So… didn’t get around to this earlier because fatigue hit me pretty badly, but I had a great time at Mancunicon. It was my first time as a Guest of Honour (and, in time honoured fashion, I was 7 months pregnant, just like Finncon 2013 ^-^).
I arrived in the UK on Wednesday and had a great night out with the BSFA–many thanks to the BSFA, Andrea Dietrich, Chad Dixon, and especially to Ed Cox for the great interview!
Then met up with Zen Cho, who was travelling with me, and we got into Manchester easily (I love trains. So much easier than planes), and we chilled out until the con got into gear Friday midday.
The cooking demo
Things I learnt, in no particular order:
Got to visit the kitchens of the Hilton Deansgate–my first time in a professional kitchen. Wow, had no idea, that was very cool
Deliveroo is really awesome for takeaway food (eating in the room is really neat when fatigue levels are close to crashing). And many many thanks to Zen Cho for keeping my sugar levels up and my anxiety levels down.
Kari Sperring is an awesome interviewer–engaging and effortlessly keeping me talking (which is no mean feat when the room is full)
Apparently there’s a strong correlation between my having failed to prepare a speech (was too busy worrying about the cooking demo and completely failed to realise the awards were the same day) and my actually winning said awards. Kind of still flabbergasted at this one
Programming was very strong, only regret I didn’t make it to more panels. Also, Kari Sperring and I shouldn’t be on a panel about history together, we kind of encourage each other ^-^
The Saturday cooking demo was great–I was a bit worried because I’d never done that before, but it was well attended and we made a beautiful salad! Also, Zen Cho and I have a future as a comedy cooking duo if all else fails us
Mancunian weather apparently includes hail and horizontal rain. Which, even on the 23rd floor of a hotel, is something quite striking (and makes you glad you’re not under it. I’m given to understand Ian McDonald and a few others were, er, in the wrong place at the wrong time and got the brunt of it in their faces °_°)
Manchester doesn’t seem to have good Vietnamese restaurants (makes sense, there isn’t a big community there), but it does have awesome dim sum, yummmmm
To everyone whom I hoped to run into/who hoped to see me–I hope I managed to be at enough of the con that I could be grabbed/chatted with/listened to. I was always more tired than I expected, and being able to rest in the room made a big difference to levels of fatigue (yes, I know. Anyone could have told me I would be more tired than on a normal day. I’m possibly the only optimist who thought the, er, incubating would make little difference).
Going back took me most of Tuesday, but that was because I paced myself and allowed three hours’ changeover at St Pancras where I could sit and relax between trains.
My deepest thanks to the Con Committee, the con organisers/volunteers and the hotel staff for a great con; and to Gollancz for taking good care of me (and shipping my awards home, didn’t know what I’d have done otherwise!). Thanks as well to everyone who attended (and everyone who voted in the BSFA awards). It was a super experience. And now I get to sleep for the next two months before sleep becomes a thing of the long-ago past…
I’m told by Farah Mendlesohn that this is the first time anyone has walked away with the two fiction awards in the same year (previously Keith Roberts won both art and short fiction in 1986). The Guardian has a lovely piece here, courtesy of David Barnett (and yeah this is me going “OMG I’m in the Guardian” in case you had any doubts).
My thanks to everyone who read and voted in the awards and to everyone involved from the BSFA. I was also honoured to be part of two very strong shortlists and highly suggest you check out the other finalists.
Me with Gillian Redfearn and John Berlyne in the bar shortly afterwards.
I’ll be off with snakelet & family to a secluded location so I can write sleep. Email is (mostly) on hiatus, though if I owe you a thing it’s going to hopefully get done that week or the one after that! (you know who you are). Book promo stuff will still be posted: expect Shattered Wings Thursday to still happen. Social media might or might not happen (trying to get a little less addicted to the stuff).
And I will see you in London for those of you who are here: Blackwell’s High Holborn with Anna Caltabiano Wednesday August 5th 18:30 onwards (book tickets here, it’s free but you need to register your attendance); and Fantasy in the Court at Goldsboro Books here on August 6th 6:00pm-9:00pm (tickets £5, book here. Lots of other cool authors here!). FYI, The House of Shattered Wings finishes printing end of July, so hopefully there’ll be copies around.
The August newsletter will be a little late due to the aforementioned holiday, expect it around August 4th (earlier if I get through the to-do list faster than expected–one never knows!)
(and yeah, I know there was no July newsletter. Very sorry about that, but real life went a little bonkers on me).
(Picture: Fran Wilde, Navah Wolfe, Alyssa Wong and me)
Just a quick note that I’m still around but completely completely buried in explody real life (aka “not serious, but time consuming” events).
I had a lovely time at the Nebulas; and finally got to see Mad Max: Fury Road with Navah Wolfe, Fran Wilde, Alyssa Wong and her boyfriend Don (and it was great, OMG. First off, the last movie I saw was Interstellar, which a. wasn’t *very* good from my point of view, and b. was a long time ago! *sigh* toddlers). Now I feel like I’m all caught up with what everyone was saying on the internet! Also, it’s a fantastic 2-hour chase movie with a couple great leads (Charlize Theron is badass awesome, and Tom Hardy too, in a different way!).
And then there was this:
(Kat Tanaka Opoknik, Alyssa Wong, Ken Liu, Liu Cixin, and me)
Yes, there was tailcoat goodness 🙂 (for those who haven’t been following the adventures of the tailcoat: I basically got it for my book launch, aka “cosplaying my own characters”, in this case Selene, the head of House Silverspires and a dab hand with tailcoats, men’s clothes and general bad-assness. This was my first serious spin with it, and it went very well. Except I had to google how to tie a cravat because it’s been so long since I last did it ^^)
Didn’t actually win a Nebula, but had a great time at the banquet (Sheila Williams organises awesome table seating!) and was very happy for the winners.
Now I’m back in Paris, looking with apprehension at the mass of things I’m supposed to be doing (do not overcommit do not overcommit etc.), and gearing up for the summer before book release (*gulp*). More when my head is above water (hahaha who am I kidding).
Have been up to a number of things (including baking and preparing for the upcoming Nebula Awards, aka “eep, my first over-the-pond flight in 2 years! ). BTW, I don’t know how much I can publicy say about that, but there’ll be shiny book-related stuff at the Nebulas, so if brace yourself if you’re attending :p (also me in a Gothic tailcoat, looking snazzy. And jetlagged).
Not much book stuff, but I’ve been focusing on shorts: answering proofreader’s queries to the upcoming “The Citadel of Weeping Pearls” (in the Oct/Nov. issue of Asimov’s (the short version of this is that one should never put the simu-ghosts of 24 dead emperors in the same story unless one is prepared to do a lot *more* work to keep them straight and separate), and writing a couple new pieces!
Among them is this one, which is, er, mostly a retelling of this legend as a Xuya story (it’s always fascinated me. Mostly because I can’t imagine wasting away on an obsession, I guess).
In Da Trang’s nightmares, Pearl is always leaving–darting away from him, towards the inexorable maw of the Sun’s gravity, going into a tighter and tighter orbit until no trace of it remains–he’s always reaching out, sending a ship, a swarm of bots–calling upon the remoras to move, sleek and deadly and yet too agonisingly slow; to do anything, to save what they can.
Too late. Too late.
Yes, there are remoras. And crabs. And er. Angst. A lot of angst 🙂
Also, a brief reminder that today is the last day for getting a signed ARC of The House of Shattered Wings, my Gothic dark fantasy of a devastated Paris, fallen angels and political intrigues (and dead bodies, because this is a Bodard book :p): enter here!
 I think of it as prep for this summer, where I’ll be flying to Spokane on a *much* longer journey aka 3 connecting flights and 17 hours of zombie-inducing state…
Just a quick heads-up that I’m doing a bunch of writerly stuff in March/April:
Tuesday, March 25th, 17h30-19h30: North London Lit Festival (Middlesex University, Hendon Campus): Speculative Fiction authors Stephanie Saulter and Aliette de Bodard, chaired by Farah Mendlesohn
Saturday, March 28th & Sunday, March 29th: Luxcon 2015, (Tétange, Luxembourg). I’ll be Guest of Honour, and there’s a bunch of things I’m going to be doing (reading, signing & panel).
Friday April 3rd-Sunday April 5th early morning: Dysprosium, Eastercon 2015 (Park Inn Hotel, London Heathrow). Hanging around, meeting friends, the usual…
I’ll hopefully have print copies of On a Red Station, Drifting handy, grab me if you want one! (and/or if you have something else you want me to sign and/or if you want to chat. I’m at these things to meet people, and if it doesn’t look like I’m making a beeline for some prior engagement, or to my room in order to collapse, I’m always happy to stop and chat)
By popular request, the retranscription of my MIRcon GoH speech–there’s nothing much below that’s strikingly new, but it’s the first time I’ve actually put everything together in the same space; and there’s been interest on twitter and other social media on seeing this, so… here goes.
(I’ll skip the disclaimer that I’m going to do this speech in English instead of Spanish :p)
In many ways, Xuya started because of my relationship with genre–which is a bit of an odd one . I came to SFF in English (I discovered genre while I lived in the UK), but I’m not a “white Anglophone”: English isn’t my native language (that would be French); I live in the West but am not fully Western (my mother is Vietnamese, and Vietnamese culture strongly featured in my upbringing). I grew up in an interesting place, speaking and hearing several languages, and at the confluence of several cultures. When I read classic SF, with its stories of colonisation and conquest of space, I have this persistent feeling that I’m the funky-looking person with the odd customs, and the near-incomprehensible language–the alien rather than the coloniser.
(true story: some years ago, when I was reviewing short fiction for Tangent Online, there were a number of pieces that were so dependent on US/UK culture that I didn’t understand what was going on, and where I had to google to get at least an inkling of what the author was getting at–even set in the future, those stories depended, for instance, on current US politics and current societal concerns; stuff that was just bewilderingly mysterious to me. And, to date, I’m still pretty sure there’s stuff I entirely missed )
What I was trying to do with Xuya was to write the sort of thing that I wanted to read: a universe based on stuff that was familiar to me; and also a universe with very different cultures in presence. The basic idea of Xuya is that China discovers North America ahead of Europe, enabling the survival of some of the pre-Columbian empires–and creating a 20th-Century where North America is split between the Aztecs (Mexica Dominion), the Chinese (ex-colony of Xuya, now independent), and the United States (a much smaller and much poorer version). Further on, Xuya is about a space age where Asian cultures are dominant; and in particular, East Asian cultures (I’m putting Vietnam into East Asia because of the common points with Chinese culture that put it in a very different situation compared with the other SEA countries; but I’m aware it’s not the “official” classification).
Xuya, then, is about the interaction of different cultures with different values–because every culture has its mindset. I’ve ranted at length about this, but there’s a prevalent attitude that some stories are “universal”; and that it’s this universality that makes their success possible: works like Harry Potter or the Hunger Games have such wide impact because they tell a story that everyone can recognise and identify with.
To put it bluntly: I disagree. There is one universal story, and it is that we are human. We are born, we live, we die. We are social animals: we create bonds with other people; we have families and friends. We love, we fear, we hate. But there are nuances; and to erase such nuances is a grave mistake. To take just one example: there is a vast difference in mindset between a 15th-Century Vietnamese and a 21st-Century French. On the one hand, you have someone who values literature and education very highly because they’re the path to success as a government official; who worships their ancestors and would be ready to die for their parents; who believes that a career as a government official is the highest form of worldly success one can attain. We can argue about the value of education in the current French way of thinking, but it’s no longer believed that you have to know literature and be able to write good poetry in order to succeed in life. Similarly, the young are, by and large, not going to die for the old (they’re more likely to criticise or ignore the old).
What I wanted to do was to create a culture with a different mindset, without falling into clichés (the mystical Asians, the bloody-minded Aztecs). To my mind, that is the hardest thing to do, because, well. Assumptions are a bit like the air you breathe: they are incredibly hard to leave behind or objectively catalogue and study. You are born with them; bathed with them from a very early age; and they are continually reinforced at every moment of your life through the media, through your interactions with other people. Every movie you see, every news report you listen to, every conversation you have reinforces them–and you’re often unaware that you have such assumptions at all. And yet… societies different from ours would have a radically different mindset from ours, and I feel like this needs to be taken into account. Note that I’m not saying all SFF has to do this. There are plenty of excellent books where the society isn’t the focus; and that’s not a problem. But it’s what I want to do with my fiction. I want to write stories like Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and “Coming of Age in Karhide”, where a change in sexual mores results in profound societal impact that affects everything from families to politics; or like Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy, where Carthage never fell, and the resulting society is recognisably different from ours.
I wanted to show China/Vietnam/Mexica as vibrant cultures beyond the stereotypes–as cultures that lived, breathed; and changed. Because cultures change, too; because nothing remains static–and yet not every culture follows the Western notion of “progress”, the peculiar blend of consumerism and science we have achieved in our 21st Century societies. To take just a few examples: the Mexica religion in Xuya has modernised, but it hasn’t become a copy-paste of Christianity. It did drop the mass sacrifices, and replaced them with a focus on bloodletting and penance. It’s also remained dominant in society (again, unlike Christianity); and an enthusiastic patron of the sciences: unlike in our world, where science and religion don’t always happily coexist (to some extent, I suspect, because in the West the worship of religion has been replaced by the worship of science). 
What interactions can you have between a culture like China, for whom war is a disgrace, and soldiers eternal inferiors to scholars; and a culture like the Mexica, who believe war underlies everything (and who, in the 21st Century, shift from bloody wars to economical ones)? Between one that takes in all immigrants so long as they conform (change their names, religion and customs); and one that promotes greater diversity between immigrant groups, but has to deal with greater intergroup tension and more overt racism?
Of course, it’s not that simple–and cultures can’t be reduced to easy soundbites. Nor, indeed, are there any easy answers to the questions I ask! But it’s what I try to explore.
Xuya is also about motherhood and families.
The kindest thing you can say about SFF is that it has an abysmal track record on the matter. Families are at best absent from the narrative (beyond the occasional nuclear family); at worst, they’re killed off–and they tend to be seen as a hindrance that you have to get rid of before you can go off on an adventure. There is a tremendously high value being put on being alone and forging one’s own path–which isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially in dangerous environments!
Mothers, too, are often overlooked in SFF. I was part of a panel on SF and motherhood at the 2013 Eastercon: before the panel, I attempted to look for books that would feature mothers as characters in their own right–I even outsourced the question on social media. It was a very short-lived attempt, because the list turned out to be abysmally short to the point of non-existence.
I’m not going to be exclusively negative here, so let me give a positive example of a mother in SFF: Cordelia Naismith in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, and Barrayar in particular. Cordelia is a great character with a great amount of resourcefulness; she starts Barrayar pregnant, and gives birth during the novel–she plays a part not only as a mother, but also as a character in her own right. She’s not sidelined or meekly awaiting rescue (or worse, killed off): she plays a significant part in the rescue of her child, and in the subsequent civil war.
And, hum, the negative example. I’ll start with the disclaimer that I’m a big Star Wars fan, and that it was one of the major things that led me to genre. With that out of the way, I’ll tackle the thorny problem of the prequels; and in particular, of Amidala, who essentially dies in childbirth at the end of episode III. (yeah yeah I know the script says she “lost the will to live” or some such crap. I think it’s called postpartum depression. And incidentally, motherhood is the major mortality cause for women–any culture that has spaceships and is still not capable of birthing twins without losing the mother has got a serious priority problem). But it’s not only the mother of Luke and Leia who dies: episode IV then basically does it all over again, by killing off both sets of adoptive parents. If you think about it, the subtext is really quite nasty.
I wrote the Xuya space cycle to run counter to that narrative: I wanted to write space soap opera, or possibly domestic SF (doesn’t meant there can’t be explosions and other cool things! Just a heightened focus on family). I wanted to write stories with a strong familiar presence; and in particular the presence of an extended family (aunts and uncles and cousins); and how those families would change in a science fiction setting.
The Xuya universe has Minds, artificial intelligences carried in a human womb and subsequently transferred to a ship or space station. Among other things, Minds are designed to be very long-lived (if you’re going to go to all that trouble of implanting into a human womb and monitoring the pregnancy, you might as well go for long-lived and save yourself some work).
Among the subjects I wanted to tackle was that of different life-spans and their effect on family life: how do you deal with sibling rivalry when they both have radically different set of expectations? How do you live with a great-aunt who has been around for centuries, and who not only has known your great-greatparents, but will also be around when your grandchildren are adults? What happens when she vanishes or dies? How do you grieve? What do you do when your ancestors don’t die, but can be run as simulations in your own mind? What happens in a culture where knowledge (and in particular, the knowledge held by your ancestors) is crucial? What kind of advantages or inheritance can you give your children?
Of course, family is both a stricture and a comfort: I try to focus more on the comfort side of things because I feel it’s underplayed in SFF, but there are familial obligations–and On a Red Station, Drifting in particular focuses on family honour; on how to deal with relatives you might have absolutely no liking for, but that you are still duty bound to protect–what is your duty to your family, and how far are you prepared to go to follow it?
Another theme of the Xuya universe is war, and families in times of war. My personal preference is to show war, not from the point of view of the soldiers, but from those of the civilians who are deeply affected, yet powerless. War is, by nature, a time of difficult decisions–and those decisions are amplified by the presence of families. Who do you rescue if you can’t rescue everyone? When do you flee? When do you make a stand? When you become a refugee, how much do you give up, and how many moral principles are you wiling to compromise on in order to survive?
Again–those are hard questions, and I don’t have glib answers to them (or answers, period!). But those are themes I try to explore in the Xuyan stories; and to deal with through the lens of a different universe with very different expectations.
Thats why I write Xuya–thank you for making it this far, and I hope you enjoy the stories 🙂
Pretty sure plenty of other people have odd relationship with genre 🙂
Not saying there’s systematic antagonism between religion and science today (in particular, various denominations of Christianity have various approaches and strike a different balance)
The short version of this con report is: Hispacon rocks, and you should all go 🙂
The long(ish) version: I had a great time at MIRcon, the Hispacon in Barcelona. It’s a small convention (70-80 attendees, if I understood correctly), but it’s a very friendly and enthusiastic one: spread over several locations, it had a junior track, a sister con in Catalan (MIRcat), and a bunch of really prestigious guests (Nina Allan, Christopher Priest, Karin Tidbeck and Felix J Palma). I survived the delivery of my speech (and Silvia Schettin kindly provided a great interpretation–I think we’re both very glad it went, well since we were equally nervous about it :p); had a delightful impromptu roundtable with Spanish fans which converted into a Q&A session in Spanish (the audience kindly shouted the translations of those words I didn’t know at me; though after that hour of answering questions, I basically was ready for a high-calorie meal and some quiet time); signed a bunch of download cards (my Spanish editor, Fata Libelli, is ebooks only, but they had brought over cardboard books with a download code); and enjoyed a spot of gastronomy. I caught up with pan tumaca and great ham; and had a tussle with the Lobster of Doom (it started out as a bunch of us ordering arroz negre, a local specialty of rice with squid ink. Following a misplaced order, we ended with rice with lobster. Which would have been fine, if said lobster had come with actual decent tools. A flimsy pair of pliers and a knife don’t count–though you’ll be pleased to know that I did prevail in the end).
I also got to hang out with fabulous people (caught the tail end of the interview with Christopher Priest; and the tail end of Nina Allan’s interview; and sadly had to miss out on Karin Tidbeck’s brilliant speech due to a signing session), brushed up on my (rusty) Spanish; and attended the Ignotus Awards. And, hum, got to snatch some sleep (desperately missed in the weeks since the snakelet started crawling around the house).
So all in all, a great experience. My deepest thanks to the organisers and everyone who contributed to making this a great experience: the con team (Gemma, Miquel, Ismael, Oscar, Lupe, Raquel, and I sincerely hope I haven’t forgotten anybody, apologies if I did 🙁 ); Silvia Schettin and Susana Arroyo, my editors at Fata Libelli; Ian Watson and Cristian Macias for the great tour of Barcelona (and for showing me Gigamesh, aka the genre temple in Barcelona); Sofia Rhei for the company and the lovely book (the adventures of Young Moriarty–in Spanish!) and Leticia Lara for the great lunch, and the free copy of Alucinadas (an anthology of SF by women in Spanish, which I’m looking forward to reading).
I am given to understand that next year’s Hispacon is in Granada–what are you waiting for?
Just a quick reminder that this weekend, I’ll be at MIRcon in Montcada i Reixac, not far from Barcelona.
I’ll have a few copies of Obsidian and Blood and On a Red Station, Drifting (and of course you can buy “El Ciclo de Xuya” and the forthcoming “En una Estacion Roja, a la Deriva” from the excellent Fata Libelli–that last will be out for the MIRcon). Silvia Schettin, my editor, has let me know they’ll quite probably have cards with QR codes, letting you buy the book, and letting me sign it 🙂
And, hum, I’ll do a speech. An actual 1-hour thing focusing on the writing of Xuya and the difficulties faced (ok, it’s going to be less than that because it has to be translated. I did consider doing it in Spanish to fit in with the rest of the con, but the sad truth is that my Spanish is nowhere good enough to resist a stressful situation like this. I speak well enough for every day conversation, but in front of a room full of people… is asking too much, I’m afraid).
The full schedule is here. Come see Karin Tidbeck, Christopher Priest, Nina Allan, Félix J. Palma and many other people!
The usual reminder (stolen from Kate Elliott): I go to conventions to meet people, so if I don’t look like I’m making a beeline for my hotel room to collapse, feel quite free to come up to me, I’d be quite happy to chat. As I said–I can handle Spanish, French, English (Catalan is not on the list of languages spoken, alas. I can understand it when it’s written down and that’s about it).
Very pleased to announce I’ll be a Guest of Honour at Eurocon 2016 in Barcelona, along with Richard Morgan, Jun Miyazaki, and Enrique Corominas. Dates are 4-6 November 2016. (yeah, you’ll have noticed I seem to go to Barcelona quite a bit those days. Not complaining, it’s a great city, the food is awesome, and I get to practise my–ailing–Spanish…)