#WOWLDN | Do Women Dream of a Different Future? Women and Science Fiction

The Women of the World Festival is back at London’s Southbank Centre 9-11 March. I’ll be talking about the futures women dream of with Fiona Sampson MBE, author GX Todd, and Leila Abu El Hawa of the Post-Apocalyptic Book Club and Dark Societies. We’ll be chaired by Una McCormack, best-selling SF author, academic and lecturer.

Here’s what the lovely folk who organise WOW have to say about the panel:

From the The Handmaid’s Tale to The Power and The Hunger Games to Noughts & Crosses, women’s writing has drawn on history to imagine different futures in sci-fi and fantasy writing. With grim comparisons being drawn with dystopian fiction and our current political climate, and as technology and science begin to make what seemed impossible a reality, what can speculative fiction tell us about our world today? On the bicentenary of the publication of Frankenstein – written by a 19 year old Mary Shelley in 1818 and often called the first true work of science fiction– we talk to the women who rule sci-fi and fantasy right now to help us imagine a gender equal world.

I’d love to tell you to go buy tickets, but they’re already sold out! If you were quick enough to get yourself a Saturday or weekend pass, please join us in the Level 4 Blue Bar from 13.15-14.15. If not – well, I was on another standing-room-only WOW panel in 2015 which the festival recorded and posted online very shortly afterwards. Hopefully they’ll do the same again.


What I Did On My Summer Holiday (or, How to travel to Helsinki and end up on the radio in Bristol)

UPDATE: The Listen Again links at Ujima Radio have expired, but interviews are now going up at Cheryl Morgan’s Salon Futura podcast site. Here’s mine (apparently I also got to be an example in Cheryl’s podcasting class at BBC Bristol!).


I haven’t done a Worldcon75 round-up; I was too busy in Helsinki and I’ve been too busy since I got back. I’m working on a revised draft of my new novel, following some candid and entirely apt feedback from my agent (bless you, professional readers who pull no punches. Bless you, bless you). I’m also one of the Lignum Vitae Awards judges this year; they’re for unpublished work by Jamaican authors. My beat is adult fiction or creative non-fiction, so I’ve got a scary number of novel-length manuscripts to finish reading in the next few weeks. I suppose I didn’t actually have enough time to take any off, but I’d been planning it for a year and I’m very glad I went. The con was great, and so was the city (I have to keep reminding myself that I was there during a gloriously sunny and warm week in August; it’s possible I might have enjoyed it less in oh, say, December. But I doubt it.) Helsinki is on the water, with bridges and bays everywhere you look; it’s compact, clean, easily walkable, good for cyclists (I’m not one) with excellent train, tram, bus and ferry service. The food is good, the people are lovely, the museums are excellent (and everyone speaks English).

No post-mortem as such, but I was asked if there was a particularly memorable con moment. There were actually two, starting with the panel I wasn’t scheduled to be on and the reading I hadn’t known I was going to do. The panel was Caribbean SF, and featured Worldcon Guest of Honour, fellow Jamaican Nalo Hopkinson; Barbadian writer, Worldcon Toastmistress and my good mate Karen Lord; and Brandon O’Brien from Trinidad & Tobago. As they made their way to the front of the room I was summoned from my front-row seat to join them on the platform. They’d already discussed kicking off with 2-minute readings from their own work, to give the audience a sense of how our region influences the way we write: in dialect, in imagery, in the cadences of our prose. I obviously hadn’t been part of that prep meeting, but as luck would have it I happened to have with me the newly rewritten opening chapters of the new book, which is influenced by Jamaican heritage and folklore to a far greater degree than any of my previous books. So I got to test it out via my own mini-reading (it went down very well), in addition to being part of a brilliant conversation with a brilliant group of people.

Memorable moment number two is actually online, so I can share it. The prominence of Caribbean women writers and women of colour at Worldcon this year (N.K. Jemisin won the Best Novel Hugo award for the second year running) prompted Cheryl Morgan to do a series of interviews for Ujima Radio‘s Woman’s Hour programme. Ujima is an award-winning community radio station in Bristol, with a strong Afro-Caribbean focus. The show went out last week, and Listen Again links are now up. I’m on first, followed by Karen Lord. That link is here. I talk about the rise of Caribbean speculative literature, the politics of diversity and importance of cultural narrative, and the joy of being surrounded by friendly Finns who look as though they’re cosplaying my characters. Karen takes us behind the scenes at Worldcon, is delightfully amazed to find herself doing the incredibly cool things she’s doing, and talks about her new gig writing seasonal fiction. (If you need any more reasons to listen, the playlist includes Prince, P-Funk and Hendrix.) The second hour kicks off with African-American writer K. Tempest Bradford, and wraps up with Nalo Hopkinson; here’s that link (and yes, the playlist is just as awesome).

Worldcon75 schedule. Helsinki here I come!

I’m going to be on three panel discussions at the 75th World Science Fiction Convention at the Messukeskus Centre in Helsinki, August 9-13. The organisers caution that the programme is almost-but-not-quite finalised, so if anything else gets added I’ll update this post. However these are confirmed:

Are Utopias Worse than Dystopias?

Friday 11 August, 12:00 – 13:00, Pasila library (Messukeskus)

Utopias are supposed to be good futures, and dystopias bad futures. Yet utopias are by definition ‘best’, hence preclude the possibility of change and evolution. Also, any utopia described has no place for dissidents: they only work if everybody toes the line.
Utopias tend to be reflections of the time they were formulated in, and what might be seen as a happy society in one age might be seen as terrible places in a later age (just look at More’s “Utopia”). If a utopia can’t be changed, it will eventually turn into a dystopia. Dystopias, at least, include the possibility of rebellion and the hope for change.

On the other hand, utopian thinking as a phenomenon and mindset is notably a great advantage for human society. Take the contemporary standard of equality we are enjoying; for introducing that we have utopian-thinking people and groups to thank for, (for fighting slavery, feminism, etc.) Even if not a single consummated utopian theory has been proven to be completely workable in praxis (from the ones that have gotten the chance to be tried), utopian literature and art remains an efficent laboratory for trying out and comparing different social theories, and questions on what humanity is. Science fiction that plays ontologically with WHAT-IFs is a natural habitat of Utopia as an artform.

Klaus Æ. Mogensen (M), Tom D Wright, Stephanie Saulter, Jani Saxell, Maria Candia

The Future is Approaching Quickly: SF As An Alternative to Future-Oriented Think Tanks

Friday 11 August, 14:00 – 15:00, 204 (Messukeskus)

Earlier this year The Economist ran a feature on how people who want to figure out where society is heading should read Iain M Banks.They argue the Culture is “space opera that anticipates some of the challenges that technology is beginning to pose in the real world” and that science fiction serves as an idea library that informs tech industry.

What do you think the near future will look like? Do you believe in the singularity? Will we figure out reasonable security? Will big data ruin it all? Would block chains make for good SF material? Will people accept self driving cars?

Kristina K., Stephanie Saulter (M), Nick Price, Klaus Æ. Mogensen, Qiufan Chen

It’s More Complicated Than That

Sunday 13 August, 14:00 – 15:00, 203a (Messukeskus)

“There is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.” When experts try to popularise science, and politicians pronounce about economics, is a little knowledge a dangerous thing? If the public think they don’t need experts, or prefer simple lies over complicated truths, can democracy survive?

Joe Haldeman (M), Ian Watson, Stephanie Saulter, Ian Stewart


As always, many thanks to the organisers for all their hard work and smart programming. I’m really looking forward to the con, catching up with old friends and new, and spending a couple of days getting to know Helsinki before it all kicks off. (Getting a head start with Adventures in Moominland this evening in London!)


BSFA/SFF Mini Convention

Less than a day to go before the Science Fiction Foundation and British Science Fiction Association hold their annual joint mini-convention. It’s free and open to the public (other than the annual general meetings at lunchtime, which are members-only), so please join us! The BSFA’s guest of honour this year is the wonderful Anne Charnock, while it’s my honour to fill that role for the SFF. The event will be held in Lecture theatre 1 at the Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College London, SW7 2AZ (entrance on Prince Consort Road, on the south side near Queens Gate Road). The schedule is as follows:

0930: Doors open
1000: Welcome and SFF interview (Stephanie Saulter interviewed by Professor Sarah Brown)
1055: Short break
1105: SFF “Fake News” panel: “Political discussion recently has been more and more dominated by discussion of ‘fake news’: did SF see this coming? And does science fiction provide us with any tools for better understanding the media and reality landscape we’re confronted with?” Stephanie Saulter, Anne Charnock, Chris Beckett and Graham Sleight (moderator).
1155: Lunch break (suggested venue: Queens Arms)
1200: BSFA AGM
1330: SFF AGM
1440: BSFA interview (Anne Charnock interviewed by Gerard Earley)
1530: BSFA panel:  “Is science fiction addressing the really big issues facing humanity?” David Gullen, Andrew Wallace and Donna Scott (moderator)
1630: End

Science Fiction Foundation | 2017 Masterclass and GoH

Applications are now open for the 2017 Science Fiction Foundation Masterclass in Science Fiction Criticism, and I’m delighted to be one of the Class Leaders this year. I’ve got a cracking reading list lined up and a few intriguing discussion topics in mind, so do click the link and get your applications in by 24 April. The Masterclass is held over three days, from Friday 30 June – Sunday 2 July. We’ll be at the glorious Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London.

I’m also deeply honoured to be the guest at this year’s Annual General Meeting of the Foundation, to be held on 17 June at Imperial College, London. The Science Fiction Foundation is a registered charity which aims to promote science fiction, and to bring together those who read, write, study, teach, research and archive it in Britain and the rest of the world. It publishes Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction, a highly respected journal of SF criticism.

Con Schedule: Nine Worlds 2016

(Updated 11 August 2016)

Nine Worlds is less than three weeks away, and the programme is finally out. I’m on three panels this year, all of which look excellent:

Friday 12 August, 10-11am (Bouzy)

World-Building: No One Sells Happy Life Day Cards

Economics, geography, infrastructure – it’s the background stuff that, like concrete breeze blocks, comes off as the dull, uninteresting graft of world creation. But what makes it come alive and make sense for the reader? What makes people care, and what makes a fictional culture viable?

James Barclay, Genevieve Cogman, Edward Cox, Al Robertson, Stephanie Saulter, Chris Wooding

Friday 12 August, 1:30-2:30pm (Bouzy)

Science Fiction and Science Fact

Normally bending the rules is a bit of a dangerous act, but in fiction the laws of science are bent to breaking point all the time – so what’s going on behind all that? What famous popular concepts work, and which are entirely unreasonable? What are we close to making happen, and – really! – does scientific accuracy even matter for the sake of a good time? I mean, how far can you get on science alone*, I mean, haha, honestly.

* Probably, like, quite far. The distant edge of the solar system, probably.

Anne Charnock, Ian Hocking, Stephanie Saulter (moderator), Jamie Sawyer, James Smythe, Adrian Tchaikovsky

Saturday 13 August, 8:30-9:30pm (Bourg)

Inspiring Futures: The Ada Lovelace Day conversation

Can SF inspire a life in science and technology? Do women write a different kind of SF? Should we celebrate that 4 of the last 5 winners of the Arthur C. Clarke Award were books by women SF writers?

Anne Charnock (moderator), Yen Ooi, Anne Perry, Stephanie Saulter, Stephanie Troeth, Aliya Whitely

The convention is being held at the Novotel London West in Hammersmith this year, and tickets are still available at the late rate.

Utopia Season

What a week it’s been. I generally add press news to the link page (see menu tab above), tweet once or twice and move on, but there’ve been a couple of things that deserve a bit more bigging up than that (and not just because I’m in them).

It’s Utopia season on BBC Radio 4; it kicked off with a documentary commemorating the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia (which is well worth a listen). Last year the BBC and acclaimed SF author Geoff Ryman approached me to participate in another documentary for the series: a retrospective on the proto-SF feminist utopian novel Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which would also examine how gender evolves – or doesn’t – in the futurist fiction we write now. I’d written a short post on the fictional possibilities of utopia; an approach I’ve taken in my own books, and not unrelated to the fact that they are subtly but thoroughly egalitarian when it comes to gender. Geoff and I had a long chat about the intersection of these issues at Nine Worlds in August, recorded by BBC producer Nicola Swords. Rather more than I expected made it into the final cut of the Herland documentary – along with wonderful insights from Laurie Penny, Sarah le Fanu, Dr Sari Edelstein, Caitríona Ní Dhúill, Sarah Hall and of course Geoff himself. The result is an elegant combination of a respectful look back and a provocative look forward, and though I do say so myself, it’s well worth thirty minutes of your time.

Do spend another fifteen with No Point Talking, the short story Geoff wrote while working on Herland. It’s a fantastic portrayal (and performance!) of a conservative alpha male protagonist in a near-future America in which his traditional views about gender and society are shaken to the core. It’s heartbreaking, infuriating and funny – often all at the same time.

My ideas about utopia have a lot to do with being collaborative and collegiate as opposed to hierarchical or exclusionary – so it’s particularly serendipitous  that the week started with Tricia Sullivan’s article in The Independent on how SF authors negotiate the boundaries between fact and fiction. What’s remarkable about Trish’s approach is that she got the gig as part of the promotional push for her new novel Occupy Me – and then went about it by interviewing myself, Karen Lord, Anne Charnock and Emma Newman and quoting us liberally in her piece. I’m humbled by her generosity. I’m also impressed by her publisher, Gollancz, which will be posting all four interviews in full on their website in the coming weeks.

The world, we are often told, is going to hell in a handcart. Spend half an hour watching any news programme and it’s hard to disagree. But somewhere among the embers, the flame of utopia flickers on.

Speaking of Stars

On Friday 4th December I’ll be at the NN Contemporary Art gallery in Northampton for a panel discussion on the final evening of the current exhibition They Shall Have Stars, a group show thinking about possible futures for humans in space. I’ll be honest: when first invited by British Science Fiction Association president Donna Scott I demurred on the grounds that, unlike many other science fiction writers, I’m not a space travel enthusiast. I enjoy reading the odd space opera as much as anyone, but I’ve never bought into the idea that humans expanding into space is inevitable, or inherently desirable (I’m also forever having to point out to people that not all science fiction is space fiction – a perception due in no small part to the ubiquity of that notion). So I was all set to recuse myself, until Donna came back and said a sceptical note would in fact be quite welcome. With space fiction stalwarts Ian Whates and Jaine Fenn also on the panel, it should be a frank, searching and lively discussion. If you’re in the neighbourhood do come join us.

Little Free Library, the Squats

This Wednesday, 21st October 2015, I get to do something I bet many writers dream of. I get to open a library.

Granted, it’s a little library. A very little library. A Little Free Library to be precise. Little Free Library UK is a charity that promotes reading, art and community engagement. They build and install beautiful little book cupboards in public places across the country, increasing access for everyone in the community. This one has been designed by artist Hannah Adamaszek and is going in on Wapping High Street, in association with Tower Hamlets Community Housing who went hunting for a local author to help launch the project.

I live just over the borough boundary in Hackney, but in a way I’m even more local than that. Close readers of the ®Evolution books will have worked out that the real-life location of the Squats, the semi-derelict riverside neighbourhood that the outcasts of future London reclaim and make their home, is the area that we in the here and now know as … Wapping. And all readers will recall that those future refugees turn to the archived knowledge of the past in order to restore the abandoned buildings, and learn how to live independently.

Libraries are important, and not just in the aftermath of apocalypse. Worlds are discovered in libraries. Ideas are shared. Imagination blossoms. Friends find each other.

So if you’re in Wapping after Wednesday, keep your eyes peeled for a magic box – especially if you’ve got a book to share, or are in need of one. You might find yourself whisked away to the past, or the future, or some little slice of the present you hadn’t yet encountered. You might learn something you didn’t know you needed to know.

You might discover that libraries, like another famous magic box, are always bigger on the inside.

LFL Wapping

Audio Audio Everywhere

I seem to be having a bit of a podcast spike just now. Last week Cheryl Morgan interviewed me for her Women’s Outlook program on Bristol’s Ujima Radio. Bristolcon director Joanne Hall was live on Wednesday’s show, ahead of the con this Saturday; Cheryl bounced expertly between the live interview with Joanne, the recorded one with me, and some truly inspired musical selections. It was made even more special by the news that Ujima had just won the  Community Organisation Award for Race, Faith and Religion at the National Diversity Awards. You can listen to the show here.

I’ve been a fan of the Midnight in Karachi podcast series on Tor.com ever since it began; this week I’m the guest! Presenter Mahvesh Murad (currently earning big kudos for editing the fourth volume of The Apex Book of World SF) and I talk about writing the ®Evolution, the politics of the ‘other’, the legacy of colonialism and what we mean when we talk about humans. It was a great conversation, and you can listen to it here.

  • I love stories.
    My new novel, Sacred, is all about them. Publication info will be posted as soon as I have it.

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