A Day at the Seaside

This afternoon Jo Hall had a signing at the delightful Books on the Hill store in Clevedon. Being a loyal publisher, I went along to support her. This also gave me a reason to visit Clevedon, a seaside town on the North Somerset coast just south of Bristol.

One reason for wanting to go is that the town is the birthplace of Jan Morris, a pioneering trans woman and brilliant writer. I don’t think there is a blue plaque or anything. Probably you can’t get one until you are dead. But Jan deserves one.

Clevedon is most famous, however, for its pier, which the poet, Sir John Betjeman, once described as the most beautiful in the world. As you’ll see from the picture above, it is a funny-looking old thing. It was built in Victorian times when steamships were still a common means of getting along and across the Severn Estuary. (If you look under all those clouds you can just make out Wales, and with better focus you’d be able to see Newport.)

Perhaps the oddest thing about the pier is its height. Why, you might think, is it perched so far above the water? Well, it isn’t. Clevedon has a maximum tidal range of 47 feet, second only to the Bay of Fundy in Canada. It ought to be a good place to build a tidal power installation, but George Osborne decided it would be better to borrow billions from the Chinese to pay the French to build a new nuclear station down the coast at Hinkley Point instead. Presumably Brexit will put an end to all that and the government will re-open some coal mines instead. Get all those Welsh people off benefits and back down the pits. That’ll teach them to vote Labour, eh?

Which reminds me, my colleague Yaz did a great show on Wednesday, and among here guests were some people from Coal Action talking about this campaign. Aberthaw power station directly affects the air quality in Bristol, so it is a matter of concern to us as well as to people in Glamorgan.

Posted in Economics, Environment, Where's Cheryl?, Wizard's Tower | Leave a comment

Introducing the Twilight People App #TDOV

Today is the international Trans Day of Visibility. I’m spending the day in London at a Trans*Code hackathon, kindly hosted at the offices of CapGemini (whom I used to work for many decades ago). I’ve spent the day working on an app for the Twilight People project. This is something I started at last year’s Trans*Code, and an initial version of the app went live in the Google Play store today. You can find it here.

The first release of the app is very simple because I needed something I could guarantee worked. I plan to add features to it given a bit of time. Also if there are any trans people of faith out there who would like they stories featured in it, we’d love to hear from you. Currently the app is only available for Android. I have a working Windows version which hopefully we can release soon. Thanks to my new pal, Tom Parker of Oliver Wyman (who is here as a mentor), I have been testing the iOS version today. It works fine on a simulator on Tom’s Mac, but Apple charge a lot more for developer accounts than Google or Microsoft so it will be down to the nice people at Liberal Judaism as to whether we can afford to ship that version.

Posted in Gender, Religion, Software, Where's Cheryl? | Leave a comment

Trans Theory in Assyriology

Some of the talks from the conference I attended in Barcelona in February have been put online. The full playlist is here (including one on Nefertiti, Egypt fans), but I just want to highlight one here because it demonstrates that trans and intersex issues are being taken seriously by academia. It is one of the keynote talks by Ann Guinan who, delightfully, studies Sex and Gender, Magic and Divination in the Ancient World at the University of Pennsylvania. The first half of the talk is basically a history of Western sexology and how it has impacted our view of Mesopotamia. Ann then brings in knowledge of trans and intersex people, and asks how their existence might affect how we interpret the ancient world.

My apologies to intersex readers for the focus on genitalia, but in the ancient world intersex conditions were generally only noticed when they caused a distinct physical change. Everyone else may remember the 2015 BBC program that featured the guevedoce community in the Dominican Republic.

I remember this talk with some pride because I was able to introduce Ann to a friend of mine, Alan Greaves, who studies Classics at Liverpool University. Alan has written about evidence for the existence of intersex people in Rome, of which there is quite a lot (some of which found its way into my LGBT History Month talks this year).

Anyway, here’s the video. It’s about half an hour.

Posted in Academic, Gender, History | 2 Comments

Sexism in Ancient Egypt?

Last night’s meeting of the Egypt Society of Bristol saw a lecture on Egyptian graffiti by Dr Hana Navratilova of the Griffith Institute in Oxford. This did not mean Egyptian kids spray-painting anti-government slogans on walls in Cairo. It meant Egyptian scribes from the 18th and 19th dynasties writing on the walls of more ancient temples and tombs. Graffiti, it seems, has a very long history.

Possibly we should not be surprised that the vast majority of what these scribes wrote was their contemporary equivalent of “Kilroy was here”. Being what passed for academics in ancient Egypt, they also couldn’t resist noting that they knew who was buried in each individual tomb they wrote on, even if it was hundreds of years old. And because Egyptian culture hadn’t changed that much in all that time, they also made a point of paying their respects to the departed.

For those interested in the technical side, the graffiti was normally written in hieratic script rather than full hieroglyphs. It was done mostly with brushes and black ink. To do good graffiti you had to refresh your brush frequently, otherwise what you wrote would soon fade away.

The people writing this graffiti were mostly scribes who were traveling for some reason, possibly visiting the monument on which they left their names. Most of the names left are male. Interestingly a few female-signed graffiti have also been found. However, as literacy was not universal in Egypt at the time we can’t be certain that these were made by women scribes. They may, for example, have been made by a scribe employed by a noblewoman who liked visiting ancient monuments.

Dr. Navratilova says that there is a lot more female-authored graffiti in Thebes, a major religious center, and that much of it relates to religious ceremonies. That sounds like it was being written by literate priestesses.

There is, however, one very famous piece of graffiti from Saqqara, the necropolis of Memphis. It is signed with a male name, and it goes something like this (I paraphrase because Dr. Navratilova recited it from memory and I can’t remember exactly what she said):

I’m horrified! Disgusted! There is some terrible writing on this wall, and it is by a crazy woman! This sort of thing shouldn’t be allowed!

Sadly the wall in question is in a very poor state of repair and it hasn’t been possible to identify the graffiti that Mr. Angry was complaining about. We don’t know whether he was angry about the quality of the handwriting, about what was written, or simply because the writer was a woman. However, the archaeologist who discovered this rant did say that it was made in very ugly handwriting. Maybe he was too angry to write well.

Posted in Feminism, History | Leave a comment

Hello Prometheus

The finalists for this year’s Prometheus Award, given to works of Libertarian science fiction, have been announced. Here they are:

  • The Corporation Wars: Dissidence by Ken MacLeod (Orbit)
  • The Corporation Wars: Insurgence, by Ken MacLeod (Orbit)
  • The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver (HarperCollins)
  • The Core of the Sun, by Johanna Sinisalo (translated by Lola Rogers) (Grove Press/Black Cat)
  • Blade of p’Na, by L. Neil Smith (Phoenix Pick)

Ken, of course, is a familiar sight on Prometheus shortlists, despite his avowed Socialist leanings. Quite right too, because he does examine the issues very closely. Johanna’s book is straight up feminism, a tale of rebellion against oppressive Patriarchy. It is nice to see that getting recognized. I’m not familiar with the other two books, though Shiver is a Freeze Peach fundamentalist so it is not surprising to see her there.

Posted in Awards, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

The Dangers of Heterosexuality

My research for an essay on trans people in Sumer led me to a book called The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies by James Neill. As you might guess from the title, it is partly based in evolutionary biology. That’s not a discipline that I have much time for as so much of it appears to be thinly veiled justifications for Patriarchy and racism. However, Neill shows you can turn that on its head. After a fascinating tour through homosexual behavior in animals (loved the lesbian dolphins) he goes on to postulate that male homosexuality has significant advantages for humans at a social level. It means fewer teen pregnancies, a more stable population, and less dangerous conflict between males. (If you want to argue with that, by the way, go read the book yourself. I’m not going to engage with discussion based solely on the very bare outline I have given here.)

The upshot of all this is that same-sex relations were rife in most ancient societies, and indeed there’s plenty of evidence for this (though not for “homosexuality”, which is a much more modern concept). Nevertheless, exclusive heterosexuality developed as a desired practice among strongly patriarchal religions, and that left me wondering why. If Neill is right, unfettered heterosexuality will lead to population expansion which poses problems for the tribe because it can’t feed all of the babies. One possible way of dealing with that is territorial expansion and conquest. So what we might be seeing here is patriarchal society insisting on behavior that it knows will drive the need for war, and will provide the bodies needed to wage it.

This is the sort of thing that makes me want to go back and read The Gate to Women’s Country again.

Neill also provided me with a very interesting research lead. He quotes an observation about the Hidatsa people of North America (a Sioux tribe based in North Dakota). It reads:

“If a boy shows any symptoms of effeminacy or girlish inclinations, he is put among the girls, dressed in their way, brought up with them, and sometimes married to men. They submit as women to all the duties of a wife.”

Those words were written by William Clark, one half of the famous explorer duo, Lewis and Clark. They are the clearest expression yet that I have seen showing that at least some native North American people could recognize trans kids and would accept their identities. Western “civilization” is so uncivilized in comparison.

Posted in Feminism, Gender, History | Leave a comment

Welcome, Samovar!

Samovar is the speculative fiction magazine devoted to translated works. It is hosted by the good folks at Strange Horizons. The first issue was published today and you can read it here. It includes (if I’m getting this right) work in Finnish, Arabic, Chinese and Hebrew, and English translations thereof. The press release says:

What wondrous fantastical tales are being conjured in Finnish? Who writes the best Nigerian space odysseys? Is Mongolia hiding an epic fantasy author waiting to be discovered? We want to know, and we aim to find out.

For Samovar, writers and translators are of equal importance, and we do our best to shine a spotlight on the talented individuals who pen both the original and the translated version of a story. We hope that in this way we can boost the profile of speculative fiction in translation so that everyone involved receives the recognition they deserve and so we can all continue to enjoy the strange, mind-bending and fantastical fiction of all cultures.

Samovar has teamed up with the brilliant folks at Strange Horizons, and will be produced as a quarterly, special imprint of the magazine. A lot of hard work, generous funding and an inordinate quantity of tea (hence the name!) have gone into creating Samovar and we are very excited to finally be releasing our first issue. We hope that you will join us and share in this special moment for both the speculative fiction and translation communities.

In issue one: two sisters create an imagined world where things that are lost can be found. A despot is forced to see the truth he’s tried to hide from. An academic finds poetry, science fiction and reality beginning to merge. And the Curiosity Rover turns its own sardonic gaze on Mars.

Featuring the work of the following talented writers and translators: Lavie Tidhar, Suvi Kauppila, Abdul Wakil Sulamal, James Caron, Ko Hua Chen (陳克華), and Annie Sheng, as well as a review from Rachel Cordasco of Taiyo Fujii’s Orbital Cloud (translated by Timothy Silver).

The Samovar editorial team is Laura Friis, Greg West and Sarah Dodd. Our advisory board includes Helen Marshall, Rachel Cordasco and Marian Via Rivera-Womack. We collaborate with the Reading the Fantastic project at the University of Leeds, and the Anglia Ruskin Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I am absolutely delighted to see this excellent project finally taking flight. Someone please read it and tell me whether there’s anything Tiptree-worthy in it, because that’s all I have time for right now (except for history books which is another time sink).

Posted in Science Fiction, Translations | Leave a comment

Bristol Does Local News

Last night I took myself into Bristol for an event organized by the National Union of Journalists. It was a kick-off for a national campaign aimed at highlighting the importance and value of quality local journalism. There is, perhaps, and argument to be made that this campaign is a decade or two late, and should have taken place when local news services first started getting decimated, but at least new new entrants have sprung up to fill the gap which made for an interesting discussion.

The event took the form of a panel discussion with a truly huge panel. My apologies if I have forgotten anyone, but I recall representatives from the following: the BBC, ITV, Made in Bristol TV, the Bristol Post, the Bristol Cable, the Chew Valley Gazette, Vocalise, the Voice network and the NUJ head office. Conspicuous by their absence were Bristol 24/7. Apparently editor Martin Booth was taken ill during the day and was unable to arrange for a replacement. There was no one there from BCFM Radio. Most of my management at Ujima was at St. George’s for the Courtney Pine concert. I wasn’t on the panel, but I’m sure I could have contributed had I wanted to. More of that later. Also in the audience were two local MPs (Thangan Debbonaire – Lab and Charlotte Leslie – Con), plus three of the candidates for the new Metro Mayor post (Leslie Mansell – Lab, Stephen Williams – LibDem and Darren Hall – Green).

The traditional news outlets all reported a decade or two of constant downsizing. The television networks have made use of new, lightweight technology to train their reporters to do without a cameraman and sound technician. The newsroom at the Post has been reduced to around a third of its former size. They all insisted that they had maintained standards. Some of the audience, including on my Twitter feed, begged to disagree.

The main reason for the change has been loss of revenue streams. Companies such as estate agents, car salesrooms and so on, plus job and home rental adverts, have all migrated to the internet. The Chew Valley Gazette, a weekly paper serving villages in North Somerset, survives mainly because the local broadband service is so bad that local businesses still advertise in print.

While the panel and online peanut galley might debate the quality of existing services, the existence of new, competing services suggests that the public is not entirely happy with the incumbents. Some of the competition is fuels by technology changes. Made in Bristol TV succeeds where previous attempts at local TV failed because it has access to the cable network, giving it far better distribution than previous attempts (I can watch it at home via Sky). The same is true of community radio stations such as Ujima which are available online, and for papers such as Bristol 24/7 and the Cable which can have large amounts of online content to supplement their paper editions.

However, new services do need financial support. Ujima and BCFM rely on advertising and on volunteer staff such as myself. The Gazette is staffed mostly by part-timers. Vocalise, which is distributed free to mainly immigrant communities in central Bristol, is also run by volunteers. I was impressed by Richard Coulter’s Voice network of hyper-local newspapers — each serving just one small area of Bristol — which apparently pays its staff.

The content of the news provided was clearly an issue. There are obviously things that the old guard does well. There was a lot of praise for Geoff Bennett, the Post‘s court reporter, who spends every day following local trials. Other outlets tend to rely on his detailed work for their own reports. There was concern that elsewhere content was being written at a national level and syndicated to local news services, though the Post‘s editor assured us that he was still employing reporters to follow both local soccer teams.

The audience had difficulty separating concerns about local news services with national issues, and to be fair the panel sometimes got confused as well. One question from the floor asked why newspapers these days spend so much time soliciting comment from ill-informed celebrities such as Piers Morgan rather than talking to people who could give expert comment. Ellie Pitt from Made in Bristol TV made the reasonable point that far too many potential commentators are unwilling to give an opinion, whereas the professional big mouth will have an opinion on anything. Against that I’d note that expert commentators tend to want to explain things in detail and present both sides, whereas the media wants a simple and controversial statement.

An issue that was less touched upon was the question of what was reported. Some of this was implicit in the concentration on local news. The national media has little interest in what happens outside of London. The Post will cover what happens in Bristol, but to find out what is happening at St. Werburgh’s Community Centre, or the Malcolm X Centre in St. Pauls, you need to read Vocalise. Only the Gazette will report the results of the Chew Magna Dog Show.

However, there are still plenty of holes in the coverage. The panel, while it did have several women on it, was entirely white save for the woman from Vocalise, a paper which specifically serves immigrant communities. I badly wanted to ask the diversity question, but as a white person myself (albeit one with other diversity credentials) I felt nervous about doing so. Thankfully a Somali man sat near me did the job. The panel made the usual excuses about inability to get specialist staff. Only the NUJ rep seemed to take the question seriously and talk about recruitment, but that’s only part of the problem. If non-white people can’t get the required qualifications, or feel they have no chance of getting jobs, or are afraid of discrimination at work, or think they will be asked to create news solely for white people, then you still won’t solve the problem.

Other minorities have similar issues. I suspect that I might be the only local journalist planning on doing in depth coverage of the Women’s Cricket World Cup, despite many matches being played in Bristol. An approach has been made to Made in Bristol TV about doing an LGBT show, but apparently they have no interest in serving that community. The Cable, being community-owned and focused, is much better at this sort of thing, and I’m pleased to see Bristol 24/7 ramping up its LGBT coverage.

Despite my reservations, I think this was a very useful event. What was clear is that a single panel wasn’t close to covering everything we might have talked about. There was easily enough material to fill a one-day conference. Hopefully the NUJ will look at doing something like that. We do have a thriving journalism course at UWE that could get involved as well.

Posted in Journalism | Comments Off on Bristol Does Local News

New Finnish Weird

The latest issue of Finnish Weird is now available online. It includes stories from Magdalena Hai, J.S. Meresmaa and Viivi Hyvönen. (And yes, they are all women.) You can download a free electronic copy here. Free paper copies will be available at various conventions and the like through the year including, of course, Worldcon.

Posted in Finland, Science Fiction | Comments Off on New Finnish Weird

An Evening at the BBC

I spent yesterday evening in the staff club at BBC Bristol. That’s because it was the venue for a meeting of our local Sound Women group for women who work in the media. The group is run by my colleague, Miranda, who has regular Friday afternoon show on Ujima as well as occasional gigs in the big leagues. (Miranda used to be a very high profile DJ, but she took time out to raise a child and, well, you know how that goes.)

We had two speakers for the evening. The first was Kalpna Woolf, who had a 25 year career in the BBC, rising from temp to head of production. More recently she has reinvented herself as a cookery writer, and runs an amazing charity called 91 Ways which celebrates the multicultural community of Bristol through food.

The second speaker was top-selling author, Amanda Prowse. Contemporary family dramas are not usually my sort of thing, but a writer is a writer and it was clear just listening to Amanda that she knows how to tell a story and is likely to have a lot of humor in her tales. She’s done extremely well for herself, and clearly has a lot of natural talent. There aren’t many people who can just sit down in front of a computer and just pour out a novel. She’s also got a major commitment to tackling important issues such as infertility, racism, and eating disorders; and makes sure she researches each topic well before starting to write.

It was an excellent evening, and it is great to get to hang out with other women in the media. I’ve already got one potential guest for my show from it.

Posted in Feminism, Radio, Writing | Comments Off on An Evening at the BBC

Yesterday on Ujima – Revolution!

Yesterday’s show was a bit impromptu as I wasn’t expecting to be doing it. This meant a lot of music and no guests, but Ben and I got through it just fine.

There was a little bit of content. If you are interested in following the occupation of Cheltenham Road Library by the Bristol branch of Sisters Uncut, you can do so via their Facebook page. And the full text of Gabby Bellot’s article about Derek Walcott can be found on LitHub.

You can listen to the first hour of the show here, and the second hour here.

I took in rather more music than I needed just in case. Aside from the Chuck Berry tribute, it was all part of the revolution theme for March. This is what I ended up playing.

  • Chuck Berry – Maybeline
  • Chuck Berry – Roll over Beethoven
  • Chuck Berry – Memphis, Tennessee
  • Chuck Berry – School Day
  • Chuck Berry – Rock ‘n’ Roll Music
  • Chuck Berry – Johnny B Goode
  • Thunderclap Newman – Something in the Air
  • James Brown – I’m Black and I’m Proud
  • Prince & The Revolution- Let’s Go Crazy
  • Otis Redding – Change is Gonna Come
  • David Bowie – Rebel, Rebel
  • Against Me! – True Trans Soul Rebel
  • Peter Gabriel – Biko
  • Tom Robinson Band – Up Against the Wall
  • The Clash – Revolution Rock
  • Gil Scott Heron – Revolution will not be televised
  • Chi-Lites – Power to the people
  • 4 Non Blondes – What’s Up?
  • Prince & The Revolution – Purple Rain

Yaz will be in the studio next week, and she has some people from Sisters Uncut lined up as guests.

Posted in Feminism, Music, Radio | Comments Off on Yesterday on Ujima – Revolution!

August Fringe Podcasts

Thanks to some magnificent work by Tom Parker we are rapidly getting caught up on the BristolCon Fringe podcasts. Right now we are limited more by our bandwidth limits on the Podbean account than anything else. We should be fully up to date in early April, which is good because the March reading last night was very good.

Our first reader for August was Jo Lindsay Walton. He treated us to a tale of time travel and that great conundrum of choronauts, the killing of Baby Hitler. Our heroes are a bunch of characters from what sounds like a Silicon Valley start-up. Or perhaps Seattle, because there is Starbucks.

Our second reader for August was Scott Lewis. He treated us to two story fragments. The first involves a hangover, fried breakfast, and airship maintenance. In the second an Anglo-Saxon missionary visits a part of the West Country that man was never meant to know.

The August Q&A developed into an interesting discussion regarding the various merits of description-driven fiction versus dialogue-driven fiction. We learned what Scott’s superpower is.

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Belated Happy Equinox

Yesterday was a bit busy, so I didn’t get around to doing an Equinox post. Hopefully this makes up for it. The image is “Primavera” by Sandro Botticelli. Venus is central to the image, but the scene is stolen by Flora, the goddess of flowers.

Posted in Art, Pagan | 2 Comments

Powerful Women of the Classical World

Earlier today I noticed the British Museum tweet a link to this blog post by Mary Beard containing a list of powerful women of the classical world. I was surprisingly unimpressed. On the one hand, of course, Beard is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge and Classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement. She knows far more about this stuff than I do. On the other hand, I suspect that I know more about editing a newspaper than George Osborne does, so I’m going to have a go at being a Classics professor too. First up, here are the women Professor Beard picked.

  • Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons
  • A Vestal Virgin
  • Athena
  • Cleopatra
  • An anonymous Roman woman

I think that Penthesilea is an excellent pick. What caused my eyebrows to rise was Beard saying of the Amazons, “They were entirely mythical, of course.” There’s no known historical people that called themselves Amazons, but we have plenty of evidence from burials that women warriors were commonplace around the Black Sea — the area where the Greeks claimed that the Amazons lived. Herodotus says that descendants of the legendary Amazons lived in the area in his day, and the most likely suspects are a people known as the Sarmatians. One possible derivation of their name means, “ruled by women”, and they certainly had women warriors. An all female nation is, I think, entirely unlikely, but an all-female war band such as the one that Penthesilea led to the defense of Troy is entirely possible.

Of course if one is looking at the Trojan War one might have picked Clytemnestra who ruled Mycenae for 10 years while the men were away besieging Troy and who murdered her feckless husband, Agamemnon, when he returned home so that she could carry on doing so. Or there is Helen, who was so beautiful that no man could resist her. Both exercised tremendous power in their their ways. You could also pick Dido, the Queen of Carthage, who fell in love with Aeneas when he stopped in her city on his way to found Rome.

The Vestal Virgins certainly had an important role in Roman society, and being a Vestal must have been an attractive career prospect for a high class Roman girl. How much actual power they had, however, is open to question. Whenever things went bad for the Romans they were in the habit of accusing the Vestals of not being virginal enough and sacrificing them by burying them alive.

Roman women were somewhat downtrodden, though by no means as much as Athenian women. By the time of the empire, however, their lot had improved. Part of the reason for that was that the incessant warfare produced a lot of rich widows (Roman women could own property) with extensive business experience who could work their way around social restrictions. Tansy Rayner Roberts is far better placed to pick powerful women from the empire, having done her PhD on the subject, but I’m going to pick Livia Drusilla who, as wife of Augustus and mother of Tiberius exerted significant influence over the founding of imperial Rome.

I’m a big fan of Athena, but she is very much a Greek man’s view of the ideal woman, being divorced from all things feminine. She doesn’t even have a mother. If I was going to pick a goddess I might have gone for Artemis/Diana who made more use of her martial talents and was at least seen as sexual (not that I have anything against being asexual, but I am suspicious of virgin goddesses created by men).

The other option, of course, is Cybele who, despite being viewed as deeply suspect by the male rulers of both Greece and Rome, and not being part of the Olympian pantheon, managed to become hugely popular in both civilizations.

That brings us back to religion and Roman trans women. It is by no means certain exactly how Elagabalus identified, but Cassius Dio might have reported faithfully. If that was so then we can list Elagabalus as the only woman to have been emperor of Rome.

That’s hugely speculative, but there’s no doubt that the cult of Cybele, or Magna Mater as the Romans called her, was very important in Rome. Their main temple was on the Palatine hill, and her spring festival was a big deal. The Archigallus, the head of the order, was a trans woman and a very important person in Roman society.

Back with emperors for a moment, Beard says in her book, SPQR, that she deems the reign of Caracalla as the end of Rome. After that it becomes something very different and rather un-Roman. However, the empire did continue for a long time after that. In terms of powerful women, you should not be looking any further that the Empress Theodora of Byzantium.

Cleopatra is another good choice, but she’s by no means the only foreign queen to have worried the Romans. Boudica’s rebellion was brief and ineffectual, but Cartimandua was much smarter and more powerful. By negotiating with the Romans she kept her position as Queen of the Brigantes, one of the largest of the British tribes, for 18 years after the conquest.

Pride of place in Beard’s list should, however, have gone to Zenobia, the Queen of Palmyra. When her husband was assassinated in 270 she launched a war against Rome which built an empire covering central Turkey, Syria, the Levant, all of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Sadly the Romans eventually managed to beat her, but frankly she makes Boudica look like a rank amateur.

It is worth noting, by the way, that one of the most famous women during classical times was Semiramis, the legendary Queen of Assyria. Sadly she is only legendary, though Shammuramat did rule the Neo-Assyrian Empire as regent for five years. She was, however, a major bogeywoman in Roman history.

I do like the choice of an anonymous Roman woman. I’m a bit dubious about choosing one who is flashing her boobs on her tombstone. However, as Beard points out, the fact that she is portrayed as Venus shows that she was seem as a goddess by her family, and that’s good enough for me.

There are many other options, of course. There are women who, despite the misogyny of the time, managed to forge a career in male-dominated professions. The poet, Sappho, is the most famous, but you could also pick the Athenian doctor, Agnodice, or Hortensia who because a politician in the late republic. Constantine’s mother, Helena, is arguably the world’s first archaeologist. I’m sure that Professor Beard is well aware of all of these women.

Posted in Feminism, History | 4 Comments

Tiptree Juror

As per the announcement earlier this week, I am going to be on the jury for the Tiptree Award this year. That will mean a number of things. Firstly I will get a lot of books to read. As a result of that, I won’t have time to read a lot else besides what I get sent. But most importantly from your point of view I won’t be reviewing anything that I read with the Tiptree in mind. That means that there will be very few reviews in the coming year. And indeed I have refrained from writing reviews of what I have been reading recently because I have known this was going to happen for several weeks.

Why no reviews? Well it is all part of jury collective responsibility. If I were to write reviews of the books we were discussing that could be seen as a window onto our discussions. As the jury is fairly small, people might draw conclusions about the views of other jurors from what I said and the eventual results.

I have, of course, reviewed one book that is likely to be considered. That happened well before I was asked to be a juror. I happened to like it a lot, but there are other really good books around too so that may not mean much come the end of the year.

The other important thing is that we want your recommendations. Publishers and authors can’t submit works to the Tiptree jury. The only way we get to consider books (and stories) is if you, the public, recommend them to us. You can do so, and see a list of current recommendations, here. Please bear in mind when recommending works that they need to fulfill the requirements of the award in that they should, “explore or expand our notions of gender.”

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July Fringe Podcasts

Oh dear, we are behind, aren’t we. Guess whose fault that is? Yep, that would be the person who has been rushing around like an idiot for months on end.

Thankfully the new arrangements for Fringe include the fabulous Tom Parker learning how to do audio editing and processing the old recordings for me. Consequently we are looking to catch up on the podcasts, and can now bring you some tales of horror from last summer. For reasons as yet unexplained, both involved swimming in some way.

Our first Reader for July was Thomas David Parker himself. He treated us to a sweet tale of two lovers off for a day by a lake. Well, sort of. You all know what lives in lakes, don’t you. Things.

Our second reader for July as Tim Lebbon. There were no lakes in the novel fragment he read. Just a mostly dried out swimming pool. And Things. Lots of Things.

In the Q&A for July Tom revealed that he enjoys drowning his friends whereas Tim prefers biting their faces off. Charming fellows, aren’t they.

This is also a good time to remind you that the next Fringe event will be on Monday (March 20th). It will feature Paul Cornell reading from his shortly to be released novel, Chalk. Paul will be supported by local writer, Steph Minns. I should also remind you that we will be at our new venue of the Famous Royal Navy Volunteer (the Volley, as it is known locally). There’s plenty of room, and the beer is excellent. (I tried the Café Racer last month and it was very good.)

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Yesterday on Ujima – Radio Comedy, Allyship & Conferences

Yesterday’s show on Ujima seemed to go OK, despite much of it being thrown together at the last minute as a couple of people I’d wanted were not available. We did have some technical issues at the start, but Ben was able to sort that out and I think we were OK for most of the show.

First up was Olly Rose talking about their fabulous science fiction radio play series, Ray Gunn and Starburst. Season 2 should be dropping very soon now. If you haven’t listed to Season 1 yet, you can do so for free here.

At 12:30 I welcomed Camille Barton, whom I have been fortunate to be on programme with a couple of times recently. She was talking about her Collective Liberation Project, which is a really interesting attempt to do intersectionality in practice.

Along the way I got to plug tomorrow’s event at Ground & Burst where I will be talking about gender identity around the world, and Monday’s BristolCon Fringe event which will feature Paul Cornell and Steph Minns. And I gave a shout-out to the amazing Sound Industry conference that will be happening in Bristol at the end of the month.

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

Regular guest Charlotte Gage of Bristol Women’s Voice and Bristol Zero Tolerance joined me at 13:00 to discuss a really interesting conference on male gender roles that is taking place on Friday of next week. I took the opportunity to mention a private member’s bill about giving people the right to ask for their taxes to be spent on peace initiatives rather than wars. The Taxes for Peace bill is sponsored by Ruth Cadbury MP, who also happens to be a good ally of the trans community. If you think your MP is likely to support it, please nag them before the 24th. Charlotte also talked about a new initiative to monitor street harassment that is going to be launching in April.

Finally on the show I welcomed Liz Andrews of WellBeans to talk about the Emotional Wellbeing in the Workplace conference which is being held in City Hall on Monday 27th. Thinking back to my time as an employee, it really is about time that businesses took this sort of thing seriously.

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

The music for the show began with a tribute to Joni Sledge of Sister Sledge who sadly died this past weekend. After that all of the music was chosen to fit in with the Month of Revolution theme on Ujima. Here’s the playlist:

  • Sister Sledge – Thinking of You
  • Sister Sledge – Lost in Music
  • Tracy Chapman – Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution
  • Chic – Rebels We Are
  • Bob Marley – Revolution
  • Pretenders – Revolution
  • T. Rex – Children of the Revolution
  • Jamiroquai – Revolution 1993

I will definitely be back in the studio on April 12th. I may end up doing April 5th as well, though I have two other things I should be doing that morning.

Posted in Current Affairs, Feminism, Music, Radio, Science Fiction | Comments Off on Yesterday on Ujima – Radio Comedy, Allyship & Conferences

Tiptree – We Have A Winner

Email arriving overnight announcing the results of this year’s James Tiptree Jr. Award which, as most of you will know, rewards “works of science fiction or fantasy that explore and expand our understanding of gender and gender roles”.

The winner this year is When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore, and a very fine winner it is too. I reviewed it here. It is beautifully written, and managed to teach me something about trans history as well.

Given how young McLemore is, I’m sure that she’s going to go on to produce some fabulous books in the future and I’m very much looking forward to reading them. This one is very personal for her, so I don’t know that we’ll see anything more quite like it, but you never know.

As regular Tiptree watchers will know, the award also produced an Honor List of books that didn’t quite appeal to the jury as much as the winner, and a Long List of other recommended reads. This year’s Honor List looks like this:

  • Hwarhath Stories, Eleanor Arnason
  • Borderline, Mishell Baker
  • “Opals and Clay”, Nino Cipri
  • Will Do Magic for Small Change, Andrea Hairston
  • “The Night Bazaar for Women Becoming Reptiles”, Rachael K. Jones
  • Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire
  • Too Like the Lightning, Ada Palmer
  • The Core of the Sun, Johanna Sinisal
  • Everfair, Nisi Shawl

I’ve read several of those and found them all very interesting. A couple are on my Hugo ballot.

For more details about the winner and Honor List, and for the Long List (which also has some very good books on it), see the official Tiptree website.

Tucked away at the bottom of the press release is information about the jury. It says:

Each year, a panel of five jurors selects the Tiptree Award winner. The 2016 judges were Jeanne Gomoll (chair), Aimee Bahng, James Fox, Roxanne Samer, and Deb Taber.

Reading for 2017 will soon begin. The panel consists of Alexis Lothian (chair), E.J. Fischer, Kazue Harada, Cheryl Morgan, and Julia Starkey.

So I guess that’s official now. I shall have more to say about that in a day or two. For now I’m just saying a huge thank you to the Motherboard for this honor.

Posted in Awards, Gender, Science Fiction | 1 Comment

First Mother

Here’s a little bit of archaeology for you. The figurine pictured above was found at the Turkish site of Çatalhöyük. It dates back at least to 5700 BC. The site had been occupied from around 9000 BC, but the figurine was found in the upper layer.

The resemblance to images of Cybele seated on her lion throne is remarkable, but caution is advisable here. That image was only used for the goddess after Greek culture swept across Turkey. The original Phrygian goddess, while often shown with wild animals, including lions, was not depicted on a lion throne, or riding on a lion for that matter.

It is also worth noting that the cats in the Çatalhöyük figurine are leopards, not lions. Possibly that’s a result of access. If the neolithic people of the region didn’t see lions they would have picked leopards instead to represent feline majesty.

While Inanna/Ishtar and Cybele are more usually associated with lions, the connection of women with leopards has continued for thousands of years. The Amazons, whom the Greeks said lived around the Black Sea, were depicted on vases they were often shown wearing leopard print clothing, or perhaps actual leopard fur.

Which just goes to show that there is nothing new in fashion, and gives me an excuse to wear leopard print with pride.

Posted in Clothes, History | Comments Off on First Mother

Hugos – Final Week for Nominations

The deadline for submitting nominations for this year’s Hugo Awards is Friday (March 17th). If you haven’t done so already and are eligible, please do so. You know the mantra by now: the more of you that participate, the better chance we have of spoiling the Puppies’ selfish game.

If you need ideas, there is a very useful spreadsheet available here. Thanks to the Ladybusiness folks for doing that.

Finnish friends, please remember that you are eligible to nominate as well if you have memberships. Please don’t be like the Japanese in 2007 and assume that the Hugos are only for Americans.

Everybody else, please remember that Finns are eligible too. My main criticism of the Ladybusiness spreadsheet is that it has no Finns on it. I’d like to suggest a few.

Novel: The Core of the Sun, Johanna Sinisalo
Semiprozine: Tähtivaeltaja
Editor, Short Form: Toni Jerrman (Tähtivaeltaja)
Fan Writer: Tero Ykspetäjä
Fan Artist: Ninni Aalto

If people have other Finnish works/people they would like to recommend, please do so in comments. Other Nordic countries, please weigh in.

And if you want to nominate me, probably the best story I’ve had published this year is “On the Radio” from Holdfast Magazine (which you should totally nominate in Semiprozine).

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