Casual Friday: Bread and Circuses

It hasn't been as busy a work week as some recent ones.  Monday was spent on Project M, which is proceeding apace, and yes, I know you have no idea what that means.  I wrote fifteen pages of Demon Knights, 3000 words of prose, for a new novelette that's been requested by somewhere very pleasing, and, for the next issue of Vector, an article about the psychogeography of London.  I also got within two seconds of my personal best time for a two mile run.  Which is both pleasing and frustrating.  On Wednesday night I went along to the BSFA open meeting, which this time round was a discussion of the BSFA Awards, hosted by their organiser, Donna Scott.  I was rather in two minds beforehand as to what to do when the panel came to discussing the Short Fiction category, in which I'm nominated, but as it turned out they were kind enough to say they enjoyed my story, and I could safely stay in the room without limiting their critique.  I came away from the whole thing having had loads of lovely conversation, feeling cossetted by my genre.

And you know when there's a new huge controversy in SF, and you don't really want to comment because it involves your all-time favourite author, and besides, everyone has already said anything you might say about it, and you'd just be re-hashing their points of view?  Yeah, that.  Anyway...

Another question in our This Time Next Year Game has been answered, question 12.  The June issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine is out, and despite some good guesses, none of you correctly identified any of the authors featured therein.  (I'm amazed that many of you thought that was my cute way of announcing I'd placed another story there!) So the leaderboard remains as it was.

Yesterday we went to see The Hunger Games, which I found pleasing.  (Enormous SPOILERS follow.)  It's good to see a huge box office hit that's a proper movie.  By that I mean that it's not just a series of crowd-pleasing things held up in front of us, but approaches us with story and draws us in.  Indeed, it's enormously interior, a rising tension generated by the way the direction stays close to facial features, often blurring backgrounds, including big CGI design work other SF films would be desperate to show off.  That's just what's out there, the picture says, it's what's inside this person that's important.  That's incredibly refreshing, the reverse of recent Hollywood logic.  (This closeness to the lead also allows the violence to be played at a level that's appropriate for the age certificate; it's horrible, but it's glimpsed somewhere over there as she's running from it.)  The movie is finished, complete, ready to show to an audience, without flapping loose ends created by conflict inside the production.  It's incredible that that's become a great compliment.  Okay, the story is a teenage story, where the world parents made is so unfair.  It asks us to loftily condemn the spectacle of violence while really enjoying it.  ('This terrible dystopia forces me to kill bullies in really satisfying ways, while neatly never encountering an actual ethical dilemma.')  But so what?  Big hit movies are about indulging us like that.  I was a little sighing about how the only way the politics connect with anything approaching a critique of the modern world is that there are still, and always have been, bread and circuses.  But I quite liked that the tyranny is so complete that we come to like characters who help our heroes but still do not for a minute rebel against the way things are.  When winning the Games is the best you can hope for, then winning the Games is heroism.  (I know the sequels will change all that, but this is what's in front of me now.)  Jennifer Lawrence is an excellent lead, and the whole cast felt well chosen and directed.  The movie as a whole gives the impression that Katniss and Peeta might have really become a couple during the Games, while the book (I gather) is firmly on the side of that all being for the cameras.  (And is it a sign of the times that Spartacus now needs media coaching?)  That struck me as having your cake and eating it.  But all in all, I was very impressed, and I hope this leads to more female leads in action movies, more of an interior approach to the fantastic (how many of the audience will not regard this as SF because they weren't asked to boggle at mindless spectacle?) and more proper movies.

There's a new episode of The SF Squeecast out, entitled 'The Linguistic Divide of Pants', and as mentioned in last week's blog, our guest is Saladin Ahmed, who's talking about the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, while I rave about Anno Dracula.

James Bacon sent me this picture of him with six feet of comics...

Being the collected donations of myself and Dave Finn of Incognito Comics towards this year's Worldcon teen lounge.  James is, as always, doing an amazing job there.

Videos of me being interviewed at the London Super Comic Con keep appearing, this one courtesy of Elisar at Talking Comics...

And speaking of comics, I got the chance to read an advance copy of the first issue of China Mieville's Dial H for Hero, and as you see, I really loved it.

We've once again got two interviews with fans coming to their first Eastercon (which is now officially a sell out, with no more tickets available on the day), but on the same theme, I'd like to direct you to Emma Newman's blog, where she talks about the nervousness inherent in appearing at the convention, and how one's life experiences influence that.  It struck a nerve with me, and I'm sure will with many of you.

Okay, so first up, take it away Grant...

What's your name?

Grant Watson.

Why did you decide to go to Olympus?

I decided to go for a bunch of reasons. First and foremost, I have never attended a science fiction convention outside of Australia, where I was born and where I still live. Secondly, there was a fan fund. Fan funds are a scheme in which the science fiction fan community band together and pay for fans to travel to conventions in other countries. There's TAFF (Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund), which sends fans back and forth between the UK and USA, DUFF (Down Under Fan Fund), which sends fans back and forth between the USA and Australia, and even NAFF (National Australian Fan Fund), which sends fans back and forth from the different states of Australia. I ran to be the 2012 delegate for GUFF (Going Under Fan Fund), and in a fiercely fought race to be the lucky Australian fan to go to Eastercon I came... second.

The winner this year is the delightfully delightful Kylie Ding, who will also be at Eastercon representing all things Aussie, and anyone going should absolutely hunt her down and say hi during the weekend.

Since I had by this stage set my heart on going to my first international convention, and since I'd also conveniently promised my wife a holiday in the UK before and after the event, I got my finances together and decided to attend Eastercon independently.

What had you heard about previous Eastercons?

Most of what I've heard about Eastercons has been from previous GUFF delegates travelling from the UK to Australia. People like Claire Brialey, Mark Plummer, Ang Rosin and James Shields.

What do you expect to be different from cons in your own fandom?

I'm honestly not certain. The vast majority of my time in fandom has been in the city of Perth, where we've had an annual science fiction convention - Swancon - since 1976. Perth fandom has what seems to be a very distinct style; it's very 'blended', if you like, so fans of SF literature, TV shows, anime, gaming and comics have rubbed shoulders with each other without any sense of rivalry or intolerance. I'm now living in Melbourne, where fandom seems a lot more compartmentalised to me: there is a big gap here between 'media fans' and 'lit fans' that I'm really not used to.

What are you most looking forward to?

It will read like a cliche, but I'm genuinely looking forward to meeting new people. I want to get a sense of what British fandom is like, and possibly get some ideas for how conventions are run in the UK that I can take back to Australia.

In the interests of encouraging people to say hi to me over the weekend, I can say that my core fannish interests include Doctor Who, Star Trek, Hong Kong and Asian cinema, the works of Jim Henson, DC Comics - particularly Batman, William Shakespeare and Elizabethan/Jacobean theatre, French comic creators Moebius (RIP) and Lewis Trondheim, The West Wing, old 1960s ITC adventure shows and the works of the Walt Disney Company. I have previously worked as a video store clerk, cinema manager, university lecturer and hair model, and currently work as a researcher in international education for a major Australian university. I am also in my spare time an award-winning playwright. So if any of that intersects with anyone else's interests, come and have a chat: I'll be the awkward, nervous-looking one with really short hair.

How do you think SF fans will interact with fans from your subculture? What sort of panels about your own subculture's stuff are you expecting?

Surely everyone loves a gregarious Australian? If I had to pick a single primary fandom I'd always choose Doctor Who, but my interests incorporate a lot of other areas as well.

To be honest I will be very disappointed if the convention doesn't have at least one really solid, enjoyable panel about Doctor Who. After all, you're the United Kingdom: you're the home of the world's single-greatest work of science fiction television. It would be ridiculous not to celebrate that at every opportunity.

How do you see mainstream SF fandom, from the outside?

My only real exposure to science fiction fandom outside of Australia was the 2010 Melbourne Worldcon, which was largely populated by Americans. There are whole aspects of that scene I simply don't get: the weird obsession with collecting ribbons, the masses of people wanting to 'filk', the immense amount of focus and devotion placed on Masquerade costumes, etc. More than anything international SF fandom seems rather conservative to me: things have to be done the same way every time, new ideas and new media isn't immediately embraced, and there does seem to be a slight stink of prejudice against genre fiction that wasn't published as a book.

Do you think there's a chance you might ever move your primary fandom to being an SF fan?

That depends on your definition of 'SF fan'. Certainly I can't see myself abandoning film, TV and comics to focus more on literary fandom. I read plenty of books, have numerous favourite SF authors, but don't really put the dedication into that side of SF that I do into the likes of Doctor Who or DC Comics. That said, you will have to prise my first edition copy of The Day of the Triffids from my cold, dead fingers.

Grant can be found on Twitter as @angriest, online at his blog, and in podcast form with The Bad Film Diaries with Sonia Marcon and Panel2Panel with Kitty Byrne.  

Next up is my old friend Sarah...

What's your name? 

Sarah Groenewegen.

Why did you decide to go to Olympus?

Various people I know or would like to meet were talking about it on Twitter. It's been ages since I've been to a convention and Easter this year was relatively free of appointments. So, timing. Again via Twitter I heard about Eastercon last year and it seemed to be lot of fun from what the attendees were tweeting.

What had you heard about previous Eastercons?

Last year's sounded like it was a lot of fun, judging from tweets I saw. There seemed to be a lot of positive buzz. But, I haven't heard that much in terms of specifics.

What do you expect to be different from cons in your own fandom?

Less actors, more writers - which is being flippant, I know. My main fandom is Doctor Who. It's where I've been most active for the last few decades, on and off, although I've always had interests in other fandoms, including mainstream SF. I was involved in running some of the big Australian Doctor Who fan conventions - Whovention - during the 1990s. While I feel incredibly lucky to have met some of the actors involved in Doctor Who, that side of it has never really interested me. Even when I wasn't involved in running a Doctor Who con, I tended to not go to the panels of those conventions I attended. Talking to people was always much more of an attraction, and just because of the nature of Doctor Who fan cons in Australia that meant being able to talk properly to some of the actors who visited. The most interesting to me were those who didn't just talk about acting or Doctor Who - which was the majority, incidentally - but those who were vibrantly interested and passionate about all sorts of things life throws up. Good and bad.

I've been to some Doctor Who cons in the UK, and Gallifrey One in L.A. a few years ago now. Each time I question why I pay the attendance fee - I don't go to many of the panels or talks. LobbyCon was my home in L.A., and you'll find me in the hotel bar at others. I do pay up because the job the organisers do at the cons I've gone to are amazing, and I have an idea about the costs involved. Ultimately, if there was no con, I wouldn't be having such a good time with mates - old and new - in the peripheral areas.

I suspect I'll still enjoy the peripheral areas as much as I do for Doctor Who cons, but I see from the Olympus schedule there are panels I think I'll actually find interesting in and of themselves.

What are you most looking forward to?

Meeting people: old friends and new ones. That is the key for me.

How do you think SF fans will interact with fans from your subculture? What sort of panels about your own subculture's stuff are you expecting?

I guess my subculture is Doctor Who fandom - that's where I've spent most of my fannish time over the last 20 or so years. But, as I've said above, I don't go to Doctor Who cons for the panels, and while the panel topics about Doctor Who at Olympus seem quite interesting, I'm unlikely to go to many if any.

Forgive me while I delve a bit into my past. 

I grew up in Sydney, Australia, during the 1970s and 1980s. I was most active as an SF fan during the 1980s and 1990s. My parents hate SF, but tolerated me and my brother watching Doctor Who and Blake's 7. My dad was a university lecturer at Sydney University, and some of his students and colleagues also liked Doctor Who and it was through them my brother and I attended the very first Doctor Who fan event ever held in Sydney, and then most of the subsequent ones. It was through going to them, and of being at just the right age, we became friends with other Doctor Who fans who were also fans of other things - Blake's 7, Hitch-hikers' Guide, and mainstream SF. You might spot I didn't mention Star Trek there. While a lot of my new friends were watchers of that show, and probably fans by any definition, they weren't really involved in Star Trek fandom in Australia. In fact, there was a bit of a nonsensical battle going on through the pages of various Aussie fanzines and newsletters at the time.

Generally, you could divide Aussie SF fandom into what was called 'Literature Fans', 'Media Fans', Star Trek fans, and then Doctor Who fans. My friends were mostly Doctor Who and 'Media' fans. In the very early 1980s my brother, best friend and I ran a Doctor Who and Blake's 7 fanzine for a few years. It was through that I made many friends in various SF fandoms. I read quite a bit of SF - Isaac Asimov, Michael Moorcock, Ursula LeGuin, Anne McCaffrey, Douglas Adams - but pretty much watched Doctor Who and then V. It was through V fandom I became friends with the people who worked at Sydney's specialist SF bookshop Galaxy. We swapped fanzines and I read SF more widely. I started to go to various conventions - not just Doctor Who ones - but sadly never made it to a WorldCon.

In summary, I think people will mingle. I certainly plan on mingling with others who are there.

How do you see mainstream SF fandom, from the outside?

Bit more varied in what topics are discussed. But, since I know quite a few mainstream SF fans also like Doctor Who (and vice versa) I'm curious about what real differences there are. I'm excited by quite a bit of the newer SF - writers like Lauren Beukes, for example. 

Do you think there's a chance you might ever move your primary fandom to being an SF fan?

It's possible, but I know I'll never leave Doctor Who fandom behind :-) 

Sarah's blog can be found here. Thanks very much, Sarah.  

My favourite music this week is something new.  I recently bought Theo Bleckmann's Hello Earth!, the jazz vocalist's collection of Kate Bush covers, and I'm impressed.  He's the only artist who I think improves on a Kate original, with his 'Love and Anger'.  Here's his take on 'Running Up That Hill'...

This time next week I'll be seeing some of you at Olympus 2012 (and there'll be no blog, though I will be guesting on Pornokitsch and will link to it here on the day).  Please come over and say hello.  I'm there as a Guest of Honour to be available.  Especially if this is your first SF convention, or you've arrived from a different fandom.  I'm happy to help you navigate.  Until then, Cheerio!

My Olympus Schedule

I thought it would be useful to blog in advance my schedule as a guest of this year's Eastercon, Olympus 2012. I'm very much looking forward to it, and to being a Guest of Honour, which is, as the name implies, a great honour.

Friday 6th April:

2pm: Pushing the Boundaries of Genre. (Royal B&C.) With Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Sophia McDougall, Gillian Refearn and Robert V.S. Redick.

4pm: Opening Ceremony. (Commonwealth.)

6.30pm: Just A Minute. (Commonwealth.)  The contestants are: Pat Cadigan; Donna Scott; Tricia Sullivan and Jo Walton.

Saturday 7th April:

10am: Ethics of AI. (Room 38.)  With Simon Bradshaw, Louise Dennis and Lilian Edwards.

Noon: Gender Parity on Panels at Conventions. (Commonwealth.) With Juliet E. McKenna, Farah Mendlesohn, Emma Peel, Kari Sperring and Kat Takenaka.

3pm: Guest of Honour Autographs. (Newbury 1.)

5pm: Wild Cards. (Commonwealth.)  With David Anthony Durham, Gail Gerstner-Miller, George R.R. Martin and John Joseph Miller.

Sunday 8th April:

10am: Promoting Yourself Online. (Royal B&C.)  With Elspeth Cooper, Tom Hunter, Simon Spanton, Danie Ware.

2pm: Scientists and the Media. (Commonwealth.) With David L. Clements, Jennifer Delaney, Marek Kukula and Caroline Mullan.

3pm: Guest of Honour Autographs. (Newbury 1.)

4pm: Kafeeklatch.  (Room 19.) (EDIT: moved from noon so I'm not competing with George!)

6pm: BSFA Awards Ceremony.  (Commonwealth.)

Monday 9th April:

10am: Guest of Honour Autographs for Fans with Disabilities.  (Royal B&C.)

11am: Interview.  (Commonwealth.) With Tammy Taylor.

3pm: Reading.  (Commonwealth.)

4pm: Closing Ceremony.  (Commonwealth.)

9pm: From Fan to Pro.  (Room 41.) With Kari Sperring and Charles Stross.

I think that's a pretty brilliant selection, a real gift from the organisers.  I especially like that last panel, which is the only panel at that point, a brilliant chance to end the convention with a celebration.  And the autograph panel for fans with disabilities is a great idea.  Apart from all that, of course, I'll be in the bar.  I hope to see you there.  (And if you are planning to come along, and haven't bought a ticket yet, note that they're close to selling out.)  Cheerio!

Casual Friday: Wishes for the Future

I haven't quite been able to keep up the grand productivity of last week.  On Monday, I did what's become a weekly commute to go and see the friend with whom I'm creating what I've taken to calling 'Project M', in an entirely new medium for me.  Yesterday, I popped into London to have what turned out to be a very productive chat with Nick Briggs from Big Finish about the future of their Bernice Summerfield range (short version: it's got a very pleasing future).  I've written 3000 words of prose (for a new novelette that's been commissioned for somewhere rather wonderful) and fifteen pages of Demon Knights, as well as sundry plottings and preparings and guest blogs.  And I've managed to run six miles.  So all in all, not a bad week, especially when it's so sunny and glorious outside that I keep on wanting to leave my desk and... well, play cricket, really.

The very first thing I should mention on today's blog is the situation of Wash and Tashi Pratt-King, a 27 year-old Doctor Who fan (and Browncoat) who's been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, and his full-time caregiver wife.  The time of Wash's passing away is approaching, and he'd very much like to find someone to make a custom funereal urn to contain his ashes, made in the shape of a TARDIS.  Now, I did a bit of asking around, and dear old Mike Tucker found a commercially available urn in that style, but understandably, Wash would prefer something specially made.  If you're a maker of things Doctor Who, or someone who just wants to wish them well or help them out, either pop along to Tashi's blog above, or get in touch with her on Twitter (@RedTapeLass), and show them the support that a fan community can give.  All our love goes out to them both.

This week we watched 13 Assassins, a samurai movie from 2010, directed by Takashi Miike, and I must say, I think it's a bit of a masterpiece.  (Huge spoilers follow. Go see it.)  It concerns the efforts of the Shogun's advisors to find an honourable way of stopping the psychotic Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu from accepting the position of power already promised to him by the Shogun.  Rather in the manner of 'who will rid me of this turbulent priest', the job of assassinating the Lord is given to a samurai who has always wanted to find a cause to fight for, and is willing to give his life rather than end it in peaceful retirement.  He finds, in yet another new take on Seven Samurai, twelve others to accompany him on his suicide mission.  The story is set in an era of peace, with the Shogunate slowly unraveling, and every character is shaped by the political forces of a world that's starting to look as if there's no point to it.  It turns out, wonderfully, that the mad lord has been mentally deformed by the pressure of a society where he's not allowed to be happy in peacetime.  In other words, that he's expressing the same urge for glory as our hero feels, the difference being that said hero would have let himself continue fishing on his estate, rather than using whole families for target practice.  The team use alliances and diplomacy to send the mad Lord's army of retainers (led by an entirely honourable and competent warrior who's point of view is the militarist one that rules are there to be obeyed, no matter who's giving them) into a village they've set up as a trap.  Havoc ensures.  Terrible things happen.  Satisfaction is just about found in just about justice, all utterly undermined by the villain declaring that the hero has given him the best day of his life.  Miike paints a very realistic Samurai world, everything looking lived in and real.  His fights are spectacular, but there's no balletic wire work here; everything is possible, and lots of wounded men fall in the mud.  Indeed, one gets some idea of how the whole business of soldiery without gunpowder must actually have worked.  This is a Samurai Movie like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a Western.  That is to say, it's fully of that genre, in dialogue with it, yet it, pointedly, indicates its potential to go outside it.  Butch and Sundance leave the Western behind entirely for a spell, to set up the possibility that they might take up an entirely non-generic existence in New York.  A character at the end of 13 Assassins declares he's going to hop a ship to the USA, which makes one suddenly think, as in Butch, that, oh, yes, that character didn't have to live in that genre, other options were available, which is, I think, entirely the intended reaction.  Miike here is half John Ford and half Quentin Tarantino, because he's determined that the violence is going to be over the top and fun, also.  Except when we get down to the horror of it, and the camera view actually topples over, to see the messy struggles from the point of view of a dying man.  I also say Tarantino because of the tension and the precision in the set-up, because a few moments of severe horror are enough to make us feel nervy about the rest of the movie, because just and unjust desserts are served up, and because Miike establishes complete control of the narrative so he can do one astonishing, narrative-breaking thing.  The character of Kiga Koyata is the happy go lucky comedy relief our heroes pick up on the way, found captured in a trap in the woods, a man who lives in the wild.  Towards the end of the film, he's killed, skewered right through the neck, absolutely no doubt about it dead.  And then he pops up at the end again, utterly unharmed, just because the director has that power to reach down into a narrative, and, having shown us an explanation of the processes that lead to fascism, and the grinding awfulness that results, feels able to use the mercy of a god to save one good person.  Now, I've heard that Miike in interviews refers to Kiga as a forest spirit, a Yokai, and thus immortal.  But I like to think, especially since we flashback to the very human wife the character's missing, that he was speaking metaphorically.  I think that, unlike the system that the movie so illuminates and skewers, Miike demonstrated that one can ignore the rules in favour of mercy.

Tales of the Emerald Serpent is a proposed shared world anthology, looking for (and getting) Kickstarter funding, which should appeal to many visitors of this blog.  It's a sword and sorcery collective, in the tradition of Lankhmar, about the Free City of Taux and the infamous Black Gate district therein.  Authors featured include Juliet E. McKenna, Julie Czerneda and artist turned author (he must be getting fed up of that description) Todd Lockwood.  There's a video on the sight explaining the project, and there are all sorts of great bonuses for those who pledge different amounts of money, starting at $5.  Worth a look.

On the last edition of the SF Squeecast that we recorded, which isn't out yet, our guest was Saladin Ahmed, whose Throne of the Crescent Moon has been getting rave reviews lately, notably in Locus...

I mentioned on the podcast how much I love that cover, which does its business (which is to say that this is brand new high adventure in the style of The Arabian Nights) very well, only for Seanan McGuire's cat to start loving the cover so much she ended up eating it.  Saladin proved to be a very fun guest, especially since his chosen items to squee about were the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks.  So it's with great pleasure that I direct you to the first chapter of the book with Saladin's description of it, reviews and a rather lovely map.  Do check it out.

In the run up to Eastercon, I'm going to be featuring two interviews with fans new to that event today, and two next Friday.  So firstly, take it away Kathryn...

What's your name?

Kathryn Peak.

Why did you decide to go to Olympus?

Because it’s about time. I must confess to being a bit of a sci-fi denier. I have read genre fiction since I was a kid, loved sci-fi on television and in films, yet as a writer always tried to write straight fiction. I think it was Einstein that said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Well, it has taken years and years of not particularly liking what I was writing before I had my light bulb moment. I recently finished and shelved a novel. It is not good and will never see the light of day, but it was the first time I just let rip and wrote what I like to read, and like a confused child finally getting the joke, the penny dropped and I switched to writing genre.

What had you heard about previous Eastercons? 

I know only what I have gleaned from the Internet, which includes the web pages for this year’s and previous years’ events, blog pieces, and a lot of photos of Eastercon delegates. Now here’s the thing. In a previous life I worked in politics and for NGOs, and I have been to a lot of party conferences. And the photos from these conferences are really not that different. Yes, a lot of the people in the photos look a bit geeky, with the glazed look of someone who has spent the afternoon in the bar rather than in a conference hall. Now, if we could only get more of the delegates at political conferences to dress up in costume, I think more people would watch party conference coverage on TV.

What do you expect to be different from cons in your own fandom? 

This isn’t really a question I can answer, as the whole shebang is new to me. I am coming in from the wilderness; just hoping the natives are friendly.

What are you most looking forward to? 

Listening to panels on literature. I follow quite a few writers, reviewers and publishers on twitter, but they talk primarily about new releases. Every time someone mentions their influences, old books they have read, it sends me scurrying off to search them out. But mostly, I am looking forward to being a room with people talking about SF with as much enthusiasm as I feel about SF. I want to wallow in it. That would be nice.

How do you think SF fans will interact with fans from your subculture? What sort of panels about your own subculture's stuff are you expecting? 

Again, pass. I don’t have much to compare it to. My subculture is ‘writer in cubby hole’, and from the evidence on twitter, there are a lot of us out there, sending each other supportive messages and generally bigging up each other’s efforts. If I have any expectation it is an optimistic one. Much of the conversation on-line suggests that sci-fi is an interactive process, where fans are writers, writers are fans, and a good amateur fanzine is given reasonable currency. I would hope to find that played out at Eastercon.

How do you see mainstream SF fandom, from the outside?

I am still trying to get my head around what mainstream SF really is. When I come across fellow fans of SF, we may find a few points of reference, but the parameters are so wide that you can stay inside the bestsellers and mainstream franchises and still not read or watch the same material. SF fandom seems to lend itself to specialization. I suppose my only concern is one of ignorance. Of the books, shows, films and comics that I really like, I know a fair bit about them. But SF is huge and my consumption time is limited. The geek community has a reputation for knowledge one-upmanship that would leave me in the dust. In the egg and spoon race of life I tend to be the one on the sideline taking notes.

Do you think there's a chance you might ever move your primary fandom to being an SF fan? 

On the contrary, as a fan I feel like I’m still shopping for my particular thing. In that sense, Eastercon serves a useful purpose by being general, not particular, and therefore a good place to shop. Of course, as a writer I enjoy tickling my imagination and taking whatever bits and pieces seem interesting to me, so I don’t want to limit myself too much. Mixing it up is half the fun.

Thanks very much, Kathryn.  Next up is an old friend of mine ...

What's your name? 

Peter Anghelides. 

Why did you decide to go to Olympus? 

I was invited to attend and talk about Blake's 7.

What had you heard about previous Eastercons? 

I knew some of my pals had attended in previous years, and that it is one of the UK's biggest SF conventions. And that it's approach to what constitutes SF was quite eclectic. I keep meeting people who know more abut it than I do. I was talking to a Writers Group in Farnborough the other week, and said I'd been 'invited to something called Olympus 2012 in London', and several of them said 'is that Eastercon?'

What do you expect to be different from cons in your own fandom? 

I'm not sure whether I have a fandom. I suppose the cons I've been to in the past have all been about media SF, especially Doctor Who and Blake's 7.  And those conventions have, on the whole, been about having guests from the cast and production teams, and autograph lines, and episodes being screened, and people in costumes. Plus I enjoy meeting my pals at the bar. I gather than Eastercon is as much (if not more) a celebration of the fan community itself. But the biggest difference will be that I'm not as steeped in the broader SF as other attendees. But so long as I don't have to sit some kind of test to get in, I should be okay. 

What are you most looking forward to? 

Seeing how a big UK SF convention runs. The last con I went to was Galifrey One in a Los Angeles airport hotel, which had about 3,000 there. Eastercon is in a Heathrow airport hotel, so the downside is that the hotel pool will be a bit chilly. But on the upside, I won't be so jetlagged travelling in from Hampshire. The last time I was in that particular Heathrow hotel was for a business conference. So if I have a flashback and start to use words like 'leverage' or 'synergy', perhaps someone can shake me in an attempt to snap me out of it.

How do you think SF fans will interact with fans from your subculture? 

I'd have thought there'd be some overlap with other SF enthusiasts -- there must be common threads through the things we like. If they aren't interested in my subculture, there'll be plenty else to keep them occupied. But if someone asks me abut Tanith Lee, for example, I'll know more about her Blake's 7 episodes than her Tales from the Flat Earth series. (Are you sure there isn't a test?)

What sort of panels about your own subculture's stuff are you expecting? 

Just the one I'm participating in, about the new Blake's 7 audio series from Big Finish. 

How do you see mainstream SF fandom, from the outside? 

With the same fascination, I hope, that non-SF people view my enthusiasm for media SF. But I'm not sure what counts as 'mainstream SF' anyway. As a comparison, there are people who would assert that SF is not 'mainstream literature', which is not especially meaningful or useful. So I suppose I'm reluctant to categorise.   

Do you think there's a chance you might ever move your primary fandom to being an SF fan? 

So long as there isn't some kind of entrance exam.

Peter's website is here (he tweets as @anghelides) and you can find out more about the Big Finish Blake's 7 audios here. Thank you, Peter.

I think my musical favourite pick is appropriate today.  It's one of my favourite live moments, a Janis Joplin tribute where Joss Stone belts it out but then encounters (and bless her, laughs at the impact of it and gets out of the way) a complete scene stealer in the shape of Melissa Etheridge.  I particularly like how Melissa sings it at Joss.

You know, I'm getting into the swing of these Friday blogs again now.  And I'm really looking forward to Olympus.  Next week looks like it's going to be really busy.  Until next time, Cheerio!

The This Time Next Year Game Update

A few things have happened in terms of our This Time Next Year game.  The Archbishop of Canterbury has announced that he will resign in December (albeit at the end of it, but from every quote I can find, still actually in that month), which none of you guessed, so nobody scores a point for Question 20.

Kate Bush is going to release a single in support of Record Shop day, but it won't contain any new material, so no points have yet been scored from Question 27.

But congratulations to Liz, who bet that Rihanna's 'We Found Love' would appear in an episode of Glee showing in the UK after March 1st (actually, it was on March 1st) and thus gains a point!

So, our leaderboard now reads:

Liz: 2
B-Guymer: 1 
C.A. Young: 1
Fizzle: 1
Kendersule: 1
L.M. Myles: 1
Michael Lee: 1
Nick Pheas: 1
Paul F: 1
Penny Heal and Jason Stevens: 1
Phil Hansen: 1
RHeitzmann: 1
Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre: 1
Soru: 1
Tom: 1

You're all doing very well!  Cheerio!

Casual Fridays: A Little More Action

In the last few weeks, I've been feeling lazy, because I let various background things take up my mental space, and only wrote to my deadlines.  Plus Caroline having Thursdays as her day off causes me to have a rather weirdly-shaped week, in that I like to spend time on that day with her, but then can't quite make myself do a whole work day on a Saturday.  So this week I've made a conscious effort, and got back on the horse.  I've written 4000 words of prose, delivering a short story today, 25 pages of comics, and done loads of plotting, pitching and setting-up work.  (We're in the middle, for one thing, of working out a new title for the novel.)  I also managed to get three runs in, and am getting in sight, once again, of my personal best for the two miles (17.44, if you're interested, which is, frankly, rubbish).

I'm also well pleased at the reaction to Saucer Country.  I don't think I've ever had anything of mine receive universally good reviews before.  We seem to have a hit on our hands.  Which is all because I work with a great team.  Comics readers seem to have enjoyed the ending to the first Demon Knights arc as well.  #8 is a useful jumping-on point, in that it tells the origins of two of our characters (Etrigan and Xanadu) and #9 starts up... well, I wouldn't call it an arc now, really, we like to see it as a purely ongoing title now, with something new happening every issue, rather like when the X-Men went around the world.  At any rate, you could also make #9 your first issue and understand everything.

I should also take this opportunity to once again thank Mark Pilkington, whose fantastic book Mirage Men is one of the few sane works about UFO mythology.  Mark is one of the major influences on Saucer Country.  Check out his blog.

James Bacon visited this week to pick up a big box of graphic novels and comics collections for the teen lounge at Worldcon in Chicago.  James is always part of that outreach, and he's also one of the team that goes to 'media' conventions giving out SF books and spreading the word about mainstream SF fandom.  Those of you who went to Gallifrey may remember him from the UK Worldcon bid party there.  He's doing a great job. 

We saw two films this week: Senna and John Carter.  Senna: I'd heard a lot of good things, and normally I like sports documentaries, but I have to say, I was irked by it.  The film pushed too hard at creating its narrative out of complicated real world events, and stacked the deck too heavily in favour of its hero, Brazilian Formula One star Ayrton Senna.  In order to create that effect, it underlined the apparent villainy of his rival, Alain Prost.  I always prefer a more distant camera that gives us more choice about who to root for (or a better illusion of it). This film cheered so hard for its star that it saw no contradiction in taking his side when he complained about the technical advantages of the rival Williams car (and hey, they were within the rules) and then continuing to fete him when a year later he joined team Williams.  That moment alone was enough to make me start to question what they were telling me about Prost, and I'd love to see the same film from his point of view.

And John Carter... well, it's hard to know where to begin.  I've never been so frustrated about a movie.  Broadly speaking, there have been two sets of public responses to it: mainstream critics hating it, and fans loving it, while the public have silently stayed away.  I can see why fans love it, but I'm desperately sad to say that the mainstream critics are right, and the public have not flocked to it not because they've been mis-sold it, or fooled somehow, or deliberately been alienated by a half-hearted publicity campaign, but because, in the end, it's not very good.  But perhaps for the first time ever, that 'in the end' includes vast stretches of the movie that are brilliant, sensational, spot on, absolutely the movie you'd want for this character.  That's what makes the whole thing so heartbreaking.  John Carter was clearly meant to be in the same tradition of big world, franchise-building Disney movies as Pirates of the Caribbean.  Unfortunately, it seems to have thus felt able to settle for some of Pirates' uselessness with narrative, forgetting that the Pirates world view allows us enjoy a certain amount of yo ho addled chaos, and also that the first one of those films was pretty crisp and precise in its storytelling, actually.  Instead of joining that genre, John Carter joins a dishonourable group of movies that include Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes and Alice in Wonderland: films that were released before they were finished.  Because, seriously, just one more draft of that script, even one more cut of the movie, and JC could have been an excellent, crowd-pleasing, full on summer blockbuster.  I think the feeling of most creative people who went to see it must have been the same: I want to take this thing home and finish it!  The lead is not the problem, he's fine verging on great.  The film is uniformly well cast and the actors are directed well (with villains so un-hammy that oh oh, we start to empathise with them a bit, particularly Dominic West, who, in the context of a world where Tharks shoot their own babies actually comes off as quite a reasonable wedding prospect for the Princess).  James Purefoy was brilliant, and that's an entirely cool (rather Chris Claremont-influenced) modern Dejah.  The design is excellent, and the ongoing sunny California afternoon of the colour palate actually made me happy on its own.  At the point where Carter starts leaping around onto ornithopters, swordfighting and saying 'ma'am', I was full on thinking 'the fans are right, this is brilliant!'  But then it started to sag, and sag, and... what did that mean, what did he just say, why are these people doing that, who is that person anyway and... what?!  To slow the whole narrative down for a journey to exposition-ville, and after all that deliver exposition we don't understand is a terrible crime.  Just straightforward narrative was sometimes fumbled: why the hell don't we see Dejah escaping Helium?  And if we're not going to, then how about we see her at the controls of a flier, looking over her shoulder, desperate, cut to those pursuing her.  But no, we're with those pursuing her, who tell us she's in front, and what's just happened.  When she arrives at the Thark camp, I thought by introducing herself as 'Regent Librarian' or whatever it was that she was just telling the truth about her identity, but everyone's surprised, a few scenes later, when she's 'revealed' as a Princess.  These are all tiny things, but there's loads of them, and they're cumulative, to the point where I honestly still couldn't tell you what the villains were planning to do, or why Dominic West's people, from that mobile city that was never made use of, did anything, really.  (The question of whether he's trying to marry Dejah, invade her city or both, and why, seems to be subject to quantum fluctuation between competing narratives, the sort that's sometimes caused by too many contradictory notes from too many worried producers.  'Why am I still marrying her when I've already won?' he asks at one point.  The answer is not good enough to remember.) However, amongst all this, there are, as I say, also long sections where the film has perfect, clear, straightforward Disney-style narrative, with tons of scattered moments of pleasure.  The Tharks, in particular, live in the Land of Clear Story.  And I must say, the Land of Clear Story clearly has the same geographical boundaries as the Source Novel.  (But having said that, I rather liked the historical framing stuff, which even leaves the movie on a high note, and tastes of Michael Chabon, whom, without any evidence pro or against, I hold blameless here.)  I think there are two reasons for the muddled narrative bits: firstly, there's the desire to use the villains to create an ongoing franchise, a big, complicated history, and somebody will have said 'how can we make this also about Earth?' (but again, Pirates didn't do any of this in the first movie).  Secondly, and I hate to say this about a picture that gave me so many moments, as a John Carter of Mars fan, of genuine joy at how well this adaptation was made: this is one of those movies (exactly like the Pirates series) that thinks 'but simplicity is too simple, let's add a twist, and a twist, and a twist, because we want to always be ahead of the viewers in how intelligent this is', and thus leaves the viewers, and intelligence, behind.  To feel like that about the movie you're making is to feel the source material is beneath one, that one has to add something more.  That's why this picture is, stupidly, called John Carter.  Not because of any merchandising or PR failure.  That's a long-suffering publicity person taking the hit.  This picture is called John Carter just so they can do that reveal of changing the title to John Carter of Mars on the last frame.  That's just their own damn fault.  That's how they spoiled something that was such an aggravating millimetre away from greatness.

I've now put download links to the whole series behind the comics covers on the right margin, so you'll always be able to purchase Saucer Country and Demon Knights by clicking on them.  But if you'd be interested in promoting Saucer Country on your own blog or website, then just download any of these handy banner images...

And put this link behind them.  And you will have my eternal gratitude.

I'd like to mention a couple of things mates are doing this week.  Simon Spurrier has a new free webcomic out, twelve pages a week, running for two years.  It starts with a splash, let us say.  It's possibly the single most Not Safe For Work thing I've ever seen.  It's eighteen rated.  Or more like forty rated.  You have been warned okay.  So now here's the link to Crossed: Wish You Were Here. And don't come running to me about your retinas.

The Peckham Invalids is a comic about disabled teenage superheroines in 1906 Peckham.  You can see a nicely comic-informed piece about it, and the history of deaf characters in the medium, in this clip from the BBC's See Hear show.  Do check it out, their angle is fascinating, and this is the sort of quality storytelling and diversity we look for from modern comics. There's a particularly interesting discussion about how to portray (and script) sign language in the medium.

And in the run-up to Olympus, this year's Eastercon, I'll be talking to individuals who are coming to the convention as their first pure SF event, having previously taken part in different fandoms.  (If you are such a person, drop me a line in the comments, I might well be interested in featuring you.)  Take it away, Ash...

What's your name?

Ash Farbrother.

Why did you decide to go to Olympus?

A desire to once more dip my toes into the world of conventions which happily coincided with suggestion and gentle persuasion from someone close to me. The desire had been there a while but things had never slotted together well enough. However, Olympus is in London, so travel/exchange rates are not an issue and whilst the main hotel was fully booked, an alternative within walking distance was both available and reasonably priced.

My last convention was the American Doctor Who convention 'The 18th Amendment of Gallifrey One' in 2007. Various changes (both in life and the convention) meant that going all the way to L.A. for a Doctor Who convention was something I could no longer justify or afford, even though it meant I'd miss seeing a lot of the friends I'd made at Gally. For any of them who see this I do miss you all a lot, and hope to see you again sometime soon.

What made Olympus appeal more than some others is that I knew that some of the people attending would be people I know (thus meaning I wouldn't hide in a corner nursing a drink and growling at anyone that approached my own personal perimeter), but the majority would be 'new', and therefore give me the chance to meet new people and gain new experiences.

What had you heard about previous Eastercons?

A small to moderate amount about the panels and a lot about the social aspects. Since one of my favourite aspects of the Gallifrey conventions was the social aspect, and often the panels and the official activities (whilst brilliant) came secondary to seeing old friends, making new ones and enjoying being in a group of like minded people. The convention environment just seemed the perfect place to do that in. I liked what I'd heard of the convention being something of a two way flow of information and interaction. Unlike some of the larger conventions, where guests are only ever seen on a stage or behind an autograph table, it appears (to me at least) that Eastercon is much more a two way flow of information and interactions. Again this was something I experienced and loved at Gallifrey and look forward to experiencing again.

What do you expect to be different from cons in your own fandom?

Whilst most Doctor Who events do offer programming not based around the core fandom I'm expecting Eastercon to be a lot more eclectic. With this will come a more varied group of attendees and what should make for more varied discussions and interactions. Also, the bar prices being in my native currency will be a unique (and possibly pricey) experience.

What are you most looking forward to?

At the moment just experiencing a new convention environment and finding my feet in it. It's only as EasterCon approaches that I realize how much I've missed the convention environment, and that it's been five years since my last convention. Much like Ford Prefect I'm at my happiest with a strong drink and a peer group, and conventions usually provide both of those.

How do you think SF fans will interact with fans from your subculture?  What sort of panels about your own subculture's stuff are you expecting?

There are two less pleasant reactions that I've experienced over my time in Doctor Who fandom: before 2005 Doctor Who fandom could be seen as some as a cause kept alive by the devoted. We had books, we had audio adventures but mostly in the SF fans (as in the public's eye) some might have seen it as being a bit of a joke with it's wobbly sets and its stereotype of the anorak and scarf wearing brigade. Now Doctor Who is massive business, it's a pop culture phenomenon and it could be regarded as being too mainstream by some and with that constant stigma of 'it's for kids'. So we've been thrown to the opposite end of the scale.

However whilst you will have those who dislike Doctor Who for whatever reason, I think there is more often than not a common ground to find. Very few people just like Doctor Who. They may also like known authors who have ties to the series such as Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman or Paul Cornell. And whilst an SF Fan may not like Doctor Who they may like Douglas Adams or Neil Gaiman or Paul Cornell too; but from a different point of view, be it H2G2, Sandman or work for DC/Marvel Comics. There may be common grounds completely unrelated to either of the core subjects. A die hard Doctor Who fan and a dedicated follower of Iain M. Banks may discover they both have a mutual love of fly fishing, or cricket.

I think a reasonable chunk of it depends on how you approach people. If you do so waving your multi-coloured scarf and wanting to talk about Who, Who, and only Who then you might be off to a non-starter. The catalyst for conversation a convention like Eastercon can provide is that two people who are from opposite ends of the Doctor Who appreciation spectrum could find themselves sat next to each other in a panel on something completely unrelated. A conversation could spark, it could leave the panel and go to the bar, others could join in and only five hours and many drinks later could you find out that your new best friend doesn't actually like Doctor Who. And at that point does it matter?

As for the panels, I'm expecting some panels to be either Doctor Who based or at least have enough scope in them for there to be Doctor Who related opinions and materials. And even if there wasn't for some reason I don't think that would bother me. There could not be a single official event on Doctor Who. But there could be an excellent three hour discussion on 'Fez Vs Fedora Vs Stovepipe' in the bar.  I will happily take the schedule as it comes, and if for some reason I end up sat in a hotel room all weekend it won't be the convention that's failed me, it'll be me who has failed the convention.

How do you see mainstream SF fandom, from the outside?

At times intimidating. I love to read, absolutely love it, but I feel my tastes are somewhat narrow when it comes to the genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy and as a result I have some gaping holes in my SF experience. This is entirely a fault of mine and not of the fiction. I have many friends who can recall the intricate details of such-and-such a book series or the intricate workings of this story arc, and sometimes that makes me feel a little ill-educated. It's not that anyone has ever sought to exclude me or make me feel inferior in fandom, but it sometimes happens. This will be the first convention I've been to where the main 'theme' is not my main 'Fandom Hat'. It will be interesting to see how my perception might change over the weekend.

Do you think there's a chance you might ever move your primary fandom to being an SF fan?

Anything is possible. I wear many fandom hats: Ghostbusters, Babylon 5, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Hitchhikers Guide, Comics, Godzilla. But Doctor Who is what it has always come back to. From Target Novelizations to worn out VHS recordings of the McCoy years it was the first and i think it will always be the strongest. But I think there is room in my millinery collection for a general 'SF' hat, with maybe a feather of 'Fantasy' in its band. And maybe as time moves on and I grow older, develop a beard, etc, then things will shift. Maybe Doctor Who will move so far from its roots that I will not feel able to call myself a Doctor Who fan any more. I know that has already happened for some. I hope that doesn't happen, it's been a pretty good fandom to me thus far.

Thanks very much, Ash.  (Who would like the world to know he can be found on Twitter as @ravenevermore and that he runs Rock Club London, a gaming/music pub night centered around Guitar Hero and Rock Band.)  

And speaking of music, we round off as always with today's song pick of my favourites.  It was only a matter of time before I got to XTC.  They were my band when I was growing up in Wiltshire, all our band, the sound of the chalk hills.  It's a healthy thing, when you're a kid, to hear pop music sung in your own accent.  And to have a pop star who could be spotted in Swindon library.  Their Skylarking is one of my favourite albums of all time, and manages to convey the 'summer Sunday in Swindon' mood for all its length, but this is them doing that in single form, albeit in a frankly too low fi video.  This is 'Love on a Farm Boi's Wages'...

I'll just be off down townall for some eastdregs.  Until next time, Cheerio!

Launching Saucer Country

Today Saucer Country #1 will be in your comic shops, and from 6pm or so in your digital comic shops too.  I've always wanted to work for Vertigo, DC's mature readers imprint, and I've been thinking about the concepts behind this series since I was eight.  The simplest way of saying it is 'The X-Files meets The West Wing', but there's a lot more to it than that.  It's about the Governor of New Mexico, Arcadia Alverado, who, when she's about to announce her run for President, gets 'abducted by aliens'.  Those inverted commas are very important to us, because she doesn't quite know what's happened and neither do the audience.  She tells only her closest inner circle: she now feels even more strongly that she has to win high office, if only to be in a position to find out the truth.  But the nature of that truth is what we're about, with a series that delves into all the myriad, beautiful, self-contradictory facets of UFO mythology.

The art is by the incredibly talented Ryan Kelly, who can do both the passionate argument of the politics and is scaring the living daylights out of me with his aliens, and we're lucky to have colourist Giulia Brusco onboard, adding a whole extra level to what we're doing.

The three of us have done a Director's Commentary on the first issue for the Forbidden Planet blog, which shows off Ryan's thumbnail sketches, how he takes a page through from sketch to inks, and how Giulia colours the finished pages.  It's a great insight into the process.

An insight into my own process concerning the origins of the title can be found in the column of our wonderful editor, Will Dennis, where he presents my original pitch document, which shows just how far a title goes between first idea and finished product.

You can hear me talking to iFanboy about the title on their Don't Miss Podcast here.

And I've been talking about Saucer Country to Bryan Young of the Huffington Post, and MTV Geek.

And if you want an advance review, there's a rather pleasing one here.

So, how do you get Saucer Country if you don't live near a comic shop?  The easiest way, if you're a Mac or iPad owner, is to download the free Vertigo Comics app from the iTunes App Store, and then search for the title from teatime tonight.

Or if you've got an Android device, then their free DC app is what you should download and search through.

Or, from the same time this evening, if you want to read on your PC or Kindle Fire, you could search the Vertigo Store on Comixology.

I'll do a specific blog of such links when they're up, and will make the cover of the current issue, on the right margin, into a one-click link to a download.

At any rate, if you do buy Saucer Country today, in physical or digital format, I hope you enjoy it, and please let me know what you think.

Also out today, of course, is Demon Knights #7, the conclusion of our first epic fantasy arc, another satisfying landmark for me.  If you're in the store anyway... ahem.  Cheerio!

Casual Fridays: The Book Delivery Dance

Again, not a very long post this week.  I'm working like nobody's business, and there are various things, the nature of which, dear reader, will eventually become clear to you, that keep me from spending too much time on the blog.  Every day this week, up until and including Wednesday, I read though 65 pages of copy edits on the novel, and, mainly in order to save time on a courier, but also for the joy of it, on Wednesday I took it in to deliver to my editor, Bella Pagan, at Tor Books, in person...

And then I did a little dance.  The Book Delivery Dance.

(Which got labelled on Twitter as having dodgy content!) You can see more from this encounter on the Tor Blog, and Mark Charan Newton's efforts to trump it using baked goods.

The novel is out in November, and as we get closer to the time, I suspect it'll become something I talk about more and more.  I did a single edit while on the train, actually, when I realised I'd told the same joke twice.  Most of the notes were about improving the clarity of the text through simple grammar and the placing of punctuation marks, though I did make some small rewrites as a result of queries like 'sense here?'  I learned a great deal from the process.

Apart from that, this week I've been writing Saucer Country, Hamilton, and various short stories that I've had commissioned but can't tell you about as yet.

Speaking of Saucer Country, on Wednesday, Vertigo launched their new free app, which SC will be available on from its release date, next Wednesday.  I contributed in a small way to this story about that launch, and the raft of new books the imprint is releasing, at the Huffington Post.

And there's an interview with me about the title up at Broken Frontier.

And a really in-depth piece about SC and a lot of my other work here at Bookslut.

And there's a four page preview of Demon Knights #7, which is also out next Wednesday, here.

I did a few interviews at the London Super Comic Con, including this one on audio for Orbital Comics, and this one for Eincomicleben...

Behind the Sofa is a collection of the Doctor Who memories of over 100 people, including celebrities and contributors to the show, myself included. All proceeds go to Alzheimer's Research UK. The limited edition hardback is now sold out, but you can still order the ebook version, or any of a number of luxury editions.

And on the wonderful Doctor Her blog, I really liked this piece about Bernice Summerfield.

I'll be blogging about Saucer Country in detail on Wednesday, when the first issue is released.  My favourite music today is a bit of an oddity.  But I'm determined to share the stuff I love that isn't just what might make me look cool.  There are some wonderful things, strangely enough, in the back catalogue of Right Said Fred.  The strengths of this song, 'A Love For All Seasons' aren't really played up to in a video which seems to have decided its main task is to demonstrate that not all the band are gay.  I love how a wistful atmosphere is conjured up.  And Richard Fairbrass has an excellent voice.  I make no apology.

Today I've mostly spent working with an old friend on that secret project in a new medium I can't talk about yet.  But much coolness is happening behind the scenes, and I'll be able to share some of it with you soon.  One day you'll understand my time management issues.  In the meantime, Cheerio!

Casual Fridays: Tammy Taylor Takes a Seat

It's going to be a pretty short Casual Friday today, and perhaps quite a babbling one, mainly because of this:

That being the manuscript of the novel I have coming out in November, back from the line editor, and thus covered with many, many tiny notes, which I have to address, either accepting or ignoring them.  I have to return the marked-up manuscript to Tor by next Wednesday.  To save a day or so, I may take it over to their offices myself, like in the old days when that was the safest way of delivering a manuscript to Virgin Books.  So that's a large chunk of my working days until then sorted.  Earlier this week I wrote some comics pages, and finished up a quick comics-related side project that re-unites me with an artist with whom I've worked for before, for a rather unexpected publication.  And I spent Monday working with another collaborator on our venture into what I'm for now only referring to as a new medium for me.  That went rather well.  (And was one of the things that caused me such joy in tweeting on that day.)  And I've also got back into the new Hamilton story, which is moving along nicely.

First up, let's deal with some matters outstanding. Comics for Heroes is an organisation that sends your spare comics to children's hospitals and troops overseas.  If you live in the USA, then they're the people to take your longboxes to, sending your unwanted extras off to a very good home.

And if you live in the UK (particularly if you're near London), and have some spare comics, how about passing them on to James Bacon? He's helping out with teen and children's events at the Chicago Worldcon, and giving him your extras is a great way to spread the word to new readers.  He can be found at:

On Saturday, March 10th, at 3pm EST, I'll be doing a live Creator's Workshop for the members of the Comic Experience Book Club, a subscription service.  I'll be talking purely about the craft of writing Knight and Squire, which I find a very refreshing idea.

I'm interviewed on the latest edition of the Comic Book Roadshow podcast, talking about Demon Knights and Saucer Country. I had a great time as always with those guys.

I was pleased to contribute to this blog in support of Brett Ewins, the great 2000AD artist who's been suffering from mental illness, and has gotten into an unfortunate situation as a result.  Lots of cool art from Brett to be found there, and some grand celebrity contributions.

The nominations for the Eagle Awards are up, the link there going to an online form where you can vote for your favourites.  Congratulations to everyone on that list.  It's great to see Doctor Who Magazine once again in the running, Maura McHugh's Jennifer Wilde getting a nod, and Michael Carroll in a tough fight for Best Newcomer Writer.  But what will it take to get Frank Hampson on that Roll of Honour?

Another awards system you can get involved with is the Clarkes.  Yes, they're juried awards, but every year the Torque Control blog holds a contest, where you get to pick which six titles (from the list of sixty novels sent to the Awards by publishers) will form the short list.  As you'll see, I went about picking my list in a rather unconventional way.

Okay, so let me get to the central story of this week's blog.  I went along to the London Super Comic Con last weekend, and in general had a good time, sitting at my table meeting people literally every moment I spent there, and giving away, as always, free comics.  It seemed a well-organised event, and the crowd was large and enthusiastic.  I felt quite a disconnect from the organisation, however, because they'd responded to my decision about only appearing on convention panels with an even split of male and female guests by simply dropping me from the DC panel.  (Though they then arranged for me to appear on what was a balanced costume contest judging panel, where we had a good time, saw some brilliant cosplay, and gave the prize to an excellent Dr. Doom.)  My alienation was eased, however, by a decision UK comics writer Simon Spurrier took.  He was on a 'how to write comics panel', and decided, only warning the moderator about it on the way in, that he was going to make his own stand for Panel Parity.  What happened next he describes here. Simon had sought out beforehand a talented female comics creator, Tammy Taylor, her blog being here. Tammy had the courage, when Simon left the panel, to stand up and go and take a seat on it.  She was welcomed by moderator and fellow panelists, and did incredibly well, speaking about the given subject with great authority (which obviously doesn't come as any surprise).  I'm sure Si would join me in saying she wasn't given anything at that moment: she still had to go up and take it.  We had a chat afterwards, and I may have gushed a bit at her over the awesomeness of what she did.  I'm hoping she'll be a guest on here soon, and I hear she's coming to Eastercon.

The best thing about that whole incident is that now anyone who sets up a convention panel that isn't gender-balanced might suddenly find that the panel and the audience have other ideas.  I talked to a couple of other creators that day who said they'll be tempted to make sudden exits in the future.  And the representatives of little Melksham Comic Con told me they could announce complete Panel Parity (which is relatively easy for small events like theirs, but still, it's a great gesture).  Convergence in Minnesota have also told me they'll be at Panel Parity for every panel they themselves control (they sub-contract a handful), which is a much larger achievement, but made easier by their very balanced audience.

On this same subject, as I've mentioned before, a few weeks ago I got a life-changing email from a friend of mine, SF academic Farah Mendlesohn, in which she took me to task for the way I'd initially approached the Panel Parity campaign.  She called me on my egotism, and on various specifics of how I'd set up the plan.  It was a hard message to read, but I realised, after a lot of huffing and puffing, that she was right.  And so I made several changes to the plan.  (I've referred to several aspects of this since then, but never all in one place, apart from editing the original blog post.)  Si's approach, for example, in actively finding a woman creator beforehand to take one's place on a panel, is one I now follow.  (At the time, I felt I shouldn't be the one choosing who was 'worthy', but that puts even more pressure on those who might come and take a panel place.)  I'm also now at pains to point out that I'm the latest in a whole history of people who've been doing this for decades, including many creators who always let convention organisers know beforehand that they won't appear on non-balanced panels.  (I've now been in touch with every convention I'm going to, though some haven't replied.)  I'd argue that this means it's always easy to drop me from a panel, as the LSCC did.  But I agree that's probably the way forward for more long-term change.  And I've turned down anything that turns the Plan into personal publicity, sending such inquiries to the female-led 50/50 campaign, soon to be announcing itself.  (Drop a line to to get involved.)  There's a fine line between trying to not put oneself in the spotlight and just hiding, but I'm attempting to walk it.  All in all, I intend to learn from female creators along the way, and adjust my approach based on their advice and help.  I hope to be an ally, not a supporter who offers that support with conditions attached.  (The campaign will continue, with the adjustments I've mentioned now in place.)  I'm hoping that one day soon a Tammy Taylor will come up and take a panel place when nobody on that panel is prepared for it.  Farah and I will hopefully be appearing on an Eastercon panel about all the issues brought up by this situation, and about male reactions to feminist policy in general.  I think that might be an excellent hour.  I continue, in short, to do my best, but fail often.  And working through these issues with Farah again this week has been an honour, if at times a painful one, a journey through some serious detail which took me to some depths, but left me feeling, well, welcomed and encouraged.

Speaking of Farah, I picked up her new book at the BSFA meeting last Wednesday, The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature, (co-edited with Edward James).  It's both a useful primer on the history of the fantastic, and pursues depths in various directions, exploring the sub-genres and all the many different sources of fantasy story, with contributions from Nnedi Okorafor, Gary. K. Wolfe, Adam Roberts, Roz Kaveney and many others.  All wrapped in a beautiful John Picacio cover.

It's been a heavy week: enormous considerations of one's own conduct, Richard Carpenter passing away (such an important writer to me, one of the greats of British telefantasy, his Robin of Sherwood being utterly central to everything I've done, never mind that he actually changed 'what everyone knows' about the Robin Hood myth, that his RoS novelisation became the art-cover definitive young reader edition, that everything he did was rooted in deep research and a love of the Matter of Britain, that Rob Holdstock was a fan of his, that offhand one can name a bunch of great shows he created, from Catweazle to The Scarlet Pimpernel, that he was one of the few great fantasists whose primary medium was television, and here I am, never having met him despite being in the same building a few times, writing off all that in a few lines), and then, dear God, Davey Jones.

So, today's music choice is one of my favourite songs, which shows off all sorts of joy and talent.  Look at the narrative this clip from the TV show builds up, from what's happening in the audience to what the two 'too cool' band members are doing to undermine it all.  And look at how good Davey is.

Here's to the hard weeks.  Sorry this has been mad, even by my standards.  I'll be going along to the British Fantasy Society open night this evening. I hope to see some of you there. Until then, Cheerio.