Geoff Ryman interview

•July 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I’m just back from a great Readercon, and looking forward to going to Loncon 3, the World Science Fiction Convention, next month. I’ll be posting my Loncon schedule shortly, but in the meantime this is a quick post to say that I’ll be interviewing Geoff Ryman – author of The Child Garden, 253, Lust, and Was... (among others) for the BSFA on 30th July in London. Full details are here – admission is free and all are welcome.

Readercon schedule

•June 27, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I’ll be attending Readercon, just outside Boston, the weekend after next. It is, as it says, ‘an annual conference or convention devoted to “imaginative literature” — literary science fiction, fantasy, horror, and the unclassifiable works often called “slipstream.”‘ – now in its 25th year. I’ll be appearing on several program items, as listed below. Do come along and say hello – and note particularly my solo talk at 2pm on Friday. They’ve put me in one of the bigger rooms, and it’ll be kind of embarrassing if it’s only me in there…


Thursday July 10

8:00 PM    F    Many Things Worry You, but Nothing Frightens You: Outgrowing Horror. Leah Bobet, Ellen Datlow, Elizabeth Hand (moderator), Kit Reed, Graham Sleight, Sonya Taaffe. In the Nightmare Magazine essay “The H Word: The Failure of Fear,” Dale Bailey wrote about enjoying horror despite no longer finding it horrifying. How does what scares us change as we age? How does horror written for children differ from horror written for adults? Can you outgrow horror, or are adults and children simply frightened by different things?

 Friday July 11

12:00 PM    CO    Welcome to Readercon. Graham Sleight, John Stevens, Emily Wagner (moderator). Tropes, “reading protocols,” “the real year” of a book, “slipstream” fiction, “fantastika,” “intrusion fantasy”: Readercon panel blurbs (and hallway conversations) borrow vocabulary from a wide range of sources that new attendees may not have encountered. Veterans of other conventions may also be wondering where the costumes and filkers are. Readercon regulars and concom members provide a newcomer’s guide to Readercon’s written policies and well-worn habits as well as a rundown of our favorite critical… um… tropes.

2:00 PM    G    I’m a Believer. Graham Sleight. Graham Sleight discusses the question of belief in sf and fantasy. What do we mean when we say we find a story believable? How much do stories require or demand our belief? And how much do characters have to believe the stories they’re in? Authors mentioned include Jane Austen, John Crowley, Dante, Greer Gilman, M. John Harrison, Kelly Link, Ursula K. Le Guin, Kim Stanley Robinson, John Scalzi, and Jo Walton—as well as the theories of Brian Attebery, John Clute, Thomas M. Disch, and Farah Mendlesohn. Sleight’s scribbled notes for the talk also suggest that it will discuss Cecil and Carlos, branding theory, hard SF, the Hovercraft of Disbelief, Monty Python, and Matt Smith. Probably.

3:00 PM    G    Speculative Fiction and World War I. John Clute, Felix Gilman, Victoria Janssen (leader), Jess Nevins, Graham Sleight, Sonya Taaffe. On 28 July 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and World War I began. Hugo Gernsback had not yet named science fiction at the time, but proto-SF stories inspired by the war exist, many early SF writers would draw inspiration from their experiences of the wartime era, and alternate history stories of WWI are numerous. WWI had a tremendous effect on fantasy and horror stories as well, with surrealist, expressionist, and apocalyptic modes flourishing alongside tales of lost arcadias. Looking back 100 years later, how did WWI shape the readers and writers of speculative fiction and the genre as a whole?

7:00 PM    F    Storyability, Tellability, and Speculative Fiction. Judith Berman (leader), John Clute, Alex Jablokow, Tom Purdom, Graham Sleight. Graham Sleight’s Readercon 24 talk, “The Wrong Future,” tied Harvey Sacks’s concept of a scenario being storyable—something that can be told as a story, and is worth telling to others—to SF. Sleight cited the TARDIS and transporters as technology that make scenarios more storyable because they cut out all the “get this character from point A to point B” concerns, and suggested that space travel is storyable in a way that climate change, for example, is not—unless it leads to (or is escaped by) the singularity, which is. Which speculative scenarios are more or less storyable, and why? And how does Sacks’s companion concept of tellability—being entitled or permitted to tell a story—connect with speculative fiction’s focus on the protagonist, and with recent discussions on who gets to star in and narrate speculative works?

Saturday July 12

10:00 AM    G    Books That Deserve to Remain Unspoiled. Jonathan Crowe, Gavin Grant, Kate Nepveu, Graham Sleight, Gayle Surrette (moderator). In a 2013 review of Joyce Carol Oates’s The Accursed, Stephen King stated, “While I consider the Internet-fueled concern with ‘spoilers’ rather infantile, the true secrets of well-made fiction deserve to be kept.” How does spoiler-acquired knowledge change our reading of fiction? Are some books more “deserving” of going unspoiled than others? If so, what criteria do we apply to determine those works?


Shirley Jackson Awards 2013

•May 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

sja_bg_header3For the second consecutive time, I’ve served as a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards this year. The shortlist has just been announced. Needless to say, I think it’s a terrific selection, and that anyone who picks up one of the nominated works will find it rewards their attention.

Been a long time…

•March 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Tiptree cover

…since I last posted. My excuses: I’ve been busy at work, with my MSc, and with a couple of other things that have to stay embargoed right now. At the moment, I’m also in the middle of the most intense reading period for the Shirley Jackson Awards. It’s my second year as a juror for these awards and, obviously, I can’t yet say much about the works I and my fellow jurors are looking at. I’m confident we’ll be able to announce some strong shortlists, though. My most recent writing assignment was, rather dauntingly, providing an introduction for a new Gollancz edition of James Tiptree Jr’s Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. Since the book is probably my single favourite collection of short sf, it was a great honour to write this. The new edition is due out in July. Along with a few other introductions and short reviews, my big project this year is bashing into book form some of the reviews and essays I’ve written in the recent past. About which more anon…

Couple of updates

•July 22, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Just back from Boston, and a few things to mention. I had a terrific time at Readercon, as ever, and while I was there my Washington Post review of Max Barry’s Lexicon was published. Having been on the jury for the Shirley Jackson Awards this year, I was glad to be able to attend the ceremony where the winners were announced. (Though all of the shortlisted works are terrific and worth reading, of course.)


I was also lucky enough to stay with David Shaw and his family after Readercon: David is the author of the wonderful BelmBlog, about his adventures in the wilder shores of cooking. In return for my supplying him with bad-pun titles for his blogposts, I was able to sample some of his marvellous cuisine – particularly the eight-different-versions-of-chocolate combo linked in the last post. If you’re at all interested in cooking, I strongly recommend his blog – even if you’re not at the liquid-nitrogen-in-the-kitchen stage of things.

The SF Encyclopedia continues to add content, at the moment especially in the Gallery, which now comprises nearly 5500 cover images for sf & fantasy books.

Finally, since the news is now on Amazon, I suppose I can mention that Gollancz is reviving its Fantasy Masterworks series from October, with launch titles such as John Crowley’s Ægypt. I’m putting the cover up here partly because it’s very striking, partly because the book is one of my favorites, and partly because I was delighted to be able to write an introduction for it. Very much looking forward to holding the book in my hands.

Readercon 24

•July 7, 2013 • 2 Comments

I’ll be attending Readercon in Boston from Thursday – as always, am looking forward to it. You can find me on the following programme items: 


Friday, 11:00 AM   Comforting Fiction: Faux Estrangement in Fantasy. John Clute, James Morrow, Graham Sleight, Ruth Sternglantz, John Stevens (leader). In 2011 China Miéville, discussing literature of estrangement and literature of recognition, referred to “the clichés of some fantasy” as “faux estrangement.” Yet these clichéd, faux-estranging works are often tremendously popular. What’s so appealing to writers and to readers about recognition disguised as estrangement?

Friday, 1:00 PM   The Silent History: A Killer Serial. Leah Bobet, Samantha Henderson, Maureen F. McHugh, David G. Shaw (leader), Graham Sleight. The Silent History( bills itself as “a new kind of novel,” a serialized story told in weekday installments over the course of six months. In addition to the daily first-person narratives there are also “field reports,” reader-created first-person accounts in the story’s universe that are tied to specific locations. Rather than distract, these elements immerse the reader in the world of the story. How can non-standard narrative structure, serialization, geolocation, and audience participation serve as a blueprint for future novels?

Friday, 2:00 PM    Welcome to Readercon. Francesca Forrest, Rose Fox (leader), Graham Sleight, John Stevens. “Tropes,” “reading protocols,” “the real year” of a book, “slipstream” fiction, “fantastika,” “intrusion fantasy”: Readercon panel blurbs (and hallway conversations) borrow vocabulary from a wide range of sources that new attendees may not have encountered. Veterans of other conventions may also be wondering where the costumes and filkers are. Readercon regulars and concom members provide a newcomer’s guide to Readercon’s written policies and well-worn habits as well as a rundown of our favorite critical… um… tropes.

Friday, 5:00 PM   Under the Squee: The Popularity and Perils of Positive Reviews. John Clute, Jonathan Crowe, Phoebe North, Graham Sleight (leader), Liza Groen Trombi, Gary K. Wolfe. In a 2012 piece on Slate, Jacob Silverman wrote that in contrast to “the algorithms of Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and the amateurism… of sites like GoodReads,” professional reviewers “are paid to be skeptical, even pugilistic, so that our enthusiasms count for more when they’re well earned.” Yet fans give Hugo Awards to the generally positive reviews published in Locus and the squeeing of the SF Squeecast, so presumably those enthusiasms count for quite a lot. This leads to the critics’ version of the argument for deliberately writing commercial fiction: if readers of reviews like enthusiasm, why shouldn’t reviewers give them what they want? And how do Silverman’s concerns over reputation, particularly having a reputation for honesty, play out in a whuffie-powered online world, where having a reputation for being fun, funny, or kind might count for more?

Friday, 8:00 PM    G    The Wrong Future. Graham Sleight. In this talk/polemic/rant, Graham Sleight will argue that 20th-century science fiction made a fundamental mistake in what it was asserting about the future. Individual authors have avoided this pitfall to differing extents, yet SF as a whole has fallen into this trap time and time again. He will discuss the work of Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula K. Le Guin, J.G. Ballard, Octavia Butler, Thomas M. Disch, and others; the effects of the cyberpunk authors of the 1980s; and more recent genre blendings and crossovers.

Sunday, 11:00 AM  The Shirley Jackson Awards. F. Brett Cox, Ellen Datlow, Jack M. Haringa, Maureen F. McHugh, Graham Sleight, Paul Tremblay. In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, and with permission of the author’s estate, the Shirley Jackson Awards have been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. Jackson (1916–1965) wrote classic novels such as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as one of the most famous short stories in the English language, “The Lottery.” Her work continues to be a major influence on writers of every kind of fiction, from the most traditional genre offerings to the most innovative literary work. The awards given in her name have been voted upon by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics, with input from a Board of Advisors, for the best work published in the calendar year of 2012 in the following categories: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Single-Author Collection, and Edited Anthology.


(My function at the Jackson Awards ceremony, I think, is to be there as a juror and so, when people decide we’ve chosen the wrong winners, to have rocks thrown at me.)

…and another

•February 2, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I have a review of Cory Doctorow’s Homeland, particularly talking about the late Aaron Swartz, in today’s Washington Post.