Inventing the Future

Yesterday evening I was a guest panelist at an event in the Bristol Technology Festival. It was called Invented Futures, and it was all about how we use technology to, you guessed it, invent the future. Obviously I was there a the science fiction expert, but the rest of the crew covered a wide range of technological innovation.

Julia Scott-Stevenson from UWE is an expert in Virtual Reality. She’s involed in the i_Docs project (immersive documentaries), and she has also written a manifesto on how immersive experiences can be used for good.

Coral Manton from Bath Spa University works with computer games (and therefore has one of the best jobs in the world). She is also one of the people behind a fascinating project called Women Reclaiming AI, which seeks to create a digital assistant made by women (as opposed to an artificial woman made by men).

Pete Bennett from the University of Bristol has a variety of creative projects including Digitally Enhanced Lego, and making games for the gorillas at Bristol Zoo.

Also I shouldn’t forget our moderator, Maria Leonard, who is the brains behind Death.io, which helps people manage their departure in the digital world. (Did you know that you can leave your Farcebook account to a friend to manage after you die? I didn’t.)

I saw my job as talking about as many great books as possible, and it was slightly disturbing to realise that many of the people in the room only consumed science fiction through TV and movies. Consequently they were completely unaware of the changes that have happened in the field over the past decade. I asked the audience to guess how many of the fiction writing awards it this year’s Hugos had gone to women. It took quite a while for someone to twig that the correct answer was, “all of them”, and this despite the fact that the audience was majority female.

I mentioned as many books as I could. Even so, I couldn’t get in every one I wanted. So here is a reading list.

Books by Bristol writers that address issues with the current digital world:

  • Everything About You by Heather Child
  • After Atlas by Emma Newman
  • Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan

Books about AIs and artificial beings:

  • Autonomous by Analee Newitz
  • The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells
  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  • vN and iD by Madeline Ashby
  • Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M Valente
  • The Stone Canal by Ken MacLeod
  • Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross

Other books about digital worlds:

  • Singularity Sky by Charles Stross
  • Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
  • Lady of Mazes by Karl Schroeder
  • Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan

Julia recommended the anthology, Women Invent the Future.

If anyone has any additional suggestions please add them in comments. But let’s it keep it to fairly recent books, OK? There’s no need to suggest Asimov’s robot novels, or Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep.

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Today on Ujima – Books, Theatre, Trans Pride & Tobias Buckell

My first guest on today’s radio show was Kate MacDonald of Handheld Press, a wonderful local publisher based in Bath. Kate will be familiar to people on the UK SF&F circuit as she was at FantasyCon and BristolCon. She doesn’t just publish SF&F, but when she does it is pretty spectacular. You will have heard me enthusing about her Vonda McIntyre reissue, and she has had great success with a Nicola Griffith book. On the show we talked about a book by Rose Maculey which inspired Brave New World. John Clute gets a starring role in the story of how Kate got to publish that one. And if we’d had more time we’d have talked about the new Sylvia Townsend Warner book, Of Cats and Elfins, which has a Greer Gilman introduction and a Neil Gaiman front cover blurb.

That was hard to top, but for the second section of the show I welcomed Nick Young from Creative Youth Network and two wonderful young actors who will be performing in The Edge, a play about the dangers of reality TV. The play is written by my friend Edson Burton, and will be staged at Colston Hall later this month. As the advertising says, it will be an immersive live performance. You’ll have to listen to the interview to find out just how clever they have been.

In part three I welcome Lowie Trevena, the new LGBT+ Affairs correspondent of Bristol 24/7 to talk about the upcoming Trans Pride South West. Lowie did a preview of the event for the paper yesterday, and we went a lot more into detail on that. We also talked about what it means to be a non-binary person, and how non-binary does not mean androgynous.

Finally I re-ran parts of my 2014 interview with Tobias Buckell to celebrate his win (along with Paulo Bacigalupi) in the World Fantasy Awards last weekend. Their book, The Tangled Lands, won the Best Collection catageory. In the 2014 piece Tobias and I talk about hurricanes in the Caribbean, climate change, and some interesting regional politics that allowed Tobias to create a unified Caribbean state for some of his work.

You can listen to the show here.

The playlist is as follows:

  • Pipe – Christina Aguilera & Lewis Hamilton
  • World in Union – Ladysmith Black Mambazo (feat. PJ Powers)
  • Screen Kiss – Thomas Dolby
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Gil Scott Heron
  • History – Shea Freedom
  • Sticks and Stones – Jackie Shane
  • Hurricane Season – Trombone Shorty
  • 007 – A Fantasy Bond Theme – Barry Adamson
Posted in Awards, Books, Gender, Music, Publishing, Radio, Science Fiction, Theatre | Leave a comment

October Salon Futura

In case you missed the announcements last week, the October issue of Salon Futura is now available. You can read it here.

I have a guest article this time — an update of Kevin’s legendary article on designing convention badges, because this is one con-running lesson that people never seem to learn. There’s also my report on FantasyCon, and an audio interview with Ellen Datlow. But as usual the main content is book reviews and in this issue we have:

  • The Warrior Moon by K Arsenault Rivera
  • FranKissStein by Jeanette Winterson
  • The Pleasant Profession of Robert A Heinlein by Farah Mendlesohn
  • Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield
  • Shadows of Athens by JM Alvey
  • David Mogo, Godhunter, by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
  • Brightfall by Jamie Lee Moyer
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This Week in Bristol

I have a fairly busy week coming up. I have a radio show on Wednesday, which all of you can enjoy. That will include an interview with Kate MacDonald of Handheld Press and will look forward to Trans Pride South West. However, there are also two evening events that may be of interest to those of you who are local.

On Thursday night from 6:30pm I will be at the Framework Co-working centre at 35 King Street taking part in the 2019 Bristol Tech Festival. I will be on a panel called Invented Futures which will look emerging technology and the stories we tell about it. You can find more details about the event, and reserve a free ticket, here. I’m looking forward to meeting my fellow panelists, especially Coral Manton because I want to learn more about the Women Reclaiming AI project.

And on Friday night from 7:30pm at Foyles in Cabot Cirus there will be a science fiction event featuring three of our finest local authors: Peter F Hamilton, Emma Newman and Gareth L Powell. That’s £3 a ticket and you can get one here. I might have to skip that one, depending on how much I manage to get done on Friday durign the day and how tired I am by the end of it, but it should be great..

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Congratulations, Olivette

If you follow UK news you may have seen that my friend, Professor Olivette Otele, has a new job. She has been given a new post at the University of Bristol and has been asked specifically to investigate the city and university’s connections to the slave trade. Here’s a BBC report.

Now obviously this is nowhere near as cool as making a documentary with Lupita Nyong’o. However, it is hugely important for the city. I’m sure that Ujima will be following Olivette’s work very closely.

In the meantime, because it is Black History Month, I have resurrected the radio show that Olivette and I did last year. I cut it into two parts for podcasting. You can listen to it here via the links below.

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Steampunks in Space

I have email from the UK’s National Space Centre. Later this month (23rd/24th) they will be having a steampunk convention at their museum in Leicester. It looks like a pretty full on two days of events. Sadly I don’t have the time to arrange to go and sell books, but hopefully some of you will have the opportunity to attend. For more details, click here.

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Happy Samhain

The holiday that we call Hallowe’en is something of a mash-up between the Celtic Samhain, the Catholic All Souls Eve, and the Aztec festival in honour of their goddess of death, Mictēcacihuātl. Being a Celt (whatever that means), I tend to stick to our version of things, and therefore it is my duty to warn you that tonight the walls between the world of mortals and the world of the sídhe are thinner than at any time of the year. If you wish to avoid being abducted, you should take care not to accept any mysterious invitations.

Here’s a little music to help you out. First up, Steeleye Span with “Thomas the Rhymer” (and I’m pleased to see that whoever put this on YouTube used the original Thomas Canty cover art from Ellen Kushner’s brilliant novel).

And secondly, here’s Horslips from The Book of Invasions with something a little more scary, “Ride to Hell”.

Stay safe, people.

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Attention, Londoners!

It has come to my attention that you have a very special edition of Super Relaxed Fantasy Club coming up. Here’s the announcement.

Paul Cornell should need no introduction, and his Lychford novellas are a lot of fun.

Heather Child is a very talented Bristol-based author. You may have seen me enthusing about her novels, Everything About You and The Undoing of Arno Knott.

And finally, a new novel from Mike Carey! Colour me excited!

Be there if you can, it should be great.

Posted in Books, Readings | Leave a comment

Well And Truly Launched


Photo by Donna Bond

BristolCon happened, and Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion II is now well and truly launched. Above you can see most of the crew posing at the launch event, and below there is a close up of the magnificent cake that the convention provided for us.

As is usual with conventions, not everything went entirely smoothly, but a great deal of frantic paddling ensured that it was almost all OK on the day. I will have more to say about the convention in the November issue of Salon Futura. For now all I really want to talk about is the fact that I sold 74 books on the day. I sold 50 at Worldcon, which was great, but 74 in one day at a much smaller convention is spectacular.

Of course I still want to sell more. Airship II won’t earn out just yet. I doubled everyone’s advances on the basis of how well the first book sold, and I’m pretty confident that there will be royalties eventually, but in the meantime you folks need to buy copies.

The book is in all of the major stores. You can find links here. Google will follow in due course. They are just a bit of a pain to deal with.

Paperback copies are available from Amazon, and from all good bookstores. Just quote the ISBN (978-1-908039-91-0) and ask them to order it. The hardcover isn’t available yet because Andy Bigwood is snowed under at work and hasn’t had time to do the cover for me, but we’ll get there eventually.

Bay Area people, I’ll be working with Kevin to get both this book and The Green Man’s Foe to you for next time he’s at BASFA. Look at for an email about orders on the BASFA mailing list. Or just get Borderlands to order it for you.

Australians, I know you are still sore about the rugby, but you can get Wizard’s Tower books in your country now, either from Amazon or from bookstores. We print in Australia so they only cost an arm, not an arm and a leg.

Why should you buy this one? Well there’s a whole load of reasons, but my favourite one is that we have three stories in it by trans women. Bogi, I’ll be sending you a copy to look over for the next Transcendent anthology.

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In Search of the Dora Milaje

One of the more striking aspects of the Black Panther movie is the reliance of Wakanda on an all-female elite fighting force, the Dora Milaje. Those of us who have an interest in women warriors know that this was inspired in part by the real African kingdom of Dahomey which boasted its own female army. The Agojie, or Mino, made up around a third of the nation’s fighting force when they were first contacted by Europeans. Although they were disbanded after Dahomey became a French protectorate in the late 19th Century, memory of them lives on.

Lupita Nyong’o, who plays T’Challa’s girlfriend, Nakia, in the movie, has made a film for Channel 4 about the historical inspiration for Wakanda’s women warriors. Some local historians feature in the film, and the historical advisor for the programme was my good friend Professor Olivette Otele.

During the course of the programme Lupita meets a number of people who have connections to the Agojie, and is helped by the current Dahomey royal family. She also witnesses a Vodun ceremony that invokes the spirit of a dead Agojie warrior (CN: animal sacrifice).

It is a fabulous piece of history, exposing both the admirable and horrific aspects of an all-female army in an African society. One thing I picked up was that life in the Agojie was a common choice for young girls who did not want to marry, which shows that Dahomey made space for lesbians in its society, albeit a fairly brutal one. In theory all of the Agojie were married to the king, but he wasn’t likely to take advantage of that when he had a harem recruited for non-military skills.

The programme will be available for a few weeks, at least to viewers in the UK. If you want to watch it, you can do so here.

Posted in Feminism, History, Movies, TV | Leave a comment

FantasyCon – Days 2 & 3

I guess I have been busy. The Dealers’ Room was quite quiet, but I sold some books. Also my panels and workshop went well. I live-tweeted the awards. Juliet did not win, but my pals at Breaking the Glass Slipper and GV Anderson did, so I’m very happy.

I’d like to say a special hello to The Portal Bookshop who were in the Dealers’ Room here and will be opening for business in York next week. If you happen to be in or near York, please do give them some custom. Not only are they a specialist SF&F dealer, but they have a particular interest in books with queer and other marginalised characters. They are, as far as I know, the only bookstore in the UK that is currently willing to stock Wizard’s Tower books.

I will do a proper con report in the next Salon Futura.

Now I could do with some sleep.

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FantasyCon – Day 1

Hello from Glasgow. I arrived here late yesterday afternoon and have done nothing much except socialise since I got here. The hotel is modern, comfortable and spacious. The restaurant is good and the bar is cheap. Programme, what programme?

Actually I did attend one item. The lovely people at Handheld Press are re-publishing Vonda McIntyre’s debut novel, The Exile Waiting. It is set in the same world as her Hugo-winning Dreamsnake. Well worth a look.

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Off To FantasyCon

I will be spending the next few days at FantasyCon in Glasgow. The full schedule is available online here, but if you are just looking for me this is what I’m doing:

Saturday, 14:00 Panel Room 3 – Reviewing and Non-Fiction (with Rob Malan & Alasdair Stuart)

Saturday, 17:00 Panel Room 3 Panel Room 3 – Fantasy in Translation (with Ali Nouraei, Max Edwards & Tasha Shuri)

Sunday, 11:00 Panel Room 2 – Writing Queer Characters From History (a workshop, run by me)

Sunday 13:00 Waterhouse Room – British Fantasy Awards Banquet (cheering on Juliet)

The rest of the time I will either be a) at the Luna Press table in the Dealers’ Room or b) watching rugby, presumably in the bar. There will doubtless be some eating and sleeping as well. And showering because I am a good con-going-person.

Obviously I am very much hoping that Juliet wins the Rob Holdstock Award (for Best Fantasy Novel). But it is an incredible honour for a little press like mine to be a finalist so I really can’t complain if she doesn’t. It will be a great weekend regardless.

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Channel 4 Goes to Kush

As part of their celebration of Black History Month, Channel 4 has run an archaeology programme about Kush. As is the way of such things, it is fairly superficial, and spends more time dramatising the activities of modern (white) archaeologists than it does talking about the Kushites. Nevertheless, it does have some lovely shots of the inside of the Temple of Amun at Jebel Barkal and some great panoramic shots of other Kushite settlements. I was particularly impressed by the statues of the 25th Dynasty pharaohs fround at Kerma, which you can see in the photo above.

The programme does mention the great Kushite pharaoh, Taharqa, noting that he ruled over a kingdom stretching all the way from Khartoum to the Mediterranean. It did not mention him fighting alongside King Hezekiah of Judah against Sennacherib of Assyria. Nor does it mention that he survived both Sennacherib and Esarhaddon, but was eventually defeated by Ashurbanipal. Assyria v Kush (with added Israelites) for the control of Egypt has to be one of the greatest stories of the ancient world, and I’m rather sad that nothing seems to have come of Will Smith’s planned movie.

The programme also didn’t mention that there is a shrine to Amun built by Taharqa in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It is the biggest single item in their collection, and it was made by Kushites, for a Kushite pharaoh.

There is brief mention of Meroë being the successor kingdom to Kush, but there is nothing about that kindgom preserving Egyptian culture long into the Roman period. Nor does it mention Queen Amanirenas beating up the Romans.

In short, it could have been so much better, because there are such great stories to tell. I need to dig out the audio from the radio show that Olivette Otele and I did last year and get it back online.

Posted in History, TV | Leave a comment

An Ideal Prince

Charlotte Bond, who is part of the fabulous team that does the Breaking the Glass Slipper podcast, and also the fearless copyeditor for Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion II, has been doing a series of blog posts about princes. What do people want in a fairytale prince these days? Several people have offered their opinions. Here, for example, is Anna Smith Spark, whom I’m pleased to see has something sharp and deadly in her photo. And here is David Tallerman whose favourite prince is Utena Tenjou. I mean, who can argue with that?

Well, I can, obviously. As far as I am concerned there is only one prince in it. I think you can probably guess who it is.

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The BristolCon Programme is Live

The BristolCon programme went live today. There are things that I will be doing. Here they are.

Friday 20:00 Programme Room 1 Open Mic — I and a number of other authors will be doing 5 minute readings. Some of the readings will be from Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion II.

Saturday 12:00 Programme Room 2 Broader Horizons: Despite some sterling work in recent years, big commercial fantasy is still in thrall to the tropes of medieval Europe. How do we break out of that setting? (With Ian Millsted, Zoe Burgess-Foreman, Mark Lewis & Anna Stephens).

Saturday 14:00 Programme Room 1 Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion II Launch

Saturday 17:00 Programme Room 1 Opening the Door: The Panel share their experiences of discovering genre and the world beyond the everyday. A celebration of childhood imagination. (With Jo Hall, Steven Poore, Janet Edwards & Phil Gilvin).

At all other times you will be able to find me at the Wizard’s Tower stall in the Dealers’ Room.

Posted in Conventions, Where's Cheryl?, Wizard's Tower | Comments Off on The BristolCon Programme is Live

A Romanian Film Festival

When I was at Titancon I met some Romanian fans and got given a copy of an anthology by their local writers. I haven’t had a chance to read that yet, but Darius Hupov has emailed me to let me know about a science fiction and fantasy film festival that he and some colleagues are organising in May next year. The website is here. I will probably be in Finland at the time, but some of you might want to go.

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Batshit Crazy

Publishers are strange people. We love books so much that sometimes we are drawn to extraordinary lengths to make them. Sometimes mere paper is not enough. And to illustrate the point here is something completely crazy that is currently being crowdfunded on Kickstarter. This is what the publishers, Beehive Books, have to say about it:

Bram Stoker made a radical experimental choice in the writing of his classic novel Dracula. He presented it as a collection of found documents — correspondence, newspaper articles, journal entries — painstakingly transcribed and compiled into the published book by his characters themselves. His experimental approach brings you directly into the story, and refracts it through countless points of view.

DRACULA: The Evidence is an entirely new way to experience Stoker’s masterpiece: through an actual physical research file full of ephemera, correspondence, clues and artifacts. It’s the entire original text of Dracula, presented as a gorgeously designed and curated briefcase full of maps, letters, diaries, newspaper clippings, telegrams, and phonograph records. We’ve teamed up with Dracula expert and Bram’s descendent Dacre Stoker to bring you the most immersive way imaginable to experience this modernist masterpiece of gothic horror.

Of course it is fantastically expensive. A copy of the “book” will set you back $400 ($350 if you get in on the early bird offer). I certainly don’t have that much money to splash, nor do I have anywhere to put the thing if I did. But the toothy Transylvanian has plenty of wealthy admirers and fanatical followers so I’m sure the project won’t have any trouble getting funded.

I am, of course, in awe of the ambition of the people who came up with this idea.

By the way, as I understand it, the putative Kickstarter staff union has asked people not to boycott the site just yet as negotiations are still underway. I do hope that the dispute is resolved amicably because I want to see more projects like this happen.

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New Book on the Way

It is a very busy month for Wizard’s Tower Press. We have Juliet being up for the Robert Holdstock Award with The Green Man’s Heir at FantasyCon. We have Airship Shaped & Bristol Fashion II being launched at BristolCon. And in the meantime I’m busy working on next year’s releases. As part of that I am delighted to announce that we have exchanged contracts with Tate Hallaway (aka Lyda Morehouse) for a new novel.

Unjust Cause is a sequel to Tate’s highly enjoyable urban fantasy novel, Precinct 13. Despite getting great reviews, Tate was unable to interest the original publisher in a sequel, so I get lucky. Tate fans will be aware that an incomplete version of the novel was posted online, but the new version has been almost completely re-written and will be available as a paper edition as well as in ebook format.

Work is progressing on the book. The plan is to have it ready to go for sometime in Spring next year. I’ll let you know when we have a cover, and when pre-orders open. The official press release is here for anyone who is interested.

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Lunch With Scott

One of the highlights of Worldcon for me this year was being interviewed by Scott Edelman for his podcast, Eating the Fantastic. Obviously having a long chat with Scott was fun, but the unique selling point of the podcast is that the interviews always take place over a lengthy and very good meal. The food that we had at Mr. Fox in Dublin was superb. So my heartfelt thanks to Scott and everyone who helps fund the podcast for paying for that.

The interview is now available online. You can find it on Scott’s blog, and doubtless on various podcast apps as well. It is more than 2 hours long, but hopefully there are ways you can take it in a bit at a time.

I’ve listened through the whole thing. There’s only one issue that I want to come back to right now, and that’s because it became the subject of a Twitter storm soon after Worldcon. In the interview I talk about the need for Worldcon to put more content online. Obviously there are issues with this, but there are many different ways in which it could be done, some of which address those issues. Sadly Twitter discussions tend to polarise very rapidly, with people assuming the absolute worst possible of any idea they attack. I do plan to write more about this issue in Salon Futura. Please wait for that before jumping in and telling me what an awful misogynist I am.

Posted in Fandom, Personal, Podcasts | 2 Comments