Into hard (biological) SF? Fancy an anthology with top name writers produced in collaboration with the European Astrobiology Institute? That’s your serious speculation on alien life right there. The only catch is that it is currently on Kickstarter, so it needs pledges in order to happen. But look, it will include stories by Mary Robinette Kowal, Peter Watts, Premee Mohamed, Gregory Benford, Tobias S. Buckell, Julie E. Czerneda, Malka Older, Stephen Baxter, Bogi Takács and many more. And it is co-edited by my good friend Julie Nováková. The title is Life Beyond Us, and you can back it here.
As best as I can gather from social media, you folks are spending the holiday weekend either at Eastercon, at Norwescon, or at both. (Or possibly you are on Facebook complaining about how much you hate online conventions.) I’m not at any of these, mainly because I’m on call for jury service at the moment and this weekend is one time that I know I can get a bunch of work done without having to worry about being called away. However, I did make an exception for Relampeio, because when you get invited to be a guest at a convention in Brazil you obviously say yes.
As a result, last night I spent a couple of hours online with some fabulous people, and had a great conversation. We did a panel titled, Dissident Bodies in Science Fiction, which covered all sorts of ways in which a body can be viewed as less than human, or as inhuman.
With me on the panel were Samuel Muca, who is a podcaster, literary critic and eco-Socialist activist. He’s also blind. Thiago Ambrósio Lage is a lecturer in biotechnology, a writer, and proudly gay. And Járede Oliver is a lecturer in Social Anthropology. We had a great chat, and it is available for reply on YouTube.
The introduction and farewell are in Portuguese, but the rest of the panel is in English. I understand that that was live translation going on, but we were backstage in StreamYard so we didn’t get to see any of that.
And if you enjoyed that, why not check out the rest of the Relampeio feed, which includes events with Chen Qiufan and Nisi Shawl, plus one this evening with Amal El-Mohtar.
The lovely folks at Luna Press Publishing have a new project underway. It is the 5th in their Academia Lunare series of non-fiction collections. You may remember that book #3 in the series, Gender and Sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction, won a British Fantasy Award. Also book #4, The Ties That Bind: Love in Fantasy and Science Fiction, is a finalist for this year’s British Science Fiction Association Awards. What’s more, the books have achieved these honours despite both having essays by me in them.
So, book #5. It is titled, Worlds Apart: Worldbuilding in Fantasy & Science Fiction. As usual it has a stellar international cast of contributors, and me. You can find the full contents list and contributor bios here. My offering is titled, “Worldbuilding with Sex and Gender”. It is, of course, about queer animals, because if our natural world is full of outrageously queer behavior there is no reason why your invented world can’t be either.
Pre-orders will open sometime in the spring, and in the meantime Francesca will be doing the PR thing by releasing abstracts of the various essays to whet your appetites.
Also the CFP for book #6 in the series is now out. It will be titled, Not the Fellowship. Dragons Welcome. The idea is to write about one of the lesser characters from The Lord of the Rings. You can pick anyone except a member of the Fellowship of the Ring, including Smaug. I wonder how many proposals they’ll get arguing one way or the other about Tom Bombadill. Guess I’d better put my thinking cap on.
It being February, the Locus Recommended Reading List has been published. As usual, I had a part in selecting which long-form works appear on it. Also as usual, I am only one of a large number of people involved, so I am not solely to blame for anything you don’t like about it.
On the other hand if there are things that you think are missing, I’d be happy to hear from you. Liza guested on Coode Street the other day and they had an interesting conversation about known biases of the List. I think that things like the Nth volume on an ongoing series are always going to be at a disadvantage, because reviewers tend to shy away from such things. Getting people to notice books that are not easily available in the USA is also hard. But hopefully the list is getting more diverse.
Email has just landed in my inbox listing the finalists for this year’s Philip K Dick Award. That, you may recall, is for science fiction first published in paperback. Here they are:
- Failed State by Christopher Brown (Harper Voyager)
- The Book of Koli by M. R. Carey (Orbit)
- Dance on Saturday by Elwin Cotman (Small Beer Press)
- Bone Silence by Alastair Reynolds (Orbit)
- Road out of Winter by Alison Stine (Mira)
- The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Orbit)
It is a bit of a sausage-fest, but I’m not going to complain too much as three friends of mine are on the list. It’s great to see Adrian Tchaikovsky getting more attention across the Pond. Al Reynolds absolutely deserves recognition for his Revenger series. And best of all, a book that I had a small part in creating is up there. Well done, Mike. Fingers crossed!
News broke last night that Storm Constantine has departed this plane of existence for pastures new. Lots of people have been posting about how lovely she was, including many of my collegues at BristolCon where she was a Guest of Honour in 2013. I didn’t see much of her then because that was also the year that Mary Robinette Kowal and Kevin attended, but the day all went very well.
My memories of Storm, however, go back a lot further. Back in 1996 I was in the middle of gender transition and trying to settle into Australian fandom. I went to the NatCon in Perth with some trepidation as Neil Gaiman was the headline Guest of Honour and we’d known each other for a long time; far longer than I had been me, so to speak. Neil had already assured me that he was cool about things by email, but the other writer GoH was Storm. She was a really big name at the time, and also fiercely feminist. I was a bit worried.
I needn’t have been. Storm turned out to be absolutely lovely, and considerably less Goth in real life than in her public persona. She insisted on having her photo taken with as many Aussie fans as she could find so as to have some pleasant souvenirs of the trip.
Despite having a lot of interests in common, we didn’t see each other much. I spent a lot of time in the USA, and Storm had her own group of friends that was somewhat tangential to UK fandom. But I did review more books by Storm in Emerald City than any other author than Kim Newman and Gene Wolfe (they are all tied on 12). She’s written some great books, and I know that the Wraeththu are very much loved by some sections of the trans community.
Storm was a year older than me, which means also a year older than Liz Hand and Ann VanderMeer. I guess that makes her the first of my cohort to wink out. But I’m sure she’s shining brightly in some other universe.
The lovely people at the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow are doing another online event. This one is titled, “D&D and Fantasy Fiction: Giants in the Oerth”. I am definitely looking forward to this. As someone who bought one of the first (white box) sets of D&D in the UK, I can definitely say “I was there!”. And of course my fellow players were all avid fantasy readers. I’ll be fascinated to see what history says about us.
The event will be at 6:00pm GMT on January 28th. Registration is required but free (and they will probably live stream on YouTube if they exceed their Zoom capacity). More details here.
Earlier this year I was approached by the lovely people at the Future Affairs Administration in China. They were interested in starting up a new set of SF&F translation awards and they wanted me to be part of the jury. Gary Wolfe was also involved, and I still very much believe in having such awards, so I said yes.
I was not expecting to be asked to chair the long-form jury, but once they accepted my suggestion that no one should hold the post for more than two years I said yes to that as well. Basically Gary and I are providing continuity from the previous set of awards. After a couple of years the new awards should be able to fly free.
There’s still a but of talking to do internally about how things will work, but there will be awards, and there is now a website.
Rachel Cordasco does a superb job of keeping track of what gets published in the field, so hopefully we won’t miss anything, but we are very much interested in what other people think of published works, so do let us know.
I am delighted to announce that we have a new author joining the Wizard’s Tower family. I have been a fan of Chaz Brenchley’s writing, and his cooking, for many years. When he mentioned on an interview for Coode Street that he was looking for a publisher for his Crater School books, I jumped at the opportunity. My thanks are due to Chaz’s agent, John Jarrold, for making this happen smoothly and quickly. The press release is here.
The books that we will be publishing are Chaz’s Crater School series, which are set in a 1930s girls’ boarding school, on Mars. This, then, is a post-steampunk world. Britain has colonised Mars, Russia has colonised Venus. There has been a Great War. Now there is peace, but uneasy tension between the interplanetary empires.
The books are unshamedly based on the famous Chalet School novels by Elinor M Brent-Dyer. A key aspect of the books is that while young boys are sent off by aetherflier to be educated on Earth, young girls go to school on Mars. So if there are adventures to be had, it is mostly teenage girls who get to have them.
By the way, if you are worried about a bloke writing this stuff, you need to be aware that Chaz got his start on a literary career by writing romance stories for teen girl magazines.
Of course there are adventures. Mars is not the desolate planet inhabited by NASA robots that we know. Chaz’s Mars has canals, it has native flora and fauna. Some of the fauna appears to be intelligent in a strange, very non-human way.
Our heroines, as teenage girls do, are determined to fight for justice. If that brings them into conflict with unreasonable parents, or with Russian spies, so be it. Crater School girls are afraid of nothing, even when perhaps they should be.
The first novel is due out in spring next year, with two more novels and a short story collection to follow. There are also plans for a cookbook, featuring the recipes of the Crater School’s legendary head cook, Mrs. Bailey. Fear not, though, readers, if you can’t find the right Martian ingredients there will be Terrestrial equivalents suggested.
I am going to have so much fun publishing these books. And yes, the first two novels do appear to qualify as YA.
That’s the title of a Bowie song, of course. But it is also a good title for a panel about diversity in science fiction and fantasy. No credit to me, of course. The panel is the brainchild of Philippa Ryder, who was one of the Guests of Honour at Octocon earlier this month, and is also a director of Under the Rainbow, a Dublin-based diversity advocacy organisation.
The panel will be free to watch online from 8:00pm on Friday (Oct. 23rd). Irish time is the same as the UK. Details of the other panelists, and how to register, can be found here. Hopefully I will see some of you turn up in the chat.
I backed a couple of crowdfunding projects today that some of you might be interested in.
The first is The Mab, a collection of tales from The Mabinogion, re-told for young readers by Welsh authors, and beautifully illustrated. Just the thing to get young people hooked on fantasy.
The other is Constelación, a proposed quarterly magazine that will carry speculative fiction in both English and Spanish.
As we approach Hallowe’en, regular as clockwork, it seems, people start complaining about the current World Fantasy Convention. This year, despite the con having gone virtual, is no exception.
I need to start with a little personal context. On October 4th I received an invitation to be on programme. It was for a “women in” type panel. The panel description seemed pretty dumb, but I could see how a panel could make interesting things out of it so I said yes.
However, I also checked out the other panel descriptions. I didn’t read them all closely, but I did look at the LGBT panel and I could immediately see that it would be seen as transphobic. It being my job to do this sort of thing, I added a polite note to my acceptance explaining the problem and suggesting that they re-word it before people on social media noticed. I did not get a reply.
I spent much of the next week or so concentrating on doing promotion for Aleksandar’s book, and attending Eurocon and Octocon. I noticed a few rumblings, including Tempest Bradford holding forth in fine style, but didn’t notice any more.
Then yesterday I noticed that WFC had posted an official apology for a whole lot of unspecified mistakes, and that a lot of the programme descriptions had been re-written, including the one I had been asked to be on. I also discovered that at least 7 people had withdrawn from programming at the convention in protest at its lack of sensitivity to diversity issues. Several of them were good friends of mine.
As it happens, although I thought I had confirmed my willingness to be on panel, no one from WFC has been in touch to explain about the change of panel description. So now I am not entirely sure whether I am still on panel. In any case, I am considering my position.
As I noted above, this sort of thing does tend to happen every year (Tempest’s post has a timeline of WFC debacles). Like Worldcon, WFC is run by a different group of fans in a different city each year. But unlike Worldcon, WFC does actually have management. There is actually a “They” who are responsible for it, and who could in theory make changes if they wanted to. World Fantasy has a Board of Directors.
Not being on the inside of this year’s WFC, I don’t know who put the programme together. I do know that the last time I was heavily involved (the 2009 World Fantasy, which was run by San Franciso Science Fiction Conventions Inc.) the creation of the programme was the element that was most ruthlessly micromanaged by the Board. Things may be different now, so I can’t be certain where the blame lies.
However, the Board does have responsibility in another way. They are the people who select bids to run WFC. So if the fan groups who run the convention keep screwing up, that must be because the Board is selecting the wrong people to run it. The Board is also responsible for the fact that this “World” convention hardly ever leaves North America. (The Brighton WFC only happened because Steve Jones was a Board member and was able to persuade them to let him run it.)
So here’s my point. The folks in Utah may have screwed up. They may also have been trying to run a convention with one hand held behind their backs by the WF Board. That was certainly the case for us with San José in 2009. I am absolutely up for supporting a boycott, provided that it is the Board that is the target. I want them to accept responsibility for this year’s mess, rather than leave it to the Utah con chair to carry the can. I want them to commit to change, at a Board level. And I want a promise that they will work with next year’s WFC in Montréal to make significant improvements. Because if all we do is yell at the Utah folks this year, and the Montréal folks next year, and so on, nothing will ever change.
This is your chance, fandom. You keep complaining that “They” should fix Worldcon, even though you know that there is no “They” with the power to do it, at least not in the short term. “They” should fix World Fantasy too, and in this case They exist. Here they are. They even have a convenient email address for you to write to.
Please don’t hassle individuals. I know nothing about the internal workings and politics of the WF Board. Some of the members may have more power than others, and some may be as upset about the state of things as we are. Some of them are friends of mine, so I very much hope that they are. This is a matter for the Board collectively. It needs to act.
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.
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.
While we might all be stuck at home wishing that we could sit in a bar with our friends, one of the benefits of the new virtual world in which we find ourselves is that travel is instantaneous and free. This means that we can have conventions that are genuinely global, and very cheap or free to attend.
Into this space comes FutureCon. It is being organised primarily by folks in Brazil, but with a lot of help from Francesco Verso in Italy, and also a bunch more people around the world. It will take place from September 17th-20th, and will be free to all on YouTube. All of the programming will be in English. Confirmed guests include Ann Vandermeer, Aliette de Bodard, Chen Qiufan, Ian McDonald, Lavie Tidhar and Nisi Shawl. But more importantly there will be speakers from over 20 different countries including Argentina, Croatia, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkey & Uganda.
Oh, and there will be me, talking about translations, obviously. Also Wizard’s Tower author, Aleksandar Žiljak, will be joining in from Croatia. Both he and I will be talking about the new collection that we will be launching at the Eurocon in October.
This is a brand new thing, and I’m very excited about it. Hopefully it will grow over the years and will help forge a truly international SF&F community.
Francesco can read in many different langauges, and he said something today in a launch meeting for the event that really struck a chord. I’m paraphrasing slightly, but the gist was, “the quality of science fiction is evenly distributed around the world, but it is unevenly visible.” I hope that FutureCon can be an important step along the road to changing that.
If you would like to help, there are three things you can do. The first is to donate some money to help with their running costs. You can do that here. Second, subscribe to their YouTube channel. Apparently you need 100 subscribers to be allowed to have a custom URL, which would be useful. And finally tell all of your friends, especially friends who, for whatever reason, might not be able to attend big, international conventions.
Via my friend Stephanie Budin I have discovered a rather interesting conference scheduled for next April. ‘Ill met by moonlight’: Gothic encounters with enchantment and the Faerie realm in literature and culture, is part of a project on Gothic Literature by a group of academics based at the University of Hertfordshire. How I have not heard of them before, I do now know. They’ve been going since 2010, and running annual conferences on all things creepy and going bump in the night. I mean, how can you not love a literary project called, Open Graves, Open Minds.
Anyway, the 2021 conference is about Fairies. Sadly I am scheduled to be in Sweden then, so even though I suspect that in-person events will still be impossible by then, I can’t in good conscience submit a paper on War for the Oaks, even though I want to.
However, you good people are hopefully not so constrained, and therefore might want to get involved. The full CFP is here. If Emma Bull doesn’t appeal to you, they also specifically mention works by Neil Gaiman, Liz Hand and Jeanette Ng. (Sorry Jeanette, you are canon now!). Hie thee to a word processor, and cast thy Puckish imaginings to the aether.
One of the less expected effects of the pandemic is that women have become somewhat more willing to speak out about sexual abuse by men. We’ve had a number of high profile cases in the SF&F community, but up until recently nothing involving people I knew well.
That has now changed. Over the past week or two some horrendous stories have come to light regarding Alan Beatts, the owner of Borderlands Books in San Francisco. This is a shop that I spent a lot of money in when I lived in the Bay Area. The store was also home to many events involving author friends of mine, and it supported the SF in SF readings series, which I have been involved with since it started.
I’m not going to say any more about the stories. They are some of the worst I’ve heard. If you want to know, a local paper has a report.
What I will say is that I am angry.
I’m angry because while this sort of thing is happening, a bunch of self-styled feminists are wasting their time accusing me, and people like me, of being sexual predators rather than focussing on the real dangers.
I’m angry because we have very few specialist SF&F bookstores available and this looks like depriving us of one more.
I’m angry because a whole lot of good people work at that store, some of whom are friends of mine, and they must now be worried about their jobs.
But mostly I’m angry because men continue to try to get away with this shit. And often they do. What do we have to do to put an end to this?
If international travel were possible this year, I would be in Finland by now. Finncon should have taken place in Tampere this year. Instead it will take place online. The full programme is here.
Several of the programme items are in English, including the Guest of Honour events with Mike Carey, Diane Duane and Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay.
Of particular interest (well, to me anyway) is the Mike Carey event which involves Mike and I chatting about The Book of Koli and how we worked together on it. That will be at 16:00 Finnish time on Saturday, which translates to 14:00 UK time.
Links to YouTube will be provided from the programme page on the Finncon website in due course. Anyone is welcome to watch.
Of course you won’t get the full Finncon experience, because virtual sauna is not really possible, but hopefully you’ll get something of the feeling of the event.
In September Maria Turtschaninoff and I were supposed to be guests at Imagining Alternatives, an academic conference in Augsburg, Germany. The event had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, but the organisers have been busy putting stuff online. Last week Maria and I recorded an interview with Dr. Sabrina Mittermeier. The conversation was pretty wide-ranging, but if there’s one thing I said that I want to highlight it is this: if you like the books of Ursula K Le Guin then you should check out Maria’s work as well, because I think you will like it. See here for some reviews.
There is a new issue of Fafnir, the Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research, available online. Besides the usual excellent content, this one has an essay by me. It is about Janelle Monáe and the science fictional worldbuilding that has formed the basis of all her work to date. Enjoy!