Saturday, 14 September 2019

Li Bic and the Golden Dawn

I've just uploaded my latest story onto Smashwords, and added the cover on the side-bar here. I'm just waiting for them to approve the publication, which usually takes a day or so.
It's a ripping yarn that takes my Steampunk heroine, Li Bic, from the Victorian music halls of London, across Europe on an airship, up the Nile, and into the unexplored interior of Africa, pitting her wits against members of the Order of the Golden Dawn.
I had a lot of fun doing all the research!

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Archive Of Our Own - Fan Fiction

Archive of our Own, or AO3, is the website that won the Hugo for hosting fan fiction, and I thought I'd like to find out a bit more about it. I did try looking at it during the voting period for the Hugos, but it's so vast I kind of bounced off. There are fandoms represented on there that I've never heard of, and even with the ones I am familiar with, it's a puzzle to know where to start.
So I thought I'd start with something small.
Looking down the 'S' section, I found The Saint - and there were only 6 stories there. When I looked at the descriptions of the stories, I found that one was a crossover between The Saint and The Man from UNCLE. That seemed like my cup of tea - I'm familiar with both series. I didn't pay much attention to who wrote it.
When I clicked to open the story, I got an Adult Content warning.
Now, I used to read a lot of Star Trek fan fiction back in the 1980s. I'm familiar with K/S and hurt/comfort - I have fond memories of the Variations on a Theme series. So I had a vague idea of what I was letting myself in for here.
We start in the middle of a mission gone wrong - and Napoleon Solo meets the Saint (Illya being unconscious at the time). The Saint takes them to a remote cottage and leaves them there. Hot sex ensues. I'll never look at Illya Kuryakin the same way again!
It was a lot of fun.
I might try some Star Trek next time.... or maybe some Good Omens - I've been reading some very good fan fiction about Aziraphale and Crowley on the Tardis Stowaway blog, and some of it is just adorable!

Monday, 9 September 2019

The Ferry Home

I had to get up at the crack of dawn on my last morning, to catch the 7am bus from Westmorland Street to the ferry terminal. The Mortons bus came right on time, but there were hold ups due to roadworks when we got into the port area.
And then the bus stopped at the StenaLine terminal.
The last I saw of the bus driver was him having an argument with a taxi driver who had cut in front of him, and was loudly declaring that the bus driver was from County Mayo, so he hated Dubs!
The Garda, standing nearby, directed those of us who were travelling by Irish Ferries to the next terminal down - we ran for it, and got there with only 10 minutes to spare!
That was a little more exciting than I would have liked!
The café on the Ulysses was doing a special offer of coffee and muffin for E5, so that was my breakfast, and I treated myself to a Trinity College sweatshirt from the shop, since I'd never been able to get to the shop at Trinity College itself when it was open.
Near to where I was sitting, two men were consulting maps of London and chatting. As the ship got close to Anglesey, we got talking. They were from Southern California, and had been at the Con - they noticed my t-shirt, and the older man had been the president of the Heinlein Society (he was wearing a Heinlein Society cap). What's more, he was a physicist, and he had been taught by Gregory Benford! This was like meeting SF Royalty!
I lost sight of them as we disembarked, and the London train was going from a different platform to the one I ended up on - but from there the journey home was very smooth.

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Impressions of Dublin

I liked Dublin a lot. I want to go back and see all the things in the city I was too busy to see during the Convention.

It was lovely to be staying at Trinity College, which was a quiet oasis in the middle of the city. Every morning I strolled out of the main gate and up Westmorland Street, past the Wax Museum with the statues of Batman and Superman perched on the cornice on the first floor, across the O'Connell Bridge and round the corner to the Abbey Street Luas stop. I love being by the water, too, so walking along the bank of the Liffey was very pleasant.

On the first evening, I walked up O'Connell Street to the Post Office, famous for its part in the Easter Rising of 1916.

There's a long table under the colonnade, where people in Hi-Viz jackets were serving food to the homeless. On the side of the road where I was taking the photo, there was an Outreach Bus, also for the local homeless.
On another evening a similar table was set up under the colonnade of the old Bank of Ireland near Trinity College.
I saw a few beggars while I was there, but no-one selling the Big Issue - I suppose that isn't a thing in Ireland.

On the Luas journey between the Convention Centre and The Point, at the end of the line, there were houses, dwarfed by the new buildings that were springing up all around them, some with signs up. From what I could gather, the local residents were protesting about the way they were being treated, and trying to keep their community going.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Impressions of WorldCon

We all got really, really good at queuing!
There was a brilliant young man marshalling the queues on the Wicklow floor - his name was Toji and I think he was German.
And I always met interesting people to chat to in the queues. After all, if you're queuing for the same panel, at the same event, you're bound to have something in common.
I also saw Convention Centre staff with little carpet sweepers everywhere. Was this for crumbs, or huon particles from passing time travellers?

I saw a lot more Starfleet uniforms than I was expecting, original Star Trek or Next Gen (I don't think I noticed any from other series). Cosplayers do seem to be in the minority at WorldCons, but there was a high standard. I saw a few of the people who later went in for the Masquerade wandering the halls - the red and white striped Victorian bustle dress looked fantastic! So did Gimli, and the two girls dressed as Vikings who were at their first WorldCon. There was a girl dressed as a witch, with a dark red velvet skirt which had Elvish script around the hem, who was asking people if they could read Elvish to tell her what it said! (I wonder if anyone at the Tolkein stall in the dealers' room knew?)

A lot of people wore t-shirts - I saw a lot of Helsinki WorldCon's Ursa, and a fair few LonCon, and even some Mancunicon, the EasterCon I also had a t-shirt of.

There was music everywhere - I never got to see the Helsinki choir, but I did renew my interest in filk, and the Philharmonic was absolutely brilliant.

The Con organisers were also putting a lot of emphasis on art, with their special award at the Hugos which went to Charles Vess, and special guests like Afua Richardson and Jim Fitzpatrick.

They also tried to make the Con as accessible as possible - though there were some selfish people who used the elevators when they didn't need to, making it more difficult for the mobility scooter users, and one lady said that people had actually tried to climb over her to get out of one of the panel rooms!
The captioning service on the big screen in the auditorium was a bit hit and miss, (there was laughter when "dogmatic" became "dog magicians", for instance), but they did try, and the scripted stuff came out fine.
I liked the idea of the pronoun stickers on the badges, too, and the notices up in the toilets saying leave people to pee in peace.

The Luas between Spencer Dock and The Point was like an extension of the Con, as most people riding on it during the day were wearing Con badges.

They were also, of course, focussing very much on Irish programme events wherever possible, and I really enjoyed the panels on Irish folklore and the Morrigan, and I loved all the stuff about Irish astronomy. A few people on the DublinCon Facebook page have talked about enjoying the panel on Flann O'Brien, too.
I'm sure I noticed that they wanted to encourage Irish Travellers to attend the Con, and there were certainly leaflets at one of the tables to the side of the dealers' room about Travellers, and challenging the myths about them. For a time, when I lived in London, I lived opposite the lane leading to a Traveller camp, while I worked in the local police station, and that experience showed me that they were perfectly fine as neighbours, and co-operated with the police who had a good working relationship with them locally. So I was pleased to see the myths about them being challenged.
It was a great pity that the Irish government didn't grant any visas to Nigerian fans who wanted to attend the convention.

Friday, 6 September 2019

WorldCon on Monday 2 - Islands, Folk and Filk, and Closing Ceremony

When I went to FantasyCon last year, I really enjoyed the live podcast by Breaking the Glass Slipper.
In Dublin, they were doing it again, on the subject of islands, and it was a wide ranging and fascinating discussion (available on their website).
One of the panel, Vida Cruz, said she came from the Philippines, which is made up of something like 7,000 islands, so she might possibly know something about the subject! Most of the panel thought of islands as places of exile or isolation, which she said was a very mainland way of looking at things! To her, water was a bridge, not a separator.
The discussion about using islands as places to do things you'd never get away with in a mainland setting was fascinating, too, for instance The Island of Dr Moreau, or Lord of the Flies. And now I have to track down Tunnel in the Sky by Robert Heinlein, which was apparently written as an answer to Lord of the Flies, with the characters co-operating rather than descending into barbarism.
Vida Cruz also talked about the history of the Philippines, and how the Spanish invaders destroyed the indigenous culture in which women, and men who presented as women, were leaders of tribes, and storytellers were important. This led on to the panel wondering why white men, who wrote most of the classic texts featuring islands, were afraid of them. Was it because islands could be seen as places of feminine power, ruled by the tides and the moon?
Other islands mentioned were Earthsea, the Narnian islands of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the Odyssey, and Robinson Crusoe's island.

It was time for more music after that, from Irish folk singer Daoiri Farrell. He commented between songs that, when he left school he had become an apprentice electrician, and he had helped to install the lights that were presently blinding him on stage! The only song I already knew was The Galway Shawl, and he did a variety of comic and serious songs, including The Mickey Dam, about Irish labourers working on a dam in Scotland - which just goes to show that the UK has always needed workers from other countries.

Then there was a panel about the influence of Irish folk music on filk, which was quite good fun, and rapidly broadened out into all sorts of musical influences, including Swedish influence in the case of the works of Poul Anderson. They also suggested places to find filk online - I have already warned Bob, who runs our local acoustic session, that my new Five Year Mission is to seek out new filk, and boldly sing songs no-one else has ever heard of!
So, there's the Filkcast podcast, and Spotify, and Bandcamp, and Xenofilk, which all have interesting stuff.

And so to the Closing Ceremony. There weren't as many people around by now, so wristbands weren't necessary to get in - but even so it was a nice surprise to end up sitting next to a lady I'd sat next to on a previous evening! Eoin Colfer was Master of Ceremonies, and the Guests of Honour appeared on stage with drinks in their hands.
James Bacon appeared on stage wearing a suit printed to look like R2-D2, and presented George RR Martin and his wife Parris with a special award. Other members of the Con Staff also presented him with a picture of himself on stage for the Opening Ceremony (when he'd worn a kilt) in the colours of the Irish flag - and he went round to shake the hands of all of them who were on stage.
And then it was time for the hand over to the next WorldCon committee - which will be in Wellington, New Zealand, complete with a tourism film extolling the delights of the area, and messages from the chap who runs WETA and the Prime Minister of New Zealand! George RR Martin will be Toastmaster.

I picked up the last copy of the Con newsletter, The Salmon of Knowledge - which had become The Trout of Doubt for its last issue, and staggered off to the very last filk circle in the Second Stage room, as the Dead Dog party got started in Martin's Bar. I was so tired by this time that I could hardly keep my eyes open, let alone remember the words to any songs, but the duet of penny whistle and collapsible didgeridoo playing When I Had Maggie in the Wood was particularly memorable!

Monday at WorldCon - Lady Astronauts

I had been planning to go to Mary Robinette Kowal's reading on Monday morning even if she hadn't won the Hugo. So it was even more exciting that she actually brought the Hugo with her, and let people hold it!

She explained that they are told how to hold the Hugo in rehearsals - not in the middle in front of your body under any circumstances, because it just looks rude! The correct position is cradled in one arm to the side.
She also told us about the dress she had been wearing the night before, a gorgeous silver evening dress. I missed the name of the designer, but he had created a range of dresses named after lady astronauts, and the dress Mary Robinette wore was the Peggy Whitsun, named for the woman astronaut who had spent the longest period in space.
She also brought some computer punch cards from the sort of computers that feature in her books. I remember being shown round the computer room of Salford University when I first started work there in the 1970s - it looked like something out of the Man From UNCLE, and it worked by feeding punch cards into it!
And she brought Lady Astronaut Club badges, too.
She read two pieces from her as yet unpublished work, this time telling the story from the point of view of Helen, the senator's wife (and pilot) rather than Elma the Lady Astronaut's. She said there are two ways of reading, a neutral tone that enables the listener to hear the story clearly, and a more emotionally engaged reading where the reader is acting the parts and doing the voices. She prefers the latter, but added that both ways are valid.
It also turned into a bit of a writing class as she frowned at one point. "Hm, both those sentences end with "hand" - that's not good," and changed it on the fly. The second piece was still only a draft, so may well change before publication.
There was also discussion about Pancho Barnes - one of the audience asked if Helen was based on this real life pilot, who sounds fascinating. There was a book recommendation - Sky Girls, written by one of the Mercury 13, the women who did the astronaut training but were not allowed into space, about the Powder Puff Derby, a flying race for women pilots.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Sunday at WorldCon 4 - Art and Politics, Filk and Hugo Awards

I thought that the only chance I'd have to see Jim Fitzpatrick was the panel on Art and Politics at the Point however, for whatever reason, he wasn't there, leaving Dr Mary Talbot and Dominic Riemenschneider to chat to moderator Siobhan Murphy, with occasional interjections from Bryan Talbot (graphic novelist and Mary Talbot's husband) in the audience. It was a huge subject, and they only scratched the surface of it, talking about abstract art being encouraged at the expense of figurative art by the CIA, for instance. It was also noted that there was a bid for the 2024 WorldCon to be held in the Chinese city of Cheng Du, which undoubtedly had the backing of the Chinese government.

To fill the time before the Hugo Award Ceremony, I went back to the filk room at the Convention Centre for a quiet sit down. Bill and Brenda Sutton were performing again, and I managed to get a CD of their songs, And They Said it Wouldn't Last. They were not officially selling CDs, so they asked instead that anyone who was interested should give tokens of their friendship in the form of paper notes, and they would give tokens of their friendship in the form of CDs in return. After all, there was no-one in the dealers' room selling any filk CDs or music books. The member of the Con Staff in the room then took the mic to say it was absolutely fine.

Once again, I found somebody interesting to sit and talk to during the ceremony while queuing up. Her boyfriend had the job of live tweeting the ceremony, and had been looking up interesting facts about each winner - which he wasn't allowed to tell her ahead of time.
Artist Afua Richardson and Michael Scott were the masters of ceremony for the evening - and it took me a while to realise that it was that Michael Scott - the author whose books retelling Irish myths I had adored when I first read them, an embarrassingly long time ago.
The evening began with an award that was not a Hugo - the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer. This was won by Jeannette Ng, who caused a sensation when she came up to give her acceptance speech. The first words out of her mouth were "John W Campbell was a fucking fascist!" She went on to say that people who were now winning the award named after him were far from the white male authors he had nurtured at Astounding magazine, and far more diverse than he could ever have imagined. She went on "you've given me the microphone now," and talked about the protests going on in Hong Kong, the city of her birth.
The speech certainly caused a stir. John W Campbell's grandson had been on the same stage only two evenings before to collect a Retro Hugo for his grandfather's work as editor, and he was of the opinion that Jeannette Ng should have the award taken from her. However, the sponsors of the award announced publicly only a few days later that the award would be renamed the Astounding Award. Jeannette Ng was not the only person to have criticised the name of the award, but her speech was the final action that made the change happen. And she did it while wearing an awesome peacock hat.
Nothing could quite live up to that beginning.
I was very pleased to see Charles Vess go up twice to receive a Hugo - once for the Best Art Book, for his work on the Complete Illustrated Edition of the Books of Earthsea, which was a special award for Dublin WorldCon only, as each committee has the right to create a special award for that year only, and once for Best Artist.
It was also lovely to see Likhain (Mia Sereno) win the Hugo for Best Fan Artist - she gave part of her speech in Filipino, which the caption service couldn't cope with (there were problems with the captioning throughout the weekend).
With Best Fan Writer being Foz Meadows and Best Fancast being Our Opinions Are Correct, hosted by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders, this was turning into a very female and very LGBTQ+ Awards Ceremony.
Even better, the Best Semiprozine Award went to Uncanny Magazine - one of the ladies who went up on stage to receive the award had her guide dog with her, and announced that she was the first blind person in the history of the Hugos to win an award!
Part way through the ceremony, Afua Richardson made a speech to honour Nichelle Nichols, original Star Trek's Lt. Uhura, who was a great inspiration to her, and who has recently announced that she is suffering from Alzheimer's. She also sang, incorporating the Star Trek theme in the song.
Later, it was Michael Scott's turn to say a few words, and while he spoke Afua played the flute (a woman of many talents!)
When it came to the Dramatic Presentations, a clip of each show was shown. I voted for Demons of the Punjab, one of the two Doctor Who episodes in the shortlist (with Rosa next on the ballot paper), but the Award went to The Good Place episode Janet(s) - a series I haven't seen (yet).
Best film went to Into the Spider-Verse, which looks like a lot of fun.
Best Series of books went to Becky Chambers' Wayfarers series. I've read the first one of those, and enjoyed it a lot (I want to live on that space ship!), and it's strange to think that, when I was having fun at LonCon in 2014, Becky Chambers was also there with the manuscript of her self-published novel, trying to find a publisher - and here she is now, a Hugo winner!
Monstress won Best Graphic Story - I'd seen some of Sana Takeda's wonderful artwork in the art show earlier.
And then there was another moment of unusual excitement, as the Best Related Work was announced to be AO3 - the Archive Of Our Own, a website for fan fiction. At this point the house lights came on, so that everyone in the audience who had written fan fiction and posted it on AO3 could stand up - because this was their Hugo!
I was pleased for Zen Cho, who won Best Novelette for If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again - I enjoyed that one.
I was absolutely delighted that The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal won Best Novel! She also gave a great speech about noticing the people who get airbrushed out of history. That was a great end to my evening!

Monday, 2 September 2019

Sunday at WorldCon 3 - Charles Vess, the Morrigan and hurling

I headed off to the Point to see Charles Vess next.
I first became aware of Charles Vess's work when I saw his illustrations for Neil Gaiman's Stardust. Later I discovered his work on Sandman, and for the last four years he's been working on the Illustrated Edition of Earthsea, collaborating closely with Ursula Le Guin.
He gave a fascinating slide show, talking about his childhood in a small town in Virginia. At one point, the interviewer asked him: "Did you live on the same street as Norman Rockwell?" because he described such a typically small town America of the sort Norman Rockwell painted.
He discussed his influences as an artist, starting with the covers of Tarzan novels, and the comic strips Flash Gordon and Prince Valiant. He even showed one of his early pictures, where he had combined a knight from Prince Valiant with a woman who had Dale Arden's face.
Later he showed a bronze statue of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream he had worked on, and talked a bit about collaborating with Ursula Le Guin - that evening he would win the Hugo for that work, as well as a Hugo for best artist.

Then it was back to the Convention Centre to queue for a wristband for the Hugo Award Ceremony, and then the panel about the Morrigan.
The speaker was Lora O'Brien, who had also been on the Irish Folklore panel. She's legally a pagan priestess in Ireland, and teaches. She described her relationship with the Morrigan in this way: "When the gods come to you, and are pissed off with the world, it takes a shitload of work!"
Although the Morrigan is usually seen as a battle goddess, sometimes in the form of a crow or raven, there's a lot more to her than that. "There's nothing fixed about the goddess".
She features in the Irish myth the Tain Bo Regamna, which is a prequel to the more famous Cattle Raid of Cooley. In these legends, the hero Cu Culainn is an outsider to society, at odds with the Morrigan, who knows how things should be done.
One of the sites associated with the Morrigan is the Cave of the Cats, the Uaimh na gCat at Rathcroghan. This is an entrance to the Otherworld and a place of initiation. The entrance is a womblike narrow passage which you have to enter feet first to get down to where the cave opens up to a big cavern.
Lora also talked about how the Morrigan's name was mis-used in computer games - usually as a cool name for some large breasted sexy goddess. When one of the audience tried to explain the thing in one particular game about the character giving birth to a baby demon, Lora countered with "It's fucking disrespectful," adding that Irish people swear a lot, so she wasn't apologising for her language. (It's a classic example of cultural appropriation by the computer game makers).
She finished by saying: "If anything I've said here pisses you off, I'm doing God's work!"

Outside in the real world (and showing on the big screen in Martin's Bar) Dublin was hosting the all-Ireland hurling championship between Limerick and Kilkenny.
So it was quite amusing to see this version of the Iron Throne in the dealers' room:

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Sunday at WorldCon 2 - Archaeology

I was very keen to go to the panel on Archaeology in SFF - The Bare Bones of Worldbuilding. I trained as an archaeologist, so a lot of what the panellists touched on was familiar to me, but there was still plenty there that was new to me.
It was nice to see a textile historian on the panel, Dr Katrin Kania from Germany, and Marie Brennan the author also has a background in archaeology.
They talked about using knowledge of archaeology to create detail about, for instance, a city built on a river delta, thinking about the origins of the settlement in huts on stilts, with the islands gradually built up and larger buildings constructed, and the flow of trade and who would have access to the imported luxury goods, and who would be relying on local goods and food.
There was quite a lot about Central American archaeology that was new to me - recent geophysical studies of the jungles have revealed way more pyramids than anyone was expecting, but in remote areas that are very hard to get to. The idea that the Mayan cities were primarily ritual centres has been overturned, too, as more recent surveys have revealed the huge suburbs where ordinary people lived, which in turn has meant that the estimates of population have risen greatly.
The assumptions archaeologists make was considered too - for instance, the lack of roads 'obviously' meant there was a lack of trade and travel. What was overlooked here was the existence of a vast network of waterways. There was also the point that the Amazon was not untamed primal jungle, but basically a vast overgrown orchard that had been used by the local people for centuries.
So, who got it right? Recommendations included The Drowning City by Amanda Downham.
The panel were also asked for top tips to make archaeology 'sexy'. What was cool to find that wasn't treasure?
(For me, the most exciting thing I ever found was a very boring looking black pot - it was the context, and it's completeness, that made it interesting, the only complete Thetford Ware pot found at the Castle Mall dig in Norwich, on a site that was littered with masses of Thetford War pot sherds).
A book that was recommended here was What Does This Awl Mean? by Janet Spencer, where she talks about the life of a prehistoric woman based on the markings carved into an awl, a very basic and easily overlooked tool. Mary Beard's book about Pompeii was also praised.
They also talked about the different approaches to the subject from US and EU archaeologists. In the US, archaeology is seen as a branch of anthropology whereas in Europe there are more written sources to consult, and archaeology is seen as a branch of history. But, historians and archaeologists ask different questions about the evidence. One of the great examples is the 'postcards' from Vindolanda, which give a picture of the everyday life of the fort on Hadrian's Wall, complete with requests for warm socks and invitations to birthday parties.
Marie Brennan was quite excited that her latest book, which touches on some of the things discussed in the panel, was out on Tuesday - Turning Darkness into Light.
The panel finished with some problems that can be caused by archaeologists - such as archaeologists declaring there were no more Mayans, leading to the government of Guatemala refusing to acknowledge the existence of actual living Mayan Indians in their country. And there were the fanciful reconstructions - there's a famous picture of a line of people carrying offerings reconstructed by Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos - which looks great until you realise that the original fresco was complete only up to the ankles - everything above that came from Sir Arthur Evans' imagination!