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.

Coronavirus – Day #190

The second wave is well underway now in the UK. The number of new cases of COVID-19 reported here today was 6178. For comparison, the peak daily number of new cases in the first wave was 6201.

Of course these days there is much more testing. During the first wave you were only likely to get a positive diagnosis if you sought medical help. These days we are probably counting a lot of asymptotic people as new cases. But it is still very worrying, especially as the number of people in hospital and the number of deaths are now starting to tick upwards.

Even the newspapers are staring to refer to Bozo as a clown. If it wasn’t for the fact that the Brexit disaster is going to hit us in January, I’m sure that the Tories would be thinking of getting rid of him. Right now, however, no one in their right mind would want to be Prime Minister.

Apparently there is now talk of setting up a border to control entry into Kent, in order to prevent the county from being clogged up with lorries trying to get to the continent. And Gibraltar is looking to create a border with the UK in order to stay in the EU single market.

Happy Equinox!

Today is the Autumn Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. It is a day of celebration in pagan calendars, and it is well worth celebrating today.

The UK government has finally issued its response to the Gender Recognition Act consultation. As I suggested yesterday, they are not introducing any major reforms, but they are making minor changes, and crucially they are not rolling back any existing rights.

The campaign against GRA reform has always been based on lies about how the reform would give trans people “new rights” that would be dangerous to cis women. Those new rights were all rights that trans people had anyway under the Equality Act. The anti-trans campaign hoped that by complaining about rights we already have, they could persuade the government to remove those rights. That campaign has been a complete failure.

Trans people do want reforms to the GRA, but mostly what we want is legal recognition for non-binary people and for people under 18 years of age. Those two things were never on the table. Even the more trans-friendly Scottish Government has refused to countenance them. The reforms that were proposed were nice to have, but most trans people in the UK are living happily without changing their legal gender. They have already changed their names, passports, driving licences and so on, which is all people need much of the time.

From the government point of view, the objective of reform was to encourge more trans people to change their legal gender so as to bring it into line with the rest of their ID. The original proposed reforms would have done a lot to help with that. What we have been given today is very minor in comparison. The government will know this, and civil servants will probably be working hard behind the scenes to make the process easier to the extent that they can do so without legislation. And when the Scottish bill becomes law and everyone can see that it is more effective that what Westminister has done, they will quietly introduce new legislation without bothering to consult on it, because they do really want us to change our legal gender.

So where do we go from here? Well, GRA reform is now officially dead. Presumably there is no more need for any of these “feminist” campaign groups. Or, if there is, they will have to be honest about their desire to roll back existing laws. My hope is that a lot of them get distracted into things like anti-mask activism and anti-vax activism, partly because many of them are in those camps already, and partly because that’s what their paymasters in the USA are mostly concerned about now.

If that happens, then the trans community will be able to get back to negotiating with the NHS about how to improve our healthcare. And that will bring real benefits.

The main point, however, is that we would not have got here if it was not for you folks (or at least the UK citizens amongst you). Without you crashing the email servers at Downing Street with your letters of protest; without you signing petitions in your thousands; without you supporting us through your companies and trade unions; we would have seen our rights rolled back. Because the government has seen that the vast majority of the British people support their trans siblings, they have decided that persecuting us is not a vote-winner.

From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!

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.