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.

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April. Back in the Hole.

I quipped to a friend recently that my March workload, if not my public appearance schedule, is following me into April. I was so busy last month I barely had time to talk about things as they happened – I only managed quick posts about the WOW Festival and University of Notre Dame appearances. I can report that the North London Lit Fest was also rather wonderful: after ninety minutes of conversation there was a further hour of recorded interviews with Aliette de Bodard and myself, mostly intended to be a resource for students but which will also (I think) crop up in promos for next year’s Lit Fest. I also had a great time at the HOLDFAST anthology launch party, where I did a somewhat guerilla reading from Regeneration to a very appreciative audience. In between I attended Farah Mendlesohn’s intriguing BSFA interview with fabulist and poet Suniti Namjoshi, and finally made it to a session of the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club, where I got to drink wine, listen to readings, and have no responsibilities whatsoever.

That lasted for all of a day. Binary is now out in the UK in paperback (does a happy dance), and in honour of the occasion I was invited to guest post by a couple of bloggers who admire my books. Asking the Next Question is about the challenge, and the opportunity, of writing an unplanned sequel; while it deals specifically with how I took the Gemsigns story forward into Binary, I think it has a more general relevance. Plausible Fictions and Strange Realities grew out of a conversation I had at Loncon; it talks about what types of speculation readers find easier to accept, and how much of that is down to a greater comfort level with simply seeing more of what we’ve seen before. Anyone with a passing interest in the vexed question of what constitutes ‘real’ SF might find it worth their while. And with Binary out in the US in exactly a month (yikes!), I’ve also written a post to coincide with that. I won’t pre-empt mine host by telling you where it’ll appear or what it’s about, but it is rather fun …

I was very honoured to have been asked last year to be one of the judges for the 2015 James White Award, but I didn’t want to announce it ahead of the organisers doing so. And there were delays on their end for various reasons, not least because, despite a submissions period of over six months, the majority of the 255 submissions were received in the final two weeks. That made winnowing them down into a shortlist a frankly mammoth task; but they got there in the end, and Dave Hutchinson and Gareth Powell and I read and deliberated, and a winner has been chosen. The announcement is traditionally made alongside the BSFA Awards, so I expect you’ll hear the news on that one this very evening.

Rereading the above I truly don’t know how it’s been possible, but I have also, since finishing Regeneration structural edits, written a short story (which turned out to be rather less short than I anticipated). It’s for a Jo Fletcher Books’ Secret Project and I finished it yesterday, which means I don’t actually know what I think about it yet. But I won’t have time to think about it at all for a while, because *sigh* Regeneration copy edits are back, and there are still a couple of character and plot elements that need tweaking, and with the July pub date just around the corner in delivery terms there’s no time to waste; so this entire post has really been a long-winded way of saying I’m diving back into the black hole of editing for a couple of weeks. See you on the other side.

Back to School

Yesterday evening I found myself in an undergraduate literature class for the first time in more than twenty years, giving the lecture on Gemsigns that I mentioned here. The students were smart and engaged, and had insightful things to say and intelligent questions to ask. We had a wide-ranging discussion, which I thoroughly enjoyed; and I was delighted that so many of them spotted the references, literary and otherwise, that are tucked away here and there in the text. Hard work is meant to be its own reward, but there’s nothing like someone else’s appreciation of your efforts to remind you why it is you do what you do.

There was a moment, when they all came in and sat down and took their notebooks and copies of the novel out of their backpacks, that just about floored me. I remember being that student, coming into class and taking out the assigned text, ready for discussion. I never imagined, back then, that one day the book another bunch of bright young people would be tackling would be mine. I’m not even sure, back when I was a student in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at MIT, that any of the texts we studied were by living authors. Certainly none of them were sufficiently earthbound and available to have come in and talked to us. In a rather lovely irony, I find myself exalted by the experience of being an author who is and who did.

So many thanks again to Professor Tony Keen for asking me, and to his class at UND’s London Global Gateway for being such an interested, interesting bunch. I was very, very happy to be back in school.

§

(Further bonus: Tony was able to make the BSFA interview I did last year with Kate Keen available to the students as a resource, and I now have a copy of it: Stephanie Saulter BSFA Interview | 25 June 2014.)

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 …

Eastercon Report Card (& Hugos Micro-Comment)

I arrived home from Glasgow last night, into a soggy London. The weather wouldn’t be worth mentioning had not the entire Eastercon weekend been like this:

View From Satellite4

View From Satellite4

That was the view from my hotel room on arrival Friday, and it was a good harbinger for Satellite4, which on the whole was sunny, expansive and relaxed. I can’t claim vast con experience, but the Crowne Plaza Glasgow is my favourite venue so far. Apart from the beautiful setting, both sleeping and meeting rooms were spacious and comfortable, and the layout and lifts meant there were no accessibility issues that I was aware of. Screens in the larger rooms allowed those at the back to see and the hard of hearing to lip-read – something which I know at least one con-goer was particularly grateful for. And food and drink provision was decent in quality, sufficient in quantity, and to my mind quite reasonably priced (granted, I’m comparing with London prices; but still).

I did a fair bit of hanging out with bloggers Lisa McCurrach and Daniel Franklin – it was great to finally meet them in person – and of course my regular con companion, Nicola Budd from Jo Fletcher Books. I think the only fly in our ointment as far as the con was concerned was the lack of a bookshop; there were a couple of independents and a vintage stall, but no central retailer. That meant no Binary or Gemsigns, or indeed most other titles, which was desperately disappointing – especially since I spoke to several people who emerged bemused from the dealer’s room, wondering why they hadn’t been able to find my books! A bookshop is customary at every con, as far as I know. The organisers have since told me that they tried hard to get one in, and it just didn’t happen – I’m not sure why – but I think the lesson for future cons is that it’s essential and needs to get nailed down early. If you’re bringing together authors and fans, you’ve got to have books!

That aside, all my events went very well. Women in Science and Speculative Fiction was a thoughtful discussion of gender-related career challenges (it was a nice bit of accidental timing that my post for Fantasy Café’s Women in SF&F Month went up the next day). Future Representation explored the lack of diverse perspectives in traditional science fiction – and concluded that this is changing rapidly, and for the better. It was standing-room-only for this, which did as much as the engagement and concern of the audience and my fellow panellists to convince me that speculative fiction has indeed turned a corner in terms of who gets to populate the futures it imagines.

That does not, of course, mean that the destination has been reached. While Mark Barrowcliffe and I were hosting Read For Your Life! on Saturday night, the Hugo finalists were being announced. That meant double nominee Charles Stross arriving a bit late, to cap off our fun, fresh and slightly risqué open-mic event with a stellar reading from his latest work in progress. It also meant I didn’t get to find out the details of category shortlists and attendant fandom angst until I was back in my room in the small hours of the morning.

The internet is alive with lengthy comment, to which I will not add; SF Signal is doing its usual excellent job of rounding it up, should you wish to dive down that particular wormhole. I will merely tell you that I chuckled heartily. Yes, there are a couple of authors known for their right-wing racism, sexism, homophobia and the astonishingly toxic vitriol they aim at any and everyone who does not see the world their way. And yes, there may be an editor or two who still supports the types of narratives they produce. But those authors are sitting on ballots next to women and people of colour, and even – saints preserve us! – women of colour. Those editors are mere specks in a sea of progressive thought; far more of the finalists are among the genre’s most vocal feminists and proponents of diversity. This is especially so in the fan categories – and they, if you think about it, are more truly representative of where the genre is now, and where it wants to be.

So I laughed at seeing the shoe so firmly on the other foot for a change. I have spent decades listening to the carping and sniping, the presumptions of unworthiness and accusations of liberal conspiracy, every time someone who was not white and/or male and/or straight made it into a boardroom or onto a best-of list. I still remember the crap I had to put up with when I was at MIT in the 80s, from people who simply refused to believe that someone like me – Jamaican, mixed-race, female – was there on merit. I am so used to being in the minority, to swimming against the tide of conservative opinion. Is it ungenerous of me to be amused by this turning of the tables?

Maybe it is. I never claimed to be perfect. And there’s still a long, long way to go. But I have to tell you, when I looked at those shortlists it felt more like a battle won than lost.

Needless to say, the Hugos were much discussed on Sunday – though not that much by me. I was too busy enjoying the con. With only one programme commitment I had time to attend Professor Andy Miah’s lecture on the science and ethics of human enhancement, and the first hour of Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s talk on current conundrums in astronomy; coupled with the BSFA Lecture delivered by Dr Sara Wasson the day before on realities and fictions of organ donation and tissue harvest, it left me feeling that the science component of this Eastercon had been far more extensive, robust and relevant than in my previous convention experience. And I made it to various other panels and talks over the weekend, most of which were exemplary. But I have to say that one of my absolute highlights happened at the Loncon tea party, when I was introduced to the author Richard Morgan. Regular readers of this blog and followers of my commentary elsewhere will know that I’m a huge fan of his novels, and it was a proper fangirl moment – which he lived up to by being as charming, approachable, smart and full of opinion as I could have wished.

So I had already chalked up at least one unforgettable moment before the British Science Fiction Association Awards ceremony on Sunday night. I’d been asked to present the award for Best Novel, which is quite an honour, but I’m not given to nervousness and I wasn’t expecting anything unusual: introduce the nominees, open the envelope, announce the winner. All went to plan right up to the last moment. I’m told that the look of surprise on my face was priceless.

For the first time in the history of the BSFA, there was a tie. And so I got to jointly declare the winners – Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, one of the most interesting, adventurous novels I’ve read in many years, and Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth Powell, one of the nicest, most welcoming people I’ve met on the genre scene, and a darn fine writer to boot. It was a genuine pleasure to hand him the trophy (Ann wasn’t there; I understand that a duplicate has been commissioned, which will be sent to her).

And that was very nearly that. There was a brilliant aikido vs. karate demonstration on Monday morning by Guests of Honour Juliet McKenna and John Meaney, which I would love to see on the Loncon programme. And I had a long, lovely chat with Tori Truslow and Ludi Valentine about Nine Worlds. One con down, (at least) two to go …

 

‘Tis the season of lists …

I was rather lazily reading Adam Roberts‘ Guardian roundup of the best science fiction books of 2013 after dinner last night, and damn near choked on the dregs of my wine … did a double-take … triple-take … no, nothing funny in the glass (I checked) nor wrong with my eyes (no more than usual, anyway). There was Gemsigns, sharing column inches with the likes of Margaret Atwood and Stephen King, Lauren Beukes and Lavie Tidhar, mega-seller Hugh Howey and Booker winner Eleanor Catton. Among others too numerous and luminous to mention. I am amazed and grateful to be in such company. And I’m particularly thrilled, because it was clear when Adam read the book a few months ago – and as he also indicates in the article – that it didn’t work for him right away; but, as he says, ‘it has proved a grower.’ I love that. I love that a book which is so much about perception and persuasion, the ways in which people’s ideas about what is wrong and right and good and bad can shift and shift again, has had in the real world the effect it describes in an imaginary one. The synergy of that delights me. So thank you, Adam, for letting my book grow on you; and for including it on your list.

The other pleasant list-related surprise of the evening was this BSFA blog post with the best-of-2013 nominations so far: best non-fiction, best artwork, best short fiction, best novel. Once again there was Gemsigns, keeping company with some truly wonderful books. I’ve no idea who nominated it, or even if it was more than one – but whoever you are, thank you. Nominations remain open until mid-January and it’s already up against some very big hitters, so I have no expectations beyond the nomination itself – but then I wasn’t expecting that. I am in ‘you never know’ territory at the moment. It’s great.

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

    In the meantime check out Gemsigns, Binary and Regeneration, available wherever good books are sold.

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