So that was Loncon3

19 08 2014



So that was Loncon3… first and foremost – a BIG THANK YOU to all who organised and helped to make this the success it was. Yes there were teething troubles as you would get with any large one-off event, but by and large things ran smoothly.

Some aspects were certainly an eye-opener for me. Amongst other things it made me realise why Iain M Banks wrote science fiction so successfully – he effectively wrote in what I would term mild poetic prose and when the words resonate like that, it sticks. I’m only sorry that he is not around to write more science fiction.

There was only one really sour note… when a certain publisher went on about the lack of women science fiction writers. I don’t know why they are not publishing the same ratio of women to men science fiction writers as other publishers seem to manage to find. I can however well believe that women are put off submitting to them because of their poor record of publishing such a, I can only term it, abysmal ratio. After that comment, I’m certainly put off ever submitting anything to them!

But I did get my hot sticky little hands on an Interzone issue 199 – yes I did say ONE-NINE-NINE. If anybody like me is short of that issue, and they are at Fantasycon in York next month, pop along to the Interzone desk and ask. Roy might have one or two lurking in his cardboard boxes that he hides under his desk.

I thoroughly enjoyed the orchestral concert, with the conductor using a light sabre for a baton. We had all kinds or science fiction related pieces played, from the iconic Star Trek to the Holst’s classic Mars and Jupiter from his Planets’ Suite. But for me, the Dr Who sequence was what won the day, but only by a hair’s breath.

I was lucky enough to get a seat in Alastair Reynolds’ presentation on science fictional methods of interstellar flight, from generation ships to sleeper ships to digital transmission of bodies to be made on new planets. I hope he has another chance at a different convention to give the same presentation. Of course all these methods don’t break the speed of light limitation…

I met some very lovely people, who were just themselves. None of this 9-2-5 grey suits stuff. I could name quite a few, but some of them might just blush… and there were lots of things done and a lot of e-mails promised (note to self – must make a start on these).

There will be repercussions from Loncon3… but things have to take their time and mature… so watch this space – and no this not the final frontier type!

P.S. Of course, C.A.T. got a mention in my intro at the panel I sat on – he wouldn’t have let me get away with anything less!

It’s SF-ishly Quiet

9 08 2014

Went to town today to buy a suitcase and some new make-up for Loncon3 – well what more does a gal want?

Well… I paid my customary visit to Waterstones in The Galleries in Bristol – of the 33 books they put on the special show-this-is-a-good-book-to-buy, only one was by a female – Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. Not impressed, one tiny little bit. In fact distinctly cheesed off – of the Stinking Archbishop variety!!! [Or if you're in the USA - the Limburger variety!!!] See Juliet McKenna’s blog on this subject. Though she does go on to add a more positive later on in another post. But I still want to see women better represented on the sales tables – by better I mean more fairly in terms of the proportion of books written by women being representative on the table.

[No I did not complain, because my comments would have been rude. VERY RUDE! And that would have been to a person who probably had nothing to do with the decisions and therefore totally unfair on them.]

With all these cons (Nine Worlds, Loncon3, Eurocon) coming in quick succession in such close proximity, it’s not surprising that people are prepping/being-at/recovering from them. Anything else goes by the board. So it’s quiet, Quiet, QUIET!!!!

Thank goodness for Jupiter 45 – Helike  dropping through the letterbox – am looking forward to reading that between the domestic chores…

So to keep you amused, though you’ve seen this before… here’s C.A.T.’s video. Mrrooowwww!


Space Opera is about to change…

3 08 2014

Justine pointed me in the direction of the EmDrive – a new kind of engine that has recently been shown to have thrust capabilities. The main thing about it is that it does not at least obviously rely on reaction engines i.e. throwing material away. The current excitement is that it has had some positive measured results in static tests in three independent places now. So there is something going on… More details can be found here. For those of you more into the physics of things, check out wikipedia for the principles behind it – or at least the purported principles.

First of all a few of words of caution -

  • This has not yet been tested in microgravity, although it would not surprise me if a test mission is being planned as I write this.
  • They’re talking about this being based on group velocity – where a wave appears to travel faster through a medium because it is the adding up of many other waves (superposition is the techie term). We’ve seen this in fluid mechanics (think waves travelling along the surface of water here). This has in other areas been shown not to transfer energy and momentum.
  • We are dealing with quantum mechanics here where weird things (i.e. things that do not feel logical or sensible) happen.
  • They are not absolutely sure why it works.

If this is shown to work in space, then it’ll change science fiction space opera in many ways. Here are some of them…

  • Interplanetary travel near stars (there are planets in the middle of nowhere that have no stars to orbit around) becomes a heck of a lot easier because we don’t have to gather physical fuel for the spacecraft (which includes lifting it out of gravity wells like Earth).
  • Because these engines are reusable, there will be less debris in space, say in the geostationary orbits around Earth.
  • There will be less need for mining minerals, especially copper-based ones
  • Interstellar ships can use these drives to accelerate and leave a system, and providing the trajectory can be correctly predicted don’t need to worry about fuel to get to their destination.

The spacescape with the Emdrive is looking very different from what we’ve seen in science fiction… it’s time for the science fiction writers to get going on this what-not-so-if…

On a personal note, I had hoped to have two space-orientated stories published by Loncon3. That’s not going to happen for various reasons beyond mine and anybody else’s control. The interesting thing is that both are still realistic even if the Emdrive technology was implemented. I’m going: “Huh? Why?” Because neither of these stories relied on the reactionary method of propulsion…

But there is one very serious question. Why didn’t the science fiction writers spot this one coming?


Visionary modern science fiction – where is it?

2 08 2014

There is currently a debate going on over at SFF Chronicles about who are the modern visionary science fiction writers. Of course the first questions to ask are:

  1. What do we define to be modern?
  2. What do we define to be visionary?

I’m going to say modern is the last 20 years – and this covers books published in the last twenty years, not when the authors first published.

Visionary is defined (at least on the web) as thinking about the future with imagination and wisdom. Well, for starters, that  rules out most dystopias because they tend to cut back on what is possible rather than grow it. It rules out fantasy-biased science fiction as this is not really thinking about the future. That means no GoT of Hunger Games types. I would also rule out the straight adventure – goodies versus badies – stories as they tend to use standard scenarios or tools.

So what’s left?

  1. Alastair Reynolds with his Revelation Space series
  2. Greg Egan with his various novels including Diaspora that seems to be attracting a lot of discussion on the thread
  3. Iain M Banks with his culture series
  4. John Meaney’s To Hold Infinity and his Nulapeiron series
  5. … and this is where I get stuck…

Yes, I know the likes of Ben Bova, David Brin and Stephen Baxter have been publishing good solid stuff. Don’t get me wrong, they are enjoyable reads. But do they have that ‘je ne sais quoi’ to be called visionary?

What about the literary novels like those of Adam Roberts? Well, they tend to take ideas from elsewhere and examine the social consequences. Again all good stuff and very worthy of being published. But visionary? No.


With such few visionary novels being published, one has to ask the question why aren’t there more? Are they not being written? Are the publishers discouraging such novels from being written by not taking the risk of publishing something ‘new’?

My gut feel, based on experience, is the publishers see something that is out of the mould and send an immediate rejection – no ifs or ans or consideration – just an absolute rejection. This discourages anyone writing such things. It’s more than discourages, it’s absolutely depressing hitting your head against the very think brick wall of the establishment. And worse, it would not surprise me in the least if established authors of the non-visionary kind aid and abet the publishing industry to go down this track because it helps their own sales.

Can the non-visionary mould be broken?

It would take a very brave person to say yes and mean it…




Progressive Science Fiction – Part 4

27 07 2014


In part 3 discussed the second of the first of the four points below about how the cutting edge science fiction was becoming less available in the shops due to:


  • innovative technology needs more knowledge and understanding than in the past, because we are dealing with a bigger body knowledge, and therefore needs in general more or better explanation of how it affects us humans
  • the more politically correct society limits the subjects we can write about when it comes to political and social science fiction themes
  • ‘new’ places requires more understanding and aligning with sciences to be plausible that requires a lot of work on the part of the writer, which in turn can severely detract from a writer’s income
  • publishers not wanting to publish or push the really innovative science fiction because they want to invest in ‘safe bets’, like something similar to what sold well before

This post goes onto to discuss ‘new’ places…

One of Arthur C Clarke’s strengths as a science fiction writer was describing new places exceedingly well. It didn’t matter whether it was a desolate moonscape or the rich vibrant life of the underwater world, you felt you were there, exploring it with him. In some ways, the late astronomer, Patrick Moore, made his fame by describing what you would see and experience if you were on another real world, using the scientific evidence available at the time.

Naturally, apart from when we improve our knowledge of the other worlds, these descriptions have been ‘in prnt’ for some time now. We are familiar with them, we know them only too well. So to come up with a new, let’s call it worldscape, would take more effort.

Let’s go through what needs to be done these days to make up a new world… a really new world (yes, I’ve done this, but it isn’t published). First of all you need to understand which of the human senses your world is engaging with. Apart from the traditional five senses known to the mediaeval world of sight, smell, touch, taste and sound, there’s senses of balance and temperature.

There is a kind of 8th sense, which I call the sense of the ethereal. It’s the understanding we derive from extrapolating of what we know of our world into what we cannot through any of our senses perceive. We can only interact indirectly with this, but that does not mean there won’t be consequences in our perceivable world.

A person in a spacesuit (if it’s working properly) can only use the senses of sight, gravity and the ethereal. The science fiction world has done sight quite extensively. After all there’s only a limited spectrum of colours and positions in which those colours appear relative to our eyes. Gravity has been played with e.g. Hal Clements, Mission of Gravity. We are only really scratching the surface of our experiences of the ethereal, and even then, it’s been mainly through the medium of quantum mechanics, which in itself has been limited to what science can demonstrate as an immediate consequence.

So if you want to go exploring, it has to something in the gravity domain not written about before or something in the ethereal. Now try imagining anything of this ilk, and even if you can, try describing it. Darned near impossible. Of course, if you can’t get the message across clearly, the publishers won’t, quite rightly, publish your work.

Even if you can, there are still hurdles. We are into this is something really new game and wary publishers, worried about guaranteeing income, will not touch it.

So what is the point of developing a completely new world to experience, putting in all the hard work to make sure you explain very clearly (and had it checked by independent experienced beta readers), and making the effort to overcome nerves to send out the work to potential publishers?

From my personal experience, I have to say none at all. It’ll never get published.  It is this that makes me believe that at least part of science fiction is stuck in a rut. Sorry to end on such depressing note.


The Evidence Continues to Mount Up…

20 07 2014

The issue about the bias against women science fiction and fantasy writers just will not go away. Why? Because it’s a bias that is real, tangible and has evidence.

The latest bit if evidence comes from Juliet McKenna about Waterstones having a bias towards displaying male-authored books. See here. This evidence has been added to by Cheryl Morgan saying that businesses have a bias against women in an indirect way. See here.

Quite frankly, the fact that this is still going on, nearly a hundred years after women earned the right to vote, is disgusting. If the genre can’t be fair and seen to be fair, then it deserves to wither and die. No right-minded citizen would condone such behaviour, and they’ll vote with feet and with what they choose to purchase. 

The trouble is that such actions will take the innocent down with them, the ones who are trying to do a good job, develop their art and generally give good entertainment. And this will happen as society in general becomes more fair-minded and justice-conscious over time, which in turn is a driver for globalisation. [Hint - this is a good theme for a science fiction story.]

And the publishing industry being in an chaotic maelstrom is no excuse. Decent people do not tolerate such biases, rise to the occasion and after a while get rewarded for their acting with honour. What is more, their businesses do well. [Look at history if you want the evidence.]

What I find extremely worrying is the comment on Cheryl’s blog:

 “At Finncon Elizabeth Bear noted that she found UK publishers much more hostile to women SF writers than in the USA.”

When you push the logic through it boils down to this:

The British publishing industry will give way to, be bought out by, whatever, the American publishing industry. End of story.


Free to Enter SF Short Story Competitions

12 07 2014
Sorry this is a bit later than normal… chaotic lifestyle at the moment what with publications, story writing and Loncon3  preparations… Here’s my 6-monthly list of free to enter competitions in alphabetical order – well I don’t want to be accused of favouritism, do I?
a) Baen’s Bar – still going as strong as ever – see here. The editor goes through the subs and if you’re lucky enough to catch his eye it will get published with fee being paid. Be warned, he has very few slots available. But you do get critiques of what you submit from fellow writers.
b) James Patrick Baen Memorial Writing Contest that looks for hard, near future, space-based science fiction –  This competition will open on 1st October 2014 and normally closes mid-February the following year. Word count limit is 8,000.  See here.
c) James White competition- this is an annual competition – it opened on 1st June this year, though I can’t yet see a closing date for this – so keep checking as this seems to be moveable because they need to announce it at Eastercon. See here. Word count limit 6,000.
d) Writers of the Future contest – up to 17,000 words and many budding science fiction writers have worked their through their echelons Open for one story per quarter – unless of course you are successful! Their year ends 30th September. Its forum can be found here.
I don’t know whether it’s me or not, but there seems to be a bias towards the fantasy end of science fiction at the moment… BORING… I wants me raygun… remember some people have claimed that they can beat the diffraction limit that leads to the dispersion of power and diminishes its effectiveness over distance… and if they can bend light the way they say then can, then breaking the diffraction limit looks really feasible… which incidentally has interesting consequences for space travel… Out with the fairies, trolls, orcs, elves, dragons, witches, warlocks, vampires, werewolves, steampunk, backward time travel, fluffy literary science fiction, and in with the technology – real humdinger technologies that are appearing in our world here, now, in the near future…. (OK That’s me grumblings done for now…)


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