Welcome, Chaz Brenchley

I am delighted to announce that we have a new author joining the Wizard’s Tower family. I have been a fan of Chaz Brenchley’s writing, and his cooking, for many years. When he mentioned on an interview for Coode Street that he was looking for a publisher for his Crater School books, I jumped at the opportunity. My thanks are due to Chaz’s agent, John Jarrold, for making this happen smoothly and quickly. The press release is here.

The books that we will be publishing are Chaz’s Crater School series, which are set in a 1930s girls’ boarding school, on Mars. This, then, is a post-steampunk world. Britain has colonised Mars, Russia has colonised Venus. There has been a Great War. Now there is peace, but uneasy tension between the interplanetary empires.

The books are unshamedly based on the famous Chalet School novels by Elinor M Brent-Dyer. A key aspect of the books is that while young boys are sent off by aetherflier to be educated on Earth, young girls go to school on Mars. So if there are adventures to be had, it is mostly teenage girls who get to have them.

By the way, if you are worried about a bloke writing this stuff, you need to be aware that Chaz got his start on a literary career by writing romance stories for teen girl magazines.

Of course there are adventures. Mars is not the desolate planet inhabited by NASA robots that we know. Chaz’s Mars has canals, it has native flora and fauna. Some of the fauna appears to be intelligent in a strange, very non-human way.

Our heroines, as teenage girls do, are determined to fight for justice. If that brings them into conflict with unreasonable parents, or with Russian spies, so be it. Crater School girls are afraid of nothing, even when perhaps they should be.

The first novel is due out in spring next year, with two more novels and a short story collection to follow. There are also plans for a cookbook, featuring the recipes of the Crater School’s legendary head cook, Mrs. Bailey. Fear not, though, readers, if you can’t find the right Martian ingredients there will be Terrestrial equivalents suggested.

I am going to have so much fun publishing these books. And yes, the first two novels do appear to qualify as YA.

Loving the Alien

That’s the title of a Bowie song, of course. But it is also a good title for a panel about diversity in science fiction and fantasy. No credit to me, of course. The panel is the brainchild of Philippa Ryder, who was one of the Guests of Honour at Octocon earlier this month, and is also a director of Under the Rainbow, a Dublin-based diversity advocacy organisation.

The panel will be free to watch online from 8:00pm on Friday (Oct. 23rd). Irish time is the same as the UK. Details of the other panelists, and how to register, can be found here. Hopefully I will see some of you turn up in the chat.

Coronavirus – Day #208

The UK is now well into its second wave of infections. New cases have been in the 15k-20k per day range for the past three days, and hospital admissions are rising very steeply. Deaths are still only in the 100-150 per day range, but will doubtless rise as the disease runs its course for the newly infected.

The governement continues to babble incoherently, issuing new emergency plans on a regular basis and changing their minds a few days later. There are only two things consistent about the statements: they always insist that they are doing a magnificent job, and any problems are the fault of other people. It reminds me of satirical send-ups of the likes of Idi Amin.

Thankfully the area where I live continues to be relatively less-badly affected. We are officially at “Medium” risk, which by goverment definition is the lowest level on the scale. I don’t think Cummings is very good at Maths.

One of the reasons why Bozo and his gang of incompetents can get away with this is that they media is still largely on their side. Yesterday one of the idiot “opinion” writers for the Telegraph noted that everyone is going to die eventually, so their is no point in wasting time and money saving people who are dying from the virus. I’m sure it won’t be long before they are claiming that it will be good for the economy if a few more people were to die earlier rather than later, and that the virus is not sufficient to encourage this. Another one of them was claiming that the right to be racist was a free speech issue. I’m sure you can see where this is going.

Another reason that they are getting away with it is that they still have sufficient support in the polls to easily win a General Election. But fear not, dear reader, the Labour Party has a cunning plan to win back the electorate. It is called, “embracing transphobia.” They seem to think that will be a huge vote winner.

I think I’ll just go and read a science fiction book or something.

Two Crowdfunding Projects

I backed a couple of crowdfunding projects today that some of you might be interested in.

The first is The Mab, a collection of tales from The Mabinogion, re-told for young readers by Welsh authors, and beautifully illustrated. Just the thing to get young people hooked on fantasy.

The other is Constelación, a proposed quarterly magazine that will carry speculative fiction in both English and Spanish.

Another Year, Another World Fantasy Debacle

As we approach Hallowe’en, regular as clockwork, it seems, people start complaining about the current World Fantasy Convention. This year, despite the con having gone virtual, is no exception.

I need to start with a little personal context. On October 4th I received an invitation to be on programme. It was for a “women in” type panel. The panel description seemed pretty dumb, but I could see how a panel could make interesting things out of it so I said yes.

However, I also checked out the other panel descriptions. I didn’t read them all closely, but I did look at the LGBT panel and I could immediately see that it would be seen as transphobic. It being my job to do this sort of thing, I added a polite note to my acceptance explaining the problem and suggesting that they re-word it before people on social media noticed. I did not get a reply.

I spent much of the next week or so concentrating on doing promotion for Aleksandar’s book, and attending Eurocon and Octocon. I noticed a few rumblings, including Tempest Bradford holding forth in fine style, but didn’t notice any more.

Then yesterday I noticed that WFC had posted an official apology for a whole lot of unspecified mistakes, and that a lot of the programme descriptions had been re-written, including the one I had been asked to be on. I also discovered that at least 7 people had withdrawn from programming at the convention in protest at its lack of sensitivity to diversity issues. Several of them were good friends of mine.

As it happens, although I thought I had confirmed my willingness to be on panel, no one from WFC has been in touch to explain about the change of panel description. So now I am not entirely sure whether I am still on panel. In any case, I am considering my position.

As I noted above, this sort of thing does tend to happen every year (Tempest’s post has a timeline of WFC debacles). Like Worldcon, WFC is run by a different group of fans in a different city each year. But unlike Worldcon, WFC does actually have management. There is actually a “They” who are responsible for it, and who could in theory make changes if they wanted to. World Fantasy has a Board of Directors.

Not being on the inside of this year’s WFC, I don’t know who put the programme together. I do know that the last time I was heavily involved (the 2009 World Fantasy, which was run by San Franciso Science Fiction Conventions Inc.) the creation of the programme was the element that was most ruthlessly micromanaged by the Board. Things may be different now, so I can’t be certain where the blame lies.

However, the Board does have responsibility in another way. They are the people who select bids to run WFC. So if the fan groups who run the convention keep screwing up, that must be because the Board is selecting the wrong people to run it. The Board is also responsible for the fact that this “World” convention hardly ever leaves North America. (The Brighton WFC only happened because Steve Jones was a Board member and was able to persuade them to let him run it.)

So here’s my point. The folks in Utah may have screwed up. They may also have been trying to run a convention with one hand held behind their backs by the WF Board. That was certainly the case for us with San José in 2009. I am absolutely up for supporting a boycott, provided that it is the Board that is the target. I want them to accept responsibility for this year’s mess, rather than leave it to the Utah con chair to carry the can. I want them to commit to change, at a Board level. And I want a promise that they will work with next year’s WFC in Montréal to make significant improvements. Because if all we do is yell at the Utah folks this year, and the Montréal folks next year, and so on, nothing will ever change.

This is your chance, fandom. You keep complaining that “They” should fix Worldcon, even though you know that there is no “They” with the power to do it, at least not in the short term. “They” should fix World Fantasy too, and in this case They exist. Here they are. They even have a convenient email address for you to write to.

Please don’t hassle individuals. I know nothing about the internal workings and politics of the WF Board. Some of the members may have more power than others, and some may be as upset about the state of things as we are. Some of them are friends of mine, so I very much hope that they are. This is a matter for the Board collectively. It needs to act.

Bristol on Trans Health

A group of trans folks from Bristol have painted the above mural on a billboard in the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft. (If you don’t know where that is, you should go and read Tim Maughan’s Infinite Detail.) The basic message is that if you live in the South West and ask to be refered to an NHS gender clinic you will have to wait for five years before your first appointment. This has a drastic effect on trans people’s lives, and on their mental health.

If you’d like to read the whole thing, there is a high res image available here.

I put it on my Twitter feed this morning, and as of the time of writing this it is closing in on 1000 likes. I think the young trans folks of Bristol have done a splendid thing here.

Octocon Happened

Another convention done. I didn’t see a lot of it due to the OutStories Bristol AGM and there being a Grand Prix on the weekend, but the Octocon folks have done a superb job of getting their content available for viewing by those people who missed it. All of the links are here. My panel was Better With Age, which was on Sunday at 10:00am.

Large parts of the convention were on Zoom run through Twitch. The use of Twitch was partly because such services make it easier to control the streaming, and I suspect it also helped with getting the content available.

One of the elements that wasn’t on Twitch was the parties. I attended the Glasgow in 2024 and Dead Dog parties, as did Kevin because it was a virtual convention and being in Nevada is no more of a barrier than being in the UK. There may have been whiskey.

Many thanks to my Irish pals for a fun weekend. Hopefully I will be able to visit Dublin again soon.

On Desecrating Statues

Today’s guest lecturer at the OutStories Bristol AGM was my friend Dr Alan Greaves from the University of Liverpool. As he was visiting Bristol (virtually) Alan decided to give a talk about desecrating statues. It is topical, after all. The talk focussed on one statue in particular. This one.

The statue came to the Museum of Liverpool via the estate of a wealthy collector called Henry Blundell. It is described as a “Sleeping Venus”. But, as the Museum’s website explains, the statue did not always look like that. The British Museum has a drawing made by Blundell’s friend, Charles Townley, before the statue was “restored” by Blundell’s workmen to make it suitable for display on his estates. Here is the drawing.

So the original statue was not of Venus/Aphrodite at all, but rather of the god(dess) Hermaphorit(us/e), who is shown surrounded by young children, one of whom she is suckling.

I should note that we have no idea why the Romans would have made such an image. However, they were very much aware of the existence of various types of intersex people, and would therefore not have regarded such a person as impossible, or unnatural.

Octocon Schedule

October is pretty full-on when it comes to conventions. Last weekend it was Eurocon, this weekend Octocon, the FIYAHcon, a weekend off (I think) and World Fantasy. FIYAHcon is the only one I’m not on programme for.

You can find the full Octocon schedule here. The programme item I am doing is:

Sunday Oct. 11th – 10:00am
Better With Age – Older Characters in SFF
There’s a lot to be said for – and by – characters with life experience, so why are fantasy and science fiction so often focused on those who have none? What is lost by pigeon-holing or even ignoring the wisdom of age, and what can be gained when we include the full spectrum of age and experience in our fiction?
Ian McDonald, Cheryl Morgan (m), Gillian Polack, Marguerite Smith

I’ll have to miss some of Saturday due to the OutStories Bristol AGM, but hopefully I will be back in (virtual) Dublin in time for Juliet’s reading.

This will be the first virtual convention I’ve seen that is being streamed through Twitch. I will be interested to see how it stacks up against StreamYard, which we used for CoNZealand Fringe.

Coronavirus – Day #200

Well, 200 days in, and still no sign of a competent government response.

The excitement about data errors seems to have died down. We had over 15k new cases yesterday, and over 14k today. But, as I have said before, there are reasons why that isn’t comparable with the same data for the first wave.

Rather more worrying, because the data is much more solid, is that hospital admissions have more than quadrupled since the start of September. There are now over 3000 COVID-19 patients in hospital. This is well short of the first wave peak, which was almost 20,000, but cause for concern.

The government, having decided that jobs in the entertainment industries, are “non-viable”, is trying to encourage actors, musicians, and so on to re-train in what they believe are more useful jobs. I took their test. They suggested that I might try a career as a hotel porter.

The OutStories Bristol AGM

Yes, it is that time of year again. Every October, on or around the time of the birthday of John Addington Symonds, OutStories Bristol has an Annual General Meeting. We hold this in conjunction with the lovely people from the Institute of Greece, Rome, and the Classical Tradition (IGRCT) at the University of Bristol. Every year I do the boring bit of getting through the AGM business as fast as I can, and then we settle back to enjoy a fascinating lecture about queer history.

This year the lecture will be given by my friend, Dr Alan Greaves of the University of Liverpool. He’s going to talk about statue descration, which has been much in the news this year. Of course people have been desecrating statues for a very long time. In Egypt, both Hatshepsut and Ahkenaten, two pharaohs who defied social conventions, had their statues defaced. In Rome Damnatio Memoriae was such a regular fact of life that statues were sometimes made with detachable heads. But politics is not the only reason why statues have been defaced. If you want to know why this is an LGBT history talk, you’ll need to sign up and listen to Alan.

The booking form is here.

The Bells Are Tolling

The latest book from Wizard’s Tower, Aleksandar Žiljak’s fantasy collection, As the Distant Bells Toll, is now available in the usual places. Ebooks went live in stores on Friday and the paperback was available from Monday. There will be a hardcover in due course, but I’m taking my time with the paper because I want to make sure that the quality of the illustrations is OK. Aleksandar is a fabulous artist and each story in the book is accompanied by a beautiful illustration.

Purchase links can be found here.

And we have our first review, here (thanks Womble!).

Coronavirus – Day #198

There have been exciting times in the data-crunching here in the UK. On Saturday the number of new COVID-19 cases leapt to over 12,000, and yesterday it was somewhere in the region of 23,000. Today is back to 12.5k, and we have learned that the massive Sunday count was a correction because Public Health England (PHE) lost a lot of data. Those numbers should actualy be spread across the previous week.

We also learned how the data came to be lost. PHE is still working on very old versions on Microsoft Office, in particular they only have the version of Excel that is capped at 65,000 rows. As some of the data that was coming in exceeded that number of rows, it was just getting lost. So old software, and crappy macros with no error trapping.

Some people on Twitter are astonished that a huge organisation like the NHS should be using Excel for data crunching, but this is symptomatic of how badly the service has been starved of cash by successive Tory governments. I visit NHS sites quite a lot to do training. Last time I used one of their computers, as opposed to bringing my laptop, they were still running Windows XP.

Meanwhile there has been excitment in Parliament. The House of Commons has its own Twitter feed, which has been used to tweet the results of votes as they happen. However, people have become increasingly incensed at the things the government has been up to. As a result the government has banned the tweeting of vote results on the grounds that it is bad for their reputation and therefore politically partial. I wonder how long it will be before we are not allowed to know what bills have been passed.

Eurocon – Day 2

Well, that’s a wrap. Many thanks to Fox, Igor and the crew, and special thanks to Nela for the beautiful artwork.

We used Zoom for my panel today, which was much better all round. Thanks to Aleksander and Mihaela for their input, and to everyone who tuned in to listen. Once again, the purchase links are: for Aleksandar’s book, and for Kontakt. Croatia has some great writers, and I’m honoured to be able to help bring them to an English-speaking audience.

The ESFS Awards took place last night after I had blogged. The Irish had a great evening, winning both the adult and YA fiction awards, the art award and the fanzine award, plus a few others as well. Good Omens won the dramatic presentation category. The full list of winners can be found here.

Many of the panels were pre-recorded, and the live ones were all recorded. I understand that there are plans to make them available, at least to registered members, at a later date. This is a real bonus of online conventions. There are several good panels that I missed because of scheduling clashes.

Next year’s Eurocon will be in Fiuggi near Rome. I very much hope I make that in person, partly because they have promised a focus on food, and partly because I will undoubtledly spend a few days in Rome peering at the archaeology as part of the trip.

Futuricon set new standards in brevity for the closing ceremonies. I think that my feed may have cut out slightly early, Fox, but I believe it was supposed to go a bit like this…

“David, press the button…”

Eurocon – Day 1

More like day 1.5 actually as the con started yesterday afternoon, but today isn’t over yet.

Anyway, the con is a lot of fun thus far. There have been the inevitable technical glitches. Some of them are down to using Jitsi for some of the tech. If anyone suggests that you use this platform for an online event, just say no. It doesn’t always work when you connect, and the picture quality is often poor. I don’t like the interface either.

Having said that, the ConCom is working hard at keeping us entertained, the chat on Discord is good, and the programming is very interesting.

I did my queer animals talk. It seemed to go down well, despite a few glitches. Something else to bear in mind for online events is that the latest versions of PowerPoint seem to break screen-sharing when in display mode. If you drop back to edit mode you’ll be fine. It also works fine if someone else is doing the screen sharing and you are just talking. I’ve also seen display mode refuse to work with older projectors, so it isn’t just a screen-sharing issue. If someone knows of a hidden setting in PowerPoint that can fix this, please let me know.

Tomorrow I will be joining up with Aleksandar Žiljak and Mihaela Perković to talk about Croatian fiction in English translation, both that which is available now and that which will be forthcoming next year.

Salon Futura #23

The September issue of Salon Futura went live yesterday. This issue has reviews of the following books:

  • Piranesi – Susanna Clarke
  • Settling the World – M John Harrison
  • Flyaway – Kathleen Jennings
  • Reclaim, Restore, Return – Karen Lord & Tobias Buckell (eds.)
  • Shadow in the Empire of Light – Jane Routley
  • The Drowned Country – Emily Tesh

There is also a report on FutureCon, and a look at the 40th anniversary release of the film, Flash Gordon.

Coronavirus – Day #194

Here in plaguesville we are now running at around 7000 new cases of COVID-19 per day. Back in April, when the rate of new cases was around 6000 per day, we were seeing almost 1000 deaths per day. Currently it is less than 100. That’s an interesting anomaly. One possible explanation that I saw from a journalist on Twitter today was that in April the actual rate of new cases was around 200,000 per day, and the government fibbed about it. Fibbing about the death rate is harder.

Meanwhile Bozo and his jolly chums have passed a bill that says that they have the right to ignore international law, and the courts, and the devolved assemblies. The EU has launched a legal action against the UK. Fun times, eh?

Eurocon Schedule

The full schedule for this year’s Eurocon, known as Futuricon, has been published. I’m sad to be missing a trip to Croatia, but I’m absolutely delighted to be doing two panels. Here they are:

Saturday, October 3rd – 15:40
Worldbuilding with sex and gender
Otherwise known as my weird animals talk

Sunday, October 4th – 12:15
The Wizard’s Tower panel
The title in the schedule is in Croatian, but the panel will be in English. I’ll be talking with Aleksandar Žiljak about his new book, As the Distant Bells Toll, which will be published on Friday. Also on the panel is Mihaela Marija Perković. I’ll be talking to her about an anthology of feminist SF titled Empress of the Housework which will be forthcoming from Wizard’s Tower next year.

The website says that times will be displayed in your local timezones, so I’m assuming that the above times are BST, not CEST.

Membership is not free, but it is only €10 and you can buy one here.

Coronavirus – Day #191

Congratulations, Bozo, you’ve set a new record!

Yes, today’s count of new COVID-19 cases in the UK is 6634; higher than anything achieved during the initial wave of the pandemic. I’m sure that there will be champagne for all in the Cabinet today.

Well, except for Liz Truss, whom I understand got a bit of a roasting by her own MPs today on account of being even more spectacularly useless at her job than the rest of the team.

Also today we have a new track and trace app. The original one, for which the Great British Software Industry tried to go it alone and eschew any funny foreign code, has been scrapped because it didn’t work. The new one is based solidly on the Apple/Google code that most other countries are using.

Naturally everyone is wondering how much money has been paid to Cummings’ mates to produce this, and how much of our data he’ll be selling off to further line his pockets. The answer seems to be precious little, at least according to Wired. Also the app doesn’t seem to be stealing information from our phones, or doing covert surveillance, or any of the other things that Dom is so keen on.

There are problems. It only works on fairly new versions of the Apple and Android operating systems. It also keeps bluetooth on all the time, which I gather can drain your battery fairly quickly. But for people who are out and about a lot it can be useful.

Personally I’m only going to be going out once a week to shop at Tesco. My personal biobubble is me, a collection of soft toys, and rather more computers than I’m prepared to admit. Most of the time I shouldn’t need it. Also I’m giving it a few days before downloading it, just in case someone finds some hidden code that shouldn’t be there.