The Bowie & Prince Panel

There’s not a lot to report from this panel as we didn’t really have a reading list. However, there are a few things I want to mention.

Firstly I opened up with Amanda Palmer and Jherek Bischoff, because what better way to start an SF&F convention panel on Bowie than with Neil Gaiman performing the countdown from “Space Oddity”. I’m very fond of the Strung Out On Heaven album, but it wasn’t until I was listening to a music documentary this morning that I realized that on “Space Oddity” Jherek had done with strings what Bowie had originally done with a Mellotron. On the 1969 recording it had been played by a young session musician called Rick Wakeman. (Wakeman also played piano on a number of other huge pop hits, including Bowie’s “Life on Mars” and Cat Stevens’ “Morning has broken”.)

As I was the only member of the panel who had grown up in the UK, I probably had more of a connection to Bowie than most, but Cat surprised me by revealing that her step-mother was a huge Bowie fan.

For Cat and Suzanne much of their connection to Bowie came through fantasy rather than science fiction. Labyrinth seems to have been a very important film for lots of people. I can quite understand why.

Cat, having grown up in the US, was invaluable when it came to discussion of Prince. The UK barely bats an eyelid at the sort of thing the Purple One got up to. He didn’t even get banned from Radio 1, though he did have to make a small change to the lyrics of “Sexy Mother Fucker”. The USA, on the other hand, went into full scale moral panic over “Darling Nikki”.

Bowie did so many SF concept albums that we had no trouble finding things to talk about. Cat said that parts of Blackstar sounded like a story she might have written. Hopefully one day she will be able to do it. Prince only did one SF concept album: Art Official Age, which is a “sleeper awakes” story (and features Lianne La Havas as the doctor). After the panel, Iia Simes reminded me (and I had indeed forgotten) that Prince wrote the music for Tim Burton’s 1989 movie, Batman.

As both Cat and I noted, Prince may not have written much SF, but everyone agreed that he must be an alien.

I ended the panel by going a little off topic because there is a recording artist who has managed to combine the legacies of Prince and Bowie. Prince played on some of her early work, and that work involved the creation of a character every bit as vivid as Ziggy Stardust. Take a bow, Janelle Monáe Robinson, a.k.a. Cyndi Mayweather.

Finally, for those of you who have no idea what I meant when I said that Cat and I re-created the famous Bowie/Ronson hug from “Starman”, here are Ziggy and the Spiders in that famous Top of the Pops performance. Everyone sing along now.

Posted in Conventions, Music | Leave a comment

Queer Spirit Festival

One of the things I learned about yesterday was the Queer Spirit Festival, “a festival of queer spirituality” which will take place in August. The festival site is not far from where I live, but it is a five-day event and you can only buy a five-day ticket at £130 so I doubt that I’ll be popping over to take a look. I did promise to give it a plug, though. Maybe some of you will find it of interest.

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Finncon 2016 Masquerade

These are the official photos from the Finncon 2016 Masquerade. The first four pictures are from the juniors competition. I’m missing one of the kids as he missed the photoshoot, and some of the names of the adults and their characters. Hopefully someone can help me out.

My thanks again to the Guests of Honour for being wonderful judges, and especially to Jasper Fforde for coming up with silly prizes to give people, and to Cat Valente for her encyclopedic knowledge of video games. Thanks also to all of the sponsors who donated prizes.

Finncon 2016 Masquerade
Finncon 2016 MasqueradeJul 2, 2016Photos: 15
Posted in Conventions, Costuming, Finland | Leave a comment

At Bristol Pride

Scarlet Fever - photo by Caz Milford
Bristol Pride took place today. As usual, I was on hand to help the good people from ShoutOut Radio with their day-long coverage of the event. I wasn’t actually on air much as Ujima was not co-broadcasting the event this year. However, I did spend some time out and about interviewing people and some of the results of that may appear in this Thursday’s ShoutOut show. The above photo (by Caz Milford) shows me interviewing drag Queen, Scarlet Fever. Scarlet’s costume included a full peacock tail made from actual peacock feathers. Scarlet made the entire outfit himself (and yes I did ask about pronouns).

This year Pride was in a new home at the harbourside. The main stage was in the amphitheater in front of the Lloyds Bank building while most of the stalls were in Millennium Square. We had more room than in Castle Park, and it was much drier underfoot. I’m glad it didn’t get too sunny as the black bricks that pave most of the area could have got very hot, but at least we weren’t wallowing in mud. Daryn Carter was interviewed on the show and he said we had 9000 people at the event. It looked like a very diverse crowd. I was particularly pleased to see so many young people wearing trans flags and badges. That bodes well for Trans Pride in September.

One thing in particular that I want to highlight is the online mapping project that my colleagues at OutStories were busy doing this year. That is now launched and you can find the map here. There’s not a lot of trans stuff on it at present, which is in large part down to me not having had time to do it, but there are some 70+ other items mentioned and we’ll be adding to that as time goes on.

Of course the main focus of our day was the music. We get a lot of great acts at Pride. Most of them a singers who work off a backing track. While many of them are very good singers (hello Rozalla), I yearn for people playing actual instruments. Today we had a couple of great bands.

Joanne Joanne - photo by Thomas Page

Here I am with Joanne Joanne (photo by Thomas Page). They are an all-girl Duran Duran tribute act. They do a fine job, especially when you consider that the original material is heavily produced and multi-layered which is hard to reproduce on stage. The photo shows me getting a hug from lead singer, Val Gwyther, which is about as close as I will ever get to getting a hug from Simon Le Bon.

My favorite act of the day, however (bearing in mind that I was unable to stay to hear Little Boots and Lisa Stansfield) was this lot, a local rock band called I Destroy.


On the left is Becky (bass guitar); on the right in the shades is Bec (lead guitar & vocals), and Jenn (drums). I was impressed with how tight they were, and it was great to have a proper rock band on stage along with all of the pop material. They work hard too. They are playing a gig in Stokes Croft tonight and are currently touring including gigs in Manchester and London. I’m hoping I can get them on my Ujima show.

Here’s one of the songs they played today.

Posted in Gender, Radio | Leave a comment

Freedom Youth Book Launch

FreeToBeMeLast night I attended a book launch in Bristol. It was nothing to do with science fiction, but had a close connection with Wizard’s Tower nonetheless.

The book is called Free to be Me and is a history of the first 21 years of Freedom Youth, Bristol’s LGBT Youth club. Freedom Youth was founded back in 1995. One of the founders was Berkeley Wilde, with whom I now do a lot of trans awareness training via his company, The Diversity Trust. The club has kept going ever since through various changes of local government support, and I have had the pleasure of speaking at their meetings on several occasions.

The book is the brainchild of Rosa Fanti, one of the club;s current members, and has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. OutStories Bristol and our friends at Bristol Records Office have been helping Rosa with her research.

So where is the Wizard’s Tower connection? Well to start with Rosa’s mum is a big fan. Having told her of my trip to Finncon, I sent her off with a list of Finnish authors to read. Also the book is published by Tangent Books run by Richard Jones who kindly stocks some of my physical books in his store. And because it is a Tangent book the layout is done by Joe Burt who also does my layouts.

If you are interested in getting the book, it is on sale via the Tangent store. I expect it will also be on sale at Bristol Pride tomorrow.

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Tom of Finland Exhibition

One thing I definitely wanted to see while I was in Finland was the Tom of Finland exhibition at the Taide Halli (Art Hall) in Helsinki. They currently have a huge selection of Tom’s art on display, along with a large number of reference collages that he made from magazines that he scoured for pictures of good-looking young men.

By going there I discovered two things I had not known before about Touko Laaksonen. First up, he was a war hero, having been given a medal for his part in the defense of Helsinki against Russian bombing raids in WWII. Second, he was a classically trained pianist and a very good jazz musician.

The thing that surprised me most, however, was the My Little Tom of Finland pony they had in the gift shop. It is by Mari Kasurinen, who has done pony versions of many other well known people, including Darth Vader, Skeletor and Wonder Woman. You can see the whole collection here. Her My Little Cthulhu is another masterpiece.

I can’t do a post like this without including some of Tom’s art. This is the piece that both Otto and I liked best from the exhibition. Of course to be truly topical the globe needs to be rotated a bit.

The gift shop, and many stores around Helsinki, also had a selection of Tom-themed gifts. There was coffee, and also a wide range of home furnishings from Finlayson. If you really want Tom of Finland art on your sheets and pillowcases you can do so.

Posted in Art, Finland | 1 Comment

Trans Panel Reading List

Suzanne may have some additions to this at some point. These are the books that I can remember us mentioning:

  • Lizard Radio — Pat Schmatz
  • Who Killed Sherlock Holmes — Paul Cornell
  • Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper — David Barnett
  • The Rhapsody of Blood series — Roz Kaveney
  • Luna: New Moon — Ian McDonald
  • Every Heart a Doorway — Seannan McGuire
  • Karen Memory — Elizabeth Bear
  • Eon & Eona — Alison Goodman
  • “Coral Bones” in Monstrous Little Voices — Foz Meadows

There was a question about intersex characters in response to which we mentioned the following:

  • Ilario — Mary Gentle — great on intersex, but essentially contrasts “valid” intersex identities with “invalid” trans identities
  • Pantomime and Shadowplay — Laura Lam — shock reveal and use of circus freak symbolism
  • 2312 — Kim Stanley Robinson — most characters are intersex but this is not explored very deeply

I film/TV we mentioned Sense8, which is on Netflix, and Julie Taymor’s version of The Tempest. I completely mangled the cast on that. It has Helen Mirren as Prospera; Russell Brand is in it, but he plays Trinculo.

You can find Suzanne’s books here, and my short story here. I also have an academic paper on the history of trans themes in SF here. Most of the books mentioned in that didn’t get mentioned in the Finncon panel and we were looking mainly at new stuff.

One fairly new story we didn’t mention is “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan, which you can find in Edge of Infinity (Jonathan Strahan, ed.). Pat is in the process of writing a novel based on that story.

The books I mentioned that I have seen recommended but have not read are:

  • The Fifth Season — NK Jemisin
  • Full Fathom Five — Max Gladstone
  • Wake of Vultures — Lila Bowen

If you have any other recently-published recommendations I would love to hear them as I have an essay to write for this.


1. On the plane on the way home I finished reading An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows. I can now add that to the list of recommended books. You don’t find out that one of the supporting characters is trans until the second half of the book, but the way the reveal is done is very well handled. The book is only the first one in a series, but I have a lot of confidence in Foz continuing to gets things right.

2. Vaarna’s comment below has reminded me of two things I should have linked to. First there is Vee’s article in The Gay YA, which is mainly about things to avoid when writing trans characters. Also there’s one by me in Strange Horizons on how to write better trans characters.

3. I also forgot links for my two friends from Bath. Fox Benwell’s author page (still under the old name until the publishers do new editions) is here. You can also find him on Twitter. And the website for Ray Gunn & Starburst, scripted by ‘Olly Rose, is here.

Posted in Books, Conventions, Finland, Gender | 2 Comments

Fairy Tales Panel Reading List

Here as promised is my reading list from the “Sex ‘n’ Drugs ‘n’ Puss in Boots” panel. Cat and Anne may want to add to it as some point, and feel free to add your own recommendations in comments.

First up, here is the poem by Charles Perrault that I read to open the panel. It is from his popularization of Little Red Riding Hood.

Little girls, this seems to say,
Never stop upon your way,
Never trust a stranger-friend;
No one knows how it will end.
As you’re pretty so be wise;
Wolves may lurk in every guise.
Handsome they may be, and kind,
Gay, and charming — nevermind!
Now, as then, ‘tis simple truth
— Sweetest tongue has sharpest tooth!

And now, here are some books and stories:

  • Catherynne M Valente — Six Gun Snow White, Deathless, Speak Easy
  • Sarah Pinborough — Poison, Charm, Beauty
  • Robin McKinley — Beauty, Donkeyskin
  • Salla Simukka — As Red As Blood, As White As Snow, As Black As Ebony
  • Angela Carter — The Bloody Chamber, A Company of Wolves
  • Helen Oyeyemi — Mr. Fox
  • Malinda Lo –- Ash
  • Sheri Tepper –- Beauty
  • Genevieve Valentine –- The Girls at the Kingfisher Club
  • Neil Gaiman -– The Sleeper and the Spindle
  • Linda Medley -– Castle Waiting (graphic novel)
  • Joan Vinge –- The Snow Queen
  • Margo Lanagan -– Tender Morsels
  • Greg Frost –- Fitcher’s Brides
  • Kate Forsyth -– Bitter Greens
  • Tanith Lee –- White as Snow
  • Holly Black –- The Darkest Part of the Forest
  • Naomi Novik –- Uprooted
  • Ellen Kushner –- Thomas the Rhymer
  • Patrick Ness –- The Crane Wife
  • Karen Lord –- Redemption in Indigo
  • Anne Sexton — Transformations
  • Christine Heppermann –- Poisoned Apples
  • Bill Willingham — Fables (multi-volume graphic novel series)

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling have produced many anthologies of fairy tale based short stories, including the following:

  • Snow White, Blood Red
  • Black Thorn, White Rose
  • Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears
  • Black Swan, White Raven
  • Silver Birch, Blood Moon
  • Black Heart, Ivory Bones
  • A Wolf at the Door
  • The Green Man
  • My Swan Sister
  • The Faery Reel
  • The Coyote Road
  • Troll’s Eye View
  • The Beastly Bride

We also mentioned the TV series, Once Upon a Time, and Grimm.

Jasper Fforde has also done fairy tale re-tellings in his Nursery Crime series, though they are rather different projects that the subjects of the panel.

My thanks to Cat Valente and Anne Leinonen for being great panelists. Nina, I hope you feel better soon, and that I managed to do justice to your original idea.

Posted in Books, Conventions, Feminism, Finland | 2 Comments

Good Hair Day

Good Hair
Yesterday, after swimming in the lake, I was sat chatting with Raffaella Baccolini when Saija Kyllönen kindly noticed that my wet hair needed brushing out and started doing the job for me. Then she asked me if I would like it braided. It has been an ambition of mine since I was about 5 years old to have hair long enough to put in a big plait that reached down my back. At the rate it grows these days it will never get there, but it is now long enough to work with. Once of the other Finnish ladies who is an expert hair braider did the job for me. I’m afraid I can’t remember her name (I had drunk quite a bit of whisky by then). However, I have photographic evidence (thanks Saija!).

So yeah, one childhood ambition achieved. Yesterday was a good day.

Except for the mosquitoes.

Update: Saija tells me that the genius who did my plait is Ritva Mäkinen.

Posted in Finland, Personal | 4 Comments

Almost Perfect Day

Well that went very well.

Suzanne and I had a really big audience for the trans panel, and a lot of great feedback afterwards.

I did get to some programming. Jasper was his usual highly amusing self. The results of the global audience reaction study of the Hobbit movies were very interesting, but I should refrain from commenting on that until I have the actual data or a proper paper to refer you to.

Then it was time for the Bowie and Prince panel. We played a bit of music as we were waiting for people to file in. That turned into an impromptu audience sing-along for “Starman”. Cat and I recreated the Bowie/Ronson hug. I am so pleased we did that panel.

I got a bit of time to myself after that, quite a bit of which was spent interviewing Cat for the Ujima show and Salon Futura. Then it was time for Closing Ceremonies. Another Finncon successfully completed. Irma and I had dinner with Ian Watson and his Spanish wife, Cristina, who are still waiting for their luggage to arrive.

However, we ere not quite done; there was the small matter of the dead dog party. As is traditional, we headed out into the country to a cabin by a lake. There was sauna. As is also traditional, I provided some excellent malt whisky. (Bowmore Black Rock for anyone who is interested.) The weather was beautiful and the lake water not entirely freezing. Even I managed to swim quite a bit. This being Finland, there was a fair amount of casual nakedness.

The photo below was taken at around 11:30pm, by which time the lake water had cooled off quite a bit. As you can see, the Finns were still keen on swimming, and there was an impromptu water polo game going on using a Death Star beachball. (Cat proudly told me that she’d helped blow up the Death Star). Eeva-Liisa regaled us with stories of her youth as a keen high board diver. Everyone marveled at the weather.


The day wasn’t quite perfect. Kevin wasn’t here, Iceland lost the football, and I am covered in mosquito bites, but days like this remind me why I keep coming back to Finland.

Posted in Conventions, Finland | 1 Comment

Finncon in Progress

We are here, we are having a convention. That means things are very busy for me. Yesterday I had one hour off between 11:00am and 11:00pm. There was time for dinner during that, but it was a working dinner judging the masquerade. Today is going to be busy too. That’s my excuse for the lack of bloggage.

Here later there will be:

  • A reading list post from the Sex ‘n’ Drugs ‘n’ Puss in Boots panel
  • A reading list from the Trans Representation panel
  • Masquerade photos

There may be other stuff too. In other news: Cat Valente gets more awesome by the day, Jasper Fforde is wowing the Finns as I knew he would, and Anne Leinonen has deservedly acquired a group of angels devoted to her. I’ve managed to miss everything Eeva-Liisa Tenhunen is doing, mainly because it is in Finnish, but she’s absolutely deserving of the Fan GoH slot. And the guest scholar, Raffaella Baccolini, is very smart and lots of fun so I’m delighted to have got to meet her.

More tomorrow. I have panel prep to do.

Posted in Conventions | Leave a comment

Finland Update

Iisalmi Church Outside
My apologies for the lack of blogging over the past few days. That’s partly due to being on the road, partly due to lack of wifi access (I get free roaming in Finland on my phone, but that doesn’t include tethering), and partly due to my being so boggled by the goings on back home that I have no idea what to say. Here, in lieu of anything more intelligent, is a little bit of Finnish history.

Well, sort of history anyway. The basic facts are true, but I have embellished them somewhat. Also I have translated the mythic context from Finnish to Scandinavian. That’s partly because you folks will be far more familiar with Scandinavian folklore, and partly because the Finns don’t have an equivalent of frost giants. Irma tells me that, like the forest, snow is something that Finns are not afraid of. They see both things as something that keeps them safe from invaders rather than a threat.

Iisalmi Church Inside 1
Once upon a time the people of Iisalmi decided that they would like to have a church of their own. They had been Christian for many generations, but there had never been a church in their town, so they decided to build one. They built the church out of wood, but this proved to be a mistake because Thor was angry with them for deserting him. He threw a bolt of lightning at the church and it burned to the ground.

The people of Iisalmi determined not to be cowed by pagan gods. Swiftly they erected a new church. But they did so in such a hurry that the first time a frost giant stomped past that winter it fell down.

Iisalmi Church Inside 2
Still the people of Iisalmi refused to be beaten. They decided to build a church out of stone that no one could burn or knock down. Stone churches are expensive, so they collected a great of money and silver to pay for it. They put all of this wealth in a great wooden chest with seven locks. But Loki saw all of this treasure are determined to have it for himself. He sent thieves to steal it, giving them magic with which to open the seven locks and get away unseen.

With their money stolen, the people of Iisalmi had no choice but to build in wood once more. They were, of course, afraid that their church would be demolished again, so they got together to decide how to proceed. After much discussion the people decided to build a church so beautiful that no one, not even pagan gods, would dare to destroy it. That is what they did, and the church is still standing today.

Iisalmi Church Inside 3
I should note that the church has been renovated several times since it was built, but they have tried to stick to an 18th Century look for it.

I note also that the altarpiece was painted by a woman, Alexandra Såltin. Apparently her work was well known and she did paintings for several other churches in the area.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Finland, History | Leave a comment

The View From Finland

One of the benefits of being in a foreign country while British politics is going to hell in a handbasket is that you get a bit of perspective on the hideous mess.

Having been chatting with Aliette on Twitter over the weekend, I wasn’t in the least surprised to find that the Finns seem to think we are stark raving bonkers. I was also expecting hilarity at Boris’s view that the UK can somehow magically negotiate a better trade deal with Europe now that we have voted to leave the EU. I can assure you folks that Britain has no standing in Europe right now. The only negotiating stance we have is on our knees.

What I wasn’t expecting, but probably should have been, was newspaper stories about Finnish nationals in the UK being abused and attacked in the street. Finns are pretty quiet, unassuming folk, most of the time. It is hard to see how they’d upset people. But to a racist a foreigner is a foreigner. More importantly, Finns tend to be tall and fair-haired, and apparently that means that your average racist can’t tell the difference between a Finn and a Pole. I’m sure you can guess how that goes.

I expect to be spending the rest of my time here apologizing for the appalling behavior of my fellow Brits. I’m wondering if a fake Scottish accent would pass muster. Or American. I can do California.

Posted in Current Affairs | 4 Comments

Book Review – The Many Selves of Katherine North

The Many Selves of Katherine North - Emma Geen
One of the things I am hoping to do while I am in Finland is catch up on some reading and maybe write a review or two. I have been reading books (albeit not quickly enough), but writing reviews is something I just haven’t had time for. I am forcing myself into action on behalf of The Many Selves of Katherine North. It is a great debut science fiction novel by a woman. OK, it is also set in Bristol and Emma Geen is a friend, but I have been looking forward to this one for a while and I have not been disappointed. The main reason it is getting a review, however, is because it is not being marketing at us. Bloomsbury is putting it out as literary fiction. Of course that means that they think it is really well written, which is it. But it is mostly definitely SF.

You can find my review here.

The picture above, by the way, is from Emma’s Twitter feed, and I can see exactly why she photographed the book that way.

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Train to Helsinki

One of the things that was different on this trip to Helsinki is that the train from the airport is now in service. As a service to Worldcon members, and a gift to Kevin, here is a brief report.

Helsinki airport has two terminals linked by an underground tunnel. Just like the Heathrow Express, their train leaves from a station located in the tunnel. All trains go to Helsinki, but as the route is a loop you may need to get a train going the right way if you want the convention center stop.

Helsinki has an Oyster-style travel card. Travel from the airport to Helsinki is a 2-Zone journey. Travel between Helsinki central and the convention center is single-zone. You don’t have to touch out, which is why you have to select the journey type. Fares vary a bit dependent on how you buy the ticket, and anyway may be different next year, but they seem reasonable (unless you are paying in GBP which may be worthless by next year).


The trains are comfortable, quiet and roomy. There is plenty of space for luggage. There are power points at the seats if you need them (EU plugs, obviously).


I didn’t time the trip properly, but it was about half an hour. The train does make several stops along the way. It appears to be usable as a commuter service as well as for the airport. Here it is stood in Helsinki station.


The final stop before Helsinki is Pasila, where the convention center is. You can’t miss the place: it is huge and the train stops right next to it. They are currently hosting a Jehovah’s Witness convention.


All-gender toilet. Could do with better signage but otherwise pretty good.

Posted in Conventions, Finland, Travel | 3 Comments

Brave New World

Image edit by Jeremiah Tolbert

Mixing my SF metaphors here, but boy is this one right royal clusterfuck.

Not that I am surprised. I called it for Leave when the referendum was announced because I know that Rupert Murdoch rarely loses an election in this country. I’ve been hoping that people would come to their senses, but given the way the campaigns were conducted there was never much chance of that.

Personally I should be OK for a while. The trans awareness training that I do will dry up as people realize that they don’t have to care any more. However, the majority of my income comes from the USA and therefore I’m getting a substantial pay rise.

I also have some cash from when my mum died, and if the property market collapses, which it may well do, I may be able to afford a home of my own. But that’s longer term, what little pension money I have is disappearing rapidly, and my personal situation could become very precarious before too long. I don’t see much point in planning for a future that I may not have.

However, I am trying not to worry too much, because there are lots of other people I’m worried about.

I’m worried about all of the people who will lose their jobs as foreign investors pull out, the value of the pound plummets and trade barriers start going up against whatever remains of the UK.

I’m worried for the people in Northern Ireland who face a return to sectarian violence because of economic collapse and disagreement over union with the south.

I’m worried for all of the EU nationals living here who face losing their jobs, their college courses, and perhaps even their families because marriage to a citizen no longer confers the right of residency here.

I’m worried for the LGBT+ people who are less well off than me and who face the repeal of equalities legislation.

And most of all I am worried for people of color living in the UK (many of whom were born here), because the economic situation is only going to get worse, and the angry people who voted Leave will be looking to someone to blame. You can be sure that Murdoch will be busy deflecting their attention towards people least able to defend themselves.

Posted in Current Affairs, Personal | 5 Comments

Heads Up North America – Jen Williams Incoming

The Copper Promise - Jen Williams
I have just had email from Angry Robot which, among other things, mentioned that they will be publishing a North American edition of Jen Williams’ The Copper Promise (book #1 in the Copper Cat series). I’ve not had the pleasure of reading these yet, but Jo Hall raves about them at every available opportunity. You can read her review of The Copper Promise here. All three books have been published in the UK, so if you get hooked you shouldn’t have to wait long for the other two. Why not give them a try?

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Juliet’s New Venture

I, and Wizard’s Tower, are pleased to note that Juliet E. McKenna will be teaching a creative writing course in Witney, Oxfordshire, this coming autumn. Obviously it is only of interest to people who can get to evening classes in that area, but I know it will be a great course and if it goes well perhaps Juliet will get more teaching gigs. Regardless, it will help her keep writing, which I think is very important.

Juliet writes about the venture here, and further details of the course are available from its website (which I may have had some involvement in creating).

Posted in Wizard's Tower, Writing | Comments Off on Juliet’s New Venture

The Europe Thing

Well, tomorrow (Thursday) we all get to vote. Then what?

Today The Guardian ran an article by a German music teacher who has made their home here for 18 years (look, singular they pronoun because the gender of the author isn’t specified). They worry if they will have to go back to Germany if the UK leaves the EU, and they worry that they might not want to stay anyway, because the atmosphere here has become so poisonous towards “foreigners”.

I’m afraid that my initial reaction to that article was to think that I have never felt welcome here. Sure I am a UK citizen, but every week something like this turns up in the newspapers reminding me that people like me are not popular with a large part of the UK public. I have plenty of friends here, but I am always worried that one day I’ll find a mob wanting to drive me out of my home, or that something like what happened with US immigration will happen to me here. In theory I have rights; in practice, who knows?

What rights I do have are mostly a result of rulings of the European courts. The UK and Irish governments both held out for as long as they could against allowing trans people legal gender recognition. The Leave people rail constantly against how the EU has “control” over British law, and how they want to be able to set their own laws free of European interference. What will that mean for me, and people like me, if Leave wins?

It is impossible to say for sure, but one of the leaders of the Leave campaign is Michael Gove, who happens to be the current boss of the Ministry of Justice. On his watch two trans women in prison have committed suicide and another, quite recently, was saved from a suicide attempt by prison staff. All three had been sent to male-only prisons. You will, I hope, forgive me for not having a lot of confidence in the future of my civil rights should Mr. Gove and his friends get to run the country.

Most people, of course, do not have my specific concerns. They are worried about the economy, about their standard of living. So much misinformation has been spread during the campaign that it is impossible to have a sensible discussion about the UK’s prospects as an independent country. Besides, economic forecasting is my job, I know how dodgy it can be. But one thing does seem clear to me: the Leave campaign is all about walls and ditches. It is an attitude of “I’m all right, Jack, and I will fight to protect what is mine.”

I can understand that people are worried, and want to hang on to what they have. I can also see that people have been very deliberately frightened by scare stories in the media. Personally, however, I have never been a fan of isolationism. I have, after all, lived in Australia and the USA as well as the UK. I have also spent a reasonable amount of time in others countries such as Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Croatia, Sweden, Denmark and France. I have briefly visited South Africa, India and Mexico, and I’ll be adding Spain to the list later this year. I have met lovely people wherever I have traveled.

The upshot of all this is that I have always believed that people of different countries, different cultures and different ethnic backgrounds can and should get along. Whatever problems we face on this small, watery rock adrift in the vastness of space, we are far better off facing them together than letting everything go to Hell and fighting over the scraps that remain.

The EU is far from perfect. Goddess knows I have uttered enough sweary words about their VAT laws over the past couple of years. But I also know that the VAT problem could have been much less serious had British officials been prepared to support and fight for micro businesses instead of taking every excuse to spread anti-EU sentiment.

We can, and should, do better than this. I’m not quite old enough to have lived through WWII, but my parents did, and a grew up with a strong impression of how awful that was. I did grow up under the shadow of Mutually Assured Destruction, and never did a political philosophy have a more appropriate acronym. I remember the sense of relief that everyone felt when the Berlin Wall came down, and I can’t quite believe how we have let all that hope and good will go to waste.

My choice tomorrow is pretty clear. I can vote to stay in a political institution that has promised to protect my civil rights, or I can vote for people who are threatening to take them away. That, as they say, is a no-brainer. That aside, it seems to me that the choice tomorrow is between sticking together in the hope that we can build a better world, or building a bunker in which we hope to hide from a world that is too terrifying to be part of. Again, I know which choice I would make.

When all else has been loosed on the world, Pandora, there is always hope. She will stay with you. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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For Fans of Frankenstein

A while back S.J. Chambers wrote a series of essays about Mary Shelley and Frankenstein, based on her travels through Europe in search of Shelley’s old haunts. The raw essays are available on Weird Fiction Review but, in honor of the 200th anniversary of that famous night in the Villa Diodati, Chambers is publishing a limited edition annotated and illustrated chapbook of the essays. More information about the book, and buy links, are available here.

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