War With Scotland

Back when I was in school we learned all sorts of strange stuff in history. One of the things that caused much mirth in the class was the fact that there was a major war between Britain and Spain called The War of Jenkins’ Ear. It was a dispute over the American colonies. In 1731 a British ship called the Rebecca, captained by one Robert Jenkins, was boarded by Spanish coastguards off the coast of Florida (then Spanish territory). Captain Jenkins was accused of smuggling, and his left ear was cut off as a warning to other British sailors. Eight years later, Parliament used this incident as a pretext to declare a war that was fought mainly in the Caribbean.

Now we have something even sillier. The Westminster government has precipitated a major constiutional crisis over the issue of Scottish devolution, and their pretext for doing so is access to women’s toilets. Perhaps it will be called the War of Ladies’ Loos.

As you are probably aware, the Scottish parliament has passed a law simplifying the process of legal gender recognition in Scotland. What they have done is by no means unusual. Many countries around the world have already passed similar legislation. Ireland did it in 2015, and none of the terrible things that anti-trans camapigners have predicted for Scotland have come to pass there. But Westminster has chosen to make this issue one over which they will activate their nuclear option of a Section 35 Order. This is a part of the Scottish Devolution Act which allows Westminster to strike down any law passed by Holyrood if that law is deemed a signifcant danger to the Union (i.e., the political union of the component countries of the UK).

Yes, you read that right. The question as to where I am allowed to pee is so important as to pose a significant danger to the Union.

Westminister had earlier threated to simply refuse to recognise any Gender Recognition Certificates (GRCs) issued by Scotland under the new law. It was pointed out to them that they already recognise certificates issued by many foreign countries under similar legislation. Their reaction to this was to say that they would withdraw recognition of GRCs issued by any country whose procedures they deemed to be insufficiently rigorous. This would include Ireland, Belgium, Norway, Portugal, Iceland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia. Practically speaking it would also include Australia, Canada, Mexico and the USA, where such legislation is devolved to state legislatures and it may be difficult to discern from someone’s ID where their GRC was issued.

The fact that Australia, Canada, the USA and Mexico all have different regulations for legal gender recognition in different parts of their country, without any apparent difficulty, has apparently not yet penetrated the thick skulls in Westminster.

The justification for triggering Section 35 is also so flimsy as to be practically transparent. Westminster claims that the Scottish law will negatively impact the UK’s Equality Act by making it too easy for someone to obtain a GRC. However, the protections afforded to trans people under the Equality Act are independent of whether we have a GRC or not. You acquire the Protected Characteristic of Gender Transition simply by declaring publicly that you are undergoing such a process. That is, you aquire it by self-identification, in a manner much less robust than the Scottish law which requires a Statutory Declaration, with heavy penalties should you make such a declaration fraudulently.

It is also worth noting that the entire process of medical gender transition is predicated on self-identification. Once you have been accepted as a patient at a gender clinic you are required to begin living full-time in your desired gender. To facilitiate this the doctors will give you letters allowing you to change ID such as your driving licence and passport to match your new gender. A Gender Recognition Certificate only affects your birth certificate, which is explicitly not acceptable as a form of ID.

In other words, the whole thing is a storm in a teacup into which Westminster has been backed by the combined efforts of the right wing media, the religious right elements within the Conservative Party, and probably substantial donations from a certain wealthy author.

Interestingly, the Scottish law was backed by the Scottish Labour Party. The Welsh Government, which is a Labour government, has expressed support for the Scottish law. But the English Labour Party, or at least its leader, has expressed support for the Westminster line.

Goodness knows where this will end, but it appears that we are in for another year of Interesting Times in UK politics.

LGBT History Month is Approaching

At least for those of us on this side of the Atlantic. There is a rational explanation for why it is celebrated at different times of the year on different continents, but I’m not going to go into that now.

Anyway, because things are ramping up here, online talks that I am doing are starting to be advertised. The first three all went live today.

First up I am doing a talk about Le Chevalier d’Éon (or perhaps La Chevalière d’Éon, and there’s a whole discussion to be had about the correct French, let alone the correct gender) for Histfest. That’s on the evening of Feb. 24th. You can book for that one here.

Next up I am doing a talk about Aleksandr Aleksandrov for Bristol’s M-Shed Museum. I’m rather pleased to be able to do a talk about someone from Ukraine, even if he did fight for the Russians (against Napoleon). That’s on the evening of Feb. 21st, and you can book here.

Finally I will be hosting another talk for M-Shed. I’m very much looking forward to this, because it features the Queen of Girls with Swords, Claire Mead, talking about the utterly irrepresible Julie d’Aubigny. That’s on the evening of Feb. 15th, and you can book here.

The M Shed talks are both free. The HistFest one has a £5 price tag. I very much hope that lots of you will sign up for the HistFest one. It’s not much more than the price of a posh coffee, and getting a good audience means that high-profile history organisations such as HistFest will have the confidence to do more talks about queer history. It is great that Bristol City Council is prepared to sponsor the M-Shed talks, but for queer history to establish itself we must show that people are prepared to pay to learn about it.

Talking of HistFest, they have a weekend event coming at at the British Library in April. I’m not on programme, because I don’t have a TV show or a book coming out. But other, much more famous, historians will be there. I’m planning to be in the audience. Dates here, and the programme will be announced before the end of the month.

The Muppets do Lovecraft?

On Twitter today Adam Roberts did a brief Muppets pastiche of The Silmarilion. You can find it here. While Tolkien definitely needs the Muppet treatment, I think it would be far more fun for them to do Lovecraft. It practically writes itself. Fellow mere humans, I present, The Muppet Mythos:

Staring

  • Kermit the Frog as Robert Olmstead
  • Beaker as Herbert West
  • Gonzo as Randolph Carter
  • Sam the Eagle as the Chief Cultist
  • and presenting Miss Piggy as the Femme Fatal

Female Chorus
“It’s time to start the chanting
It’s time to speak the rites
It’s time to worship Dagon in old Innsmouth Town tonight”

Male Chorus
“It’s time to wear monks’s habits
It’s time to douse the lights
It’s time to do black magic in old Innsmouth Town tonight”

Stadler
“Why do we always come here?”

Waldorf
“I guess we’ll never know”

Stadler
“We always end up tortured”

Both
“By beasts from down below”

They are dragged off by Deep Ones

Kermit
“To introduce our guest star
That’s what I’m here to do
So it really makes me happy
To introduce to you…”

Cthulhu rises from R’lyeh.

Everyone runs away screaming.

Up on the Aqueduct

It being that time of year, my annual review post is up on the Aqueduct Press blog. It was a little late this year due to my being in Montréal for part of December, but I got there in the end. It went live on Christmas Eve, but I didn’t think there was any point in publicising it then. There are lots of other great contributions too. You can read mine here.

Squidmas is Coming

It is that time of year when I break out the HP Lovecraft Historical Society’s delighfully bizarre versions of Christmas songs. As I don’t see why I should be the only one to make sanity rolls, I normally torment you folks with something suitably abhorrent. However, I’m feeling generous this year and I’m going to let you off. Instead, as I had the pleasure of hearing this live recently (in Bath Abbey no less!), I’m going to treat you to an actual Solstice song. Here’s Jethro Tull. Enjoy!

My Octocon Schedule

The lovely Irish people have been very kind to me this year. You can catch up on my interview with translator, Julia Meitov Hersey, and on the launch event for Juliet McKenna’s The Green Man’s Gift, via their Twitch stream. The convention itself is just a week away, and the programme for the weekend has been released. It is a hybrid event and I’m part of the online entertainment. Here’s what I will be doing.

Saturday, 15 October – 17:30

Found in Translation – There’s so much amazing SFF we would love to read but that wasn’t written in a language we know. Fortunately, translators can bring those stories to us by choosing just the right words to convey the nuances and flavour of the landscapes, characters, and dialogue of worlds beyond our experience. Our panel discusses the secrets behind the linguistic alchemy of translation. With Jean Bürlesk, Faranae (M) & Julia Meitov Hersey.

Sunday, 16 October – 10:00

Monarchy and Nepotism in Fact and Fiction – “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.” Divine right, heroic lineages, secret legacies and cronyism are all often used to explain why a character is important within a story, whether they – or the audience – know about their birthright or not. But considering we find it hard to tolerate these ideas in our own societies, what are the alternatives in fiction to the random lottery of inherited power, wealth and privilege? With Jean Bürlesk, Aliette de Bodard, Ian Moore & Gillian Polack. I am moderating.

Memberships, both virtual and in-person, are still available from the convention website. A virtual membership is only €20.

Octocon Presents (me)


I’m delighted to report that, on Tuesday September 20th, I will be participating in the Octocon Presents programme for 2022. This is a series of online events leading up this this year’s Irish National Science Fiction Convention. I will be talking to Julia Meitov Hersey, a translator who works with Russian language books. She is the translator for Ukrainian authors, Maryna and Serhiy Dyachenko, and the winner of last year’s Rosetta Award for SF&F translation. The show starts at 8:00pm Irish time which, miraculously giving how stupid my government is, is exactly the same as British time.

My FantasyCon Schedule

As promised, here’s what I will be up to at FantasyCon:

Saturday 17th, 11:00 – Angry Robot Room – Non-fiction Genre Writing – Reviews and Critiques (with John Dodd (m), Maura McHugh, Steven Poore, Kit Power)

Saturday 17th, 16:00 – Atlantis 1 – Writing in Collaboration (with Emily Inkpen (m), Gary Couzens, LR Lam)

Sunday 18th, 10:00 – Atlantis 2 – Writing Older Characters – What happens when the chosen one grows up (with Jen Williams, Gabriela Houston, Liz Willams, WP Wiles)

If you are wondering about the writing in collaboration one, I’m told that the panel will encompass many different ways in which that happens and I’ll be talking about sensitivity reading.

I think this is the first time I’ve ever been put on an old person panel, though it looks like everyone else on it is younger than me (and in some cases a lot younger).

Hopefully I will see some of you there.

Worldcon Approaches

I see that Chicon 8 has now published their program schedule. I’m not on it. I did apply for programming, and I was offered three interesting panels. However, two of them were potentially quite controversial, and something happened that made me not feel 100% safe to be involved, so I withdrew from participation.

I’d like to note that this is unlikely to be an issue for the vast majority of people. I’m an easy target, for a whole variety of reasons, and I have a very high comfort threshhold. I’m still happy to do smaller conventions, and indeed have three panels at the upcoming FantasyCon which I will write about in a day or two. But I am thinking very seriously about being involved in Worldcons in future because they are so high profile and therefore get targeted by people who want to cause trouble.

Weightless Once More

No, I haven’t been on a diet. I am pleased to announce that Wizard’s Tower Press books are once more available via Weightless Books, a very fine independent purveyor of ebooks.

Those of you with long memories may recall that we had to stop using Weightless back in the days of the Great EU VAT Debacle. Much has happened since then. To start with, the UK is no longer part of the EU. Also Weightless are now preventing sales into the UK and EU. So all of the legal issues seem to have gone away. Obviously folks in the UK and EU can’t take advantage of this, but for folks elsewhere I would encourage you to buy from Weightless rather than from the Evil Empire.

I’ll be adding purchase links to the various book pages on the Wizard’s Tower website as soon as I can get it all done.

Imaginales in Crisis

Long-time readers will remember that I very much enjoyed my trip to Épinal (the ‘home of comics’) in France for the Imaginales festival. It had a lot of the feel of a traditional science fiction convention, but was run in conjunction with the municipal authorities which meant that it was a) free and b) very well attended.

Well, it was good while it lasted. The trouble with working with local government is that the people you are working with can get voted out and replaced by people with very different attitudes.

Thanks to friends from France (primarily Aliette de Bodard and Lionel Davoust) I have learned that the new mayor, Patrick Nardin, has fired Stéphanie Nicot, the Creative Director of the festival, and many other staff are leaving in protest.

Stéphanie was the founder of Imaginales, and has been in charge since it started. She is getting on in age these days, but had put a succession plan in place. Possibly more importantly in this case, Stephanie is a trans woman, and one of the better known advocates for trans rights in France. I’m hearing of various women and people of colour complaining that their role in Imaginales has been reduced since the new management took over.

M. Nardin has also accused Stéphanie and her team of being unprofessional. Having been to the event, I’m happy to say that’s absolutely not the case. However, I suspect that what is meant here is not ability to do the job, but desire to make profits. My guess is that M. Nardin wants to see Imaginales run more like San Diego ComicCon, and have the festival bring in big money for the town. If that’s the case, he certainly won’t be interested in the top quality literary guests that Stephanie used to bring to the event. He’s also going to have to find a whole lot of fans daft enough to work for free to make money for him.

There’s an interview with Stéphanie (in French) here.

It is all very sad, but probably kind of inevitable given the rightward drift of politics around the world. I hope that French fandom rallies round and finds somewhere to put on a new event. They may not be able to do it in conjunction with a local council, and they might have to charge for memberships, but at least they’ll be in control. Hey, they might even bid for a Eurocon…

British Fantasy Awards

So, yesterday the British Fantasy Society announced the shortlists for their annual awards. Much to my delight, I have some involvement in this.

First up, Wizard’s Tower Press is a finalist for Best Independent Press. We are not going to win. Two of the other finalists have won before, and all three have books as finalists in at least one category. But it is nice to be nominated. It certainly brings the press to the attention of more people.

Next up we have Best Non-Fiction where we find Worlds Apart: Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction. This is the book with my Queer Animals essay in it. It has already won the BSFA Award in the same category. And basically Francesca should win All The Things, because she’s awesome.

And finally, in Best Fantasy Novel (The Robert Holdstock Award), we have SisterSong. I’m really happy for Lucy. This is one of the best uses of a trans character in fantasy that it has been my pleasure to read, let alone be involved with. She’s up against She Who Became the Sun, which is very stiff competition, but I’m keeping my paws crossed.

These being British awards, obviously I know a lot of other people on the shortlists. I don’t have space to congratulate everyone I know individually. But I do want to put in a special mention for my pal Pete Sutton who is up for Best Collection with The Museum for Forgetting. And I want to express my extreme delight that Premee Mohamed has got some recognition for These Lifeless Things, which is a wonderful novella.

See you all at Heathrow in September, folks.

Westercon Updates

Westercon #74 starts tomorrow, and as always there are a few programme updates. In particular I’ve stepped in to moderate the Gulf Futurism panel because Cristina has been dragged away for other things. I know very little about SF&F from the Arab world, but I have some excellent panelists to talk to. Also I’m going to be interviewing Stark Holborn for the SF Westerns panel, because none of the other ornery varmints wanted to be on that panel.

Kevin tells me that membership sales are closed now, because the registration staff are to busy at-con. However, if anyone is desperate for a virtual membership, I’m sure I can sort that for you. The virtual program schedule is here, and anything listed here as being in the Blue Room is also being streamed.

Coming to Tonopah?

Westercon is a traveling convention that usually takes place somewhere on the West Coast of the USA. This year it will be “in the middle of nowhere”. That’s a Finnish joke. The Finns have a saving that means “in the middle of nowhere” but actually translates as “in the middle of Nevada”, which is exactly where this year’s Westercon is.

It is actually remote even for the USA. Tonopah, Nevada is 200 miles from the nearest airport. It is a nice little town, with an interesting history, and an excellent value convention center. Some people will be there in person. But it will be a BristolCon sized event: small and friendly. For those people who can’t make it in person, there will be an online component.

The virtual program, which I helped curate, will take place early in the morning, Nevada time. In-person attendees can watch it over breakfast, but it is better timed for people on the East Coast, in Brazil, or in Europe. We made a point of not using North American panelists. Everyone is from Europe, the Middle East and South America. You can see the list of panels here.

In addition, one stream of in-person programming will be broadcast (and have some virtual participants). That’s everything listed in the Blue Room here.

If you would like to watch the virtual program and/or the streamed content, you can do so with a Supporting Membership, which costs just $20. Buy here.

Airship Nebula Ahoy!

The 2022 Nebula Conference starts tomorrow, with the award ceremony on Saturday evening (US time). Thankfully I don’t have to be up for that, but I am on programme.

Indie Publishing for LGBTQ+ Authors
Sat, May 21, 2022 6:00 AM to 7:00 AM
Indie publishing is a new frontier for many authors, but what does breaking into this space look like for members of the LGBTQ+ community? Join us for a discussion of ideas, advice, and the personal experiences of independently published queer authors.
With Maya MacGregor / M Evan MacGriogair, Sienna Tristen & Sarah Loch (M)

I hope to see some of you there.

Gone Bananas – Day 6

Today was the last day of the GoBananas challange. I’m pleased to say that I reached my target of raising £350 for One25, but they can always do with more and the donation page will remain open for a few days if you are so inclined.

Here’s today’s menu.

Brunch – French Toast

One of the things I love about Canada is getting breakfast at Eggspectation. Here’s my version of their French Toast. Spread cream cheese on one side of your brioche. Make a sandwich with chopped strawberries and banana, with the cheese outside. Dip the sandwich into a mix of egg, cream, vanilla & cinnamon. Fry in butter. Top with remaining fruit, walnuts, whipped cream, maple syrup. It is fantastically yummy.

Smoothie – Banana & Blueberry

Banana, frozen blueberries, coconut milk, and surprisingly a little cocoa powder. Not sure why the cocoa is there, or whether it has any benefit. Lovely colour though.

Dinner – Nachos with Banana Guacamole

Somewhat to my surprise, avocado and banana go very well together. Also this was an excuse to end the challenge with something nice and spicy. Basically just substitute ripe banana for half of the avocado in your guacamole recipe. Enjoy, and thank you for staying with me though this.

Gone Bananas – Day 5

Almost there now. Just one day to go.

I’m currently up to 79% of my target for the One25 fundraiser. Hopefully I can make it to 100% by 5:00pm tomorrow. You can help.

Breakfast – Pancakes Revisited

This is a more traditional pancake dish: just topped with banana, caramel and cream. Why not maple syrup, I hear you ask? Well partly as I have a lot of caramel to use up after making the banoffee pie, and partly because I am saving the best to last. Tomorrow we pull out all the stops.

Smoothie – Banana & Orange Revisited

As I stuffed up the breakfast smoothie yesterday I decided to get an orange and try again. It didn’t change the taste much, and it definitely doesn’t produce the bright yellow colour in the recipe book. I suspect yellow food colouring.

Lunch – Bread Machine Banana Bread & Sweet Plantain Chips

Having done banana bread in my cake maker, I decided to try doing it in the bread machine instead. I found a recipe online that was supposedly for my make of machine. Reader, it did not work. I ended up with a crust full of liquid banana mash. Clearly an issue with the balance of ingredients. Still, can’t win ‘em all. I have plenty of banana-based food I can be eating up for lunch.

That included the sweet variety of the plantain chips. No salted, obviously, and actually sweet. Unusual. Maybe needs chili.

Smoothie – Banana & Cucumber

Cucumbers are just water in a green coat, right? Well maybe not. This smoothie has banana, cucumber, pineapple and lime, plus ice. It is the pineapple and cucumber tastes that are the most obvious. Surprisingly delicious, and green.

Dinner – Banana Peel Curry

It would be wrong to do this challenge without using a recipe by Nigella, and to my delight the Domestic Goddess came through spectacularly. Yes, you can eat banana peel. The recipe is in the Cook, Eat Repeat book. It uses cauliflower for bulk, and like all curries the paste makes a huge difference.

Verdict: absolutely amazing. Best meal I have cooked all week.

Banana Beer

Is there such a thing as banana beer? Yes! You can find it in Asda. It is nothing particularly spectacular as far as beer goes, but it is made with bananas and that does not stop it tasting of beer. And of bananas.

Banana Splits

Banana splits are dead easy, right? Just slice some bananas, top with ice cream, and slather with chocolate sauce and cream. But this is Eurovision night, so I needed to go a bit over the top. Hence this recipe, courtesy of the Hairy Bikers.

Bananas lightly fried in butter and brown sugar. Ice cream, whipped cream and hazelnuts toasted in sugar and butter to top, and a sauce made from chocolate, whipping cream, golden syrup and rum.

The presentation is harder. The bananas tend to break when being fried, and they brown a little, but the taste is so much better.

Gone Bananas – Day 4

Only two days to go now and I can stop eating bananas for a while. Today was a bit intense. Here’s the menu.

Also the usual reminder that I am raising money for One25, by using bananas in all my meals until Sunday. I’m delighted to see that I’m up to 76% of my target, but there’s still a way to go. You can donate here.

Breakfast – Banana Yoghurt

Yoghurt is a regular part of many people’s breakfasts, but I make my own. I have an EasiYo yoghurt maker, which makes the process very simple. Just add water to the packet mix, follow the instructions, and leave overnight. A 1 kg batch lasts me about a week. They have loads of flavours, including banana.

Smoothie – Banana & Orange

You are getting two smoothies today, because this one is very much a breakfast drink. The recipe calls it “Top o’ the morning”. It contains banana, an orange, almond milk, cinnamon and ice. Except that I mis-read the recipe and don’t have an orange to hand so I used orange juice, which makes it rather more liquid.

Lunch – Plantain Chips

One thing I wanted to do this week was feature the banana’s lesser-known cousin, the plantain. However, I couldn’t manage to find any in the local shops, so I’ve had to settle for chips. Sadly, once they have been fried and salted, they don’t taste much different to bananas.

Smoothie – Banana & Mocha

This one has banana, chilled coffee, almond milk, almond butter, cocoa powder, ice and agave nectar. I was disappointed to discover that having agave in it did not involve actual tequila.

I’m not a big fan of iced tea/coffee, but the cocoa powder makes this. Yum.

Dinner – Orange Pecan Shrimp

We’ve done risotto, we’ve done Latin American, we’ve done curry, now it is time for something with an Asian theme to it. There’s a sauce made from orange juice, rice vinegar, soy sauce and cornflour, plus orange marmalade and ginger. Cook some frozen peas separately (I put them in with the rice part way through). Fry the shrimp until just pink, then reduce the heat, add the sauce, cover and cook for a few minutes. Then add the peas and banana pieces. Serve with rice and toasted chopped pecans.

Cocktail – Banana Daiquiri

Fortuitously today is International Cocktail Day. And it is Friday, so a little alcohol won’t go amiss. The classic banana cocktail is, of course, the banana daiquiri. This is made with ice, banana, rum, an orange liqueur, lime juice and sugar. Mine got made with what I had in the cupboard, which meant Kraken rum (obviously) and Cointreau Blood Orange.

Dessert – Banoffee Pie

The great thing about banoffee pie is that you can make it without cooking. The base is crushed digestive biscuits and melted butter, which needs a few hours in the fridge to set. Then cover the base with caramel, set the banana pieces into it, and cover with whipped double cream. I added some grated chocolate on the top.

It’s not the greatest looking slice in the world, but that was amazing.