Farewell, Finland #GiveItUp125

It is time to leave Finland now, but before I got I want to share this photo. Otto, Paula, Irma and I were chilling in a cafe on a place called Women’s Island in Jyväskylä. While we were eating Paula spotted the little lady above watching us. You never see red squirrels in England these days, but they are still common in Finland.

I see that my fundraiser has been stalled on 45% all day. Hopefully that’s because you have all been too busy enjoying the Finnish content to pledge money. You can do so now. I’m going to answer the day’s work emails, then go to bed. I’ll see you all tomorrow in Virtual Canada.

More snow, eh?

Country Victoria in 1999 #GiveItUp125

Here are some photos from the trip that Kevin and I made following the World Science Fiction Convention in 1999. First up we have the Puffing Billy Railway, which made Kevin very happy.

And second, one of the best ways to get up close and personal with Australian wildlife, Healesville Sanctuary. (Sadly digital cameras back then had little in the way of zoom so these are the only good shots I have.)

As usual, click on any photo for a bigger image and slide show.

Up in the Sierras #GiveItUp125


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:

And here’s Steve Gannon:

Coronavirus – Day #29

Today has been a long day of recording and editing interviews. I am now mostly done with next week’s radio show. I just have to choose the music and link everything together.

Out in the wider world I understand that Krakatoa has erupted. However, I gather that it does this quite often. That’s a good thing for volcanoes. It stops them building up a head of pressure that will lead to a Very Big Bang. So Krakatoa having a bit of a moment does not mean another worldwide dust cloud. It means that having one in the near future, at least from that volcano, is now less likely.

Besides, if Gaia was really out to get us, She would have let lose with the Yellowstone supervolcano.

Here in the UK people have been wondering why the Home Secretary has been conspicuously absent from press briefings over the past few weeks. Today she was allowed to do the daily virus briefing. Now everone knows why she had been kept away from the public before. Bozo’s problem is that he knows he’s not actually very competent, so he surrounded himself with Cabinet ministers who are even less competent than his is. Now he’s in hospital and we are seeing just how bad his team is.

A Taste of the Wild

Red Deer Stag

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.

Humpback whale

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

New BBC SF Audiodrama

Forest 404

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

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

For more details, see Bristol 24/7.

Lobsters for Emojis

When I was at Trans Pride in Brighton I was rather confused by some people in the parade apparently dressed as lobsters, and carrying plastic lobsters, and flags with lobsters on them. I mean, I’m very fond of lobsters, but why at Trans Pride?

Being a good investgative jouralist, I looked for them in Brunswick Gardens and, having found their stall, asked them what this was all about. It turns out that it is all the fault of Google, Apple and Facebook. Bear with me.

Of course most things bad in the world are the fault of Facebook these days, but lobsters are not bad, and why Apple and Google as well? Well, because they are all voting members of an IT industry body called Unicode which is responsible, among other things, for regulating emojis.

You may have noticed that there are a lot of flags missing from the set of emojis available on your phone or tablet. There is no Welsh flag, for example. Almost as importantly for me, there is no trans flag. That would be very useful. Apparently it is one of the most commonly requested new emojis. But Unicode says there is no need for one.

And yet, when a small group of people petitioned Unicode for a lobster emoji, apparently on the grounds that having to use a shrimp or a crab would be confusing, this was quickly granted.

As a result, the lobster has become a symbol for the campaign for a trans flag emoji. And this, as the petition points out, is rather apt, because lobsters are one of the select group of creatures that can become gynandromorphs. That is, you can find lobsters that are male on one side of their body and female on the other side. Biology is way more complicated than the average anti-trans activist would like to admit.

So if you see me using a lobster emoji on Twitter in future, you will know what it means.

Ujima Today – Review of 2017

My first Ujima show of the year was today, which was also the first day we were back live on air after the holidays. Indeed, I was the first live show. I marked this by being half asleep as I had been kept awake most of last night by the storms. I do wish that the Jotun would manage to hold their New Year parties on the right night.

Anyway, as I didn’t expect that anyone would want to be a guest today, and there were no back office staff on duty, I decided to make the show a look back at 2017 and re-run some old interviews.

First up was the Sarah Pinborough interview from BristolCon 2016, which was totally 2017 news because last year was the year that Sarah changed from being a moderately successful writer of dark fantasy to a global superstar. Behind Her Eyes has sold over 100,000 copies each in paperback and ebook, and has been listed as one of the 100 top selling books of all kinds in the UK last year. Well done Sarah, I’m absolutely delighted for you. Can I come and stay with you when you buy your Caribbean island? 😉

Also in the first hour I re-ran my interview with D.B. Redfern of M-Shed about Doris the Pilosaurus, because there are still parents wondering what to do with the kids between now and school starting.

You can listen to the first hour of the show here.

The second hour began with a look back on the women’s cricket season with triumphs both for England and for Western Storm. That included interviews with Lisa Pagett and Stafanie Taylor.

Next up I re-ran my interview with anti-FGM campaigner and WEP parliamentary candidate, Nimco Ali.

And finally there was my interview with Nalo Hopkinson at Worldcon 75 in Helsinki.

You can listen to the second hour of the show here.

The music for today’s show was inspired partly by the New Year’s Eve shows on the BBC, and partly by the trip that Kevin and I made to New Orleans back in the days when I was allowed into the USA. The connection is the very fine Trombone Shorty & New Orleans Avenue who are this year’s discovery from my watching the Jools Holland Hootenanny.

  • The Beat – Mirror in the Bathroom
  • Trombone Shorty – Here Come the Girls
  • Cedric Watson – Zydeco Paradise
  • Preservation Hall Jazz Band – When the Saints Come Marching In
  • Jamil Sharif – On the Sunny Side of the Street
  • Chic – Rebels Are We
  • Liane la Havas – Midnight
  • Jamiroquai – Blow your mind

My next show will be on February 7th and will doubtless have an LGBT History focus.

Self-Fertilizing Fish

Every so often I come across a news article that is relevant both to trans science and science fiction. Yesterday was one of those magical days, because I discovered the existence of self-fertilizing fish.

I should probably go back a few stages here by way of explanation.

To start with there is the whole question of what we mean by “biological sex”. Fish do not share the same XX/XY chromosome system familiar from mammals. In fact there are a wide range of different biological mechanisms that fish use to differentiate sex. When I talk about the biological sex of a fish here I mean whether the fish produces eggs, fertilizes eggs, or both.

Readers in the UK are probably familiar with the recent episode of Blue Planet II in which David Attenborough’s team filmed a Sheepshead Wrasse in the process of changing sex. There are, in fact, many fish species that practice what is called Sequential Hermaphroditism, in which the animal is male for part of its life cycle and female for another part. The much loved Clown Fish from Finding Nemo is another example. These fish only exhibit one sex at any one time in their lives.

There are also many fish species that exhibit Simultaneous Hermaphroditism. That is, they are capable of producing eggs and fertilizing eggs. Some species of Sea Bass have these abilities, which is something worth pondering next time you eat one. However, these fish have to have sex with other, similarly hermaphroditic, fish in order to make baby fish. How else would genetic diversity be achieved, right?

However, there is one species of fish (well, more properly two closely related species) that can make babies by individuals having sex with themselves. Enter the spectacularly named Mangrove Killifish.

The killifish is pretty amazing on several levels. It can live in both fresh and salt water, and it can survive for up to two months on land. But self-fertilization is seemingly the most miraculous ability because surely all of the fish would be clones, so how would they evolve? Mutation doesn’t seem an adequate explanation.

However, it turns out that killifish come in two sexes: both and male. The males are very rare, but very popular. If a clone family of both-sex spots one they’ll seek him out and make lots of baby fish. In that way a certain amount of genetic diversity is maintained.

For those who are interested, there is more scientific detail here.

And for those of you thinking of interesting ideas to use in alien biology, have at it!

Dinomania at Bristol

Here are some more photos I took of the dinosaurs on view at Bristol Zoo.

As usual with animals, getting them to stay still to be photographed is not always easy. Some of them, such as the Pachyrhinosaurus, were gently snoozing. Others were very busy. The most active of them was the dilophosaurus, which seemed to fancy itself as a dragon and delighted in spraying small children with water. Here it is in action. (The background noise is the rain.)

Better photos and more information about the various creatures can be found here.

Conference Wrap and Dinosaur Hunting


Day 3 of Creative Histories continued smoothly with a lot of interesting presentations. These included one by my colleague, Andy Foyle, about the LGBT History Mapping Project that we undertook. Andy co-presented with Josie McLellan of the University of Bristol History Department with whom we worked on the project. (The University’s IT department wrote the software.)

I have a lot more I want to say about the conference. Some of that will be here over the next couple of days, and I have also promised a post to Will Pooley, the genius behind the event, for his blog. Many of the other presenters will also be doing guest posts for him. For now suffice it to say that I had a fabulous three days and have come away with some new friends, and a lot to think about.

We had an hour and a half between the end of the conference and closing time at the zoo, so I took myself off on a dinosaur hunt. You can see the entrance to their enclosure above, and in the distance a few kids playing with a friendly pachyrhinosaurus. I’ll have some more pictures, and possibly some video, for you over the weekend. In the meantime here’s a selfie that I took with my new friend, Rex.

Eurocon Trip Report


Germany’s recent Eurocon was quite small in comparison to recent events in places such as Spain, Sweden, Croatia and Finland. The total attendance was under 300, and seemed to skew towards an old, white male demographic. That was a shame, but nevertheless it ran well and was an enjoyable weekend for those of us who attended.

Dortmund is not high on the list of German tourist venues. Razed to the ground by the RAF in WWII, it boasts a modern, mostly pedestrianized city center surrounded by a ring road. The small airport has direct bus links to the railway station which sits on the ring road and is a short walk from several hotels and the convention venue. It was all very convenient.

The city seems obsessed with winged rhinos. Not only do they have a large collection scattered around the street, they are also used widely on signs and posters. Apparently the animal is the mascot of the local orchestra.

Dortmund’s main tourist attractions are a large soccer museum (reflecting one of the city’s abiding passions), a beer museum (reflecting the other) and a tram museum. The city’s tram network has been moved underground recently, though part of a line through the center has been preserved, complete with a tram restaurant. The museum was running vehicles on the Sunday and a fair number of British fans disappeared off to see them.

Back at the convention, I spent most of my time behind the Worldcon #76 table. We were not expecting to sell many membership, but sometimes it is good just to fly the (bear) flag. Also I wanted to gauge feelings about the convention in Europe. Most people, of course, simply couldn’t afford to go, but of those who could more than half cited fear of the current political regime in the USA as a reason for not attending.

I got to see very little programming, but I was delighted to get a chance to listen to my Czech friend, Julie Nováková, hold forth on the subject of icy moons. There is way more water in the solar system than anyone expected, and the possibility for some form life existing on one of those moons is encouragingly high.

The Art Guest of Honor was German-based Brit, Autun Purser. In his day job he works with as a deep sea ecologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremen, doing fun things like photographing life on the sea floor using remote controlled submarines. Julie, as an astrobiologist, and I, as a former oceanographer, we delighted to see some of his footage.

To get an idea of the sort of thing Autun does, check out this article in which he is talking about the supremely cute ghost octopus. And of course he does art too.

Sadly I didn’t get to see any program items featuring the other Guests of Honor: Aleksandar Žiljak, Andreas Eschbach and Dave Hutchinson.

There were a lot of dealers. Thankfully most of the books on sale were in German, so I did not get tempted to buy any. However, I was very impressed by the steampunk group who had a big stall covering one end of the room I was in. Steampunk is clearly a big thing in Germany, and they told me how they tried to avoid any association with Prussians and German imperialism. The Griffin that they use in their arms is the symbol of the Grand Duchy of Baden.

A much more suitable hero for a steampunk story might be King Ludwig II of Bavaria, most famous for his fairytale castle but also a keen designer of airships. Which brings me to mention of my new pal, Ju Honisch. She has a lot of big fantasy novels out in German. However, she has one available but unpublished in English which features Ludwig, albeit briefly. You may hear more of this book in the near future. Charlie Stross and I both liked what we heard of it. Ju (pronounced “you”) is also a very fine filker and those of you on the convention filk circuit may have already met her.

I didn’t manage to get to the Business Meeting as I had a table to manage, but I understand that there was not much business to discuss and the sessions were over very quickly. Efficient meetings are appreciated by all.

The ESFS Awards were given out on Saturday evening. Many of them are encouragement awards for up and coming talent, so I don’t expect to know their work. One may be known to you, however. Hanuš Sainer is a talented Czech writer, one of whose stories, translated by Julie, has appeared in Strange Horizons.

In the career awards I was pleased to see some recognition for Judith Clute. Ian Watson, having staged a very successful Eurocon in Barcelona last year, was given the Best Promoter award (which he rightly said he was sharing with his Spanish wife, Christina). This year’s Hall of Fame award went to Serbia’s Zoran Živković, and about time too.

Incidentally, all of Zoran’s work is in the process of being reprinted in beautiful new editions. See here for details.

That was Eurocon done for another year. In 2018 we will be in Amiens in France, a city that was home to Jules Verne for most of his writing career. The easiest way to get there is by train, either from Paris, or Eurostar to Lille if you are coming from the UK or Belgium. In 2019 the Eurocon will be in Belfast, hopefully the weekend after the Dublin Worldcon if all goes according to plan. Rijeka in Croatia is still unopposed for 2020.

My thanks to Ju & Jela Schmidt who were great company in the dealers’ room, to the Ukrainians for the honey-chili vodka, to the convention committee, to the kind people who transported Worldcon #76 materials back and fore for me, to Fluff Cthulhu for refraining from eating me, and to all of the fine folks who made it such a lovely weekend. I still owe you a beer or two, Christina.

My final picture is the most science-fictional thing in Dortmund, the space elevator.