Forthcoming Book on Gender & Sexuality in SF&F

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

I am delighted to announce that I will have an essay in Gender identity and sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction: do we have a problem?, forthcoming from Luna Press later this year. There are 10 authors altogether in the book, the full list being available via that link. You’ll probably know of Juliet McKenna and Kim Lakin-Smith. Finnish friends will also know Jyrki Korpua.

My essay is, of course, on trans representation. It is effectively an update of stuff I have been doing for years now. Juliet’s is about sexism in the publishing/book-selling industry, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what she has written. I’ll keep you informed when I get news about the book.

A Day at the Seaside

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

This afternoon Jo Hall had a signing at the delightful Books on the Hill store in Clevedon. Being a loyal publisher, I went along to support her. This also gave me a reason to visit Clevedon, a seaside town on the North Somerset coast just south of Bristol.

One reason for wanting to go is that the town is the birthplace of Jan Morris, a pioneering trans woman and brilliant writer. I don’t think there is a blue plaque or anything. Probably you can’t get one until you are dead. But Jan deserves one.

Clevedon is most famous, however, for its pier, which the poet, Sir John Betjeman, once described as the most beautiful in the world. As you’ll see from the picture above, it is a funny-looking old thing. It was built in Victorian times when steamships were still a common means of getting along and across the Severn Estuary. (If you look under all those clouds you can just make out Wales, and with better focus you’d be able to see Newport.)

Perhaps the oddest thing about the pier is its height. Why, you might think, is it perched so far above the water? Well, it isn’t. Clevedon has a maximum tidal range of 47 feet, second only to the Bay of Fundy in Canada. It ought to be a good place to build a tidal power installation, but George Osborne decided it would be better to borrow billions from the Chinese to pay the French to build a new nuclear station down the coast at Hinkley Point instead. Presumably Brexit will put an end to all that and the government will re-open some coal mines instead. Get all those Welsh people off benefits and back down the pits. That’ll teach them to vote Labour, eh?

Which reminds me, my colleague Yaz did a great show on Wednesday, and among here guests were some people from Coal Action talking about this campaign. Aberthaw power station directly affects the air quality in Bristol, so it is a matter of concern to us as well as to people in Glamorgan.

Introducing the Twilight People App #TDOV

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

Today is the international Trans Day of Visibility. I’m spending the day in London at a Trans*Code hackathon, kindly hosted at the offices of CapGemini (whom I used to work for many decades ago). I’ve spent the day working on an app for the Twilight People project. This is something I started at last year’s Trans*Code, and an initial version of the app went live in the Google Play store today. You can find it here.

The first release of the app is very simple because I needed something I could guarantee worked. I plan to add features to it given a bit of time. Also if there are any trans people of faith out there who would like they stories featured in it, we’d love to hear from you. Currently the app is only available for Android. I have a working Windows version which hopefully we can release soon. Thanks to my new pal, Tom Parker of Oliver Wyman (who is here as a mentor), I have been testing the iOS version today. It works fine on a simulator on Tom’s Mac, but Apple charge a lot more for developer accounts than Google or Microsoft so it will be down to the nice people at Liberal Judaism as to whether we can afford to ship that version.

Trans Theory in Assyriology

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

Some of the talks from the conference I attended in Barcelona in February have been put online. The full playlist is here (including one on Nefertiti, Egypt fans), but I just want to highlight one here because it demonstrates that trans and intersex issues are being taken seriously by academia. It is one of the keynote talks by Ann Guinan who, delightfully, studies Sex and Gender, Magic and Divination in the Ancient World at the University of Pennsylvania. The first half of the talk is basically a history of Western sexology and how it has impacted our view of Mesopotamia. Ann then brings in knowledge of trans and intersex people, and asks how their existence might affect how we interpret the ancient world.

My apologies to intersex readers for the focus on genitalia, but in the ancient world intersex conditions were generally only noticed when they caused a distinct physical change. Everyone else may remember the 2015 BBC program that featured the guevedoce community in the Dominican Republic.

I remember this talk with some pride because I was able to introduce Ann to a friend of mine, Alan Greaves, who studies Classics at Liverpool University. Alan has written about evidence for the existence of intersex people in Rome, of which there is quite a lot (some of which found its way into my LGBT History Month talks this year).

Anyway, here’s the video. It’s about half an hour.

Sexism in Ancient Egypt?

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

Last night’s meeting of the Egypt Society of Bristol saw a lecture on Egyptian graffiti by Dr Hana Navratilova of the Griffith Institute in Oxford. This did not mean Egyptian kids spray-painting anti-government slogans on walls in Cairo. It meant Egyptian scribes from the 18th and 19th dynasties writing on the walls of more ancient temples and tombs. Graffiti, it seems, has a very long history.

Possibly we should not be surprised that the vast majority of what these scribes wrote was their contemporary equivalent of “Kilroy was here”. Being what passed for academics in ancient Egypt, they also couldn’t resist noting that they knew who was buried in each individual tomb they wrote on, even if it was hundreds of years old. And because Egyptian culture hadn’t changed that much in all that time, they also made a point of paying their respects to the departed.

For those interested in the technical side, the graffiti was normally written in hieratic script rather than full hieroglyphs. It was done mostly with brushes and black ink. To do good graffiti you had to refresh your brush frequently, otherwise what you wrote would soon fade away.

The people writing this graffiti were mostly scribes who were traveling for some reason, possibly visiting the monument on which they left their names. Most of the names left are male. Interestingly a few female-signed graffiti have also been found. However, as literacy was not universal in Egypt at the time we can’t be certain that these were made by women scribes. They may, for example, have been made by a scribe employed by a noblewoman who liked visiting ancient monuments.

Dr. Navratilova says that there is a lot more female-authored graffiti in Thebes, a major religious center, and that much of it relates to religious ceremonies. That sounds like it was being written by literate priestesses.

There is, however, one very famous piece of graffiti from Saqqara, the necropolis of Memphis. It is signed with a male name, and it goes something like this (I paraphrase because Dr. Navratilova recited it from memory and I can’t remember exactly what she said):

I’m horrified! Disgusted! There is some terrible writing on this wall, and it is by a crazy woman! This sort of thing shouldn’t be allowed!

Sadly the wall in question is in a very poor state of repair and it hasn’t been possible to identify the graffiti that Mr. Angry was complaining about. We don’t know whether he was angry about the quality of the handwriting, about what was written, or simply because the writer was a woman. However, the archaeologist who discovered this rant did say that it was made in very ugly handwriting. Maybe he was too angry to write well.

Hello Prometheus

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

The finalists for this year’s Prometheus Award, given to works of Libertarian science fiction, have been announced. Here they are:

  • The Corporation Wars: Dissidence by Ken MacLeod (Orbit)
  • The Corporation Wars: Insurgence, by Ken MacLeod (Orbit)
  • The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver (HarperCollins)
  • The Core of the Sun, by Johanna Sinisalo (translated by Lola Rogers) (Grove Press/Black Cat)
  • Blade of p’Na, by L. Neil Smith (Phoenix Pick)

Ken, of course, is a familiar sight on Prometheus shortlists, despite his avowed Socialist leanings. Quite right too, because he does examine the issues very closely. Johanna’s book is straight up feminism, a tale of rebellion against oppressive Patriarchy. It is nice to see that getting recognized. I’m not familiar with the other two books, though Shiver is a Freeze Peach fundamentalist so it is not surprising to see her there.

Welcome, Samovar!

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

Samovar is the speculative fiction magazine devoted to translated works. It is hosted by the good folks at Strange Horizons. The first issue was published today and you can read it here. It includes (if I’m getting this right) work in Finnish, Arabic, Chinese and Hebrew, and English translations thereof. The press release says:

What wondrous fantastical tales are being conjured in Finnish? Who writes the best Nigerian space odysseys? Is Mongolia hiding an epic fantasy author waiting to be discovered? We want to know, and we aim to find out.

For Samovar, writers and translators are of equal importance, and we do our best to shine a spotlight on the talented individuals who pen both the original and the translated version of a story. We hope that in this way we can boost the profile of speculative fiction in translation so that everyone involved receives the recognition they deserve and so we can all continue to enjoy the strange, mind-bending and fantastical fiction of all cultures.

Samovar has teamed up with the brilliant folks at Strange Horizons, and will be produced as a quarterly, special imprint of the magazine. A lot of hard work, generous funding and an inordinate quantity of tea (hence the name!) have gone into creating Samovar and we are very excited to finally be releasing our first issue. We hope that you will join us and share in this special moment for both the speculative fiction and translation communities.

In issue one: two sisters create an imagined world where things that are lost can be found. A despot is forced to see the truth he’s tried to hide from. An academic finds poetry, science fiction and reality beginning to merge. And the Curiosity Rover turns its own sardonic gaze on Mars.

Featuring the work of the following talented writers and translators: Lavie Tidhar, Suvi Kauppila, Abdul Wakil Sulamal, James Caron, Ko Hua Chen (陳克華), and Annie Sheng, as well as a review from Rachel Cordasco of Taiyo Fujii’s Orbital Cloud (translated by Timothy Silver).

The Samovar editorial team is Laura Friis, Greg West and Sarah Dodd. Our advisory board includes Helen Marshall, Rachel Cordasco and Marian Via Rivera-Womack. We collaborate with the Reading the Fantastic project at the University of Leeds, and the Anglia Ruskin Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I am absolutely delighted to see this excellent project finally taking flight. Someone please read it and tell me whether there’s anything Tiptree-worthy in it, because that’s all I have time for right now (except for history books which is another time sink).

Bristol Does Local News

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

Last night I took myself into Bristol for an event organized by the National Union of Journalists. It was a kick-off for a national campaign aimed at highlighting the importance and value of quality local journalism. There is, perhaps, and argument to be made that this campaign is a decade or two late, and should have taken place when local news services first started getting decimated, but at least new new entrants have sprung up to fill the gap which made for an interesting discussion.

The event took the form of a panel discussion with a truly huge panel. My apologies if I have forgotten anyone, but I recall representatives from the following: the BBC, ITV, Made in Bristol TV, the Bristol Post, the Bristol Cable, the Chew Valley Gazette, Vocalise, the Voice network and the NUJ head office. Conspicuous by their absence were Bristol 24/7. Apparently editor Martin Booth was taken ill during the day and was unable to arrange for a replacement. There was no one there from BCFM Radio. Most of my management at Ujima was at St. George’s for the Courtney Pine concert. I wasn’t on the panel, but I’m sure I could have contributed had I wanted to. More of that later. Also in the audience were two local MPs (Thangan Debbonaire – Lab and Charlotte Leslie – Con), plus three of the candidates for the new Metro Mayor post (Leslie Mansell – Lab, Stephen Williams – LibDem and Darren Hall – Green).

The traditional news outlets all reported a decade or two of constant downsizing. The television networks have made use of new, lightweight technology to train their reporters to do without a cameraman and sound technician. The newsroom at the Post has been reduced to around a third of its former size. They all insisted that they had maintained standards. Some of the audience, including on my Twitter feed, begged to disagree.

The main reason for the change has been loss of revenue streams. Companies such as estate agents, car salesrooms and so on, plus job and home rental adverts, have all migrated to the internet. The Chew Valley Gazette, a weekly paper serving villages in North Somerset, survives mainly because the local broadband service is so bad that local businesses still advertise in print.

While the panel and online peanut galley might debate the quality of existing services, the existence of new, competing services suggests that the public is not entirely happy with the incumbents. Some of the competition is fuels by technology changes. Made in Bristol TV succeeds where previous attempts at local TV failed because it has access to the cable network, giving it far better distribution than previous attempts (I can watch it at home via Sky). The same is true of community radio stations such as Ujima which are available online, and for papers such as Bristol 24/7 and the Cable which can have large amounts of online content to supplement their paper editions.

However, new services do need financial support. Ujima and BCFM rely on advertising and on volunteer staff such as myself. The Gazette is staffed mostly by part-timers. Vocalise, which is distributed free to mainly immigrant communities in central Bristol, is also run by volunteers. I was impressed by Richard Coulter’s Voice network of hyper-local newspapers — each serving just one small area of Bristol — which apparently pays its staff.

The content of the news provided was clearly an issue. There are obviously things that the old guard does well. There was a lot of praise for Geoff Bennett, the Post‘s court reporter, who spends every day following local trials. Other outlets tend to rely on his detailed work for their own reports. There was concern that elsewhere content was being written at a national level and syndicated to local news services, though the Post‘s editor assured us that he was still employing reporters to follow both local soccer teams.

The audience had difficulty separating concerns about local news services with national issues, and to be fair the panel sometimes got confused as well. One question from the floor asked why newspapers these days spend so much time soliciting comment from ill-informed celebrities such as Piers Morgan rather than talking to people who could give expert comment. Ellie Pitt from Made in Bristol TV made the reasonable point that far too many potential commentators are unwilling to give an opinion, whereas the professional big mouth will have an opinion on anything. Against that I’d note that expert commentators tend to want to explain things in detail and present both sides, whereas the media wants a simple and controversial statement.

An issue that was less touched upon was the question of what was reported. Some of this was implicit in the concentration on local news. The national media has little interest in what happens outside of London. The Post will cover what happens in Bristol, but to find out what is happening at St. Werburgh’s Community Centre, or the Malcolm X Centre in St. Pauls, you need to read Vocalise. Only the Gazette will report the results of the Chew Magna Dog Show.

However, there are still plenty of holes in the coverage. The panel, while it did have several women on it, was entirely white save for the woman from Vocalise, a paper which specifically serves immigrant communities. I badly wanted to ask the diversity question, but as a white person myself (albeit one with other diversity credentials) I felt nervous about doing so. Thankfully a Somali man sat near me did the job. The panel made the usual excuses about inability to get specialist staff. Only the NUJ rep seemed to take the question seriously and talk about recruitment, but that’s only part of the problem. If non-white people can’t get the required qualifications, or feel they have no chance of getting jobs, or are afraid of discrimination at work, or think they will be asked to create news solely for white people, then you still won’t solve the problem.

Other minorities have similar issues. I suspect that I might be the only local journalist planning on doing in depth coverage of the Women’s Cricket World Cup, despite many matches being played in Bristol. An approach has been made to Made in Bristol TV about doing an LGBT show, but apparently they have no interest in serving that community. The Cable, being community-owned and focused, is much better at this sort of thing, and I’m pleased to see Bristol 24/7 ramping up its LGBT coverage.

Despite my reservations, I think this was a very useful event. What was clear is that a single panel wasn’t close to covering everything we might have talked about. There was easily enough material to fill a one-day conference. Hopefully the NUJ will look at doing something like that. We do have a thriving journalism course at UWE that could get involved as well.

New Finnish Weird

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

The latest issue of Finnish Weird is now available online. It includes stories from Magdalena Hai, J.S. Meresmaa and Viivi Hyvönen. (And yes, they are all women.) You can download a free electronic copy here. Free paper copies will be available at various conventions and the like through the year including, of course, Worldcon.

An Evening at the BBC

Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

I spent yesterday evening in the staff club at BBC Bristol. That’s because it was the venue for a meeting of our local Sound Women group for women who work in the media. The group is run by my colleague, Miranda, who has regular Friday afternoon show on Ujima as well as occasional gigs in the big leagues. (Miranda used to be a very high profile DJ, but she took time out to raise a child and, well, you know how that goes.)

We had two speakers for the evening. The first was Kalpna Woolf, who had a 25 year career in the BBC, rising from temp to head of production. More recently she has reinvented herself as a cookery writer, and runs an amazing charity called 91 Ways which celebrates the multicultural community of Bristol through food.

The second speaker was top-selling author, Amanda Prowse. Contemporary family dramas are not usually my sort of thing, but a writer is a writer and it was clear just listening to Amanda that she knows how to tell a story and is likely to have a lot of humor in her tales. She’s done extremely well for herself, and clearly has a lot of natural talent. There aren’t many people who can just sit down in front of a computer and just pour out a novel. She’s also got a major commitment to tackling important issues such as infertility, racism, and eating disorders; and makes sure she researches each topic well before starting to write.

It was an excellent evening, and it is great to get to hang out with other women in the media. I’ve already got one potential guest for my show from it.