Welcome to Virtual Finncon

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.

Coronavirus – Day #71

Today has been very busy.

I’ve made a start on an academic paper for an online conference that’s happening in 3 weeks time.

I’ve participated on what WE believe is the UK’s first — possibly the world’s first — socially distanced protest march. Thanks to everyone who shared the #PayProtectProtest hashtag on social media.

I watched the Formula E from Virtual Berlin (while doing the ironing).

And I have spent much of the day at Wiscon, which continues to be interesting. Today we saw some of the ways in which online conventions don’t work quite as well as face-to-face ones; or at least we haven’t developed the right techniques yet. Overall, however, I’m still very happy. You can expect a more detailed report in the new Salon Futura (which will be out next week).

On social media the Great British Public has morphed into the Very Angry British Public. Not that it is likley to come to anything, because the government has a majority of 80 and utter contempt for the electorate, but it is good to see that there is something that will get people riled up, and that it is not owning a donkey farm.

Coronavirus – Day #64

It has been another busy day at the fundraising coalface. So far so good, I think. I hope people are enjoying it.

There was also WiFi SciFi #3, for which I was a panelist. We had a great time. Thanks to Anne, Kevlin and all of the team.

As with yesterday, it has also been a busy day on social media. We’ve had the brilliant Guy Gavriel Kay’s #CocktailHour, where we all dress up and post selfies with a drink of our choice. And we’ve had #StayAtHomeDisco run by my lovely pal Laura Rawlings from BBC Radio Bristol. Conviently they were on at the same time so I was able to make one outfit do for both.

Out in the “real” world today there have been “anti-lockdown” protests in major British cities. No automatic weapons here, but doubtless the same far-right funders behind it all. Today was also the first day in around 3 weeks that the 7-day rolling average of deaths in the UK ticked significantly upwards. Cummings and his pals will doubtless be pleased with a job well done.

The Queer Britain #QBLockdownHunt Challenge

A quick break from Virtual Italy to note that there’s another charity campaign going on today. Queer Britain is a wonderful project that aims to create an actual bricks & mortar exhibition of LGBT+ life in the UK. Today my friend Dan Vo is running an awareness campaign on Twitter and is asking people to find t-shirts and fliers that relate to queer history and post about them. He’s also interviewing a whole bunch of fabulous people. I have rather a lot of material, so I decided to channel my inner Dan and make a video. This covers a lot of my work with OutStories Bristol, how I got involved in doing LGBT History Month Events (sorry Sue, you are stuck with me now), and a little bit about the tragedy of the UK’s lost trans history archives. The latter is an excellent example of why Queer Britain is so badly needed. There’s also a little bit of science fiction in there.

WiFi SciFi 3 is Coming

Yes, we are going to do it again. And I do mean “we”, because Anne has foolishly invited me to be on the panel this time. Said panel will also include, though not all at once, Gareth L Powell, Adrian Walker, Tim Lebbon, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Anne Corlett, Patrick Edwards, Jonathan Pinnock, Corry L Lee, Premee Mohamed, Kevlin Henney and Derek Kunsken. For more details and to reserve a place, click here.

It will be doubly weird for me because I will be in the middle of the One25 Funraiser (please pledge) and will be virtually in California that day. Thankfully it the convention starts at 8:00am California time so I’ll have plenty of day left.

While we are on the subject of virtual conventions, I’m pleased to say that I have signed up for Virtual Wiscon. I used to go every year when I was able to spend time in the USA, but I haven’t been able to go of late and it will be nice to catch up with people. I’m guessing that it is probably too late to get on programme, but you never know.

Coronavirus – Day #36

So, birthday under Lockdown turns out to be much the same as any other birthday, but with a lot more (virtual) company.

I began the day by doing a trans history talk for a local LGBT+ group (adults this time), which was fun.

I have a fair amount of work of various sorts to do, but I decided to goof off for the day and do some baking. I don’t have a usable oven, so for Christmas I bought myself one of these (cheap in a Clark’s Village outlet store). I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had a chance to use it before today.

I decided to make scones (for cream tea) as they are fairly easy. They turned out suprisingly well for a first attempt. They were a little over-done, but machines like this are very precise and now I know to reduce the heat setting next time.

I had sport! Formula E has launched a sim series with most of the actual drivers taking part, plus a side race for other folks. It was actually the side race that interested me most as it had a combination of amateurs, profesional esports players, and young drivers hoping to break in to the big time. Charlie Martin has a seat in the Techeetah team. Sadly she didn’t do very well, but everyone is learning right now so I hope she’ll perform better in later races.

And of course there was WiFi SciFi 2. Only one panel this time, and it devolved into discussion of the writing business which is less of interest to me, but probably more what the punters want.

Next up: dinner, wine, cheese, TV or movie.

World, what world?

Coronavirus – Day #24

Slowly but surely I am running out of urgent things to do. I might actually be able to enjoy some of that free time at home that everyone else is talking about soon. Of course there are plenty of non-urgent things, or at least slightly less-urgent things, to be doing. I’m not expecting to be bored any time soon.

Today marked the last of my near-future convention cancellations. Finncon 2020 is no more. However, the Finns have taken the decision to roll everything forward to next year. The 2020 convention has become the 2021 convention with the same location, guests and so on. There’s talk of some virtual events this summer, but I don’t suppose it would be very easy to have a virtual sauna.

This does mean that I won’t be visiting Finland at all this year, unless I make a special trip once the panic is all over. Maybe I should go in the winter. There are, after all, things to do.

The next physical trip that I have planned is to an academic convention in Germany in September. I’m keeping my paws crossed for that one.

I made a pot of chili in the slow cooker today. That will keep me fed for several days.

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).

Coronavirus – Day #21

Wow, three weeks, doesn’t time fly?

I have been much more quiet on social media today as the insanity of yesterday has gone away. Juliet seems to have sold a good number of books, which is very welcome.

Instead today I have been doing interviews for next week’s radio show. The main focus of the show will be on mental health as I think we are all struggling a bit these days.

I also got the opportunity to watch some of HistFest: Lockdown, the online history festival that replaced the big event due to take place in London this weekend. My good friend Dan Vo was one of the presenters, and there were several other talks I found very interesting. The whole thing can be found online here.

By the way, if all goes according to plan then Dan and I will have some exciting news for you next week.

Tomorrow I get to attend my first ever virtual science fiction convention.

And finally, for those of you who have access to the BBC, this Mark Gatiss documentary about the great Aubrey Beardsley is well worth a watch.

The infection and death rates in the UK continue to accelerate. There were just short of 700 deaths reported today. For comparison, it appears that the number of people who die of the flu in the UK in an average winter is around 17,000. We only have 3,605 COVID-19 deaths in the UK at the moment, but the vast majority of those have occured in the last two weeks and things are getting worse.

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:


Other Things

Conventions Go Virtual

The global pandemic is affecting a lot of the ways in which we live our lives, and science fiction conventions are no exception. Many events, including this year’s Eastercon, have been cancelled, but others are going virtual. On Sunday SFWA announced plans for their annual Nebula Conference to be an entirely online event. And yesterday CoNZealand said that Worldcon too would be a virtual event.

This is good for me. I’d been expecting to have to miss Worldcon this year because of visa issues. Now I can play a full part in it (assuming I can stay awake theough the night). It is also good for SFSFC. Kevin was due to chair next year’s Westercon, and had selected a site in Tonopah, Nevada which is dirt cheap but 200 miles from the nearest airport. We’d been planning a lot of online content for those people who couldn’t make it. Lots of people had derided the idea, but the pandemic has made things that were previously viewed as radical and impossible into things that are necessary and not as hard as people said.

First thoughts, of course, should be for Kelly, Norm and their team who have been working incredibly hard for 10 years on bringing Worldcon to New Zealand. I was there at the covention in Wellington in 2010 when the bid was first officially discussed. This will have been incredibly hard for them, and hugely disappointing. But in the long term I think this will be good for conventions, because it will open them up to lots of people who previously had no chance of attending.

I’ll have more to say about this in Salon Futura next week.

BSFA Awards News

As most of you will have heard by now, this year’s Eastercon has finally been cancelled. That must be a huge relief to the organisers who were potentially on the hook for the cost of the event if it hadn’t been possible for the hotel to claim on insurance for the cancellation. It is a risky business running a convention in the UK, because creating a corporate shield is much harder than it is in the USA.

However, this now raises the question of what happens with the BSFA Awards. Thankfully the folks at the BSFA are well on top of things. It is now possible to vote online, as long as you are a BSFA member or had an Eastercon membership. Full details here. Don’t forget to vote for Juliet. (What, biased, me?)

Coronavirus – Day #5

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about symptoms, I recommend this post over at the Long Now Foundation. It backs up what I said yesterday about us not really understaing the virus very well yet. The fast-and-stealthy scenario that suggests the virus is a) much more infectious, and b) much less deadly than we think does fit a lot of the facts.

In the meantime there’s some potentially good news from Japan about a possible treatment that will help people survive if they do get a bad case.

Today has been a day for more stuff being cancelled. Both Åcon (May) and Cymera (June) will no longer take place this year. There’s no word of a decision as yet on Finncon (July) or Worldcon (August).

The spectacularly malevolent British government continues its efforts to have the world’s worst response to the crisis. One of the major drivers of social inequality in this country is the move into buy-to-let by the wealthy. What this means is that even moderately rich people have one or more extra properties that they own and rent out. You can get a lot more income in rent than you have to pay out in a mortgage, even after paying a rental management company to do most of the work. A side effect of this is that it has become extremely difficult for young people to get a start on the property ladder. People who own rental properties will mostly have voted solidly for the Tories, and Johnson is paying them back by giving them protection while forcing renters to get into debt. It is straight up class warfare, not an attempt to manage the crisis.

Fortunately, though my work for The Diversity Trust has totally dried up, I still have plenty of work from my energy economics consultancy. I won’t have a problem paying the rent, and could even buy food if that was possible. (I don’t know, I haven’t been to Tesco since Friday, but my Twitter stream is full of photos of empty supermarket shelves and people complaining that they can’t get deliveries.)

Tesco, incidently, have just emailed to explain the various measures that they are taking to deal with the crisis. Good to see them taking steps to prevent panic buying.

And talking of work, there’s Wizard’s Tower to be taken care of as well. Which means that these little babies have arrived. I have sent a set off to Juliet for approval, so it won’t be long before they are available for sale.

And then the hardcovers. Honestly people, just wait until you see the hardcovers.

Coronavirus – Day #3

It was a beautiful day here today. After a couple of days staying at home I would have loved to go for a walk. However, isolation is isolation. Of course all I have is a cough, and some of you might think it would be OK for me to go out with a mask, but such things are hard to get here. Pharmacies didn’t routinely stock them to start with, and now you can’t get one anywhere. In any case, our health service doesn’t trust people to use masks correctly, or to remember not to touch people. Their advice is that if you have any symptoms at all then you should stay at home for at least 7 days. So that is what I am doing.

And today that stay-at-home period has been extended to 14 days.

All of which is causing people to wonder how long this is going to last. When I went shopping last Friday I figured I needed food up until the end of April. That now looks like an underestimate.

The big issue today, however, is the rest of the government’s idiotic announcement. Most countries around the world have been ordering big gatherings not to take place, and ordering venues to close. Heck the Irish government has ordered pubs to close, just a few days before St. Patrick’s Day. That’s a measure of how seriously they are taking the need to prevent infection. Here our government has just advised people not to attend large gatherings.

The key difference here is “advised” rather than “ordered”. If an event or venue is ordered to close by government then it can claim on insurance. If all that happens is that the punters don’t turn up because they have been advised not to go, then there is a problem. Right now all sorts of businesses around the UK, from theatres and concert halls, to pub and restaurants are facing ruin because their custom will plummet and there is nothing that they can do about it.

To bring it closer to home, consider a science fiction convention. Swecon, which I was due to attend, was cancelled on government orders. That means that they did not have to pay for the venue. CostumeCon 38 in Montreal was cancelled on government orders the day before it was due to start. Kevin, who is on the board on CanSMOF, had been quietly worring to me about it all last week. But the government intervention saved them from a financial disaster. In the UK I expect Eastercon to have almost no attendance. Hilton are fully refunding hotel bookings, but because the event hasn’t been banned they won’t refund the function space rental, because they can’t claim on their insurance. The convention may also be on the hook for failing to deliver enough hotel bookings, such targets normally being part of convention hotel contracts.

There are still a couple of weeks to go before the con, so it is possible that someone will step in and save them. But Bozo is way out of his depth, and Cummins, who pulls his strings, is actively malevolent, so I don’t expect anything to change.

Anyway, time to worry about how far into May I can last without leaving home. And sadly that probably means no Åcon for me. The rest of Europe may be coming out of the crisis by then, but I can’t see the UK doing so.

Convention Planning

I hadn’t been planning to attend Eastercon this year. However, with The Green Man’s Foe being up for a BSFA Award it seemed entirely appropriate that I should be there with copies to sell. You’ll therefore be able to find me in the Dealers’ Room. And if all goes well there will be something rather special Juliet-related available.

I warn you in advance that I will not be very awake. I will be fresh off a plane from Western Canada and in the middle of jet lag recovery. I may hide in my room quite a bit.

So that’s one extra convention on the calendar for this year. I also have one fewer. For complicated reasons I will be unable to attend Worldcon in Wellington. I am very disappointed about this as I have been looking forward to this particular Worldcon for 10 years, but my life gets complicated by things outside of my control. I would like to stress that this is not the fault of the ConZealand committee, who have been incrediably helpful, nor are the particular conditions affecting me likely to prevent anyone else from attending. Have fun in NZ, folks. I will miss you all.