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24 Oct

Last weekend I attended my first literary convention; FIYAHCON, set up by FIYAH Literary Magazine, and held online across three days. It was a bit of a revelation for me, having never attended a con before in my life, and having never heard so many BIPOC authors discussing speculative fiction. When I told one person I know that this con was organised by a magazine that showcases Black SSF writers, her first response was, “What, you’re not the only one?” We are out there, and in great numbers; it’s just that our voices don’t often get heard.

Having this take place online was really important, I felt. On a personal level, as a (attachment parenting) mother of three young kids, and as someone of relatively limited means, this was finally something I could actually attend. But beyond this, the many visa-related obstacles writers outside the US/ UK face, combined with the prohibitive costs of travel, mean cons just aren’t on option for many. FIYAHCON felt really international in a way few cons seem to be. It was so wonderful to listen to a panel held by people in three different continents. If we want the SFF writing community to be truly diverse, we have to have more opportunities for people around the world to be involved in the discourse; people who can travel less easily – whether due to health or finances or red tape – must be able to join.

Highlights for me included panels on empire, and on the challenges of writing to market as a person of colour. There were many panels I couldn’t attend, so I’m really grateful for the archives, which I’ll be spending a lot of time in over the next few weeks. But honestly, all of it was fantastic. For me personally, the insight and feedback I received from panels, workshops, and one-to-one sessions has been really inspiring. Writers, especially unpublished writers, spend so much time in their own heads, it’s easy to forget there’s a whole community of like-minded individuals out there, who are just as keen to talk magic systems and adverb overuse as you are. And they are from all over the world.

Anyway, all I can say is … I’ve found my con home. And I can’t wait for the next one!

I liked The Last Jedi, and I also liked The Rise of Skywalker, so put that in your pipe and smoke it

23 Dec

This is 100% spoilery spoilerage of the most spoilerish variety. Here’s a cute pic of something cute that I still haven’t blimmin seen yet, to give you a chance to turn back:


So that’s it. The “Skywalker Saga” is at an end. Looking back, I’ve realised I didn’t write any words here about The Last Jedi, which I feel funny about because so many people hated that film, and I loved it (not unequivocally, but still deeply.) Put it down to life getting in the way or something. Anyway, I should say from the start that I really enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker. It was fast paced (maybe too fast paced, as others have commented), exciting, and felt like a proper Star Wars movie. I cried loads in the last third of the film. I loved Rey and Kylo Ren fighting over that shuttle. I loved zombie-cyborg Palpatine and his planet-spanning force lightning. I loved those horse things, and the endless vista of Star Destroyers. I even liked that kiss! The movie was so much fun and I enjoyed pretty much every minute. But…. BUT…

I’ll start by saying that I never go to the movies completely blind – I have to read at least one or two reviews, and one thing I’d read ahead of time was, If you liked The Last Jedi, prepare to be disappointed. The summary was that The Rise of Skywalker undoes much of what The Last Jedi did. And yes, I did feel that; most brazenly when Luke’s force ghost said, “That’s no way to treat a light saber” or some such, when Rey tried to throw hers away. For the most part, I didn’t mind the little digs and the backtracking. The only thing that really irked me, and it irked me big time, was the big reveal that Rey is a Palpatine.

For a moment, I’m going to set aside my annoyance that this totally undoes one of my favourite aspects of The Last Jedi; that anyone can be born with a talent for using the force, that you don’t have to come from a particular noble line, and that the force is something for all. My main gripe is that on a purely narrative level, within the context of this film, it was completely unnecessary for Rey to be a Palpatine. Palpatine knew of Rey because he sensed her strength in the force and tracked her down. She could have been anyone. A despot like Palpatine will destroy (or seek to turn to the dark side and then use as an avatar for himself and all the generations of Sith… whatever) anyone who is significantly skilled in the force. It didn’t need to be his own granddaughter. He was not shown to have had a particular interest in her specifically because she was his offspring. Likewise, the only real evidence of Rey wrestling against a pull to the dark side was when she unwittingly summoned force lightning. She showed no dark tendencies, and only worried about the pull of the dark because of the revelation about her lineage, and because of one dream that was possibly placed in her mind by Palpatine anyway. So there was no emotional weight to her being a Palptine or destined for darkness, within the context of the film. It felt as though the only reason for this choice was to undo the work of The Last Jedi, and I found it really unnecessary.

I know there is a certain satisfying symmetry to Rey and Ben Solo/ Kylo Ren both being descendants of great lines, but honestly, I loved the idea of Rey being just anyone. Here are some more reasons why I liked The Last Jedi. I don’t entirely love Kylo Ren as a villain, but do like him as an antihero (I feel that the sequel trilogy as a whole lacked a really solid villain, despite agreeing with this.) I loved that final shot in The Last Jedi when the stable boy uses the force to grab a broom. This is a big part of why I enjoyed The Last Jedi – because it deliberately moved away from the idea of inherited worth, instead positing the notion of skill in the force being just like any other talent… music or sport or anything else; yes, it sometimes runs in families, but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes talent just appears in the most unexpected of places. And given the social and economic inequalities we are shown as being still prevalent across the Star Wars galaxy, there must be millions of force-talented individuals living undiscovered in poverty.

To a lesser degree, I was also irritated by the number of questions left unanswered. I haven’t played any of the video games, or watched much of The Clone Wars TV series (might try to remedy the latter at some point, but I was put off by the animated movie, which I really disliked), but to my knowledge, we still don’t know for sure the truth about Anakin’s immaculate conception, and a lot of us thought this might be answered here, particularly given that this was a movie that focused so heavily on Palpatine, and that it is supposed to conclude all things Skywalker (and surely this is the biggest thing?) It’s strongly hinted that Palpatine created Anakin (making Kylo Ren and Rey cousins of some sort, since they share a grandfather / great grandfather) and given this movie’s focus on the symmetry between Rey and Ben, I find it frustrating that this wasn’t addressed at all.

In addition: how did Papatine survive? He seems to be a corpse, so does that mean the electrical energy of his mind is all he needs to remain alive? Was he part of that contraption, and therefore, could his mind have escaped into it (and therefore still be alive)? I know Rey blasted it with reflected force lightning, but I dunno, did Palpatine make backups of himself? Were all those Sith in the background some kind of Sith variation of force ghosts? Or were they an illusion created by Palpatine? How are objects now able to travel (or be created) by force projection, and does this only work between them because of Rey and Ben’s connection? (I did love the exchange of light sabers, but the whole concept feels kinda Sith to me…)

I really hope the fact that this is the end of the Skywalker Saga doesn’t mean we are now heading for movies that focus on a Palpatine Saga. Much as I’d love to know more about Sheev Palapatine, and his training, and his master, it also feels like it’s time to move away from this whole set of characters… all of them. I really want more stories about the Sith when they were at the height of their powers, or perhaps more to do with the origins of the Jedi and the Sith. And much as I love these sequels (and think they’re a thousand times better than the prequels) it also felt as though they held back. Much of this is, I’m sure, due to all the changes with directors and no single person having an overarching vision for this trilogy. But I hope the full potential of the Star Wars universe will be unleashed in the new set of films.

But anyway, despite all this, I really enjoyed it, and I can’t wait to re-watch it. And since everyone’s doing it, for what it’s worth, here is my take on the Skywalker Saga from favourite film to least favourite. I know I’m in a minority of one with my ordering here. Sorry not sorry. And yes, Return of the Jedi really is my favourite, and yes, I really will put The Phantom Menace above The Force Awakens, because that end battle with Darth Maul, Obi Wan, and Qui-Gon Jinn is absolutely everything.

1 Return of the Jedi
2 The Empire Strikes Back
3 The Last Jedi / The Rise of Skywalker I KNOW I KNOW BUT I CAN’T CHOOSE AND YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!
5 A New Hope
6 The Phantom Menace
7 The Force Awakens
8 Revenge of the Sith
9 Attack of the Clones

Star Trek: Discovery, Episode 4 FTW!

9 Oct

Threat ganglia!

Black alerts!

Women of colour passing the bechdel test!

I have so many (only slightly spoilerish) thoughts about the fourth episode of Star Trek: Discovery that I almost don’t know where to begin. Sceptics, begone! Surely this is the episode to show us that the new show can be everything we want it to be?

Words have been written elsewhere about the choice of perspective, with our sole viewpoint character being Burnham, rather than the full ensemble of a senior crew. It is indeed refreshing to be introduced to a Starfleet vessel from the lackey’s perspective, but it also serves to highlight an important thematic point: the crew of the Discovery, and perhaps Starfleet itself, have lost their way. While Burnham alone continues to want to seek out new life, in the form of Ripper, everyone else is focused only on “weaponising” it, or seeing it as a threat. She alone treats it as a possibly sentient being, and she alone embodies Starfleet’s ideals. I love the affinity she has with it, and the parallels between the way she views it and the way others view her. Burnham’s eyes swim as she describes it as just wanting to defend itself, and as, ultimately, peaceful and misunderstood. If the rest of her is Vulcan, Burnham’s eyes are still human- all her emotion is there, and Sonequa Martin-Green is brilliant. During the six months of Burnham’s incarceration, the galaxy seems to have gone mad, and we share her disorientation as we adjust to this version of the Federation.

I know some people wonder why this had to be another prequel (especially to TOS), and feel that this restricts the show. Usually I’m the first to bemoan such decisions, and when I first heard about the new Trek I too was hoping we’d get something post-Voyager. But this episode has won me over, because of the existence of the spores. Something is going to go wrong; hideously wrong. That’s why we don’t have this method of travel in TOS or beyond. Now the threat of what will happen hangs constantly over our heads, and I am sure that the usage of the spores will increase, as will Starfleet’s reliance upon them, and as the stakes rise, so does the tension, and tension (not context- sorry, Episode 3) is king. I was reminded painfully of the usage of Star Whales in this episode of Doctor Who, and I just hope that poor Ripper isn’t put through too much… I don’t think my heart can take it. 

I love a good antihero, and I already love Voq. So. Much. Pathos. And again, more parallels- both he and Burnham are outcasts, despised by their peers. Both have lost their beloved mentors, and each has the other to blame for this. I can’t wait for them to meet. The show ended with Voq contemplating Burnham’s image, as the architect of his downfall, and with Burnham receiving a poignant reminder of what Voq has taken from her. I look forward to Voq becoming the crazed Klingon despot he is surely destined to be. 

More, please!

I want to talk about Borne

22 Jun

This book! I find all of Jeff VanderMeer’s fiction deeply affecting, and I’m still trying to process his latest novel, Borne. It simultaneously broke my heart and lifted me up. I can’t think of another book I’ve found so moving and disturbing and yet also so beautiful and, eventually, positive. Warning: this splurge of thoughts may contain spoilerage. 

All of the stuff I love about Jeff VanderMeer’s fiction is here: corrupted nature; body horror; a decaying metropolis. Explorations of power and who wields it permeate (is it the Magician, who sells lies like a priestess sells religion- to comfort but also to control? Or Mord who, king-like, terrorises to rule? Or the Company, who ingest and spew out, a faceless, thoughtless consumerist nightmare that, unchecked, will destroy worlds?) And monsters! Such monsters, in every sense of the word. What makes a monster and what makes the opposite, a “person” – as Borne is so fond of saying and is so desperate to be – is another question that lurks behind much of the story. 

I loved Borne’s upbringing with Rachel. What parent hasn’t heard many of Borne’s myriad, impossible-to-answer questions from their own offspring? And the way in which Rachel questions herself, doubts herself, blames herself… Well, I have definitely been there as a parent, many a time. Ultimately, it’s nature, not nurture, that wins out for Borne – or is it? Rachel comments, more than once, that Borne appeared to her the way he thought she wanted him to be. And Rachel surely wanted nothing so much as a weapon with which to rid the city of the blight of Mord. 

There was a lot in this novel that for me echoed other fiction by VanderMeer, and not just the environmental themes or the beautiful, haunting descriptions of nature twisted. A big reveal towards the end, in particular, is reminiscent of a similar big reveal at the end of Finch. Rachel is a delightfully and self-consciously unreliable narrator, although not quite in the category of the narrators of Shriek: An Afterword, another of my favourites. 

I loved the cyclical nature of much of what happened. Rachel salvaged Borne, Wick had once salvaged Rachel, Rachel salvaged Borne again. I felt it most strongly through the cycles of creation and destruction we see. The Company creates monstrosities, destroying worlds in the process, but ultimately these creations will remake the world. The magician (and Wick) create memories, but the magician destroys children to do so. The magician, and Rachel in her way, create monsters, as did Wick, and Wick and Rachel’s creations destroy each other, and in so doing, create a new world. Even Mord, who destroys so much, creates his proxies (who then go on to destroy.) Have I tied myself in enough of a knot yet?

I should probably stop here. I just loved loved loved this book and cannot recommend it highly enough. Oh, and I want a swimming pool just like Wick’s. 

The Power by Naomi Alderman… READ IT!

20 Mar

A friend told me that I had to read The Power by Naomi Alderman. It wasn’t really on my radar until that point but man oh man am I glad I read it. (And I’m suddenly self-conscious about my choice of phrase there.) It’s one of those books that stays with you long after you stop reading. I think I read something that said it “will change the way you look at everything.” This isn’t hyperbole, although I’d probably describe it as bringing everything into sharp (and terrible) focus. More than once had to stop reading on the Tube because I realised I had started crying. That’s power, that is. 

Here’s a description of the book from the author’s website. In short, women suddenly acquire the ability to be physically dominant over men, and this changes the power dynamics between the sexes in ways that highlight the awful things we take for granted in our own patriarchal society. 

I rode the wave of the writing. I found the style taut and urgent and perfect for the story being told. I felt the book had as much to say about the societal pressures on men as it has to say about the way women are treated, and as well as being about gender, it is definitely also about power itself and the subtle way in which it is expressed (and the way in which the presence or absence of it permeates everything.) One character, a politician, ceases to give a shit about or be intimidated by a rival once she knows she has the ability to hurt him physically (even though he doesn’t know.) It reminded me of when I started to practise martial arts as a child: up until that point, I got picked on, and got into quite a lot of fights trying to defend myself. After a few months, I didn’t have any more fights, and I’m sure it was just down to the way I carried myself: I just wasn’t scared of getting hit any more.

I particularly liked the exchanges between Kristen and Tom (and later Matt), and the creeping way they were integrated into the main text, just as such frothy, reductive journalism does seem to creep into everything at the moment. I also loved the framing exchanges between the fictional author and his mentor, thousands of years in the future. I’d say it’s implied, rather than stated, that religion lies at the root of our own existing patriarchies, just as religion is wielded as a conscious weapon for control by Mother Eve in this book. I found the description of male genital mutilation, and of women as being naturally aggressive because they “have babies to protect” particularly thought-provoking. 

One might be tempted to think the book is suggesting that it is inevitable that those in power will abuse it. However, I think that’s missing the point of the story. The point is to shine a light on aspects of our existing cultures by completely reversing the balance of gender power. It is deliberately shocking (haha, no pun intended) but never sensationalist, and it deliberately takes things to their most extreme conclusion, but none of it is worse than what is happening to women right now.

Anyway: read it. Everyone should. 

[And now the weather on the ones… Sorry, couldn’t resist!]


Just Reminding Myself

14 Nov


O.M.G. Black. Mirror.

11 Nov

How timely that I have just discovered this amazing, amazing show. I’m slowly working my way through all the episodes (I’m about to start Season 3) and really could not have discovered it at a better time. I mean, totally this, this week:

I’ve seen a few things likening the above Season 2 episode The Waldo Moment to the current political situation in America (and, really, elsewhere.) The episode is scarily prescient, not to mention terrifying, and is probably my favourite so far, along with Fifteen Million Merits.

It’s not just the relevance of the stories that makes it so worth watching. It’s unusual and refreshing to find a new show with an anthology format, and the discreteness of each episode is a good lesson in complete story construction. Though I have heard people compare the show to The Twilight Zone, among other things, it also reminds me of a series called The Outer Limits, which I felt was really underrated at the time (over twenty years ago, and itself a remake of an earlier series…. Ye gods, I’m getting old!)

Anyway… More Black Mirror for me. Far less terrifying, and far more sensible, than the real world right now.

Lucid Dreaming: King of Dreams

1 Oct

I loved this radio piece on lucid dreaming. I’ve been a lucid dreamer since about age 8, although I will sometimes go for months without being able to properly control my dreams. 

Like others mentioned in this, I used to suffer with terrible nightmares. I sucked my thumb until I was at least <mumble mumble> years old, and so when I went to sleep I’d tell myself over and over that if I had a nightmare, all I’d have to do is bite down and the pain would wake me up. So my first experience of lucid dreaming was desperately biting down while zombies chased me across my school playground. (Zombies… It was always zombies. This is also possibly where my love of zombies comes from.)

I’m often aware I’m dreaming, but am not always able to control the dreams, in a fully lucid sense. And I have learned to wake myself up out of a dream at will. All of which means I now rarely have nightmares. 

Some (Spoiler-ish) Thoughts on The Force Awakens

21 Dec

Let me start by saying that I really enjoyed this film. Also… Female Jedi! Asian Admirals! Stormtroopers of colour!

There were so many lovely moments of homage to the original trilogy, and some delightful mirroring. And the whole thing was a lot more understated than the prequels (which unlike most, I didn’t hate. But then I’m one of those weirdos whose favourite Star Wars film is Return of the Jedi.) 

Rey made a great heroine. She had rescued herself by the time Finn arrived to help in their first scene together. And as she asserted several times, she did not need her hand held when escaping- a great reference to the many hand-holding scenes involving Leia in the original trilogy. As she turned the tables on Finn, charging towards him and the audience, she made sure we knew she would be no damsel in distress. I also loved the pathos of Finn’s character, and his journey as he tried to decide who he was.

It would be great* if, when we finally get to see Supreme Leader Snoke in person, he turns out to be really really tiny. Which brings to mind an entirely different character…

We went to a baby-friendly screening with our newborn. She chose her own outfit – honest:


[* Ok, maybe not “great.” But funny. It’d be funny. For about five seconds.]


20 Nov

I’m back. 

It’s been a while.

I’ll try not to be gone so longer ever again. Promise.