WiFi SciFi – First Impressions

Today I participated in my first online science fiction convention. It was a small thing, just two panels and a quiz, but you have to start somewhere. It went very well, all things considered. Of course not everything went according to plan, but the attendees weren’t expecting perfection because we all knew it was an experiment. One of the purposes of the experiment was to find out what worked and what didn’t, so that next time can be better.

Part of the success was definitely down to a great list of panelists that included Mike Carey, Dave Hutchinson, Aliette de Bodard, Gareth Powell and Tade Thompson. Part of it was also due to Anne Corlett and her team who, I understand, have been working hard in the past few days getting to grips with the Zoom software and discovering all of the advertised features that don’t actually work as advertised.

Another great part of the event was the international nature. We had people from the USA (including one Californian who was up at 7:00am), from Canada, from Finland and Croatia, apparently someone from India though I don’t know who that was, and one very keen Australian for whom the con was in the middle of the night. This gives me a lot of hope for Worldcon becoming truly international.

I will be catching up with Anne and her team over the next few days and talking through some of the issues that came up. There are certainly some things that can be improved with minor tweaks to the way things are run, and others that would be better if the software wasn’t so buggy. If anyone who attended it has feedback they want to pass on, do get in touch. The objective is to do a more in-depth review for the next Salon Futura.

The first panel was also streamed live on YouTube. You can watch it below.

I’m not sure what happened to panel 2, but I’m sad if it is not available as it was great (apart from Tade’s internet woes).

A Virtual Convention, On Saturday

While I have been busy making books, one of our local writers has been busy making a convention. Anne Corlett has created WiFi SciFi, which will take place on Saturday afternoon over Zoom. It is only a small convention, but it has a great line-up. Gareth Powell, Mike Carey, Tade Thompson and Aliette de Bodard are all involved. And it is free to attend. For more details, go here.

March Salon Futura

The latest issue of Salon Futura went live last night. Here’s what you can find in it:

Reviews

Other Things

All You Need Is Love

And lo, I can bring it to you, courtesy of Academia Lunare.

Ties That Bind: Love in Fantasy & Science Fiction is the title of the latest collection of academic essays from our very lovely friends in Edinburgh. The book is due to be published on July 28th, but the table of contents has just been released. You can find it here.

You all want to read a paper by me titled, “Robot Love is Queer”, don’t you.

Pre-orders will open in May.

Rebecca F. Kuang to give 2020 Tolkien Lecture

The 2020 JRR Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature will be given by Rebecca F. Kuang. It will take place as usual at the Pichette Auditorium, Pembroke College and the date is Tuesday 28th April. You can reserve a (free) place here.

As I’m sure most of you know, Kuang’s debut novel, The Poppy War, won the Crawford and Compton Cook Awards, and was a finalist for a whole bunch of others including the Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards.

Further details of the event can be found here. I hope to see some of you there.

Women in SF: The Podcast

The lovely people from Cosmic Shed have published a podcast recording of the panel on Women in Science Fiction that I was part of recently. The other panelists are Kate Macdonald, Emma Geen and Liz Williams. Our thanks to Cosmic Shed, and of course again to Foyles Bristol, The Bristol Women’s Literature Festival, and the Bristol Festival of Ideas.

You can listen to the podcast here, or through the podbean app.

I’m not going to list all of the books I mentioned as the podcast is very clear, but there are a few things that I couldn’t remember or didn’t explain fully.

The essay by Suzette Hayden Elgin that I mentioned is The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-defence and it is available from Amazon and other sellers.

The Dutch writer I mentioned is Thomas Olde Heuvelt.

The woman biologist I was trying to remember is Joan Slonczewski. She’s American, not Canadian, for which my apologies.

And for more about French science fiction, my Small Blue Planet podcast with Mélanie Fazi & Lionel Davoust is still worth a listen.

Love Diana?

No, not the Goddess. Not even Diana Prince. I am, of course, talking about Diana Wynne Jones.

Last year an academic conference about Diana’s work was held in Bristol. My friends Farah Mendlesohn and Cathy Butler were the main movers behind the event. An ebook of papers from the conference has since been published. You can get a copy here.

If you buy it, you are buying direct from the publisher, i.e. the conference. Everyone who provided content and helped create the book has given their labour for free, so all of the money from sales goes back into the project. The plan is to use revenue from book sales to finance another conference. Just 25 copies of the £10 will generate enough income for a deposit on the venue.

It would be great if other academic conferences worked like that, instead of getting tied in to the scam of academic publishing.

Update: Farah tells me that some independent professionals were involved in creating the book, and were paid for their services, But I understand that those costs have now been covered. So all future revenue will go towards the next conference.

Today on Ujima: #LGBTHM, Feminist AI and Time to Talk Day

I was live on Ujima again today. It was a bit of a scramble getting the show together and huge thanks to those guests who came on board yesterday. Also huge thanks to my old pal Valentin who used to run the desk for Paulette back in the day when I was a trainee presenter. As Ben was on holiday this week, Valentin stepped in to help out. Ben messaged me to say he was listening to the show online, which is incredible devotion to duty, and probably means that we had a listener in Kenya this week.

The first hour of the show was devoted to LGBT History Month events in Bristol. First up I was joined by Claire from Aerospace Bristol. They, in conjunction with The Diversity Trust, OutStories Bristol, and South Gloucestershire Council are putting on an event specifically aimed at engineers, and the aerospace industry in particular. The headline speaker is the wonderful Caroline Paige, and I’m particularly looking forward to the panel with the young people from Alphabets who will be discussing what they want from employers in the future. That event is on Saturday. I will be there with both my DT and OSB hats on. Full details are available here.

Next I welcomed back Karen from M Shed, along with Zoltán from Freedom Youth. I’m not curating the M Shed event this year. We’ve turned the whole thing over to the young people, and they have done an amazing job of putting together a programme. You can find details of their event here. It is on Saturday 22nd, and sadly I will be in Salzburg that weekend, but I hope some of you will go along and let me know how it turned out.

We also mentioned two other great events coming up in Bristol this month. The leading civil rights lawyer, Johnathan Cooper, will be at Bristol University Law School on the evening of the 19th to talk about, “Policing Desire: LGBT+ Persecution in the UK, 1970 to 2000”. Tickets are available (for free) here. Also there is the Black Queerness event that we covered in last month’s show. That’s on at the RWA. It is officially sold out, but there’s a wait list that you can get onto here.

The second half of the show began with my being joined by Coral Manton from Bath Spa University. Coral describes herself as a “creative technologist”, which basically means that she gets to do fun things with computers all day and gets paid for it. One of her projects is Women Reclaiming AI, which looks to do something about the sexist bias in electronic personal assistants.

We all know that most of these things (Alexa, Siri, etc.) come with female-coded voices, and that’s because the companies who make them decided (probably after some market research) that customers wanted a subordinate and submissive identity for their personal assistant. (Interestingly SatNavs work the other way: male drivers won’t take instructions from a female-coded voice.) Because these software constructs are maninly created by men, the personalities that they have are not based on real women, but on what men want their female assistants to be like.

This leads us down all sorts of feminist rabbit holes. Most notably, before Coral and her colleagues could create a “real” female personality for an AI, they had to decide what it meant to be a “real” woman. Part of the process has been running workshops in which groups of women get to have input into the process of creating the AI personality.

It turns out that one of the things that they asked for was that the AI would have the right to decline to help every so often. Real women can’t drop everything and help their families whenever they are asked to do so, so artificial women shouldn’t either. That sounded good to me, though I did have visions of Hal 9000 saying, “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that”; and possibly of Portia from Madeline Ashby’s vN saying, “NO, you will obey ME!”

I could have happily have talked to Coral about this stuff for the whole two hours. Hopefully you find the discussion as interesting as I did.

My final guests were Ali & Loo from some local mental health charities, and Shani, a poet who works with them. Tomorrow is Time to Talk Day, on which people are encouraged to talk about their mental health issues. There’s a whole lot going on in Bristol tomorrow, and you can find links to it all here. I particularly love Loo’s event making pom poms to support the Sunflower Suicide Prevention Project.

The other event that I had to mention is the one coming up at Foyles in Cabot Circus on the evening of the 25th. That will be Emma Newman, Emma Geen, Liz Williams and myself in conversation with Kate Macdonald on the subject of women in science fiction. I understand that it is sold out, but there is probably a wait list. Details here.

You can listen to today’s show via the Ujima Listen Again service here.

The playlist for today’s show was:

  • Faint of Heart – Tegan & Sara
  • So Strong – Labi Siffre
  • Two Old Maids – The Vinyl Closet
  • Cream – Prince
  • Come Alive – Janelle Monáe
  • Are Friends Electric – Tubeway Army
  • Dock of the Bay – Otis Reading
  • I Need Somebody to Love Tonight – Sylvester

And in case any of you haven’t seen it, here is the wonderful video for the Tegan & Sara song. Watch carefully and you will spot Jen Richards and Angelica Ross in there as well.

Talking of Angelica, I see that there are rumours that she’ll feature in the Loki TV series. There have also been hints that Sera, one of Marvel’s current openly trans characters, will be in Thor: Love & Thunder. It is tempting to tie the two together, but what I really want to see happen is for Angelica to play Loki alongside Tom Hiddleston, because it won’t be proper Loki without some gender-flipping and it would be awful if they put Tom in drag for that.

Crunching Hugo Stats

The lovely people at Vector asked me if I wanted to do an article looking back on the decade. This gave me the opportunity to crunch some Hugo data. The results are really quite remarkable. If you take a look here you will see why I titled the article, “The Decade That Women Won”.

I should dedicate that article to Joanna Russ. I wish that she was still alive to see it. We still have a long way to go, but the fight is not impossible.

Up On the Aqueduct

It is that time of year again. My review of the year post has gone up on the Aqueduct Press blog. There are already lots of other fine entries to the 2019 series, and doubtless many more to follow.

I need to apologise to Kate Heartfield because I totally forgot about her Alice Payne novellas when writing that post. However, I have now read Alice Payne Rides, so that will be reviewed in the next Salon Futura.

I still haven’t got to see Frozen 2. Maybe tomorrow.

February: Women in SF&F in Bristol

Normally in February I am rushing around the country doing LGBT History stuff. Next year, however, I will also be doing a panel on Women in SF&F at Foyles in Bristol (assuming that no apocalyptic events have destroyed Cabot Circus in the meantime, as tends to happen with great frequency in books by local writers). This event is the brainchild of Kate Macdonald from Handheld Press, and is going to be part of the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival. I am hugely honoured to be asked to feature alongside three brilliant local writers: Liz Williams, Emma Newman and Emma Geen.

It is a paid event, which I’m making no apologies for because the number of times I have turned up for a sold out free event and fewer than half the number of people who have booked have turned up is ridculous. You can get a ticket, and learn more about the event, here.

I am very much hoping that Ian Whates will manage to get some copies of Liz’s new novel, Comet Weather, to us for sale.

Inventing the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books about AIs and artificial beings:

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

Other books about digital worlds:

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

Julia recommended the anthology, Women Invent the Future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can listen to the show here.

The playlist is as follows:

  • Pipe – Christina Aguilera & Lewis Hamilton
  • World in Union – Ladysmith Black Mambazo (feat. PJ Powers)
  • Screen Kiss – Thomas Dolby
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Gil Scott Heron
  • History – Shea Freedom
  • Sticks and Stones – Jackie Shane
  • Hurricane Season – Trombone Shorty
  • 007 – A Fantasy Bond Theme – Barry Adamson

This Week in Bristol

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

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

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

Steampunks in Space

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

An Ideal Prince

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

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

A Romanian Film Festival

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

Today on Ujima – PapayaFest, Discrimination at Work, Fungi & Ellen Datlow

I did a radio show today. Here’s what went down.

I started out with a visit from my good friend Tamsin Clarke. We kept our clothes on this time. As you may recall, Tamsin is from Venezuela. She has been putting together a festival of Latinx culture called PapayaFest. It will feature Tamsin’s theatre productions and a great line-up of bands and DJs. Because Tamsin has such great topics for her plays we ended up talking about Simón Bolívar, matriarchal families and the current state of feminism in Latin America.

Next up I was joined by Karen and Erin from Bristol Law Centre. They have come up with an interesting new way of funding employment discrimination cases and they wanted to get the word out there. I was pleased to be able to point out what good work they do, and how necessary they have become because of the current government’s actions designed to make recourse to the law something that is only available to the very rich.

Guest three was my friend Esme who has got involved with mushrooms. They really are fascinating life forms, and most people have no idea how many types of fungi there are, or how crucial they are both to the ecosystem and to many modern industries. There will be a Fungus Day at Arnos Vale Cemetery on Saturday, which I’d be very tempeted to go along to if I wasn’t booked elsewhere.

And finally I ran part of the interview I did with Ellen Datlow at TitanCon. This extract includes how she got her job at Omni, what “best of the year” means, who is the only writer ever to have scared her, and why she once turned down a story by Margaret Atwood. The full interview will run in Salon Futura at the end of the month.

You can hear the whole show via Ujima’s Listen Again service here.

The playlist for this month’s show is as follows:

  • Simón Díaz – Caballo Viejo
  • WARA – Leave to Remain
  • Rodrigo y Gabriela – Hanuman
  • Elsa J – 9 to 5
  • Carlos Santana – Flor d’Luna
  • Janelle Monáe – Mushrooms & Roses
  • Sade – Nothing can come between us
  • Michael Jackson – Thriller