London Meeting: Anne Sudworth

The guest at tonight’s BSFA meeting is artist Anne Sudworth, who will be interviewed by Ian Whates.

As usual, the meeting is open to any and all, and will be held in the upstairs room of the Star Tavern in Belgravia (map here). The interview starts at 7.00, but there are likely to be people hanging around in the bar from 6.00 or so.

This is another one I’m going to miss due to travel: I’m off to Singapore tomorrow morning (mostly work, some pleasure), and have Things To Do this evening. But I’ll definitely be there in August.

Here is the News

Your daily dose of sf reviewing commentary: in response to that Readercon panel, James Nicoll muses about negative reviews, while Elizabeth Bear suggests we need someone to review the reviewers. I think she’s kidding. Elsewhere, Kameron says (to my mind) spot-on things about the importance of honest reviewing, while Jonathan McCalmont is talking about the son of Scalpel.

Your daily dose of discussion about sf movements: Kathryn Cramer has put up an archive of the New Weird discussion from back in 2003. (The original discussion was lost when TTA press changed their message board system.) And, via Kathryn, here’s Rudy Rucker’s response to the mundane manifesto, which is pretty much what you’d expect. Elsewhere, riffing off Susannah Mandel’s column at Strange Horizons about the sf/mainstream divide, Richard Larson wants “… to figure out how the experience of reading mainstream literature differs from that of reading genre fiction, and what formal factors are contributing to that experience.”

Your daily dose of sf writers talking about their work: Lou Anders points to a great conversation between Ian McDonald and Richard Morgan, recorded at Eastercon. Part 1 starts off with the trouble with trying to call your novel Black Man; Part 2 starts off with the fallacy of sympathetic characters. Much else of interest is discussed. And speaking of Richard Morgan, here’s Nisi Shawl’s review of Black Man; and speaking of Ian McDonald, Adam Balm’s latest column at AICN includes a review of Brasyl — as well as a follow-up to Balm’s boycotting of the Clarke Award earlier this year.

And last but not least, your daily dose of pointless graphs: Hugo and Nebula Best Short Story winners since 1991, by venue of first publication.

Further To …

(1) … the Campbell Award discussion, Jason Robertson has read Titan:

Titan excels at neither literary or sfnal virtues. It has a dangerously clumsy sense of gender, and is widely outstripped in both literary and sfnal merit by several books among just those nominees I read. The degree to which this win is undefended, and apparently indefensible is a danger to the Campbell’s ability to go forward as an award that bears weight. Losing an award of this age to an anomalous dysfunction would be a blow to the community. There should be a discussion, hopefully including Campbell jurors (who can after all, enlighten us as to the perceived merits of Titan), about how to fix this. And if not how to fix it, than to assert why it is not broken.

As Jason notes, Christopher McKitterick has answered some questions about the Campbell process here, but not others, such as how jurors are selected.

2) … the ongoing discussion of “Pol Pot’s Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy)”, which came up again over the weekend, Kate Nepveu has posted her thoughts on this year’s Hugo nominees for Best Novelette, including Ryman’s story:

I’m okay with the idea that story-Sith needs acknowledge her father’s dead, as she is benefiting from her father’s crimes. […] But this conversation seems to me to be an assertion that Dara the unexceptional, and through him the entire country, isn’t acknowledging its dead and should be. Which seems like a really sweeping thing to say to me, and I am fundamentally uncomfortable with sweeping statements about entire countries.

Actually, it’s two assertions, the other of which is made by the story as a whole, not just this conversation: that all the dead want is acknowledgement. Which is equally sweeping and even more difficult for me, because I don’t know anything about Cambodia today, but I can imagine what those dead of genocide would want, and it’s neither so uniform nor so simple as acknowledgment.

If this had been a secondary-world fantasy, I would consider it a sweet little fable. But it’s not. It’s about real people, a real country, real history, real pain and terror and rage. And putting the two together—simple fable, difficult reality—gives me serious cognitive dissonance.

As I said over on Kate’s blog, her last paragraph made me wonder whether cognitive dissonance was, in fact, the intended effect. I don’t know if it would make the use of Sith/Sitha any more palatable, and it seems slightly at odds with the way The King’s Last Song approaches Cambodia, but that sort of argument against fantasy that dodges its moral implications strikes me as something Ryman might attempt.

The Linksecution Channel

  • There was a fascinating discussion about Scarlett Thomas’ The End of Mr Y on Newsnight Review last night, with much debate between Jeanette Winterson and Julie Myerson on the one hand, and Tim Lott and Michael Gove on the other, about (among other things) how best to use language to convey ideas. Also, check out two reviews of the book, by Roz Kaveney and Dan Hartland
  • Abigail Nussbaum reviews China Mieville’s Un Lun Dun
  • Matthew Cheney reviews The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
  • See also Abigail Nussbaum’s response to a different review of Chabon’s book, and discussion of politics in fiction in general
  • Jonathan McCalmont reviews the latest Interzone
  • Paul Kincaid reviews Brave New Words, the Oxford Dictionary of SF
  • Andrew Wheeler reviews Gene Wolfe’s forthcoming novel Pirate Freedom
  • Night Shade Books hath a sale
  • PS Publishing hath a blog
  • And TTA Press seems to be preparing to relaunch its short fiction review, The Fix, as a blog
  • The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod and HARM by Brian Aldiss as post-9/11 sf
  • And finally: a poll about online magazines.


And there you have it. The default voice/viewpoint of F&SF is white, Middle American, male – and doesn’t even try to reach out and become the Other imaginatively. Where’s the alien archeologist exploring the remains of post-Catastrophe Terra, trying not to get shot by sling-armed natives as gtst loots, ahem, recovers the artifacts from the tombs of their ancestors, the Renaissance kabbalist trying tragically to wield mystic power against oppression in Isabella’s regime, the Queen of California’s reaction to conquistadors arriving on her shores as she saddles up the gryphons? Even the female writers self-identify with the patriarchy, even when reviewing Tiptree.

From here, which in all fairness is described as “a red-hot rant of a review”. The issue under discussion is the October/November 2006 issue — you’ll want to familiarise yourself with the table of contents here, since the reviewer pretty much expects you to know and just keep up. Let it be noted that the issue includes stories by Geoff Ryman (“The mind boggles – mine at least – at the amount of hubris and Western Privilege entailed in this endeavor, particularly given what I know about contemporary Cambodia”), Carol Emshwilller (“… nothing subversive or original here, yeah Strong Women On Their Own only they behave utterly conventionally in the Wimmen Are Naturally Wicked, Wanton, Jealous, Untrustworthy, Cruel & Uncooperative left to themselves without men to govern us”), and Paolo Bacigalupi (which is the part of the review that really made my head spin; it’s also how I discovered the post, since it links to my review, which obviously came over as less critical than intended), and that the patriarchy-self-identifying Tiptree reviewer mentioned is Elizabeth Hand.

EDIT: Just to be clear about this: the reason the above-linked review frustrated me, and the reason I linked to it, is not that I disagree with its assessments of the stories under consideration, though I do in almost every case, but that by being so sloppy in detail, by drawing such damning conclusions about the beliefs of the authors in question on the basis of such weak evidence, and by embracing such a hostile tone it makes itself too easy to dismiss. That seems a waste to me, because the actual issues involved are, self-evidently, important.


As I mentioned in the comments of a recent post, I’m in the process of rewatching the first season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In the great Babylon 5 vs. DS9 rivalry, I started out firmly in the B5 camp, and ended up firmly in the DS9 camp — despite the fact that I missed large chunks of the later seasons. As a result, collecting the DVD sets and rewatching the whole show from start to finish has been a vague ambition of mine for some time. I was finally spurred into action by the confluence of (a) being bought the first season for my birthday and (b) the desert that is the summer tv schedule.

Given that it’s received wisdom that DS9 didn’t get good until the Defiant turned up (which in turn created the received wisdom that it takes three seasons for Trek shows to find their feet), my expectations for the season weren’t particularly high, and so far — with the exception of the pilot, “Emissary”, which turned out to be really quite good — they’ve been met. Abigail made reference to Trek‘s “overpowering squareness“, and it’s certainly something the early DS9 struggles, not very successfully, to avoid. The most interesting characters are almost all the outsiders — the acerbic, abrasive Odo, of course, but also weaselly Quark (I haven’t had to sit through any Ferengi comedy yet), and the rather wonderful Major Kira. I’m enjoying Avery Brooks’ performances as Ben Sisko more than I did first time around, probably because I can see the roots of what he becomes in later seasons, but you can see that neither writers nor actor have really got the hang of how best to deploy the character’s mix of iron authority, explosive anger, and occasional ebullience.

Although there are glimpses. In the episode I’ve just watched, “Dax” — in which Jadzia Dax is put on trial for treason and murder originally committed in the symbiote’s previous life, as Curzon Dax — there’s a marvellous little scene in which Sisko and Kira double-team the man trying to extradite Jadzia, Ilon Tandro (played by President Logan Gregory Itzin). Tandro’s people have a treaty with the Federation that allows “unilateral extradition” (God knows how that one got signed), which they invoke when their initial attempt to kidnap Jadzia Dax is thwarted; but of course, Deep Space Nine is technically a Bajoran station:

That’s absurd. No Bajoran interests are even involved here.

How did you people know your way around this station so well?

TANDRO (with disdain):
My conversation is with the Commander.

SISKO (stepping back):
No, I think your conversation is with my First Officer now.

You Klaestrons are allies of the Cardassians. Your knowledge of this station confirms that. They must have given you the layout, which not only comprises Bajoran security but also … [beat, then with a certain amount of relish] annoys us.

SISKO (faux-apologetic):
I’m afraid it means Bajoran interests are involved. And Bajor is adamant that — [courteous, directed at Kira] At least, I believe it’s adamant —

KIRA (definite relish now):
Oh yes, adamant.

You see. There will have to be an extradition hearing before I can lawfully release Lieutenant Dax.

I never thought I’d say find myself watching an incarnation of Star Trek for the characters, but here I am. Every episode so far has featured one or two wonderful nuggets of interaction like this — or a great guest star; “Dax” features Anne Haney as the fabulously crotchety arbitrator of the extradition hearing (“I’ll start with some informal advice to all: I’m one hundred years old. I’ve no time to squander listening to superfluous language. In short, I intend being here until supper, not senility. Understood?”). Which is just as well, since the plots have been almost uniformly lame. “Dax” is a transparent excuse to explain Trills to the viewers; the exploration of the putative issue at hand is somewhat half-hearted (certainly in comparison to The Next Generation‘s Data-on-trial episode, “The Measure of a Man”), and in the end the question is dodged entirely by having Dax’s innocence revealed just as Dax is finally asked, directly, whether she considers herself responsible for Curzon’s crimes. The secondary theme — the exploration of Dax and Sisko’s friendship; after all, Sisko is in the position of having to prove that Jadzia Dax is not his friend, when he’s spent the previous six episodes trying to convince himself that she is — is also underdeveloped. More evidence of Trek‘s squareness, perhaps; a lingering unwillingness to really delve into interpersonal conflicts between members of the Federation.

Of course DS9 improves, until it becomes the show of later seasons, a show both bolder and more subtle than the one I’m watching at the moment, probably peaking in the sixth season with episodes like “Far Beyond the Stars” and “In the Pale Moonlight”. The high-point of B5, at least for me, is the station’s declaration of independence from Earth. It strikes me now that DS9 made a more gradual declaration of independence of its own, one that I’m still eager, if a little impatient, to revisit.

In The Mail

I wouldn’t blame my postman if he hated me. He’s never given me cause to believe that he does, on the odd occasions when I actually see him, but I wouldn’t blame him. I got home last night to find one of those we-tried-to-deliver-but-you-were-out cards, with a tick in the too-big-for-your-letterbox box, and a big “X 5!” written in marker pen next to it. So I collected the above pile from my local sorting office on the way to work. The haul:

From bottom to top: that’s Nova Swing and The Green Glass Sea (loans being returned by Chance), Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow (Clarke submission; “an ancient race of lycanthropes survives in modern L.A. … Sharp Teeth is a novel-in-verse that blends epic themes with dark humour, dogs playing cards, crystal meth labs, and acts of heartache and betrayal in Southern California”); The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod, Saturn Returns by Sean Williams, Glasshouse by Charles Stross, and Dark Space by Marianne de Pierres (Clarke submissions all, from Orbit; now, if we can only persude Gollancz to be as efficient); and three Shaun Hutson novels (review copies, for Strange Horizons). Not pictured: my Amazon order, which did get left for me, and consisted of The New Space Opera and Mister Pip. Oh, and that thing in the background is an Orbit messenger bag, “to mark the launch of” their new website. Guess they’re trying to create some buzz after all.

Link Country

As Scientists See Us

The latest issue of Nature marks the fiftieth anniversary of Hugh Everett’s many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. It includes several pieces of SFnal interest, including the biology in sf roundtable I linked a little while ago, the return of Futures, a short article by Gary K. Wolfe, and a very nice editorial on the relationship between science and science fiction:

Science fiction feeds on science. It also anticipates it. For good or ill, it articulates possibilities and fears: the notion of the super-weapon was commonplace in science fiction long before the Manhattan Project, and no debate about genetic technology seems complete without an appearance by Victor Frankenstein and his creature.


Yet even though it can be serious and frightening, it is not at heart a literature of warning, either. It is a literature of playfulness. Within the constraint of telling human stories about more-or-less human beings, it revels in the possibility of expanded physical and intellectual horizons.

And above all it revels in the possibility of change. Serious science fiction takes science seriously, and its games provide a way of looking at the subjective implications of newly revealed objective truths of the Universe. Science fiction does not tell us what the future will bring, but at its best it helps us to understand what the future will feel like, and how we might feel when one way of looking at the world is overtaken by another.

To be sure, science fiction doesn’t always connect in this way. It can be tired and cliché-ridden; the games it plays can be tedious, solipsistic power fantasies. And over recent years many of its finest practitioners have become so besotted by the endless new games that ever-accelerating progress allows them to play that their works can be inaccessible to the general reader. To demand that everything be accessible is to demand mediocrity — there is a role for dialogues that can be appreciated only by cognoscenti. But we believe that science fiction written for every scientist can be rewarding, too, which is why this issue sees the return of our popular showcase for short science fiction stories, Futures.

Science takes place in a cultural context. The many forward-looking, ever-changing worlds of science fiction provide one that is both fruitful and enjoyable.