In September Maria Turtschaninoff and I were supposed to be guests at Imagining Alternatives, an academic conference in Augsburg, Germany. The event had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, but the organisers have been busy putting stuff online. Last week Maria and I recorded an interview with Dr. Sabrina Mittermeier. The conversation was pretty wide-ranging, but if there’s one thing I said that I want to highlight it is this: if you like the books of Ursula K Le Guin then you should check out Maria’s work as well, because I think you will like it. See here for some reviews.
There is a new issue of Fafnir, the Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research, available online. Besides the usual excellent content, this one has an essay by me. It is about Janelle Monáe and the science fictional worldbuilding that has formed the basis of all her work to date. Enjoy!
A quick break from the fundraising here because over lunch I had the opportunity to listen to the Tolkien Symposium, the online event that replaced this year’s Tolkien Lecture. A fine job was done by all. You can listen here.
And lo, I can bring it to you, courtesy of Academia Lunare.
Ties That Bind: Love in Fantasy & Science Fiction is the title of the latest collection of academic essays from our very lovely friends in Edinburgh. The book is due to be published on July 28th, but the table of contents has just been released. You can find it here.
You all want to read a paper by me titled, “Robot Love is Queer”, don’t you.
Pre-orders will open in May.
No, not the Goddess. Not even Diana Prince. I am, of course, talking about Diana Wynne Jones.
Last year an academic conference about Diana’s work was held in Bristol. My friends Farah Mendlesohn and Cathy Butler were the main movers behind the event. An ebook of papers from the conference has since been published. You can get a copy here.
If you buy it, you are buying direct from the publisher, i.e. the conference. Everyone who provided content and helped create the book has given their labour for free, so all of the money from sales goes back into the project. The plan is to use revenue from book sales to finance another conference. Just 25 copies of the £10 will generate enough income for a deposit on the venue.
It would be great if other academic conferences worked like that, instead of getting tied in to the scam of academic publishing.
Update: Farah tells me that some independent professionals were involved in creating the book, and were paid for their services, But I understand that those costs have now been covered. So all future revenue will go towards the next conference.
Here’s something I am doing this weekend, which I didn’t tell you about earlier because by the time I got the details it had sold out. Which is very pleasing.
Anyway, immediately I finish at Trans Pride in Bristol on Saturday I will be on a train to Brighton. It is a mad schedule, but Sunday morning trains are crap and I need to go on Saturday to make sure I get there in time.
On the Sunday afternoon I will be at Brighton Museum for their monthly Queen in Brighton LGBTQ+ History Club. I will be talking about being trans and intersex in Ancient Rome. There will be gender reassignment surgery; there will be gossip about the Imperial Family; there will be stand up philosopher contests; and being the Romans it will all be a bit gruesome.
What have the Romans done for us? They invented the dick pic.
If you want to know more, and be sad that you can’t get a ticket, the booking page is here.
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.
The nice people at Oxford University Press sent me a review copy of their new edtion of The Poetic Edda, as translated by Professor Carolyne Larrington. There’s not a huge amount I can say about the text, partly because the stories are so familiar, and partly because I’m in no position to comment on the quality of the translation, save to say that Prof. Larrington is an acknowledged expert in the field.
So instead I have chosen to focus in on a few small bits of the text where we have evidence for queer identities in Norse society. Naturally this involves Loki rather a lot. Again I’m not really in a position to talk authoritatively about translations, but I do have views on what we can and cannot say about ancient societies.
All of which means that the end result is less of a review and more of a short essay on queer Vikings. If you have been wondering about all this gender fluid stuff about Loki in comics, or in Rick Riordan’s books, I can point you at some of the evidence for that intepretation. If that is your cup of tea, you can find the review here.
Some of you may remember that back in 2017 I gave a paper at an academic conference at the University of Bologna. The proceedings of the conference have now been published, and I’m delighted to report that my paper is among them. That’s an actual, genuine academic publication credit.
The paper is titled, “Escaping the Cis Gaze in Trans-Themed Young Adult Fiction”, and it is published in Literature, Gender and Education for Children and Young Adults, Bononia University Press, 2019 pp 137-148.
Huge thanks to Raffaella Baccolini and everyone else involved in the conference for making me so welcome.
I spent the past three days in Germany (and traveling too and from). The main reason I was there was to give a lecture at the Academy of Media Arts in Köln. However, I did pay for an extra hotel night so that I could do a bit of sightseeing. Hopefully there will be photos up here soon. I did take a lot, but I need to find time to process them (and I know I haven’t done the Ghent photos yet).
What I can say is that Köln is a lovely city. Obviously it is most famous for the giant cathedral which, when you are up close, really does look as if it reaches all the way to heaven. However, there are lots of Roman remains (the city was a legionary base and later capital of the Province of Germania) and twelve Romanesque churches. Sadly the two main museums of Roman materials were closed for rennovations, but I saw enough to want to go back when they are open.
I can recommend the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum which does a good job of being an anti-colonial ethnographic collection. It is also a themed collection. Anyone involved with the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford should take a look.
I can also recommend the Lindt Chocolate Museum and its most excellent cafe.
My talk seemed to go down very well. It was filmed and will be available on the Academy website in due course. We also had a reporter from a local radio station in attendance. If you can understand German you can tell me what he thought of it as his report is already online.
Next month I’m going to be giving a talk at the University of Köln in Germany. This is something that grew out of the event in Graz last year. There’s a web page up for the event now. It is in German, but quite a few of the words should be recognisable. The audience will be mainly arts students. It should be fun.
Hello, I am in Ghent, which is in Belgium, though very close to the Dutch border and most people here seem to speak Dutch.
The reason that I am here is that I am attending the 3rd Workshop on Gender, Methodology and the Ancient Near East. It is basically a gathering for Assyriologists who are mindful of gender and intersectionality issues in their work. That means that they don’t assume that the people they are studying are all white, all cisgender and heterosexual, and all convinced of the primacy of the nuclear family as a basic social unit. I mean, really, why would anyone make those assumptions? And yet they do.
Much of what goes on is relatively specialist. Also, like any academic conference, sometimes we get talks from people who are early in their careers and don’t have a lot to say. But they’ll get better from going to events like this. And there have been several really great papers already.
Being me, I was particularly interested in the session on the Neo-Assyrian Empire. My thanks to Amy Gansell for continuing to expand my knowledge of Assyrian queens, and to Saana Svärd for a fascinating paper that hinted at a possible matriarchal culture, and maybe even women warriors, among the ancient inhabitants of Arabia.
For this post, however, I will concentrate on just one paper: Omar N’Shea & Sophus Helle on the gendered performance of Ashurbanipal.
Some of you will have seen the exhibition about the life of Ashurbanipal at the British Museum over the winter. He’s the guy featured in the reliefs of a lion hunt. All very macho. And yet up until the 19th Century our view of him was very different. Our only evidence for his existence came from the Roman writer, Diodorus Siculus, who called him Sardanapulus and said he was decadent and effeminate. The picture above by Delacroix gives a good impression of the image Diodorus protrays.
Diodorus claims to have got his information from a Greek writer called Ctesias, but the work he cites hasn’t come down to us and Greeks tended to be a bit biased when talking about anyone from the part of the world where Persia then stood.
Then we did archaeology, and discovered Assyrian records, and the lion hunt reliefs. Our picture of Ashurbanipal changed significantly.
But it isn’t that simple. Here’s the famous picture of Ashurbanipal skewering a charging lion.
That thing in his belt that I have highlighted, it is a stylus, for writing on clay tablets. The King is a scholar as well as a warrior, and doesn’t go anywhere without the means of writing down his exploits.
Omar (and Sophus but he couldn’t be here this week) then pointed to a message from the goddess Ishtar to Ashurbanipal. The Elamites were in revolt, but Ishtar advised the King not to lead his troops against them. She, the Goddess of War, had it all in hand. He should stay safe at home and enjoy a feast or two. Here he is enjoying a garden party along with his principal wife, Libbali-šarrat.
And yet this scene of domestic tranquility is not all it seems. To the far right of the picture Ashurbanipal’s bow lies resting on a table. To the left the head of Teumman, the Elamite king, hangs from a tree.
Ashurbanipal, then, sends very mixed messages through his royal imagery and statements. On the one hand he is a pleasure-loving scholar whose empire is so safe he doesn’t need to go to war himself; on the other he hunts lions for fun and glories in the defeat of his enemies. This contradiction may have led to a certain amount of character assassination by his enemies, and that may have given rise to the legend of Sardanapulus.
So that’s the sort of thing I have been listening to today. My thanks to Omar and Sophus for a great paper.
Many of you will be familiar with Utopiales, the big French convention that takes place in Nantes every October. Well this month they are coming to the UK. They are partnering with Maison Française d’Oxford, the French research centre in Oxford, to put on a 3-day conference. The dates are April 24-27.
Days 1 and 2 are the academic part of the event. You can find the full programme here.
Day 3 is more public-oriented and features three workshops. One of them is titled “The boundaries and territories of SF” and features three great writers, plus me. My estemeed colleagues are Stephanie Saulter (who needs no introduction), Emma Geen (who wrote the brilliant The Many Selves of Katherine North), and Jeanne-A Debats who, among other things, teaches Latin and Greek and is Art Director of Utopiales. I know Stephanie and Emma well, and I’m looking forward to meeting Jeanne-A (whom I shall doubtless bore with discussion of queer Romans).
In addition there is an exhibition of art from the 19 years of Utopiales.
It all sounds very splendid, and it is free. Hopefully I will see some of you there.
I began today’s show with some extracts from Marlon James’ Tolkien Lecture. You can listen to the whole thing here.
The second segment was an interview with Chloe Tingle of No More Taboo, the period poverty charity. We talked about how Bristol is leading the way in tackling period poverty, about a course that Chloe will be running in Bristol next week, and about how a film about periods won an Oscar. If you want to go on the course, booking details are here.
In segment 3 I was joined in the studio by Harry Silverlock of the Palace International Film Festival, queer film festival which originated in Poland (in an actual mediaeval palace) and is coming to Bristol next week. It sounds like a really great event. I’m particuarly pleased with how diverse the selection of films is.
Finally I was joined by Lisa Whitehouse who has an International Women’s Day event on Saturday to promote. It is going to be at Hannah Moore Infants School on Saturday but there’s an issue with the Facebook presence right now so I can’t link to it. The most important think is that Lisa assures me it is trans-inclusive, unlike certain other IWD events I could mention.
You can listen to the whole show here.
The music today was largely devoted to remembering the great Jackie Shane who died peacefully in her sleep last month aged 78. It is good to know that some trans women of color can live long lives. Here’s the full playlist:
- Jackie Shane – You Are My Sunshine
- Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower
- Liane la Havas – Midnight
- Santana – Flor D’Luna
- Andy Allo – Angels Make Love
- Jackie Shane – Money
- Jackie Shane – I’ve Really Got the Blues
- Jackie Shane – Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag
- Jackie Shane – Any Other Way
I spent Tuesday night in Oxford attending this year’s JRR Tolkien Memorial Lecture on Fantasy Fiction. This year’s guest lecturer was Marlon James, whose Black Leopard, Red Wolf I reviewed here. Along the way I got to catch up with many friends including Olivette Otele, Stephanie Saulter, and of course Juliet McKenna. (Green Man 2 is progressing well; thank you for asking.)
I was hoping to get an interview with Marlon for Ujima, but sadly his schedule was too packed. However, I did get to chat with him briefly. We talked mostly about the X-Men. If anyone at Marvel is reading this, you need to get him to write for you. Seanan, Nnedi, please put in a good word for him.
The lovely folks at Pembroke have now posted the video of the lecture, so you can get to enjoy Marlon as well. I hope you find him as erduite and entertaining as I did.
My final LGBT History Month event of 2019 was one that I was not speaking at. It was organised by my good friends Jana Funke and Jen Grove from the University of Exeter to celebrate the launch of their new book, Sculpture, Sexuality and History. It is a niche interest, but it does overlap with the history of robots as fictional entities. I need to read it for a talk I am giving later this year.
As part of the festivities, Jana & Jen invited three graduates students to give a seminar. They provided three great papers.
Rebecca Mellor talked about secret collections of “erotic” objects at museums, and how a museum makes the decision to class something as erotic. Interestingly the decision can often depend far more on who donated the object than on what it looks like.
Mara Gold’s talk was about how Western lesbians from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries used references to Sappho and Ancient Greek culture in general as code for their sexuality. I learned a lot. I had no idea that Hope Mirlees and Sylvia Townsend Warner were lesbians. And there’s another person who deserves a whole blog post of her own.
Finally we had Georgina Barker who talked about the Russian poet, Elena Shvarts, whose Sappho-influenced work scandalised mid-20th Century USSR. That’s less of interest to me, but Georgina and I spent quite a bit of time chatting about Scythians, who also fall into the Russia-Classics crossover.
On getting home I found email inviting me to view a colloquium on Diversifying Classics at the College of Charleston. South Carolina is perhaps not the place that would immediately spring to mind when considering progressive views of the Classics, but it turns out that it is an excellent event. The whole thing is available on Farcebook.
Rebecca Futo Kennedy talked about how the idea of “Western Civilisation” was invented by white people in the 19th Century. This is particularly ironic because at the time both Greeks and Italians tended to get views as “black”.
Arum Park talked about the need for women and people of color to revisit translations of ancient works. The white male bias that the likes of Emily Wilson and Maria Dahvana Headly have identied in translations of The Odyssey and Beowulf respectively are starting to look like the tip of a very large iceberg.
Nandini Pandey talked about the multicultural nature of the Roman Empire and what we can learn from how Rome went about encouraging multiculturalism. I think she let Polemo and the Physionomists off a little lightly on the origins of racism, but other than that she too was great. Romans and Greeks, of course, were Mediterranean people and thus compared themselves to those lighter skinned than themselves as well as those darker. They tended to assume that they were a perfect mixture of the two extremes. A good example is Vitruvius who was an architect. He wrote about how climate affected both building requirements and the people who lived in different parts of the world. According to him (Book 6, Chapter 1) people from hot climates tend to be smart but cowardly, while those from cold climates tend to be stupid and brave.
The final talk by Jim Newhard is also good, but it primarily of interest to people who work in Classics departments.
And finally, while I was watching Dr. Pandey’s talk my Twitter feed threw up links to New Classicists, a very interesting new journal run by post-grad students at Kings, London.
It is great to see Classics doing all of this stuff. Much of it is, of course, prompted by the likes of Steve Bannon and Boris Johnson using the ancient world to prop up their white surpremacist ideas, but it needs doing anyway. Also the more we can learn about the ancient world beyond the narrow confines of Greece and Rome the better. The Roman Empire’s trading links were extensive and all of the cultures that they met, conquered or traded with deserve study too.
This is going to be a very busy week for book announcements. We’ll have something coming from Wizard’s Tower tomorrow, and an anthology I have a story in is being published on Thursday. Before that, however, there is this book.
As you can see, it is not by me, but I do have a short essay in it. The book covers a wide range of trans issues, including history. I get to write about transgender Romans. In a proper university text book. How cool is that?
Huge thanks should go to Ardel for including me. We met at the Moving Trans History Forward conference in Victoria, BC in 2016. As Ardel teaches in San Francisco, Kevin and I immediately bonded with them. We were all there again last year, and this year Ardel is over my side of the pond. We’ll both be on a panel about trans history at the Outing the Past academic conference at the end of March.
Anyway, enough about us. You want to know about the book. It is available now in the USA. It is very reasonably priced for an academic textbook. And you can get 30% off with the special offer mentioned here. UK people, you can probably buy from the publisher too, but postage may be an issue. The paperback won’t be available here until March 5th, but the Kindle edition is available now.
The event in Taunton on Saturday went off very well, and we are now full steam ahead into LGBT History Month. Here’s a reminder of what I’m doing this week.
On Wednesday I will have an LGBTHM special edition of my radio show. That will include interviews from Saturday (one of which is with Caroline Paige), gay author Alan Robert Clark, and former Bristol MP Stephen Williams.
Later on Wednesday I’m going to talk to civil servants, but that’s not open to the public.
On Thursday I will be at the University of Bristol (35 Berkerly Square HWB, Room 2.26) from 14:00 to 15:00 talking about Hadrian and his times. The talk is titled: “At the Court of the Rainbow Emperor: How gay, lesbian and intersex people flourished under Hadrian’s rule.” Free tickets are available here.
And on Saturday I will be at the Senedd Building in Cardiff with the Amazon Horde. I note that Wales are playing in Italy late that afternoon so some rugby-watching is likely to happen after the event.
February is almost upon us. Here’s what I think is my final(-ish) schedule.
Friday 1st: Flag raising at City Hall in Bristol, followed by a reception in the Lord Mayor’s Chapel. All welcome.
Saturday 2nd: An event at the library in Taunton. I will be talking about Spartans. The OutStories Bristol traveling exhibition is on display, and my colleague Robert Howes is speaking as well.
Wednesday 6th: I’ll be doing Women’s Outlook on Ujima. It will be an LGBTHM special and will feature former local MP, Stephen Williams, talking about being gay in Parliament. I’m also doing a talk about Michael Dillon for some civil servants in the afternoon.
Saturday 9th: I will be at the LGBTHM event at the Senedd Building in Cardiff, talking about Amazons.
Thursday 14th: I will be at Queens University, Belfast talking about trans people in ancient Mesopotamia. (And for potential Worldcon attendees, I’m traveling via Dublin and the Enterprise.)
Saturday 16th: The LGBTHM event at M Shed in Bristol. Full line-up here. I will be talking to performance storyteller, Rachel Rose Reid, about the Romance of Silence, a mediaeval Arthurian tale featuring a non-binary protagonist. If all goes well, Rachel will be performing part of the story in Bristol that evening.
Thursday 28th: I’ll be attending a book launch at Exeter University. The book in question is Sculpture, Sexuality and History, edited by my ear friends Jana Funke and Jen Grove. There’s also a mini academic conference that includes Mara Gold talking about actual Lesbians (as in ancient Greeks from Lesbos).
In amongst all of this I’m also attending Farah’s Historical Fiction Research Network conference in Manchester where I’m talking about steampunk.
I’d like to say that I will be spending March lying down, but LGBTHM has a habit of scope creep and I’m definitely planning to be in Belfast on the final weekend for the Outing the Past academic conference, always assuming that the country isn’t under martial law at the time, which is starting to look increasingly likely.
As you may have noticed, the Hugo Award nominating period has opened for this year. Consequently everyone is making eligibility posts. I wasn’t too fussed about that until I discovered that Jim Fitzpatrick is designing this year’s trophy base. As he is one of my favorite artists, I can’t wait to see what it looks like. And obviously I would love to have one.
Unfortunately I haven’t done much award-worthy in the past year. I have been too busy doing trans stuff. Technically I am eligible for Fan Writer, but I have done so little that it would be wrong to nominate me. And anyway, I have one of those already.
I do have one published short story from last year. It is called “A Piece of the Puzzle” and it appeared in the anthology, The Hotwells Horror, which a bunch of us put together to celebrate the life of the late David J Rodger. The story is set in Prohibition-era New York and features a young woman called Sonia Greene who has ambitions to be a writer. All of the profits from the sale of the book go to the mental health charity, MIND, so you would be doing a good thing by buying a copy.
It also occurs to me that my keynote speech from Worlding SF is a Related Work of sorts. You can watch the whole thing for free here.
Most importantly, however, The Green Man’s Heir is an eligible novel. Competition in the Hugos is fierce, but I would love to see Juliet appear in the also-ran list. And if you happen to be a member of the British Fantasy Society, you know what you need to do.