Yesterday morning I did a quick check of my podcast feeds in case there was anything worth listening to while I had breakfast. I was delighted to see that the Backlisted crew had a new episode up focused on Susan Cooper’s fantasy series, The Dark is Rising. The guests on the show were Robert Macfarlane, who writes about landscape in a way that fantasy writers love; and Jackie Morris, who in addition to being a writer and illustrator of books for children of all ages, turns out to have a voice that is always winter and never Christmas.
The discussion was excellent, as I had expected. I was partcularly pleased that it included extracts from Cooper’s Tolkien Lecture. But what got me sat up and taking notice was the music, which was taken from a concept album inspired by the books. The music was created by a chap who calls himself Handspan. He’s originally from the north-east of England, but now lives in Joensuu, a town in the mid-latitudes of Finland but far east towards the Russian border. The extracts I heard from the album were good enough for me to hop onto Bandcamp and by a copy, which I spent much of yesterday playing.
Handspan’s work is electronica, so of course it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I enjoyed it. There are other instruments on it besides synths. Apparently Handspan has taught himself to play the kantele, a traditional Finnish stringed instrument.
Of course I then had to compare Handspan’s work to Bo Hansson’s album based on The Lord of the Rings. Hansson was a synth pioneer, and managed to catch the wave of Tolkien-mania that happened in the 1970s so the album did very well at the time. As far as I’m concerned, Handspan wins easily. Hansson’s work is not bad music, but I can’t see the connection to Tolkien. Handspan, on the other hand, totally gets British fantasy. A review of his album in Fortean Times says, “the album is as crisply keen as the sweeping snowdrifts and slate-grey sky that lend the book such an air of forbidding, suffocating stillness.” I’m guessing that he sees a lot of that sort of weather in Joensuu.
So that was my Christmas Day. Many thanks to the Backlisted crew and to Handspan for giving me a suitably wintry experience. Now I’m wondering if we can get Handspan to come to Finncon to talk about his work. I’m sure we can find a Cooper expert or two to be on a panel with him. And maybe we could have a concert.
Yes folks, it is that time of year again. I shall soon be settling in with a glass of wine and a mince pie or two, and watching Santa cruise ever closer. As is traditional, I shall be relaxing to the gentle Innsmouth sounds of Mr Ogham Whaite and his Amphibian Jazz Band. In the meantime, we can all enjoy a few more tunes from the HP Lovecraft Historical Society.
This year has undoubtedly been crazier than most, so what better tune to offer you than that modern classic, “All I Want for Solstice is my Sanity.”
It being that time of year, I have once again contributed to the annual Aqueduct Press “The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening” series. If you want to know what I have been spending my leisure time on over the past year, you can read all about it here.
There have been a bunch of other great posts in the series this far, and I’m sure there will be many more to come.
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!
Today was my last show on Ujima. I have really enjoyed doing it, but right now my life has other priorities. I need to devote as much of my time as possible to fighting the government’s plans to strip civil rights away from trans people. And of course to being ready to leave the country should it become impossible to live here any more. The radio show is great fun, but takes up a huge amount of time.
On the other hand, I think I had a decent last show. I had one interview, with Rebecca Manson Jones of the Women’s Equality Party. She’s their spokesperson on health issues, and we talked mainly about the care industry, which has become vital in this time of a global pandemic, but which is still grossly undervalued.
Something went a bit weird with the scheduling today. The first segment of my show cut out after around 7 minutes. The rest of the first hour was then off schedule. The scheduling system stuck in some music on automatic at the end of the hour, and from then on we ran as normal. I have no idea what happened. But at least we didn’t lose any of the interview.
As I mentioned yesterday, my Ujima show for this week got postponed until yesterday morning thanks to technical issues. It is now available on the Listen Again service, and you can find it here. That page might not say it is Women’s Outlook, but that’s because it is an automated system.
I only had one interview this week. It is with Professor Julian Gough who used to be at Bristol University and is at the Medical Research Council in Cambridge (MRC). He’s involved in a project to look at possible genetic links to COVID-19 susceptibility. This is obviously of interest at Ujima because of the much higher death rates in people from non-white ethnic backgrounds.
There’s a potentially contentious issue here because of the focus of people like Cummings on eugenics, but that’s medical nonsense. All human DNA is very similar. The difference between individual humans is around 0.1%, and we are only 1.2% different from chimps. So the racist nonsense that somehow white people are completely different and massively superior to all other humans is just that, nonsense. However, as Professor Gough explains, some genes are linked to specific diseases (breast cancer, for example), and sometimes those genes are more prevalent in some ethnic groups than others. Furthermore, if there is a C-19 gene, it might not be ethnically linked, but instead be widespread throughout the population, because we already know that systemic racism is a major cause of health inequalities.
A key part of Professor Gough’s work is that he needs data, and you can help. Or at least you can if you have had your DNA sequenced. It doesn’t matter whether you know whether you have had C-19 or not, or even if you’ve had no symptoms. And it doesn’t matter where in the world you live, because the pandemic is global. So if you have DNA data, Professor Gough would love to hear from you. You can join the project here.
By the way, I did ask about data security. UK universities are very strict about such things. Your data is far more at risk from the private companies that do the seqencing than from the MRC.
The rest of the show was taken up with me pontificating about statues taking dip in Bristol harbour, and playing lots of civil rights songs by Black artists. Here’s the playlist:
Social media is still buzzing away talking about dumping statues in the sea. I’m pleased to see that Avon & Somerset police are defending their wise decision not to attack the protesters in an attempt to save a statue of a slave trader. I’m sure they prevented a lot of violence, injury and damage to property by doing so. I’m also pleased to see Mayor Marvin and city notables such as Thangam Debbonaire MP and Cleo Lake standing up for them. I believe that Kerry McCarthy MP was trying to do so in a Law & Order debate in Parliament today, but the Tories have so thoroughly manipulated the parliamentary process that she probably didn’t get a chance to speak.
In stark contrast the government has been spitting furious. There’s no doubt that the likes of Bozo and his Home Secretary, Priti Patel, wanted the police to attack the protestors so as to precipitate a violent confrontation. Sadly the Police Federation has not behaved any better. And Bozo had the cheek to say today that Britain is “not a racist country”. In a YouGov poll released this evening 33% of respondents said that they thought we should have statues honouring slave traders.
In the midst of all this I have been putting together a radio show. There might be rather a lot of civil rights protest songs in it.
I was back on the radio after two weeks off today, and I must admit that it is getting hard to find guests for the show. People are either run ragged or thoroughly depressed by the state of the world. Fortunately I had done those two interviews with Nalo for the One25 fundraiser, and I knew hardly anyone had watched them, so I was happy to run those on the show.
Before I did that, I spent some time reflecting on the current situation in the USA. My thanks to Lyda for sharing her experiences of Minneapolis after the first night of rioting. I figured that things would have got worse by the time the show aired. I don’t think I had quite expected 45 to declare war on his own people.
The show also has some new music from Labi Siffre and from Lianne La Havas. It also has two songs each from the fabulous Canadian women that Nalo introduced me to. Measha’s Brueggergosman’s version of “Both sides now” is a thing of beauty.
Progress! The new Salon Futura is now online, so you can read some of the things I have been writing over the past week. I have also done a couple of online meetings, and got thoroughly depressed about the state of the world, and the USA in particular. Hang in there, American friends!
Tomorrow I get to edit together a new radio show, which means I need to talk about what is happening across the pond. That won’t be fun, but it is very necessary. Now more than ever we need to stand up in support of our PoC friends, in particular Black Americans.
Here in the UK the weekly rolling average number of deaths from C-19 has been more or less flat for about a week now. That’s after it had been falling steadily for over 5 weeks. So of course Bozo has picked this time to tell everyone that it is perfectly safe now. I’ve been seeing pictures of packed beaches on social media. I’ve also been seeing photos of large-scale demonstrations in support of our friends in the USA. I shall be relived, but very surprised, if we don’t see a sharp rise in the number of C-19 cases very soon.
I don’t have a lot of photos of my time in California because smartphones hadn’t been invented back then and digital cameras were still a bit dodgy. Also I seem to have spent most of my time photographing visits to science fiction conventions rather than tourist spots. However, there are a couple of records of tourist trips in Emerald City. This is one of them.
Kevin took me up into the Sierras to visit his mother. We timed to visit to coincide with a local Blues Festival, which I wrote about here. There are also photos here and here.
These days you can find good musicians on line, so here’s Craig Horton in action:
My first guests on today’s show were Amy & Lu from One25. Amy explained why the women that One25 helps cannot simply stop doing sex work during the pandemic. Most of them don’t even have homes, let alone any other source of income. Lu then chimined in with details of this year’s fundraiser. I’m delighted to see that I’m now up to 78% of my initial target. What I’d love to see is us hitting 100% by launch time on Friday, and then I can set a new target for the 6 days of the campaign.
Next up was my new academic pal, Maria Gerolemou from the University of Exeter. Like me, Maria as a passion for ancient automata. Those of you who have heard my “Prehistory of Robotics” talk will have a good idea of what to expect. The rest of you, prepare to be astonished.
Finally I welcomed back Subitha from CASS to talk about two new mental health campaigns. You can find out more about the #SleepSoundBristol and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek projects at the CASS website. And do please write in to tell them about someone who has been kind to you.
This week’s show also includes tributes to two tiny giants of the music business who sadly left us in the past week. They were Millie Small, who hit #2 on both sides of the Atlantic in 1964 with “My Boy Lollipop”, and Little Richard without whom the likes of Prince and Elton John would have been very different musicians.
A day late, but this week’s show finally got on the air. This is one of the problems with not being able to go into the studios: tech-fail happens. Huge thanks to Miranda, our station manager, for sorting it all out.
I spent the first hour of today’s show talking to my good friend Paulette North. Paulette was the person who recuited me to Ujima, and Women’s Outlook was her show before it was mine. We talked about a whole range of subjects, including how she is coping with Lockdown, how Gloucester Road in Bristol is a great little community, and how the government is coping with the crisis. Paulette has never been one to hide her political opinions, so this one is well worth a listen.
Next up I spoke to Daryn Carter of Bristol Pride. He’s had a fairly nasty case of C-19 and is now in recovery. He talked to me about what it was like to go through the illness, and how recovery is a very lengthy process.
Finally I spoke to Aled Osborne from Brigstowe about how people who are living with HIV face additional problems in these unprecedented times, and how you can help Bristowe to help them. As I’ve said before, I think that the lessons learned by the queer community in surviving the AIDS epidemic will be of great value to the world as we begin to recover from C-19.
Because the show was broadcast on the wrong day, it won’t appear in the usual category on the Listen Again service, but you can find it under today’s 12:00-14:00 slot, which is here.
The playlist for today’s show was as follows:
Eddy Grant – Baby Come Back
Dina Carroll – Don’t be a stranger
Gladys Knight & the Pips – Help Me Make it Through the Night
Mike Carey has a new science fiction trilogy underway, and book 1 was officially published yesterday. Normally I would be jumping at this and reviewing it immediately, but I can’t because, as Mike mentioned in the launch event last night, I had a small hand in creating the book. There are a couple of trans people in it, and I helped out with a few details of their characterisation and story arcs. Advising other people about trans issues is, after all, something that I do professionally.
Of course there’s a lot more to the book than just those characters. Indeed, of all the reviews I have seen so far, only one has even mentioned their existence. And in my humble opinion the rest of the book is amazing. Koli’s voice does take a little getting used to, but once you are into the rhythm of it reading becomes very easy. The whole thing about murderous trees is fabulous. The weird place names will probably mean more if you are British and have a vague idea of what the original names were, but if you are not they will just sound like fantasy names.
For those of you who love maps, Mythen Rood is the small town of Mytholmroyd in the Calder Valley, not far from Hebden Bridge. English places names are remarkably bizarre at times.
Of course with us all stuck in isolation and animals starting to wander the streets of our cities, the whole setting of the books takes on a new significance. The books are set a couple of hundred years into the future, so sufficiently far for the current crisis to be merely a small part of what has happened to the world. Nevertheless, the books are set in a world that nature has reclaimed. Asked for a playlist for the book last night, Mike mentioned my favourite Talking Heads song. I think you will see why.
Today’s show mainly features small businesses talking about how they are coping with Lockdown.
I started with Tara from Talk to the Rainbow, a new psychotherapy service catering to members of marginalised communities. Understandably, they are in a lot of demand right now, but are having to learn to do therapy remotely.
Next up were Graham and Esmerelda from My Burrito, who seem to be doing OK on remote ordering, but are having a lot of trouble with Deliveroo. If you can order your food via a different delivery service then they, and many other restaurants, will be very grateful.
Finally I talked to Dan from Storysmith Books, who are finding that people’s interest in reading has not waned, and may even be increasing.
For the final segment of the show I had a chat with Kevin about this year’s Hugo finalists. We didn’t manage to cover all of the categories, but hopefully we will have generated some interest in the Awards. Plus it was a chance for me to point out how female-dominated they Hugos are these days.
Given the extraordinary circumstances through which we are living, I decided to devote the first half of today’s radio show to talking to some experts about mental health. First up was Subitha from CASS Bristol who are your one-stop shop for mental health support if you live in the Bristol area. She’s followed by Dr. Dominique Thompson who is a former GP and has written a number of books on mental health, specifically for students.
In the second half of the show I was delighted to welcome back Tamsin from the Popelei Theatre Company. She and her colleagues have launched a Women in Lockdown project, calling for 4-minute monologues featuring women who, for various reasons, are restricted in their movements.
I only had three interviews this week. I was keeping the fourth slot free for some boat-dwelling pals who were being treated very shabbily by Bristol Harbour. Thankfully we made enough noise on social media for them to get picked up by the BBC so they didn’t need me. I got to play some fun music instead.
Today on my radio show I interviewed a bunch of people from around the world about how they are coping with the cornavirus pandemic. These days my shows are all pre-recorded as I can’t go into the studio, but Miranda and the back office team at Ujima do a great job of getting me on air. Here’s the list of people that I interviewed:
Kevin Standlee (Nevada, USA)
Tansy Rayner Roberts (Hobart, Australia)
Celia Neri (Nice, France)
Sabrina Mittermeier (Munich, Germany)
Rhonda Garcia (Port of Spain, Trinidad)
Mihaela Perković (Zagreb Croatia)
Maria Turtschaninoff (Helsinki, Finland)
Juliet McKenna (Oxford, England)
Of those I think the government of Trinidad has probably come out of it best. Celia’s stories of teaching school kids on line, Sabrina’s need to flee the USA, and Mihaela’s story of the Zagreb earthquake stand out.
I tried to make the music choices fit as best I could with our current circumstances. Here are the songs I played.
Heroes – Janelle Monáe
Say a Little Prayer – Aretha Franklin
May the Force Be With You – Bootsy’s Rubber Band
4 Leaf Clover – Erykah Badu
A Little Help from My Friends – Ike & Tina Turner
We Are Family – Sister Sledge
When You’re Lonely – Labi Siffre
Dancing in the Streets – Boney M
The show will be available via our Listen Again service for a few weeks. You can find it here.
As I have a bit of free time on my hands thee days I am planning to do more shows to help keep our listeners entertained over the period of lockdown. If anyone has anything Bristol-related that they want to feature, please let me know.
In early April Kevin and I were due to take a vacation on Vancouver Island off the west coast of Canada. Obviously that won’t happen now, but I’ve mostly been able to have today off and I took the opportunity to catch up with the BBC’s 2017 wildlife series, Wild Ireland: The Edge of the World. Like Vancouver Island, Western Ireland exists on the north-eastern edge of a great ocean, and it too has a wonderful assortment of wildlife. This two-episode series has the usual focus on mating and murder, but it also has some absolutely stunning photography. There are gannets, puffins, dolphins, red deer, pine martens, basking sharks and much more. It is well worth a look.
The thing that really struck me, however, was a story. Years ago a group of men from the Blasket Islands were on their way home in their curraghs when they heard an unearthly sound coming up through the bottoms of their boats. One of the men was a musician, and that night he made a song that, as best as he was able, captured the sounds he had heard. It is called Port na bPúcaí (the song of the pookas) and it became a very popular slow air. Here it is:
For a long time this was assumed to be nothing more than a fairly tale, but now we have had the opportunity to study such music we know exactly what magnificent creatures made it, and what a good job that ancient Irishman made of reproducing their song.
Today’s radio show sat on the cusp between the end of LGBT History Month and the arrival of International Women’s Day. (International Men’s Day is on November 19th, thank you for asking.) I began the show by looking backward and running an interview with my friend and sometime colleague, Dan Vo, that I had recorded in Cardiff over the weekend. Dan is a professional Queerator, that is, someone whose job it is to go around museums and find queer stuff in their collections that they can use to be more LGBT inclusive.
In the second slot I welcomed Rebecca from Watershed who is part of their cinema team. In particular she has been helping put together their International Women’s Day programme which features the Feminista Short Film Festival. There are also some great women-centered feature films coming up. Rebecca is also involved in QueerVision, the Watershed’s regular celebration of queer cinema. There’s a short film festival coming up for that and she’s looking for submissions.
Slot three should have been a feature on drink spiking featuring Andy Bennett from Avon & Somerset Police, but some sort of operational emergency claimed his time and I had to fill in with the chat and extra music. Hopefully we can do that piece another time.
Finally I welcomed Sian and Laura from the Bristol Festival of Women’s Literature. They have loads of great talent lined up for this year’s event, including the very wonderful Juliet Jacques talking about memoir writing. You can find more details of the programme here.
An event of particuar interest to me is the launch party at Spike Island on the 27th as it is being run in conjunction with the wonderful people from Comma Press who are publishing Europa 28, an anthology of writing about the future of Europe by women from all over the continent. It is political essays rather than SF, but these days the one quickly shades into the other. And of course much of the content is translated.
If you missed the show live it will be available through our Listen Again service for a few weeks. Go here to listen.
The playlist for the show was as follows:
Duffy – Rockferry
Tracy Chapman – She’s Got Her Ticket
Selecter – On My Radio
Rihanna – Only Girl in the World
Janet Kay – Silly Games
The Weather Girls – Its Raining Men
Bat for Lashes – Horse and I
Thelma Houston – Don’t Leave Me This Way
Janelle Monáe (feat. Grimes) – Pynk
Aretha Franklin – Until You Come Back
Sian and Laura, this is the famous Monica Sjöö painting that was one of the inspirations for Janelle Monáe’s video for Pynk.
Because I’m going to be in Canada with Kevin for the first part of April, my next show will not be until April 15th.
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.
Today was my first day back at work that involved leaving home. I was back in the Ujima studios for another Women’s Outlook. It had been a bit of a challenge pulling this one together because no one was answering email before Monday, so I had two days. Nevertheless, we had some guests.
The first slot was empty so I played some music to talk about the unpleasant prospect of at least 5 years of the UK being ruled by Blue Meanies. I then played a few songs to send a message to a certain orange-faced person over in the USA.
My first guest was Carolyn from Bristol Women’s Voice. There was a time when people like me were distinctly unwelcome at that organisation, but I’m pleased to report that they have turned a corner and are happy to include all women again. Carolyn was particularly there to promote their Volunteer Network Event later this month, but we also discussed current campaigns, and of course the International Women’s Day event in March.
Next up was Helen from Royal West of England Academy. She was on the show to talk about the amazing Celebrating Black Queerness event coming up in February, and the associated Africa State of Mind exhibition. Celebrating Black Queerness is a joint event with Kiki, Bristol’s QTIPOC organisation, and will feature luminaries such as Lady Phyll and Travis Alabanza.
My final guest should have been Jo from Diverse Insights, but she suffered a transport malfunction on the way to the studio so I had to fill in for her as best I could. The event she was due to talk about is Screen Futures 2020, which is an amazing day of workshops for people interested in pursuing a career in television and radio.