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But seriously...

So, I have a question for my female friends and female-presenting non-binary friends.
For those of us who present as 'feminine' in the more traditional sense (can be having longer hair, wearing skirts or other 'girly' clothing, being soft-spoken and so forth): do you find people are more ready to question your knowledge than they do that of women who are seen as less 'girly' in presentation? It was noticeable in my last academic jobs that my female colleagues with short hair who dressed in suits tended to be taken more seriously than the rest of us, and were less likely to be asked to undertake extra admin jobs and to do emotional caretaking.
I'd be interested in hearing the experiences of others about this.

Skirt of the day: Blue-tiered the 2nd (as distinct from the beloved, much worn, fragile blue tiered the first.)

Mancunicon

Mancunicon is approaching rapidly and I have my schedule. I'm particularly looking forward to interviewing Aliette de Bodard on Saturday and to the Tanith Lee tribute item. I hope to see at least some of you there!


Revealing History, Revealing Now

Friday 17:30 - 18:30, Room 8&9 (Hilton Deansgate)

We think of historical fantasy and alternate history as changing the past: but can they be used, instead, to reveal it? How do the tools of SF and fantasy enable writers to tell stories that allow us to think differently about our understanding of history? How can such stories help us to better understand the present? (And which "us" is defining "our", in any case?)

Susan Bartholomew (M), Jacey Bedford, Aliette de Bodard, Kari Sperring, Sarah Walters.


A Tribute to Tanith Lee

Saturday 14:30 - 15:30, Deansgate 3 (Hilton Deansgate)

Tanith Lee was the first woman to win the British Fantasy Award, for Death's Master (1980). She was nominated for and won various World Fantasy Awards, and wrote over 90 novels, 300 short stories, poetry, a children's book and episodes of the TV show Blake's 7. Her work explored feminism and sexuality. In this discussion, five of her literary "nieces", who all have a short story in an anthology dedicated to her (to be published by Storm under the title Night's Nieces), enthuse about her works and what made her such a critical figure in female and British Fantasy until her untimely death in May 2015.

Storm Constantine, Kari Sperring, Sarah Singleton, Freda Warrington, Liz Williams, John Kaiine


Guest of Honour Interview - Aliette de Bodard

Sunday 16:00 - 17:00, Deansgate 2&3 (Hilton Deansgate)

Aliette de Bodard was born in the USA, and grew up in London and Paris, where she now lives and works.
She began publishing short fiction in 2006, and gained rapid notice, particularly for work in her Xuya setting, including the Nebula Award-winning stories "Immersion" (2012) and "The Waiting Stars" (2013), and the Hugo-nominated novella On a Red Station, Drifting (2012).
Her first novel Servant of the Underworld, published in 2010, began the Obsidian & Blood series of Aztec mysteries. Her most recent book is The House of Shattered Wings, a BSFA Award nominee this year.

Kari Sperring (M), Aliette de Bodard.


Historical Fiction and Fanfiction

Sunday 17:30 - 18:30, Room 8&9 (Hilton Deansgate)

Historical fiction is set in the past. Fanfiction is produced by fans, for fans, using famous people or source texts as an inspiration. Frequently the worlds overlap. This panel discusses the overlaps, benefits and pitfalls of them. The overlaps include writing fanfiction about historical fiction, setting fanfiction in an alternative universe by placing the narrative in a different historical era, fanworks about real-life historical figures (Historical RPF), or historical fanworks - any fanwork set in the past.

Amanda Baker (M), V Allan, Kari Sperring, Zoe Sumra, ickle_tayto


Science Fiction Criticism - Masterclass 1

Sunday 19:00 - 20:00, Room 10 (Hilton Deansgate)

Every Summer the Science Fiction Foundation holds a Masterclass in Science Fiction Criticism with world-renowned critics, academics and authors. This session provides a taster. Participants are required to sign up in advance (at Ops) and should read the short story assigned for the session. There is a limit of ten participants.
This session will be looking at Liz Williams, 'The Banquet of the Lords of Night', which can be found online athttp://clarkesworldmagazine.com/williams_05_13_reprint/

Tony Keen, Kari Sperring.

I will also be working in Green Room (when aren't I? My favourite place!) and helping out with the bid for Follycon, so this is shaping up to be a busy convention.

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

Happy St David's Day, all!

Cutting Edge SF

So there's yet another list of vital SF -- all by white men, some of them dead. I don't want to shout at the author or host site. There are plenty of people doing that already, and it's not likely to be productive.
Instead, let's compile a list of cutting edge sf by other writers -- writers of colour, women, QUILTBAG writers, white male writers who aren't Anglophone or from currently dominant cultures, non-binary writers....
My suggestions include Nnedi Okorafor; Nisi Shawl; Aliette de Bodard; Dung Kai-Cheung; Justina LA Robson; Tricia Sullivan.

(The list also omits some really major white male Anglophone writers, who should be credited, including William Gibson and Walter Jon Williams. That is bad, too.)

I'm also doing this on FB and there's a #CuttingEdgeSF tag on twitter.

Skirt of the day: blue flags

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On fear, permission and writing.

I don't like to write about writing.
I don't like to talk about writing, much of the time. There is a reflex in me that makes me close down whenever anyone asks me about what I'm working on, how I write, how I'm getting on. Oh, I can talk about the generalities -- voice and pace and dialogue and so on -- if I have to, but even then, I'm not really comfortable.
You see, in my head, writing and fear are all tangled up. And I do not like to be afraid.

If I have a single talent, it's fear. I'm really really good at it. I can fill myself up, inch by slow inch, until my skin is no more than a thin boundary on terror and every single part of me is sparking with alarm. I can turn enjoyment into duty and duty into fear in a matter of moments.

It doesn't really matter why this is so. Let's say it's how I'm wired, and move on. There are lots of things that scare me, mostly irrational (it's a fact that I am far more afraid of zombies than I am of being run over. When it comes to things like that latter, I'm fairly calm). And when the spiral, the heavy dead grip of fear takes hold, I find it almost impossible to break free. Once that shiver is under my skin, it takes over.

And writing is scary. People say this a lot, and there are endless lists as to why. Fear of being exposed, of failure, of taking risks... I understand all of those and I sympathise, but, for all their familiarity within the language of writers, they are not really what I mean when I think about the intersection of writing and fear. What I mean, what this fear means to me is this: I am afraid to lose permission.

It sounds ridiculous put like that. And, on the scale of real fears -- of being murdered for one's race or gender identity or sexual orientation or faith, of famine, of flood, of homelessness, of loss of freedom, of persecution -- it is a tiny, unimportant thing. It's ridiculous. I know it's ridiculous, and yet there it is, making me unsafe in my skin.

I'm not good at permission. There are lots of reasons for that. Some of them are socio-cultural, to do with class and gender. Some are personal, to do with lived experience. Many of them are just plain irrational. But in the end, most of the time I hover on the edge of feeling I am not allowed to write, that me writing somehow takes away from others, that it's wrong. I've felt this about writing since long before I was first published. It isn't about public space (though I worry about that too, because there are enough white writers already, and I'm nothing special). It is, quite simply, about whether or not it's okay for me to set down words in a line on a page. Even if no-one will ever read them but me and a handful of my friends.

This looks nonsensical, even to me. But for whatever reason, because of how I'm wired, because of the things that have happened in my life, I find it incredibly hard to give myself permission to do things. And writing matters. I've written since I was 7 or 8. It used to be easy. No-one minded me writing stories for myself and my friends. It was only in my 20s that I discovered how competitive some people can be, how confrontational, about writing -- which is not a competitive activity. And, well... if there is something I can do that others want, I'm wired to think its my duty to step aside and let them have that space. And once that happens, I find it very hard to try and find any new space for myself. Someone else wants it. So I mustn't have it. And I stop writing. Even just for myself, because someone else might not approve.

It's ridiculous. Writing is not a competition, though equally it is far from a level playing field and there are many many writers out there, probably far better than me, who face huge institutional, social and cultural barriers. It matters hugely that writers who face fewer barriers -- writers like me -- boost and support those voices. They matter far more than my nonsense.

But fear is funny and it smothers us. When that inner place where my writing, at least, comes from, is bound up in fear, it paralyses everything else, too. I stop feeling like me. And I am doing it to myself. Those other people are not withholding permission. I don't matter to them at all. And so I'm writing this, to remind myself that this is my fear, not something external to me. To expose the fear to the open gaze of the web, to remind myself of my own ridiculousness. To expose it, even, to anyone who does think I shouldn't have permission.

Because it isn't up to them. It's not up to anyone but me to grant that permission. And, well... I need to learn how to do that by myself.

Skirt of the day: blue cotton print.
So it's been a while since I posted here. I'm not sure why. I did Nanowrimo in November and hit the 50k, and am now trying to wrangle the book into shape. Then there was Christmas, which was quiet and pleasant. And January. Which was as it was. No drama, no crisis, just life. And my life is fairly ordinary.

We are now once again a three-cat household: Miss Telzey's little brother Random came to join us in early December and has settled down very well. He's a lovely, friendly, confident little boy and he's getting on well with both Telzey and Horus. Both of them let him snuggle up to sleep, and play long games with him. Here he is: CIMG3955


And that's me. How's everyone else?
Skirt of the day: denim.

Guns and cons (but no rock and roll).

Let's start with a link. I'll wait while you go and read it: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/10/18/shooter_opens_fire_at_fort_myers_florida_zombiecon.html?wpisrc=burger_bar

This is scary. Someone was killed at Zombiecon by someone who turned up and started shooting.
This time, for the first time ever, I looked up what the gun laws were for the place where worldcon was to be held, because some of the things that had been said in the run-up to it by some of the puppy-allies were seriously scary. I didn't enjoy that feeling, nor did I enjoy feeling I needed to know. Fan space isn't necessarily safe space -- indeed, often it isn't safe. But this is an added level of anxiety, which had begun for me two years earlier and is one of the reasons I didn't go to LoneStarCon. I come from a culture in which guns are rare and controlled. I'm outspoken, female and left wing -- very left wing by US standards. Texas feels scary to me (well, some parts of it do).
In the run-up to Sasquan, someone -- I forget who, and don't have the link to had -- called for worldcons in future only to be held in open carry states. Someone else threatened to hit anyone who dared to find his views frightening. That same person stated that he will only accept foreigners who agree with him that the US is the greatest country in the world and who place its interests above everything else.
I've had issues with sexual harassment and misogyny in fandom for years. I've witnessed incidents of homophobia, transphobia and racism at cons. I've witnessed one psychotic breakdown (the concom and site handled it well and with compassion for all involved) and many crises. I've twice been seriously assaulted in fan space and I've long lost track of the minor incidents. SFF has a long way to go. But until the puppies appeared, I've never worried about guns.
SFF is bigger than right wing gun lovers. It's bigger than US exceptionalists. It belongs to all of us, whatever our race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, whether we're cis or trans, old or young, rich or poor. My fanspace has room for everyone, even the puppies (though I'd prefer they left their guns at the door, for everyone's safety).
Yesterday, someone opened fire at a cosplay event.
I don't want this to happen on another day at an sff con. If you'd asked me about this a few years ago, I'd have said, 'That'll never happen.' Now... I know I'm not alone in feeling afraid. I know I wasn't alone in worrying in the run-up to Sasquan.
But here's the thing. This whole deal with guns is part of the US culture war. SFF does not belong to any one country, any one creed or race or gender or whatever. It's bigger than that.
And I want the culture war out of our space.

Skirt of the day: blue flags.

Socialist Fantasy

My piece on lewft wing politics and fantasy is up today on the Open Democracy website.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/kari-sperring/terry-pratchetts-discworld-where-we-are-all-heroes
Our darling Ish cat passed away last Thursday, from suspected pancreatic cancer, while we were at Worldcon. groliffe was splendid in caring for him at the end, and the Cambridge Vet School was the best place he could have been in the circumstances. He knew and liked it there, and they loved him.
We are heartbroken. I never would have gone to Sasquan if I'd thought he was this ill. Horus, who adored him, is hunting and calling, and wanting lots of cuddles from us and from Miss Telzey. We are doing our best to reassure him. Ish was a lovely, sociable, determined boy who had many adventures in his 12 and 1/2 years, made many friends (including half a mile away at the local gas showroom) and had Views on everything. He was the cat who chose us, and we will miss him forever.
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Comfortable misogyny

So there's this guy I know. I've known him most of my life: I'll call him Alfie, for now, though that's not his name. He's a nice bloke: good company, smart, funny, kind and reliable. For a while, we worked at the same place, and he was good at his job and, by and large, a nice colleague. I was at school with him, and we ended up at the same university -- you know how that goes. We didn't always end up in the same social circles, and we have some different interests, but he's one of those people, I guess: one of those people you just know and have always known.

I like Alfie: like I said, he's good company. I've never shared a house with him, but our mutual friend Bimla did, and she tells me he washed up after himself and sometimes remembered to do the vacuuming, just like her. He was a pretty good housemate (and he's a very good cook). He's married now, with two daughters who he adores and encourages to play soccer and study science. To use the old terms of the 80s, he's a new man: he helps around the house, has been known to change nappies and he treats his female work colleague Chantal well. Alfie's one of the good guys.

Except when he isn't. Because, you see, here's the thing about Alfie: he's a comfortable misogynist.

About this point, I can see the frowns starting. What's misogynist about what I've described, exactly? Alfie cooks and cleans and is nice to Chantal at work. He's a good dad (though his wife Daisy does sometimes wish this extended more to picking up toys and getting up when one of the girls is ill, and less to the fun stuff, like playing sport and going for ice cream). He's a good guy, I said so. He's a friend. He's not a sex pest or a male rights' activist. He thinks women should be allowed to work and he is outraged at female genital mutilation and all the news coverage of historic sex abuse cases. When it comes to big issues, Alfie's a feminist.

He feels good about that. And that's where the problem starts, because while he's great at the big picture, he is rubbish at seeing what's right under his nose. To this day, he doesn't understand why Daisy was so upset when he went on that month-long training course two weeks after their 2nd child was born. It was a great opportunity -- and while he could have gone on the next repeat of it, six months later, well, he didn't really want to go then because of his cricket side, and anyway three years on he got that great promotion. And Daisy managed. He thinks Chantal bears unnecessary grudges, because she's still sore that Edward got a pay rise when she didn't, even though they do the same job and her appraisal was better. But Edward's older than she is and he has a son at private school: he needs the extra money. Chantal's single. She'll get her turn. And it's not like the company's sexist: look at Frances at head office! She's practically a partner. Okay, there was that fuss about how she didn't get promoted that time, and Chantal and the other girls -- Grace who does admin, and whatserface, that old bat from human resources -- were up in arms about it and kept trying to get him to say something to Harry, the senior partner. But they didn't seem to get that Frances is, well, kind of abrasive and she can be really pushy, and anyway Alfie has to think of how it would look, him recommending her to Harry. He doesn't want to damage his own career. And it worked out all right, didn't it? Harry headhunted Ian from the competition and Frances got that great sideways move and a new company car.

And then there was that time Jim made a pass at that girl -- what was her name, Bimla's friend? Karly? She totally over-reacted: went on like he'd raped her or something, when it was just a few kisses and a friendly squeeze or two out in the car park. And Karly was being pretty naive, going off alone with Jim when everyone knows what a joker he is. And he was drunk: Jim's a decent bloke, everyone knows that. Yes, he makes some off-colour remarks, and yes, he can be a bit, well, *handy* when he's drunk, but it's just a bit of fun. Jim wouldn't really rape anyone. Alfie's sure of that. He wouldn't be friends with a man like that. (And anyway sometimes women exaggerate. He knows it's a bit edgy to say that, but he read this article in the paper the other day, and they interviewed a lawyer, and he'd know, right?) But Bimla and Daisy flew off the handle about that, and Daisy won't let him invite Jim round any more.

The thing is, Alfie thinks, is that women are just a bit... well, they expect miracles, right? It can take years to get where Ian and Harry are: Frances should know that. Her turn will come, if she's patient and doesn't make trouble. (Yes, Ian's a few years younger that her, but she took those two years out when she had her baby, so it evens out.) It's a hard word for everyone and these girls, well, they're being naive. There's laws and everything now about equality: people aren't allowed to discriminate any more. There's a level playing field. But some of these women insist on seeing sexism everywhere where it's not. If it was there, he'd know, and he'd be right there fighting for justice for them, just like in the old days when he used to go on those Reclaim the Night marches with Daisy and Bimla. He supports women's rights. That's one of the reasons he didn't go to Harry about Frances or Chantal: it would have been sexist, like they couldn't speak for themselves. And he was really busy that week anyway, and, well, this stuff is really hard work and he just doesn't have the energy for all that, some days.

Alfie means well. He understands the big issues and, despite how he looks from the above, he's a solid ally on those things: he really is a good dad and he doesn't expect rewards for doing housework. But sometimes, he doesn't get the insidious things. He doesn't mean to be hurtful, but he simply does not see the pattern of, say, Jim's behaviour, that makes Daisy and Bimla and Karly so uncomfortable. He doesn't connect it with the wider social problems of sexual harassment and rape culture. He really does think that Frances' abrasiveness is the main thing holding her back. (And he hasn't noticed that Ian is far ruder and far pushier, because, well, Ian is assertive and confident, isn't he?) They look to him like little, isolated problems, not part of a toxic cultural institution. And because to him, they're small, they're not worth getting wound up about (as he sometimes says to Daisy).

Alfie is fictional, of course. I invented him as a place-marker. He's a composite of hundreds and hundreds of men I've known over the years, mostly good blokes, people I like, people who are good people. I don't know anyone who so consistently trips over his male privilege as Alfie. But the thing is, we are an institutionally misogynist society, even with the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act and so on and so forth. We are rooted in a culture soaked in thousands of years of discrimination and sexism and assumptions about gender roles. We see where that operates on the large scale, but not always on the small -- and the less affected we are by it, the less we see. I could say the same about racism and homophobia and gender-essentialism and transphobia. The Alfies of the SFF world buy stories from women writers, and sometimes read books by them. They listen to the women they know. They are genuinely delighted when a new woman writer does well. They host guest posts from women on their webpages and link to things they write. They see and act on the big stuff. And sometimes, when historic inequities are pointed out, they help signal boost this.

And yet, and yet... If you talk to many women in sff, and particularly women who have been around a while, they'll often express a feeling of fatigue. We have been fighting so long to be seen and heard and yet our voices are barely any louder, and when new voices appear -- which is great -- older ones are dropped or forgotten to make space. I've said this before, over and over, but it is still predominantly older or established women who are expected to give way for the newcomers. A new book by William Gibson is An Event. A new book by multiple-award winning, genre-shaping C. J. Cherryh passes with barely a notice. And when this is mentioned out, men (and some women and non-binary people, yes, because #notallmen) point to the current clump of hot women writers and say 'But look at them!'

We have a culture that found it right and proper that after the death of Iain M Banks, no new GoH was announced for worldcon, but a debate started as to whether the female guest should be replaced with a different, younger woman, because the older woman 'wasn't relevant to younger readers' (which was itself wrong, as she is very popular with teenagers). We have a canon that repeats the same handful of women as members -- LeGuin, Russ, Butler, Moore, Tiptree -- without apparently seeing the problem that these women are used to stand for hundreds of others who are forgotten or dismissed (and *I* for one have not forgotten the male critic who told me that he didn't read 'the sort of mediaevalist stuff you write'. Fine, if that's a question of personal taste, but the fact is I don't write mediaevalist fantasy. But I'm a woman who writes fantasy, so he Knew, without troubling to check). I've not forgotten the fan who was incredibly vocal condemning an all-male awards' shortlist drawn up by a panel which was 50% female, but when he found himself in a similar position on a different panel, justified the absence of women by naming a couple of female writers and adding 'We don't want that kind of romantic slush on an awards' list, do we?' I've not forgotten the man who, after I was on a panel about sexual harassment in fandom, backed me into a corner to lecture me on what I was doing wrong in how I tried to protect myself (complete with 'how to dress' notes). The latter reminded me of the first iteration of Alfie I ever met, a boyfriend of a college friend, who used to censor her wardrobe on how 'feminist' it was. He forbade her to wear skirts, even if she wanted to, because it was unfeminist. And then there are all the men who say 'I need to step back; this is so tiring! I don't know how you women cope!'

We cope because we have no choice. We can't step out, not without harming ourselves. We can't endorse, say, panel parity for just a year, because these are our lives. The same is true, of course, for those engaged in anti-racist action, and that is often far harder, because the barriers are greater.

It doesn't help when the Alfies tell us not to get so wound up, or when they say 'Oh, but it's not my fight', or when they recycle the same list of women-who-matter, or Know what we write without looking it up. It doesn't help when they put up their 'Best of' lists, with only 2 women (both usually the current hot women writers). It doesn't help when they fence-sit, or fail to confront misinformation because they can't be bothered or don't want to 'dominate' (guys, you can speak up without taking over). It doesn't help when they say 'Oh, but that's so trivial'. It doesn't help when they say, 'SF by women doesn't sell' without thinking about the social and cultural reasons why that may be so (men get more reviews; their books are more likely to be promoted; men are more likely to recommend books by other men -- and to take recommendations from other men; bookshop buyers respond to numbers without looking at how they privilege male authors and order fewer books by women and so on and on). It doesn't help when men leave the women out when they talk about their influences. It doesn't help when women who self-promote are labelled pushy and aggressive while the men who do the same are seen as cool and clever.

I'm not saying most men do this on purpose. They don't. We are, as I said, an institutionally sexist culture. Women are embedded in this, too. I have had to have brisk conversations with myself more than once as to *why* I find self-promotional posts by women more worrying that those by men, for instance. We are all complicit in this comfortable misogyny, because we were all raised that way. And the same is true about other damaging, harmful social institutions, particularly racism.

Speak up. Take risks. Women have to, every single day. People of colour have to. This uneven division of labour we have, where women and people of colour and transpeople and queer people have to do the bulk of the heavy lifting is itself part of the problem. Yes, the voices and ideas and needs of those who are Othered must be front and centre. But those who sit silent, or act like Alfie are, in the end, part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Skirt of the day: blue parachute.

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