Supporting LGBTQ+ Refugees

The lovely people at Pride Without Borders in Bristol have a fundraiser going at the moment. Theirs is an absolutely essential service. The treatment of refugees and asylum seekers by the government in this country is abhorent, and queer people are treated worse that most.

I have had the pleasure of meeting the members of the Pride Without Borders support group on a couple of occasions. They cope with really awful circumstances, and malicious harassment by the authorities, with amazing good grace. If you have a few pounds to spare, please help them out. You can donate here. And my friend Lowie has an article about the work that Pride Without Borders does on Bristol 24/7.

Coronavirus – Day #161

Things have been quiet around here, partly because I’ve been busy and partly as I’ve been unwell. No COVID-19, I hasten to add. A lower back strain, which is very inconvenient when there’s no one else living with you.

I very much enjoyed NASFiC. I’ll stick a report in the next Salon Futura.

Elsewhere the rise in COVID-19 cases in the UK appears to have stalled. This is very good. I have seen it suggested that the reason we haven’t gone into a full-blown second wave, as some parts of Europe have done, is because we don’t trust our government, so when they say “go back to work” we ignore them. It may also be because our foul weather means that we don’t have as much of a cafe culture as Europe, and because our economy is largely service-industry based which is easier to do from home.

Virtual NASFiC Lives!

The NASFiC, or North American Science Fiction Convention, is a WSFS-affiliated event that happens only in years when WorldCon is outside of North America. This year Worldcon was in New Zealand. Of course only the New Zealanders got to go, but a NASFiC had already been selected. No one can go to that physically either, but the lovely folks in Columbus, Ohio are running a virtual con anyway.

It is free to attend, though they are accepting donations. You can sign up here.

The con started this afternoon my time. I’ve already watched one panel (on historical fiction) which was great. And of course I am spending a lot of time hanging out on Discord, where we have a table for Westercon 74 in (very) sunny Tonopah, Nevada.

Everything has been thrown together in a bit of a rush, so I am well impressed that things appear to be going very well. I have two confirmed panels as follows (times are US East Coast, so 5 hours behind the UK and 3 hours ahead of California):

Roots in Two Places: Writing from a Dual Culture Experience

Saturday 2:00 PM Olentangy Room

Alma Alexander, Cheryl Morgan, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and Vikram Paralkar

Our panelists, all with roots in two or more separate cultures — look at the ways having dual culture and language has guided their worldbuilding and storytelling.

Running SF/F Organizations

Sunday 12:00 PM Scioto Room

Cheryl Morgan, Eileen Gunn, Mary Anne Mohanraj, and Sumana Harihareswara

Creators, directors, publishers, and nonprofit leaders discuss the trials and victories of running magazines, publishing companies, and other SF/F businesses and organizations. They discuss logistics, strategy, budgets, and the effects of gender and race on their experiences as leaders. And they share what they wish they’d known ten years ago.

There may be a second panel on Sunday. I’m still waiting to hear back on that one.

HFRN 2021, Also Virtual

Another academic conference that I’m a regular at (and now a Trustee of) is the annual meeting of the Historical Fiction Research Network. The conference is normally in February, and that’s now definitely uncertain as far as in-person events goes, so we are going virtual. Hopefully that means we’ll be able to pull in people from all around the world (though in fairness a bunch of lovely Aussies are regulars and we had two Russians last year).

Anyway, in keeping with the times, our theme for 2021 is depictions of catastrophe. It was the end of the world, or at least it seemed like it at the time. From the Great Flood in Gilgamesh to the Heat Death of the Universe, humans have always imagined disasters. There’s so much to talk about. Here’s the Call for Papers, and the link to buy memberships.

HFRN 2021- Online
Theme: Remembering Catastrophe

Please submit papers to the Paper Proposal Form:
Deadline 30th September.

We welcome paper proposals from Archaeology, Architecture, Literature, Media, Art History, Cartography, Geography, History, Musicology, Reception Studies, Linguistics, Museum Studies, Media Studies, Politics, Re-enactment, Larping, Gaming, Transformative Works, Gender, Race, Queer studies and others.

We welcome paper proposals across historical periods, with ambitious, high-quality, inter-disciplinary approaches and new methodologies that will support research into larger trends and which will lead to more theoretically informed understandings of the mode across historical periods, cultures and languages.

This year we are using a form. Please submit papers to the Paper Proposal Form.

Deadline, 30th September.
Tickets from Helm: £40/£15

Outing the Past Goes Virtual

Outing the Past is an annual academic conference on the subject of queer history. Normally I attend, but this year it got scheduled for September 12th, and I had already accepted an invitation to go to Augsberg in Germany for a science fiction conference organised by the wonderful Sabrina Mittermeier. Of course that isn’t going to happen now. Sabrina and her colleagues have already put some of the proposed events online, including my chat with Sabrina and Maria Turtschaninoff. You can find that and several other events, on the covention’s YouTube channel. (And let me tell you that I’m seriously chuffed to be on the same programme as the Chancellor of the Klingon Empire.)

So what about Outing the Past. Obviously it is going virtual too, and that means you can all join in the fun. There will be a special one-day event on September 12th called Completing the Past. It will be all about LGBT+ History and Creative Production. There are a lot of great speakers lined up, and in particular I would like to draw your attention to the panel titled, “Heritage at home: Connecting and engaging with the LGBT+ past through creative production.” That will be hosted by Dan Vo, and it will feature a bunch of guests talking about works of art that open a door on the LGBT+ past. I can’t tell you any more about it than that now, but you know that if Dan is involved then it is goign to be awesome, right?

Coronavirus – Day #155

Life is trucking along here. Something very exciting happened today, but I’m afraid it isn’t something I can talk about. Suffice it to say that I broke out a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough to celebrate.

Meanwhile something interesting has happened with the COVID-19 data. Back on August 14th we were up to over 1400 new cases in the day. It looks like we were about to take off into a major new outbreak. But it didn’t happen. The weekend was part of that, but we’ve had a couple of days at around 1000, and today we are down to 800. It is a bit early to tell, but it looks like local lockdowns are working. Fingers crossed.

Of course Bozo and his pals have taken the opportunity of a pandemic to launch a major reorganisation of the health service in England, because of course this is a good time to do that. Sigh.

Meet Saint Wilgefortis

In Castle Park in the centre of Bristol there is a small, bombed out church called St. Mary Le Port. The current building is Norman dating from work in the 11th century, but archaeologists have discovered a Saxon site beneath so it is presumably much older. Because it is a useful landmark in the park, the church has effectively been a gathering point for the Bristol Pride March for a few years, and before that Pride itself took place around the church in Castle Park.

Via an article in today’s Bristol 24/7 I discovered that the church contains a chapel to Saint Wilgefortis.

Saint who, you may well ask? Well, she is apparently the patron saint of Unhappily Married Women. Her legend is that her father arranged for her to marry someone she did not like, so she prayed that she might be made repulsive so that he would reject her. The next morning when she woke up she had a full beard. That put paid to the marriage, but her angry father had her crucified as a punishment.

Wikipedia (yes, I know) lists a whole bunch of names by which Wilgefortis was known around Europe. She seems to have been particularly popular in Northern Europe, but she has found her way as far afield as Panama and Argentina.

These days historians tend to assume that the legend is entirely made up. After all, teenage girls don’t normally sprout a full beard overnight. However, there are a range of biological variations that can lead to people assigned female at birth growing beards. That can range from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome all the way to 5-ARD, an intersex variation that also leads to the young person growing a penis. It is entirely possible that young Wilgefortis knew that she was developing facial hair and had been hiding it from her parents, but decided to come clean about it in the hope of getting out of the marriage.

Just as fascinating is the fact that the worship of Wilgefortis involved the image of her being crucified, which led to some very androgynous iconography. My friends who study gender in the Middle Ages are all over this sort of thing, but Christian theology is a minefield I try to avoid playing in because you need a lot of basic knowledge before it is wise to say anything.

What I can say, however, is that the existence of a chapel to Wilgefortis in the very church that has such a close connection to Bristol Pride is a delightful piece of serendipity. I have no doubt that the local chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence will take this to heart.

Coronavirus – Day #153

Thanks to the magic of virtual conventions I will be doing my first programme items at a US convention in a very long time. I have a couple of (provisional) panels at this year’s NASFiC. I’ll give more details when the schedule is ready to go live.

Back in the UK, the government continues to dig itself itself deeper and deeper holes. A few days ago I reported the fiasco of large number of estimated exam grades being lowered thanks to a mysterious algorithm that appeared to favour young people who attended private schools, or lived in well-to-do neighbourhoods. Well, the outcry has been so intense that the government has had to back down and will be going back to using the estimated grades produced by the schools.

But that’s not the end of the saga. To start with universities will be in a difficult situation because many of them have already turned down applicants whose grades were lowered by the algorithm, and accepted those whose grades were raised. What do they do now?

One thing they could do is just take more students, but the government had introduced caps on the number of students each university could take, with fines if they went over the cap. And one of the effects of using the estimated grades will be that there are more qualified students.

It might seem that the obvious thing to so would be to remove the caps, except that they are there for a purpose. They were intended to prevent the universities with good reputations from inflating their student numbers at the expense of the less well-known establishments. Without the caps, higher education would be a bit like Mortal Engines with the big universities gobbling up the students from the smaller ones and leaving the latter to starve.

So the smart thing to do would not have been to remove the caps, but to just raise the levels pro rata across all universities, right? So what did the government do?

They scrapped the caps.

But never fear, dear reader. Our glorious leader, Brave Bozo, is ready and willing to take decisive action! He has… (drum roll)

Gone on holiday.

I mean, it is not as if the country needs governing, is it?

Introducing FutureCon

While we might all be stuck at home wishing that we could sit in a bar with our friends, one of the benefits of the new virtual world in which we find ourselves is that travel is instantaneous and free. This means that we can have conventions that are genuinely global, and very cheap or free to attend.

Into this space comes FutureCon. It is being organised primarily by folks in Brazil, but with a lot of help from Francesco Verso in Italy, and also a bunch more people around the world. It will take place from September 17th-20th, and will be free to all on YouTube. All of the programming will be in English. Confirmed guests include Ann Vandermeer, Aliette de Bodard, Chen Qiufan, Ian McDonald, Lavie Tidhar and Nisi Shawl. But more importantly there will be speakers from over 20 different countries including Argentina, Croatia, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkey & Uganda.

Oh, and there will be me, talking about translations, obviously. Also Wizard’s Tower author, Aleksandar Žiljak, will be joining in from Croatia. Both he and I will be talking about the new collection that we will be launching at the Eurocon in October.

This is a brand new thing, and I’m very excited about it. Hopefully it will grow over the years and will help forge a truly international SF&F community.

Francesco can read in many different langauges, and he said something today in a launch meeting for the event that really struck a chord. I’m paraphrasing slightly, but the gist was, “the quality of science fiction is evenly distributed around the world, but it is unevenly visible.” I hope that FutureCon can be an important step along the road to changing that.

If you would like to help, there are three things you can do. The first is to donate some money to help with their running costs. You can do that here. Second, subscribe to their YouTube channel. Apparently you need 100 subscribers to be allowed to have a custom URL, which would be useful. And finally tell all of your friends, especially friends who, for whatever reason, might not be able to attend big, international conventions.

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.

Coronavirus – Day #149

It is still warm. I still have lots of work to do. But there is cricket (albeit with a lot of rain delays).

The big news item is to do with exams. Today high school students across the country got the results of their final exams, known as A Levels. Because of the pandemic, no one could actually sit exams this year, so the government said that grades would be based on teacher reports instead. Now, however, they have decided that teacher reports are unreliable, and they have concocted a secret algorithm to “correct” the grades. To no one’s surprise, the result of this is that pupils at fee-paying schools have had their grades raised on average, while pupils at state schools, especially those in poorer areas, have had their grades reduced on average, sometimes drastically. This is what happens when the Cabinet is made up of upper class snobs.

Needless to say, this is a disaster for universities who are having to cope with large numbers of promising students failing to make the grades they needed for admission, and a bunch of posh twits whose parents can afford expensive lawyers demanding those places instead.

Meanwhile there has been an announcement that a number of classic works of fiction by women writers are to be re-issued under those women’s “real names”. While it is likely that some of the women concerned adopted male pen names in order to help their careers, some of them very obviously used their male names in everyday life, dressed in masculine clothing and generally behaved in a gender-variant way.

For a long time the anti-trans movement in the UK has solely targeted trans women. They seem to think that war has been won with the scrapping of reforms to the Gender Recognition Act and leaked promises by Liz Truss that existing trans rights will be repealed. Trans men, and butch lesbians, mostly flew under the radar, until recently when there has been a spate of attacks. We’ve had butch lesbians who are assaulted in toilets after being mistaken for trans women decribed as unavoidable collateral damage. We’ve had a Labour MP say that only people who identify as women should be allowed healthcare such as cervical screening, even though many trans men still need it. This new set of books is very clearly in the same vein. I don’t think that the people behind it care two hoots about women who genuinely adopted a male pen name just for the money. What they want to do is come down hard on anyone who dared display any degree of gender variance. The only thing they forgot was to make all of the covers pink.

Coronavirus – Day #148

It is still rather warm and muggy in the UK, but I have purchased a fan and am now able to put in a decent work day without feeling like the need for a nap every hour or so.

Talking of work, eARCs for The Green Man’s Silence are now available on request. And I’ve made good progress with the layouts for the paper versions so I should be able to get those into the distributor’s catalogue (and thence into stores) fairly soon.

While everyone in England appears to be desperate for rain, Scotland has too much of it. There was a nasty train crash up near Aberdeen today that appears to have been the result of a landslide caused by heavy rain.

In other news, the UK’s GDP in the period April-June was 20.4% lower than in January-March. That’s the biggest economic slump on record, and is on top of a 2.2% drop from the previous quarter. The fall is much worse than other major Western economies such as the USA, Germany and France. There are already signs of recovery thanks to the easing of Lockdown in June, but with the number of COVID-19 cases continuing to rise steadily again it seems unlikely that will be maintained. The really scary thing is that we are likely to already be facing a major economic disaster when Brexit finally starts to bite in January. I have never been so glad to be old, and largely dependent on foreign income.

Ill Met by Moonlight

Via my friend Stephanie Budin I have discovered a rather interesting conference scheduled for next April. ‘Ill met by moonlight’: Gothic encounters with enchantment and the Faerie realm in literature and culture, is part of a project on Gothic Literature by a group of academics based at the University of Hertfordshire. How I have not heard of them before, I do now know. They’ve been going since 2010, and running annual conferences on all things creepy and going bump in the night. I mean, how can you not love a literary project called, Open Graves, Open Minds.

Anyway, the 2021 conference is about Fairies. Sadly I am scheduled to be in Sweden then, so even though I suspect that in-person events will still be impossible by then, I can’t in good conscience submit a paper on War for the Oaks, even though I want to.

However, you good people are hopefully not so constrained, and therefore might want to get involved. The full CFP is here. If Emma Bull doesn’t appeal to you, they also specifically mention works by Neil Gaiman, Liz Hand and Jeanette Ng. (Sorry Jeanette, you are canon now!). Hie thee to a word processor, and cast thy Puckish imaginings to the aether.

Coronavirus – Day #146

Yeah, I haven’t been posting much. It was pleasantly warm all weekend, and when cats are warm they go to sleep. It has been a pleasure to have a nice, relaxed weekend.

Not that it was entirely work-free. I do have books to get out. But a fair amount of sleeping has been done, and there was entertaining cricket and motor racing to be watched.

Out in the world, the UK’s 7-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases is over 850. It hasn’t been that high since March 21st when we were just starting Lockdown and the number of new cases was about to rise dramatically. As I understand it, much of the problem is still very localised, and the government is hoping to contain outbreaks by local lockdowns. I have no idea if this will work. However, aside from getting food (which I need to do tomorrow) I don’t need to go out, so I’m happy not adding to the problem.

Coronavirus – Day #143

I have done some interesting things today, but they are mostly things that I can’t talk about yet. Fortunately there is one that I can mention.

This evening I tried my first receipe from Mary Anne Mohanraj’s cookbook, A Feast of Serendib. It was the garlic & ginger chicken curry. I was very pleased with the results. It’s also a very fast cook if you found count the time spent marinating the chicken. I’ll definitely be making this one again. Thanks Mary Anne!

In other news, corruption in the government has got so bad that one story even found its way into the Daily Malice. That’s another £150m of taxpayers’ money gone to friends of ministers.

Interestingly the BBC is not reporting this. I see that Twitter has started labeling accounts run by state propaganda networks as such. They should probably do the same with BBC News.

Coronavirus – Day #142

Worldcon is gradually fading into the distance, though I do have at least one more piece I need to write. In the meantime I have been asked to be on programme for two more online conventions. It is nice to be wanted.

Because people are commenting on last week, I have found myself having to read File 770. When did Mike Glyer become so sad and bitchy? I was shocked.

The number of reported new cases of COVID-19 in the UK continues to rise day-on-day. The death numbers haven’t started to follow yet, but it is inevitable that they will.

Meanwhile the papers continue to be full of stories of incompetence and corruption on the part of the government. And the opinion polls show that 40% of people would vote them back in if there was an election next week. Which is enough to give them a majority again, given the stupid electoral system we have.

Thankfully there is cricket. And Formula E is back (as crazy as ever).

Coronavirus – Day #141

We interrupt your Worldcon programming to bring you this scheduled reminder from the global pandemic.

Yes, Worldcon is over, and I am back at work. Part of that did involve doing the Wizard’s Tower accounts, but I’ve also had a couple of work-related Zoom meetings and have lots of other work stuff to do this week.

I have also caught up with goings on in the outside world. The rate of new COVID-19 infections in the UK is now showing a clear upward trend. It hasn’t gone into full outbreak mode yet, but it could very easily. I understand that this is very patchy, and concentrated in major urban centres, so I’m not too worried, but equally I don’t think we’ll be getting out of lockdown any time soon.

The Green Man’s Silence on B&N

I’m delighted to report that The Green Man’s Silence is now available for pre-order on Barnes & Noble. Here’s the full list of options.

At the party at Worldcon I was asked if the book would be available for pre-order from the Wizard’s Tower store. The answer is no. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly the additionl e-commerce software needed to do pre-orders is quite expensive, and we are unlikely to do enough business to justify buying it. Secondly sales through the Wizard’s Tower store do not register in publishing industry sales reports. Pre-orders are apparently really important to the bean counters at big publishers who decide which authors they will allow editors to buy from. So to keep Juliet’s name in front of people who can sell far more books for her than I can I want all of the Green Man pre-orders to go through major stores.

Talking of selling large numbers of books, Amazon has decided to put The Green Man’s Foe on sale in the UK for the whole of August. So if you haven’t read book #2 in the series yet, you can pick it up early and get it read before the new one drops.

And given that all this is going on, we have put The Green Man’s Heir on sale in the UK at £1.77 (which is the new £1.99 since VAT on ebooks was zero-rated), just in case there’s anyone out there who doesn’t have a copy.

Matter of Record

One of the great social disasters of recent years is that service industries have discovered that providing a good service is not profitable, but tricking customers is. Always within the law, of course, but.

Today for complicated reasons I had to stop automatic renewal of a car insurance policy that I didn’t realise was on auto-renewal. There was no way to do this through the insurance company’s website. After much time in a phone queue I finally got to talk to someone, who promised me that the renewal would be cancelled. However, she also told me that it was their policy not to send out confirmations of renewal cancellations. That means that I have no proof that I cancelled the renewal (only proof that a phone call was made). My apologies for being suspicious, but I am writing this public blog post to explain what took place.

Endsleigh, this is for you. I’m sure that what you are doing is strictly within the law, but that means we need better regulation of your industry.