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.)

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

Strange Bedfellows

The anthology Strange Bedfellows, from Bundoran Press, is on sale now (wherever books are sold, and also specifically direct from the publisher or from Amazon UK). My story Blocking features it.

It’s an anthology of specifically political SF, from a broad range of political perspectives. My story concerns spacefaring anarchists (as may not be terribly surprising to anyone who is familiar with my political biases), and the making of decisions, personal and collective. There’s a review of the book as a whole over on Black Gate. I’ve been reading the rest of the stories (not quite all done yet as my author copy only arrived recently) and it’s a thought-provoking read all round.>

Twisted Boulevard out in UK

Twisted Boulevard (featuring ME) now available from Amazon UK. (As far as I know this is the only UK online retailer; although your local indie bookshop ought to be able to order it in for you.)

(I still haven’t seen my contributor copy, but looking forward to reading it when I do.)

In other news, I have had a lovely weekend up in Manchester. Leon was particularly fond of this train, where by “particularly fond of” I mean “refused to get off until it stopped running for the day”. After that there were ducks, and vegan curry; an excellent day all round.

This week: lots of writing to be done. Story to edit for another forthcoming anthology; novel to work on; Linux Voice article to finish.