AGM 2020 Agenda Item: Diversity and Anti-Racism at the BSFA

The following text was written for the 2020 BSFA AGM, held online on 23 August on our Discord server.

Preamble

Jo Lindsay Walton

This is an agenda item about two closely connected matters, the recent and ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, and issues of diversity in the BSFA and UK SFF publishing and fandom more widely. We would like to invite the membership to consider some of the practical steps the BSFA might take. The BSFA is, of course, committed to anti-racism, and in recent months we’ve tried to play our part, for example recently publishing statements of solidarity with BLM in Vector and in the BSFA newsletter. With such statements, we join innumerable other cultural, arts, and community organisations and institutions. Gestures like these do often get a mixed reception from people doing anti-racist work. On the one hand, such gestures are usually both well-intentioned and broadly welcomed. On the other, many anti-racism activists point out that it’s easy to make statements of support, but that these may often be at best hollow, and at worst hypocritical! — contradicted by the actual policies and practices of the institutions in question.

Science fiction has a special connection to the future and, we’d like to think, a special connection to hopeful transformation. We believe it behooves us to ensure that our words are not hollow, but backed up by action. But what actions should those be? One area of focus can be our own SFF communities, fan, academic, and professional. Clarke Award judge Stewart Hotston recently published an article online which pointed out that, of 121 publisher submissions to the award, the total number by British authors of non-white descent was only three. Even more recently, several of this year’s Hugo Award nominees published a letter raising, among other issues, a lack of diversity in the panelling at this year’s virtual WorldCon. More broadly, I’m sure it escapes nobody’s notice that SFF cons in the UK are often very white spaces.

BSFA officers have been thinking about these issues for at least as long as we’ve been editing Vector, and no doubt much much longer, and we’ll continue to do so. Editorially we’ll continue to monitor which authors and books get coverage, and also continue to think about the diversity of our contributors. We’ll continue to be vigilant against racist discourse in our more open public spaces such as the BSFA Facebook page, and try always to ensure that these are spaces where BAME fans can feel respected and safe. And we’ll also try to make sure that there’s regular information shared in such spaces about the work of diversifying and decolonising SFF. In the medium to long term, the BSFA Committee (soon to be Council and Directors, following adoption of the new Constitution) is seriously lacking in diversity, and that needs to be addressed too.

What we would like to do now is suggest a few other possible actions the BSFA might take, and then open things up for a brief initial discussion. Please also consider this an opportunity to canvas who’s interested in actually getting involved in making some of these things happen. We’ll then formally propose some motions one by one.

Diversity and antiracism motions

Jo Lindsay Walton,  Polina Levontin, Dev Agarwal, Sue Oke

The editors of Vector, Focus and The BSFA Review with the support of the Chair and the Treasurer are proposing five motions. These motions are flexibly worded, since many of the details would need to be sorted out post the AGM. However, here’s a little more detail, albeit provisional: 

(1) Offer support-in-kind to BAME fans of science fiction. This would likely include a waiver on BSFA membership fees within the UK for as long as this is sustainable and necessary. We would also seek to reach out to other organisations, e.g. the British Fantasy Society, to potentially put together a package. 

(2) Offer financial support to BAME convention goers. This could for example follow the precedent of Con or Bust, and be offered from a special pot, generated from dedicated fundraising activities. 

(3) Pursue consultation with BAME members of the wider SFF community. The consultation would likely be an online anonymised initiative, with questions around the experience and priorities of BAME fans of science fiction, writers, academics and publishers. 

(4) Create a role of a Diversity Officer to support these efforts. The role would involve championing diversity of all kinds within the BSFA, as well as helping to administer specific initiatives or events (including, if passed, the motions presented here). It would not involve any additional powers requiring constitutional amendments. 

(5) Finally, we suggest that the BSFA make a donation to Black Lives Matter UK. 

Motions (1)-(4) were passed by the membership. Motion (5) was amended to “We resolve to make a donation to one or more appropriate anti-racist organisation(s). Preference will be given to a UK-based anti-racist charity associated with SF, if one can be identified,” and was then passed by the membership. Dave Lally also made a personal starting pledge to raise funds for these activities.

“Can we do this thing?”: An interview with Natasha Rickman

Loosely based on H.G. Wells’s classic novel, Creation Theatre’s The Time Machine: A Virtual Reality is a piece of theatre that has 2020 written all over it. A zany and thought-provoking eleganzoom extravaganzoom, the show is simultaneously set in your own living room or kitchen, and in a vast, strange multiverse where “the present is endlessly shifting and the future is strange and uncertain,” and where time travellers “tinker with timelines causing people’s names, faces and indeed the colour of their socks to change without warning.” 

We were lucky enough to be joined by director Natasha Rickman for a deep dive into the process of creation and re-creation. Beyond the original site-specific production of The Time Machine, and this new version reimagined for the digital stage, Natasha’s directing credits also include Twelfth Night (Rose Bankside), Rhino (Kings Head), Hilda and Virginia (Jermyn Street), Honour (The Royal Court), and as associate director, A Little Night Music (Storyhouse), Shirley Valentine (Bury St Edmunds), Comedy of Errors (RSC), and Romeo and Juliet (The Globe). Natasha is also an artistic associate at Jermyn Street Theatre and co-founder of Women@RADA

You may also like to check out an earlier guest post by Time Machine playwright Jonathan Holloway, and Vector’s review of the original production of The Time Machine at the London Library. The Time Machine: A Virtual Reality is playing till 21 June. 

The Time Machine Natasha Rickman
Natasha Rickman

Hi Natasha, thanks so much for speaking with Vector. Are you hearing me OK? My internet’s been a bit funny recently.

Yeah, hopefully we’ll be lucky. My internet’s been actually great the whole time I’ve been making the show, and then just recently it’s like it knows the show is open and it’s just doing its own thing now …

So I guess that’s my first question! When you’re creating a remote theatrical experience like The Time Machine … how do you deal with people’s internets being a bit funny?

It’s definitely one of the challenges of the show. All of the performers are in their living rooms or bedrooms, performing in a variety of locations around the country with varying levels of wi-fi reliability. And yes, performers do sometimes get thrown out of the call. They’ll break up, or their microphone will go. We’ve literally had them be chucked out of a call for a couple of minutes before. 

So we’ve had to create a variety of back-up plans. For example, we’ve got some pre-recorded video which only gets shown if people are having sound issues. We’ve also got a thing called parallel reality. The part of the Time Traveller is played by multiple people. That means if one actor needs to jump and take over, they can shout “Parallel reality!” and do that. We actually had a version of that in the original show as well.

Perhaps the material lends itself somewhat to the uncertainties of the medium? The Time Machine is already about a kind of glitching, melting reality.

Yes, definitely. Jonathan has imagined this world where suddenly you can change where you are, or you can change who you are. Another thing we use is what we call elastic content. That’s content that only happens if it’s needed in the show. We have a piece of elastic content in case someone gets thrown out of a call. It’s a scene that could happen at any time. Basically, there’s a whole load of backup material that only makes it into the show if something goes wrong.

It must be challenging to create scene that can happen at any point. Continue reading ““Can we do this thing?”: An interview with Natasha Rickman”

SF fans sought as interview subjects

UPDATE: Nick now has received enough offers for the first round of research, and would like to thank all those who have volunteered. There may be a further call for volunteers in the future.

Nick Goddard is a doctoral researcher at the University of Buckingham, exploring SF fandom. If you’d like to help out, get in touch.

Exploration of Science Fiction Fandom

Are you a science fiction fan? Would you like to talk about your experience of science fiction fandom? My name is Nick and I am a PhD student at the University of Buckingham. I am looking to interview participants about their experience of science fiction fandom. I’m particularly interested in your experience of fan activities, the benefits and disadvantages of fandom and your experience of other fans and fan groups.

Interviews will take place over Skype and are expected to take 45-60 minutes. For more information, and to register your interest, please email the researcher, Nick Goddard, 1807057@buckingham.ac.uk.

In order to participate, you must:

  • Have self-identified as a science fiction fan for at least two years
  • Be 21 years old or older

Thank you, your participation is appreciated.

From Infinite Detail

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A snippet from Tim Maughan‘s Infinite Detail (2019):

Immediately the protesters’ drones start to drop lower, arrows scrolling across their screens to shift the march’s route, and new cues rattling from speakers to realign the chanting.

WHY ARE YOU IN RIOT GEAR?
WE DON’T SEE NO RIOT HERE!
WHY ARE YOU IN RIOT GEAR?
WE DON’T SEE NO RIOT HERE!

Rush spots a couple of cops behind the main line not wearing headgear, senior officers or strategic management agents, and blinks to grab images of them, storing them away to run through image-search algorithms later. Until you can dismantle them, he tells himself, always use the oppressors’ tools against them.

 

Early Vector now open access (& a note on Judy Watson)

The BSFA have partnered with FANAC.org to make sixty years’ worth of back issues available free online. This collection includes for the first time scans of all of the first seven issues (editors inclue E.C. Tubb, Terry Jeeves, Roberta Gray, and Michael Moorcock).

Among the earlier issues, there are still one or two gaps, so if in the course of your spring cleaning you find a #12, #33, #46, #47, or #49 perfectly preserved in amber, or a  #50, #51, #53, #54, #62, #63 or #184 released by glacial melt, get in touch.

The archive is an absolutely fascinating place to swim around in. In Vector #79 (1977) I stumbled on two striking comic strips by Judy Watson. There are no words. In one comic, titled ‘The Last Fish,’ a fabulous high femme fish is exploring a desolate, junk-crammed ocean. Grinning fishers, evidently in competition with one another, track her on sonar, surround her, and all together cast their vast nets, sized for catches in the thousands or millions, snagging her in a monstrous tangled web. The final panel is remniscent of da Vinci’s Last Supper, except with a vast host of indistinct gatecrashers (5,000 at least) standing in observance. All attention is focused on the little fish on her platter. A single figure at the centre is poised with knife and fork. The seated ‘diners’ — crude national stereotypes — all point and reach, their faces fixed in eerie rictuses remniscent of fish-bones. One figure, skeletal from hunger, does not reach toward the last fish, but instead cowers from her.

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In another comic, ‘If,’ blood flows freely from the protagonist’s breasts. She tapes them up, and blood pours from her navel. She tapes this up too, and visits a Dr [Somebody] — or perhaps Dracula, the edge of the sign is obscured — a balding fanged man, who drinks the blood from her breasts. She weeps, her tears turn to blood, she sits weeping under a tree. Then there is an ambiguous ecological epiphany: she smiles, she finds herself covered with — perhaps she generates? — flocks of dragonflies and butterflies.

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Science Fiction’s big digital pivot

Over the past month or so, the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) has been hosting a series of livestream readings from SFF authors in the UK and beyond. We’re calling them the Lockdown Solidarity Salons or, if you prefer, Very Extremely Casual Tales of Optimism and Resilience (VECTOR). Authors, you are all such charmers!

You can find out more about the series on the Facebook page or YouTube channel. We hope you’ll join us this Thursday (8.15pm UK time) for Chinelo Onwualu, Fiona Moore, and on later dates for Naomi Foyle, Lauren Beukes, Temi Oh, Ian R. MacLeod, and more. Here’s Adam Roberts:

See below for Foz Meadows, Stew Hotston, Valerie Valdes, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Malka Older, Tiffani Angus, Stephen Oram, Geoff Ryman, Wole Talabi, and Andrew Wallace. This Sunday, the BSFA will be holding our annual BSFA Awards ceremony (usually held at Eastercon, the UK’s annual national SF convention) on YouTube at 7pm BST.

And of course, we’re not the only ones.

Continue reading “Science Fiction’s big digital pivot”

“The big idea”: An interview with Wole Talabi

Back in August, Louisa Egbunike caught up with award-winning SFF author Wole Talabi to chat about his work. This interview was first published in Vector 289.

Earlier you mentioned feeling like you were outside of literary circles, and being dragged in. By who? Who’s dragging you?

I don’t know. For a long time, my writing was just about blogging, writing stories from random ideas, and selling to these obscure science fiction magazines. Well, not obscure … but still, I never had any sense of belonging to a generation of writers, you know? The “it” people, or should I say “lit” people right now, are all people I hadn’t met before, hadn’t heard of, and probably hadn’t read much of. Until maybe last year, when I started meeting them after the whole Caine Prize nomination.

So I guess maybe the Caine Prize dragged me into the whole literary circle thing. Before that, I was just like, “I have an interesting idea, there’s some cool robots, and what if the world was like this? Okay, that’s it.” Now, it’s like I have actual fans, and other writers are saying, “There’s all these layers, meanings, and themes in your work.” I was like, “Okay, cool. I mostly thought the robot was cool, but that’s it.”

They see things in your work you didn’t see yourself?

It’s not like I ignore themes or whatever. It’s just, for me, they’re kind of secondary – which is almost the opposite of most writers I know. Most writers I know focus on character and theme. But for me, the idea comes first, and everything else is secondary. A lot of my stories come from just studying things. I see some interesting science thing, and I’m like, “Oh, OK. How would that really work?”

Like what? Continue reading ““The big idea”: An interview with Wole Talabi”

The Time Machine

Reviewed by Jo Lindsay Walton

Time travel plus pandemic: the elevator pitch might simply be, “Dr WHO.”

Written by Jonathan Holloway and directed by Natasha Rickman, The Time Machine is a free and freewheeling response to H.G. Wells’s classic text, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.

Like previous work by Creation Theatre, The Time Machine is an immersive, site-specific production. You prowl around the London Library in a little gaggle, led by your Time Traveller guide, occasionally chased by a spooky Morlock, and now and then bumping into other characters. Continue reading “The Time Machine”

Ten Literary Plagues

Ten literary plagues (and plenty of honourable mentions).

Screenshot 2020-06-05 at 12.41.05
Michel Foucault, Abnormal: Lectures at the College de France 1974-1975

This list has spread here from its original posting at All That Is Solid Melts Into Argh.

Image result for thackery t lambshead diseases

10) Hsing’s Spontaneous Self-Flaying Sarcoma, documented by Liz Williams in The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases, ed. Jeff VanderMeer and Mark Roberts.

A day or so later, the outer layer of the epidermis splits at the temple into a series of lotus-like petals, apparently causing the victim to force his/her head into the nearest narrow gap (such as a window frame) rather in the manner of a snake attempting to aid the shedding of its skin. Rejecting all offers of help and attempts at restraint, the victim bloodlessly sloughs the skin, ‘scrolling it down the torso and limbs in the manner of a tantalizingly unrolled silk stocking’ (Mudthumper, p.1168).

OK, we’re starting with one that’s not really contagious (as far as I know). So it only manages to scraape its way onto the top ten. But it can also be considered a calling card for Thackery’s, which is a good source of plagues generally. But is whimsy what we need now? I’m not sure. Continue reading “Ten Literary Plagues”