Book Review – Atlas Alone

There aren’t many authors whose latest book I will grab and read immediately. Emma Newman is one. It has taken me a little while to get around to writing the review, but we are there now.

As I explain in the review, we have got to the point in the Planetfall series where it is hard to talk about the latest book without giving spoilers for the previous ones. If you haven’t read any of these books yet, you are missing out, and should catch up before reading on. If you are up to date, my review of Atlas Alone is here.

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Target Achieved

I’m delighted to report that I have now hit the £450 target that I set for raising money for One25. I still have around 21 miles to walk to meet the 125 miles requirement, but there are plenty of days left in May. So here’s what we are going to do.

I’m going to set a new target of 155 miles (that’s an average of 5 miles per day throughout the month). What I’d like you folks to do is get me to £600.

Can we do this? Sure we can.

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Last Lap

Those of you who have been following my fundraising challenge for One25 will know that I am almost up to 100 miles. I expect to pass that milestone later today, and I’m hoping that I will have passed the target of 125 miles by the end of Sunday. The main reason for that is that I will be leaving for Åcon on Monday and I’m unsure how much time I’ll be able to get for walking while I’m away. (Obviously I have several hours to walk on the boat, but I can’t track that through GPS.)

The other thing I need to do it get the funding up to 100%. We are currently less than £50 short of the target, so I don’t need many of you to help, but I do need some people to step up, please.

The good news is that as of yesterday the campaign had raised £8,743 thanks to all of the people involved. That’s amazing news, and it is going to make a big difference to the lives of street sex workers in Bristol over the coming year.

Great show, people!

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Big in Germany?

Next month I’m going to be giving a talk at the University of Köln in Germany. This is something that grew out of the event in Graz last year. There’s a web page up for the event now. It is in German, but quite a few of the words should be recognisable. The audience will be mainly arts students. It should be fun.

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Fringe Tomorrow

Bristol people, it is that time of the month again. The readers for this month’s BristolCon Fringe are RB Watkinson and Paul Cornell. Cavan Scott is MCing this one, which is just as well because otherwise Paul and I would just talk about cricket.

I look forward to seeing some of you tomorrow night. As usual we will be at the Gryphon on Colston Street from 7:00pm. Full details on Farcebook.

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New BBC SF Audiodrama

Forest 404

Our local media in Bristol keeps an eye on what the local BBC offices are up to. Today they had news of a new science-fiction audiodrama. Forest 404 is a post-apocalyptic story set in a world where forests no longer exist. The lead character, Pan, is a sound archivist who uncovers recordings of forest life from centuries before. She’s played by Pearl Mackie who will be best known to you as Bill Potts from Doctor Who.

The 27-part podcast series will also include, “factual talks from a range of speakers including musicians, bioethicists and anthropologists who guide the audience through the themes and issues the podcast presents.”

For more details, see Bristol 24/7.

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Book Review – A Brightness Long Ago

A Brightness Long Ago

I used to hate reviewing books before they were available in the shops. My readers would only get angry with me when they discovered that this great story I had told them about was still weeks away from being available.

These days things are different. The book trade, for reasons best known to itself, has become obsessed with pre-orders. If a book doesn’t sell enough copies before it is actually available, it is deemed a failure almost regardless of how many copies it eventually sells. Which is why review copies are now getting made available months in advance.

I got a copy of the new Guy Gavriel Kay novel back in February. I wrote a review immediately on finishing it, but I have saved it until now to post it. I understand it is due out in the UK on May 14th, so you still have time to pre-order it, but you don’t have too long to wait to get your own copy.

It is a new Guy Gavriel Kay novel. You know you want it. But just in case you need convincing, or you want to go down the rabbit hole of Renaissance Italy history before reading it, my review is here.

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Raising Money for One25

Every May the lovely people at One25 do a fundraising campaign around the theme of My 125 Miles. The idea is that you commit to traveling 125 miles under your own steam in some way or another, and people sponsor you. I’m a bit old for the running, swimming, etc., but I can still walk and a day in Bristol is generally about 4 miles worth. That’s what I have to average in a day to meet the target, so I figure I can do it.

For those of you who don’t follow me that closely, One25 is a Bristol-based charity for street sex workers. They do an amazing job supporting some of the most marginalised and despised women in Bristol. And they do it with love. Their aim is to get people out of the sex trade, but they don’t shame those women, they don’t scare them, they don’t persecute or prosecute them. The idea is to help the women become economically independent so that they don’t feel that they need to do sex work any more. And for those who are not yet economically stable enough to give it up, they provide food, health checks, hot showers, advice on avoiding dangerous clients and so on. You can find out more about their work here.

Royal watchers may remember that Meghan & Harry visited One25 earlier in the year, and Meghan wrote a bunch of uplifting statements on bananas. The White Feminism crowd on Twitter were furious with her (as they usually are).

Back with the campaign, I have undertaken to walk at least 125 miles in May. I’m looking for people to sponsor me. You can do that via this JustGiving page. I will be using MapMyWalk to verify the distance, and I’m pleased to report that today I managed 6 miles.

Details of the campaign and how the money will be spent can be found here. I have set a target of £450, which I note One25 says will cover the cost of supporting two women fleeing domestic abuse.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

I’ll be keeping you updated regularly via Twitter on my progress, both putting in the miles and getting pledges.

The donation page suggests a minimum donation of £10, but you can give any amount. I have almost 8000 Twitter followers. If just 1 in 20 of you gave just £1 each we’d be almost there. You can donate in currencies other than GBP.

And thank you to everyone who donates.

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Today on Ujima – Cervical Screening, Interculture, Mental Health Awareness & San Francisco

It was a busy show on Women’s Outlook today, and I didn’t cope as well as I might have done. Apologies again to Ben the Engineer for the various screw-ups which, hopefully, we managed to cover up during the show.

Anyway, we had guests, starting with Lynne from the NHS talking about their ongoing cervical screening campaign. As she explained, testing is very effective and the majority of cervical cancer cases can be cured before they get serious. Screening can help with other issues too. Of course there are all sorts of reasons why people might be nervous about the screening, but hopefully Lynne will have set people’s minds at rest, including those of trans guys. If you still have concerns or questions, Jo’s Trust are the people to talk to.

Next up we had Lisa Whtehouse from Interculture along with a lovely lady from the Ivory Coast whose name I think is Anamita, but I’ve not seen it written down (Lisa, please correct me if I’m wrong). Interculture is doing great work bringing cultures together. They are helping an empowering immigrant women, and I’m delighted that they want to do an event in Pride Week.

My third guest was Amran from CASS, a local mental health charity. She wanted to promote their campaign for Mental Health Awareness Week. The My Body Can campaign encourages people to think of positive things that your body can do, even if it is ony giving your friends a hug. The idea is to get people thinking positively about themselves, and to share that positivity on social media.

Thinking of which, my body can grow breasts naturally, given sufficient estrogen. I’m amazed at the number of people who think that trans women all have breast implants.

And finally, I ran an an interview with the fabulous Ardel Haefele-Thomas from San Francisco who is the editor of Introduction to Trandgender Studies, in which I have an essay. We talked about Ardel’s work as a lecturer at a community college, about the gentrification of San Francisco, and about the Orange Monster.

During the show I also did some plugs for events:

The latter includes Gareth L Powell and Virginia Bergin as well as myself; and Dr Sam Rogers from UWE who is a lecturer in English – my how the world has changed.

I also talked about a fundraising campaign I am doing for the lovely people at One25. I’ll be writing separately that very shortly. And I had a bit of a rant about the nonsense meted out to poor Caster Semenya today.

You can listen to the show via the Listen Again system here.

The playlist for today’s show was:

  • Pynk – Janelle Monáe
  • Sugar Walls – Sheena Easton
  • Lei Lei – Maryam Mursal
  • No Borders – Jama
  • Body & Soul – Amy Winehouse & Tony Bennett
  • Everybody Dance – Chic
  • I Left My Heart in San Francisco – Julie London
  • Dance With Me – Destiny’s Child
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Best Seller Again

The Green Man’s Heir has been on sale at Amazon UK all month. A month-long deal is never going to reach the intensity of sales of a single-day sale, so we won’t be #1 in all science fiction and fantasy again, but the book is currently #1 in Folklore, which is nothing to be sneezed at because it gets us a fancy ribbon on the sale page and more exposure.

It looks like the book will sell around 900 copies in the month, which will take us very close to 10,000 lifetime sales. I’m very pleased with that. And it bodes well for the sequel which is well underway and should be available at Worldcon.

And this, folks, is the sort of thing that can happen when you show faith in a brilliant writer like Juliet E. McKenna. Mainstream publishers please take note.

Also, if you are in the UK and still don’t have a copy of The Green Man’s Heir, go get one now while the sale is still on.

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Rambo Writing Course on Sunday

On Sunday I will once again be co-teching a course for Rambo’s Academy for Wayward Writers. Cat Rambo and I will be talking all about writing gender and how not to make a John Boyne idiot of yourself when doing so. It will be fun. There are still places available on the course. Details here.

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Oxford Reminder

On Saturday Stephanie Saulter and I will be on a panel about “The boundaries and territories of SF” as part of a conference staged by Maison Française. We will be joined by brilliant Bath-based writer, Emma Geen, and by Jeanne Debats from France. Full conference website here.

I will be in Oxford most of Friday, and will also be spending some time at the Oxford Postgraduate Conference in Assyriology, because why attend one conference when you can do two at once, right?

Hopefully I will see some of you at one or the other event.

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Book Review – A Memory Called Empire

A Memory Called Empire

There’s so much good SF&F being published at the moment. It is almost as if the universe has noticed the void left by the death of Gene Wolfe and is rushing to fill it. There’s no one of Wolfe’s class that I have noticed yet, but there are some very good debut authors.

I have had to be a little restrained in talking about Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire because too much enthusing over how cleverly she uses an SF idea to set up the plot would be spoilery. I want you all to have the pleasure of working it out for yourselves. You can read what I have felt safe to talk about here.

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Worldcon News

Eastercon is taking place at Heathrow this weekend, and one of the major announcements that has been made is that the 2024 bid for a UK Worldcon has selected a venue. The host city will once again be Glasgow, and the site will the familiar SECC, though it is now known as the Scottish Event Campus.

Mike Glyer has a brief report on File 770, and the official bid site can be found here. The bid is currently unopposed, but you never know what might turn up between now and 2022. Presupports will go on sale in Dublin.

As far as I know, there is no intention to revive the White Star Federated Spacelines and Starship Armadillo that Kevin and I created for the 2005 Worldcon. I don’t even know if the Armadillo is part of the facilities plans. But here’s a brief reminder of the Armadillo in flight:

It is also worth noting that by 2024 Scotland may be an independent country within the EU. Or there could be English tanks in Glasgow. In the current state of UK politics, anything is possible. If Scotland is still part of the UK at that time it could be very difficult for non-white-Anglo people to attend.

Meanwhile Jukka Halme, who is at Eastercon, tweeted this:

Knowing Jukka, this could just be him tossing a large rock into the fannish lake and watching the ripples, but if it is serious I’m very interested.

Posted in Conventions, Science Fiction | 6 Comments

Summer in Finland

The weather appears to have warmed up nicely, so I am looking forward to the summer which, as is traditional, will see me heading off to Finland.

At the end of May I will be at Åcon X, the 10th convention in the Åland Islands. This year’s GoH is Amal El-Mohtar, who I am very much looking forward to getting to know better. Not to mention there will be the boat trips on the Baltic and the lovely island destination.

In July Finncon will be in Jyväskylä, which is always lovely. I will get to hang out with the fabulous Irma Hirsjärvi again. Otto and Paula have promised me some tourism around central Finland. And best of all I get to be a Guest of Honour.

There are a couple of very interesting Finnish guests. Kersti Juva has translated The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Winnie the Pooh, Watership Down and many other famous books. Raine Koskimaa is a professor of Contemporary Culture, which basically means he gets to play video games for a living. The author GoH is Charles Stross, which means that Feòrag and I will get to hang out together, drink beer and be disreputable. It also means that Fluff Cthulhu will get to feast on Finnish brains.

I’ll doubtless be on programming with Charlie at some point, which may well lead to discussion of tentacled monstrosities from beyond the stars, but we promise to talk about things other than the Tories as well. I will be giving a guest lecture, the title of which is, “The Prehistory of Robotics”. It will cover the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Ottomans, the Kalevala and much more.

Posted in Conventions, Finland, Science Fiction, Where's Cheryl? | 2 Comments

Book Review: Luna: Moon Rising

Luna: Moon Rising

Few things get a book up to the top of my To Read pile quicker than it being by Ian McDonald. I’ve been waiting eagerly for the final installment in the Luna series for some time. Obviously it had to be out in time for Worldcon, where he is the Author Guest of Honour. So it is available now (sort of). If you want to see what I made of it, click here.

Posted in Books, Science Fiction | 2 Comments

New Asterix Book in October

I get all sorts of odd PR emails from publishers, many of which are of no interest to me whatsoever. This one was different. I grew up on Asterix books, and while I know they are not quite the same these days as there has been turnover in the creative team, a new one is always of interest.

The book will be called Asterix and the Chieftan’s Daughter. The basic plot is that Vercingetorix, the famous Gallic leader who defied Caesar, had a daughter. She has now come to the little village in Amorica. The blurb doesn’t explain why, other than that she’s on the run from Caesar, but I’m assuming that she will want Asterix and co to support her in a rebellion against the Romans.

The book is due for publication on October 24th. Full press release here.

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Zoran Živković on Writing

Many of you will know Zoran Živković as one of our finest contemporary writers of weird fiction. Fewer, I suspect, know that for many years he taught courses in creative writing at the University of Belgrade. Now a book based on his teaching is to be published in English. It is called The Clay Writer and will be available from Springer in August. The book consists of a lengthy essay on writing, followed by a number of short stories that Zoran used to demonstrate technique. I’m looking forward to reading it.

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Fringe Open Mic Tonight

If you happen to be in Bristol tonight, do pop along the the Gryphon for BristolCon Fringe. It is our annual Open Mic event where anyone can come along and read for 5 minutes. If there are insufficient victims volunteers I may read something myself.

Full details here.

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Greetings from GeMANE 3

Hello, I am in Ghent, which is in Belgium, though very close to the Dutch border and most people here seem to speak Dutch.

The reason that I am here is that I am attending the 3rd Workshop on Gender, Methodology and the Ancient Near East. It is basically a gathering for Assyriologists who are mindful of gender and intersectionality issues in their work. That means that they don’t assume that the people they are studying are all white, all cisgender and heterosexual, and all convinced of the primacy of the nuclear family as a basic social unit. I mean, really, why would anyone make those assumptions? And yet they do.

Much of what goes on is relatively specialist. Also, like any academic conference, sometimes we get talks from people who are early in their careers and don’t have a lot to say. But they’ll get better from going to events like this. And there have been several really great papers already.

Being me, I was particularly interested in the session on the Neo-Assyrian Empire. My thanks to Amy Gansell for continuing to expand my knowledge of Assyrian queens, and to Saana Svärd for a fascinating paper that hinted at a possible matriarchal culture, and maybe even women warriors, among the ancient inhabitants of Arabia.

For this post, however, I will concentrate on just one paper: Omar N’Shea & Sophus Helle on the gendered performance of Ashurbanipal.

Some of you will have seen the exhibition about the life of Ashurbanipal at the British Museum over the winter. He’s the guy featured in the reliefs of a lion hunt. All very macho. And yet up until the 19th Century our view of him was very different. Our only evidence for his existence came from the Roman writer, Diodorus Siculus, who called him Sardanapulus and said he was decadent and effeminate. The picture above by Delacroix gives a good impression of the image Diodorus protrays.

Diodorus claims to have got his information from a Greek writer called Ctesias, but the work he cites hasn’t come down to us and Greeks tended to be a bit biased when talking about anyone from the part of the world where Persia then stood.

Then we did archaeology, and discovered Assyrian records, and the lion hunt reliefs. Our picture of Ashurbanipal changed significantly.

But it isn’t that simple. Here’s the famous picture of Ashurbanipal skewering a charging lion.

That thing in his belt that I have highlighted, it is a stylus, for writing on clay tablets. The King is a scholar as well as a warrior, and doesn’t go anywhere without the means of writing down his exploits.

Omar (and Sophus but he couldn’t be here this week) then pointed to a message from the goddess Ishtar to Ashurbanipal. The Elamites were in revolt, but Ishtar advised the King not to lead his troops against them. She, the Goddess of War, had it all in hand. He should stay safe at home and enjoy a feast or two. Here he is enjoying a garden party along with his principal wife, Libbali-šarrat.

And yet this scene of domestic tranquility is not all it seems. To the far right of the picture Ashurbanipal’s bow lies resting on a table. To the left the head of Teumman, the Elamite king, hangs from a tree.

Ashurbanipal, then, sends very mixed messages through his royal imagery and statements. On the one hand he is a pleasure-loving scholar whose empire is so safe he doesn’t need to go to war himself; on the other he hunts lions for fun and glories in the defeat of his enemies. This contradiction may have led to a certain amount of character assassination by his enemies, and that may have given rise to the legend of Sardanapulus.

So that’s the sort of thing I have been listening to today. My thanks to Omar and Sophus for a great paper.

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