New Salon Futura

I’ve made it to 50 issues, which is something of a milestone. In the new issue there’s a little extra content to celebrate, and an absolutely fabulous cover by Iain J Clark. You will find reviews of the following books:

  • Infinity Gate by Mike Carey
  • When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill
  • Hel’s Eight by Stark Holborn
  • The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz
  • The Cleaving by Juliet E McKenna
  • Descendant Machine by Gareth L Powell
  • Celtic Wales by Miranda Aldhouse-Green and Ray Howell

In addition we have TV and convention reviews:

  • The Peripheral – Season 1
  • HistFest 2023
  • The 2023 Tolkien Lecture
  • Swansea ComicCon 2023
  • Willow – the TV Series


My Eurocon Schedule

Updated because I missed one.

In just over a week I will be in Uppsala, Sweden for this year’s Eurocon. I will be on panels. Here’s what I’m doing.

Thursday, 8 June 2023: 18:00 CST
Using Speculative Fiction as Your Research Ground — Speculative fiction is the fertile soil from which we’ve grown a thousand ideas, while simultaneously acting as the lens through which we study those very same ideas and theories. But what does research in this field imply? Is there opportunity, funding, and support? Or is the trajectory of the research marred by the long-term stereotypes concerning the genre itself — that sff just isn’t “good enough”? — with Anna Bark Persson, Niels Dalgaard, Karolina Fedyk & Merja Polvinen.

Friday, 9 June 2023: 13:00 CST
Alternate History — Alternate History is a fictional subgenre telling history the way it could have been. What if de Gaulle was killed in that attack? What if humans landed on the moon much earlier than the 1960’s? There are many intriguing books to read! This panel talks about Alternate History books and discusses them. What is your favorite? Is it Fantastic literature or just cool? — with Jean Bürlesk, Rasmus Häggblom, Jukka Halme & Martha Wells.

Friday, 9 June 2023: 15:00 CST
The Emperor’s new book — Sometimes a book just doesn’t live up to the hype. Our panellists share their unpopular opinions about books they feel have been praised without actually being worthy. Are we missing something, or are some popular books just bad? — with Jukka Halme, Stefan Högberg, John-Henri Holmberg & Gunilla Rydbeck.

Saturday, 10 June 2023: 12:00 CST
Families of the future — The nuclear family is a relatively recent invention. Going into the future, families may be something very different. In science fiction there are many descriptions of unconventional family structures. How do we imagine the families of the future today? How have these been explored within the SF genre? — with Saga Bolund, Eva Holmquist, Jane Mondrup & Nina Niskanen.

The full programme schedule can be found here.

April Salon Futura

I’ve got the April issue online a little earlier than usual as I’ll be busy for the next few days. This one contains:

  • New reviews of fiction by Ken MacLeod, Francesco Verso and Susan Cooper
  • A review of a fabulous history book about native Americans travelling to Europe in the 16th Century
  • My Eastercon report
  • Reviews of the third seasons of Picard and His Dark Materials
  • An update on the future of the Astounding Award

It’s me, yn Gymraeg!

As part of my process of getting to know the local cultural landscape, I have made friends with a lovely bunch of people called Inclusive Journalism Cymru. They are a group of media professionals who understand that marginalised people are very badly served by the UK’s media landscape, and are seeking to improve things in Wales.

I have written them a little blog post about why trans people, in particular, need this sort of help. Excitingly, they have published it in English and in Welsh. I am not yet good enough at Welsh to have done the tranlsation myself, but I’m very pleased to have it. As far as I’m aware, this is the first piece of writing with my byline on it that has been translated into Welsh. Here’s hoping for a lot more.

Health Update

Still sick, still testing positive for COVID. Not the best way to spend a birthday, but at least I am able to have a fairly quiet day, which I very much need.

Looking forward, a few things are becoming obvious.

Firstly, attending any mass event such as a convention is going to require accepting a very high likelihood of contracting COVID. People have given up taking precautions, we have very little reliable public data, it is hard to protect yourself if you go.

Having said that, COVID no longer seems deadly. I’ve not had any difficulty breathing. My senses of taste and smell have been unaffected. Judging from the puzzle games I play regularly, I don’t seem to have suffered any congnitive impairment. Obviously things might be different if I had one of any number of high risk conditions, but I’m lucky.

But, and this is a big but, if you are going to risk getting COVID, you have to allow for at least two weeks, possibly three, of recovery time, and that creates scheduling issues.

Clearly my plan to go to LuxCon immediately after Eastercon was a recipe for disaster. I might make it to HistFest at the end of April, but I’m not certain.

May is just the Tolkien lecture, and there’s plenty of time to recover before Eurocon. I was going to see a couple of talks at Hay at the end of the month, but I doubt that I’ll have a new car by then.

Finncon and Pemmi-Con being close together is another potential disaster. I trust the Finns to run a safe con, but I’d be travelling through Heathrow to get there and that’s likely to be an infection hot-spot.

FantasyCon and BristolCon are sufficiently far apart to both be possible. But if I have no car I can’t bring books to sell, and that reduces the attraction of going.

All of which, I guess, will be good for my carbon footprint.

Health Update

Thus far I seem to have been very lucky. Least ways, I am much less ill than Juliet is reporting being. Of course that could all change. This is a new experience for me.

I’m not going to waste tests until the obvious flu-like symptoms go away. In any case, the NHS guidelines are to isolate for 6 days from a first positive test, so I’m isolating. Tesco delivered some groceries today.

There are now over 70 reported cases of COVID from people who were at Eastercon. I suspect that the true number is much higher. In contrast, last year’s Worldcon, which was a much larger event, had 64 cases. There are a whole bunch of reasons for this, which I will get to when I do my con report, but I don’t think I’m the only person seriously reconsidering in-person attendance at future Eastercons. Especially when this one did hybrid so well.

Life Happens

Well, yesterday was a bit shit. It was all going fine until I got to the turnoff for Cardiff Gate services (approximately two thirds of the way home and time for a rest). The short version is that in avoiding an idiot who thought he could treat a roundabout as a dual carriageway, I hit a traffic island. I’m fine, save for a torn nail. No one else was involved. But the car is probably a write-off.

The RAC got me home eventually, though they were very busy so I spent a few hours sat in the car reading, which was rather cold. This being Wales, several people dropped by to see if I was OK and needed anything.

There’s not a lot I can do about it all right now as I am stuck at home until the COVID passes. Thankfully I am well enough to be getting on with work, which takes my mind off things. But long term I am starting to question the utility of selling books at conventions. I’m not going to sell enough to pay for the trip. If it is an Eastercon these days, getting COVID seems inevitable. And it is a whole lot of effort in terms of driving, carting books around and so on. BristolCon might be an exception, but I need to decide whether getting a new car is a necessary thing to do.


After 3 years of managing to avoid it, I tested positive for COVID this morning. A large number of other people at Eastercon are in the same boat. Considering that a large number of attendees, probably the majority, didn’t bother with masks at all, that’s not suprising. OTOH, I wore a good quality mask most of the time and still caught it.

From my point of view, the main issue is that I can no longer go to LuxCon. NHS advice is to isolate for 6 days, and that will take me to next Sunday.

I did have two programme items today, but I was able to attend those virtually. My laptop camera wasn’t working (I didn’t bring the external one) but I don’t suppose anyone wanted to look at me feeling sick. A very kind fellow dealer (thanks Lola!) packed up my table and left the boxes with the Concierge, so I didn’t have to worry about that. Ops got me some emergency medication, and Farah has been shopping for me. Fans are good people.

My experience with COVID thus far is that it doesn’t seem very deadly. It is more like a bad cold that can be treated with the usual medications. Of course that’s very different from the start of the pandemic. I don’t know whether having a light dose is a result of evolution of the virus or the vaccinations I have had, or both, but I’m very relieved.

Right now I feel like I should be able to drive home safely tomorrow, but I will re-visit that when I wake up tomorrow. At least I’ll be in my own car so still isolated.

Eastercon Saturday

Well that was a good day. I sold lots of books, and caught up with a bunch of old friends, many of whom I’d not seen since before the pandemic. Last year’s Eastercon felt a bit small and strained. This year feels like a proper convention again. Progress, I hope.

Also there were a bunch of good award winners, from some very strong fields. Most importantly, Aliette won the short fiction, so Asmodeus will not feel that he has to murder us.

Adventures in Publishing, Eastercon 2023 Edition

So, yes, I am at Eastercon. I also have a dealer table. This may come as a surprise to many. It certainly was to me. Here’s the story.

As you may remember, a few weeks back my car broke down. As I had no idea when I might get it back, and no other means of getting books to the con, I had to decide what to do about the dealer table. Farah told me that she had a waiting list for places and she needed to know as soon as possible. So, reluctantly, I relinquished the booking.

The plan had been to take a few books with me on the train, and I posted about that here. That was seen by Catherine Sharp who these days also lives in South Wales. She was due to be down my way last weekend, and she offered to ferry some books for me. I gratefully gave her a couple of boxes containing a selection of paperbacks.

On Tuesday I finally got the car back. It seemed to be running fine, but I had no time to give it a shake-down as I had a lot to do between then and the con. I was happy to still be traveling by train. In any case I had bought my ticket.

Yesterday morning I figured I should check the Transport for Wales website, because other people on the Eastercon Discord were reporting last-minute train issues. And lo, the train that Roz Clarke and I were planning to catch had been cancelled. This is the Heart of Wales line. There are only about 4 trains a day. It was either drive, or wait to the next day.

So I drove, and aside from the M42 it was a good trip. The car ran fine, and Roz & I arrived earier than we would have done had we caught the train.

This morning, after my first panel, I was looking round the Dealers’ Room and buying too many books. I found Farah who had said she might have some room on the SF Foundation table. It turned out she didn’t, but she did have a table that was unexpectedly free. I grabbed it. Catherine arrived with the books in the afternoon, and now I have a table set up to do business tomorrow.

Publishing it is not as easy as it seems.

Off to Luxembourg

Today I am heading to Birmingham for Eastercon, but that won’t be the end of my April travels. When I get back I have one day to get turned around and then I am off to Luxembourg where I will be a guest at Luxcon. I am very grateful to Jean Beurlet and the rest of the crew for the invitation. I’ll be traveling by train all the way, which means I should get a lot of reading done.

Government by Ideology

Social media this week is full of discussion of a letter written by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to the Minister for Women & Equalities, Kemi Badenoch. For those of you unfamiliar with UK politics, one of the things that the current Tory government has done is fill “equalities” posts with people directly opposed to equality. Badenoch is an Evangelical Christian and Climate Change Sceptic. The Board of the EHRC has been filled with people who are openly transphobic. Nonsense is to be expected.

The first thing worth noting is that this letter has no legal force. Neither has there (yet) been any move to act on it. However, both Sunak and Starmer have muttered openly about “safeguarding woman’s rights”, which is a code pharse for removing the rights of trans people. If you feel minded to do so, and are a UK citizen, there is an old petition here that is suddenly getting a lot of traction and is worth signing. Sending a warning shot across the bows of Westminster is often quite effective.

Should they decide to move forward with this, the government will spin it as not removing any trans rights, but rather protecting the rights of women. The effect will be very different. The letter proposes amending the Equality Act to make it “clear” that “sex” means “biological sex” (whatever that means). The stated purpose of this will be to make it possible for any “single-sex” service to exclude anyone not of the correct “biological sex”. However, it has long been a claim of the anti-trans movement that allowing a trans woman into a supposed woman-only space is discrimination on the grounds of sex. If this change is made, we can expect to see a wave of prosecutions under the Equality Act where services have treated a trans woman as a woman, and are being sued for discrimination as a result. This will affect spaces such as toilets, changing rooms and sports clubs as well as rape crisis and domestic violence centres. Bizarrely the letter also references book clubs as an example of the sort of place that needs to be sex segregated.

Note that these new regulations are intended to apply to all trans people, regardless of their medical and current legal status. Somone like myself, who has been through a full surgical gender reassignment process and has a Gender Recognition Certificate, would still be regarded as “biologically male” under these proposals.

To government will claim that trans people can still change their gender using the Gender Recognition Act. However, because sex will have been defined as meaning biological sex, that change of gender will have no effect in law. The government will also claim that trans people are still protected by the Equality Act. They will be correct in saying that a company can still not fire someone for being trans, but that company will be legally obliged to treat trans employees as persons of their “biological sex”. It would not surprise me to see law suits complaining that allowing a trans woman to use female pronouns at work amounted to discrimination against cis women.

The letter talks airily about checks and balances, and about how these changes will be better for some and worse for others. Significantly it talks about trans women losing rights, and trans men gaining rights. But the rights that trans men would gain would be rights to be treated as women, which is the last thing that most trans men I know want. This is entirely in keeping with the anti-trans belief that trans men do not exist, and anyone claiming to be one is an innocent lesbian who has been duped by the Evil Trans Lobby.

Let’s now think about how this would work in practice. The anti-trans movement likes to claim that they can “always tell” who is trans, but they definitely cannot. Neither can anyone who runs a service that includes toilets or changing rooms. The only way that companies will be able to protect themselves is by requiring ID. There will be even more harassment of women whose appearance is not gender-conforming. And the government will have to revoke the existing passports and driving licences of trans people, issuing new ones with the sex marker being that they were assigned at birth. Goodness only knows how they will deal with foreign visitors who are trans.

There’s also this question of “biological sex”. What does it mean? The government probably thinks that’s just the sex you were assigned at birth. But the anti-trans lobby has been insistent that biological checks are necessary. For example, they insist that Caster Semenya is a “man”, despite her having been assigned female at birth and having lived all her life as a woman. Apparently she has higher than average levels of testosterone and that’s sufficient to disqualify her from womanhood.

The trouble is that we don’t routinely test for chromosomes or testosterone levels. No one has any idea how many women out there have a Y chromosome and androgen insensitivity. Given that there has been at least one well-documented case of a woman with a Y chromosome who gave birth to a healthy child, there’s no way we can know without testing. So what happens in the future if a woman has some routine checks by a doctor and it turns out she has a Y chromosome? Will she be legally required to live as a man from then on?

Given that the anti-trans lobby is very keen on genital surgery for intersex children who have ambiguous genitalia, this would not surprise me.

So that’s the world that these proposed changes would usher in. And all on the basis that a small number of fanatics have decided that they don’t want to live in a world that also contains trans people.

About Amazon Sales

If you spend time on social media you will doubtless have seen that Juliet McKenna’s Green Man books are regularly on sale at Amazon UK. The Green Man’s Gift was £0.99 throughout March, and The Green Man’s Challenge will be £0.99 throughout April.

Juliet and I are very happy about this. The books sell in huge numbers when they are on sale, and other books in the series get a boost in sales as a result. The less good thing is that Amazon only does this in the UK store, which doesn’t seem fair to folks in the rest of the world, or people who don’t like to buy on Amazon. So we try to match prices in other stores. That’s not as easy as it sounds.

The first problem is that, while Amazon UK does tell us in advance about the sale, they don’t guarantee it. The only way we can be sure that a sale will happen is waiting for it to start. Once it does, I can adjust prices elsewhere.

Amazon does not provide a means of scheduling a sale. I have to manually adjust prices in other regions, and remember to put them back up again at the end of the sale.

B&N and Kobo do allow you to schedule a sale, but it takes them time to process the request so their sales are generally a day late starting.

Although Amazon UK drops the price to 99p, I am not allowed to set prices elsewhere lower then $2.99 or €2.69. There are no such restrictions on B&N or Kobo, so everyone outside of the UK should shop at one of those if they can. But, because people are so conditioned to buying from Amazon, they usually pay the higher price.

My Eastercon Schedule

The programme for this year’s Eastercon is now live. You can find my schedule here. And for those of you who don’t want to click through, here’s the list:

Friday, 7 April 2023 12:00 – SF In Antiquity

The strange and wonderful SFnal origins of the genre from bronze men in Greek myth to telescope viewings of men on the moon

Gladstone-Churchill Room, with: Clare Goodall, Chris McCartney, Marcus Rowland, The Fossil

Friday, 7 April 2023 16:30 – No Simple Binaries

Characters and settings who’ve just said ‘no’ to gender binaries. From Martha Wells’ Murderbot to Ursula LeGuin’s Gethenians and Mary Gentle’s Ortheans; a look at the history and future of non-binary characters (and where the human non-binary characters are)

Gladstone-Churchill Room, with Sandra Bond, Juliet Kemp, Mike Brooks, Edmund Schluessel

Sunday, 9 April 2023 12:00 – Non-European Middle Ages

Eurocentric lore has been a goldmine for fantasy and historical fiction writers. But what was the rest of the world doing?

Balmoral (ex-Earls) Room, with David Stokes (Guardbridge Books), Oghenechovwe Ekpeki, Stew Hotston, Gillian Polack

Sunday, 9 April 2023 15:00 – Who, Why and What do we Award?

The role of awards in fandom ecology and SFF economy

Salisbury-Wellington Room, with Niall Harrison, Nick Hubble, Nicholas Whyte, Gareth Worthington

Monday, 10 April 2023 12:00 – Travelling Fans

Fans travel a long way to go to conventions, especially Worldcons. International exchanges help build fan communities, but how important are they in the virtual modern world? And how environmentally sustainable?

Sandringham (ex-Dukes) Room, with Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf, Marcin Alqua Klak, Angeli Primlani, Suzanne Tompkins

In addition to those, and not yet on the convention website, I believe that I’m also involved in this:

Saturday, 8 April 2023 16:30 – Book Launch: Roz Kaveney’s Rhapsody of Blood Volume 5

Roz Kaveney’s extraordinary Rhapsody of Blood series reaches volume five, released in April 2023. Join us to celebrate the launch.

Pavilion Room, with Roz Kaveney

Also, please remember that, due to a lack of a working car, I won’t have a table in the Dealers’ Room. If you want a book from Wizard’s Tower, please let me know in advance so that I know to bring it with me.

Cyborg R I

I spent most of today in Swansea. I got a bit of shopping done, including picking up a copy of the new Kate Heartfield book, The Valkyrie. But the main reason for going was to pick up a set of hearing aids. I can still hear fairly well most of the time, but if I need to pick out speech from a lot of background noise — for example if I am in a pub or a noisy restaurant — then I’m useless. Conventions are another problem location, especially somewhere like the dealers’ room. So if I want to get through Eastercon without seeming very rude, I need help.

I am utterly amazed at what a difference the hearing aids make. They cost an eye-watering amount of money, but the science involved is phenomenal. This evening I managed to watch the latest episode of Picard without needing headphones, which is a huge improvement. I will be interested to see what sort of differnece they make over the coming weeks when I have a lot of travel happening.

Happy Day of Blood

Yes, this is a bit gruesome. It is about Romans, what did you expect?

As regular readers probably know, the cult of the goddess, Cybele, was something of a safe space for trans women in the Roman Empire. Anyone assigned male at birth and wanting to live as a woman could join the cult as a gallus, and get genital surgery in the process (generally just removal of the testicles which was simpler and safer than taking everything). You lost a huge amount legal rights and social prestige, but trans people have always made those trade-offs.

Cybele, being a goddess of the wild places with connections to the Greek Gaia, and also with connections stretching back to Inanna and Ishtar, was very much associated with spring. There were a whole lot of celebrations around this time of year, including what amounted to a massive pride parade through Romne. But today, March 24th, was the Day of Blood — the day on which new recruits to the cult got their surgery. And thanks to dear old Claudius it became a public holiday. So we should all celebrate.

Personally I have got a nice piece of venison from my favourite butcher, and will have a glass or two of red wine. Your mileage may vary.

Publication Day – A Dark Way to Glory

The latest volume in Wizard’s Tower’s reprinting of the Outremer series by Chaz Brenchley is now available. With A Dark Way to Glory we are now half way through the series. I’m really pleased that I can make these books widely available again, and also with the wonderful new covers that Ben Baldwin is doing for them. I can’t wait to have the full set to look at together.

If you’d like a copy of the book, purchase links are available through the Wizard’s Tower website. I’ll have the paperback available through the company store soon, and the hardcovers will follow when they arrive from the printer. And if you can order them through your favorite local bookshop, please do so.