Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Women Warriors - Fu Hao, Chinese general

We go back into the mists of time for this woman warrior, though as it's China, there are written records to consult. It's the very end of the Bronze Age, around 1200BC. In Europe, it was around the time of the legendary Trojan War, and in Britain Stonehenge and that whole ritual landscape on Salisbury Plain was in use.
Fu Hao was one of Emperor Wu Ding's wives. He was a member of the Shang Dynasty. He took a wife from each of the tribes under his control, and had around sixty. Fu Hao worked her way up the hierarchy until she was able to conduct religious rituals on behalf of the Emperor and prepare oracle bones, an extremely important part of the Emperor's duties. She also became his chief general, with thirteen thousand men under her command - a large army for the period. It was under her command that the Shang's rivals, the Tu-Fang, were decisively defeated in a single battle, after generations of conflict. She was also responsible for the first large-scale ambush in Chinese history, in a campaign against one of her husband's other enemies, the Ba.
She died before her husband, who built an impressive tomb for her - and held rituals and sacrifices there to ask for her help from beyond the grave in further military campaigns. The tomb was found in 1976, and is now open to the public. Fu Hao was buried with an impressive collection of jade, two huge battle axes (which were symbols of her military rank) and sixteen slaves.
When the Shang Dynasty fell, they were replaced by the Zhou Dynasty, who greatly reduced women's roles in politics and military matters - they were ridiculed as "hens reporting the dawn" and were treated as rebels. Women also lost the right to own property under the Zhou Dynasty - Fu Hao had owned her own land, and administered it herself.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Peterloo and The Manchester Man

I grew up knowing about the massacre of Peterloo. It's part of the history of Manchester. All I really knew as a child, though, was that ten people had been killed when cavalry charged a crowd that had gathered to hear a speaker on St Peter's Fields - which became known as Peterloo as a reference to the battle of Waterloo.
It was much later that I read Mrs Linneus Banks' novel The Manchester Man, which went into far more detail about the massacre, pieced together from eye witness accounts from her own friends and family.
There was no doubting whose side Mrs Banks was on - and it wasn't the one wielding the sabres and firing cannons down the streets of Manchester at unarmed men and women.
The time was 1819, and the country was still in economic difficulties following the end of the Napoleonic wars. Food was scarce, and there were protests about the Corn Laws, which kept bread prices artificially high. Protesters were also concerned about parliamentary representation - most working men were not allowed to vote (and no women could vote, of course). One of the leading radicals was Henry Hunt, who was going to speak at the meeting on St Peter's Fields.
Newspapers reporting on previous meetings had poured scorn on the scruffy appearance of the working men who had attended, so for this meeting there was a concerted effort to wear Sunday best, and many women there wore white dresses. They wanted to look respectable, and they wanted a peaceful rally. They carried banners, and groups were led by bands.
Meanwhile, the magistrates of Manchester were horrified by such a large gathering - some estimates say 80,000 - and they wanted to arrest Henry Hunt. So they called in the military. There were 600 men of the 15th Hussars; several hundred infantrymen; a Royal Horse Artillery unit with two six-pounder (2.7 kg) guns; 400 men of the Cheshire Yeomanry; 400 special constables; and 120 cavalry of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, relatively inexperienced militia recruited from among local shopkeepers and tradesmen. It was the Yeomanry who started the charge with drawn sabres against an unarmed crowd - and the first casualty was a two year old boy who was being held in his mother's arms as she crossed the street, just as the Yeomanry galloped along it. She wasn't even involved in the meeting.
On occasions such as these, the Riot Act was supposed to be read to a crowd before any action was taken, to give them the opportunity to disperse - in this case, as Mrs Banks says, the Riot Act was read "in an inaudible voice" from a house in Mount Street where the magistrates were directing events, and not on the Field itself.
She goes on: "Thus Nadin [one of the magistrates], the cowardly bully, having a warrant to apprehend the ringleaders - although he had a line of constables thence to the hustings - declared he dared not serve it without the support of the military.
His plea was heard; and thus, through the blindness, the incapacity, the cowardice, or the self-importance of this one man, soldiery hardened on the battlefield, yeomanry fired with drink, were let loose like barbarians on a closely-wedged mass of unarmed people, and one of the most atrocious massacres in history was the result."
Henry Hunt was, indeed, arrested, but at the cost of between ten and fifteen lives, and between 400 and 700 wounded.
The authorities arrested several journalists who had reported on the massacre, and the Manchester Observer was closed down after several police raids - leading to the formation of the Manchester Guardian. By the end of 1820 every significant working class radical reformer was in jail. Four members of the Manchester Yeomanry were also taken to court, but were all acquitted on the grounds that they were dispersing an illegal gathering.
In due course, the Free Trade Hall was built, partly on the site of St Peter's Fields, and there used to be a blue plaque commemorating Peterloo. However, it didn't mention any of the deaths. In 2007, a new plaque, with the following wording, was put up instead:
"On 16 August 1819 a peaceful rally of 60,000 pro-democracy reformers, men, women and children, was attacked by armed cavalry resulting in 15 deaths and over 600 injuries."

Mrs Banks said that she remembered marches in commemoration of the massacre, but that they had been discontinued by the time she wrote The Manchester Man. Looking around the internet, I saw a picture of a modern march, with banners that were copies of the originals - but as soon as I clicked on the page I was informed that the Police had blocked the site and if I carried on I'd be liable to a £100 fine!!!! (it's called deathtotyranny). So I didn't.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Women Pirates - the Lioness of Brittany

An everyday tale of love and revenge in the Middle Ages....

Jeanne-Louise de Belleville had an unremarkable early life - as the daughter of Maurice IV of Belleville-Montagaiu and his wife Letice, she was married at the age of 12 to Geoffrey de Chateaubriant, who was 19, and they had two children. When Geoffrey died, she married Olivier III de Clisson, and had five more children with him. During the Breton War of Succession, Olivier was accused of treason, and executed by the French crown (he had, in fact, defected to the English side).
Jeanne swore revenge on King Philip VI and Charles de Blois, who was one of the claimants to the Duchy of Brittany, and who had her husband arrested. She sold her lands, raised money from other Breton nobles who were in favour of independence from France, and bought three warships, which she had painted black with red sails. They were known as the Black Fleet, and patrolled the English Channel, attacking French shipping. She may also have assisted in getting supplies across the Channel to the English troops at the Battle of Crecy in 1346.
After thirteen years of successful piracy, Jeanne married an Englishman called Sir Walter Bentley, Edward III's Commander in the Marches, but later returned to live in France. In fact, King Edward granted her the Belleville lands that he held, and in 1359, when she died, her son Olivier IV did homage to Edward in order to continue to hold those lands.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Trophic Cascades - Wolves in Yellowstone Park

This is the sort of thing that George Monbiot talks about in his book Feral.
I'd love to see wolves back in Scotland - there might even be places in Wales that would be suitable!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Women Warriors - Sayyida al Hurra

It was Talk Like a Pirate Day yesterday, so in honour of that, I thought today's woman warrior should be a Pirate Queen.

Sayyida al Hurra's full name was Sayyida al-Hurra ibn Banu Rashid al-Mandri al-Wattasi Hakima Tatwan, and she was governor of Tetouan in Morocco in her own right from 1515, the year her husband died. In fact, when they arrived, the city was in ruins, and her husband got permission to rebuild to house the refugees from Granada.
Together with Barbarossa of Algiers in the east, her ships controlled the Mediterranean in the west. She was also the last woman in Islamic history to hold the title of Queen (which is what Hurra means) in her own right.
As a refugee from Spain, when Ferdinand and Isabella conquered the Moorish kingdom of Granada in 1492, one of her long term aims was revenge against the Spanish, and piracy was her means of achieving this. She also married the King of Morocco, Ahmed al-Wattasi, but she made him travel to Tetouan to do so, to underline the point that she wasn't going to give up ruling the city. He was the only King of Morocco to do this - all other royal marriages took place in Fez, the capital of Morocco.

So, Sayyida didn't fight personally, like Grainne O'Malley, but she was in command, and she was respected around the Mediterranean. Eventually, however, her son overthrew her, and her ultimate fate is unknown.

Friday, 19 September 2014

The No Vote Prevails

I can't pretend I'm not disappointed. Here's hoping that there will be changes for the better in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Women Warriors - Colonel Anne

Daughter of the chief of Clan Farquharson and wife of the chief of Clan MacKintosh, Lady Anne Farquharson-MacKintosh was a staunch Jacobite who raised troops for the Stuart cause. Her husband Angus was leading the Black Watch for the Hanoverian government at the time. She was given the nickname "Colonel Anne" by Prince Charles Edward Stuart himself. While the Prince was staying at Moy Hall, her home, she thwarted an attempt to capture him by sending five men (making a lot of noise) to frighten away 1,500 of Lord Loudon's men - which became known as the Rout of Moy. Her husband was later captured by the Jacobite forces at the Battle of Prestonpans, and was paroled into Anne's custody.
After the Battle of Culloden, she was arrested, but later released without charge into her husband's custody.
She did not personally lead her men in battle, but handed over the command to Colonel Alexander MacGillivray, also of Clan Chattan.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Knights of God and The Crystal Cave

One of the panels we went to at WorldCon - in fact, the very first one we went to - was about children's TV. They talked about lots of programmes that we both remembered with fondness - and then someone mentioned the Knights of God.
"Huh?" said the Young Man.
"Oh, you'd love Knights of God!" I said.

It was only broadcast once, in 1987, and it's never been put out on video or DVD, though there is a paperback. I had quite a job to track down a copy, which I eventually got from vintagetelevision.co.uk
To be honest, all I really remembered was John Woodvine, as Prior Mordrin, the leader of the fascistic Knights of God, being evil - and the fact that they blew up a helicopter in the final episode! I'd never seen all the episodes, and I'd completely forgotten that Patrick Troughton was in it, as Arthur, leader of the resistance movement. In fact, his character behaved more like Merlin than King Arthur, but the whole thing had a vaguely Arthurian feel to it.
The series was set slightly in the future - 2020 - when a devastating civil war had been won by the Knights of God, who were ruling from Winchester, London having been mostly destroyed. However, there was still resistance in Wales, led by Gareth Thomas - who had experience of this sort of thing, having recently been Blake of Blake's Seven, and in the Wastelands, which was basically Yorkshire, led by Don Henderson, who spent a lot of time wandering round the moors with a machine gun.
As it was a children's series, though, the main hero was Gervase Edwards, son of Gareth Thomas's character, and his girlfriend Julia, who were imprisoned in a "training camp", pursued across the moors, shot at, and generally had a pretty rough time of it over the thirteen episodes. Co-incidentally, Julia was the daughter of the Brigadier of the Guards Regiment which came over to the side of the resistance near the end. They were played by George Winter and Clare Parker.
It was soon clear, as I watched, that the most interesting thing about the story was not the youngsters trying to survive and find out what Gervase's destiny was (it would have been a lot shorter story if Arthur had just told him, and by the time he discovered it, the only person to be surprised was him!) but the power struggle between Prior Mordrin and his deputy Brother Hugo, played with oily malevolence by Julian Fellowes (more recently seen in Downton Abbey).
I could see why it was never repeated - I spent some time when I'd finished watching it trying to make the plot work better in my head, but it was quite fun, and interesting to see how TVS had made the most of their limited budget - they made the most of the helicopters, but also kept making the point within the story that everyone had very limited resources, which was why they were using horses and carts, and sailing boats, and - once - a steam train as well as the military trucks and armoured cars.
There weren't that many female characters, either - a Yorkshire woman who helped Julia (so at least those episodes passed the Beschdel test!), Gervase's mam, and a nurse at Knights of God HQ were just about it. Also, everybody was white - one would hope, if it was being made now, that at least a couple of the Yorkshire resistance movement might be Asians from Bradford or something.

George Winter later turned up in another Arthurian series, The Crystal Cave, as young Merlin, but doesn't seem to have done much acting since then.
I was horribly disappointed by the Crystal Cave. I love the book, by Mary Stewart, that the series was based on, and Robert Powell played Ambrosius, which he did very well - but the script.... Some scenes were almost word for word from the book, which was great, but others - just weren't.
I remember looking forward with some excitement to the scene where Merlin solves the mystery of why the tower keeps falling down by leading everyone to a Roman lead mine which is causing subsidence - where he has a vision of two dragons fighting, one red and one white, just as in the traditional legend. In the books, Merlin has no control over his visions, and they affect him like having a fit. In the series, he makes the prophesy about the dragons, but by means of a trick, so he comes over as a con artist rather than the genuine prophet that he was in the book.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Ladylike Behaviour

I've been having a discussion on Facebook about fighting women, starting off with the recent Viking study and broadening out from there. So I thought I'd share this medieval picture of a woman defending her castle again, to remember Nicola de la Haye at Lincoln, defending the castle against the French who invaded when King John died.

And here's Brampton Bryan Castle, which was defended during the English Civil War under the command of Lady Brilliana Harley, while her husband was serving as an MP in London. They were Puritans in the middle of Royalist territory, and before the castle was attacked, neighbouring Royalists had stolen livestock from the Harley farms, and stopped Lady Brilliana from getting the rents from her tenants by forcing the tenants to pay directly to the Sheriff of Hereford, the Royalist Fitzwilliam Coningsby.
In 1643, the castle was besieged for three months, the Royalist forces only withdrawing when they were needed at Gloucester. The castle was defended by around 50 troops and 50 civilians, commanded by Lady Brilliana. There were around 700 Royalist troops, and their bombardment of the castle with cannon left the building roofless, though only one death among the defenders is reported. Around one tenth of the attacking force were either killed or injured.
After the siege was lifted, Lady Brilliana sent 40 troops to raid the Royalist camp at nearby Knighton.
Later in the year, though, she died of pneumonia. The following year the castle was besieged again, this time defended by the Harley's doctor, Nathanial Wright, who eventually had to surrender. The castle by this time was even more badly damaged, and was burnt by the victorious Royalist forces.
She was also a noted letter writer, keeping her husband in London informed of the political situation in Herefordshire and the surrounding area.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Viking Women Warriors

There's been a recent study showing that 50% of the burials at a particular Viking site were women who had come from Scandinavia - they can tell this by isotopes in the bones - and some of those women were buried with weapons.
This does not mean that half of all Viking warriors were women. For a start, the sample is too small to extrapolate like that. It does mean that people should stop making assumptions and start looking at the evidence.
Previously, it has been assumed that a man buried with a sword was a warrior, and that a body with a sword was always a man. Occasionally, it has been shown that women were buried with weapons, but instead of making the same assumptions as one would if it were a man, the excuses begin - oh, it didn't mean she fought; it was just a symbol of authority. There's a burial from the Isle of Man which is mentioned in Anglo-Saxon Women by Christina Fell which always cheers me up when I re-read it, because there is no doubt that this was a woman who fought, and did embroidery as well. Why shouldn't that be true? And why shouldn't men be allowed to both fight and do embroidery?
Not everyone fits into neat little gender-assigned boxes, and things which are "obviously" feminine in one generation or in one part of the world can be "obviously" masculine elsewhere. I once saw a documentary which included a group of people in Madagascar or somewhere similar where only the men did embroidery, because the women "obviously" didn't have the fine motor skills necessary for the best work.
There's another class of burials which are obviously of women, but who have a "sword-like" object with them. And instead of saying "It's a sword", this has been interpreted as being a tool for weaving. Having done a bit of weaving, frankly I doubt it.
Let's look at the evidence, rather than the assumptions, which will undoubtedly show us that the past was more interesting and with greater variation than we ever assumed.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Enjoying Witch Prime Beer

I've been supporting the makers of The Minister of Chance audio play (available on iTunes) in their efforts to make the series into a film. One of the ways they are raising money is to ask for sponsorship from local firms in Cheshire, where they will be doing the filming - there is already a 10 minute Prologue, filmed at the beautiful Little Moreton Hall. One of the firms sponsoring the film is Woodlands Brewery, and they have brewed a special beer in honour of one of the characters in the Minister of Chance - the wicked Witch Prime, ruler of the technologically advanced but superstitious country of Sezuan, which invades scientific but less technological Tanto, where most of the action takes place. In the audio play, the Witch Prime is played with gusto by Sylvester McCoy.
So I sent off for some of the beer.
I had hoped it would come before I went to London for LonCon, so I could share a bottle with my Young Man, but it didn't arrive. It hadn't arrived by the time I came back, either, so I sent a slightly concerned email to the brewery. When they got back to me, they told me that the beer had got broken in transit, and the courier hadn't told them - so a new case was on the way, along with an extra case to make up for any inconvenience!
I am now awash with beer!
Fortunately, it is very nice beer, light and hoppy, and made with pure Cheshire spring water and magic, as the label says.
Believe! As the Witch Prime himself says (or maybe "Keep Calm and Drink More Woodlands Beer").

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The Masquerade at WorldCon, and Crafts

One of my fondest memories from Conspiracy in 1987 was the Masquerade - the costumes were wonderful, and there seemed to be lots of groups taking part - the Elric group which won, and the High Deryni, and Masters of the Universe.
This year there seemed to be more solo masqueraders - though the worthy winner was a group of eight depicting gods of the Silmarillion. The other big group was 1970s Doctor Who monsters, some of whom had to be guided into position by stage staff because they couldn't see out of their masks!
The youngest contestant was eleven, with Elsa's costume from Frozen - she got a prize for Most Beautiful. Another Elsa costume was worn by a ballet dancer who danced on points. It's always good when the beautiful costume is combined with a performance, and there was also a woman who danced with a spear, and a Native American dancing costume, as well as an Ood girl. There were a couple of Game of Thrones costumes - the Harpy of Astrapor and Cousin Tony Stark, and another Doctor Who one - entitled A Glamorous Evening of Galactic Domination, an inventive version of a Dalek.
There were a couple of Steampunk costumes, one in the junior class, a Lady Loki and a drow, and A Message from the Ministry of Magic, which featured that nasty teacher at Hogwarts - simple, but very effective. The most creepy costume award went to the Slender Man, who had been wandering round the Con on stilts during the day.
We were lucky enough to see some of those costumes up close the following day in a Show and Tell session, where we also saw the electronics on the costume of the 1930s dancers (they brought their own neon signboard that said Dine at Joe's), and various head dresses and other accessories were passed round. The lady who had worn the dress depicting the Odyssey was also there - she was wearing a version of a 17thC court dress which looks as if the skirt has swallowed a fence panel, so it's very wide, but narrow fore and aft, and a good shape for applique of Odysseus' ship - with him tied to the mast so he can hear the song of the Sirens. And it had a cloak part which folded back to reveal more panels.
The drow was there, too - he uses the costume for LARPing in Germany, and he was also on the panel of the make-up session, explaining how to get that solid black all over his face. It took him two hours to start with, and he's now got it down to fifteen minutes. He was also on the arms and armour panel.
There was also a slide show showing how they had made another girl on the panel green - there are lots of reasons to be green in fandom, going right back to the Orion slave girl in the very first pilot episode for Star Trek, where she dances for Captain Pike, and right up to date with Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy. The makeup they used, which was theatrical makeup, is good even for dark skins.
The panelists said that they had got a lot of good advice from local theatres, who had always been happy to help. The lady who had made most of the Silmarillion costumes said that she had been advised by a local theatre where to get a particular type of material which stretches in three directions, but not at all in the fourth direction, which was useful for portions of the winglike parts of her costumes which spread out and lit up at the end of their stately dance.
It reminded me of a girl who portrayed an Orion slave girl at one of the Star Trek cons I went to in the 1980s - she thought it would be a good idea to get the green skin effect by using food dye. It took two weeks for the dye to wear off - she couldn't wash it off - and she had to go to work like that.
The SCA were in the Fan Village during the day - they did some fighting practice, which we missed, but we did see their weaponry. They use padded foam stuff, which is a bit of a disappointment - re-enactment groups in the UK use blunted steel. Still, the chainmail was nice.
At several of the panels we went to, there were a couple of people knitting, or embroidering as they listened. There was also a good panel on medieval textiles in London, which I went to. It was given by a German lady who also had a stall in the dealers' hall, and the next day I went down and bought one of her hand-spindles, as it's a different design from any of the others I own. She took the yarn making process right the way from carding the wool and putting it on the distaff, through spinning and weaving and a bit about dyeing.
Textiles do not survive well in archaeological contexts, and plant based fibres like linen or nettle are almost impossible to find remnants of, so throughout all Europe in the whole of the middle ages there are only 180 examples of cloth - most of them dirty brown and the size of a postage stamp! Even so, there's something to be learned from them, and we do know quite a bit about different weaving methods, and the Viking art of naalbinding - a sort of knitting with only one needle (there was a whole sock done in naalbinding found at York). One of the good things about the Crossrail excavations across London at the moment is the vast wealth of archaeological material it's bringing to light, including artefacts related to textile production.

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Doctor at WorldCon

Here I am, outside the Tardis, which was parked in the middle of the Fan Village. Some time during the Con, a second Tardis appeared at the other end of the Fan Village - but there was a note in the Con newsletter, Pigeon Post, declaring that there obviously were NOT two Tardises in the Fan Village, because that would cause a rupture in the space time continuum (or something).
We weren't the only people having our pictures taken beside the Tardis, of course.
The best Whovian costume I saw - well, it's a tie, I think. There was an amazing Lady Sixth Doctor in a patchwork dress, and a superb Cyberman.
There was a Dr Who Party on the first evening in the Fan Activities tent. We all got blue wristbands marked "Wholapalooza@LonCon3" when we went in - and a raffle ticket.
I won the raffle!
I never win raffles!
I got a copy of Doctor Who The Essential Guide - I was delighted!
We couldn't stay very long because we had to get the DLR home, but what a lovely end to the first day that was.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Kaffeeklatches and Literary Beers

I don't think this had been thought of back in 1987, but it's certainly a thing now - you could sign up at the information desk the day before to have coffee in a small group with the author of your choice, or in the case of a literary beer, hang out at the bar with the author of your choice. I put my name down for Kim Stanley Robinson - I greatly admire his work, but then I had a bit of a panic because I haven't actually read any of his books for long enough that the details had got a bit fuzzy. I wondered if I should do some homework to get up to speed.
As it happened, none of that was needed. It was a very relaxed affair, with people chatting around a table - and there were so many of these scheduled that there were two tables going at the same time in the London Suite where we were. It was also quite interesting that everyone around the table, as they introduced themselves, was either a writer, aspiring writer or computer programmer!
So we talked about the inadvisability of basing major characters in your book on members of your own family, as KSR did in Forty Signs of Rain. The toddler is heavily based on both his own sons, and for the later books he shifted the focus from that family to another character because it was a bit awkward at home.
He also talked about the new lease of writing life he's got from writing outdoors, which he's been doing for five or six years now. Of course, he lives in California, rather than Wales, and has a tarpaulin to shelter under if it rains, and bird feeders with humming birds visiting them right by where he's sitting. He wrote Galileo's Dream like that, and it had been the most enjoyable writing experience he'd had for years, which made me happy because I'd just bought it at the dealers' hall.
Later, I bought Kim Stanley Robinson Maps the Unimaginable, critical essays edited by William J Burling and published by McFarland, who had a stand in the dealers' hall with a range of scholarly works about SF authors and subjects. I was tempted by several there, but they weren't cheap. I think I made a good choice with this one, though.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Hugo Awards

It was quite exciting to be in the audience of the Hugo Awards this year. We could even see the press table, where journalists were tapping away on their laptops as the awards were given. The ceremony was also making the most of the big screens behind the stage to put up live action and art and clips of film - all the Short Form Dramatic Presentations had clips shown before the award was given - which was quite Doctor Who heavy! Two Doctors were actually there - David Tennant attended the Hugo Losers party after the event, and Peter Davison was in the audience, in the reserved seats at the front, in case his short film The Five(ish) Doctors won the award.
Sadly, many winners were unable to be there in person, but they had all written speeches to be delivered by proxies.
The Hugo statuettes themselves were displayed in a mock-up of the White Tower at the Tower of London, which slid aside to show the shelves where they were standing, and at the beginning of the evening the whole thing was guarded by two men in the uniform of the Yeoman Warders, or Beefeaters. Later in the Con, the shelving was on offer to whoever could take it away - and it was pretty big!
The first award was not a Hugo - it was the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and that went to Sofia Samatar.
Then we had the best Fan Artist. Most of the fan art I saw in the Hugo package was pretty much on a par, but one artist stood out head and shoulders above the rest, and I wasn't surprised when she won. I learned later that this was the only category in the Hugos this year where the first vote was decisive - it's a form of proportional vote where the votes for the one who comes last are re-distributed until there is a clear winner. Sarah Webb won hands down - and apparently she's only nineteen! So she's got a great future ahead of her.
The best Fan Writer was Kameron Hurley, which I was pleased about, because I follow her blog, and her work at A Dribble of Ink blog, which won Best Fanzine and the Best Related Work category, in part because of Kameron Hurley's essay We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative (which is excellent - I recommend it). Kameron Hurley's acceptance speech is also well worth reading, and there was a good podcast on tor.com about the awards featuring Aidan Moher and Foz Meadows, too. Other Fanzines up for the award included two I follow regularly - The Book Smugglers and Pornokitsch, both of which are also excellent. There's a lot of talent out there.
The Best Related Work category had a lot of good stuff in it. I rather enjoyed Queers Dig Time Lords: a celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans who love it, and I was also very impressed by The Wonder Book by Jeff Van der Meer. In fact, I started taking notes from the extract that was included with the Hugo packet, and I bought the book at the Con. It's a writing manual, and I'm picking up a lot of good tips from it about constructing scenes and so on.
The Best Fancast was SF Signal Podcast by Patrick Hester.
The Best Semiprozine was Lightspeed, edited by John Joseph Adams, Rich Horton and Stefan Rudnicki, and then it was time for the Professional Artists. Julie Dillon won this one (I like her work, too) but the quality was incredible, and I liked a lot of the work that I saw.
I didn't feel I knew enough about it to vote for the Best Editor. The Long Form editor award went to Ginjer Buchanan, who came up in person - and she's about to retire, so what a wonderful thing to get at the end of her career. The Best Short Form Editor was Ellen Datlow.
In the Short Form Dramatic Presentation category, none of the Doctor Who related work won - it was The Rains of Castamere episode of Game of Thrones that took the (Iron Throne) prize. The Best Long Form Dramatic Presentation was Gravity, which some people have quibbled isn't really science fiction at all.
There was more Doctor Who in the Best Graphic Story category, The Girl who Loved Doctor Who by Paul Cornell - I liked it best, although it was clearly aimed at a younger audience than I am, but the winner was Time, from XKCD. One of the other nominees was Volume 13 of Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio, which is now on my wish list the next time I get to a Forbidden Planet.
The winner of the Best Short Story award was John Chu, for The Water that Falls from Nowhere, and he was a very emotional winner - he'd obviously encountered a lot of resistance to his work in the publishing business, some of it racist, and the Hugo was a huge vindication of his work. I went back and re-read the story after the Con, and he really is a superb writer - and I just wanted to give his main character a big hug at the end! He's an author I'll be looking out for in future. One of the other nominees in that category was Sofia Samatar, who won the John W Campbell award, with Selkie Stories are for Losers.
We were getting near the end of the evening now, and to the longer fiction. Best Novelette went to Mary Robinette Kowal's The Lady Astronaut of Mars, which was the one I liked best of the selection, though I also rather liked The Exchange Officers by Brad Torgersen.
The Best Novella went to Equoid by Charles Stross, who looked very smart in a dark kilt, and the Best Novel went to Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, who has been sweeping all before her in the awards this year.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Urban Fantasy at WorldCon

I was sorry not to get to any of the panels or reading that Paul Cornell was on, as I enjoy his Doctor Who work, and some of his comics - and his London Falling urban fantasy series. I did pick up a hardback of The Severed Streets, the second in the series, though. I also enjoy Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series, and I'm now awaiting the fifth book, Foxglove Summer, in which PC Peter Grant comes to Herefordshire. I'm looking forward to seeing what he makes of Merrily Watkins/Phil Rickman territory.
But there's more to urban fantasy than those two series, though like Steampunk a lot of it is set in London. That was the title of the panel we went to on the Friday, with introduced us to the work of Tom Pollack and Russell Smith, among others.
I was quite impressed by Russell Smith. Not only has he moved from London to Manchester (and seems to enjoy living in my old home city), but he's a Tudor re-enactor as well as an author, and an entertaining speaker.
This was the second panel that we saw Russell Smith on - he also took part in Liechester Square: Getting London Wrong on Thursday, which was very amusing, being about all those mistakes about the city, like a certain Norse god trying to get back to Greenwich on the Tube in a recent film, for instance. After the Con, we spent a day in Greenwich, and tried to work out exactly where at the Naval College Christopher Eccleston's dark elvish spaceship had torn up the lawns - worryingly close to the Meantime brewery!
There was a lot said, in both panels, about the history of the city and its many layers, as well as the good advice (I think from Tom Pollack?) "Look up!" There are all sorts of details lurking above eye level that can be very interesting indeed. And there was some discussion about other cities that might lend themselves to urban fantasy - why should London have all the fun? It made me want to go back to my own urban fantasy about Norwich, which ground to a halt after three or four chapters - but I might be able to resurrect it with a bit of thought.