ImagiCon revisited

A couple of days ago I blogged about ImagiCon and their payment system. Now the chairwoman has responded:

We’re sorry to hear that you’d rather not make use of Paylogic. We’ve opted for this system, because, as a starting convention, it’s downright impossible (not to mention quite expensive) to create and maintain our own system for digital tickets. We chose Paylogic because it’s one of the most reliable systems and even though people have to register/log in to buy a ticket, we can assure you that you will NOT receive any unwanted mailings from Paylogic or from our convention. The data they ask is used by us so we have a statistical overview of the public that attends our convention. It serves no other purpose.

I could quibble with this explenation — other cons have managed to handle their own registration– but I like and appreciate that the con took the time to respond to my complaint. It’s a fair point and though I’m still likely to buy my own ticket at the door, even if it’s slightly more expensive (16 vs 20 euros), it has put most of my fears at rest. The only real point that remains is the obligatory reporting of gender in the form, with neither the possibility to opt out nor an option other than male or female. There should at least have been an option for unknown/undeclared/other.

Why not have a Eurovision Science Fiction Contest?

Over at Europa SF, Dutch writer and critic Peter Kaptein explores the possibility of a pan-European organisation/movement for the fantastic in its broadest form:

We are not just writers

I do not believe in an European Writers Association. I don’t believe in a movement that focuses on only one aspect of our branch of art.

I do believe in an European Speculative Arts Association (or European Fantastika Creators or European Creators of Fantastika Association as it might be called).

Because we are more than just writers. We are also scholars, movie makers, animators, comic book artists, illustrators, sculptors, street artists, musicians, theatre makers and festival organizers.

We should not cut off the many possibilities for collaboration that can propel European SF, Fantasy and Horror to creative heights far beyond what the American and British market have reached until now.

What Kaptein is proposing is a way to structure and strengthen the ties between the various national science fiction/fantasy scenes throughout Europe without necessarily assimilating them into the Anglo-American juggernaut. What we have currently is that each country is influenced by what happens in English language science fiction, be it movies, novels, computer games or whatever, that a few writers and other creators get translated and assimilated, but that cross pollination between local European scenes is rare: both Belgian and Bulgarian writers are influenced by the American or British writers they read, but they don’t influence each other.

At the same time, while the Anglo-American science fiction world is becoming more open to outside influences, it’s still a process in which selected writers “break through” and become part of that world, but there isn’t yet a systemic interchange of ideas and influences, certainly not on any basis of equality. Projects like Clarkesworld’s Chinese science fiction translation project help a bit, but aren’t nearly enough to redress the balance.

So it makes sense to look for ways in which we can create a truly international, pan-European form of science fiction, where Polish writers are read in France and are inspired by the work of artists from Spain who in turn admire the radical works of Croatian film makers. How to go about this though? Do we need some sort of international organisation, something akin to an European SFWA but broader, as Kaptein is looking for?

Perhaps. There’s already the European Science Fiction Society, which organises Eurocons and the European science fiction awards, but that’s more rooted in fandom; it’s mission could be extended if the will is there. Perhaps we need a more European way of recognising worthwhile authors and other creators in foreign languages, perhaps we need a Eurovision Science Fiction Contest instead. Imagine having e.g. short stories from every country in Europe compete with each other, voted on by fans all over the continent. Wouldn’t it be great to discover Polish or Romanian authors that way?

Ironically, in whatever way we want to strengthen and create a truly pan-European science fiction scene, we will remain dependent on English in order for Dutch fans to be able to communicate with e.g. Greek ones (or indeed, considering both Kaptein and I are Dutch, each other). Like it or not, English is and will remain the lingua franca of the speculative fiction community. Not there’s anything wrong with that, as long as we non-native speakers also get a chance to have our say…

ImagiCon 2015 has Alastair Reynolds as guest of honour

ImagiCon is a new, one day Dutch science fiction convention first held this year. For next year’s edition (march 21, 2015) they’ve announced Alastair Reynolds as guest of honour:

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s give a warm welcome to our first guest of honor for Imagicon 2015: The world-renowned British writer Alastair Reynolds! SF readers probably know him as the author of heavy books filled with exciting space opera like Revelation Space, House of Suns and Blue Remembered Earth, but also as the author of many short stories. Whovians may know of him from his Doctor Who book The Harvest of Time. On Imagicon you get can get to know everything about him, and of course you can ask for his autograph!

Of course under Dutch appelstroop rules –if an author is born in the Netherlands, has lived there for a significant time or has ever tasted appelstroop– Alastair Reynolds is Holland’s most renowned science fiction author, as he lived here from 1991 to 2008. He’s one of my favourite science fiction writers and although I’d already decided to go to ImagiCon next year, this only makes it easier.

UPDATE: a point of criticism. I actually went over to buy my ticket (only 16 euros! Reasonable!) but saw I had to register first for a horrible Paylogic system. Which wouldn’t be so bad, but it asks for all sorts of information, name, address, gender undsoweiter all to be able to use a system in all likelyhood I’ll only use for this con. Why not provide Paypal or Ideal, payment systems where the risks and safety is known off, rather than saddle your members up with an unneeded new system to keep track off?

The Steerswoman — Rosemary Kirstein

Cover of The Steerswoman

The Steerswoman
Rosemary Kirstein
279 pages
published in 1989

As long as I’ve been online and talking to other fans I’ve been hearing about The Steerswoman, how it’s one of those great lost books of science fiction and how sad it was that it had fallen out of print, how everybody who read it loved it; I never heard anybody say anything bad about it. Now, finally, after twenty years of hearing this I had the chance to judge for myself and you know what? Everybody was right. And if you want the chance to see for yourself why this book is so highly rated, the ebook is very reasonably priced.

But reading The Steerswoman, after having heard so much about, brings on a strange tension. As with any such book, you come into it with a certain knowledge about it, an expectation about how the plot would roughly develop, somewhat of an idea of the central gimmick of the novel, of what makes it special. It makes me wonder how I would’ve read The Steerswoman had I stumbled over it in 1989, before I had that knowledge. So erm, for any reader who doesn’t know about it, do me a favour and read it before you read the rest of this post and tell me what you think? Don’t read on, just go out and buy it from the link above.

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Clarkesworld’s secret project

Clarkesworld has announced a new, no longer secret project:

I am pleased to announce that Clarkesworld has entered into an agreement with Storycom International Culture Communication Co., Ltd. to showcase a short story originally published in Chinese in every issue. Each month, an all-star team of professionals intricately familiar with Chinese short fiction will be recommending stories for this special feature and I’ll select which ones get translated and published in each issue. This team includes:

  • Liu Cixin—the most-famous science fiction writer in China and author of the THREE BODY TRILOGY
  • Yao Haijun—Editor-in-Chief of Science Fiction World
  • Zhang Zhilu—Scriptwriter at the China Film Group Corporation and one of the pioneering scriptwriters of science fiction movies in China
  • Wu Yan—a Doctoral Supervisor for the Science Fiction Literature major at Beijing Normal University and President of World Chinese Science Fiction Association
  • Ken Liu—Award-winning American science fiction writer

This is such a good idea I immediately subscribed. If we as a science fiction community want to see more diversity, more attention paid to non-English language science fiction, we need initiatives like this. If this is successfull I hope Clarkesworld also looks at other parts of the world: I’d love to see selections of Brazilian or Indian or Nigerian science fiction or …

I also hope this initiative inspires other magazines to up their game and pay more attention to science fiction written in other languages than English.

Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating and a lot will depend on the stories chosen and the quality of the translation, but just having a well established magazine like Clarkesworld take on this project is a good thing.

The Honor of the Queen — David Weber

Cover of The Honor of the Queen

The Honor of the Queen
David Weber
384 pages
published in 1993

The Honor of the Queen is the second novel in the Honor Harrington series, which finds Honor promoted after the events of On Basilik Station and off to command a small flottila escorting a diplomatic and trade mission to the Grayson Republic, which the Manticoran Kingdom hopes to gain as an ally. The thing is, Grayson is a system settled by American fundamentalist Christians who lived in isolation for centuries on a planet that was literally poisonous to them due to the amount of heavy metals in its soil. They have a bit of a problem therefore with women serving in the military, which complicates things for Honor. Meanwhile, on the planet of even more fundamentalist Christians, Manticore’s ancient rival the Haven Republic is busy meddling…

The Honor Harrington books are purely escapist mind candy for me, books I grab when I really don’t want to make an effort but still want to read something. Weber is a good enough author that he keeps your attention throughout, that he keeps you wanting to read on to find out the rest of the story no matter how often you’ve read it, which is why I’ve read his Harrington novels more often than many much better novels. They just give me something other books can’t. Even if objectively speaking they’re not very good.

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Zwarte Sterren — Roelof Goudriaan (editor)

Cover of Zwarte Sterren

Zwarte Sterren
Roelof Goudriaan (editor)
209 pages
published in 2005

Growing up in the Netherlands I of course read a lot of science fiction in Dutch, but never read much Dutch science fiction, if only because there wasn’t that much in the first place. Plenty of young adult science fiction, with Thea Beckman and the Euro 5 series being particular favourites of mine, but not many writers of grownup science fiction. Most sf publishers rather translated cheaper British or American science fiction than gamble on a Dutch or Belgian author. Better get some more Van Vogt instead.

And to a certain extend, especially once I started reading English good, there was the cultural cringe. It all seemed a bit less interesting, a bit more naff when written in Dutch. It just doesn’t have the grandiosity or bombast of English and attempts to achieve the same effects usually end up sounding corny or fake. So while there were a couple of authors I liked, Wim Gijssen and especially Belgian author Eddy C. Bertin, I haven’t attempted to keep up with Dutch science fiction at all.

Until the recent Worldcon that is.

Books read August

August has been a milestone month for me; not only did I turn forty, I also went to my first Worldcon. I had wanted to go to the Glasgow Worldcon nine years ago, but what with having been unemployed the year before and buying a house with Sandra, there just wasn’t either the money or the time to go there. Never mind eh, the 2014 Worldcon was a brilliant one to have as your first, though it did put a bit of strain on my reading. Only seven books finished as compared to nine last month, two fantasy, five science fiction, all women. Didn’t set out to read only female writers this month, but it just turned out that way.

Moving Target — Elizabeth Moon
The second installment in the Vatta’s War series, this was braincandy. I got it and read it in a day.

Sister Mine — Nalo Hopkinson
Urban fantasy about two not quite human sisters in Toronto as they struggle to come to terms with their relationship in the shadow of the voodoo-esque gods they serve.

Spin — Nina Allan
This short novel is inspired by the legend of Arachne and Athena and mixes fantasy and science fiction and is incredibly well written.

On a Red Station, Drifting — Aliette de Bodard
A disgraced magistrate in the Dai Viet Empire flees to the not quite pristene space station her distant family rules; things get complicated.

The Adventures of Alyx — Joanna Russ
I’d already read Picnic on Paradise a decade or so ago, but it was interesting to read it again in the context of the other Alyx stories, which you could call feminist fantasy parables.

The Steerswoman — Rosemary Kirstein
Bought this as an ebook on the strength of James Nicoll’s review; bought the whole series in fact. One of those books you have to lay down now and again to savour the writing and not have it end too soon.

Witch World — Andre Norton
The first novel in Norton’s best known and most successful series, about a man from our world who just after WWII is transported to another world where magic and high technology seem to exist hand in hand, to fight against an evil looming over the people who adopted him.

Nine Worlds vs Worldcon — Let you and him fight!

I don’t want to deny Gavia Baker-Whitelaw her experiences and LonCon3 wasn’t perfect, but this is just not true:

In order to truly enjoy Worldcon, you had to be one of three things: someone with a ton of old friends at the convention, a serious sci-fi/fantasy literature fan who wanted to get some books signed and sit in on academic panels, or a writer who wanted to network with other people in the industry. Being a Baby Boomer would also help a lot.

If you were a newcomer attending Worldcon by yourself, or if you were used to the kind of fandom that focuses on things like racebent fanart, slash fanfic, and intelligent pop-culture critique, then you weren’t going to have much fun. Which is pretty sad, because these two interest groups are not separate monoliths. Plenty of die-hard Supernatural and Avengers fans also read Tolkien and Neal Stephenson, and plenty of academic sci-fi/fantasy fans also like to dress up as anime characters. Unfortunately, while Nine Worlds seemed to understand this, Worldcon—or the people who regularly attend Worldcon—did not.

There were cosplayers, even Supernatural cosplayers (and I should know, because I registered one) and from what I could see they were neither disparaged nor harassed, there were plenty of programmes about what used to be called media science fiction as well as an entire stream of transformative fandom items that would’ve fitted just as well at Nine Worlds, there were plenty of people able and willing to talk about everything Gavia Baker-Whitelaw mentions. There were also plenty of people who went to both Nine Worlds and LonCon3 and had a great time at both.

Of course she does have a point about some people’s reaction to anything that isn’t old skool fandom, the attitude of certain longtime fans to newer fandoms, but how does it help to sneer at somebody for not knowning about slash fiction on the internet? Even these days not everybody has the ability or need to be online (he said, writing on his blog) and it doesn’t help your case about how unwelcoming Worldcon is by going all LOL old people.

And yes, LonCon3 wasn’t perfect, there were incidents of harassment that took place, there were the usual assholes, but Baker-Whitelaw seems to want to invent a fight nobody is actually having, where Nine World are the young, hip good guys and Worldcon is an aging relic, offensive and out of touch (calling it a “huge old dinosaur” in the second paragraph giving the game away) and any good points she tries to make are lost because she tries to gin up a controvesy where none exists.

What Baker-Whitelaw consistently does in her article is comparing official Nine Worlds policy with the behaviour of some fans at Worldcon without much acknowledgement that LonCon3 had similar policies as well as the resources to execute them in place. The LonCon3 committee, staff and volunteers in fact did a hell of a lot of work to try and make Worldcon as inclusive as possible, both with regards to diversity of fans and diversity of fandoms. You wouldn’t know it from her article, but LonCon3 also had a prominent code of conduct, just like Nine Worlds, also had a system of badges to indicate e.g. people who didn’t want their pictures taken and had a system of listeners in place for anybody who felt harassed or was made uncomfortable during the con.

From everything I’ve read, heard and witnessed or experienced myself the con took the responsibility to make the con open and inclusive for everybody very seriously indeed, did not tolerate harassment at all once it knew about it and made sure that people who were subject to harassment could go back as quickly as possible to having fun at the convention again. It also had a dedicated team of staff and volunteers to help those with disabilites, visible or otherwise, to have proper access to every part of the con, having e.g. prominent reserved seating and wheelchair spaces available in every room.

Looked at it this way, the differences between Nine Worlds and Worldcon shrink a lot and can be mostly explained by Nine Worlds being able to be somewhat more selective in the fans it wants to attract. Worldcon after all aims to represent the whole of fandom and can’t therefore be quite as aggressive in chasing a certain audience. As for the fans themselves, it’s true that Worldcon on the whole skews older and less diverse, but focusing too much on this loses sight of how much more inclusive it is becoming and how hard LonCon3 worked to make it so.

None of which means that LonCon3 got it perfect every time of course. There were problems with access for example, especially during the Hugos where the facilities for hearing impaired people were suboptimal, there was perhaps not enough attention paid to the fact that people could’ve multiple interacting disabilities (e.g. being hearing impaired and needing wheelchair access), there were incidents of harassment and other bad behaviour. But on the whole I thought the con made a good effort to tackle problems where they occured and they seemed to handle harassment as well as they could, taking complaints seriously and dealing with them quickly.

Therefore I wish Gavia Baker-Whitelaw had gone for a more balanced comparision between Nine Worlds and LonCon3, nothing the strengths and weaknesses of both, so we could’ve learned from it for next year, but I guess that doesn’t grab enough eyeballs for the Daily Dot…

Velveteen vs the Junior Super Patriots/Multiverse — Seanan McGuire

Cover of Velveteen vs the Junior Super Patriots

Velveteen vs the Junior Super Patriots/Multiverse
Seanan McGuire
312 pages
published in 2012, 2013

I had been following Seanan McGuire on her Livejournal for donkey ages, but I only got around to reading her Velveteen stories when they were linked from MetaFilter. Bad Martin. No biccie. Of course I then inhaled all the linked posts in less than an afternoon (not at work of course, nooo) and found I had to buy the actual ebooks, if only to be able to burble about them here.

I haven’t read anything else of Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant yet, so it may seem strange that this got such a hold on me, but it just perfectly fit the story crack receptors in my brain. Well told, short superhero stories done with flair and invention, lots of drama and emotional rollercoasters, no fear of consequences or of looking silly. Velveteen is a young superheroine just let go of the most famous superhero team in the world, the Junior Super Patriots, looking to start a new life without superheroing as long as the sinister marketing company behind 90 percent of superheroes lets her. Greatly lacking in self confidence and trust in her powers — which consists of being able to bring to life and manipulate toys — she thinks herself barely qualified to cope with real life, let alone the challenges walking away from the Junior Super Patriots have brought her.

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