The Week Ahem Month in Womble aka Strictly Team Tardis

Hellooo!!

Perhaps better think of it as a month in womble this time!! But largely this is due to having some rather busy good things happening (largely). I went to London to see friends and do some book shopping and as you saw last week I also went to my first Fantasycon which was a really good experience.  I have once again done the UK publishing industry a lot of goof and my TBR pile a lot of bad.  Sadly, my third attempt this year to move to a new house failed at the last minute (buyer number four is now starting the joy and I am awaiting to find a new home to move into – please keep fingers crossed.  and work has got me a new project, so it’s been hectic (but I did get a promotion)– lots of reading time but not much else accomplished!

Other Media

Television –

Doctor Who – I’ve been watching it since I was five and its influence on me is profound.  It got me into reading and I suspect why I love mash-ups of genre so much and a focus on character.  With a new Doctor and showrunner in Chris Chibnall I was intrigued how I was going to react and I’m pleasantly surprised. Jodie Whittaker has a lovely warm kind alien approach to the Doctor and the large cast is actually really well balanced – I am amazed how subtle and mature Bradley Walsh’s character is.  It’s giving me a big early Davison feeling after the angst and high drama of the Twelfth (who is still one of my faves) I like this show because it feels the correct decision to remove a lot of the last decade’s continuity.  Highlight for me so far was Rosa because that’s the most emotional and intelligent a show on racism I’ve seen in the show’s history.  Intrigued where it goes next

Strictly – Yes, a show I never expected to love but there is something about people learning to enjoy dancing that I really love.  I don’t feel I’m being emotionally manipulated, and it has a sense of humour.  I just feel sorry for non-strictly fans when I start scoring every Saturday

Quatermass and the Pit – This is from 1959 BBC and I’m really enjoying it halfway.  It doesn’t feel like it’s embarrassed of the genre and it’s a fascinating glimpse into how the post war Britain was.  It feels a nation not sure where it is going between wanting to have a nuclear weapons base on the moon to a London still rebuilding from the Blitz.  Tension slowly creeping up so intrigued where back half goes.  Worth a look on iPlayer.

Star Trek – Finished season one of the original series and I was glad go see while horribly sexist the bones of what I call Trek are in there.  The characters start to gel, and the show has a refreshing take away from just blowing everything up.  Its definite a show from the warmer end of the Cold War period and that feeling of warring nations ready to fight is prevalent but it’s still a fascinating look at SF and the ideas it starts stay with SF for many decades to come.

Films – This month was rubbish I still don’t think I saw a single one?  Any recommendations?

Podcasts – Audio shows I feel hugely relaxing when stressed so I played catch up on three shows I can recommend

Females in Fantasy – Been gobbling up these episodes where Briana Da Silva interviews various female authors to discuss various topics. Really good flowing discussions on subjects such as bisexuality, colonialism and othering. Guests are very impressive and so far, I’ve heard Jeannette Ng, Temi Oh, Justina Ireland and Joyce Chng with quite a few more to come.

Lore/Unexplained – I cheat as these are two different podcasts where a single narrator tells us a story of the paranormal. Unexplained tends towards multi-episodes on one format (with a British focus) and Lore tends to have a range of stories of varying length on one area (more with a US focus).  Perfect for Halloween build up I think I prefer the story-telling model in Lore though but if you like the idea of a half hour of dark tales give this a go 

What I read

-          Small Gods by Terry Pratchett – wow this book was angry. Fundamentalism is clearly in his sights and it feels the first time that the social politics that the Discworld can explore are being awakened.  Loved it!

-          Rosewater by Tade Thompson – Reviewed below – great piece of SF exploring aliens in Nigeria with a compelling mystery and intriguing use of flashbacks.  Strongly recommended.

-          Petra McDonald and the Queen of the Fae by Shon Kinsella - Reviewed below a charming tale of fae gods and humans that I really hope leads to future tales.

-          In the Vanisher’s Palace by Aliette de Bodard – Beauty and the Beast retold in an SF setting – reviewed below and gorgeous

-          A Hidden Hope by Laura Ambrose – Reviewed below - a tale of two SF writers rekindling their relationship at a London SF con.  Charming

-          Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames – Reviewed Below.  Loved this look at life on the road with a band of heroes with a touch of Almost Famous thrown in

-          In the Stacks by Scott Lynch – a short story/novella where four students must return books to pass their next uni at a magician’s school.  The library is rather dangerous.  Funny and clever – well worth your time

-          Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson – Reviewed below – In 2047 we have conquered the moon but society on earth is at a crossroads.  Intelligent SF I just wished had a few more joined up plots

What I want to read next

-          Darksoul by Anna Stephens – the sequel to another one of my favourite debuts Godblind

-          Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik – I loved Uprooted and read the novella version of the tale earlier this year.  This goes in a different direction so think it sounds just what I need

-          Burning Sky by Weston Ochse – an action SF tale about something strange happening to veterans

-          Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri – a new debut author with a tale inspired by India’s history

-          The Winter Road by Adrian Selby - a new series looking at mercenaries in the wilderness

-          The Dark Vault by VE Schwab– a duology of two of her earlier works

 

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COVER REVEAL!! NEW SUNS: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Colour

Rebellion Publishing have been regularly releasing excellent anthologies such as The Djinn Falls in Love and earlier this year The Not So Stories exploring a number of writers of colour discussed colonialism within fantasy and now they can announce a new amazing anthology on its way – NEW SUNS!!

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Colour is edited by Nishi Shawl (author of Everfair and numerous short stories). The basis of the title comes from Octavia E Butler who said “There’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns”; the aim of the anthology is to showcase several new and veteran authors from many races being allowed to tell stories of science fiction, fantasy, horror and all the gaps in between. It offers a move away from stereotypes and clichés. It even has a foreward by LeVar Burton aka Geordi La Forge from Star Trek: The Next Generation! Plus just look at that cover by Yoshi Yoshitani (check out their other art at  http://www.yoshiyoshitani.com/ )and the impressive list of authors below means this looks something very special. Stay tuned for further details and reviews nearer publication date

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

·       Foreword, LeVar Burton

·       The Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex, Tobias Buckell

·       Deer Dancer, Kathleen Alcalá

·       The Virtue of Unfaithful Translations, Minsoo Kang

·       Come Home to Atropos, Steven Barnes

·       The Fine Print, Chinelo Onwualu

·       unkind of mercy, Alex Jennings

·       Burn the Ships, Alberto Yáñez

·       The Freedom of the Shifting Sea, Jaymee Goh

·       Three Variations on a Theme of Imperial Attire, E. Lily Yu

·       Blood and Bells, Karin Lowachee

·       Give Me Your Black Wings Oh Sister, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

·       The Shadow We Cast Through Time, Indrapramit Das

·       The Robots of Eden, Anil Menon

·       Dumb House, Andrea Hairston

·       One Easy Trick, Hiromi Goto

·       Harvest, Rebecca Roanhorse

·       Kelsey and the Burdened Breath, Darcie Little Badger

·       Afterword, Nisi Shawl

 

 

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Fantasycon 2018

Fantasycon – 19th-21st October

The Queen Hotel Chester

 

I was not too sure what I was going to get with Fantasycon.  I did hear rumours that it could be a tad insular but more recently I’ve been hearing it was a great time.  I decided as it was fortunately on my doorstep in Chester I would find out for myself (so nice to be able to drive home after every day) and I can confirm it was a positive experience even when recovering from a bad cold! I thought it showed that the main face of fantasy is evolving and definitely for the better.

So rather than a panel by panel review I’m going to focus more the highlights.  I was a bit wiped out from the cold (as some noticed by my voice) so I was more interested in having a wander and sometimes opted for quieter panels than I probably would normally opt for – taking on board lots of ideas was not always top of my list. So, Friday felt more like a giant catch up session with people from Twitter or that I last saw at Edge Lit. There is a lot to be said for social media as it does help break the ice when people sort of already know you (even if as always people are disappoint ted I am not an actual womble)  - so plenty of true geeky discussions such as television shows and books to catch up on and what exactly happens if Dracula bit Frankenstein. At times like this you know you are with your people.

Panel wise was an interesting look at how writers got into the business with I Don’t Know What I Am Doing – this was really a good discussion and even though I’ve no desire to ever write a book I am intrigued at how words in someone’s head become the gorgeous precious things in my hands.  Advice on how to get feedback, the importance of an agent and the sheer number of ways people can enter publishing these days from online groups to classic slush pile reads reminded you that each book goes on a long journey even after it is written. The evening slot though was a good chance for people to relax with two D&D panels hosted by Dave Moore and Nate Crowley. A variety of guests then became characters and through the audience’s extremely serious suggestions had to take on killer bees, killer sheep and various assorted spells and dangers.  An extremely good laugh and a hint that this is SF that doesn’t take itself too seriously anymore.

Saturday saw me attend some reading sessions where published and non-published authors had a chance to perform pieces of their work.  Highlights here for me where Shona Kinsella’s reading her novella Petra MacDonald and the Queen of the Fae; Stephen Poore giving us an early glimpse of his next work and I finally got to see RJ Parker give a eye catching performance from his Blood of Assassins; all three showed different approaches to story-telling and it was great to look at a few stories I knew well but in audio form. It was also a good opportunity for the authors to be given questions about writing and all the authors seemed happy to share their own hints and tips.

I got to sit in and listen to two recordings of one of my favourite podcasts – Breaking the Glass Slipper where Clare North and RJ Barker discussed mystery writing in fantasy as well as the beauty of tight plotting (even if neither actually used tight plotting themselves). Later, I heard Starburst’s Brave New Words (returning to podcast feeds soon) with a very valiant attempt to get through Book News and this time succeeded even if there were many many tangents. Both are well worth a listen when you can catch them.

There was a great large panel on the Kitschies awards involving previous and current judges, organisers and nominees and winners.  The Kitschies is a progressive and unusual jury award that I think has a much more flexible attitude to SF than some would apply to items such as the Clarke or Hugos. It was great to hear about the debates in judges and was fascinating to hear Tade Thompson talk about it raised his profile appearing next day in the Guardian. Really big news is that it was announced that this time the Kitschies will actually have a few weeks grace between announcing the shortlist and the winners.  So, if I can get my act together that should allow me time to review some of the award nominees!

One other panel I enjoyed was Writing Warfare which talked about the reasons why we may enjoy the grisly battles of a war on an emotional connection and the links between historical tactics and the way to get a reader to understand a battel sequence both at the personal level of a individual fight scene to the grand scale explanation of tactics and the chaos of battle.  One thing I did note because it was not even mentioned as a surprise was that three of the four guest writers (Anna Stephens, Anna Smith Spark, Danie Ware and Peter Maclean) were women.  It was just four experts in their field having a great discussion on a subject they loved.  No fuss or drama just treating people as equals.

The night then relaxed into karaoke and what happens in the karaoke room stays there…it was fun, and I did not sing!

Sunday is a more built around a banquet meal ahead of the British Fantasy Awards.  I decided against the banquet and instead tried a few panels.  Highlights for me was another interesting writers’ panel where four authors just in the process of a debut talked about the ways they started and The Fantasy Box of Plot Ideas where four authors tried to use audience suggestions to make a story.  This got dafter and ruder as it went on and I think a lot of people let their hair down in it

The Hotel was really well suited for a con with large rooms and good facilities (prices were expensive for North but cheap for those from the south though). The Dealers room had plenty for a bookworm and I was well and truly tempted!  In addition, several Publishers such as Tor, Titan, Unsung Stories and Jo Fletcher Books (to name a few) did small launch events and author signings.  Suiting the time of year, I think I looked for horror in the main so stay tuned for a few reviews in this area next month.  Two key highlights Adrian Tchaikovsky and Clare North being Guests of Honour and watching them get interviewed about their careers. Both ongoing sources of great tales and a view of where the genre is going

The BFA awards was a nicely performed ceremony and full list of award winners are below. The categories I thought all demonstrated a very healthy genre and with winners such as Get Out, Monstress, The Changing, Under the Pendulum Sun and most notably for Best Fantasy Novel Jen William’s The Ninth Rain I got the sense of a forward thinking set of juries looking for where fantasy is going rather than looking at the past.  Huge thanks to the organisers and the red cloaks who keep things on track behind the scenes this con felt well thought out and welcoming.  As a newbie I would say it’s far more book centred than say Nineworlds and probably one more suited for those with an interest in publishing, reviewing or writing but it was absolutely welcoming I met people who were from parts of the fandom and it felt inclusive and respectful of new entrants (caveated that I am viewing this from my perspective as a white male). It felt that while clearly still a lot of work to do to make publishing more diverse the conversation and accepting that things need to change is now underway.  I came away with that lovely feeling of recharged geek batteries and a desire to once again get talking about stories and trying to get you to read them all. Just what I needed – so it looks like I will be going to Glasgow in 2019 then!

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The Week (OK Month) in Womble aka Its a Picard Enough Life

Hellooo!!

Shorter update as you’ll note I was not largely around the last month.  The impact of my uncle’s death and helping organise a funeral and a few other things like sorting out belongings stirred a lot of stuff up and my brain was pretty much focused on that.  Reading was only a few pages after work and then sleep followed. Funerals really do help sometimes put a sense of closure to that and after a little bit of time to see family I feel a lot more relaxed that I have a for a while. I had to put quite a few heavier reads down for a while as I was not really in the right place for two many tales of pain and loss.

Relaxing in Spaccceeeeee

At times like this comfort televise was sought and this turned out to be watching a lot of very early Star Trek - The Next Generation. While the quality of these early stories is often low there was something incredibly relaxing settling back into this weird found family and watch a crew/cast start to bond.  Yes, Riker in those days is awful but Patrick Stewart really does make Picard seem a genuine person (and so so soothing as a grown up) and was already a much better model for masculinity than James Kirk (or for that matter William Shatner). Its been a while since I’ve seen the show which is good to watch a story and not remember what is going to happen but at the same time I’m watching a huge example of suck it and see writing as you get the feeling there is a great idea here but not sure how it needs to work.  My suspicion its when the show went slightly outside the remit of what Gene Roddenbury was demanding that we got the better stories with a tad more bite to them. Very much looking forward to the rest of the journey

I think it would be well worth your time to read my friend Ric Crossman (@squidfromspace) who has a column in the Geek Syndicate website comparing all the episodes of Trek series against each other – it’s a fascinating cultural voyage http://geeksyndicate.co.uk/features/infinite-diversity-finite-combinations-4-1-13-maps-and-legends/

 

The Lady Vaults

Weirdly though it was The Red Magician for the #LadyVaults I read last month in small doses that read this month that while quite a harrowing story grabbed me and dealing with grief in the story helped.

I really enjoy the vlogs of Elizabeth of the BooksAndPieces channel (on twitter at @Books_Pieces especially for her enthusiasm for books, great analysis of the genre’s history and its way forward as well as so many good book recommendations.  She’s announced a new monthly readalong focusing on books by women authors from over 15 years ago. Last month the readalong which can be found on Goodreads started with The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein or on Twitter #LadyVaults.  Really looking forward to finding new stories and taking part in the discussion.  I think this will be a fascinating journey – I didn’t read much contemporary stuff in the 80’s and 90’s my library seemed to just have the older doorstep trilogies of certain big-name white male authors at the time and I could not get into them so finding out the good stuff I’ve missed is always welcome.  I’ve noticed quite a few reviewers lament that women who were once bestsellers in the 90’s appears airbrushed out of history so finding those authors is something I am planning to do a lot of! This month it’s the short stories of James Tiptree Jr contained in the collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.

Other Media

Television – The Good Place is back!!! One of the smartest and kindest comedies out there which I cannot really say a lot about without spoiling it for you.  A woman wakes up in the afterlife by accident and tries to work out how to avoid Hell. Superb cast and humour with added philosophy and examination of morality

Films – This month was rubbish I don’t think I saw a single one?  Any recommendations?

Podcasts – Audio shows I feel hugely relaxing when stressed so I played catch up on three shows I can recommend

99% Invisible – a show about design that covers everything from clothes to adverts. Always an interesting story and very good at explaining the social history that a design or choice can operate in.

The Coode Street Podcast – this is a SF& Fantasy podcast usually involving Gary K Wolf and Jonathan Strahan discussing authors, books or trends in SF. While occasionally it does have two white men of a certain age making it clear they are two white men of a certain age they are pleasantly ready to accept their own biases and often have a desire to see the genre wake up to its flaws and move on

Breaking the Glass Slipper – the three hosts Charlotte Bond, Megan Leigh and Lucy Hounsom explore the genre from a feminist perspective and challenge some of the stereotypes in the genre and explore authors and tropes. Really refreshing and this last few weeks I was listening female characters in books are written, interviews with Vic James, Catriona Ward and Anna Smith Spark – strongly recommended!

What I read (a light month)

-          Doctor Who Twice Upon A Time by Paul Cornell – a nice simple Target style retelling of Capaldi’s swansong

-          Saga Vol 9 by Brian K Vaughan and artwork by Fiona Staples - ahem OMG that ending and I’ve a year to wait???? Ahem

-          Monstress Volume 3 – written by Marjorie M Liu and Art by Sana Takeda – a weird almost Final Fantasy style tale of human, demons and those who appear t have animal powers/features. The wider story yet to be fully revealed and its enchanting and the art is Amazing!!

-          Sourdough by Robin Sloan- an everyday tale of a young software designer and a malevolent sourdough mixture – it has a lot of heart and I think will be reviewed soon

-          The Tower of Living and Dying by Anna Smith Spark – I think this is a an impressive instalment in a great fantasy trilogy – review should be below this blog – had to put it down but was very glad to get sucked back into this world.

What I want to read next (time to catch up!)

-          Rosewater by Tade Thompson – fascinating SF tale and review to come very soon next week

-          Darksoul by Anna Stephens – the sequel to another one of my favourite debuts Godblind

-          Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik – I loved Uprooted and read the novella version of the tale earlier this year.  This goes in a different direction so think it sounds just what I need

-          Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames – I want to catch up on this which I heard many good things about and I understand there is humour and that’s what I will need next week

-          Burning Sky by Weston Ochse – an action SF tale about something strange happening to veterans

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The Week in Womble - The Rock and a Hard Place

Hellooo!!

Quick update - this week been strange as we’ve had an unexpected death in the family. A relative who when I was a kid introduced me to Star Trek, Doctor Who and Horror Films but as I got older we went very separate ways.  Lots of memories and stuff flying around my head now but it’s always to focus on the good memories but I think next couple of weeks will be strange as we have a bit to sort out in the family. Thanks for the good wishes and kind messages received this week - much appreciated.

The Lady Vaults

I really enjoy the vlogs of Elizabeth of the BooksAndPieces channel (on twitter at @Books_Pieces especially for her enthusiasm for books, great analysis of the genre’s history and its way forward as well as so many good book recommendations.  This week she’s announced a new monthly readalong focusing on books by women authors from mat least 10-15 years. This month the readalong which can be found on Goodreads starting with The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein or on Twitter #LadyVaults.  Really looking forward to finding new stories and taking part in the discussion.  I think this will be a fascinating journey – I didn’t read much contemporary stuff in the 80’s and 90’s my library seemed to just have the older doorstep trilogies of certain big-name white male authors at the time and I could not get into them so finding out the good stuff I’ve missed is always welcome.

Worldbuilding

There is a slightly different interview with the great N K Jemisin I’ve been gripped by this week as the podcast host Ezra Klein does an 80-minute worldbuilding exercise with Jemisin based around a similar thing she does with her students.  Although I am not a writer I really found how she took the idea of the world and its core geography to create cultures, politics and economies absolutely amazing – authors are magical people!  This then leads to a great discussion of what world building can do in terms of opening our eyes up to how our own world works.  Really worth a listen at the link below

https://www.vox.com/2018/8/27/17779026/ezra-klein-show-book-recommendations-n-k-jemisin-broken-earth-hugo-award

Other Media

Television – I’m in a comfort watch mode so this week the big one has been Season 4 of Leverage. This is one of my favourites and is a tale where a group of con artists and thieves decide to help people in need.  The pilot episode introducing everyone is one of the smartest pilots I’ve seen, and the cons are slick, fast and clever. But the big draw is the found family aspect that evolved as these all slightly flawed but loveable people learn from each other.  Lots of heart, humour and an amazing amount of SF in-jokes/guest stars you can watch out for. Bad guys really do make the best good guys!

Films – At the Movies I saw Ant-Man and The Wasp and it was…. ok I guess.  I really enjoyed the smaller scale of it – focusing on a rescue mission rather than the fate of the world but at the same time it felt unusually mechanical for a Marvel film. The action sequences and the emotional beats were all what I expected but no big surprises and my main issue was a lot of the drama would have been stopped if people had actually chatted for five minutes. Its diverting but doesn’t stick in the memory.

The Jumanji remake however was a lot more fun. I’ve not seen the original (I knowww) but four teens are plunged into a video game and turned into action movie characters such as Dwayne Johnson or Karen Gillan actually I thought was pleasantly subversive about how teens always want to be fitter, stronger sexier and play to ridiculous icons/templates you cannot be.  It had heart and laughs, and Jack Black was funny again.

Also saw Rampage (yes I appear to have had a Dwayne Johnson double bill) which is what you would expect when an evil corporation releases a mutant virus that grows creatures into those of incredible size. The monster versus humans versus monsters aspect is all very standard action but the fun bits are the character moments. In particular really hard not see the bromance between Dwayne Johnson’s primate specialist and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s sinister Man In Black as just total flirting.  I was less impressed with how little they gave Naomi Harris to do but it’s a fun movie with a great few unexpected twists.

Podcasts – I finished the last half of Zig Zag and less comfortable with the focus on the CVL crypto-currency and subscription service.  It felt at times slightly more advertorial than newsworthy, but I will be intrigued how season 2 works as my impression is that the idea of funding by such a currency is not really taking off yet.

What I read

-          The magnificent Age of Assassins by RJ Barker (reader I swooned at how good this trilogy is and how this wraps the whole thing up in a beautiful bow decorated with antlers) – see below for the review!!

-          Currently reading the beautifully terrifying The Tower of Living and Dying by Anna Smith Spark I’m intrigued where this story is going

What I want to read next

-          Darksoul by Anna Stephens – the sequel to another one of my favourite debuts Godblind

-          Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik – I loved Uprooted and read the novella version of the tale earlier this year.  This goes in a different direction so think it sounds just what I need

-          Kings of the Wyld/Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames – I want to catch up on this which I heard many good things about and I understand there is humour and that’s what I will need next week

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The Week in Womble

Hellooo!!

So, summer is over and the urge to turn on heating is rising.  Its been a strange old summer this year.  I was expecting before it began to be safely in a new home with more bookshelf and sadly after two buyers managed to mess things up I’m still in my old place.  House moving is stressful – doing it twice without moving is realllllly stressful. But third time lucky and then finally I can have some books unboxed (trying to make your home suitable for non-bookworms is awful!)

So apologies if content this summer has been sporadic I really can’t read a lot when stressed but I have managed to keep reading (just slowly) and one thing I want to do is get at least one review out a week from now on but I suspect you’ll get a bit more than that next month as I’ve a lot of review books outstanding. Colder days really suit reading and helpfully train companies work hard to make my commutes longer just to finish a few more chapters….bless em. One thing I thought I’d do more is a quick update on life and things I’ve been interested in.

Hugos

A very decent election of Hugo awards this week and for me the standout is N K Jemisin’s third Hugo for the Broken Earth trilogy. Its really set a high standard for what fantasy can achieve that all writers should aim for. If you’ve not seen her award acceptance speech check out this link

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lFybhRxoVM

and promptly after that high a rather pathetic ‘golden age’ author decided to criticise the speech and her win (admitting he never had even bothered to read it).  The nice thing about such people is it helps me decide which authors I cannot be bothered to spend my precious time on.  Farewell Silverberg you won’t be in my TBR! For me Jemisin’s work and her speech capture what I think SF needs to aim for. I don’t think that is vulgar I think it’s awe-inspiring.  I so want to do a quick review on the series (which won our Subjective Chaos award) but when the books that good the review needs to be decent…

The Good Old Days

There has been an interesting debate in Who fandom where the latest Doctor Who monthly has a feature where much younger fans are watching the classics. There has been outrage that watching “The Talons of Weng Chiang” the team while saying it had its moments also had huge amounts of racism – this story very much borrows from the Fu Manchu stories where the villain is a stereotypical Asian man and the clichés keep on rising and on top of this most of the Asian roles are white actors using ‘yellow face’ (made up to resemble those from asia). Some older fans have said that’s not taking into account the times it was made in and putting such social commentary in reviews of these things ruins the experiences. You won’t be surprised to hear I say sod that to such fans. I suspect there were many people of colour feeling television in the day was racist back then but very few white people listened. I think reviewers of classic stories that want to focus on just the ‘story’ should be able to look at something from the past and say is this something really that speaks to us now? You can still say a show or book has some good and bad elements and if that means in 2018 a forty odd year story is now rightly seen as racist and problematic that I think a) shows us how much we have come and b) may mean that we can find better stories to recommend instead?  There are quite a few!

Other Media

Television – Yes, I’ve finally rediscovered television and two big things are popping up on my “To Watch” list. The Good Place (Netflix) where a woman arrives in Heaven by mistake and spends the series trying to hide it is not just both very funny and heartwarming but gives the viewer a fascinating tour through moral dilemmas and philosophy.  If you’ve not seen it - go ahead!! Then tweet me about it

I’m finally after having been spoiled multiple times braving Star Trek Discovery and overall nearly half way am enjoying a new take on Trek. My suspicion like the title is that this is where humanity discovers the actual message of the show/philosophy of Starfleet and the Federation.  There seems a running theme about war/isolationism and friendship/science and I’m intrigued where that is going…Don’t tweet me about this yet!!

Podcasts – On that has really grabbed me this week is Zig Zag where two women from public radio in the US have decided to create their own media company. I’d usually be switched off by business chats but this story is done really personally (the stresses on them and their families) but also takes in the fate of US journalism; capitalism; sexism and the new powers of silicon valley. I am about half way and I’m finding it very enlightening about why journalism is suffering so much and why social media tycoons scare the hell out of me

What I read

-          City of Lies by Sam Hawke – one of the best debuts this year – see below or the review!

-          The Might Captain Marvel Vol 2 – ah that annoying time when a Marvel series has to tie into the year’s arc….

-          Lumberjanes Vol 8 – Greek Gods, Gorgons and all the joy you need

What I want to read next

-          King Of Assassins by RJ Barker  - the final instalment of an amazing trilogy

-          The Tower of Living and Dying by Anna Smith Spark – one of my favourite debuts now tells me what happened next

-          Darksoul by Anna Stephens – the sequel to another one of my favourite debuts

Subjective Chaos Kind of Award - The Winners!

So, for the last few months our merry band of book bloggers have been whittling down our nominations carefully – the last month saw a scramble to read the books we didn’t manage in the first round and then a final debate.  It was fun and last Saturday in the bar at Nineworlds we announced the winners of our luxurious awards

THE WINNERS

Best Fantasy – Under The Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng

A tough section for the judges and we often were surprised that some choices exceeded our expectations but this Gothic tale of English Missionaries trying to convert the Fae was the winner by some distance. It’s haunting, surprising, unnerving and eerie.  It’s unusual idea and approach really stood out when people tend to focus on the epic fantasies.  A worthy winner and if you’ve not yet tried this you need to catch up.

We also got our first ever attendee to take their award in person!

Best Science Fiction – An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

A tale where a generational spaceship has turned into a hugely racist society with secrets being kept from people captured our attention.  It explores the consequences of prejudice and hatred and how that legacy affects every generation that follows.  Not an easy read but one that you’ll remember afterwards especially with its lead character who can be frustrating and amazing in equal measure.  I’m very much looking forward to reading more of Solomon’s work in the future.

Best Novella – The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

This was a superb and very painful category to read but then decide on a winner. The tale of a young woman who every time she bleeds creates a clone who wants to kill her takes a simple idea and just creates an entire life for Molly. The brutal mental and physical impacts of these attacks and question of identity make this a horror tale that doesn’t just go for nasty surprises but creeps under the skin. I’m intrigued what lies in the recently announced sequel.

Best Blurred Boundary – The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams

A category where we had a lot of latitude to define what boundaries were being blurred. This new trilogy from Williams gives us an epic fantasy landscape that is under attack from invaders from another world.  Magic and technology collide into a great mix. Its got verve, humour and in Vintage who is our middle-aged academic who wields a crossbow heroine one of the best new characters in SF. A novel that beats the Copper Cat Trilogy really set a high bar

Best Series – The Broken Earth by N K Jemisin

While the nominations were very good there was a unanimous vote for this series.  Personally, I think this is the best fantasy trilogy this decade – unique world building; brilliant characters; questions on morality, prejudice and resistance that are not easily answered, and the writing makes the story soar.  This is a series if you’ve not done it yet for it.

And that’s it!! As reading tends to be an insular experience having a group to discuss it was really entertaining and as all have differing takes it was great to have both new books recommended and be persuaded why some books needed more praise.  Hopefully we can do this again next year!

Next steps for me though after a recharge after Nineworlds and some life stuff is a big catch up on a review backlog the next few weeks and I think its time for version 2 of the blog to finally take shape.

Nineworlds 2018 - Part 2

Part 1.5!!

Yes, I missed a Friday panel off my notes yesterday! Doh!!

Problematic Aspects of Historical Fiction: What Do We Do About It? (Douglas Kohler, Olwen Lachowicz, Jeanette Ng, Ginger Lee Thomason)

Be it Margaret Cavendish or Mary Shelley who started modern SF Genre it is often startling to realise how few women are seen in the older ‘canon’ that so many in the field like to highlight. This panel examined the way we now interpret the classics. Dracula gets praised for being the first vampire story, but it raises questions of xenophobia and the treatment of women – the happily married quiet woman gets to live. With Lovecraft the panel highlighted his very blatant racism that used the primal fear of the other to promote his own views which was highlighted is still used today by right wing groups against immigrants. A disturbing proposal was that such groups now used the tools of horror stories to promote their racism to make their message more effective.

The panel challenged the idea that to fully understand a genre we must always go back to it. We are so many years now past Lovecraft that the idea of cosmic horror is so prevalent a new reader doesn’t need to go to go back to read him to understand it. It was clearly made that the onus is not purely on marginalised writers to take the lead in showing a better easy – that should be on all.  A good point was made by Jeannette Ng on gatekeeping that certain people set the template for the stories that got seen and read the most widely a powerful editor like Joseph Campbell who even friends called a crypto fascist made editorial decisions that set the template for future stories that would be submitted to be read in his magazines. Rather than see the past as a giant monolith if we can better understand that certain people and their biases/prejudices influences the shape of things then it’s easier to fight against their narratives. In a moment of joy as the panel summed up the need for us to move on to a better inclusive future the rather loud Disney Singalong next door went into Let It Go – this felt very very appropriate.

 

Part 2!!

So Last Day of a con is like the last bit of the marathon – you’re running on lack of sleep, vegetables and if you’re an introvert like me an unusual amount of people engagement that can mean you’re tired out so Day 3 of the convention is usually quite quieter and you start to notice as they day carries on people start to leave – it can be like Return of the King by the end of the day waving people off into the underground and then watch as the hotel moves from Geek Mode to the corporate convention starting the Monday.

Having last year not managing my spoons and work life balance I remembered this time not to do it all and managed well across the day

Sunday!!

Fiction About Fiction (Tanya Brown, Aliette de Bodard, Roz Kaverney, Jeanette Ng, Claire Rousseau)

This story talked about how the novels of the past influenced the novels of the future. Really interesting debates flowed, and topics ranged from how certain aspects of western culture can appear strange to those born outside of the UK to how the love of period 19th century dramas often focused on technical innovation but overlooked the rampant colonialism and appalling treatment of people of colour. There is a danger of romanticism that current writers sometimes need to tackle to remind us the past is not a fondly loved time for many people who did not get the privileges of those wealthy or in charge. The panel also noted how the structure of the 19th century novel still lives to an extent today but perhaps we now see less focus on fleshing out secondary characters in large casts and meandering narratives but increasingly when writers mine the past using ill served secondary characters can now be an opportunity to give a voice to highlight their inequalities and provide a much-needed counterbalance.

Folklore and Liking It Weird (Malcolm Devlin, Verity Holloway, David Southall)

There appears to finally be a revival in folklore which was last seen in the 70’s when people got very interested in occult stories. This panel went into a great discussion about its roots and uses. My sense from what I heard is that folklore is a very key part of our society – it connects the urban population to their rural roots; it increasingly has its urban stories such as the albino pigs on the London Underground. Its very much focused on a sense of place or potentially isolation. That could be very simple such as the monsters in the lake who will eat the unwary kids to a fascinating example of the Luddites building their movement around a potentially mythical character who by 1810 was rumoured to live in Sherwood Forest (some stories will always be reinvested).

A great take on it was that while some see Folklore as cosy horror if you read the real thing you could argue it’s a reaction against the past. Rather than a beautiful idyll it’s a place of intolerance that demands blood and sacrifice – perhaps now Folklore should be a way to warn people from returning to a time that never actually existed. A thoughtful discussion

The Future of Nineworlds

Nineworlds like to end with an update on how the weekend went and what’s next. I suspect this was originally going to end on a very uncertain note however I think moved into a greater and worrying discussion about some of the convention’s failings and asks some hard questions about what is to come.

The main and last original founder of the core Kickstarter group announced that this would be his last in charge and he was seeking new ownership in some new form. Nineworlds very nearly went under in 2016 having made some decisions that probably were premature in terms of ideas such as an expo hall. Over the last few years those losses have been near eliminated but its also clear that a UK con even on this scale won’t be a substantial profit-making entity for a long time if at all. New owners with new ideas were being sought and this raised the idea that perhaps moving to a formal non-profit/charity status may help secure other funding/support that it needs. At this point various members of the existing Nineworlds team got up in unison to make a surprise announcement that they were trying to become the new team. To give them credit I think they were going for rather than a convention that may not be here next year they were trying to say enough people familiar with running the con were trying to be involved in the future.

At this point when it became time for audience feedback a member of the audience highlighted that the group on stage were overwhelmingly white and that several longstanding issues with people of colour had once again been raised and not really answered.  I think the following blog gives a much better idea of what a) was going on int the lead through to this event and b) how the Nineworlds team responded to this feedback appallingly

https://blackfemgeekery.wordpress.com/2018/08/12/white-worlds

Another blog that I think highlights some other adjacent issues in this space as to how sensitive content was being managed that I would also recommend

https://medium.com/@rammi/a-safe-space-only-when-its-convenient-for-you-a-nine-worlds-cautionary-tale-23b026a40b58

 

The tone of the discussions I witnessed and have heard about suggests that something has gone now seriously wrong within the Nineworlds organisation and whoever takes over needs to fix this very soon. It is a place that has done good work for many groups, but it also clearly is making some people feel unwanted and unsafe; that I saw someone senior in the organisation try to argue this point was No Platforming made very little sense. I can now totally understand the reactions people of colour and other minorities may have to a purely law enforcement panel based on the explanations above (I’m going to confirm I know two of the panel from other fandoms and they are lovely but that is not the issue at stake). Neither does bolting people onto a controversial panel serve any purpose – I do not come to Nineworlds but vigorous artificial debates I come for people to have discussions on subjects they all care about. I don’t think the content management in place at Nineworlds was clued up on those sensitivities and they themselves admitted this is a weakness that has been going on for quite some time. If there are people feeling Nineworlds is unsafe then this convention needs to now work on making the changes and getting the right people involved MUCH earlier in the process.  There are socio-economic reasons why many from minorities can ill afford the time to contribute to a very large con – I think Nineworlds may need to consider if that if they cannot find that help voluntarily then it may need to make payment for that assistance and that may be part of running such a convention cost congoers need to continue towards in the ticket price - and as they are potentially seeking a non-profit charity status then this may reap many benefits in the long run.

Having thought about these discussions and several panels that highlighted the racism within the genre and lack of representation SF needs to do better.  I don’t think the representation of people of colour in conventions such as this has been great and that now is an area to focus on and should be clearly and formally built into the ethos and governance structure of what the next version of Nineworlds becomes. It is in some ways reassuring that many of the old team want to be involved but it now needs to be wider and better on these issues very soon.

UPDATED

later on 19/8 I found this blog post from one of the Nineworlds team

http://a-simple-tailor.tumblr.com/post/177163220522/nine-worlds

To put it bluntly until I read this I'd assumed Nineworlds organisers had been clumsily insensitive but good hearted but this is ongoing wilful neglect.  If the organisers have been aware of this since 2016; promised to do better and yet manage to forget this for the last two years then that organisation is failing.  A full apology to those impacted by these events is needed and Nineworlds is going to have to work very hard to show that it is a new organisation willing to face up to its weaknesses. A con that preaches inclusivity and diversity needs to actually deliver on it.

Other thoughts

Taking that issue to one side I did have a few other thoughts on the convention

Cons

-          I think this year was the worst for communication to the public about what was going on in the run-up to the convention.  The schedule and guest list were pretty much released a very short while before the convention. A few competing events such as on LARPs and children were run against each other in relatively small tracks. If I add in the above issues it does feel like a convention team trying to do an awful lot of stuff at the last minute with scant resources/time to think rationally. That it ran so smoothly on the day itself is important to stress but it could easily had much more gone wrong if not for the work on the teams on the ground often working a lot of hours.  I appreciate this con is run on a low budget but especially as ticket sales start early a bit more dialogue about the content would be appreciated.  It may also have allowed the team to shout out where additional support on some matters could be needed.

-          I heard that feedback won’t be gathered this year as that is more suitable to be on what the new team want to offer.  I feel this is disappointing as when it first began Nineworlds was refreshingly honest about what works and does not. In recent years that seems to be less frequent or communicated and for a fandom focused convention and again with the above issues that feels like a barrier to getting problems recognised and fixed.

-          The Books panels I went to and the guests selected were all great, but I did feel this year was the smallest Books track in all the years I’ve attended. For a major event without many UK competitors at the time of year it was weirdly quiet on the usual publishers and guests.  I don’t know if that was a deliberate decision to freshen the wider content up, but it didn’t feel that way.  The Big Green Bookshop had much less books than I’ve seen for sale at any Nineworlds but shout outs to Rebellion and Unsung for some lovely stalls.

 

Pros

-          The Novotel staff were once again very friendly and approachable. The facilities were very good.  I could completely understand if the con finally leaves London (especially on cost grounds) but it highlights the facilities needed must be large, accessible and a safe environment

-          The Access team have continued to provide a great environment and work so hard to make the con work.  They deserve a lot of credit

-          Finally, the congoers themselves. It was lovely to see people I know from many places; some I met for the first time in actual reality and some new people for the first time.  There is a lot be said for sitting with friend and working out the Hogwarts house for the MCU; the plot of weird Hammer Horrors and oh yes BOOKS. Being silly is great and knowing your friends will conspire to create French Revolution should you ever get too big for your boots is life-affirming.  I know the BEST people.

 

So overall Nineworlds is in an interesting state. The con was good but clearly not for everyone attending and therefore must change.  Those changes I think will embolden the original aim of Nineworlds as a place that people can come together and as of, yet I’ve not heard of any alternatives that match its approach in the UK just yet. Next year I am seriously looking at the adjacent Dublin Worldcon so can’t yet confirm if I can make all of Nineworlds next year, but I would like to at least manage one day. I come back from each one physically very very tired but also refreshed as to how great geeks are and get ideas for lots of other things. I want future conventions where everyone can do that the same way and as a lot of the panels highlighted we get to create the set-up for the future and make it fairer for everyone and if that means we stop doing certain traditional things that UK cons do then so be it.

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Nineworlds - Part 1 (10-11th August Novotel Hammersmith, London)

So, I’m now a Nineworlds veteran having been there at all six to date. Having been to a reallllly bad convention weekend where I felt a) content had been scribbled out of a tv guide and b) rather unsafe at night when the drink started to flow one of my best friends suggested we check out Nineworlds that a kickstarter in 2012 started with the idea of being the British version of Dragoncon. Its grown a lot and while it is not Dragoncon it has its own ethos. It ended on a note that it’s next incarnation is now due and what form that takes will be quite important as to how this con can thrive.  I had a very good time, but I think some of the concerns and issues raised in the past have come to ahead so new challenges await (more of which to come in part 2)

But for starters lets talk about what I did while there

Thursday – I caught up with friends old and new.  I did not do the quiz and this time the people I usually meet with got first place….

Friday!!

The Way You Make Me Feel (Angela Cleland, Roz Kavernay, Zoe Sumra, Sue Tingey)

This panel examined how do those evil authors make us cry/scream/laugh and cheer. It was fascinating to hear that some authors have an emotional plot to run alongside their narrative ones – the key points where you will FEEL that required emotion. It didn’t come across as purely a technical exercise – some of the panel had been surprised by what a character ended up doing!  They admitted to not feeling too much shame about what they do to their characters or their readers, but the writing of a tragic ending might still hurt them as much as it hurts us.  

Putting the Punk into Cyberpunk – Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, Harriet H, Jade Leamcharaskul, Simon Potthast, Jeremy Szal, Maki Yamazaki)

Since the term got coined in the 80’s and William Gibson defined it there has been a suspicion that the genre is now finished and more an aesthetic. Is there a future in the that type of future?  The panel made a valid point that it predicted an internet ruled by soulless ultra-capitalist corporations, so it certainly had a point. The panel did a good job of selling it as a story of the outsider and rebellion.  Its influence can run from architecture to VR technology, but it also raises questions of transhumanism.  An interesting discussion but I didn’t feel there had been many recent examples Altered Carbon was mentioned but not very positively! But this does seem to be a good time particularly on the social media front for a story where rebellion takes place and that is an area I’ll be watching SF with interest.

Know Your Enemy (Mike Brooks, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Jeannette Ng, Anna Stephens)

This panel examined the concept of the villain. Are they there purely as a device of opposition or are they proclaiming something lost (which veers towards the antihero). The panel all seemed to agree that the best villains are those with a cause/belief in their plan. There is a temptation in fiction to other the villain through disability, mental health or sexuality when as 2018 shows most tend towards white, rich and very very privileged. The writers did raise an unusual point that in a story its all about how your frame the narrative – with two fairly equal sides battling over resources it is rare one side will not lose out in the narrative and become the villain.

Knighmare Live – Finally!!

For its second appearance at Nineworlds there was a much bigger room and so I finally got into see this event. This clearly marks me as a child of the 80’s watching a dungeon kill children, but this version is a charming mix of reverence for the actual concept and in jokes but also doing it on a much lower budget. It was very funny through the small cast but also watching a grown adult not remember their left and right so that they walked through the wall of the dungeon was hilarious

Saturday!

Alchemy and Chemistry in SF/Fantasy (Penny Ellis)

I may have stayed up too late for this session to concentrate.  Half an examination of the history of chemistry and alchemy and then an examination of some famous examples of plotonium.  I felt it would have probably been better split into two different talks. The first half was for me the more interesting as I suspect the reason writers make up the rest is to always serve the story and not respect the science

Who is Wakanda? Representation in Black Panther (Tara Brown, Zarich Catlin-Hallet, Helen Gould, Jade Leamcharaskul, Russell A Smith)

This was one of my highlights across the weekend. Five panellists talking about their reactions and interpretations of the recent Marvel Movie. I really got a new appreciation for how much thought went into this film from discussions over the music and fashion choices for even minor characters that went into illustrating many cultures and historical traditions but also with a lot of modernity. The discussion raised from was Wakanda right to step into the wider world to how Killmonger was one of the most complex villains in film combining attitudes with the feeling of the pain of diaspora with a very toxic sense of rascality. It was a really good flowing intelligent discussion that I could have happily watched another hour and made me want to watch the film again once home to watch the bits I hadn’t noticed before.

It was also a really refreshing panel as I got to a watch a panel of mainly people of colour get to discuss and analyse a piece of culture and their reactions to it. Watching people talk about their excitement in the run-up to the film; their reactions watching and then digesting the film and seeing people like them on screen and referencing cultures they know was a reminder why ensuring we don’t just have straight white males in every bit of media is important. It also was a strong reminder that such panels where rather than purely the issue of diversity itself but instead we see a meaty discussion of a facet of the genre can be far more rewarding.  A great panel is one I think about weeks later…this feels like one of them

Top of the SFF Cops – (SJ Groenewegen, Laura Manuel, Caroline Mersey)

Three panellists with different connections to law enforcement raised who they felt were the best type of cops. An interesting selection came down to Dana Scully versus Sam Vimes with Vimes winning by a landslide. It was interesting to hear the qualities they looked for, but I think perhaps a wider group of panellists may have helped broaden a discussion.

Let the Past Die: Sacrificing Sacred Cows in Star Wars The Last Jedi (Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, Avery Delany, Michael Duxbury, Jeannette Ng, Gabriel Petersen)

I’ll lay my cards out now I loved the Last Jedi and thought it gave a long-needed kick to the series challenging the archetypes that were there before, so I was intrigued by how the panel would discuss it and I was not disappointed! I liked the idea that Kylo Ren and his Darth Vader memorabilia could easily be read as a commentary on how the films have perhaps become too focused on toys and traditions spreading from those toys while the film’s best characters were learning sometimes such symbols need to be destroyed to allow for new growth while Kylo is still locked into his past. There is a lot to be said for showing that those who are emotionally invested in a cause like the Rebellion are hard to beat but several did wonder if in the long run Disney would still want to return to various interpretations because that is what makes the money. The key message I took away though was that a fandom that wants to thrive needs to eb prepared to let new people play with it and create a more diverse longer life for it. Another panel that will stay with me.

How to Keep Making Things When the World is on Fire (Alix Penn, Laurie Penny, Claire Rousseau)

One of the nice things about Nineworlds it you have so much choice you can have moments when you just decide to go to a panel on the spur of a moment and this one turned out to be useful to me personally. How to deal with the desire to make any content when the world is on fire be that a reaction to the rise of Trump and fascists or more localised issues such as health or other competing demands. A key message is that being impacted by such things is not something to feel guilty about and self-care is both important for yourself and to assist those people who may then have to spend time reminding you that sleep, and healthy food is important.  As someone who struggles with this and feels guilty when the other sides of my life mean I can’t review and blog as quickly as I’d like hearing that lots of other people face the same issues and their tips for dealing with these moments I came away with loads of good suggestions (which several have asked me to capture): -

-          Self-care is not a self-indulgence it’s an act of political warfare that you don’t allow the world to eat you up

-          Give yourself permission to sleep and feed

-          Cut yourself slack

-          If your best friend was doing this to themselves would you be probably be telling them to take better care.  If so why can’t you apply the same lessons to yourself

-          Don’t be overly critical of what we produce for fund and entertainment, so you end up holding back from releasing it into the world – often we do these things because we find them fun so enjoy it

-          Deadlines we set can be help and make us accountable to others. Breaking big tasks into mini deadlines can help us turn up for the work and this is our job

-          What we create can help others cope with the world in small ways

-          Don’t let Capitalism win and always think these activities are without value and so can be unpaid (particularly for those who create material for larger companies’ outlets)

-          Interaction with others helps you share tips and not feel alone

-          After you go through crisis mode you should adapt your work balance accordingly based on the lessons you learnt

-          Don’t be negative on yourself

-          Your work unpaid or not has a value and creative work will have an impact on reality and how people view the world

-          It’s completely ok to just focus on one or two things at a time but also consider what things you are not focusing on

-          Don’t attempt to do your entire To Do list at once – make them achievable goals

-          Stick to your work plan and don’t always be tempted by what mood you are in a regular schedule you have can help a lot.

-          Sometimes doing the work won’t be the fun but remember the sense of achievement you often feel when you finish

-          If you do need to push yourself to your limits to achieve something bear in mind the consequences for future you – the need to sleep and recharge – don’t continually put those things off

-          You may need to lock yourself down from distractions while you work

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January Reading!

I am very rare amongst my friends and family in my love for January as for me it always seems to lead to a boost in energy levels after the end of the year wiped me out.  I also may have had two weeks off in it…(polishes halo).

I had a lovely trip to Barcelona and it’s a fantasy novel city in its own right.  Amazingly relaxed and gorgeous you can easily imagine magical events happening down the streets. Well worth a visit and a long wander.  Of course, coming home my body caught the dreaded flu bug so I had a fascinating week trying to breathe and stay warm – no sign of an exorcist being required but it was a close-run thing!

Movies and TV wise has been I will be honest light – I seem to be reluctant to try and watch a plot if that makes sense and I’m hoping to start a mammoth catch up on shows like Discovery, Dark and that little-known drama called Stranger things soon.  I also have the remake of It to watch and I’m intrigued how I will react to it (please be better than Dark Tower).

But one thing I definitely have done is read and pleasingly I’ve also made some inroads into Mount TBR. I’ve started to plan out my reading schedule a bit better into small chunks each week and as you’ll start to notice I’m starting to review a few books ahead of publication date.  Yes, reader I now have a spreadsheet to track dates!

 

So, what did I read?

Novels (5 from last year’s TBR attacked)

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper – review to follow - an old children’s classic that is perfect for midwinter.  While the plot is very mechanical I think it wins on the sense of atmosphere and the creepiness of a cold winter.

The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark – reviewed – you should all be reading this interesting mix of high fantasy and grimdark.  Hopefully the rest of the series will be just as memorable.

Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft – reviewed - A very clever and unusual new fantasy sequence exploring a city in the clouds and having a lot to say about social climbing and elites

White Tears by Hari Kunzru -review to follow – an unusual literary ghost story that I’m not sure quiet worked for me…

The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden – review to follow – a modern retelling of Russian folklore and it’s really worth a look is my non-spoilery tip 😊

If Souls Can Sleep by David Michael Williams – reviewed – a surprisingly smarter fantasy thriller involving dreamworlds and wrongfooted me a few times which is always something I value in a book!

The Left hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin – reviewed – I really loved what this book does in only 245 pages.  Stunning how all the themes combined into a beautiful story of friendship.  Expect more reading of her this year.

Paris Adrift by E J Swift – reviewed - a time travel tale with a focus on character and really reminded me of growing up in your twenties. Another author I want to read more of.

 

The Bastard Legion by Gavin G Smith – review incoming – violent grim SF tale of a penal mercenary crew that has one of the most interesting main characters in some time.  Quite a scary one actually…

Novellas and Short Stories (four out of last year’s TBR!)

Asian Monsters/European Monsters edited by Margret Helgadottir and Jo Thomas (European only)- reviewed – Two excellent Fox Spirit editions exploring myths and legends around the world

Uncanny Magazine Issue 20 – loved the mix!

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or day by Seanan Mcguire – review to follow – loved the idea of a New York with its unique ghost community

Ironclads by Adrian Tchaikovsky – review to follow – near future SF military thriller with a nice edge in satire

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Bo Bolander – reviewed – Yes amazing parallel history of elephants and radium girls – just read it!!

Non Fiction (1 out of last year’s TBR)

Lonely Planet Pocket Barcelona – I did not get lost

Graphic Novels (2 out of last year’s TBR)

Monstress Vol 2 by Marjorie M Liu – how can a world so pretty be so evil!! Love this series

Saga Vol 8 by Brian K Vaughan – nice return to form and I still never know what to expect

The Wicked  + The Divine Vol 6 by Kieron Gillen – felt like it treaded water and I would like a bit more plot in the next instalment

Wytches Vol 1 by Scott Snyder -a horror comic about a family finding out something in the woods is after their daughter.  Unnerving art but not quite hung together in first volume and looks like a wait until the next!

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What's Next?

I have a confession I don’t really like New Year’s Eve. Staying up late (usually with those who may be a tad worse for wear) isn’t really my cup of tea. I’m a lark more than an owl and I find some of the sentimentality on it a tad weird (hey I am an introvert!). But New Year’s Day?  That’s my kind of day the world is re-set; often asleep and hungover but it’s a day for me to start thinking about the future. If 2017 was me starting to find balance I want 2018 to be the year I start pacing myself better and reading wise you should see a bit more on the blog but I’ve a few more goals this year to do on it

a)       Read a bit more outside one genre – no fear not I’m not tiring of SF and Fantasy but looking at Mount TBR it would be worthwhile to remember I’ve a few more books with crime, history and science to read. Some of which have been calling me recently to help understand exactly where our planet has come from to get to the mess it is today (and give me signs of hope).

b)      Endings – I don’t like ending series.  I have realised this when finding out how many last volumes I have on one shelf so in the first half of the year you may find me focus on a few final volumes and have a chance to tell you about some series you should try.

c)       Gaps – There are quite a few well-known authors and series I have never got around to. In some quarters I am assured Sanderson, Erikkson etc are titans of the genre. Well let’s see and at the same time I’ve quite a few other names I want to try like Elliot, Wurts and Cherryh. This could be fun if I compare……..

d)      Short Stories – I feel very embarrassed how little short fiction I read when I think it would be really good for me with some of my time pressures.  I’ve quite a few compilations in TBR and I will be on the lookout for interesting ones to share

e)      Other Media – I’m way behind on TV and podcast dramas – this needs to change before I am spoiled on EVERYTHING

f)        The Wombelgariad (delayed by work but it is a coming this month and throughout 2017

g) Continue to challenge numpties who think SF should not tackle social issues

So that’s the aim for the blog. Right now, I’ve had a holiday and my batteries are recharged so let’s get to work.  

 

 

 

 

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Well that was a year!

So, we bid 2017 a farewell.  Globally a year where the bad decision making of 2016 came back to haunt us as I had feared but as I’m always the optimist I also saw signs that those in power have found that some people are still prepared to stand and say No and resist on many fronts.  My gut feeling is that 2018 will see this continue and grow; it may take time, but I think we will hear them crash to the ground one day… hey I like SF and Fantasy I’m used to these things taking volumes.

On a personal level 2017 was a relatively good year.  My big aim was to start focusing more and doing a few things I’ve been putting off for a long time.  I’m really pleased my diabetes is in a better place than it was 12 months ago; at work I did a project like one I attempted six years that beat me and this time I took it by the scruff of the neck and won; although the last three months have been a killer – hence a lot of radio silence; and then finally this blog has appeared.  I started ad hoc reviewing for the now ended GeekPlanetOnline a few years ago and if you know me I love books so as that site started to go quiet I thought time to try out on my own. I will always be grateful for Dave Probert for giving me the opportunity to start reviews and I would totally recommend you read his new blog at http://theprobertreport.wordpress.com for great commentary on the genre.  For me Dave was the heart and centre of GPO managing the bloggers and finding time to create some great podcasts.

Less than a year of my own blog and the one thing I now know is it requires dedication and I know for next year I intend to aim for a bit more regular content. To be fair the last few months of 2017 were just plain hard work;  but reading and talking about it gives me something I don’t have elsewhere in my life so be prepared for January to be seeing quite a few updates on what I read on those delayed late trains getting home this winter ! Good news I broadly loved them! Sharing what I have found is one of my greatest joys so that is definitely one of my aims for 2018 (it is a sacred womble oath).  There will be a companion piece to this tomorrow talking a bit more about what I want 2018 to be on here and a bit more widely

So that leaves….my faves of 2017!! I’m finishing on 105 books (thank you train companies for so much reading time when you’re late) and I think a pretty good year for books; the number I didn’t get on with was surprisingly small. If I reviewed it on here I enjoyed it (I’m not sure I will ever review or finish a truly bad book as they stop me from reading better ones and life is too short) so a few shout outs.

Why by Great Uncle Bulgaria Have I Not Read This Earlier?

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Still got to catch up on the TV series but I finally read this and firstly it is an amazingly sharp look at how women can be treated.  Haunting and tense and will stick in your memory for years.  The scariest thing – it feels a lot more contemporary than you would think…

Novellas Have I told you Lately How Much I Love You?

One of the recent joys (and here I do credit e-books) is we are seeing authors able to tell tales that are not a multi-volume epic of never ending build-up. Some that again stayed with me are

Arrival of the Missives by Aliya Whitely – one of the smartest stories I’ve read that confounded expectations.  Go in cold but trust me you’ll love this.  (Reviewed on the blog)

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle – a tale of racism that is applicable now as to when it was then. Hits you like a gale force wind; tackles Lovecraft’s racism and reminds the reader we are still living in a very flawed world.

It’s The End of the Series as We Know It

2017 has reminded me I have a lot of series to now finish so this is a theme to develop but three to mention so far are: -

The Split Worlds by Emma Newman (also reviewed on the blog) what appears to be a simple tale of a parallel world d and their dealing with the fae over five books becomes a searing takedown of patriarchal society and the need for equality.  I was so happy to see this series finish so strongly

The Broken Earth by N K Jemisin – (I’m trying to work on a review to give this justice) this may be my new favourite fantasy trilogy for the decade.  Yes, it’s that good! A tale of people battling an apocalypse has been done before but in this case, it combines that with discussions on race, sex and asks the question if you believe your society cannot be fixed what should you do?  Amazingly inventive and just as important takes you on an emotional journey.

Discworld by Terry Pratchett – On twitter I’ve started a daily account @discworldreads looking at a discworld book each month (workdays allowing!) and it’s fascinating to watch the evolution of a writer.  The early books feel like rough sketches but now after Wyrd Sisters and Guards Guards I’m spotting a writer prepared to take risks, develop characters and quite frankly become the writer of some of my later faves.  A reminder that debuts are great but watching how authors develop over several boos can also be satisfying (something for 2018 to watch)

Let Me Be Your Fantasy!

These three already reviewed on the blog but a reminder

The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams – This time after the Sword and Sorcery of The Copper Cat Trilogy comes a look at Epic Fantasy and I think it looks to be a fantastic story.  Does something new and may also contain spaceships….

Age of Assassins by RJ Barker – now the other great tale of an Assassin’s Apprentice that does a mystery novel in a fantasy environment. Fascinating world, great characters and a sense of humour – one to watch

Under the Pendulum Sky by Jeannette Ng - subversive, eerie and not afraid to tackle theology this tale is well worth your time as Victorian Missionaries try to convert the Fae.  A book the more you think about the more you realise how smart it is

Together in Electric Dreams

My Favourite for 2017 - The one book I read in January that stayed with me throughout the year and I’ve been pushing onto as many people as I can……

The Power by Naomi Alderman – A story that explores how society would react if women developed the power to fire electricity. While it tackles gender inequalities it also really explores how humans react to those with power – we fear it, love it and want it. The worldbuilding is amazing, the use of character to explain ideas is spot on and the science fiction of the idea and its consequences is done very cleverly.  If you’ve not read it…off, you go…right now….

 

So, I leave you on the last day of the year with the words of a fine Doctor with some advice for 2018

“Never be cruel, never be cowardly. And, never ever eat pears! Remember – hate is always foolish…and love, is always wise. Always try to be nice and never fail to be kind…. Laugh Hard. Run Fast. Be Kind”

 

May there always be cake

 

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Blindspots

I like to think of myself as fair-minded and progressive. I love reading and been a fan of science fiction and fantasy for many years - it's all about the glorious future or strange new worlds and civilisations but around five or six years ago there was an online debate about blogs and representation.  A lot of the major blogs at the time were challenged over the lack of women being reviewed and I (at the time just a reader) decided to have a look at how many books I was reading by women and it was around 30%!!!    To put it bluntly I was acting in a sexist way.

Why am I raising this? Well for the last few months I've been lurking in a facebook fantasy forum - which is quite large and has members from around the world.  Over the months I spotted something interesting.  Every time someone asked for book recommendations - it would be books made by men.  Often books that hadn't been that recently released. I could easily guess after a few months they would quote - Sanderson, Rothfuss, Lawrence , Eriksson etc. Yes, all very big authors but I noticed a lot of my fellow male SF fans seemed...well not actually to have read that much fantasy certainly not it's more recent authors and in particular those by women.

Some more recent posts I would say have underlined this disparity and I got a sense many men didn't think there was an issue so I asked the group a simple question.  How many books have you read this year and how many were by women.  In a (totally unscientific) survey of around 50 responses the average number of books read was over 50; women read 53/47 in favour of women but men......only 25% of books were by women.  JUST A QUARTER!!!

That was bad enough but some of the responses were just tiresome

- I don't read books by women as I only read fantasy (Le SIGH)

- as a guy I largely read series (LE SIGH)

- male authors have the better covers (LE GRITTED TEETH)

- men wrote more books (WOMBLE STARE)

- women are too emotional and don't get men right (WOMBLE STARE OF DEATH)

- I don't see gender I just read a good story (even if in those cases women were hardly evident in their annual reads!) (WOMBLE SMASH)

Roughly speaking women make up approximately half the population of the planet so if you don't see gender I would think you'd manage the average wouldn't you?

 But amazingly the books they thought would be the best reads are by men in huge numbers. What a purely weird coincidence! Now I doubted most of the men had explicitly chosen this but I do think they were implicitly biased towards men; the reasons for this will be many - as kids many of us are told there are books for men and women; go into a bookshop and I'm always amazed how many tables in the SF section are vastly male and we have already discussed over years there have been a bias in some blogs towards male authors.  All of which creates an environment that unfortunately I think has influenced men to focus on men BUT ITS 2017 AND WE SHOULD KNOW BETTER BY NOW.

I've been following this debate for years. After I realised a few years ago that I was acting stupidly I made an effort to get to around 50/50 and these days it's norm for me.  Many women who have written books; write blogs or host podcasts have been calmly explaining the concept of bias and opening our eyes to a larger world so I'm quite disappointed when I see so many years later that many seemingly rational people who can engage in sensible discussion seem incapable of thinking they are at fault or need to change their behaviour. Our genre is supposed to be the imaginative one; the books that can create whole new countries and yet we default to a mythical white male-led cod-European setting as default that didn't even happen in our own middle ages. Our genre explores power structures all over the place yet we seem more than happy to ignore discussing and challenging gender roles preferring to instead default to 'the classics' be it insipid love interest or damsel or in some case sexually assaulted to  give our lantern jawed hero motivation.

If you believe the world should be a better place and I'd be scared if you thought this one was healthy at the moment then the obligation is on YOU to do better.  No one likes to admit they're in the wrong - it's hurtful; it's embarrassing and it casts an unwelcome glance into our characters and beliefs but this will not kill you.  I'm suggesting you are limiting yourself if you do this and by starting to look a little outside your comfort zones you're actually going to find MORE books; new authors to enjoy and new perspectives that I think might make you think about our world more; why it is the way it is and how it could change for better or worse. I think the likes of Frances Hardinge; VE Schwab, NK Jemisin, Kate Griffin, Nnedi Okorafor, Seanan McGuire, Alyssa Whiteley and so many more are equal to any man in the the task of telling you a great story in whatever segment of SF you're looking for. Can't find one? Then ask me and if I can't suggest one I bet I know someone who does.

And I'm going to be honest I don't think achieving parity is that much to ask of you - you've reached base camp when the books you read match one of the most basic splits in our society; you may also want to consider how many authors who are people of colour you read; LGBT etc. Some will say well this is quotas for reading but I think we ALL (and I know I need to do better too) should if we believe this is the genre that can change the world should be prepared to do our bit and make our choices representative of our own world and challenge the role many of us have in it.  To actually be as open minded as we like to think we are and you will have more books and all bookworms love more books.  Going into bookshop or library and missing out on half the books sounds horrific- why do that to yourself?

Finally while this issue was getting discussed on Twitter I would like to share a bingo card that my friend @lazyhedwig made that records all the standard clichés why men do not read books by women feel free to check them off next time you see this debate.

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