Being Clear About Stuff

One particular response, on a blog, to that podcast interview I just did made me realise that I hadn't been as precise as I could be. It hurt a great deal to be misunderstood to the extent of someone thinking I believed the exact opposite of what I do. It was my own fault for a poor choice of words. Having contacted the chap who thought I was a bigot (and I still don't know his reaction), I realised that I wanted to say this out loud. I don't think I'm a liberal any more, though I still sit, awkwardly, with the left. But I'm still a very liberal Anglican Christian. I think being gay is exactly the same ethical condition as being straight. I don't think it's wrong, sinful, a crime, bad, in any way shape or form, no way, no how, at no time, in no sense, ever. As I said in the podcast (but I'm not sure said blogger was listening by that point), I'd like to see full on gay marriage, performed by a priest, available in churches, and exact equality in every other sense too. I think sexual preference will one day be regarded as being as ethically neutral as whether or not one likes tomatoes. And I hope that day is soon.

Phew. Just for once I'm looking forward to facing protests from the right. I haven't had those for such a long time. Getting old.

Oh, and there is no reliable definition of what makes a character a Doctor Who companion. Just thought I'd slip that in. Nobody's going to pay any attention to that uncontroversial opinion. Cheerio.

New Podcast Interview

It's been a while since I recorded it, but I think possibly the best interview I've ever done (and it's huge!) features in the new DWO Whocast:

http://www.thewhocast.com/DWOWhocast/default.asp

We mainly talk about Doctor Who, mostly 'Human Nature', but we end up covering everything under the sun. Do check out the bit right after the end titles.

Also, I'm pleased to say that I'm going to be popping along to the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga in November (where I'll find out if Deanna Hoak wins her much deserved World Fantasy Award for copyediting). But unfortunately not to Fantasycon in Nottingham, owing to work commitments. Until I see you across the pond, or here next time, Cheerio!

The Vision Thing

After yesterday's enormous blog, I'll keep this brief. I'm delighted to say that, as was announced at Baltimore Comic Con on Saturday, I'm going to be writing the fourth issue of a five issue miniseries from Marvel Comics, each of which spotlights a different member of the Young Avengers. My issue concerns The Vision. The series starts in January. I'm particularly glad to be doing this, because I'm very fond of these characters, as I believe many of you are also, and I got along famously with their creator, Allan Heinberg, when we met at the Bristol Comics Expo earlier this year. I recently asked him what he'd like me to do, and we've been chatting about the plot for the issue. I'm also very pleased to be sharing a miniseries with writers of the calibre of Ed Brubaker, Brian Reed and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. I'm having such a good time at Marvel. I hope you like the series when you see it. Cheerio!

Japan and Worldcon

We’re back from Japan, and just about over the jetlag, having toured the country for two weeks before enjoying the World Science Fiction Convention in Yokohama. I’m sorry that I haven’t, for technical reasons (that is, I couldn’t replicate a kanji password) been blogging all these weeks. To make up for it, here’s my A-Z of Japan and Worldcon.

Anders’ Eleven. It’s always my particular joy at Worldcons to become part of the gang that revolves around Lou Anders, genial editor of Pyr Books. Perhaps this is influenced by the fact that we’re often in luxurious hotels in tuxedos, and that Lou can talk badda bing, but I sometimes wonder if he’s not recruiting specialists for some kind of grand robbery. (‘We’ve got Roberson working the bar, and McDonald for the heavy stuff.’) This time round I was particularly impressed with the personal honour of artist John Picacio, who’s playing the long game in terms of his many Hugo nominations, and doing so with tremendous integrity. It’s always good to have a gang, and this year lovely academic Jessica Langer found herself added to it (hmm, Lou didn’t have an academic…) and thus immediately impersonating Picacio’s wife to get into the Hugo party. Jessica specialises in post-colonialism, particularly in the sphere of SF, but had never encountered fandom before. Her reaction was a kind of boggled joy. We were plonked together on the Aardvark panel (the first of the convention) and it was also a pleasure to hear from her on a very well-mannered panel about the treatment of religious characters in SF. The atheists on the panel showed great kindness to those of us of the opposite persuasion, and intelligent debate ruled throughout, particularly due to the influence of another friendly face I encountered for the first time that weekend, the laid-back and thoughtful Hugo –winning author Robert Charles Wilson. And one of the bonuses of being one of Anders’ eleven (hmm, I’m the only Brit…) is getting to see our fan friend Karen Jones, who only appears at conventions, and seems consistently amazed that her ready wit gets her folded into this gang of roving Hugo nominees.

Britishness. The Japanese seem to me to be very British. All the advertising is: huge fanfare, then wry deflating punchline. My favourite Japanese advert concerns a hard-faced businessman, looking away in noble fury in a darkened corner, as his lackey desperately bows and scrapes. But beside his lackey is his PA, holding one of those lovely cans of chilled coffee, pointing and looking baffled. ‘Why is he doing that? Why’s it dark in here? Why are we all being so weird?!’ The punchline is: this brand is ‘European Coffee’. I love that very British sense of self-mockery, of domestic smallness as a virtue. The coverage of the IAAF athletics meeting in Osaka displayed a similar Eurovision sensibility. High-powered clips of the athletes in action, all the stats, actually a bit more exciting than the western way of doing it, but then clips of when we took these chummy and human athletes out to play video games last night, and back to Japanese Terry Wogan commentating, who’s still waiting for that Russian pole-vaulter to stop lying there with a towel over her head… we’ll be giving you regular updates on that. The Japanese are so British that their idea of a ‘curry’ is what my Dad still thinks it is: beef stew with a bit of curry powder.

China. I had a mad panel with the aforementioned Robert Charles Wilson and astronomer Inge Heyer, amongst others, about whether or not science fiction was still ‘necessary’. It was an extremely satisfying ninety minutes, because with an enthusiastic audience we got into the meat of the matter. ‘Is the Western necessary?’ ‘I’m making a call to arms for SF writers!’ I gabbled a bit in my excitement, and rather offended Inge with my opinion that Star Trek represents a Communist future (it does, and it’s lovely). I also opined that, in the face of global warming, it might not be a bad idea for a repressive and centrally-powerful government to persist in China for a bit longer. I kind of regretted it as soon as I said it, because, you know, not a big fan of political prisoners and torture. So I thought I’d just plonk China and torture here next to each other in this blog, and make sure that, though Blogger in general gets through to the People’s Republic, this blog now won’t. But I do stand by my expressed opinion that those who listed ‘Jedi’ as their religion on the last British census should be rounded up and put in some sort of camps. No, not like that! As if! What do you think I am, some sort of fascist? (Well, okay, compared to most British SF writers I am.) I mean Butlins holiday camps, obviously. Where they can be smug at each other on the water rides.

Destruction. Hiroshima isn’t a tourist town. It’s a bit of a grim industrial nowhere. But at its heart is a splendid museum given over to the atom bomb attack on the city. The dome which remained standing at ground zero is also present at the edge of the Peace Park, and, very much in tune with the Japanese desire to Get On With Things (the start of each season is celebrated for including something to look forward to), was the subject of much debate in terms of getting rid of it and moving on. But I’m glad it’s there. The museum reaches back to the start of atomic weapons research in an attempt to explain why all this happened, in a very even-handed way. The decision to bomb at all, and to bomb Hiroshima in particular, is handled with a clinical fairness I’m not sure I could have mustered. It’s agreed that Hiroshima was a garrison town, for example, but then the meaning of that is gone into further: a garrison town like Salisbury, or Winchester. Even after having witnessed the horror, via some heartbreaking witness statements, I still think one such bomb, on a target that included civilians (so that the military couldn’t just suicidally take the loss and carry on), might have been justified. Better that for the Japanese than Stalin invading. It’s the second bomb I can’t countenance. As if my approval or otherwise means anything now. Though it means something to my Dad, who might have had to storm those beaches. I’m immensely pleased that, rather than express a bland desire for peace, the town of Hiroshima puts forward a precise anti-nuclear sentiment, congratulating, for example, South Africa when it gave up its nuclear weapons, and sending a damning telegram about every weapons test.



Eccentricity. Now, Jonathan Ross has a genuine love for Japan, but I do think his Japanorama TV show, as part of its BBC3 remit, emphasises freakishness. Consider what such a show could do with Britain: visit the annual church service for clowns; show people chasing cheese down hillsides; a night out with the Sealed Knot. When you see a single highly fashionable Japanese person, put in the frame of a TV picture, there’s a slightly racist thought in the back of even our most liberal brains: that’s someone else’s culture they’re copying, and they look weird doing it. When you’re surrounded by fashionable Japanese people, being incredibly stylish, everyone, even the old guy with the little Sinatra hat, having their own shtick, you realise that it’s a vibrant expression of, yes, individuality. (Don’t get me started on what guidebooks say about the Japanese psyche: it’s like you’re visiting the planet Vulcan. I’d love to see what they say about Britain.) It’s the second act of Lost in Translation that people forget, that our heroes get past the fake surface (which is Tokyo, basically) and discover a real country with loads of heart.

Friends. It was also groovy, at Worldcon, to run into people I’ve grown to know and love in the SF world, like the author Pat Cadigan (we tend to yell caustically at each other as we pass, causing one interviewer I was sat with to gasp in dismay), Charlie Stross (in kilt or Samurai style all weekend), and Rachel Manija Brown (who this year was part of the Henson Company panel, where they premiered some behind the scenes footage of their new studio, which uses virtual reality to allow actors to improvise during the production of animation). Rachel was wearing something so high fashion that I believe she also found time to team up with Batman and fight crime. I didn’t get a picture, I’m afraid. I didn’t dare. It was a pleasure as always to run into members of the Plokta fanzine cabal, of whom Flick Christian was used as a kimono model in one panel on traditional Japanese costume. Author Jon Courtenay Grimwood was kind enough to pop along to my ‘meet your readers over a cuppa’ session. Academic Farah Mendlesohn roped me in to a panel where she explained the results of a large survey of SF readers she’d carried out, the biggest underlined message of which was: authors, if you want women to read it, put a strong female lead in it. The panel came to some conclusions concerning the separateness, and perhaps superiority of, fan culture, the glory of which I sometimes embrace and sometimes find disturbing, and that instant of understanding my own division was a little moment of hungover epiphany for me. And, finally, I was only able to congratulate in passing Campbell Award winner Naomi Novik, with whom I share a number of friends and a love for Livejournal-based fan fiction, but whom I know personally not at all. She’s very much using her success to represent fan fiction (or derivative fiction, as she calls it), and I for one applaud that.



Ghibli. We paid a visit to the museum created in honour of Studio Ghibli, the animation company founded by master director Hayao Miyazaki. The highlight for me was a recreation of the director’s office, with every book that influenced him, every bit of mad clutter. His design for the museum extended even to the sale of lemonade in old fashioned bottles stoppered by marbles. And there was a Catbus (from My Neighbour Totoro) for small children to play in. The museum isn’t perhaps as large as one might expect, and it stands in a public park that, by Japanese standards, is incredibly grubby, but there’s a low door price and the new twenty minute animated movie that plays at the attraction, concerning a water spider’s love for a predatory surface skimmer, is worth that alone. Ghibli also had a presence at Worldcon, displaying backgrounds for their new Tales of Earthsea in the art show.

Hugos. The Hugo Awards ceremony began with a striking bit of choreography as many different versions of kitsch Sixties Japanese TV superhero Ultraman expertly fought off a host of rubber monsters:

Ultraman fighto!

Host George ‘Mr. Sulu’ Takei kept up an expertly wry commentary for the English speakers, while his co-hosts kept up an (untranslated) comedy routine about how Takei had appeared in a number of dodgy fan fiction stories. The translation of some lengthy acceptance speeches slowed things down a bit, but once we got to the Hugos proper, things went by at a reasonable pace. Steven Moffat, over for the weekend with his lovely wife Sue Vertue, kept his speech to a pithy two lines about reading, as a child, in Starlog magazine, that Doctor Who would never win a Hugo. We proceeded to celebrate, first at a reception where the nominees received a Hugo-themed Japanese fan each, and then in the many shoeless parties, Moffat carrying the Hugo before him like a season ticket. We ended up in the early hours stumbling into at a party for the very fine project (probably) that is the Merril SF library:

Very worthy.

The details of what followed are vague. I recall playing devil’s advocate and getting into a political row of some kind, while Moffat may have discovered the joys of cosplay (that is, wearing an SF-related costume) and arranged some photographs of willing participants. When I unpacked my waistcoat, I discovered someone had slipped a sachet of massage oil into one of the pockets. It must be said, though, that our wives were in the room somewhere. If anyone from the Merril Library would like to get in touch, I would like to apologise to the victim of my political ear-bending. And, erm, we hope you didn’t expect a party about a library to be… quiet. But it was a lovely night.





In season. Autumn started bang on the dot of the first day of autumn, the temperature dropping and the rain pouring down on the first day of Worldcon. The night before, the local store had a cold coffee cabinet. The next morning it had a hot one. And I told Lou Anders to bring shorts.

Japan’s Previous Capital. Kyoto is everything Tokyo isn’t, the heart and soul of Japan. A major modern city with history interlaced through its streets. Ultramodern station (with permanent Astro Boy exhibit!), ancient temple, skyscraper, shrine. We loved it so much we went there twice. I have strangely homely feelings towards it. The first night we were there was the last night of the Bon Odori festival, called Daimonji, where five enormous Mon symbols are set on fire, one after the other, on five hills surrounding the city. Crowds in yukatas flock from one vantage point to another, taking fast food and music with them. A Japanese festival is an enormously warm community experience: so many anime feature them as moments of great friendship and joy, and the real thing leaves you feeling hugged.

Kabuki. We went to see some kabuki theatre in Osaka. It’s a long night, with four different plays being staged, of varying lengths, and an interlude where you eat your boxed dinner in the stalls. The dialogue of the actors is supported by a small band with traditional instruments, and a singer/narrator. I was struck by some similarities to panto, kabuki being a community based activity, the big city version featuring celebrities and being the apex of smaller local theatres all over the place. The first three stories began with a rather stiff legendary tale, but got increasingly less serious, until by the third one we were in full on panto territory, as our hero, rubbing his palms together, scampered onto the stage through the audience, talking to them as a confidante, saying that here he was in this lovely little town, aiming to make some money, and proceeding, while telling us his plans throughout, to trick everyone and do exactly that, with drunken fortune tellers and randy couples tripping over each other in his con game. I say panto because of that audience involvement, but also because the plays are set in a Japanese story book land, with princesses and castles, while being definitely aware of their modern audience. They’re bawdy, not shining cultural artifacts. And all the women are played by men. The look of the first three plays suggested that, as with the origins of panto, the nobility would pop in for the cold and prestigious first bit, then stay for the romp. But the last play turned all that on its head, being a terrible tragedy of doomed love, with some exquisite stage work as a cabin became a boat and a stretch of river. (And oddly, there was a big laugh at the end from the comedy workmen who had to carry our doomed lover away to his exile, hitching up their pants as if to say thanks for sticking with us if you were here for the hijinks.) All in all it felt like a very vital form, not set in amber or a tourist attraction. And the best thing of all, and something else a bit like panto: the audience call out. At certain points, on a character’s first entrance, or when a speech or a particularly dramatic piece of movement happens, members of the audience will shout the actor’s name, or the character’s, or basically yell ‘go on, my son!’ We should have that at the National.

Leaves on the line. Trains in Japan run on time. There’s an arrival time on your ticket, it’s down to the minute (10.04), and in our experience it’s always right. We had a Japan Rail Pass (only available abroad) which, for less than the cost of a Tokyo-Kyoto return, provides two weeks unlimited travel up and down the islands. We had a Green Car Pass, basically first class, but when you’re on a shinkansen bullet train, with huge legroom and reclining seats, the rail companies can’t really think of much to make first class better. A lady came round selling bento lunch boxes… but I think she went round the other carriages too.

Manners. The perception is that if you tie your yukata the wrong way, ninjas will leap from the wardrobe. What actually will happen is that Mama-san will laugh, shake her finger at you, and do a mime about how to tie it. Nobody expects you to get everything right, and these are immensely sociable people who care much more that everyone’s comfortable than that everyone’s doing the right thing. If you’re trying to get it right, that’s manners enough. (If there is a genuine taboo, it might be to do with death and chopstick etiquette. If I’d taken the bones of my mother apart and placed them in urns using these culinary implements, I might not want to be reminded of that day by some dolt in a noodle bar.)



No sign of Mount Fuji. We went up into the hills, on many trains. We took lengthy bus rides. We got to many places where it should have been visible. But thanks to heavy start of autumn fog, we’re the couple who went to Japan and didn’t see Fuji San.

Opening ceremony. The Mayor of Yokohama opened the Worldcon, brought onstage in a rickshaw. He greeted us from several million people. He could have pointed out, though he didn’t, that Yokohama was where the Japanese experienced something very like first contact, the technologically advanced ‘black ships’ of the US Navy forcefully entering the port to sign a trade deal and end the nation’s isolation in 1853. It’s an event which still seems to resound more in the national psyche that the atomic bomb does. Weirdly, Yokohama now is the most unJapanese place, a fake American shopping city that seems almost an attempt to contain that alien arrival. (And wonderfully, a couple of smaller places we passed through claimed pre-1853 sightings and close encounters with American sailors, in the breathless tones of UFO tales.) This was Worldcon’s first time in Asia, never mind Japan, and Fan Guest of Honour Takumi Shibano, an SF magazine editor of legendary standing, tearfully called it the best day of his life. You got that legacy feeling from many aspects of the event, that this was something the fan community here had worked towards for many years. I must say, despite a few translation issues, all in all they did an outstanding job.

Podcasting. I was looking forward to a nice relaxing natter about blogging for my last panel of the convention, but a Tor Books chap flipped a release form down in front of all of us for a podcast of the panel, featuring as it did the dapper Tor supremo, Patrick Nielsen Hayden. So, a sudden hundredfold increase in audience, no pressure at all to be funny and charming. And indeed, I may not have been. We did talk about the terrible fear of an audience wandering off while one has been away from a blog for some time. You are still out there… aren’t you? The podcast will soon, I should think, be found, along with some other cool Worldcon features, here:

Tor audio goodness.

Queer as Fuji. There’s a sidestreet in Kyoto that the guidebook strongly hinted, without saying it out loud, is the centre of gay nightlife in the city. Which is interesting, because homophobia (alongside various racism issues with their neighbours) is the dark side to this country I’ve come to love. Things are changing swiftly (as with feminism, in that we encountered a lot less sexism that we expected), but it’s still a difficult place to be out. Which is odd, considering the lack of Shinto and Buddhist taboos about sexuality, homosexuality among the samurai, and the fact that same sex crushes at school are almost seen as a rite of passage, with much greater acceptance than in the west. ‘Hard Gay’, the comedy character, beloved of a family audience for his pastiche of a tough, singing, gay man, might be a step, though he might horrify a western liberal audience. And the comedian’s not gay. So that might be just Amos and Andy, rather than Julian and Sandy. Anyhow, Pontocho Alley was hardly Canal Street, with some touristy restaurants, some craft shops, and maybe only a couple of places whose signage said ‘so we’re a bar, go away’. I’d like to hear more about this subject from those better informed than I.

Ryokan. We stayed many nights at various different Japanese inns up and down the country. We got used to the caring service that provided instant cold green tea for sweaty travelers, and the breakfasts, many different small dishes, based like everything else around rice and miso soup, and the sparse coolness of the rooms. At the end of the day we’d shower, then go and relax in enormous Japanese onsen baths, intended purely to slow one down to the edge of sleep. And I’ve never slept better than on those futons on tatami mats. In one ryokan, in Hakone, we ordered dinner, which was brought to our room, and comprised seventeen different small dishes. And a tiny sweet. We lost a lot of weight on the fat-lacking Japanese diet (mainly because we didn’t indulge in the cakes). It’s still difficult to get many of the staples in the west, and I regret that, because I now miss how egg, miso, rice, pickles and fish can meld together so well.



Shinto and Buddhism. The nation’s two main religions are spectacularly ecumenical with each other, mostly sharing the same sites with their shrines and temples, so close they often blend together. Esoteric Buddhism has gone all the way, recognising the Shinto gods and spirits as part of its pantheon. You hear stories of how such and such a Shinto being helped with the construction of this or that Buddhist temple. The influence of Buddhism is more obvious because it’s easier for a westerner to understand, but both faiths here are about a sense of place, and while initially offput by Shinto claiming worship of the landscape and then covering said landscape with bright orange pillars, I’ve started to get a handle on it. I’d thought its lack of moral imperatives and tendency towards fortune telling and wish granting made it more of a superstition, the first major world religion I hadn’t believed in. But after a while I began to shake that prejudice off, and found there was something about the Japanese perception of what we might call ghosts, that one’s ancestors stay in the landscape, and might woozily wake from their sleep, that was quite appealing. It’s good to be in a culture where one has an alcove in one’s hotel room reserved for a rock, because the shape of said rock suits the room, and brings with it a spirit of the countryside outside the room. Again, I know nothing, only a beginning, and wish to know more.



Toilet paper. Japan isn’t a difficult country to tour. It’s spectacularly easy. The SF perception of it says samurai or cyberpunk. It’s more Cider With Rosie. Everyone’s lovely and wants to help. The signage is all in English as well as Japanese. And despite what every guidebook says, every single public and hotel lavatory we ever encountered, in three weeks of going up and down the country, had an entirely proper supply of toilet paper. Even that hole in the ground near Kyoto Museum that I sprinted into and helplessly gawped at.

Unusual Signs. Okay, the Japanese take translation the least seriously of any major country. And sometimes they just like the look or sound of English words, much like we put kanji on everything without thinking about the meaning. I enjoyed ‘Let’s Eat Hawaii’, ‘Lunch and Viking’, the ‘Cabbages and Condoms’ snack bar, and particularly the ‘Oops!’ hairdressing salon. Some of the panel descriptions in the convention booklet were oblique to the point of bogglement also. ‘Stuffed toys, plush animals, rag dolls, whatever it calls – and its lover. Let’s chat and touch other, as you like.’

Vending machines. Every few hundred metres, wherever you are, even up the holy mountain on Miyajima island, where nobody is allowed to be born or die (and thank goodness there’s a ten minute ferry to the mainland), there’ll be a vending machine with very cold drinks. The usual, plus bottled cold green tea (the Japanese vanilla, it’s served instantly and free in cafes, and is the default ice cream flavour), those little cans of coffee, beer (try doing that in Britain) and my favourite, Pocari Sweat. There is logic in that name: it’s a (gorgeous) sport drink designed to replace what you’ve just sweated out.

World Enough and Time. It was a pleasure to share a couple of lunches and a panel at Worldcon with Marc Zicree, writer of some of my favourite Star Trek episodes, and now the creator of ‘World Enough and Time’, a fan-produced Trek episode that premiered at the convention. It’s Sulu-centric, with George Takei appearing as an older version of the character, and it brings that old time Trek glow, with great Kirk/Spock/McCoy dialogue, entirely professional effects, and a gleaming lack of injokes. Do take a look:

Engines cannae take it.

X-rated. The vast majority of anime is suitable for all ages, and even the stuff for adults is usually entirely tasteful, and yet, once in Japan, you realise that, to a much greater extent than fanboys in the west, the otaku, the serious lifestyle fans, really are regarded with distaste and suspicion. I got my first nasty looks of the whole holiday when wearing my Haruhi t-shirt. (And only three people recognised it at Worldcon, one of whom was wearing the same shirt, another of whom was dressed as Haruhi.) I think that bias might be down to the way the otaku do cling to the seedier side of their image. In every nine floor mega-manga-shop in the Akihabara district of Tokyo, there’s a basement full of doujin, fan porn (usually) comics featuring mainstream characters. And this is the culture that produces fanservice, deliberate jiggling and up the skirt shots in some series that really would do fine without it. My wife, indeed, follows some of those comics because of the strong female characters and storylines, and blurs past the pandering. I’d like to see western anime fans protest against this stuff in translation. It’s not entirely about sexism, it’s also that, as a man reading it, you’re made to feel complicit. Also, great, non-fanservice shows like Haruhi and Lucky Star are damned by association. It’s not porn, it’s smut, and fan culture can embrace outsiderness without worshipping it.

Yet more Worldcon. I really should mention the anime-related panels I didn’t get to (though it does seem there’s a divide in Japanese fandom between SF and anime fans, just as in the rest of the world, and the convention wasn’t as anime-heavy as we’d expected). ‘Is Sgt. Frog a good leader?’ was one I wanted to attend (Sgt. Frog being a charming anime for all ages about a feckless and cute alien invader, that I’ll blog about some other time), and I do regret not making it to the tutorial on how to perform the dance from the end titles of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Best of all was a vast anime concert that Caroline popped into, where a singer blasted out a series of theme tunes and led the whole audience in a singalong.



Zero crime. Japan is the safest country in the world. The happy policemen with their tourist maps sitting in an office on every third street corner help. The villages in which everyone lives, not just in the countryside, but in streets and apartment blocks where everyone knows each other and belongs to a committee, help. The culture in which children are raised in a spirit of all pulling together and all being on the same team, help. We like to think it’s about discipline and bullying, because otherwise we in the west would be, frankly, ashamed. It’s a country that runs, to quote Doctor Who, on everyone just being very nice to each other. And I’d swap that iota of personal expression that I’d be deprived of by its nanny state for the vast freedom safety produces. On our first night, I asked our hostess about the slight earthquake we’d experienced in the early hours. I wasn’t sure if it had been, because I hadn’t heard any car alarms going off. She smiled at me. ‘We don’t have car alarms,’ she said.

Announcements:

ITEM! A small plastic figure of the Doctor also had many of the above adventures, detailed in photo form here:

Ten Aww!

At least you get a shot of the Madame de Pompadour bakery, which was one level down from the convention hotel. I’m astonished I didn’t get the faculty together to photograph Moffat in front of that. And there’s a scary photo of me, having been up a bit late the night before. And you get a close look at the Hugo trophy.

ITEM! Due to work commitments, I’m sorry that I’ve had to pull out of the Regenerations convention in Swansea. Good luck to the organisers, and I hope everyone going along has a great time.

ITEM! May I commend to you this new website, Science Fiction Awards Watch?

Gossip ahoy.

They’re in business to keep track of news and gossip about all the different awards, and are currently running a poll about suggested changes to the Hugo voting system. Myself, I’d hate to see voting for the awards on the day of the convention. It’d turn into a vast bidding war of publishers trying to buy votes with parties. And though myself and fellow author David Louis Edelman are salivating at the prospect of such bunfights, we, and you, should be protected from that dangerous side of our natures. Although I’d like to see a Young Adult category, I voted for No Changes, because I want to indicate my opposition to any change in the voting methods. And as for a free internet based vote, that’s what the Locus Awards are for. You want to vote for a Hugo: you come and support your community at Worldcon.

ITEM! For those of you on Facebook, there’s now a group devoted to my creation Bernice Summerfield. It’s called ‘Oh Goddess! The Offical Benice Summerfield Rocks Group thing!’ (sic). It feels rather oafish to point out that it might be an idea, in order to attract likeminded readers, to spell our heroine’s name correctly. And the group isn’t actually official. Though it may well be offical. However, I still applaud its existence, wish its creator well, and urge you all to go there. (And in our individualistic society, chaps, isn’t it odd how ‘official’ is becoming a synonym for ‘it rocks, dude’?)

ITEM! And still on that subject, issue three of Shooty Dog Thing, the free, downloadable fanzine, is now out, and this one is, I’m thrilled to say, a Bernice Summerfield special! Do take a look:

Shooty.

ITEM! If, like me, you’ve been thinking you’d like to see soft toys based on the Excalibur comic book team, then the long wait is over…

The Sword is Sewn.

I love the smiley Captain Britain.

ITEM! And finally, my Agent, who I just managed to narrowly beat in the most ferocious Scrabble match of all time, presented me with this Iain Banks themed trophy:

I hope to collect the entire set.

Until we next meet, and goodness I hope it won’t be nearly so long this time, Cheerio!