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!).

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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 I’m also one of the Lignum Vitae Awards judges this year; they’re for unpublished work by Jamaican authors.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).

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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

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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!)

 

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