At the Movies with Lana & Lily

Recently I was honoured to be asked to make a guest appearance on the podcast, Women Make SF. It is a series about women in science fiction movies, which isn’t normally my bag, but in this case the subject was the Wachowski sisters so I did have things worth saying. Also Amy and Kyle, the hosts of the podcast, are huge fans of Jupiter Ascending, so we got off on the right foot immediately.

It was a lot of fun to record, and the episode is now live. You can listen to it below:

Guy Kay’s Tolkien Lecture

I have just been listening to Guy Gavriel Kay give this year’s JRR Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature. It was, as with every lecture that Guy gives, very amusing, and well worth listening to.

The topic that Guy settled on for the evening was that of how much light an author should shed upon the workings of magic in their books. Guy, of course, is famously reticent in such matters and, while he defends the right of others to write as they wish, he nevertheless wishes to advocate for his own approach. He loves to leave things to the imagination, to make, as he said, his books a dialogue with the reader, and not just a monologue by the author.

The entire lecture is available to watch on repeat on YouTube. Here it is.

Personally I am a big fan of ambiguity. One of the examples Guy used is probably my favourite scene from any of his books, that alarming encouter with a force beyond the ken of mortal men on a country road in Sailing for Sarantium.

I also like ambiguous endings, and to show that they have a place in fiction, and perhaps as a gift to Guy if I might be so bold, here is an example. It is taken, not from modern fantasy fiction, but from the work of the 16th Century playwright, John Lyly, a man much beloved of the sort of gender-bending that Shakespeare would later use, much toned down, in his own comedies.

The plot of Gallathea tells of a village that has offended Neptune and, to avoid destruction, must offer up its fairest maiden every five years to the god of the sea. As the fateful day arrives, the fathers of the two most obvious candidates disguise their daughters as boys and send them off into the woods to hide.

Both girls, Gallathea and Phyllida, are very frightened, and nervous that their disguise might be insufficient. Both are therefore delighted to meet a handsome young man from whom, they hope, they can learn how to behave as a man should. Before long, both girls are deeply in love with each other.

Woods being woods, the gods are about. Diana is hunting, and Cupid is looking for mischief to make. Seeing what has happened with our heroines, Cupid decides to make Diana’s nymphs fall in love with the “boys” too. The nymphs, of course, are supposed to remain virgins, so Diana is furious, and she summons Venus to put things right. Eventually all is revealed, and even cruel Neptune is mollified.

There remains the question of our two lovers. “How like you this, Venus?” asks Neptune.

“I like well and allow it,” she replies, “they shall both be possessed of their wishes, for never shall it be said that Nature or Fortune shall overthrow Love.”

She does, however, offer to change one or other of the girls into a boy, that they might be married. The girls’ fathers immediately start arguing over who shall lose a daughter and who gain a son. Seeing a problem, Venus suggests that the girls need not decide until such time as they present themselves at a church door. Her solution is acceptable to all and there, save for the resolution of a subplot, and an epilogue about the need for ladies to surrender to love, our story ends.

Who becomes a boy? Is it Gallathea? Is it Phyllida? Or do they choose to both remain female and eschew the strictures of heteronormativity? We are not told, and nor should it matter. As Venus knows well, all that is important is that Love shall conquer all.

I should add that the play was first performed in front of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, on New Year’s Day, 1585. No one lost their head, and therefore we can perhaps infer that the Queen was as well pleased as Venus with the ending.

If you would like to know more about John Lyly and his amazingly queer writing, you can do so via this fine podcast.

Chaz Does a Crater School Podcast


With only a couple of weeks to go before the release of the first Crater School book, publicity is happening. Fortunately for me, Chaz Brenchley is part of a fine writerly podcast called Writers Drinking Coffee. In the latest episode he talks a bit about the inspiration for the Crater School books, and reads from Three Twins at the Crater School. If you want to know what is going on in the scene we used for the cover, listen in to Chaz because he will tell you. You’ll also get to find out a bit more about the Martian fauna, and what the dastardly Russians are up to.

Up On The Aqueduct

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.

Favorinus, Hadrian and Me

Thanks to Paul Weimer, I was invited to do a guest slot on a popular podcast. Wonders of the World looks at history via the lens of famous buildings. For annoying reasons, the episode on Hadrian needed to be re-recorded and I saw a request for people with interesting things to say. As a result, the new version of the episode has me wittering on about my favourite Roman, the philosopher, Favorinus. I also get to talk about Hadrian’s trip to Egypt, and why rich Roman women had a thing for Sapphic poetry. My thanks to Paul for the tip-off, and to Drew for inviting me on. You can listen to the episode here.

Guesting on Coode Street

As many of you will doubtless know, Gary and Jonathan have been doing a daily series of short interviews throughout the pandemic, each one featuring someone from the SF&F community. Recently it was my turn and, as has become traditional, I spent a good deal more than my alloted 10 minutes chatting. That’s not hard with Gary, of course. We’ve known each other for years and obviously have a lot of similar interests.

What the interview did prove is that my advaned age is leading to me do that thing where I confuse people’s names. So profuse apologies to David Barnett; Paul Barnett is someone entirely different.

Anyway, I wittered on about a bunch of things including flooding, the importance of trying to pronounce people’s names correctly, doing sensitivity reading and, of course, the wonderful Juliet E McKenna. You can find the podcast here.

Women in SF: The Podcast

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

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

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

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

The Dutch writer I mentioned is Thomas Olde Heuvelt.

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

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

Congratulations, Olivette

If you follow UK news you may have seen that my friend, Professor Olivette Otele, has a new job. She has been given a new post at the University of Bristol and has been asked specifically to investigate the city and university’s connections to the slave trade. Here’s a BBC report.

Now obviously this is nowhere near as cool as making a documentary with Lupita Nyong’o. However, it is hugely important for the city. I’m sure that Ujima will be following Olivette’s work very closely.

In the meantime, because it is Black History Month, I have resurrected the radio show that Olivette and I did last year. I cut it into two parts for podcasting. You can listen to it here via the links below.

Lunch With Scott

One of the highlights of Worldcon for me this year was being interviewed by Scott Edelman for his podcast, Eating the Fantastic. Obviously having a long chat with Scott was fun, but the unique selling point of the podcast is that the interviews always take place over a lengthy and very good meal. The food that we had at Mr. Fox in Dublin was superb. So my heartfelt thanks to Scott and everyone who helps fund the podcast for paying for that.

The interview is now available online. You can find it on Scott’s blog, and doubtless on various podcast apps as well. It is more than 2 hours long, but hopefully there are ways you can take it in a bit at a time.

I’ve listened through the whole thing. There’s only one issue that I want to come back to right now, and that’s because it became the subject of a Twitter storm soon after Worldcon. In the interview I talk about the need for Worldcon to put more content online. Obviously there are issues with this, but there are many different ways in which it could be done, some of which address those issues. Sadly Twitter discussions tend to polarise very rapidly, with people assuming the absolute worst possible of any idea they attack. I do plan to write more about this issue in Salon Futura. Please wait for that before jumping in and telling me what an awful misogynist I am.

TitanCon – Day 2

I spent much of today behind Francesco Verso’s dealer table. I’m pleased to see we are selling books. They are not moving in huge quantities, despite us being the only new book dealer at the convention. That’s partly because we have a really awful location, but mainly I think because a lot of the people at TitanCon were also in Dublin and have no room left in their luggage. Certainly that’s what several people told me today.

I did an interview with Ellen Datlow, which will appear on the radio show and Salon Futura in due course.

I also did my one panel for the day. This was on Writing Vulnerable Men. I was moderating, so I didn’t have a huge amount of input, but I hope we managed to establish the idea that, while men are often written as vulnerable in various ways, this is usually done along gender-stereotyped lines; they are not generally portrayed as vulnerable in the same way that women are portrayed as vulnerable.

Things got a little tetchy between the two panelists at one point and I elected not to take sides despite having firm opinions on the issue. At the time it was better to acknowledge a difference of opinion and move on. What I will say here is that it is never “unrealistic” to write about certain types of people if people of that type exist in the real world. It doesn’t matter if they are a small minority, they are still real.

This evening I attended a launch event for Distaff, an anthology of science fiction by women authors, including BristolCon’s Rosie Oliver. I’m always happy to support women’s writing, particularly in a field where the prejudices of the publishing industry can make it hard for them to thrive.

TitanCon – Day 1

In theory TitanCon is a 4-day convention. It started today and contines through to Sunday evening. However, the programming on Sunday consists entirely of a coach trip to Game of Thrones filming locations followed by a mediaeval banquet. Practically speaking, therefore, at least from my point of view, it is a 3-day convention followed by going out to dinner with a large group of friends.

Today was all about getting settled in. I did have one panel on small presses, but there was also getting registered and getting set up in the Dealers’ Room. My own books might be sold out, but I have a small number of Twelfth Planet books that I offered to take from Dublin to Belfast, and that I need to sell so that I don’t have to take them home and then to Glasgow for FantasyCon. Franceso Verso is once again giving me space on his table, and here we have more time to chat.

A lot of people have come from Dublin to Belfast, including a significant number of Americans. Goodness only knows what Ben Yalow will make of the ESFS Business Meeting. I’m kind of sad that he won’t get to experience Dave Lally chairing it.

Because I talk a lot about translations on panels, people occasionally give me books. Today I was given a copy of East of a Known Galaxy, an anthology of Romanian science fiction translated into English. My thanks are due to Darius Hupov who is the host of The Galactic Imaginarium, a science fiction podcast based in Romania.

Eurocon is very much a multi-cultural experience. Also today I got to chat with a French fan about translations from French to English, and to a couple of Estonian fans about my visit to their country this summer. I shared a dealer table with an Italian, and was on a panel with a publisher from Portugal. That sort of thing ought to happen at Worldcon, but it doesn’t. Eurocon is where that sort of inter-cultural mixing is commonplace.

Worldcon #77 – Day 3

This morning, after a bit of fruitless chasing of phone companies, I took myself off to The Point to meet Scott Edelman who was on a panel there. This is how I discovered that Dublin has a rule that the Green Room is only open to programme participants during the hour before their panels. I guess they are very short of space. Being me, I blagged my way in.

Once Scott’s panel was done we headed off to his restaurant of choice, Mr. Fox, and recorded a podcast for Eating the Fantastic. Scott will post details of what we ate along with the podcast, but he has released the above photo with me and the restaurant’s signature walnut whip confectionary. Scott’s ability to find superb restaurants is legendary in the SF&F community, and rightly so.

It was a very long lunch, but not alcoholic as I had to get back to The Point to give my talk on the Prehistory of Robotics. It seemed to go down well. I was also pleased to meet a long time friend, Paul Mason, whom I haven’t seen in decades as he’s been living in Japan.

The rest of the day was spent chatting to people back at the convention centre. I was very pleased to meet two talented young women who are starting to make a name for themselves in the business. The first was Molly Powell, who is the new editor at Jo Fletcher Books. She’s the person responsible for bringing This is How You Lose the Time War and Gods of Jade and Shadow to the UK. The other was Tamsyn Muir, author of Gideon the Ninth, which is by far the most talked about debut novel that I can remember. They are both lovely, and I look forward to watching their careers blossom.

I didn’t have enough energy left to go to the masquerade, so I came back to the apartment and crashed.

Tomorrow, I have nothing to do except the Hugos. Quite a lot of panels have had to turn people away, and I have taken a policy decision to give up my seat to newbies. I may go whiskey shopping.

Farah & Cathy on DWJ

I entirely forgot to make a post about last month’s radio show because I was in Finland when it aired. As I’m in the middle of prep for this month’s show, I have been reminded of this and need to do something about it, because there were some good interviews in the show.

One of them is with Regina Wang, which I plan to get online before Worldcon. The other is with Farah Mendlesohn and Cathy Butler, which is slightly more urgent because it is about an event that is taking place this coming weekend – the conference on Diana Wynne Jones that they are running in Bristol (and which I can’t go to because I am swamped with work).

Farah and Cathy are always good value for a chat, but there is no better subject to set them off on than Diana. I hope you enjoy the interview.

Introducing the Diversity Trust Podcast

As if to prove that work follows me everywhere, today saw the launch of the brand new Diversity Trust Podcast. This will see various people from the Trust interviewing famous civil rights campaigners. And it all kicks off with me talking to the very wonderful Christine Burns.

Actually, you are only getting part 1 of the conversation right now. If you put Christine and I together the chances are that we will rabbit on endlessly about things, and this was no exception. Part 2 will follow in due course, but right now you can listen to part 1 here.

Introducing Modern Fairies

Many of my academic friends will know about this project already, but the rest of you will want to catch up too.

Modern Fairies is a collaboration between artists and academics to bring fairy tales into the 21st Century. That’s not re-writing and updating as you might get in a novel, but rather bringing back the stories and performances. The academics are providing the tales, and where necessary the translations from Old English and context. The artists are looking at narrating and performing these stories for a modern audience.

Phase 1 of the project has been a series of podcasts that introduce us to the major themes and stories. It addresses tales of people being kidnapped by amorous fairies, and fairies being kidnapped by humans; of changelings; of helpful fairies who assist the poor; and of loathly ladies who torment handsome knights. One of the presenters is Professor Carolyne Larrington who, in addition to being an expert on mediaeval literature, also wrote this fine book on the myth and history behind A Song of Ice & Fire.

Phase 2 is over to the artists, who will be putting on Fairy Gatherings around the country throughout the summer. There will be music and performance. One of the writers involved is Terri Windling.

And finally it will be back to the academics at the end of the year for a second series of podcasts looking back on what was done, and how it was received.

Look out, Britain. Fairies are coming to a town near you. And, dear Goddess, we could surely do with some right now.

Maria Dahvana Headley in the Salon

Continuing my efforts to catch up on audio recordings, I have posted my interview with Maria Dahvana Headley, which I recorded when Maria was in Oxford talking about The Mere Wife to experts on Anglo Saxon literature. We did talk a bit about Oxford and Tolkien, but basically this was Maria & Cheryl Go On An Extended Feminist Rant. Some of this was on Ujima, but there’s around 50% more here because once we get going on such a rant we are pretty hard to stop. Enjoy.

Slippered!

My interview on the Breaking the Glass Slipper podcast is now live. It was specifically about the representation of trans people in SF&F, so obviously my essay in the above fine Luna Press book featured prominently. We did talk about a few other things as well, including talking more generally about feminism, and about Wizard’s Tower Press.

They don’t have embed links for the podcast, and anyway you will want the show notes, so click here.

My thanks to Lucy, Megan & Charlotte for a fun conversation.

Tade Thompson at FantasyCon

I’m trying to make a conscious attempt to catch up on the enormous amount of audio I have stacked up waiting to be published. There are interviews I did at Worldcon in Helsinki that I ran on the radio but still haven’t put online. But before I get to those there are some slightly more up to date pieces that I should run before they become completely stale.

I’m starting with an interview that I did at FantasyCon at the end of last year. Tade Thompson is one of my favorite people to interview because he always has plenty to say, and is always in good humor even when he’s having a rant. This interview covers the success of Rosewater, the scariness of The Murders of Molly Southborne, and what it is like for black writers to live in a post-Black Panther world.

Hugo Participation Trends

Yeah, I know I said I was just doing a post on the Hugo Study Committee Report and then I’d be done. However, this morning I listened to the new episode of The Coode Street Podcast in which Gary and Jonathan talk to Jo Walton about her book, An Informal History of the Hugos. A couple of things Jo said had me sit up and take notice, so I thought I would write about them.

The first point is an object lesson in how easy it is to think that something is traditional and has always been the way things were done. Jo, Gary and Jonathan were lamenting the lack of success that Iain M. Banks had in the Hugos. Jo noted that Banks had not had the advantage of the extra year of eligibility for works initially published outside the USA. That’s a rule I know well, and I was slightly surprised, so I checked the history. It was in 2002 that we added a rule giving works in English published outside the UK a shot at an extra year, but you needed a 3/4 vote in the Business Meeting. It wasn’t until 2014 that the extra year became automatic. So Jo was right, Banks did not get to use this feature of the Hugo rules. It is much more recent than I rememered.

Jo also mentioned that Hugo participation, in terms of numbers of voters, was increasing, and noted the effect of the Puppies on this. Given that it is my job to worry about bandwidth limits on the Hugo Awards website, I figured that the story wasn’t that simple, and I was right.

The following chart shows the total number of Hugo voters in the Final Ballot stage, the numbers that nominated in Novel, and the number of Final Ballots that express a preference in the Novel and Best Dramatic Presentation: Long categories. These are the categories that traditionally get the most interest. I stopped my historical digging at 2009 because that year’s data did not give separate participation data for each category.

The level of participation is almost 3 times what it was in 2009, but it has dropped significantly since the peak of 2015 when all fandom came together to repell the Puppy Incursion. What’s more it appears to be still dropping. That’s not altogether surprising, but it is something we need to be concerned about.

There are some interesting pieces of data as well. 2016 is notable in being a year (probably the only year) in which the number of voters participating in the nominating stage is higher than the number participating in the final ballot. That’s becaue a lot of people joined the 2015 Worldcon to join the fight against the Puppies, and were eligible to nominate in 2016, but having seen that the Puppies were mostly beaten they opted not to join again.

2017 is notable for being a year where a lot of people who particpated in the final ballot did not vote in the Novel category. That’s why I checked BDP: Long. Sure enough, I found that a lot more people participated in that than in Novel, which is also unusual. The obvious reason is that a significant number of voters were not native English speakers. While most Finns have very good English, reading six whole novels must have seemed a bit daunting. Movies were quite likely subtitle or translated.