Mancunicon 2016 — book recs

Note: these are not books that I am recommending personally, because I haven’t read any of them yet. They are instead books that other people at the con talked about sufficiently enthusiastically that I now want to read them. Some of them are on my (now much larger) to-read pile, either in dead tree form or electronically; some aren’t yet.

First up: two people I know had book launch parties at the con! David L. Clements released his collection of short stories, ‘Disturbed Universes’ (from NewCon Press); and Siobhan McVeigh has a story in the collection ‘Existence is Elsewhere’ from Elsewhen Press (scroll right down for buying options). I heard various of the authors reading extracts from their stories in this book at the launch and they all sounded great.

The rest of my recs are from the Feminist Fantasy panel:

  • Jo Walton ‘Lifelode’ (annoyingly, it seems to be out of print, and expensive second-hand)
  • The Chinese myth series Dream of Red Mansions
  • Elizabeth Gouge (note that not all of her books are fantasy)
  • Octavia Butler ‘The Wild Sea’
  • Someone mentioned the Green Knowe series of children’s books, which are sort-of historical fantasy. I read them as a child (a long time ago now) but am now minded to have a look for them the next time I’m in the library and see how they’ve held up.
  • Tanith Lee
  • Lois McMaster Bujold ‘Paladin of Souls’ — I have read this one and it is GREAT. Very strongly recommended.
  • Kate Elliott — both fiction and non-fiction. (Just looked at her post about her own books/series and am now wondering how I missed all of this for this long. Looks great!)
  • Mary Stewart — Merlin trilogy
  • Andre Norton ‘Year of the Unicorn’. (I should probably have read this already…) (but I haven’t, so.)

To enlarge your (my) reading list further, E. G. Cosh (who was on a panel with me and is v cool) has a recs post too.

Mancunicon 2016 — con report

I spent the weekend at Mancunicon, this year’s Eastercon, a gathering of UK (and a few international) SFF fans. And lo! I had a splendid time. I caught up with old friends and met new ones; I acquired half a suitcase full of dead tree and a vast recommended books list; I went to some panels; I took part in two panels for the first time; and I got three full nights of uninterrupted sleep PLUS several naps in my lovely quiet hotel room*.

A great start to the weekend was Friday afternoon’s panel on coping with anxiety at cons. I particularly liked the snowball theory, where meeting one person leads to meeting more people; and it is indeed true that fans are, in general, friendly. Volunteering is also a good way to engage with people if you’re a bit anxious. Having a job to do can be calming, and you’ll automatically meet more people. Many thanks to the panel for being honest about their own stuff and encouraging to the rest of us.

‘A Feminist Fantasy Canon’ on Saturday dispensed immediately with the notion of a “canon” as something of a patriarchal construct, but were happily still prepared to provide recommendations instead. There was a fair bit of discussion of the role of the “kick-ass chick”/woman with a sword, alongside the ways in which feminist fantasy can tackle “women’s work”, women’s interests and domestic fantasy. They’re both valid narratives (as are a whole host of narratives in the middle) ; the problem comes when kick-ass chick is the only narrative, and we’re simply transplanting women into very masculine swords-and-power stories.

Fantasy can also, the panel agreed, be insufficiently imaginative about what is and isn’t possible; the mindset in which dragons and telepathy are fine, but women in roles of power are “historically inaccurate”. Not to mention the fact that, as per Kate Elliot’s recent column, our view of ‘historical accuracy’ is woefully distorted when it comes to what women actually did and did not do. (See also, of course, ‘We Have Always Fought’ by Kameron Hurley.)

My first panel, Saturday lunchtime, was ‘Balancing the Creative Life’, where we talked about how to wrangle day job/family/writing/creating/anything else you might be trying to squeeze into your time. It was lovely to hear from the other panellists about how they wrangle their very different creative and work lives, as well as to be able to talk about my own problems and solutions. (Noise-cancelling headphones are my top tip to anyone trying to work in a noisy household, especially if the noise includes small children.) In other news, I am still looking for successful solutions to that time-sink of all time-sinks, the Internet.

Sunday lunchtime saw me and awesome co-panelists talking about ‘Supporting the Short Stuff’. We agreed that the short story market for SFF as a whole actually looks pretty healthy; venues opening and venues closing again is simply pretty much par for the course with any sort of small business. Which still means: if you want to read short fiction, support the publications and websites that you read, whether that’s through subscriptions or Patreon or Kickstarter or just linking to stories you like. There was some discussion about expanding the ‘bubble’ of those who read speculative short fiction, how people are already trying to do that, and how else it might be done — podcasts, anthologies, crowdfunding, link-sharing…

‘All Roads Lead to Kings Landing’ had a fascinating array of writers of epic fantasy talking about their various approaches to plotting, fights and battle scenes, conflicts, and world-building. ‘Steampunk as a Force for Good’ on Sunday evening sadly didn’t tackle the diversity and colonialism issues of steampunk as much as I would have liked it to; nor did it quite live up to the ‘radical potential of steampunk’ tag in the programme description. I did however discover that someone has recently run a Harry Potter activism workshop, which sounds amazing.

As I had a train to catch first thing Monday, my con finished up on Sunday evening with some bar time and then half of sing-a-long Rocky Horror before midnight approached and I ran out of steam. Next year I will try to stay a bit longer as some of the Monday panels sounded awesome. I’m looking forward to Birmingham / Innominate 2017 already.

Books rec round-up to follow here

* I gather that treating cons as “catching up on sleep” time is not entirely usual, but apparently that is what parenting has done to me.

Furthest Tales of the City

Look what arrived in the post for me!

Furthest Tales of the City

Stories by some splendid writers including me:

Furthest Tales of the City contents

I haven’t read it yet as it only arrived yesterday, but am greatly looking forward to it. Some of the titles look especially interesting, but I may have to start with Helen Angove’s story.

(Buy it here from the publishers, Obverse Books, in paperback or ebook form.)

Permaculture Diploma presentation

I’ve finished my Permaculture Diploma (all the designs and so on are up here)! I’ll be doing my final presentation at the London Permaculture Festival this Sunday, from 11:30-1:30. There are three of us doing a bunch of mini-talks and chatting to people about urban permaculture and the diploma, so it’s not just 2 straight hours of being talked at.

Come along if you’re free; there’s loads of stuff going on at the festival as a whole, and if you’re at all interested in permaculture it’s well worth going.

Iris on Mars

Current writing news: Iris Wildthyme of Mars (in which I have a story) is now out from Obverse Press in ebook form and available for preorder (pub date 30 Sept) in dead tree form. The cover art is awesome.

Iris Wildthyme of Mars FrontCover

I haven’t read my copy yet (I am in the throes of a Dorothy L. Sayers re-read; previous evidence suggests that it is useless even trying to extract myself before I reach the end) but am greatly looking forward to it. There are plenty of fine authors in there.

Philip Purser-Hallard, the editor, is also editor of another new Obverse collection, Tales of the Great Detectives (ebook or dead tree pre-order (30 Sept again)). So you might do well to read that one too (as I will be doing) (dammit, I need to read faster).

LonCon3

A fortnight ago I went to LonCon3 – not just my first Worldcon, but my first SFF con of any sort. Given that they were holding it about 20 min tube/DLR ride from me, in ExCel, it would have seemed churlish to skip it. 

There were a lot of panels. A LOT of panels. And I went to quite a few of them. I found myself ducking out of this one 15 min early so I could have a quick break / snack before dashing back for the next slot. It reminded me of when I first went to music festivals (20-odd years ago now) where I would pore over the programme planning how if I left *this* then and dashed over here I could catch half an hr of *that* on the way to *the other*… Another time I might endeavour to take it a little easier and give myself more time for everything else. (I entirely missed the Art Show, for example.)

Having said that, I enjoyed nearly everything I went to, and could happily go back and start over with a whole different set of things. (I missed most of the science track, for example). I have many pages of notes I am not about to type out, but a couple of panels particularly stuck in my mind afterwards (ie came to mind without checking said notes while writing this).
— Race and British SF: a really interesting discussion about who is writing what, where, and why, which left me with a much longer to-read list. 
— Ideology vs Politics in SF: the premise was that ideology (noble ideas) shows up in SF more often than politics (the grubby business of hammering out solutions), probably because the former is in general more interesting to write/read. Lots of discussion about the value of both about writers who do tackle politics, and about the radicalism of imagining a political alternative. 

There was also one talk (on worldbuilding) I left after getting too annoyed by the panelist who invariably referred to a hypothetical character as “he”. A shame as there was good stuff from the other panelists, but it was just too irritating. I cheered myself by getting some dal for a late lunch. 

I saw “kaffeeklatsch” repeatedly on the programme with no explanation, then when I established what it was, was too shy to sign up. Then I found myself sitting next to Stephanie Saulter (author of the excellent novels Gemsigns and Binary, about which I was most enthusiastic at her) at another panel. She mentioned her kaffeeklatsch, which gave me the courage to sign up. I’m glad I did – it was a lovely hour, and I also got to meet and chat to Anne Charnock (whose novel A Calculated Life I have since read and enjoyed), Cindy of Draumr Kopa review blog, and someone from Birmingham SF group whose name now escapes me (oops). Buoyed by this I also went to Teresa and Patrick Neilsen Hayden’s one, which was interesting if less chatty. 

Despite my extensive panel attendance, I also managed to do a bit of socialising with people I didn’t know at all, and thus award myself a Big Gold Social Person Star. (I had a drink with a couple of folk I did know, too, but that is less challenging because I already know that they’re nice.) The fan village in many ways was great from a social point of view – lots of opportunity for mingling – but it was also very noisy (and echoey, being as how this was ExCel and therefore it was inside a big concrete box) which made life harder. I left one thing because I just couldn’t hear anyone, which did nothing for my intermittent social anxiety. 

Sunday I missed most of everything that didn’t involve hanging around in the fan village, as Leon came along for the day. He was delighted with his badge and First Worldcon ribbon and very enthusiastic about running round the ‘village green’ with a hula hoop. He is, however, still not panel-compatible. I went home with him and D at dinner time rather than staying for the Hugos. I was a little sorry, but following it on Twitter over pizza and a glass of wine at home was still pretty exciting, and also involved pizza. A very pleasing set of results. 

(Given how Sunday panned out and that I would have had L with me on Monday too, I somewhat reluctantly stayed home on Monday and missed the final day, bah.)

Brilliant weekend, if exhausting. I would go again like a shot if it ever comes back to Europe. And after over 20 years of being a fan of sorts but never going to a con, I am now signed up for both Eastercon and 9 Worlds next year and greatly looking forward to both.