Issue #24

This is the October 2020 issue of Salon Futura. Here are the contents.


  • Cover: The Divine She-Wolf: This issue's cover is "The Divine She-Wolf" by Aleksandar Žiljak

  • Vagabonds: A review of Hao Jingfang's debut novel, Vagabonds

  • Machine: A review of Elizabeth Bear's latest White Space novel, Machine

  • Lovecraft Country: A review of the TV series based on Matt Ruff's novel, Lovecraft Country

  • Ring Shout: A review of P Djèlí Clark's novella, Ring Shout

  • The First Sister: A Review of Linden A Lewis's debut novel, The First Sister

  • Futuricon: A report on Futuricon, the 2020 Eurocon held in Rijeka, Croatia

  • Octocon: A report on the 30th anniversary of Ireland's annual convention, Octocon.

  • FIYAHcon: A report on FIYAHcon, and event run by and for fans of colour

  • Seven Devils: A review of Seven Devils, a space opera novel by Elizabeth May and Laura Lam

  • Editorial – October 2020: A new month, a new look. Also, Woooooooo! -- Hallowe'en

Cover: The Divine She-Wolf

I was going to use the cover of As The Distant Bells Toll for this issue, but when I came to put the issue together I noticed that I didn’t have the raw art, only the versions with text. Rather than bother Ben, I made a cover myself using some of the interior art that Aleksandar Žiljak created for the book. This one is for the story, “The Divine She-Wolf”, which is one of my favourites from the book.

Vagabonds

VagabondsThis is a remarkable book. I was hoping to have it in the last issue, but it took me a lot longer to read that I expected. There are two main reasons for that. But before I get to them, a quick introduction.

Hao Jingfang is one of the rising stars of Chinese science fiction. Her novelette, “Folding Beijing”, made her the fist Chinese woman to win a Hugo Award. Also she has a PhD in macroeconomics, so she has a good understanding of how modern societies are constructed. The book is masterfully translated by Ken Liu.

I found the book a very slow read. It reminded me a lot of Liu Cixin’s The Three Body Problem, which I didn’t finish. In part both books felt very Asimov-like, and maybe Chinese SF is still working its way out of the need to write in that sort of explanatory, giving-you-a-science-lesson style. However, I think there is more to it than that. What I found myself missing was a sense of foreshadowing.

By that I don’t mean the obvious stuff, where a character has a thought and the author adds, “but she would soon find out how wrong she was.” I mean that I didn’t have any sense of where the story was going, or what I should look forward to by way of a climax. I got a vague idea at the beginning, and that turned out to be right in the end, but in the meantime the book was all over the place. I am now wondering if this is a feature of Chinese fiction.

An analogy might help. Typically Western fiction is like a portrait. There are one or more central characters (or themes) and you know you should be focusing on them. Vagabonds felt more like a landscape with no obvious focal point. You are supposed to look at all of it, because there are lots of interesting things to see, but no one thing is central.

I may be totally off base here, of course. Ken, Regina, if you happen to read this, please tell me if I am talking nonsense.

The other reason that the book took me so long to read is that there is a whole lot to think about. Here is the basic set up.

We are in a new-future world and there is a colony on Mars. Some years ago the colony rebelled against Earth control and declared independence. There was a war, which the Martians won primarily because it was too expensive for Earth to fight so far from home. Now that the heroes of that war are old men, it is time for the two planets to try to come together again.

As part of the diplomatic effort, a group of young Martians, chosen from the brightest of their age group, are sent to Earth to study. In a nod to times past, they are called the Mercury Group. Now they are on their way home, and they are having to face re-integrating back into Martian society after several years on a very different planet.

The Earth of the novel is very much our world writ large. It is given over entirely to rapacious capitalism. Everything is driven by marketing. Everyone is an individual, free to do whatever they like, provided that they have the money to do so, and can make more money by doing it.

Mars is very different. The atmosphere is not breathable, so everyone lives in a single, large city, made mostly from glass because sand is one resource that Mars has in abundance. Many things are communally owned. Everyone has a place in society, and is trained to take up that place as soon as they have shown what social need they are best capable of fulfilling.

If you haven’t seen it yet, let me explain. Vagabonds is in direct conversation with The Dispossessed, widely touted as one of the best science fiction novels ever written. That is a staggeringly ambitious thing to do for a debut, but Hao makes a very creditable stab at it.

There is more to it as well. Le Guin was mostly writing about conversations between two opposing political philosophies within America. With Vagabonds it is hard not to see the book as being about the USA and China. It isn’t, of course, because China is not vulnerable and resource-constrained in the way that Mars is. However, Hao has the advantage of having lived in a planned economy, and has the academic skills to back up what she is doing. I can see lots of academic papers being written about this book.

The problem for our heroes is that they have now tasted the freedom of Earth. Mars, on their return, suddenly feels horribly repressive. Being students, their thoughts turn to revolution. This is complicated by the fact that our main viewpoint character, Luoying, is the granddaughter of Hans Sloan, the man who has been First Consul since the War of Independence, and is known on Earth as the Dictator of Mars.

She looked up at him, her eyes glistening. “The problem isn’t whether things are good here but that you can’t think it’s not good here.”

There’s just so much to think about in this book. I have a whole pile of quotes bookmarked and not enough space in a simple review to talk around them all. It isn’t always easy to understand the points that Hao is making either. I got the impression as I went through the book that I would not understand it properly without some grounding in Confucianism and Buddhism, which have very different modes of philosophical thought to what we are used to from Classical Athens.

There’s one final point that I want to make. Hao uses the Mercury group in her novel because they are people who have experienced both Terran and Martian society. Almost uniquely they are able to compare and contrast the two. But this puts them in a very difficult situation.

Luoying and her friends were fated never to return home. The ship they were on was forever vacillating on the Lagrangian point between the two worlds. To vacillate was also never to belong. It was their fate to be cosmic vagabonds.

That’s a metaphorical ship, of course. What Hao means is that having seen both societies, Luoying and her friends no longer feel at home in either. The only “home” they have is each other, people who share the same life experience.

This brings me to a new series of online talks being put on by the folks who produced FutureCon. They will, I think, be monthly, and the first one focused on pan-American SF beyond the USA. One of the panellists was Alejandra Decurgez from Argentina. She’s a psychologist in her day job, and she said a lot of interesting things. At one point she started talking about how our sense of community is very different in these days of global pandemic. Our group of friends is no longer the people we see daily in our local geographic spaces, or at work, but the group of individuals that we interact with regularly online. Typically we choose these friends because they share similar values to us, and those values may be very different from those of the nation states in which we live. In a very real way, we are all becoming Hao’s vagabonds.

book cover
Title: Vagabonds
By: Hao Jingfang
Translator: Ken Liu
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Bookshop.org UK
See here for information about buying books though Salon Futura

Machine

MachineSomewhat to my surprise, Machine is Elizabeth Bear’s thirty-second novel. It shows. This is a second book in her White Space series of space opera books, and it is very assured. There is some possibility that the White Space series is named, in part, for the Sector General books of the legendary James White, and this book introduces us to Bear’s future hospital.

Machine, then, is not a direct sequel to Ancestral Night. There’s no Haime Dz, and Singer, the spaceship from the first book, only makes a guest appearance. Machine centres on Dr Brookllyn Jens and the crew of I Race to Seek the Living (aka Sally). They are a search and rescue crew, whose job it is to answer distress signals from spaceships with medical emergencies. Dr Jens is the crew member who gets to board stricken spaceships to determine if they are safe, and possibly haul the injured out of something that is about the explode.

For their latest mission, Jens and her colleagues have been sent to investigate an ancient generation ship called Big Rock Candy Mountain. It has recently been discovered by a ship crewed by alien methane breathers. On arrival Jens finds the two ships docked, and the aliens comatose. The crew of the generation ship are all in cryo tanks, save for a fembot who gives her name as Helen Alloy, and who seems to have some serious psychological issues after so long alone. Oh, and if this is indeed a ship from Earth there’s no way it should be where it is, traveling at the speed it is.

Long-time SF readers will, of course, note the reference to Lester Del Rey’s famous story, “Helen O’Loy”.

It being their job, our heroic medics take both ships in tow and haul them back to Core General, the main hospital at the centre of the galaxy. Saving lives comes first, figuring out the mystery of what happened is a job for someone else. Sometimes heroic medics can be spectacularly foolish.

Most of the action is set in Core General, and this does reunite us with one character from Ancestral Night, Constable Cheeirilaq, the mantis-like alien who is what passes for law enforcement in the White Space world. Complicating matters is the fact that the hospital’s expert in cryonics, Dr Rilriltok, is a male of the same species.

Rashaqin reproduction is harrowing. Their entire social order is built to keep adults well-separated, with lots of private space, so they don’t accidentally eat one another. The spawn are aquatic and generally not considered to be sentient until they pass through the nymph stage and emerge on land in their penultimate instar as miniature adults. At this point, they are taken into crèches and educated by carefully organised, regimented communities of adults.

This is probably for the best, as the spawn are both numerous and cannibalistic. On Rashaq, they’re left to themselves until they moult out into that educable stage.

At times it seems like Bear might have been listening to one of my lectures on worldbuilding with sex and gender, except that I know that Bear is smart enough to have done all of the research herself without any of my help.

There is some exploration of human behaviour as well. Cheeirilaq doesn’t understand why humans mostly subscribe to binary gender when someone like Jens is a lesbian and quite masculine in gender presentation.

I laughed. It was charming, for a creature entirely out of nightmare. Comparing it to the almost embarrassingly adorable Rilriltok, I could see what it meant about my species’s lack of dimorphism. “I don’t think of myself as very strongly gendered. And I could elect a genderless identity, or a mixed-gender identity, if I preferred.”

Wouldn’t that be less work?

“Oh probably,” I admitted. “Sure. But I choose to inhabit this conceptual space. To stretch it to accommodate me, rather than allowing it to contract. Because once a conceptual space starts to shrink by squeezing people out of it, it has a tendency to accelerate, and shrink and shrink and shrink until it squeezes out more and more people.”

And your conceptual space is woman.

“For now. Identities can be fluid over lifetimes, after all.”

The observant among you will have noticed that, despite their high degree of sexual dimorphism, the Rashaqin use “it” as their pronoun. Somehow I want to get that exchange into my trans awareness courses.

All of the above, however, is a bit of a side-track. The main thrust of the plot is about a virus, which is fortuitous considering that Bear must have written most, if not all, of this book before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It is also about socialised medicine, which is a very hot topic in both the USA and UK right now.

To sum up, an excellent science fiction novel by a very assured writer who is just as at home referencing the history of the field as she is diving into contemporary politics. Thirty-two novels in a 15-year career, and achieving this level of quality, is an impressive achievement.

book cover
Title: Machine
By: Elizabeth Bear
Publisher: Gollancz
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Bookshop.org UK
See here for information about buying books though Salon Futura

Lovecraft Country

Well, that was interesting. Normally I don’t watch horror on TV. Lovecraft Country was very clearly filmed as horror, but mostly seemed more silly than scary. That, of course, is in no small part due to the fact that trying to represent the unspeakably horrible on screen is always doomed to failure. When we throw in the fact that this is Lovecraft we are talking about, and what he was terrified of was particularly weird, well you have no chance.

There was a lot of movie blood spurting everywhere. Hopefully it was easier to clean up than real blood.

There was also a lot of sex. Possibly this is prudish of me, but I tend to think that watching other people have sex is incredibly boring compared to actually doing it yourself. However, I was able to console myself that Lovecraft himself would be absolutely mortified to think that a TV series based on his life’s work was filled with so much groaning and humping.

It is a long time since I read Matt Ruff’s book. I definitely recognised parts of the story, but I’m in no position to know how closely Misha Green stuck to the original. More to the point, I don’t think it matters. I’m sure that one of Ruff’s objectives in handing the book over to a bunch of Black creatives to play with, would have been to allow actual Black people to put their stamp on things.

I hope, in turn, that the series worked well for Black viewers. There was a panel on the series at FIYAHcon, and it was clear that there were a number of reservations, especially from some of the audience. There’s always an issue, when a marginalised group gets a chance in the spotlight, that you have to be perfect or it will reflect badly on the entire group. That’s true for Black people, and it is true for Queer people. Lovecraft Country featured a number of Queer Black people, and that’s more than double jeopardy.

The problem is that many of the characters in Lovecraft Country are not very nice people. And I don’t just mean the whites. Personally I’m pleased that Misha Green and her team elected to roll with it. Being able to have bad people who are Black and Queer is an important part of liberation, because if people are not allowed to be bad then they are not free.

There is an honourable exception to the cast. I’m very fond of Hippolyta. The episode that she stars in will be on my Hugo ballot next year.

The final question to ask about any TV series is whether the ending worked. Given that this is cosmic horror, the finale was always going to be a lot silly. Nevertheless, I thought the show did very well. I particularly loved the final scene. In some ways, that final episode might be the scariest thing about the show. Of course it is only potentially scary for white people, but if we are scared by it, we very much deserve it.

Ring Shout

Ring ShoutIt is entirely true that Phenderson Djèlí Clark is one of my favourite writers right now. I have loved everything he has done to date, and Ring Shout does not disappoint.

As the cover suggests, this is a story about the Ku Klux Klan, but it is not quite the Klan as we know it. Thanks to some of the leading members of the organisation dabbling in evil magic, strange creatures have found their way through to our world from a parallel universe, and they are posing as Klan members in order to stir up more of that delicious hatred on which they feed. If you happen to be an actual demon, running around in long white robes and a big, pointy white hood is a very useful disguise.

Ranged against them is a group mainly formed of black women. Our narrator is Maryse Boudreaux, who has a magic sword. Her best friends are Sadie, who is a bit of a firebrand and a dab hand with a rifle, and Chef, who dressed as a man to fight in WWI and is useful with explosives. They form a very effective monster-hunting team. Their boss is an old witch woman called Nana Jean, and back at HQ (and old farm) they have backup such a Molly Hogan, a scientist of sorts, and Emma Krauss, a German woman with a penchant for revolutionary Communism.

Most importantly, Nana Jean has a group of people who can perform Ring Shouts. These are religious rituals supposedly first practiced in slave communities in the Americas, but which I suspect owe a lot to similar ceremonies held back in Africa.

Clark has a lot of fun introducing various unsavoury aspects of 1920s America, including Prohibition and the odious DW Griffith who not only produced the hugely racist film, Birth of a Nation, but was also the first person to use a transphobic joke in a movie.

The book is a novella, so there’s not a lot of depth to the plot, but there’s plenty of character work. Maryse, in particular, has a string narrative arc. I particularly liked the fact that her boyfriend gets captured by the bad guys and she has to rescue him. I was a little nervous about Clark writing a story about three rambunctious women with active sex lives, but I think he has done a decent job of that side of it.

And in the middle of all that, there’s a little nod to Falcon from the Marvel movies.

So yeah, Ring Shout is a lot of fun, and I cannot wait for Clark’s debut novel next year.

book cover
Title: Ring Shout
By: P Djèlí Clark
Publisher: Tor.com
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Bookshop.org UK
See here for information about buying books though Salon Futura

The First Sister

The First SisterThis one is a science fiction debut. It is solar system based, but sufficiently far removed from our time to feel more like space opera than The Quiet War or The Expanse.

There are two major civilisations. Let’s start with the Icarii, who control Mercury and Venus. Their society is essentially capitalist, with a strong arts and science interest. Wealthy Icarii are extensively engineered in the womb to look beautiful. They have made all sorts of technological advances. The top military agents are “duellists” — pairs of elegant warriors with programmable blades, telepathically linked via devices implanted in their skulls.

Our viewpoint character is Lito sol Lucius. He’s a kid from the lower reaches of Cytherea, the main city on Venus, who by strength of will and talent has made it into the duellist corps. Up until recently, he was partnered with Hiro val Akira, but following the conquest of Ceres by the enemy the pair have been separated. Hiro is the black sheep of the immensely wealthy Akira family who control much of Venusian industry. They are non-binary, and show little interest in becoming a cog in the family machine. This does not please Akira’s autocratic father one bit.

As for the enemy, that would be the Geans, who control Mars and Earth (though the latter seems not to be in a fit state for much inhabitation). They have a much more authoritarian society, controlled by two major organisations, the military and the church. However, this is not a church we would recognise. It worships a mother goddess, and its priestesses are seconded to the military as spiritual counsellors, confessors, and providers of sexual services.

Our other main character is the titular First Sister. She has no name, nor a voice. Both were taken from her when she entered the priesthood. As First Sister of the battleship Juno, she has been the exclusive companion of Captain Deluca. He is due to retire from service, and has promised to take her with him. But something goes wrong and the First Sister finds herself stuck on the Juno with a new Captain, Saito Ren. Captain Ren is a former Ironskin pilot (think clunky Iron Man suits in space) and the hero of the conquest of Ceres, but she was badly wounded in the battle, losing and arm and a leg. Gean bioscience is well behind that of the Icarii so she has fairly crude prosthetics.

There is one other important aspect to this future world, the Asters. They are an offshoot of humanity, evolved to live in the asteroid belt, and deemed subhuman by both Icarii and Geans. They form an underclass for both civilisations, not quite slaves, but with no hope of social advancement.

There are the Synthetics too, but they have gone off to live beyond Jupiter and promised faithfully to destroy any humans who trespass on their territory. I presume we’ll meet them in a future novel.

That’s the world that Linden A Lewis has created for The First Sister. The plot is essentially one of espionage. Both main characters are agents of their governments. Lito is given a new partner and sent back to Ceres with a mission to assassinate The Mother, the head of the Gean church. The First Sister is asked to spy on Captain Ren because in a society like the Gaens you can bet that the two organs of state are always plotting against each other. One of the beauties of the book is the way in which Lewis has both protagonists trapped by their superiors into doing things they strongly dislike because the costs of disobedience are even more horrific.

Having noted that one of the lead characters was in enforced sexual slavery, I was a little worried that the book would contain a lot of sexual violence. I’m happy to say that’s not the case. Obviously the priestesses are exploited, but they perform other functions as well as they are shown learning skills to navigate the situation rather than just being painted as victims.

I have found that the secret of smiling even if you don’t feel like it is to focus on something else instead of where you’re looking. I imagine my harboured daydreams of living on solid, gravity-controlled land with a house and a little garden of my own, grown for the glory of the Goddess in peaceful quietude. That always makes me smile trues, so when Jones looks at me, he sees love and thinks it’s for him.

Something else I liked about the book is the occasional attention to architectural detail.

The building’s stocky construction favors the Gean Modernist style. The bottom floors curve with the elegance of florals, punctuated by jutting spurs reminiscent of bones. The walls shimmer with ceramic scales as iridescent as an insect’s wings in soft pinks and blues. The double door handles taper in the middle from the swelled knots on the ends like a human femur. On the second floor, balconies protrude with the sharpness of a jawbone. The windows are bare ports, no two the same, and split as natural rock would be. Each opening is filled with grasping green plants that climb upward or dangle to the floor below.

I suspect that Gean Modernist architecture owes a certain amount to the influence of Gaudi.

That’s about as much as I can tell you without going into detail on the plot. I should note that I fairly raced through the book because I was keen to find out what the heck was going on. I should also note that there are some pretty spectacular plot twists. I’m not entirely sure that it all hangs together, but it was good enough to make for an entertaining story that ends a fairly satisfying way while setting us up for a sequel (a trilogy is promised). As a debut it was very impressive. I hope this book does well, because I’m sure that Lewis will get even better with time, and I don’t want to see them dumped because early sales aren’t good enough for the publishers to put any effort behind the rest of the series.

book cover
Title: The First Sister
By: Linden A Lewis
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Bookshop.org UK
See here for information about buying books though Salon Futura

Futuricon

This year’s Eurocon was due to be in Croatia. I was very much looking forward to it, not the least because I was planning to have two Croatian books available at the event. As it turned out, of course, most of us were not able to go, and I only had one book available. Pandemics suck.

Nevertheless, the Croatians decided to put on a virtual convention for us, and many of them turned up in person at the planned convention site to help run it. They have much better virus management in Croatia than we do in the UK. This made it something of a hybrid convention, though the in-person element was quite small.

It seemed to be that the con was a little bit run on a shoestring. The tech always seemed just on the edge of collapsing. I’m not going to complain about that. I’m hugely impressed that anyone manages to put on virtual conventions at the moment, given how little practice we’ve had. But I will note, for future reference, that if you are thinking of doing such a thing you should not plan on using Jitsi, even if it is cheap, because it seems way too unreliable.

I had two programme items. One was a chat with Aleksandar Žiljak and Mihaela Perković about Croatian fiction, and in particular Aleksandar’s new book. The other was my funny animals talk, aka “Worldbuilding with Sex and Gender”. The talk did get recorded, but as of yet there’s no sign of the recordings being made available. However, an essay based on the talk will be in a book forthcoming from Luna Press Publishing next year.

There were lots of other fun panels, and the chat in Discord was good because the numbers were relatively small. As usual Sylvia Spruck Wrigley was one of the stars. Her talk, “To Oldly Go”, about elderly people in Star Trek, was one of the highlights of the weekend for me.

The ESFS Awards were duly given out. Ireland swept up quite a lot of them (full list of winners here). I do love the Irish, but I can’t help feel that they have something of an advantage, because they write mostly in English, and that means that many people from other European countries can read their work.

Which brings me to the final point about Eurocon. By US/UK standards it is not a very diverse event. There was one person in the Discord who seemed determined to find an excuse to bring social media down on the convention’s head because of this. But Eurocon is diverse in other ways. Most of the attendees do not speak English as their first language. Nevertheless, and despite the fact that the UK is turning its back on Europe, and UK fandom has always mostly turned its back on Eurocon, English is the common tongue of the convention.

Alongside the language issue, Eurocon continues to struggle with the problem of vastly different cultures. Hungary and Poland are now very scary countries. Romania, Bulgaria and other small Eastern countries continue to be very poor in comparison to the West. Eurocon is very much part of the European Project, and thus an important institution in these times of escalating international tensions. As such it is an important institution that needs our backing.

Octocon

For those not familiar with European conventions, Octocon is an annual event held in Dublin. This year it is celebrating its 30th anniversary, which is an impressive achievement. It is a great shame that it was no able to do so in person.

I first went to Octocon in 1999, and things were a little chaotic. Two decades later the convention is very smooth. Communication was good. The branding was good. Technically they had it all together. Programme items were streamed through Twitch for very much the same reasons as we ran CoNZealand Fringe through StreamYard. It gives you much better control over the live event than using raw Zoom. Twitch itself is a bit of a nightmare, being a centre for the streaming of all sorts of things, but thankfully you don’t need to pay much attention to it.

Of particular significance to me was the fact that the convention’s Fan Guests of Honour were a trans woman and her wife. Congratulations, Philippa and Helen, you very much deserve it.

I had just the one panel, titled “Better with Age – Older Characters in SFF”. I guess I’m being stereotyped again. But it was great fun, and I was honoured to be on panel with Ian McDonald, Gillian Polack and Marguerite Smith. I also had to be on hand for Juliet McKenna’s reading.

There were parties too and, because the convention was free to attend, anyone could drop in. I nudged Kevin and he was able to join us for the Glasgow in 2024 party and the Dead Dog.

There was a Discord, and as the convention was fairly lightly attended it worked very well.

Thanks to being on top of the tech, Octocon has been able to put all of the content up for viewing already. You can find links to all of the panels here.

Good job, Irish pals. But hopefully I will be able to come to Dublin again soon. I miss your lovely city.

FIYAHcon

FIYAHcon was not for me. I went along anyway to see how they did, and to listen and learn.

It seemed to go very smoothly. I don’t think that they used a wrapper for Zoom, but the panels ran OK. Some of the moderation was a little dodgy, but that was true of FutureCon and Futuricon as well. Practice makes perfect, and Tempest Bradford did a fine job with the Lovecraft Country panel.

The thing that struck me most about FIYAHcon was the sheer excitement and enthusiasm so many of the attendees showed. Here was a large group of fans who happened to be people of colour, and who for years had felt nervous in the mostly-white spaces of traditional conventions. Now at last they had a convention created by them, for them, and they were loving the freedom that they felt to express themselves. It was absolutely delightful.

The con was very well attended as well, despite having a non-trivial membership fee. I think there were around 1000 people online. That’s great, but it also seems to be the point at which using Discord for panel discussion seems to break down. As with at WisCon, we got to the situation where comments were flying by so quickly that it is was impossible to have a conversation. Much of the content was squee, and I totally understand why that was happening, but it is something for the ConCom to think about for future iterations.

There will, of course, be future iterations. As with FutureCon, I expect FIYAHcon to be a regular feature of the convention scene for years to come. This will be a challenge for established conventions such as Worldcon and World Fantasy. I saw a comment on Twitter, I think from Jared Shurin, that one of the good things about FIYAHcon was that the committee cared more about the convention than their own egos. This is spot on. One of the biggest problems that Worldcon faces is that, having won the right to hold the convention, each year’s ConCom is then heavily invested in proving that their Worldcon is the best ever, rather than doing Worldcon well.

FIYAHcon (and FutureCon) will have the benefit of having an established team running the event year after year. That brings with it a different raft of problems. There will be burnout. There will be rivalries within the ConCom. There will be a tendency to not want to change because change is scary. But these are still a way off. I very much look forward to seeing what they do next time.

Much of the FIYAHcon content is now available to re-watch, but you do have to have to have been a convention member to access it. As it was only a week ago, I haven’t had time to check it out yet, but there’s quite a bit that I want to catch up on, including several of the Fringe items which happened when I was asleep.

Seven Devils

Seven DevilsI wish I liked this book more than I do, because parts of it are a lot of fun. Parts of it, however, have me rolling my eyes.

One of the causes of this is the fact that the book is very much written to wind up the sort of people who complain about having too much “politics” in their science fiction, when what they actually have is a diverse cast of characters. The little group of plucky rebels fighting against an evil galactic empire that star in this book tick just about every diversity box going, except that there are no men. It is a fun joke, but perhaps too obviously a wind-up.

Another issue is that the book seems to be scripted as if it was a TV series. The plot really doesn’t hang together very well, the villains are cartoonish, and it is full of obvious cliché action sequences: trapped in an elevator shaft, dodging a security laser field, flying through an asteroid belt and so on.

However, Seven Devils has a lot of good points too. And I suspect that Elizabeth May and Laura Lam had a lot of fun writing it. Possibly quite a bit of whisky too. Or cocktails; whatever floats their boat, but they are based in Scotland. Here’s some stuff I liked.

Rhea, the reformed Courtesan, is not just a tart-with-a-heart. May and Lam have thought about how to make her useful to the team. Ariadne, the autistic software wizard who was raised by the Evil Empire’s AI also has a really interesting backstory.

There’s the occasional reminder that we are in a space opera:

Nyx made her way around the bridge. “All out like newgrowns still wet from the vat,” she confirmed.

And the evil Prince Damocles is a beautiful portrait of toxic masculinity in action.

Plus, why can’t women have a bit of rollicking space adventure action for themselves for once? Men have had plenty of corny nonsense to enjoy for decades. It is about time we had some of our own.

Finally, at some point in one of the sequels there will be probably be an opportunity for lots of people to shout, “Hail Eris! All Hail Discordia!” Which for some of us of a certain age will be a delightful moment.

book cover
Title: Seven Devils
By: Elizabeth May & Laura Lam
Publisher: Gollancz
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Bookshop.org UK
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