Sunday, 31 May 2015

David Gerrold Talks about WorldCon

I was reading a blog today called Ramblings of the Easily Distracted, and I came across a link to a Facebook post that David Gerrold had made about the history of WorldCon and this year's Hugo award disagreements. He's one of the Guests of Honour at Sasquan this year, with all the problems the Sad Puppies have caused looming over the Con itself.
So he was talking about the history of WorldCon, and previous disputes in its history, and one phrase he used pulled me up short. "I'm an old man," he said, adding that he knew he was invited to Cons and similar events as part of the tradition of SF, while new, younger writers were taking the tradition forwards.
And I remembered seeing The Trouble with Tribbles the first time it was aired on British TV - David Gerrold was nineteen when he wrote that, the new kid on the block! I remembered seeing him at British Star Trek Conventions in the 1980s (I went to two writers' workshops he led) - and he wasn't old!
But of course, he's right - he is part of the tradition, and there are a lot of younger writers out there taking the tradition forward.
And, although I was only about seven years old when I first saw Trouble with Tribbles, I'm not exactly young any more, either.
I still hope he's around for a good few years yet, though!

Monday, 25 May 2015

Shakespeare and Star Trek

It's the Hay Festival, and all sorts of interesting people are coming into town - and buying books.
One lady bought a stack of Star Trek novels, because she's about to do an MA on Shakespeare and Star Trek. The links go right back to the original series, with the episode The Conscience of the King. The plot was loosely based on Hamlet, and the play within the play which was intended to uncover King Claudius' guilt. In the case of the Star Trek episode, it was the leader of the players who was the guilty party, being the dictator of a planet who had disappeared after a genocidal reign twenty years before.
Jean-Luc Picard, of course, was always quoting Shakespeare - and I seem to remember a scene where Data was enacting a scene from Henry V with him.
So there's plenty of material to deal with for an MA.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Poor Sarah Jane!

I was lucky enough to find a whole lot of Doctor Who DVDs in a charity shop in Hereford the other day, so I've been watching a few which I'm sure I never saw first time round. One of them was Planet of Evil, in which a scientist tries to take anti-matter crystals from a remote planet, which starts killing the members of the expedition (or at least, the Creature of the Id a la Forbidden Planet does). The dark red jungle set was actually very impressive, but the story was a bit forgettable.
Then there was the Masque of Mandragora, with gorgeous Italian Renaissance costumes - Sarah Jane gets a lovely ball gown for the Masque itself (after nearly being sacrificed to a pagan god in the catacombs under the city).
But in both of those stories, apart from a few female extras in the masque scenes, Sarah Jane is the only woman there, and certainly the only woman with a speaking role. There's a black man on the crew of the space ship in Planet of Evil - and he doesn't die first! - but no other women at all.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Colony in Space

Ah, the glory days of Jon Pertwee - in this case, the first time Jo Grant steps inside the Tardis, and onto the surface of an alien world - or a china clay quarry in Cornwall.
This story of the evil Interplanetary Mining Company against poor colonists actually seems quite up to date, though I doubt that today's fracking companies would try to scare people off by using projections of giant lizards!
It was nice to see several women among the colonists, too, who even had speaking parts, though one of them died horribly early on, and another just vanished as the men started shooting at each other. Only Gail Tilsley from Coronation Street remained to man the radio.
Meanwhile, the "Primitives" didn't seem to have any women at all, and nobody among the colonists or the miners seemed to consider that they might just possibly have the prior claim to their own planet.
And then the Master comes along, disguised as the Adjudicator between the miners and the colonists - though what he really wants is to get his hands on a Doomsday Weapon hidden in the Primitives' city. And he wants to share ruling the universe with the Doctor.
My favourite lines of the story are between the Master and the Doctor:
"My credentials are immaculate."
"Forged, of course."
"Of course - but immaculate."
In the documentary accompanying the story, they said that they considered casting a woman as the member of the mining ship crew who is frightening and murdering colonists - but the Powers that Be at the BBC vetoed the idea, saying that they thought it was "kinky" to have a woman doing that sort of thing.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Galileo's Dream

When I went to Kim Stanley Robinson's Kaffeeklatch at WorldCon last year, he talked a bit about his recent book, Galileo's Dream. He said that he'd got to a stage in writing where it was a hard slog, and not enjoyable any more - but then he started writing under a canopy in his garden, and being outdoors in pleasant surroundings made it fun again. He said that Galileo's Dream had been written like this, and he'd had a lot of fun doing it.
It shows in the writing - and you can also see how much KSR likes Galileo as a character.
He's irrascible and stubborn and annoying - and fascinating and fun to be around too. And a genius, of course.
The Renaissance isn't a period I ever liked overmuch - I usually much prefer the Middle Ages - but this book takes you right inside the workings of Renaissance Italy, with Galileo's struggles to find a new sponsor (the authorities in Venice not being so generous as he had anticipated when he showed them his telescope), and also right into the household of Galileo, with the students and his mistress and his poverty stricken brother and the problem of what to do with his little girls when they grow up. And all the time, he's working on mathematical problems, and spending sleepless nights observing Jupiter and the four moons. I learnt a huge amount, quite painlessly, about the way the Vatican worked, and the arguments between the different scientists and theologians, and Galileo's relationship with his daughters who he sent off to be Poor Clare nuns. He even includes actual letters and documents from the time - he must have done a huge amount of research.
Being Kim Stanley Robinson, of course, this is not a straight biography (though I think I would have read it if it was). A mysterious stranger gives Galileo the first idea to experiment with telescopes (and there isn't even a name for them yet), and at various times in the book he is whisked away to the very moons of Jupiter that he is observing, and into the far future, where he is acclaimed as "the first scientist" and drawn into the politics of the four moons. All the technology is seen from Galileo's point of view, and has to be explained to him in terms a Renaissance man will understand, but he grasps the basics very quickly, and hungers to know more.
Readers of other KSR books will recognise certain things which also appear there - like the characters with extreme longevity, for instance. Some of them have managed to wangle their way into Galileo's household as servants, where they are protecting him as best they can, while the mysterious stranger from the opening scene is trying to manipulate Galileo's life in a way that will best serve his needs in the far future.
So, this was great fun, and I learned a lot - and I'm going to be reading more about Renaissance history in future because of this book.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Dance the Dark Morris

I came across a picture of this morris dancing troupe on Facebook, and instantly thought of Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith, where the Dark Morris is danced to bring on winter.
In fact, this troupe is called Mythago Morris, after the book Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock - which is just as impressive! Mythago Wood, in the book, contains archetypes of legends throughout human history, and the deeper into the wood you go, the older the archetypes get.
This picture comes from website, and shows them dancing at a Beltane celebration.
It's not surprising that they're asked to dance at Pagan celebrations - according to their website they base their dances around British myths like Herne the Hunter, the Green Man, the Rollright Stones, Ceridwen's Cauldron and the Knuckerhole Dragon. They're based in Sussex, and they dance in the Border Morris style.
It looks like great fun!

Saturday, 9 May 2015

The Art of Travel

In my researches for The Secret of Saynshand (silkpunk adventure in China and Mongolia), I've just come across a gem of a book, which tells everything a traveller needs to know when they're going on an expedition. It was written in 1872, by Francis Galton (himself a seasoned traveller in Darkest Africa) and the subtitle is "Shifts and Contrivances Available in Wild Countries".
A lot of it is very sensible advice, about pitching tents, drying your clothes over a camp fire, and so on, but there are parts of it that are, to modern eyes, quite hilarious.
Like his section on allowing women on the expedition, for instance:

"Natives' Wives - If some of the natives take their wives, it gives great life to the party. They are of very great service, and cause no delay....for a woman will endure a long journey nearly as well as a man, and certainly better than a horse or a bullock." He goes on to quote a Mr Hearne, an American traveller of the eighteenth century, who recorded the words of a 'savage' chief: "'Women,' said he, 'were made for labour: one of them can carry or haul as much as two men can do. They also pitch our tents, make and mend our clothing, keep us warm at night; and in fact there is no such thing as travelling any considerable distance....without their assistance.' And 'though they do everything, are maintained at trifling expense: for, as they always stand cook, the very licking of their fingers, in lean times, is sufficient for their subsistence.'"
So, they work harder, and you don't even have to feed them properly! Isn't that great?
He goes on to add, in a more general way: "It is in the nature of women to be fond of carrying weights; you may see them in omnibuses and carriages, always preferring to hold their baskets or their babies on their knees, to setting them down on the seat by their sides."

Friday, 8 May 2015

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Earthsea on Radio 4

I've just finished listening to the last of the six episodes of Earthsea, and I was glad to see that all the first three of the books in the series were adapted. They were pared down to the essentials, but still had the power I remember from first reading them.
The Farthest Shore gave me nightmares about death. This time, it was just terribly sad to see Sparrowhawk lose his powers to heal the world.
There are short stories that Ursula le Guin wrote about Sparrowhawk, and I wish she'd written more of them. She created a wonderful world, and I was glad when she returned to it years after the first trilogy to turn women into dragons. But the first three stories were the best, and this was a very good adaptation.
I wonder what Ursula le Guin thinks of her character being given a Northern British accent.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Goodbye Grace Lee Whitney

Grace Lee Whitney, best known to Star Trek fans as Yeoman Janice Rand, has died, aged 85.
She was only in the first eight episodes of the original series, after which she was replaced by a succession of different women for Kirk to take an interest in (this being the sixties, after all). But she was brought back in several of the films. This picture is from The Corbomite Maneuver, where she's been heating the coffee with a phaser while the power is down.
I remember seeing her at a Star Trek Con in the 80s - I don't remember which one, but it may have been in Birmingham. She talked about her struggles with alcohol addiction, but all that seemed to be behind her. She seemed to be having a great time at the Con, and she also sang Star Trek related songs, which I think she may have written herself. One was "USS Enterprise is coming round again" (this was before Next Gen had come out).

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Trowelblazers - Jane Dieulafoy

Here she is, on a card in a series of famous explorers from 1885. The image is taken from Look and Learn.

I first found out about Jane Dieulafoy at a talk at EasterCon called Trowelblazers - mostly about female archaeologists, pioneers in the field who had been forgotten about.
She was an explorer, archaeologist, photographer, journalist and novelist. In archaeology she is best known for her excavations at Susa. Archaeological technique was in its infancy at the time, and she devised new techniques, monitored trenching excavations, mapped and labelled meticulously, and directed the efforts of hundreds of local men who were employed to dig the sites.

Here's a picture from Archyfantasies blog, of Jane at the excavations in Persia.

But her adventures had started before that. She also counts as a Woman Warrior. At the age of 19, she married Marcel Dieulafoy, who volunteered for the Engineering Corps on the French side in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Jane went with him, dressed in a soldier's uniform, and became a noted sharpshooter.
After the war, they travelled the Middle East, and excavated at Susa, sending several artefacts and friezes back to France. Two rooms in the Louvre are named after her, and the Lion frieze she sent back is displayed there. The French government made her a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1886 for her contributions to French archaeology.
While in the Middle East, she cut her hair short and wore male clothing for convenience, because it was difficult for women to travel freely in that region at the time. When she returned to France, she just carried on wearing men's clothing - which was illegal in France at the time. She, however, got special permission from the government.
She died in 1916.