Two Crowdfunding Projects

I backed a couple of crowdfunding projects today that some of you might be interested in.

The first is The Mab, a collection of tales from The Mabinogion, re-told for young readers by Welsh authors, and beautifully illustrated. Just the thing to get young people hooked on fantasy.

The other is Constelación, a proposed quarterly magazine that will carry speculative fiction in both English and Spanish.

Another Year, Another World Fantasy Debacle

As we approach Hallowe’en, regular as clockwork, it seems, people start complaining about the current World Fantasy Convention. This year, despite the con having gone virtual, is no exception.

I need to start with a little personal context. On October 4th I received an invitation to be on programme. It was for a “women in” type panel. The panel description seemed pretty dumb, but I could see how a panel could make interesting things out of it so I said yes.

However, I also checked out the other panel descriptions. I didn’t read them all closely, but I did look at the LGBT panel and I could immediately see that it would be seen as transphobic. It being my job to do this sort of thing, I added a polite note to my acceptance explaining the problem and suggesting that they re-word it before people on social media noticed. I did not get a reply.

I spent much of the next week or so concentrating on doing promotion for Aleksandar’s book, and attending Eurocon and Octocon. I noticed a few rumblings, including Tempest Bradford holding forth in fine style, but didn’t notice any more.

Then yesterday I noticed that WFC had posted an official apology for a whole lot of unspecified mistakes, and that a lot of the programme descriptions had been re-written, including the one I had been asked to be on. I also discovered that at least 7 people had withdrawn from programming at the convention in protest at its lack of sensitivity to diversity issues. Several of them were good friends of mine.

As it happens, although I thought I had confirmed my willingness to be on panel, no one from WFC has been in touch to explain about the change of panel description. So now I am not entirely sure whether I am still on panel. In any case, I am considering my position.

As I noted above, this sort of thing does tend to happen every year (Tempest’s post has a timeline of WFC debacles). Like Worldcon, WFC is run by a different group of fans in a different city each year. But unlike Worldcon, WFC does actually have management. There is actually a “They” who are responsible for it, and who could in theory make changes if they wanted to. World Fantasy has a Board of Directors.

Not being on the inside of this year’s WFC, I don’t know who put the programme together. I do know that the last time I was heavily involved (the 2009 World Fantasy, which was run by San Franciso Science Fiction Conventions Inc.) the creation of the programme was the element that was most ruthlessly micromanaged by the Board. Things may be different now, so I can’t be certain where the blame lies.

However, the Board does have responsibility in another way. They are the people who select bids to run WFC. So if the fan groups who run the convention keep screwing up, that must be because the Board is selecting the wrong people to run it. The Board is also responsible for the fact that this “World” convention hardly ever leaves North America. (The Brighton WFC only happened because Steve Jones was a Board member and was able to persuade them to let him run it.)

So here’s my point. The folks in Utah may have screwed up. They may also have been trying to run a convention with one hand held behind their backs by the WF Board. That was certainly the case for us with San José in 2009. I am absolutely up for supporting a boycott, provided that it is the Board that is the target. I want them to accept responsibility for this year’s mess, rather than leave it to the Utah con chair to carry the can. I want them to commit to change, at a Board level. And I want a promise that they will work with next year’s WFC in Montréal to make significant improvements. Because if all we do is yell at the Utah folks this year, and the Montréal folks next year, and so on, nothing will ever change.

This is your chance, fandom. You keep complaining that “They” should fix Worldcon, even though you know that there is no “They” with the power to do it, at least not in the short term. “They” should fix World Fantasy too, and in this case They exist. Here they are. They even have a convenient email address for you to write to.

Please don’t hassle individuals. I know nothing about the internal workings and politics of the WF Board. Some of the members may have more power than others, and some may be as upset about the state of things as we are. Some of them are friends of mine, so I very much hope that they are. This is a matter for the Board collectively. It needs to act.

Bristol on Trans Health

A group of trans folks from Bristol have painted the above mural on a billboard in the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft. (If you don’t know where that is, you should go and read Tim Maughan’s Infinite Detail.) The basic message is that if you live in the South West and ask to be refered to an NHS gender clinic you will have to wait for five years before your first appointment. This has a drastic effect on trans people’s lives, and on their mental health.

If you’d like to read the whole thing, there is a high res image available here.

I put it on my Twitter feed this morning, and as of the time of writing this it is closing in on 1000 likes. I think the young trans folks of Bristol have done a splendid thing here.

Octocon Happened

Another convention done. I didn’t see a lot of it due to the OutStories Bristol AGM and there being a Grand Prix on the weekend, but the Octocon folks have done a superb job of getting their content available for viewing by those people who missed it. All of the links are here. My panel was Better With Age, which was on Sunday at 10:00am.

Large parts of the convention were on Zoom run through Twitch. The use of Twitch was partly because such services make it easier to control the streaming, and I suspect it also helped with getting the content available.

One of the elements that wasn’t on Twitch was the parties. I attended the Glasgow in 2024 and Dead Dog parties, as did Kevin because it was a virtual convention and being in Nevada is no more of a barrier than being in the UK. There may have been whiskey.

Many thanks to my Irish pals for a fun weekend. Hopefully I will be able to visit Dublin again soon.

On Desecrating Statues

Today’s guest lecturer at the OutStories Bristol AGM was my friend Dr Alan Greaves from the University of Liverpool. As he was visiting Bristol (virtually) Alan decided to give a talk about desecrating statues. It is topical, after all. The talk focussed on one statue in particular. This one.

The statue came to the Museum of Liverpool via the estate of a wealthy collector called Henry Blundell. It is described as a “Sleeping Venus”. But, as the Museum’s website explains, the statue did not always look like that. The British Museum has a drawing made by Blundell’s friend, Charles Townley, before the statue was “restored” by Blundell’s workmen to make it suitable for display on his estates. Here is the drawing.

So the original statue was not of Venus/Aphrodite at all, but rather of the god(dess) Hermaphorit(us/e), who is shown surrounded by young children, one of whom she is suckling.

I should note that we have no idea why the Romans would have made such an image. However, they were very much aware of the existence of various types of intersex people, and would therefore not have regarded such a person as impossible, or unnatural.

Octocon Schedule

October is pretty full-on when it comes to conventions. Last weekend it was Eurocon, this weekend Octocon, the FIYAHcon, a weekend off (I think) and World Fantasy. FIYAHcon is the only one I’m not on programme for.

You can find the full Octocon schedule here. The programme item I am doing is:

Sunday Oct. 11th – 10:00am
Better With Age – Older Characters in SFF
There’s a lot to be said for – and by – characters with life experience, so why are fantasy and science fiction so often focused on those who have none? What is lost by pigeon-holing or even ignoring the wisdom of age, and what can be gained when we include the full spectrum of age and experience in our fiction?
Ian McDonald, Cheryl Morgan (m), Gillian Polack, Marguerite Smith

I’ll have to miss some of Saturday due to the OutStories Bristol AGM, but hopefully I will be back in (virtual) Dublin in time for Juliet’s reading.

This will be the first virtual convention I’ve seen that is being streamed through Twitch. I will be interested to see how it stacks up against StreamYard, which we used for CoNZealand Fringe.

Coronavirus – Day #200

Well, 200 days in, and still no sign of a competent government response.

The excitement about data errors seems to have died down. We had over 15k new cases yesterday, and over 14k today. But, as I have said before, there are reasons why that isn’t comparable with the same data for the first wave.

Rather more worrying, because the data is much more solid, is that hospital admissions have more than quadrupled since the start of September. There are now over 3000 COVID-19 patients in hospital. This is well short of the first wave peak, which was almost 20,000, but cause for concern.

The government, having decided that jobs in the entertainment industries, are “non-viable”, is trying to encourage actors, musicians, and so on to re-train in what they believe are more useful jobs. I took their test. They suggested that I might try a career as a hotel porter.

The OutStories Bristol AGM

Yes, it is that time of year again. Every October, on or around the time of the birthday of John Addington Symonds, OutStories Bristol has an Annual General Meeting. We hold this in conjunction with the lovely people from the Institute of Greece, Rome, and the Classical Tradition (IGRCT) at the University of Bristol. Every year I do the boring bit of getting through the AGM business as fast as I can, and then we settle back to enjoy a fascinating lecture about queer history.

This year the lecture will be given by my friend, Dr Alan Greaves of the University of Liverpool. He’s going to talk about statue descration, which has been much in the news this year. Of course people have been desecrating statues for a very long time. In Egypt, both Hatshepsut and Ahkenaten, two pharaohs who defied social conventions, had their statues defaced. In Rome Damnatio Memoriae was such a regular fact of life that statues were sometimes made with detachable heads. But politics is not the only reason why statues have been defaced. If you want to know why this is an LGBT history talk, you’ll need to sign up and listen to Alan.

The booking form is here.

The Bells Are Tolling


The latest book from Wizard’s Tower, Aleksandar Žiljak’s fantasy collection, As the Distant Bells Toll, is now available in the usual places. Ebooks went live in stores on Friday and the paperback was available from Monday. There will be a hardcover in due course, but I’m taking my time with the paper because I want to make sure that the quality of the illustrations is OK. Aleksandar is a fabulous artist and each story in the book is accompanied by a beautiful illustration.

Purchase links can be found here.

And we have our first review, here (thanks Womble!).

Coronavirus – Day #198

There have been exciting times in the data-crunching here in the UK. On Saturday the number of new COVID-19 cases leapt to over 12,000, and yesterday it was somewhere in the region of 23,000. Today is back to 12.5k, and we have learned that the massive Sunday count was a correction because Public Health England (PHE) lost a lot of data. Those numbers should actualy be spread across the previous week.

We also learned how the data came to be lost. PHE is still working on very old versions on Microsoft Office, in particular they only have the version of Excel that is capped at 65,000 rows. As some of the data that was coming in exceeded that number of rows, it was just getting lost. So old software, and crappy macros with no error trapping.

Some people on Twitter are astonished that a huge organisation like the NHS should be using Excel for data crunching, but this is symptomatic of how badly the service has been starved of cash by successive Tory governments. I visit NHS sites quite a lot to do training. Last time I used one of their computers, as opposed to bringing my laptop, they were still running Windows XP.

Meanwhile there has been excitment in Parliament. The House of Commons has its own Twitter feed, which has been used to tweet the results of votes as they happen. However, people have become increasingly incensed at the things the government has been up to. As a result the government has banned the tweeting of vote results on the grounds that it is bad for their reputation and therefore politically partial. I wonder how long it will be before we are not allowed to know what bills have been passed.

Eurocon – Day 2


Well, that’s a wrap. Many thanks to Fox, Igor and the crew, and special thanks to Nela for the beautiful artwork.

We used Zoom for my panel today, which was much better all round. Thanks to Aleksander and Mihaela for their input, and to everyone who tuned in to listen. Once again, the purchase links are: for Aleksandar’s book, and for Kontakt. Croatia has some great writers, and I’m honoured to be able to help bring them to an English-speaking audience.

The ESFS Awards took place last night after I had blogged. The Irish had a great evening, winning both the adult and YA fiction awards, the art award and the fanzine award, plus a few others as well. Good Omens won the dramatic presentation category. The full list of winners can be found here.

Many of the panels were pre-recorded, and the live ones were all recorded. I understand that there are plans to make them available, at least to registered members, at a later date. This is a real bonus of online conventions. There are several good panels that I missed because of scheduling clashes.

Next year’s Eurocon will be in Fiuggi near Rome. I very much hope I make that in person, partly because they have promised a focus on food, and partly because I will undoubtledly spend a few days in Rome peering at the archaeology as part of the trip.

Futuricon set new standards in brevity for the closing ceremonies. I think that my feed may have cut out slightly early, Fox, but I believe it was supposed to go a bit like this…

“David, press the button…”

Eurocon – Day 1


More like day 1.5 actually as the con started yesterday afternoon, but today isn’t over yet.

Anyway, the con is a lot of fun thus far. There have been the inevitable technical glitches. Some of them are down to using Jitsi for some of the tech. If anyone suggests that you use this platform for an online event, just say no. It doesn’t always work when you connect, and the picture quality is often poor. I don’t like the interface either.

Having said that, the ConCom is working hard at keeping us entertained, the chat on Discord is good, and the programming is very interesting.

I did my queer animals talk. It seemed to go down well, despite a few glitches. Something else to bear in mind for online events is that the latest versions of PowerPoint seem to break screen-sharing when in display mode. If you drop back to edit mode you’ll be fine. It also works fine if someone else is doing the screen sharing and you are just talking. I’ve also seen display mode refuse to work with older projectors, so it isn’t just a screen-sharing issue. If someone knows of a hidden setting in PowerPoint that can fix this, please let me know.

Tomorrow I will be joining up with Aleksandar Žiljak and Mihaela Perković to talk about Croatian fiction in English translation, both that which is available now and that which will be forthcoming next year.

Salon Futura #23


The September issue of Salon Futura went live yesterday. This issue has reviews of the following books:

  • Piranesi – Susanna Clarke
  • Settling the World – M John Harrison
  • Flyaway – Kathleen Jennings
  • Reclaim, Restore, Return – Karen Lord & Tobias Buckell (eds.)
  • Shadow in the Empire of Light – Jane Routley
  • The Drowned Country – Emily Tesh

There is also a report on FutureCon, and a look at the 40th anniversary release of the film, Flash Gordon.

Coronavirus – Day #194

Here in plaguesville we are now running at around 7000 new cases of COVID-19 per day. Back in April, when the rate of new cases was around 6000 per day, we were seeing almost 1000 deaths per day. Currently it is less than 100. That’s an interesting anomaly. One possible explanation that I saw from a journalist on Twitter today was that in April the actual rate of new cases was around 200,000 per day, and the government fibbed about it. Fibbing about the death rate is harder.

Meanwhile Bozo and his jolly chums have passed a bill that says that they have the right to ignore international law, and the courts, and the devolved assemblies. The EU has launched a legal action against the UK. Fun times, eh?

Eurocon Schedule

The full schedule for this year’s Eurocon, known as Futuricon, has been published. I’m sad to be missing a trip to Croatia, but I’m absolutely delighted to be doing two panels. Here they are:

Saturday, October 3rd – 15:40
Worldbuilding with sex and gender
Otherwise known as my weird animals talk

Sunday, October 4th – 12:15
The Wizard’s Tower panel
The title in the schedule is in Croatian, but the panel will be in English. I’ll be talking with Aleksandar Žiljak about his new book, As the Distant Bells Toll, which will be published on Friday. Also on the panel is Mihaela Marija Perković. I’ll be talking to her about an anthology of feminist SF titled Empress of the Housework which will be forthcoming from Wizard’s Tower next year.

The website says that times will be displayed in your local timezones, so I’m assuming that the above times are BST, not CEST.

Membership is not free, but it is only €10 and you can buy one here.

Coronavirus – Day #191

Congratulations, Bozo, you’ve set a new record!

Yes, today’s count of new COVID-19 cases in the UK is 6634; higher than anything achieved during the initial wave of the pandemic. I’m sure that there will be champagne for all in the Cabinet today.

Well, except for Liz Truss, whom I understand got a bit of a roasting by her own MPs today on account of being even more spectacularly useless at her job than the rest of the team.

Also today we have a new track and trace app. The original one, for which the Great British Software Industry tried to go it alone and eschew any funny foreign code, has been scrapped because it didn’t work. The new one is based solidly on the Apple/Google code that most other countries are using.

Naturally everyone is wondering how much money has been paid to Cummings’ mates to produce this, and how much of our data he’ll be selling off to further line his pockets. The answer seems to be precious little, at least according to Wired. Also the app doesn’t seem to be stealing information from our phones, or doing covert surveillance, or any of the other things that Dom is so keen on.

There are problems. It only works on fairly new versions of the Apple and Android operating systems. It also keeps bluetooth on all the time, which I gather can drain your battery fairly quickly. But for people who are out and about a lot it can be useful.

Personally I’m only going to be going out once a week to shop at Tesco. My personal biobubble is me, a collection of soft toys, and rather more computers than I’m prepared to admit. Most of the time I shouldn’t need it. Also I’m giving it a few days before downloading it, just in case someone finds some hidden code that shouldn’t be there.

Coronavirus – Day #190

The second wave is well underway now in the UK. The number of new cases of COVID-19 reported here today was 6178. For comparison, the peak daily number of new cases in the first wave was 6201.

Of course these days there is much more testing. During the first wave you were only likely to get a positive diagnosis if you sought medical help. These days we are probably counting a lot of asymptotic people as new cases. But it is still very worrying, especially as the number of people in hospital and the number of deaths are now starting to tick upwards.

Even the newspapers are staring to refer to Bozo as a clown. If it wasn’t for the fact that the Brexit disaster is going to hit us in January, I’m sure that the Tories would be thinking of getting rid of him. Right now, however, no one in their right mind would want to be Prime Minister.

Apparently there is now talk of setting up a border to control entry into Kent, in order to prevent the county from being clogged up with lorries trying to get to the continent. And Gibraltar is looking to create a border with the UK in order to stay in the EU single market.

Happy Equinox!

Today is the Autumn Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. It is a day of celebration in pagan calendars, and it is well worth celebrating today.

The UK government has finally issued its response to the Gender Recognition Act consultation. As I suggested yesterday, they are not introducing any major reforms, but they are making minor changes, and crucially they are not rolling back any existing rights.

The campaign against GRA reform has always been based on lies about how the reform would give trans people “new rights” that would be dangerous to cis women. Those new rights were all rights that trans people had anyway under the Equality Act. The anti-trans campaign hoped that by complaining about rights we already have, they could persuade the government to remove those rights. That campaign has been a complete failure.

Trans people do want reforms to the GRA, but mostly what we want is legal recognition for non-binary people and for people under 18 years of age. Those two things were never on the table. Even the more trans-friendly Scottish Government has refused to countenance them. The reforms that were proposed were nice to have, but most trans people in the UK are living happily without changing their legal gender. They have already changed their names, passports, driving licences and so on, which is all people need much of the time.

From the government point of view, the objective of reform was to encourge more trans people to change their legal gender so as to bring it into line with the rest of their ID. The original proposed reforms would have done a lot to help with that. What we have been given today is very minor in comparison. The government will know this, and civil servants will probably be working hard behind the scenes to make the process easier to the extent that they can do so without legislation. And when the Scottish bill becomes law and everyone can see that it is more effective that what Westminister has done, they will quietly introduce new legislation without bothering to consult on it, because they do really want us to change our legal gender.

So where do we go from here? Well, GRA reform is now officially dead. Presumably there is no more need for any of these “feminist” campaign groups. Or, if there is, they will have to be honest about their desire to roll back existing laws. My hope is that a lot of them get distracted into things like anti-mask activism and anti-vax activism, partly because many of them are in those camps already, and partly because that’s what their paymasters in the USA are mostly concerned about now.

If that happens, then the trans community will be able to get back to negotiating with the NHS about how to improve our healthcare. And that will bring real benefits.

The main point, however, is that we would not have got here if it was not for you folks (or at least the UK citizens amongst you). Without you crashing the email servers at Downing Street with your letters of protest; without you signing petitions in your thousands; without you supporting us through your companies and trade unions; we would have seen our rights rolled back. Because the government has seen that the vast majority of the British people support their trans siblings, they have decided that persecuting us is not a vote-winner.

From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!

Reasons to be Cheerful

Life has been pretty awful for trans people in the UK for the past few years. Most of the mainstream media outlets have devoted themselves to campaigning against trans rights for a few years now, and more recently we have acquired a government that seemed keen to support that campaign. However, over the past week or so we have seen a heartwarming level of support from ordinary British people.

The Trades Union Congress passed a motion in favour of trans rights, and explicitly condemning one of the more ridiculous astroturf organisations set up to campaign against us (an “LGB Alliance” that seems to be actively homophobic).

A group of over 100 major businesses and organisations also came out in favour of trans rights. The signatories included the Army, the Navy, the Welsh Government, and multinational companies such as Disney, Microsoft, BP and Sky.

For the first time ever, the British Medical Association explicitly came out in favour of trans rights.

And best of all, the Employment Tribunal has ruled that non-binary people are protected under the Equality Act. This is a huge deal because it provides legal precedent for an issue that was previously unclear in law.

All of which may explain why the latest piece of malicious sniping in the Sunday Times did not include any mention of rollback of trans rights, as was the case when they previously leaked what Liz Truss was due to say in Parliament. Indeed, the proposals now seem to be for a small improvement in trans rights, albeit somewhat less than Theresa May had promised.

Of course the government can still do with a bit of reminding about the overwhelming groundswell of public support for trans rights. There’s a new petition asking for a proper reform, including recognition of non-binary identities. It has over 75,000 signatures already, and when it hits 100,000 it has to be debated in Parliament, which forces Bozo and Truss to actually pay attention. If you are a UK citizen, please consider signing it. (And if you are not, please promote it to your UK friends.)