Reasons to be Cheerful

Life has been pretty awful for trans people in the UK for the past few years. Most of the mainstream media outlets have devoted themselves to campaigning against trans rights for a few years now, and more recently we have acquired a government that seemed keen to support that campaign. However, over the past week or so we have seen a heartwarming level of support from ordinary British people.

The Trades Union Congress passed a motion in favour of trans rights, and explicitly condemning one of the more ridiculous astroturf organisations set up to campaign against us (an “LGB Alliance” that seems to be actively homophobic).

A group of over 100 major businesses and organisations also came out in favour of trans rights. The signatories included the Army, the Navy, the Welsh Government, and multinational companies such as Disney, Microsoft, BP and Sky.

For the first time ever, the British Medical Association explicitly came out in favour of trans rights.

And best of all, the Employment Tribunal has ruled that non-binary people are protected under the Equality Act. This is a huge deal because it provides legal precedent for an issue that was previously unclear in law.

All of which may explain why the latest piece of malicious sniping in the Sunday Times did not include any mention of rollback of trans rights, as was the case when they previously leaked what Liz Truss was due to say in Parliament. Indeed, the proposals now seem to be for a small improvement in trans rights, albeit somewhat less than Theresa May had promised.

Of course the government can still do with a bit of reminding about the overwhelming groundswell of public support for trans rights. There’s a new petition asking for a proper reform, including recognition of non-binary identities. It has over 75,000 signatures already, and when it hits 100,000 it has to be debated in Parliament, which forces Bozo and Truss to actually pay attention. If you are a UK citizen, please consider signing it. (And if you are not, please promote it to your UK friends.)

As the Distant Bells Toll – Pre-Orders Open

Those of you who watched the Translation and/or Eastern Europe panels at FutureCon yesterday will know that the latest book from Wizard’s Tower, a fantasy collection by the great Croatian writer, Aleksandar Žiljak, is due any day now. Pre-orders were live on B&N and Kobo yesterday, but it always takes longer on Amazon. I’m now pleased to report that we are live everywhere. You can find the links to the stores here.

Please note that this is not quite the final cover. Ben Baldwin and Aleksandar are still discussing a few fine details. But in the meantime you can enjoy some of the fine internal art. Aleksandar has provided illustrations for each story, and this one for his biography.

Glasgow Gets Fantastic

Nope, this is nothing to do with the Worldcon bid. This week saw the launch of Glasgow University’s Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic. There’s a really great group of academics there, and GIFCon is still an event I very much want to go to. But now the University has now acknowledged their presence by setting up a centre of excellence. It is great to see such interest in fantasy literature on this side of the Atlantic.

The Centre had an official launch event today. It included a wonderful keynote address by Ellen Kushner, and a great panel featuring Terri Windling, Brian Atterbery, and Rob Maslen, the academic who first founded an M.Litt. course in Fantasy at Glasgow. It was streamed live to YouTube, so you should be able to watch it below.

The Trials of Koli

It is Happy Book Birthday today for the second volume in Mike Carey’s Rampart Triology. The Trials of Koli describes how Koli and his friends travel down from Yorkshire towards London. We learn a lot more about the world that Koli and his friends inhabit, but this is also the volume in which Koli, Cup, Ursala and Monono have to come together as a team. This excellent review describes them as a “found family”.

One of the issues that they face while on the road is that Cup is starting to go through male puberty. It is coming to her a bit late because she has been quite malnourished, but now it is an urgent issue. This is where I probably had most input to the story, talking to Mike about the puberty process and what treatments might be available via Ursala’s box of tricks. Credit should also go to my friend Ben Vincent whose book on Trandgender Health is an excellent and very accessible guide to the subject. Ben explains things far more authoritatively than I can, and probably more clearly too.

Of course there’s a lot more in the book as well, and there are a lot more surprises to come in the third volume which will be out early next year. I do hope you enjoy the whole series. And once again my huge thanks to Mike for treating trans issues with such generosity, acceptance and support.

The Future Happens This Week

Yes folks, FutureCon is upon us. It starts on Thursday and continues on a leisurely schedule through to Sunday. There not a lot of panels, but they are all very interesting. And they are all free to watch. You can find the full list on YouTube.

From my point of view, all of the most exciting stuff happens on Thursday. I have my panel at 16:00 (UK time), and the evening panel features Aleksandar Žiljak whose book, As the Distant Bells Toll, is due out from Wizard’s Tower next month.

Don’t forget to sign up for the Discord channel. The link to do is is on the convention’s home page, near the bottom.

Coronavirus – Day #178

It looks like we are definitely into a second peak here in the UK. Today’s count of new cases was over 3500 and as of Monday social gatherings will be limited to 6 people. Of course this doesn’t apply to workplaces or education, because the government thinks that would be bad for the economy, so a lot of the things responsible for the surge in infections will carry on regardless.

I’m not hugely worried at the moment. We’ve learned a lot about biosecurity since the last outbreak, and currently the sharp increase in cases don’t seem to be leading to a corresponding increase in deaths. Things may be very different when winter hits. And of course everything will be much worse in January when Brexit bites and we start to run out of food and medicine.

Tomorrow – Outing the Past

Tomorrow the lovely folks behind LGBT History Month will be holding a virtual symposium on, you guessed it, LGBT History. This one will be all about history and creative production. My good friend Dan Vo is hosting a session at 13:00, and I will be one of his guests. There might be Romans, and mosaics, and Greek theatre.

The event is free, and you can find full details here.

Coronavirus – Day #175

Hmm, four days with no posts. Partly there’s not been a lot to talk about, but also I have been waiting to see if the rise in COVID-19 cases in the UK was real or a blip. Sadly it appears to be real. In the past three days we have had over 8000 new cases. Hopefully people will be sensible and we can nip this in the bud, because for sure the government won’t be sensible about it. All they care about is how to spin it so that they can claim it is not their fault.

I can report that the car is now running fine again. And I am now the proud owner of one of those jump start battery pack things. For someone with as little mechanical skill as me, this is a major achievement.

Taking of the government, today they announced in Parliament that they would be reneging on the Withdrawl Agreement that they signed with the EU. This does not surpise me. They seem to take the view that making deals is for fools and suckers, and that they can get away with anything if they want to. If Johnny Foreigner doesn’t like it, well he’ll soon find out that getting on the wrong side of the British Empire will do him no good. What they will do when they find out that Britain no longer has an Empire is a mystery. And how they expect to sign trade deals with other countries when they make it clear that they can’t be trusted to keep their word would be an even bigger mystery, except that they have clearly signaled that they have no intention of signing any trade deals. If they did, they would not have put Tony Abbott in charge of negotiating them.

Coronavirus – Day #170

Today I had an adventure. For a couple of medical reasons I needed to travel into Bristol, so I went on a train for the first time in 6 months.

Leaving Trowbridge at around 10:00, my two-car train was pretty much empty. However, coming back around 15:00 a three-car train was much busier. That’s in part due to schools and colleges being back in business. People wore masks on the train because it is a legal requirement. They don’t seem to wear masks anywhere much else.

I’d like to be able to report that Bristol is still there, but it was enveloped in cloud for much of my visit and I didn’t feel like getting my fur wet by exploring.

Coronavirus – Day #168

Today’s excitement was that the car wouldn’t start. That’s no huge surprise. The battery loses charge at a ridiculous rate and if I can’t take it for long runs regularly this will happen. Every so often I need to spend time sorting it out.

However, today I needed to get some stuff from town, so I walked. That gave me a good view of how the town is adapting the pandemic life.

There were quite a lot of people about. Hardly anyone wore a mask outside, which wasn’t hugely worrying as most people kept their distance. Both of the main shopping malls had signs up saying that masks were obligatory, but a lot of people ignored this. Most of the culprits among shoppers were young people. However, hardly any shop staff were wearing masks, so how they expect the public to comply is a mystery.

Out in the world, the number of new virus cases continues to rise. The 7-day rolling average is now over 1300. In contrast, the number of deaths continues to fall. It is very odd. The daily death count has been below 50 since late June, but the number of new cases per day has more than doubled since the start of July, rising steadily all the time. There are a whole heap of theories as to why this might be the case, including a change in the age profile of people testing positive, improvements in how the NHS deals with patients, people being healthier in the summer, and even the 45 theory — too many tests.

The latter needs a bit of explanation. The UK has been very slow in making testing available, but the number of people getting tested has increased steadily, and the biggest rises have come from tests conducted outside of hospital. One of the ways that COVID-19 spreads so quickly is that many people who are infected are asymptotic and don’t realise that they are carriers. Initially almost all of the people who tested positive were in hopspital and already sick. Now most of the people testing positive are outside of hospital and may be quite healthy, or even asymptotic.

Who knows, really? We are still guessing a lot. There’s a whole lot more we need to learn about this virus.

New Salon Futura

The August issue of Salon Futura went live yesterday. Here’s what is reviewed in the issue:

  • Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott
  • Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
  • Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
  • The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
  • Selkie Summer by Ken MacLeod
  • Supergirl: Season 5

In addition there are reports on Worldcon and NASFiC. I have chosen to concentrate on the virtual aspects of the conventions because that seems important.

The Smithsonian Discovers Kush

Every so often White Media discovers ancient Black civilisations. (Don’t worry, Black folks, they will forget you again soon.) Today it is the turn of The Smithsonian Magazine, which has allowed a Sudanese-American journalist to tell the story of the African kingdoms to the south of Egypt. The tale includes Taharqa and Amanirenas, whom I have probably talked quite a bit about here already. It also includes an interesting piece of queer history.

In the New Testament the Acts of the Apostles includes a story about how St. Philip met a foreign dignatory on the road south of Jerusalem. The man was a treasury official from the court of the Kandake of Meroë, probably Queen Amantitere given the dates. This fellow, named as Simeon Bachos by the 2nd Century writer, St. Irenaeus, had an interest in Jewish religion, and had been to Jerusalem to learn more. He had obtained a copy of the Book of Isaiah which he was reading on his way home. He asked Philip for help interpreting the words of the prophet, and by the time the Apostle had finished Simeon was eager to convert to Christianity.

One obvious point here is that as a foreigner it seems unlikely that Simeon would have been welcome to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jewish elders of the time were a stuffy lot. The New Testament also describes him as a eunuch, which would also have counted against him. Philip may have been reminded of the time, reported in Matthew 19:12, when Jesus spoke of how eunuchs were welcome in the Kingdom of Heaven.

But what exactly does “eunuch” mean in this context. Jesus describes three types. There are those who are made eunuchs by others. Simeon might have been an ex-slave who won his freedom thanks to his skill at accountancy. There are those who make themselves eunuchs for religious purposes, such as the Roman transfeminine priestesses of Cybele, but this seems an unlikely explanation given our man’s interest in Judaic religion. Finally there are those who were deemed “natural eunuchs”; that is, men who have no desire to have sex with women. This has lead some people to claim our African accountant as the first gay Christian.

Whatever the explanation, as a eunuch Simeon would have been regarded as neither male nor female by the cultural traditions of his time. Even if he didn’t identify as queer in some way himself, he would have been seen as such by others.

To the best of my knowledge, the people of Meroë were still following Egyptian religion at the time. It would be interesting to know what the Kandake thought of Simeon’s conversion. But there has been a thriving Christian church in Ethiopia since at least 333 CE, so presumably our man made some converts among his people.

There is a painting of the baptism in the Amgueddfa Cymru, the National Museum of Wales. I believe that it is part of the LGBT history tour that Dan Vo put together for the Museum. I know Dan and I talked about it as a possible inclusion, but I missed my Guide training session thanks to COVID.

Coronavirus – Day #164

I finally managed to get a physiotherapy appointment yesterday (albeit remote) and have some good advice on managing my back strain. Life is somewhat easier as a result. The short version is never believe medical advice that you read online. With any luck I will be properly mobile again in a week or so.

Meanwhile I am getting some reading done, that being about all I am good for right now.

It looks like my optimism about COVID-19 cases in the UK was misplaced. Yesterday there were over 1500 new cases, and today the government website is mysteriously unavailable, which suggests that someone is trying to massage the data before making it public.

Supporting LGBTQ+ Refugees

The lovely people at Pride Without Borders in Bristol have a fundraiser going at the moment. Theirs is an absolutely essential service. The treatment of refugees and asylum seekers by the government in this country is abhorent, and queer people are treated worse that most.

I have had the pleasure of meeting the members of the Pride Without Borders support group on a couple of occasions. They cope with really awful circumstances, and malicious harassment by the authorities, with amazing good grace. If you have a few pounds to spare, please help them out. You can donate here. And my friend Lowie has an article about the work that Pride Without Borders does on Bristol 24/7.

Coronavirus – Day #161

Things have been quiet around here, partly because I’ve been busy and partly as I’ve been unwell. No COVID-19, I hasten to add. A lower back strain, which is very inconvenient when there’s no one else living with you.

I very much enjoyed NASFiC. I’ll stick a report in the next Salon Futura.

Elsewhere the rise in COVID-19 cases in the UK appears to have stalled. This is very good. I have seen it suggested that the reason we haven’t gone into a full-blown second wave, as some parts of Europe have done, is because we don’t trust our government, so when they say “go back to work” we ignore them. It may also be because our foul weather means that we don’t have as much of a cafe culture as Europe, and because our economy is largely service-industry based which is easier to do from home.

Virtual NASFiC Lives!

The NASFiC, or North American Science Fiction Convention, is a WSFS-affiliated event that happens only in years when WorldCon is outside of North America. This year Worldcon was in New Zealand. Of course only the New Zealanders got to go, but a NASFiC had already been selected. No one can go to that physically either, but the lovely folks in Columbus, Ohio are running a virtual con anyway.

It is free to attend, though they are accepting donations. You can sign up here.

The con started this afternoon my time. I’ve already watched one panel (on historical fiction) which was great. And of course I am spending a lot of time hanging out on Discord, where we have a table for Westercon 74 in (very) sunny Tonopah, Nevada.

Everything has been thrown together in a bit of a rush, so I am well impressed that things appear to be going very well. I have two confirmed panels as follows (times are US East Coast, so 5 hours behind the UK and 3 hours ahead of California):

Roots in Two Places: Writing from a Dual Culture Experience

Saturday 2:00 PM Olentangy Room

Alma Alexander, Cheryl Morgan, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and Vikram Paralkar

Our panelists, all with roots in two or more separate cultures — look at the ways having dual culture and language has guided their worldbuilding and storytelling.

Running SF/F Organizations

Sunday 12:00 PM Scioto Room

Cheryl Morgan, Eileen Gunn, Mary Anne Mohanraj, and Sumana Harihareswara

Creators, directors, publishers, and nonprofit leaders discuss the trials and victories of running magazines, publishing companies, and other SF/F businesses and organizations. They discuss logistics, strategy, budgets, and the effects of gender and race on their experiences as leaders. And they share what they wish they’d known ten years ago.

There may be a second panel on Sunday. I’m still waiting to hear back on that one.

HFRN 2021, Also Virtual

Another academic conference that I’m a regular at (and now a Trustee of) is the annual meeting of the Historical Fiction Research Network. The conference is normally in February, and that’s now definitely uncertain as far as in-person events goes, so we are going virtual. Hopefully that means we’ll be able to pull in people from all around the world (though in fairness a bunch of lovely Aussies are regulars and we had two Russians last year).

Anyway, in keeping with the times, our theme for 2021 is depictions of catastrophe. It was the end of the world, or at least it seemed like it at the time. From the Great Flood in Gilgamesh to the Heat Death of the Universe, humans have always imagined disasters. There’s so much to talk about. Here’s the Call for Papers, and the link to buy memberships.

HFRN 2021- Online
Theme: Remembering Catastrophe

Please submit papers to the Paper Proposal Form:
Deadline 30th September.

We welcome paper proposals from Archaeology, Architecture, Literature, Media, Art History, Cartography, Geography, History, Musicology, Reception Studies, Linguistics, Museum Studies, Media Studies, Politics, Re-enactment, Larping, Gaming, Transformative Works, Gender, Race, Queer studies and others.

We welcome paper proposals across historical periods, with ambitious, high-quality, inter-disciplinary approaches and new methodologies that will support research into larger trends and which will lead to more theoretically informed understandings of the mode across historical periods, cultures and languages.

This year we are using a form. Please submit papers to the Paper Proposal Form.

Deadline, 30th September.
Tickets from Helm: £40/£15

Outing the Past Goes Virtual

Outing the Past is an annual academic conference on the subject of queer history. Normally I attend, but this year it got scheduled for September 12th, and I had already accepted an invitation to go to Augsberg in Germany for a science fiction conference organised by the wonderful Sabrina Mittermeier. Of course that isn’t going to happen now. Sabrina and her colleagues have already put some of the proposed events online, including my chat with Sabrina and Maria Turtschaninoff. You can find that and several other events, on the covention’s YouTube channel. (And let me tell you that I’m seriously chuffed to be on the same programme as the Chancellor of the Klingon Empire.)

So what about Outing the Past. Obviously it is going virtual too, and that means you can all join in the fun. There will be a special one-day event on September 12th called Completing the Past. It will be all about LGBT+ History and Creative Production. There are a lot of great speakers lined up, and in particular I would like to draw your attention to the panel titled, “Heritage at home: Connecting and engaging with the LGBT+ past through creative production.” That will be hosted by Dan Vo, and it will feature a bunch of guests talking about works of art that open a door on the LGBT+ past. I can’t tell you any more about it than that now, but you know that if Dan is involved then it is goign to be awesome, right?