April books

Non-fiction: 3 (YTD 12)
Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg by Robert Silverberg and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
The View from the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaiman
Words are My Matter, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Fiction (non-sf): 1 (YTD 5)
The Habit of Loving by Doris Lessing

sf (non-Who): 8 (YTD 26)
A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers
Pounded In The Butt By My Second Hugo Award Nomination, by Chuck Tingle
The Arrival of Missives, by Aliya Whiteley
Daughter of Eden, by Chris Beckett
Europe in Winter, by Dave Hutchinson
Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee
Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer
Death’s End, by Cixin Liu

Doctor Who, etc: 2 (YTD 10)
The Cabinet of Light, by Daniel O'Mahony
The Gods of the Underworld, by Stephen Cole

Comics: 2 (YTD 6)
The Vision vol 1: Little Worse Than A Man, by Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta
Lars (Anders vol 1), by Kristof Spaey

4,500 pages (YTD 14,600)
5/15 (YTD 20/60) by women (Le Guin, Lessing, Chambers, Whitely, Palmer)
2/15 (YTD 5/60) by PoC (Lee, Liu)

Reread: 0 (YTD 2)

Reading now
Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (a chapter a month)
A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth
The Parrot’s Theorem, by Denis Guedj
The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin
Lavondyss by Robert Holdstock

Coming soon (perhaps):
Argonautica by Valerius Flaccus
The Stormcaller by Tom Lloyd
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold
Every Step You Take by Maureen O'Brien
The Innocent Man by John Grisham
Saga Volume 6 by Brian K Vaughan
Warriors ed. George R. R. Martin
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Europe In The Sixteenth Century by H. G. Koenigsberger and George L. Mosse
Dune by Frank Herbert
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling
De Mexicaan met twee hoofden by Joann Sfar
De piraten van de Zilveren Kattenklauw by Geronimo Stilton
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
1688: A Global History by John E. Wills
New Europe by Michael Palin
The Angel Maker, by Stefan Brijs
Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro
HWJN by Ibraheem Abbas
Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 by David Kynaston
A Woman of the Iron People, by Eleanor Arnason
Short Trips: Ghosts of Christmas, ed. Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
The Dalek Factor, by Simon Clark
The Squire’s Crystal, by Jac Rayner

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Sunday reading

Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (a chapter a month)
A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth
The Parrot’s Theorem, by Denis Guedj
The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin
Lavondyss, by Robert Holdstock

Last books finished
Words are My Matter, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Lars, by Kristof Spaey
Death’s End, by Cixin Liu

Next books
Argonautica, by Valerius Flaccus
The Stormcaller by Tom Lloyd
Short Trips: Ghosts of Christmas, ed. Cavan Scott and Mark Wright

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My votes for the 2017 Hugo for Best Related Work

I'm writing this as a locked entry in April, with online voting having started less than a week ago, and planning to make it public after the results are out. I think what I'm going to do is simply post my votes, without much analysis, and also my laughably foolish retrospective prediction of who I thought was going to win.

My first preference vote went to Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, by Ursula K. Le Guin. Second paragraph of third essay:

They asked me to tell you what it was like to be a pregnant girl—we weren’t “women” then—a pregnant college girl who, if her college found out she was pregnant, would expel her, there and then, without plea or recourse. What it was like, if you were planning to go to graduate school and get a degree and earn a living so you could support yourself and do the work you loved—what it was like to be a senior at Radcliffe and pregnant and if you bore this child, this child which the law demanded you bear and would then call “unlawful,” “illegitimate,” this child whose father denied it, this child which would take from you your capacity to support yourself and do the work you knew it was your gift and your responsibility to do: What was it like?

I found this collection of essays full of wisdom and wit, often making fun of people who deserve it. It made me feel like I was in conversation with a vastly intelligent and immensely compassionate old friend. I voted for it with no hesitation.

My second vote went to The Geek Feminist Revolution, by Kameron Hurley. Second paragraph of third essay:

Clients come to you because sales are down, or a new competitor is in town, or they’ve been told they need “a website” or “a radio ad.” And a lot of the time you have to just be an order taker and do those things, even knowing that’s not the real problem. It’s like coming to your therapist and saying you have depression but what you really need to get better is a Snickers bar so if the therapist could just give you one, that’d be great, and you go on your merry way and wonder, three months later, why you’re still so depressed even though you got the Snickers bar you asked for, so you say it’s because you have a shitty therapist.

Includes the last winner of this Hugo, “We Have Always Fought…”. I deducted points for one piece where my take was rather different from hers, but in general this is the sort of interesting and often angry writing about genre that is firmly in the Le Guin mould, except several decades younger. In a different year, I'd have been tipping it to win.

My third vote goes to Neil Gaiman's A View From The Cheap Seats. Second paragraph of third essay:

This means that I have impressed my daughters by having been awarded the Newbery Medal, and I impressed my son even more by defending the fact that I had won the Newbery Medal from the hilarious attacks of Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report, so the Newbery Medal made me cool to my children. This is as good as it gets.

There are some nice pieces here, particularly if you are interested in the craft and career of writing either prose fiction or comics (which I'm not particularly). There are some very passionate piece as well. Nothing wrong with it! Just that I liked the other two more.

In this category I'm pretty sure that Carrie Fisher's The Princess Diarist is going to have won by the time you read this, though it got only my fourth preference. Second paragraph of third chapter:

Everything was a little worse for the wear, but good things would happen in these buildings. Lives would be led, businesses would prosper, and men would attend meetings—hopeful meetings, meetings where big plans were made and ideas were proposed. But of all the meetings that had ever been held in that particular office, none of them could compare in world impact with the casting calls for the Star Wars movie.

It is a brutal reminiscence of youth from a woman who (though she did not know it) had only a short time to live after writing it down, making it clear how she was exploited by those around her and how clearly she sees that now. I think it will be pretty irresistible to those who loved her performance both on and off screen, especially if they haven't read a lot of showbiz memoirs (personally, I've read a lot of books by and about Doctor Who people, so I'm more familiar with this sub-genre). But hey, maybe I was proved wrong last Friday.

I'm voting Sarah Gailey's Women of Harry Potter posts fifth, though I imagine that voters will be kinder. Second paragraph of third post (about Dolores Umbridge):

Is the villain the leader who starts the movement? The demagogue who decides to rally the tiny cruelties that live within the hearts of people who think of themselves as good? Is it the person who blows on the embers of hatred until they finally catch and erupt into an all-consuming flame?

I'm not a massive Potter fan (though I have no quarrel with those who are) and I found these pieces a bit one-note. Perhaps if I were more deeply immersed in the Potterverse I would have liked them more.

Sixth, but not finally, is Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg, by Robert Silverberg and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro. Second paragraph of third chapter:

Robert Silverberg. I awaken early in the morning. I eat regular meals. When at home, I have the same breakfast every day. I have the same sandwich for lunch every day. When I’m traveling, of course, anything goes.

In fairness, it’s not all as dull as this extract would suggest. But I’d have liked to hear more about Silverberg’s attitude to his own work, and the book lacked a chronology or other analytical apparatus.

Last of all, No Award. The Best Related Work category is the one that has been hardest hit by the recent unpleasantness, with No Award (rightly) winning in 2015 and 2016. Thanks to the new arrangements, we had six viable candidates this year, and I am pretty confident in predicting that No Award will come last. And a good thing too.

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26 April party – for archive








































































Kate Fearon, Anne

Elka van Oosterhout, Fergal

(Alison Chambers), Anne, (Don Scargill)

(Alison Chambers) (anne) (Don Scargill), me, (Vesselin Valkanov)

Kevin O'Leary, Timea Varga, Marielle van Heumen, Chris Levy

Mohamoud Daar, Charles Tannock MEP

Etienne Chereau, Emmanuelle Deroubaix, (Graham Andrews), ?Aart van Iterson

Matthias van Malderghem

Dave Keating

(with Graham Watson and Rita Giannini)

Amelie Coulet

?Kim Putzeys, Hugh Kirk, Dave Keating, Amelie Coulet

Jackie Hale, Ann-Isabelle von Lingen

Ingrid Wetterqvist

Ann-Isabelle von Lingen, Jackie hale

Phindile Dube, me, Alison Chambers

Me, Kim Putzeys

Me (Kim Putzeys)

Alison Chambers, Phindile Dube

Neil Corlett, Brian Maguire

Phindile Dube

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Sunday reading

Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (a chapter a month)
A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth
Words are My Matter, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Death’s End, by Cixin Liu
The Parrot’s Theorem, by Denis Guedj

Last books finished
The Habit of Loving by Doris Lessing
Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer
The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man, written by Tom King, illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta

Next books
Lavondyss, by Robert Holdstock
Argonautica, by Valerius Flaccus
The Stormcaller by Tom Lloyd

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Some sf books I read that didn’t make the Hugo ballot: Bujold, Peter Brown, Vernon, Whitehead

The Hugo nominations took a lot of what would otherwise have been reading and blogging time so far this year, so I am only now beginning to catch up. Here are four Hugo-eligible books which I read as the votes were coming in, which did not however make the final ballot. It's some time since I read each of them, so my notes are fairly cursory.

Penric's Mission, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“Now what?” he called up, not expecting a reply.

This is my favourite of the four I'm looking at here – Penric is emerging as a great Bujold character in the mould of Miles Vorkosigan, and the story is a fascinating one of political intrigue and healing from horrible injury which leans a bit on Zelazny's Amber.

I got it mainly because it was Bujold but also because it was close to the Hugo novel/novella boundary – in fact it is just over 45,000 words which is the current upper limit for novellas, though it was marketed as a novella by the publishers and mainly nominated as a novella by voters. I hereby give notice that, if I can find a seconder, I am going to propose that the novel/novella boundary for Hugo purposes set in paragraph 3.2.8 of the WSFS constitution should have a flexibility of 20% (ie 8,000 words rather than 5,000 as at present) like all other such boundaries.

The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown (did not finish)

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“Hello, I am ROZZUM unit 7134, but you may call me Roz. While my robotic systems are activating, I will tell you about myself.[”]

Another instance of the need for greater flexibility in the Hugo novel/novella boundary, this is a shade under 35,000 words, the current minimum for a finalist in the Best Novel category, but was marketed and mainly nominated as a novel.

I feel less strongly because I didn't like it and couldn't finish it; I have a blind spot about cute anthropomorphic robots, and the protagonist here is one of the most typical examples I have come across recently.

The Raven and the Reindeer, by T. Kingfisher [Ursula Vernon]

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“A hundred-year storm,” said Gerta’s grandmother. “The Snow Queen rides tonight.

Another one that I got because there seemed to be some confusion about its length, though in fact I found it was far into novel territory at over 56,000 words. It's a gritty, fleshy retelling of the Snow Queen story, which I admit gave me some sleepless moments in the middle of the night while I was reading it.

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

Second paragraph of third chapter:

He had a saloon partner named Tom Bird, a half-breed who took a sentimental turn when lubricated by whiskey. On nights when Tom Bird felt separate from his life’s design, he shared stories of the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit lived in all things – the earth, the sky, the animals and forests – flowing through and connecting them in a divine thread. Although Ridgeway’s father scorned religious talk, Tom Bird’s testimony on the Great Spirit reminded him of how he felt about iron. He bent to no god save the glowing iron he tended in his forge. He’d read about the great volcanoes, the lost city of Pompeii destroyed by fire that poured out of mountains from deep below. Liquid fire was the very blood of the earth. It was his mission to upset, mash, and draw out the metal into the useful things that made society operate: nails, horseshoes, plows, knives, guns. Chains. Working the spirit, he called it.

This one caught my eye as by far the best scorer on GoodReads/Librarything stats on the BSFA longlist. I found it fascinating – a combination of 19th-century slavery narratives (of which I have read a few) with steampunk; the "underground railroad" of the title is a literal subterranean rail transport system which the protagonists use to try and keep a step ahead of the vindictive slave-catcher Ridgeway. I am surprised I haven't read more about this in my usual sources.

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Interesting Links for 22-04-2017

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Interesting Links for 21-04-2017

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Sunday Reading

Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (a chapter a month)
A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth
The Habit of Loving by Doris Lessing
Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer
Words are My Matter, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Last books finished
Europe in Winter, by Dave Hutchinson
The Gods of the Underworld, by Stephen Cole
The View from the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaiman
Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee

Next books
The Parrot’s Theorem, by Denis Guedj
Lavondyss, by Robert Holdstock
Argonautica, by Valerius Flaccus

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Interesting Links for 16-04-2017

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Interesting Links for 14-04-2017

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Interesting Links for 12-04-2017

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My votes for BSFA Best Novel 2016

Not disclosing my ranking: A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers

Second paragraph of third chapter:

It was too much. Too much, and yet, the restrictions that were in place made processing the Port all the harder. Things were happening behind the kit, she knew. She could hear them, smell them. The visual cone of perception that had rattled her upon installation was maddening now. She found herself jerking the kit sharply around at loud noises and bright colours, trying desperately to take it all in. That was her job. To look. To notice. She couldn’t do that here, not with fragmented views of crowds without edges. Not in a city that covered a continent.

A Hugo finalist, so no comment from me until after Worldcon.

4-5) Azanian Bridges, by Nick Wood

Second paragraph of third chapter:

She’s a short skinny woman, an Indian, a bright green headscarf hiding her hair, so I assume she’s a Muslim. My mother may not have approved of her then – but that matters little now, for she herself is long gone.

I liked all of these a lot, but one has to start pruning somewhere, and though I really loved the concept of a parallel track of history where apartheid and the Soviet union never fell (yet Obama got elected) I felt there were some glitches in the execution and characterisation. It's the shortest of the shortlisted books, though, and still well worth a read.

3-4) Occupy Me, by Tricia Sullivan

Second paragraph of third chapter:

‘His hands and feet are cold,’ Maja says. ‘Mucus is building up in his throat. But he’s responsive. I can call the family if you think it’s appropriate.’

A tight and yet occasionally spectacular narrative of transhumans getting into trouble. Good fun, didn't quite grab me as much as some of the others.

2-3) Europe in Winter, by Dave Hutchinson

Second paragraph of third chapter:

He was on his way into town, changing trains at Euston Underground station, riding the escalator up from the Victoria Line platforms, and as he neared the top everything was suddenly unfamiliar. It was as if he had not only never been in this place before, but in this situation. What was this moving staircase? What were these tunnels? What did all these signs mean? Which language were they in? He felt a sense of fear so profound that he stopped at the top of the escalator and several people coming up behind him bumped into him and almost knocked him over.

Ties the two previous volumes of the trilogy together, fractured future and fractured past; I wasn't quite sure where we got to in the end but I very much enjoyed the journey.

1-2) Daughter of Eden, by Chris Beckett

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Michael’s Place didn’t look so different, I guess, from where I used to live on Knee Tree Grounds, with its bark shelters arranged round a circle of open space where we lit our fires and sang our songs. I guess that’s how low people live all over Eden. But the ground it stood on was black dirt instead of pale sand, and the trees shining round it were Wide Forest trees – whitelanterns with their pure white shining globes, redlanterns with their long tubes of glowing pink, and spiketrees with their little bright blue flowers – and not the knee trees with their drooping branches and yellow-green flowers that grew out on the Grounds. And another another thing that was different was that, right there in middle of the circle of open space the shelters stood round, there was another circle, a little circle of small round stones gathered from poolside, which no one ever stepped inside. Every Davidfolk cluster had one of these, even if it was only tiny. It was a copy of the original Circle of Stones, over there across the Dark, in Circle Valley, which marked the place where people from Earth had first come down to Eden, and to which, so the Davidfolk believed, Earth people would one waking return. About thirty of us lived there round that little ring of stones, including grownups, newhairs, oldies and little kids, and it was my home now. It was the new family I’d found, after I’d lost the one I had before, and after a lonely time with no one to be with at all. I’d become one of them, one of the Davidfolk, who believe that nothing is more important than family, and nothing matters more than keeping family together.

I've been a big fan of the Eden books, but I think this caps the trilogy very nicely indeed – and I think it's also sufficiently distinct from the previous two (though with some reference to previous events) that someone new to the trilogy could enjoy it. Eden, if you don't know, is a world on the edge of the galaxy where the planet's inner heat supplies enough energy to give it a viable atmosphere; its human inhabitants are the descendants of two survivors of a lost spaceship centuries ago. Their mythology centres around Earth. But what happens when Earth comes to visit? Really good.

Novel | Art | Non-Fiction | Short Fiction

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My votes for BSFA Best Art 2016

Since none of the artists whose work is up for the BSFA for Best Art is also on the Hugo ballot, I think I can list my preferences here in the usual way.

6) Suzanne Dean and Kai & Sunny – Cover of The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan (William Heinemann).

Geometrically pleasing but not super-exciting.

5) David A Hardy – Cover of Disturbed Universes by David L Clements (NewCon Press).

Hardy is one of the great sf artists, but this didn't appeal to me as much as some of his other work.

4) Chris Moore – Cover of The Iron Tactician by Alastair Reynolds (NewCon Press).

A more interesting composition, but again didn't quite grab me.

3) Tara Bush – Transition (Cover of Black Static #53).

This is more like it, an interesting and somewhat haunting playing with images.

2) Juan Miguel Aguilera – Cover of The 1000 Year Reich by Ian Watson (NewCon Press).

Much more going on here; you feel that this is an important moment in the history of an interesting world/worlds.

1) Sarah Anne Langton – Cover for Central Station by Lavie Tidhar (Tachyon Publications).

Fascinating, weird, does amazing things with only one colour and just a few lines at angles to each other. Makes me want to read the book, more than any of the others do.

Novel | Art | Non-Fiction | Short Fiction

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Goodreads/LibraryThing stats: Hugo final ballot

Many things slipped my mind over the final few days of preparing the Hugo final ballot for publication, and one of them was my usual report on the number of owners and average rating of the Best Novel finalists by users of Goodreads and LibraryThing. This may well measure nothing more than the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, of course. For what it's worth, here are the figures:

Goodreads LibraryThing
owners av rating owners av rating
All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders 65547 3.58 666 3.60
The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin 22695 4.38 288 4.20
Death's End, by Cixin Liu 18745 4.48 220 4.19
Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer 16480 3.97 226 4.06
Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee 12487 3.96 197 4.01
A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers 14361 4.41 153 4.37

As I noted with the Nebulas, All the Birds in the Sky is way ahead in terms of number of owners, but the ratings for some of the others are pretty strong.

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My votes for BSFA Best Non-Fiction 2016

This is the second year that the BSFA has had its two-stage vote system in effect, and for the second year in succession I think it’s had a positive impact particularly in this category, where some very odd stuff was showing up in the early part of this decade (like, a novel in this non-fiction category back in 2010, and a poorly written essay in 2013).

It’s good to see academic treatments of sf getting extra prominence via the shortlist as well, even though it does mean that there is some variation of format among the entries, with blog posts and series of blog posts jostling monographs and essays. But I don’t think that is avoidable; there’s not really enough interest in the category to allow splitting into sub-categories.

So, all that being said, here is my ranking, in reverse order, with the second paragraph of the third chapter or section of each shortlisted work. (None of the BSFA shortlist is on the Hugo final ballot, so I am unrestrained.)

Not Ranked: “New Model Authors? Authority, Authordom, Anarchism and the Atomized Text in a Networked World”, Paul Graham Raven (Adam Roberts: Critical Essays)

Second paragraph of third section:

So the framings of Crowe’s with which I am here concerned are those of ephemerality and utopianism, and I shall deal with the latter first. Writing on the history of the utopian form in science fiction, Edward James (2003: 219) contends that the SF utopia has ‘mutated [ … ] into something very different from the classic utopia’, due to ‘the profound way in which utopianism has permeated SF’; this resulted in the subgenre of ‘technological utopianism’, in which the formation of the utopian society is achieved partly or totally through technological or scientific means, as opposed to the predominantly political; these utopias are defined less by a static, perfected society than a ‘continued struggle and progress’ ( James, 2003: 222). Meanwhile Ken MacLeod (2003: 238), in a survey of political forms in science fiction taken from the same volume, observes that ‘the closest analogy for a functioning anarchy is the internet’, a model whose attractiveness is rooted in the way in which it ‘vastly extends both private initiative and public space’ (MacLeod, 2003: 239). While the basic analogy still holds, however, technological progress has (perhaps counterintuitively) undermined the latter of the two extensional powers MacLeod ascribes to it.

This is a very well done and well executed piece of work, and I really enjoyed reading it and can understand why people nominated it. However it is clearly a work of fiction, so I won’t vote for it at all in the Best Non-Fiction category. I won’t say more to avoid spoiling the joke.

5) “Breaking the Cycle of the Golden Age: Jack Glass and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy”, Anna McFarlane (Adam Roberts: Critical Essays)

Second paragraph of third section:

In Jack Glass, this plurality is shown as silence, just as the Occupy movement’s lack of a cohesive political programme was experienced as silence by the political and financial elites. However, this silence is a powerful resistance due to the interplay between silence and servility in the text and its intertexts. Part 3 of the novel, ‘The Impossible Gun’, sees Jack Glass, Diana Argent, and her once-servant Sapho arrive at the Sump where they seek someone who can access information from a droid that they have in their possession. The droid has witnessed a murder which the group believe to be recorded in its memory, if only they can access it. Since Karl Čapek’s 1920 play R. U. R. first coined the word ‘robot’ (from ‘robota’, the Czech word for ‘forced labour’),18 robots have been used in science fiction to represent the working classes, the ‘trillions’ of the Jack Glass galaxy on whose labour the capitalist system relies. Texts featuring robots have revealed a bourgeois fear of revolution in that the earliest pulp stories about robots and mechanical men often portrayed robots running amok and destroying bourgeois society. Asimov wrote that,

By the time I was in my late teens and already a hardened science fiction reader, I had read many robot stories and found that they fell into two classes. In the first class there was the Robot-As-Menace… In the second class (a much smaller one) there was Robot-As-Pathos. In such stories the robots were lovable and were usually put upon by cruel human beings. These charmed me. (Asimov, 1995: 9)

One of two essays about Adam Roberts’ work on the list. I enjoyed Jack Glass when it was up for the BSFA Award four years ago; I was less convinced that it will have the staying power of the Foundation trilogy and didn’t feel I learned much from the comparison.

This was the only thing on the shortlist that I really bounced off.

4) “Introduction to The Big Book of Science Fiction“, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer (The Big Book of Science Fiction)
Second paragraph of third section:

Conte philosophique translates as “philosophical story” or “fable of reason.” The contes philosophiques were used for centuries in the West by the likes of Voltaire, Johannes Kepler, and Francis Bacon as one legitimate way for scientists or philosophers to present their findings. The conte philosophique employs the fictional frame of an imaginary or dream journey to impart scientific or philosophical content. In a sense, the fantastical or science-fictional adventure became a mental laboratory in which to discuss findings or make an argument.

An ambitious attempt to summarise the history of science fiction in 18 pages, which pointed me in some new directions. Very interesting.

3) “100 African Writers of SFF“, Geoff Ryman (Tor.com blog posts, part 1, part 2)

Second paragraph of third section of Part 1 [Nairobi]:

Binyavanga [Wanaina] was a key figure in the selection of writers for Africa 39, credited with researching the writers, with Ellah Wakatama Allfrey editing and a panel of three judging the final list of the 39 best African writers under 40. Binyavanga is a mainstream figure but he has always defended science fiction and its role in African literature. He did a reading a couple of years ago at the London School of Economics and it got inside his father’s head in a mix of biography and stream of consciousness fiction—it also drew heavily on science for its metaphors: Higgs Boson for unknowabilty, neutrinos (I seem to remember) for people who don’t interact with others.

Second paragraph of third section of Part 2 [Writers in the UK]:

Her mother wore the latest cloth in the market and held her head high, for her daughter was young – had just finished university, in fact – and was doing strong things. Her father bought himself an ozo title; one could hear him laughing kwa-kwa-kwa as he sat with his friends on the veranda of his new house, drinking palm wine and eating bush meat, flicking flies with his horsetail whisk. Yes-men and boy-boys would sing his praise names from the compound below and he would get up to spray naira notes on them like manna. Life was good.

—From “Story, Story: A Tale Of Mothers And Daughters”

Ryman has been evangelising the increasing strength of Africa as a source of new and great sff for some time, and in these two posts he looks very specifically at writers in Kenya and in the U.K. It’s a convincing survey which again gave me some new things to look out for once I have time to start looking out for new things again.

2) “THEN: Science Fiction Fandom in the UK 1930-1980”, Rob Hansen

Second paragraph of third chapter:

In the summer of 1947 the Willises discovered, in a second-hand bookshop on Austin Street, something whose existence they had not previously suspected: a US edition of Astounding. This led to a frantic scouring of Belfast and surrounding districts that didn’t produce any other issues but which did turn up a copy of Walter Gillings’s prozine Fantasy. In the letter section was a missive from a Belfast fan, one James White. Walt Willis wrote to him and White replied on 26th August, a day thereafter known as Irish Fandom day, and arranged to meet. The group had been born, but for the first few months they were content to do little more than read through each other’s books and magazines and to combine their collecting efforts. In December 1947, Willis came across an ad for the British Fantasy Library in one of the prozines and wrote off for details. The reply came in the form of a scribbled note from Ron Holmes and a mess of duplicated BFL material, including Operation Fantast. Since OF offered magazines that Willis wanted he got in touch with editor Ken Slater about them and also asked if Slater could put him in touch with any other fans in Belfast. He couldn’t. In March 1948 the third OF appeared, and among its enclosures was a copy of the first issue of Norman Ashfield’s fanzine, Alembic. As Willis recalls:

“It was this that started me off as a fanzine publisher, for Madeleine held it up and said, ‘Surely you could do better than that!’, and I thought maybe I could. It wasn’t that we had such contempt for Alembic, it was rather that it was more our sort of thing than OF had been. OF had news items and all sorts of proper magazine stuff, whereas Alembic was just comments and general talk by Norman. Besides, this was only the second fanzine I’d seen, and it made me realise that there was no closed shop.”

This was an absolutely fascinating read, covering the history of sf fandom in the U.K. from its earliest beginnings in great detail. I’ll hope to get my act together sufficiently to write a proper review of it; I was particularly interested in the important role played by fans in Belfast both before and after the Second World War, and of course it is interesting to read of the origins of people who we now know as venerable beings (including of course the late Peter Weston). I’m sure this will win the award, and deservedly so.

But my own top preference will go to:

1) “Boucher, Backbone and Blake: The Legacy of Blakes Seven“, Erin Horáková

Second paragraph of third section:

That aside, a remake can’t happen (or it really shouldn’t) because this is a show about terrorism—not like, incidentally. It’s a huge structuring element of the plot, because the central characters (whether or not they signed up to be) are political terrorists. They attack military facilities, sometimes threaten civilians, hijack a ship, and do other things that would be read by an anxious modern US audience as terrorism. If I say “terrorism” three times, an American network executive will appear in the mirror and pull funding (try it at home!). Get “Netflix?” out of your mouth—even your beloved “edgy”, “independent” networks would balk. They produce content with fucking and gore that pretends at sedition while reinforcing conservative thinking about the normalcy of sexual assault, the acceptability of military violence, etc. I’m not prudish about this, I’m just bored. Because it’s not fucking seditious, is it? All that is less risky than producing content with a fairly simple, coherent political through-line.

I am of the generation for whom Blake’s 7 was a crucial part of growing up, and a chill still goes down my back at the opening music. Horáková makes a passionate and convincing argument for the importance of the show in shaping science fiction television ever since, and for its wider political importance then and now. She pushes all my buttons, and she gets my vote.

Novel | Art | Non-Fiction | Short Fiction

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Sunday reading

Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (a chapter a month)
A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth
The View from the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaiman
The Gods of the Underworld, by Stephen Cole
Europe in Winter, by Dave Hutchinson

Last books finished (since 1 April)
The Cabinet of Light, by Daniel O’Mahoney
A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers
Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg by Robert Silverberg and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
Pounded In The Butt By My Second Hugo Award Nomination, by Chuck Tingle
The Arrival of Missives, by Aliya Whiteley
Daughter of Eden, by Chris Beckett

Next books
The Habit of Loving, by Doris Lessing
The Parrot’s Theorem, by Denis Guedj
Lavondyss, by Robert Holdstock

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