an to show how intersex people were known to, and accepted by, The Prophet. Colin’s understanding of hijra culture isn’t quite as good, but he does pretty well.

Aurora’s intersex condition is Clitoromegaly; that is she has an enlarged clitoris, which to an untrained eye will look very much like a penis (and is, after all, exactly the same organ). I believe that this is the condition that Lady Gaga is alleged to have. In the past doctors have operated on intersex infants to make them look “normal”, often without even getting the permission of the parents. Colin does a good job of talking about the question of childhood surgeries, intersex people having pride in their bodies, and the issues that they may have as teenagers because they are different. Adult Aurora is proud of who she is, but teen Aurora would have given anything for her parents to have had a bit more shame when she was born.

Colin, like Neil Gaiman in A Game of You, is writing primarily for a cisgender audience, hoping to open their eyes as to how badly non-cis people are treated. As a result, Aurora is treated pretty badly during the book, and is regularly misgendered by both police and gangsters. The book is very uncomfortable reading at times if you are a trans or intersex woman, but Aurora is allowed agency, and doesn’t suffer the usual fate of queer characters in novels.

I should note, by the way, that Aurora doesn’t seem to think much of trans women. As far as she’s concerned, she’s a woman and we are not. Sadly this is not unusual amongst the intersex community, though things do appear to be getting better.

On the other hand, everything that happens to Aurora is very familiar to trans women. The prospect of getting beaten up or killed after having sex with a guy who seemed to really fancy you is many trans women’s biggest nightmare.

Some feminist readers will doubtless be annoyed that Colin made Aurora a sex worker, albeit a high class one. I have no issue with this. Firstly, of course, the reality is that many of us have to sell our bodies in order to survive. We can’t pretend that doesn’t happen just because it isn’t pleasant. Also Aurora clearly enjoys having sex with men. Good for her. So do I. I get very tired of people whose main interest in feminism is getting to police how other women behave.

Reading Damage Time wasn’t a comfortable experience for me. Fairly obviously I identified strongly with Aurora. I have to say, speaking as a woman, that I have no idea what she sees in Pervez Shah, either before or after his memory loss, but I’m not actually her. There are things that I think Colin could have done better, and I would have loved to have the opportunity to work on the book with him. As it is, I’m putting the book out into a world that is much more accepting of trans and intersex people, and much less forgiving of prejudice against them, than the one in which Colin wrote the book. Some people will read it without that context and will be angry with it. I knew Colin, and I know that he cared about people. I think he deserves a huge amount of credit for trying so hard to write a good book about an intersex person, and I’m proud to be publishing it.

By the way, some of you will have noticed that Chris Moore re-did the cover for the Wizard’s Tower edition. I like it. I think having the aircraft come towards you makes it more dynamic.

I’m currently working with our typesetter on hardcover editions of both Damage Time and Winter Song. If all goes according to plan they will be on sale at BristolCon. They should also be available for preorder via my friends at Tangent Books sometime soon.

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

Space Unicorns Take Flight

The Kickstarter campaign for year 2 of Uncanny magazine launched today. If you want to renew your subscription for another year, now is the time to do it. It looks like the Uncanny team have a fine collection of writers already lined up to produce stories for the forthcoming issues, and in just a few hours they have raised over $7,000 dollars so obviously what they do is popular. Why not check them out.

Posted in Science Fiction | Leave a comment

Hollywood Rewrites History (again)

Some of you will have heard that a film about the 1969 Stonewall riot, often cited as the beginning of the gay rights movement, is being made. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have seen a barrage of tweets denouncing the film as a total work of fiction. I figured I should do a post explaining what really happened at Stonewall.

The problem with the film is that Hollywood, being Hollywood, has found it necessary to re-write the events at Stonewall so that they center around a white, cis-normative gay man. The reality was quite different. The New York police targeted the Stonewall Inn precisely because it was a known as hangout of trans people of color. As this article in Huffington Post makes clear, what followed was at least as much a race riot as it was a gay rights riot.

Here are some of the actual heroes of Stonewall: Marsha P Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major and Stormé DeLarverie.

Stonewall did involve some cis-normative white gays and lesbians, and that is doubtless why it is remembered as the first such protest, despite the fact that similar riots took place in Los Angeles and San Francisco years earlier. The Cooper’s Donuts riot (1959) and Compton’s Cafeteria riot (1966) both involved primarily trans women of color, and so are quietly erased by the white-dominated and cis-normative gay rights movement.

As for the beginning of the gay rights movement, that more properly belongs in Europe in the 1860s with men such as Karl-Maria Kertbeny and Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, both of whom spoke out against homophobic laws being put before the Prussian parliament. Kertbeny actually invented the term “homosexual”. Before him there wasn’t really any concept of a binary divide between “gay” and “straight” people. It was more a question of what one did, rather than who one was.

Thankfully Hollywood no longer has a monopoly on movies these days. There are films in production about the lives of Miss Major (who is still alive and I have had the honor to meet) and Marsha P Johnson (who, like so many trans women of color, died in unexplained circumstances). There is also a documentary about Marsha available on YouTube.

Miss Major has done an interview for Autostraddle about the Stonewall film. It is a lot of fun.

Meanwhile I eagerly look forward to the Hollywood film about the black civil rights movement which shows how Martin Luther King and Malcolm X owed everything to a brave white man…

Posted in Gender, History, Movies | 5 Comments

I Am Cait – Episode 2

I was slightly more organized this weekend and got to see episode 2 of I Am Cait shortly after it was broadcast. Thoughts, I have them.

One of the things that comes over quite strongly in this episode is how innocent Caitlyn is about the whole trans scene, and the lives of other trans people. I guess in her position there was no possibility of mixing with other trans girls prior to transition, but that means she has got a lot of catching up to do. Still, I feel a little bit better to know that even Candis Cayne has trouble getting her hormone prescriptions. My own troubles don’t seem quite so bad now.

Something else that came through during the episode is Caitlyn’s right wing politics. The main plot of the show (and yes, reality TV does have plots) was that Jenny Boylan introduced Caitlyn to a bunch of other trans women, and they persuaded her to come up to San Francisco to meet others. Even in California, many trans people have fairly terrible lives. Cait, who has doubtless ingested a regular diet of Faux News, seemed to think it was more important to get them off benefits than to help them. Like I said, a lot to learn.

Jenny Boylan and Jen Richards seem to be doing a good job of education, and some of Jen’s expressions when Cait comes out with some horribly naive comment are a wonder to behold.

I now know why Angelica Ross was so upset. That was a truly vicious piece of editing that she was subjected to. I guess that because she is a) black and b) very pretty, the show’s editors decided to single her out for her involvement in sex work. Something needs to be done to stop that sort of thing happening in future episodes.

It was particularly annoying because, as Angelica noted on Twitter, it came shortly after a clip in which Jen said that it was important not to reduce trans women to their traumas. Yes, many of us have had terrible aspects to our lives. But those of us who have survived that have often gone on to do amazing things too. Angelica is one such person.

Jen, who has a particular facility with sound bites, came up with another interesting comment elsewhere in the show. She said that from a PR point of view, what the trans community needs after Caitlyn is for a male celebrity to go public with the fact that he is dating a trans girl and thinks she’s a wonderful woman. It’s not like it doesn’t happen, but of course if the tabloids find out the guy always dumps the girl and tries to pretend he never had anything to do with her (not looking at anyone in particular, Danny Cipriani).

Talking of which, if there are any guys out there who don’t think that trans girls can be pretty, tune in and get an eyeful of Candis, because that girl is smoking! Respect, sister! Loved the lace dress too.

Talking of relationships, Jen Richards and Angelica Ross are two of the main driving forces behind Her Story, a TV series about trans women and love. The material is all shot, but they need money for post-production. Go here and help.

Posted in Gender, TV | 2 Comments

She Walks In Shadows #WITMonth

She Walks In ShadowsNow isn’t that lovely?

Yes, there are tentacles. And a woman. Also I gave the whole thing away with the title of this post. She Walks In Shadows, the anthology of Lovecraftian stories by women writers, is now available for pre-order from Innsmouth Free Press. If you didn’t back the crowdfunding campaign, now is the time to go and reserve your copy of the book.

There is a fine list of contributors which I am pleased to see is very international. There’s even one story originally written in Spanish by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas, and translated for publication by editor Silvia Moreno-Garcia. As this is Women In Translation Month, I’m pleased to have discovered another woman writer of weird fiction. A quick Google tells me that Nelly is Mexican, so I guess I won’t get to meet her in Barcelona, but I’ll certainly be looking out for her work from now on.

I had a really good idea for a story for this anthology, and had even managed to get it mostly written. Then I discovered that a small but vital piece of historical evidence that my story hinged on was incorrect, and that blew the whole thing out of the water. Still, I’m sure all of the stories that did make it into the book are better than anything I could have done. I’m looking forward to getting my backer’s copy.

While I’m on the subject of women and weird fiction, you should also check out Daughters of Frankenstein from Lethe Press. Not all of the stories in this book are by women, though most are. However, all of the stories are about lesbian mad scientists. Goodness only knows what they have been inventing.

Posted in Books, Squid | Leave a comment

Silly Season Approaches

Worldcon is now less than two weeks away, so all of fandom is busy limbering up ready to take to the Internet and explain how everything about the convention, and the Hugos, is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!!

As regular readers will know, Kevin and I are a key part of the secret cabal of Old White Men who conspire to oppress women, queer folk, people of color, young people, and, well, just about everyone really. We use our powers to ensure that the Hugos only ever go to old-fashioned, deeply conservative works, thereby assuring that they are totally out of touch with what the majority of fans are reading.

Of course we have been part of that conspiracy for a long time. This year, however, we have Puppies. And that means a whole new conspiracy. Now we are also a key part of a secret cabal of Commie Pinko Feminazi Faggots who conspire to oppress straight cis white men who live in their parents’ basements. We use our powers to ensure that the Hugos only ever go to politically correct nonsense, thereby assuring that they are totally out of touch with what the majority of fans are reading.

Both sides are busy crafting their spin so that they can respond immediately to the inevitable outrage. Or claim victory. Or both. I suspect that we will see the following.

– Regardless of the actual results of the Hugos, Little Teddy will claim that what happened was what he had planned all along, and that he has WON! Ha! That will show all of the people who laughed at him and didn’t acknowledge his genius.

– Someone will write a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger article for The Guardian explaining how a mere 5,950 votes in the final ballot proves that the Hugos have lost relevance and are being abandoned by fandom.

– Requires Spite will find some older women writers to bully.

Kevin, Mur Lafferty and I will be doing the text-based live reporting of the Hugo Award Ceremony as usual. (I will be up in the middle of the night in a hotel in Liverpool.) I expect we will be be accused of bias by both sides. In fact I think the Puppies may have pre-emptively accused us of bias somewhere along the way.

Of course we wouldn’t do these things unless we were getting stupidly well paid. The Old White Men cabal pays very well. You may recall that I have been able to buy a holiday home on the proceeds of my involvement with the Hugos.

However, the Commie Pinko Feminazi Faggots are fairly new to this game and haven’t really got their act together yet. I understand that they are run by John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow (a fact that was discovered by brilliant sleuthing on the part of some Puppy supporters who deduced it from the facts that Scalzi and Doctorow are a) leftists and b) friends). Being leftists, they don’t pay very well.

Of course Kevin and I are reasonable people. We know that start-up cabals don’t have a lot of money, and probably have venture capitalists breathing down their necks. On the other hand, fixing the Hugos is hard, especially when you are expected to fix them to produce two diametrically opposite results simultaneously. There’s only so much stupidity, blinkeredness and persecution complex on the part of fandom that you can rely upon. So we have decided to take a stand. We would like Mr. Scalzi and Mr. Doctorow to raise our wages, otherwise we may be unable to fix the Hugos as they want. A simple doubling of our current remuneration would suffice. I’m sure they can afford it.

Posted in Awards, Fandom | 3 Comments

Sense8 News

This hot off the presses. Well, off Twitter and email anyway.

A couple of hours ago an announcement went out on Twitter that Netflix has renewed Sense8 for a second series. I am very happy. Doubtless it will be a while before they can get it all filmed, but I shall wait patiently for the new episodes to turn up.

In addition to that, Netflix sent me email to alert me to the fact that a documentary called Sense8: Creating the World was now available to view. Naturally I went straight there.

The show lasts about 25 minutes and is primarily interviews with the cast members at various locations around the world. Much of it is shot on set during production. Lana and Andy do not speak to camera, but JMS does get in at one point.

A lot of the focus is on the technical challenges of filming in nine different cities around the world. There were no stand-in locations. Scenes in Mumbai were shot in Mumbai; scenes in Nairobi were shot in Nairobi and so on. That provided particular challenges for the crew. It also gave the show an opportunity to increase the diversity quotient of the show. Not all of the cast members were native to their character’s native cities (though several were). However, when the show was filming on location they hired local talent to play the supporting cast.

Andy and Lana were not afraid of taking on challenges either. The scenes at San Francisco Pride were shot live during San Francisco Pride. Tuppence Middleton got to DJ live in a Camden nightclub sandwiched between two live bands. The scenes at the Mexican wrestling match were shot live at an actual match. The only thing that defeated them was the Ganesha festival. Some shots of the actual parade were shot from roof cameras, but with over a million people on the streets it just wasn’t possible to shoot in amongst the parade, especially as child actors were involved.

The show also highlighted the way in which many of the “effects” were actually shot live. Many scenes require members of the cluster who are not physically present at a location to move in and out of shot, replacing the local cluster member, or acting alongside them. Most of that was done physically, with the camera changing focus just long enough to allow an actor to duck in or out of the shot. I’m guessing that made the whole thing much more natural for the actors, because they were acting together (contrast that with Sir Ian McKellen’s discomfort at having to act by himself against a green screen during the filming of The Hobbit). It probably also saved time and money on editing, which I guess is important when you are doing TV.

Finally a brief word on the process of creating a series for full on-demand release. Before the advent of things like Netflix TV shows tended to be shot and aired in parallel. The crew would still be working on later episodes while the first few were aired. You can’t do that with direct-to-Netflix. You have to have everything in the can before going live. But, as the video editors explained, that meant you could actually screen the whole thing as a 12-hour movie, then make final edits based on that experience. And they did just that.

My thanks to Lana and Andy for the great news, and for an interesting documentary. I’m assuming that the next thing that will happen is a DVD & Blu Ray release of Season One, and I’m hoping that will include more behind-the-scenes material.

Posted in Science Fiction, TV | 1 Comment

Meeting Cait

Last night I finally got to watch episode 1 of I Am Cait, the Caitlyn Jenner reality show. I figure I should probably say a few things.

First up, Jenner’s trans identity seems very genuine. All of the talk about having struggled with it for years, and family hoping that she could be “cured”, is very familiar to many other trans people. It also seems to me that Jenner is very genuine in her desire to help other trans people, using her celebrity to do so. How effective she can be is another matter.

On the one hand, Jenner is very famous. She has a platform that no other (out) trans person can match. Because of that she can reach segments of the population that would otherwise ignore trans issues. She may even gain their sympathy when others would not.

On the other hand, it was clear watching the show that it is being made at the worst possible time for the message it wants to convey. Obviously both Jenner and the network want to cash in on the story while it is still hot. But transition is a difficult time of life, both for trans people and for their families.

Jenner has done what she can physically by getting a lot of treatment in advance of the announcement. This is important because trans people do grow into themselves over the years. While it shouldn’t be necessary for trans people to look gender-normative, for a show like this it helps a lot that Jenner has been able to put a lot of effort into her appearance. For most people it takes time for the hormones to work their magic.

What you can’t do in advance is get your family used to the change. It is often the case that those who know you best, and who are most closely emotionally connected to you, find it hardest to adapt to your transition. It is particularly difficult for Jenner’s family because they know that they are in the public spotlight, and will be judged on how they behave on camera. In all probability they will get used to Caitlyn, will get the pronouns right, and will come to accept her for who she is. But it will take time, and they haven’t been given that time. Consequently the public are going to see some very uncomfortable family moments, and assume that transition is much worse for a family than it often is.

The other major problem with the series is that, no matter how committed Jenner is to doing it right, she probably can’t control how the shows are edited, and she certainly can’t control how they are reported. In episode two Jenner is seen meeting a number of high profile trans rights activists. One of them is Angelica Ross. Yesterday Ross tweeted this:

The media commentary that Ross is referring to is an LA Times review of the show. It is entirely true that Ross has done sex work to survive. She’s since built a career for herself and is now CEO of a non-profit organization, Trans Tech Social, which exists to help other trans people find work in IT. Calling Ross a “sex worker” is no more accurate than calling Roz Kaveney a “sex worker”. Roz, of course, is generally described as an author, a poet, a critic, and a political activist. She’s all of those things too. But Roz is white and has a degree from Oxford, while Angelica Ross is black. The media stereotype of black trans women is very hard to shake.

On balance I think Jenner will do good for the trans community. However, that doesn’t mean that she’ll be good for all of us, or be good all of the time. What she’s doing may not even be good for her. Working with the media is always a case of holding a snake by the tail. You never know when it is going to turn around and sink its poison fangs into you.

Posted in Gender, TV | 2 Comments

Today On Ujima – Books, Social Media & Auschwitz

My first guest on today’s show was Amy Morse. Like me Amy is part of the organizing committee for this year’s Bristol Festival of Literature. She was on the show to talk about the crowdfunding effort that we have launched to help raise the money necessary for venue hire, printing publicity materials and other incidental costs of putting on the Festival. You can find that campaign (and a video of Amy) at the Fundsurfer website.

Along the way I talked about the SF&F events that we’ll be having. The BristolCon Fringe event will feature new novels from Jo Hall and Jonathan L Howard. And I’ll be chairing a comics event featuring Mike Carey, Paul Cornell and Cavan Scott.

Amy stayed with me for the second half hour to talk about social media and blogging. Amy is running some courses in Bristol next month, and I figured this was a good opportunity to talk about life online. A great deals of nonsense gets talked in the mainstream media about what goes on online, and while what happens to people like Briannu Wu is indeed terrible, the wailing and gnashing of teeth that follows any (usually thoroughly justified) denunciation of white feminism’s media darlings is quite ridiculous. People need to know how to stay safe online, and much of it revolved around “don’t be an idiot”.

Anyway, you can listen to the first hour of the show here.

Interesting though my conversation with Amy was, I hope she will forgive me for saying that the second hour was spectacular. My guest on the studio was Christina Zaba, a local journalist of Polish extraction. Christina has been heavily involved in Bristol’s Holocaust Memorial Day. As a result of this she has visited Auschwitz. This has led her to discover some family history, and also the stories of two remarkable men. Kazimierz Piechowski was a young man during the war. He escaped from Auschwitz disguised as an SS officer and is still alive (he’s 95). Witold Pilecki was an officer in the Polish resistance who volunteered to get himself arrested so that he could help organize the prisoners and perhaps stage a revolt. He too later escaped from the camp, but was executed by the Russians after the war.

Both Piechowski and Pilecki were also members of the Polish Boy Scouts. The Nazis regarded the Scouts as a paramilitary organization and singled them out for special persecution, which of course led them to becoming a key part of the Resistance. Christina also talked about the Girl Guides who helped smuggle messages, food and tools into the camps.

Christina is writing a book about the Polish Resistance and the part they played in the history of Auschwitz. I’ve already told her that I want her back on the show when it comes out. Gut-wrenching though it can be at times, we do need to keep talking about this history. Auschwitz was both a slave camp run by Nazi businessmen and a giant factory dedicated to murder on an industrial scale. This sort of thing should not be allowed to happen again.

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

Being on air also allowed me to give a mention to various Jamaica-related stories. Tomorrow (August 6th) is Jamaican Independence Day. The past week has seen Jamaica’s first ever Pride. And of course Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, a novel based on an attempted assassination of Bob Marley, has found its way onto this year’s Booker Prize long list.

Today’s playlist was as follows:

  • I Want Your Love – Chic
  • Thriller – Michael Jackson
  • Computer Blue – Prince
  • Are Friends Electric – Tubeway Army
  • The War Song – Culture Club
  • Redemption Song – Bob Marley
  • No Borders – Jama
Posted in History, Internet, Readings | 1 Comment