Sci Fi November: Two Dudes Interview

I’ve been interviewed for Sci Fi November by the Two Dudes in an Attic speculative fiction blog, following their earlier review of Gemsigns. The questions were interesting and thought-provoking; in fact they provoked so many thoughts that the interview was split in two! Both sections are now up (and they’re not that long, promise). I like it when the questions I’m asked let me talk about things that I think are important, and these did. Here’s part 1, and here’s part 2.

Many thanks to Andrea Johnson for inviting me to participate, and introducing me to the Two Dudes.

US Edition

US Edition

Holdfast #4: Diverse Reflections

It’s been very quiet on the blog for weeks and months now … and it’s going to stay that way until book 3 of the ®Evolution trilogy (no longer Gillung, it’s now titled Regeneration) is complete, which I reckon will be in another 4 weeks or so. I may write about some of the challenges later, when they are all firmly behind me … but for now am only popping my head up briefly to direct you to the latest issue of Holdfast Magazine, Diverse Reflections. Co-editor Lucy Smee interviewed me for it back in the summer; you can read that here, but do also check out the fiction and non-fiction, the bookshelf and playlist recommendations, and the cross media articles. Holdfast has also successfully crowdfunded their first anthology, and I’m told that should be ready by Christmas.

Calabash Highlights & Conde Nast

The Calabash Literary Festival gets a five-page spread in Conde Nast Traveller! Worth a read, and if you’re wondering, yes: I am one of the distant figures soaking up Red Stripe and sunshine on a rickety driftwood platform in the middle of the ocean. I put in a slightly more dignified appearance on the festival’s highlight reel, which captures a few moments of my reading from Binary, and I talked about some of my personal highlights in this post.

Get on board and Holdfast! Online spec-fic magazine crowdfunds first anthology.

Holdfast is a free quarterly online speculative fiction magazine that’s been going for a little under a year now. It features original fiction, artwork, essays, author interviews and more. Founded by Laurel Sills and Lucy Smee, it’s a beautifully curated, high quality venture with a clever premise.

Each issue is themed; the theme is comprehensively reflected in the work of a featured author, carefully chosen short fictions, non-fiction essays, an open ‘Letter to …’ a writer whose work has been particularly influential, a bookshelf of recommended titles, a playlist of songs, and a selection of related offerings in other media. I love the breadth of that approach, and the intelligence and sensitivity with which it’s executed, and I’ve been hoping that it wins Laurel and Lucy the recognition and success that they deserve. Issue no1 was Speculating on Speculative Women, featuring Emma Newman; no2 was Animals, Beasts & Creatures with Sarah Pinborough; no3, out now, is Objects, Artefacts & Talismans and features Frances Hardinge.

Now Holdfast is moving to the next level, crowdfunding a new anthology of previously unpublished fiction along with essays and original artwork. The print edition is going to be a beautiful object, and they’re already 30% of the way to their target as I write this. They’ve rounded up an impressive array of milestone incentives and rewards for supporters, but there’s a way to go yet and I really want to see this project happen; so I’ve promised to donate an original unpublished poem once they hit the £2000 target.

Also! Verses from said poem will be inscribed by me into four copies of my novels, which will be bundled with a print copy of the anthology and Holdfast badge and bookmark. There are other great prizes as well. Check them out, contribute, tell your friends and share on social media. Here’s that link again.

Nine Worlds: The ‘Just Don’t’ list from Writing the Other workshop

One of the things I did at the Nine Worlds convention over the weekend was run a workshop, Writing the Other (well two of the things really, since there was a repeat session on Sunday morning for those who couldn’t get in on Saturday). Writing the Other is intended to help writers learn how to identify and avoid harmful tropes, stereotypes and associations when creating characters that depart from the dominant paradigm; and to write with greater accuracy, sensitivity and insight. Many thanks to all the attendees – you were engaged and interested and lovely, and I learned at least as much from you as I hope you learned from me.

The reference text is Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, which for the purposes of the workshop I summarised, Anglicised and crammed into just under ninety minutes. I ended with a checklist of some of the tired, offensive and oft-repeated devices that serve only to reinforce unfounded prejudice, unearned privilege, and unquestioned presumption. I’ve been asked to post my notes on this section; so here is my plea to …


  • Cast heroes/villains exclusively along lines of race, religion, sexual orientation or any other form of ‘other’ – a classic example is embodied in the line “The dark hordes attacked.”
  • Use the issues which affect a minority/marked group to reemphasise the importance of, and say generally positive & uplifting things about the majority/unmarked group – Glory syndrome
  • Create a marked secondary character whose sole purpose is to validate or create a motivation for the central character – i) the cool sidekick phenomenon, ii) “fridging”
  • Reinforce power imbalances; often done even when characters are beautifully and sympathetically drawn, but nevertheless and for example: all the Asian women just happen to be timid & obedient; all the black men just happen to be sexually promiscuous; all the poor people just happen to be uneducated. This is a subtle form of victimisation, but it’s still victimisation.
  • Cast the unmarked-state hero as saviour of the marked-state victims.
  • Fetishise difference, by an unmitigated focus on the characteristics of otherness. Examples include: the Noble Savage; the simple-minded spirit-worshipper; the ‘beautiful flower’ sexual stereotype of Asian women.
  • Use a specific instance to imply a general truth; where an assertion or action of one member of a group is taken as representative of the entire group.
  • Be disrespectful with dialect. I don’t hold with the view that the marking of accents and dialects in the text automatically deprivileges them by flagging them up as nonstandard; pretending variations don’t or shouldn’t exist is just as deprivileging. But the careless use of dialect, diction and language is a very easy way to be unintentionally and terribly offensive. Be careful.
  • Emphasise evil by ramping up innocence – the Saintly Victim trope. The target of racism does not need to be honest, quiet and hardworking; the child who is abused does not need to be the most adorable infant ever born; the rape victim does not need to be a nun; for racism, child abuse, rape to be abhorrent.
  • Use abuse as a catalyst for positive transformation – for example the rape victim who emerges stronger, smarter, better from the experience, with the implication that it was the thing that finally ‘turned them around’, made them ‘get themselves together’, etc. ad nauseum. (To say nothing of the victim who falls in love with his/her rapist. Really? Don’t.)

Nine Worlds! New Voices!

I spent the weekend travelling across worlds — the Nine Worlds Geekfest, to be precise. It’s hard to imagine a better celebration of fandom in all its wonder, weirdness and glory. There was something for everyone: from academic studies of trends in fan fiction, to the fantasy authors playing a locked-room Call of Cthulhu, to panels on time travel, cyberpunk and superheroes, to cosplay that covered the gamut from steampunk to Sharknado.  And while clever programming is definitely something to crow about, the diversity and inclusiveness of the con is, for me, its biggest win.

Among the highlights were the New Voices sessions, featuring five minute readings from unpublished and debut authors. I had the pleasure of MCing on both Friday and Saturday nights; here’s a list of the authors and their works.

FRIDAY 8th August 2014:  

JY Yang: Harvestfruit

Available to read on the Crossed Genres website.

Vincent Holland-Keen: Billy’s Monsters

Available from Fox Spirit Books in November 2014.

Angus Watson: Age of Iron

Available to buy from all good bookshops in September 2014.

Chele Cooke: Fight or Flight

Available now from all major online retailers.

Laura Lam: False Hearts

Available from Tor/Macmillan in January 2016.

Pete Sutton: Roadkill

Not yet published.

Anna Caltabiano: The Seventh Miss Hatfield

Available at Waterstones, Amazon, and other bookstores.

Cleland Smith: Sequela

Available in paperback and on Amazon Kindle.

Matt Suddain: Theatre of the Gods

Available now from Jonathan Cape/Vintage, in all formats from all major outlets.


SATURDAY 9th August 2014

KT Davies: Breed

Available from Fox Spirit Books in September 2014.

Tade Thompson: The Last Pantheon

Co-written with Nick Wood, and will be released later this year in the AfroSF2 Anthology.

Rhiannon Thomas: A Wicked Thing

Available from February 2015.

Stephen Aryan: Battlemage

Available from Orbit in 2015.

Stark Holborn: Nunslinger

This is a serialised work; books 1-9 are currently available in ebook format, the final 3 instalments will be released in September, and the full paperback omnibus is due for release in December 2014.

Anne Charnock: A Calculated Life

Published by 47North, available as an eBook and paperback.

Peter Newman: The Vagrant

Published by Harper Voyager, available in May 2015.

Taran Matharu: Summoner: The Novice

Available in Spring 2015.

Tiffani Angus: Threading the Labyrinth

This is a Creative Writing PhD project, and should be available after Tiffani graduates in 2015.

My Nine Worlds Geekfest Schedule

UPDATE 30 July: Signing and room assignments added


Here’s my schedule for the 2nd Nine Worlds Geekfest Convention, now (gasp!) only a month few days away:


Friday 8 August 15:15 – 16:30, County C&D

Superheroes and Superhuman: exploding the myth of the superwhathaveyou

Superheroes are everywhere these days, from comic books to literary novels to the Disney Store. How is society exploring what ‘super’ means, and how does that change depending on the suffix attached?

Nick Harkaway, Jenni Hill, Taran Matharu, Barry Nugent, Stephanie Saulter


Friday 8 August 22:15 – 23:30, Royal B

New Voices: Welcome to the class of 2014!

The evening showcase of new writers – one of last year’s most popular events – returns! Bring your drinks, bring your friends: this is your chance to find your next literary addiction. Fun and fast, New Voices is an opportunity for debut writers – if you know someone who would fit the bill, head over to Twitter and nominate them at @booksnineworlds.

MC: Stephanie Saulter


Saturday 9 August 11:45 – 13:00, Connaught B

Writing The Other – A workshop for writers

How do you write ‘the Other’ without falling into common traps, harmful tropes, and clichés? Back by popular demand after last year’s successful event, we will be exploring these issues in a writers’ workshop, with exercises, discussion and a Q&A.

Facilitator: Stephanie Saulter


Saturday 9 August 22:15 – 23:30, Royal B

New Voices: the class of 2014 continues!

More fun and fast-paced readings from the best new writers.

MC: Stephanie Saulter 


Sunday 10 August 11:45 – 13:00, Connaught B

Reading SF While Brown – Views on speculative fiction

For many of us, reading science fiction and fantasy was a formative experience — one that introduced new ideas, and shaped what we knew or hoped to be possible. But what imaginative leaps does a reader have to make to buy into worlds that don’t include anyone who looks or talks like them? And what impact does making that imaginative leap, time and again, ultimately have? Genre writers and readers talk about their experiences of reading SF while brown.

 Camille Lofters, Taran Matharu, Rochita Loenen Ruiz, Stephanie Saulter (moderator), Aishwarya Subramanian


Sunday 10 August 13:30 – 14:45, County C&D

X-Punk: punk as suffix, genre and state of mind

Steampunk, Cyberpunk, Grimpunk, Sandalpunk, Godpunk, Pinkpunk, Punkpunk… what’s nextpunk? Our panelists consider the next big thing – and the perils of the X-Punk genre lifestyle.

Djibril al-Ayad, Kim Curran, Mathew Pocock, Stephanie Saulter, M. Suddain


Sunday 10 August 14:45 – 15:45, Commonwealth West

Signing @ Forbidden Planet table

Gail Carriger, Stephanie Saulter, M. Suddain



You can follow Nine Worlds news and updates on Twitter at @London_Geekfest.

My WorldCon Schedule

UPDATE 26 July: Paradox book launch has been added!

UPDATE 18 July: I’ve received my final schedule for the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention (aka Loncon 3). Here’s what I’ll be doing even more:


Thursday 14 August 10:00 – 11:00, Capital Suite 3 (ExCel)

Does the Future Need to Be Plausible?

One of the most common complaints about Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games is that the world she proposed was, at best, implausible. Collins is not alone is this. But to what extent do we need veracity from our imagined futures, and how much does the measure of ‘plausibility’ differ from reader to reader? Is a science fictional story diminished if it’s too divorced from the physical reality we live in? Is there a difference between a future we can see and a future we can only hypothesize in the abstract?

Howard Davidson (moderator), Janet C Johnston, Kin-Ming Looi, Ian McDonald, Stephanie Saulter


Friday 15 August 10:00 – 11:00, London Suite 5 (ExCel)

Kaffeeklatsch – Ken Macleod, Stephanie Saulter


Friday 15 August 16:30 – 17:30, Library, Fan Village (ExCel)

Paradox Book Launch


Friday 15 August 19:00 – 20:00, Capital Suite 13 (ExCel)

SF: What It Is, What It Could Be

SF as a genre is both loaded and contested, bringing with it decades of controversies, assumptions, prejudices, and possibilities. What do the genre’s various practitioners and consumers think SF is? Are we speaking the same language, or talking past each other? How do perceptions of SF – in terms of who can write it, who can consume it, and what kinds of stories can find a market – create or reinforce realities? Is ‘core’ SF still about space exploration and colonisation, or is there room for other types of stories? If SF is ‘dying’, as we’re frequently told, what does that mean and in whose interests are the preparations for its funeral?

Tobias Buckell, Jeanne Gomoll, Ramez Naam, Alastair Reynolds, Stephanie Saulter (moderator)


Friday 15 August 22:00 – 22:30, Capital Suite 13 (ExCel)

Reading – Stephanie Saulter


Saturday 16 August 13:30 – 15:00, Capital Suite 5 (ExCel)

Race and British SF

Four years ago, Tricia Sullivan threw a spotlight on the gender balance of SF authors published in the UK, leading to a continuing conversation that is – perhaps – finally having an effect. However, although other aspects of representation have been mentioned in the course of this conversation, they have rarely been the focus, and in particular it can be argued that UK fandom and publishing have not talked enough about race. To use the same barometer as Sullivan, only one writer of colour has ever won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and so far this century only three have been shortlisted. Yet the success of diversity-led events such as Nine Worlds suggests the audience is there. So what else should publishers and fannish institutions in the UK be doing to support writers of colour? Whose work should Loncon attendees rush to buy in the dealer’s room? And whose novels and stories are we eagerly anticipating?

Dev Agarwal, Amal El-Mohtar (moderator), Tajinder Hayer, Stephanie Saulter, Russell Smith


Saturday 16 August 16:30 – 18:00, Autographing Space (ExCel)

Autographing 1Stephanie Saulter


Sunday 17 August 15:00 – 16:30, Capital Suite 10 (ExCel)

You Don’t Like Me When I’m Angry

Commenting on the portrayal of Magneto in X-Men: First Class, Abigail Nussbaum noted that there is an “increasing prevalence of vengeful victim characters, who are condemned not for the choices they make in pursuit of revenge, but simply for feeling anger … There is in stories like this a small-mindedness that prioritizes the almighty psychiatric holy grail of “healing” – letting go of one’s anger for the sake of inner peace – over justified, even necessary moral outrage.” Which other stories – on TV or in books, as well as in films – follow this template, and whose interests do they really serve? Where can we find screen depictions of the power of anger, and/or other models of anger?

Abigail Nussbaum’s full review can be found here (although the discussion is intended to range wider than this single film or franchise, and include stories from any media).

Nin Harris, Martin McGrath, Mary Anne Mohanraj (moderator), Tansy Rayner Roberts, Stephanie Saulter


Sunday 17 August 16:30 – 18:00, Capital Suite 9 (ExCel)

SF/F Across Borders

Genre writers such as Vandana Singh, Geoff Ryman, Tricia Sullivan, and Zen Cho are already travellers to other worlds. Many authors write as resident outsiders, and want to write their new homes as well as their old. How does the experience of moving between countries affect the writing of fiction? How can or should writers respond to the varying power dynamics of race, language and culture involved in such migrations? And how should readers approach the stories that result?

Jesús Cañadas, Glenda Larke, Yen Ooi Ms, Stephanie Saulter (moderator), Suzanne van Rooyen


Monday 18 August 11:00 – 12:00, Capital Suite 14 (ExCel)

Paradox Book Discussion

A discussion of the science and fiction elements in the stories in the Fermi Paradox anthology from the authors who wrote them.

Pat Cadigan, David L Clements, Paul Cornell, Adam Roberts, Stephanie Saulter, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Ian Whates (moderator)


Many thanks to the organisers for such a brilliant itinerary! It goes without saying that I’m looking forward to all of my events. I can’t wait to see the full programme – it’s never too early to start despairing about one’s inability to be in two (or three, or four) places at the same time.

Would you like to see pictures?

I’m back in London, which, while not as hot as Jamaica, certainly feels more stifling. It might be the lack of a sea breeze, or the fact that buildings here are designed to keep the heat in rather than vent it out. And while I’m over the jet lag, I seem to have traded it for hay fever – according to my sinuses, every plant in these isles is bursting with pollen. Ah well: a fruitful year all round. Though if I don’t want my redoubtable editor Jo Fletcher to start chasing me with a stick I need to get myself into writing mode, sharpish. Which means less time on social media (the greatest aid to procrastination ever invented).

I do, however, have a mini-treat for those of you who haven’t been in the Caribbean this summer: a few pictures from the Calabash International Literary Festival weekend, about which I blogged last week.

Looking ahead, if you’re in London and not otherwise engaged on the evening of Wednesday 25th June, do come along to the BSFA’s monthly get together at the Artillery Arms pub on Bunhill Row, where I’ll be interviewed by the lovely Kate Keen. Entry is free, and for a paltry few pence you have a chance to win books! (Which will, this month, include a copy of the rather handsome US hardback edition of Gemsigns.) I’ll also be chatting to the folks at Holdfast Magazine for an upcoming issue. More on that later, and other odds and ends as I have them …

Post-Calabash post

The Calabash International Literary Festival 2014 has been over for going on four days now, and I am not yet quite recovered. From the welcome dinner for authors and press last Thursday night; to the Friday morning boat trip to Pelican Bar; to the opening of the Festival proper that evening with an emotional reading of Maya Angelou’s seminal Still I Rise; to Saturday’s packed programme that featured Zadie Smith, Colum McCann, Salman Rushdie, Karen Lord, and … umm … me; to Sunday’s mellow musical wind-down, followed by another sumptuous farewell meal – it was, in a word, amazing. Calabash accomplishes something that few other literary festivals or genre conventions achieve, or even attempt: a true meeting of creative minds, a bridging of the gap between ‘mainstream’ and ‘genre’, a celebration of the full breadth and depth of literary ambition and experience.

These were just a few of my personal highlights:

  • The prominence of poetry: Scottish poet Rab Wilson brought the house down before reading a single verse, when he opened his set by coming to the front of the seaside stage with a camera and taking a picture of the audience. ‘This,’ he said, in the broadest of Scottish brogues, ‘is to prove to the folks at home that more than ten people came to a poetry reading.’ He wasn’t wrong. The marquee held, by my estimate, over a thousand seats and was at least as packed for poetry as for prose. Co-founded by a poet and a novelist, Calabash values both forms equally. So does its audience.
  • Meeting Marlon James: Some of you out there already know how much I admire this author. Ann Morgan took up my recommendation of his first novel, John Crow’s Devil, as the Jamaican book for her A Year of Reading the World project, and loved it as much as I did. His second, The Book of Night Women, was visceral, searing, and will stay with me forever. But sometimes the people whose work you admire are less than captivating in person; so I’m happy to report that Marlon is every bit as smart, articulate, keenly observant and ruthlessly down to earth as I could have wished.
  • Hanging with Karen Lord: I’d met Karen early in May, for the Women in Science Fiction panel organised by our mutual publisher Jo Fletcher Books. We didn’t manage more than a brief conversation then, followed by another, longer one a week or so later (in the course of recording a podcast on Caribbean science fiction for The Skiffy and Fanty Show) – both of which only made me want to get to know her better. Her award-winning first novel Redemption in Indigo is a genre-bending delight, and The Best of All Possible Worlds one of the more interesting, unusual and thematically ambitious science fiction novels of recent years. She is fiercely intelligent, great fun to be with, and passionate about her work. I’m already looking forward to our next meeting.
  • Hearing Zadie Smith: I don’t know quite what I expected; something a bit cerebral and detached, perhaps? Instead Smith’s reading from The Embassy of Cambodia was surprisingly warm, unexpectedly funny, and quietly tragic.
  • Science fiction by the sea: Chris John Farley read, and then Karen Lord read, and then I read. For almost half an hour each; my longest reading yet, to by far the largest audience I think any of us had ever had. Who were, in a word, wonderful. I somehow managed not to lose my place, glancing up as one does to check that you’ve got their attention, that they’re not trickling out the exits or looking blankly back at you. Instead they were rapt, listening, concentrating – hundreds and hundreds of people, leaving their world behind to travel with you into yours. ‘You can’t have empathy without imagination,’ festival co-founder and impresario Kwame Dawes pointed out when he introduced us, ‘and this is literature of the imagination.’ They got it. You know how rare it is to see imagination working its way through a sea of faces? Rare. Thank you, Calabash, for that very great gift.
  • Listening to Salman Rushdie: Who was warm and witty and wise; who talked about culture and diaspora and conflicting influences; who read a sex scene set, uproariously and appropriately, amid sacks of pepper; who commented on tracks by Elvis Presley and Lou Reed and his own lyrics sung by U2; who described the sea of stories as the Caribbean glinted and shifted behind him; who discussed and dismissed literary pigeonholing; who was, in short, everything you would hope from a literary lion and a speaker of truth.
  • Conversations! With the aforementioned Marlon and Karen; Olivia Cole and Paul Holdengraber; Adam Mansbach and Miasha; Paul Muldoon, Kwame Dawes, Chris John Farley. About concerns both tangible and thematic; personal histories and world affairs; adventures in publishing and the challenges of academia; literary experiments, cultural quirks, conceptual leaps. ‘The conversations,’ festival worker Drew Brennan confided to me, ‘are my favourite part.’ No wonder. Calabash fosters a kind of intellectual yoga: a stretching and strengthening and expansion of the faculties. Utterly brilliant.

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