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).

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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. 

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And another one

Hurrah, another story out.

http://www.fictionmagazines.com/shop/realm-issues/new-realm-vol-02-08/

(Only just realised this, despite having looked before, due to their website being a bit counter-intuitive.)

In other news, I have begun revising the novel I’m working on at the moment. It is a bit like trying to put together a really big jigsaw puzzle in several dimensions, when you keep discovering that some of the pieces are missing, and other pieces that aren’t missing are actually from another puzzle altogether.

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Stories out, and sitting in fields

I have a couple of stories out in various places right now, should you be interested:

  • “The Loyal Dragon” in kids’ (age range 9-17) SFF magazine FrostFire Worlds (May 2014 issue). It has a dragon in it! (I have a long-term fondness for dragons.) Only available in print, and I suspect UK shipping will be expensive.
  • “Breaking Free” in Outposts of Beyond (July 2014 issue, also print only). This is set in the same world as my story ‘Blocking’ (published in Strange Bedfellows).
  • And forthcoming sometime soon in New Realms, “A Gift of Memory”, about gifts, trust, and mistakes made and forgotten.

In other news, I spent much of the last couple of weeks camping in fields. Firstly with a bunch of unschooling types down in Dorset (just me and Leon). Which was lovely, apart from the bit where Leon came down with a stomach bug. (In a tent. Not fun.) Still, at least the weather was good.

Then there was Glastonbury! For the 12th time for me (since 1997) and the 2nd for Leon. The weather was not so good there (intermittent rain, but I’ve certainly been there in much worse conditions) but the festival was as ever fantastic regardless of a bit of mud and damp. Leon was particularly keen on the Kidzfield, and on Shangri-Heaven early on Sunday night, where there were angels with bubbles and lots of running around space. Photos here.

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Review: The Goblin Emperor

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison, has been on my to-read list for a while. This is partly due to seeing generally positive things about it in many places, and partly because Katherine Addison was previously known as Sarah Monette. Sarah Monette wrote Melusine, which I read and thoroughly enjoyed, but by the time I discovered this, the remaining three novels in the series were annoyingly out of print.* The Goblin Emperor finally got bumped up to the top of the list after reading this review by Justin Landon, which mentioned both that it’s a work of genius, and, more importantly, that the protagonist, Maia, is actually nice.

As Landon observes, good-person protagonists are an increasing rarity in spec-fic. One of the other books I read recently was God’s War (Bel Dame Apocrypha #1), by Kameron Hurley. It too, in a different way, is an excellent book, but it’s a grim read, and protagonist Nyx is a long way from any descriptor like “nice” or “good”. I freely admit that I prefer my reading matter a bit on the positive side, and recently that seems to have been in short supply.

Anyway. I started out on The Goblin Emperor, and I fell in love, ooh, about three pages in. Maybe two. I galloped greedily and joyously through the first 3/4 of it, and then I slowed way down in the despairing knowledge that it was going to run out, and there are no sequels or anything (yet? please let it be ‘yet’). Then I did come to the end, and I stared thoughtfully at my Kindle, and then I hit the “go to start” button and I read it all over again. I managed not to read it a third time after that, but it was a close-run thing.

For a more thorough review, try Strange Horizons or The Book Smugglers or Tor (spoiler: they all loved it too). But what did I love about it? I loved the detailed world-building (airships and court politics and social structures and all the rest of it), and the gradual reveal of new parts and new aspects to existing parts. It’s beautifully handled, with confusion created and resolved at just the right rate. I loved Maia, the protagonist. (I really loved Maia.) He is, as Landon said, genuinely a good person. Not a perfect person; but someone trying to do their best, trying to do good in the world. I loved the racial and gender politics; again, beautifully and lightly handled. I loved the court politics and the wonderfully-observed government structures. I loved the interpersonal relationships. I also loved that it didn’t go for the “race to the grim” option; bad things happen, but they don’t feel gratuitous, and they don’t feel like the author is trying to demonstrate how TOUGH they are**.

Above everything else, I loved the feel of it; as several of the reviewers above mention, it is a warm, satisfying book that left me feeling better about the world.

I cannot recommend this highly enough, if you’re remotely into fantasy. And I really, desperately hope that there’s a sequel. In the meantime, I might just have to read it again.

* After reading this book, I now finally have them all on their way second-hand.
** I have this beef with quite a few recent spec-fic novels.

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Redesigning the patio

One of the problems I mentioned in my 2013 analysis concerned how much time we spend outside and how much we use the grassy area; as well as the herbs not being used enough in cooking. A couple of months ago I moved things around, but hadn’t blogged about it before today. So, some photos! (Sadly, some rainy photos, but there we go.)

I’ve move the mini greenhouse again, back up against the fence. This freed up the space next to the door for some of the most-used herb pots, and made it easier to get at the water butt. The herbs are now being used more often!

Patio corner, with house wall to left and tall fence at back of photo. Against the fence is a water butt, a mini greenhouse, and some herb pots. In front of the water butt is a folded rotary airer and some more herb pots stacked on paving slabs.

This little red paddling pool fits the space next to the door nicely. I’ve also hung a couple of the chairs on the fence to make more space.

Patio, house wall with window to rear of photo. Wooden table and chairs, with parasol, in front left of photo. Small red plastic paddling pool front right.

I moved the blueberry in the Butler sink to be in front of one of the raised beds, rather than next to it. This makes it easier to walk onto the grass from the back door. I’d still like to replace the concrete part of the patio with something more pleasant underfoot, and at the same level as the brick part, to increase the amount of usable space and reduce the perceived barrier between the parts of the garden, but that’s a long-term project. The strawberry planter is also not very useful (only the top section works well), so I may replant the strawberries elsewhere at the end of the season and get rid of it, with the same aim.

View of patio and grassy back garden. Wooden table and chairs on patio, various raised beds to back left of photo.

In unrelated news, so far the plastic bottle cloches plus copper tape are protecting the baby courgette plants from slug attack successfully:

Close-up of very young courgette plant, growing through the top of a plastic bottle placed around it on the soil. The bottle has copper tape around it.

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Pamphlets, folios, and zines

On a wall at the Bishopsgate Institute today, while visiting the London Radical Bookfair, I saw a quote from Voltaire:

“Twenty-volume folios will never make a revolution. It is the little pocket pamphlets that are to be feared.”

Inside the hall, folios (albeit only single-volume) were piled high on booksellers’ tables. Weighty, academic books with lots of long words. Now, I have nothing against academic books with long words (I no longer buy them, because I don’t read them*, but I have nothing against them), but Voltaire, I think, had a point. Rare is the currently-unconvinced individual whose mind will be changed by this stuff. I suppose attendees at the London Radical Bookfair are likely to be the already-converted, so perhaps the booksellers simply know their market. But I’m their market too (aren’t I?) and I wasn’t buying.

Where, too, was the fiction? Long or short. Perhaps I am biased in my faith that stories can change the world; but if they can, no one here was doing much to try that out.

(Honourable exception: the Letterbox Library, who stock kids’ books but no adult. And I did see a bit of poetry. I even bought some, along with something which claims to be a mixture of local history, folklore, and weird fiction, partly because I liked what I read of it, and partly out of relief that it was there at all.)

Upstairs were the zines. Plenty of pamphlets here; beautiful ones, too. And yet — what happened to the words? I’m sure zines used to have a mixture: plenty of just-word stuff, some half-and-half, some comic-style graphical storytelling, some straight art. Everything I saw on Saturday was heavy on the graphics end of things. Gorgeous, but word-light. Which is fine (if not my thing), but still — where have the words gone?

Online, possibly. Maybe words are better suited to screens; maybe artists have more incentive to create physical objects with their art. It seems faintly unsatisfying to me – why shouldn’t writers** want or get to create physical things too? Do the readers of plain words just not want physical things? Or is this the reflection of the ebook era?

After all, when it comes to getting the word out there, online has the edge, no question. If Voltaire were writing now, his pamphlets would be blogs. Perhaps, then, that is the explanation. The pamphlets and words and even the fiction live online, and it is the art and the long, deeply academic works that still need a physical form. Maybe that is a good thing, or at any rate not a bad one; maybe it is neither good nor bad, but just a thing.

And yet, I do wish that I’d been able to come away with my bag full of short stories and long ones and pamphlet-sized calls to action.

* The first anarchist bookfair I went to was in San Francisco, in 1999. I bought a compendium of the zine Temp Slave, and a book of anarchist essays. Temp Slave is dog-eared at the corners, and undoubtedly affected my attitude to the world of work; the anarchist essays remain unread.
** Non-artist writers, I mean, who do not also want to draw.

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Review: Spider Circus, by Alice Nuttall

Note: I was given a free copy of this for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.

Spider Circus (Amazon link) (also available from Smashwords) is a YA fantasy novel (the first of a series, though the rest aren’t out yet), following protagonist Lizzie as she is pulled into the world-travelling Spider Circus. While trying to find her feet and her niche within the circus and its folk, she also uncovers a mystery involving ringmaster Jack.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. I loved the world-building; the circus itself and the people in it, the multiple other worlds, and the interaction between the two. Lizzie is a great, sympathetic character, and I was emotionally involved in her various struggles. (She’s also black, and it’s nice to read non-white protagonists, especially when this isn’t made a big part of the story itself.)

Towards the end I did feel that things got a bit rushed. The plot and ending hang together, but the pace seemed to pick up quite abruptly from the earlier settling-in stuff. The reveal of the bad guys (she says, trying to avoid spoilers) was a bit too unexpected. Unexpected is good, but I didn’t feel that as a reader I’d been entirely set up for it. Ideally a plot twist should feel both surprising and, once it has happened, inevitable (“oh, of course!”). This had some of that, in that I did see how it fit in, but I think it could have felt a little more satisfying.

There were also a few stylistic niggles and infelicities here and there. But not many, and I noticed more of these in the first few pages than elsewhere in the book. I suspect this was because I was very quickly sufficiently drawn into the characters and the story that I didn’t mind any more. Personally, I would far rather read a gripping story and well-realised characters with the odd clunk than matchless prose with a dull story and characters I don’t care about.

Despite the ending feeling a little sudden, I finished the book very keen to read the next one (once, that is, it’s out), and I’d happily recommend it to others.

(One minor note which is not about the book but about me – I find the “leaving home without parents knowing” trope (very common IME in YA and especially in fantasy) really quite upsetting now in a way that I never used to. This parenting business does affect your brain.)

Alice’s website can be found here, with some more stories available, some of which are free.

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Iris Wildthyme of Mars

The author list for “Iris Wildthyme of Mars” (ed Philip Purser-Hallard), due out this summer from Obverse Books, was announced this week, and I am on it!

Iris is a splendid character to write, and I enjoyed putting the story together. (Writing for me often feels like that; like locking pieces of idea into one another to create a finished structure. I may be influenced in this notion by time recently spent with Duplo blocks.) It even has a permaculture genesis…

I’m looking forward to reading the other stories (I’ve already read a first draft of one of them, and it was great; and I’m familiar with previous work from several of the other authors), and to the book coming out. Watch this space, and so on.

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Intro to Permaculture course — free!

I’m running a free Introduction to Permaculture one-day course at Burgess Park Food Project on the 26th April. Contact me, or the address on the website, to book.

There’s lots of other cool stuff going on there this summer, too. (JPG only at that link, sorry; have requested text version.)

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