2013 BSFA Lecture at Eastercon

The 2013 BSFA Lecture at Eastercon will be given by Dr Louise Livesey (Ruskin College Oxford), and is entitled ‘A Highly Political Act: speech, silence, hearing and sexual violence′. The lecture will be given at 5.00 pm on Saturday March 30th, in the Main Programme Room of the Cedar Court Hotel, Bradford. The lecture is open to any member of Eastercon.

Dr Louise Livesey is Tutor in Sociology and Women’s Studies at Ruskin College Oxford.  She is an activist as well as an academic and works hard to bring the two activities together as much as possible.  Mostly recently she has been working on activist/academic engagement with Oxford Brookes University’s Tale of Two Cultures conferences and speaking at events as diverse as Slutwalk Oxford, Oxford Reclaim the Night  and One Billion Rising Oxford.  She is also a playwright, performer and former blogger at The F Word.

The BSFA Lecture is intended as a companion to the George Hay Lecture, which is presented at the Eastercon by the Science Fiction Foundation. Where the Hay Lecture invites scientists, the BSFA Lecture invites academics from the arts and humanities, because we recognise that science fiction fans aren’t only interested in science.  The lecturers are given a remit to speak “on a subject that is likely to be of interest to science fiction fans” – i.e. on whatever they want!  This is the fifth BSFA Lecture.

BSFA and the Meteors

No time like a meteor storm for calling on the BSFA!

While Twitter lit up with Superman references, Stephen Baxter, obviously best known for being president of the British Science Fiction Association, was interviewed by the New York Times: “A Flash in Russian Skies, as Inspiration for Fantasy”. Meanwhile, the BBC World Service got in touch, and our Donna Scott, our Awards Admin, provided them with a just-in-time bibliography on the subject.

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February BSFA London Meeting: Elizabeth Hand interviewed by Farah Mendlesohn

ImageLocation: The Cellar Bar, The Argyle Public House, 1 Greville Street (off Leather Lane), London EC1N 8PQ

On Wednesday 27th February 2013Elizabeth Hand (author of, among others, Waking the MoonBlack LightMortal Love, and Radiant Days) will be interviewed by Farah Mendlesohn (Professor of Literary History at Anglia Ruskin University).

ALL WELCOME – FREE ENTRY (Non-members welcome)

The interview will start at 7 pm. We have the room from 6 pm (and if early, fans are in the ground floor bar from 5ish).

There will be a raffle (£1 for five tickets), with a selection of sf novels as prizes.

Map is here. Nearest Tube: Chancery Lane (Central Line).

FUTURE EVENTS:
20th March 2013* – BSFA Awards discussion
24th April 2013 – Lavie Tidhar; interviewer TBC
22nd May 2013** – Aliette de Bodard; interviewer TBC

* Note that due to the proximity of Easter to the fourth Wednesday of the month, this meeting will be held on the third Wednesday.

** Note that this is a month with five Wednesdays. The meeting will be on the fourth, not the last, Wednesday of the month.

Two BSFA interviews available as podcasts

The last two BSFA London meetings can be heard as audio podcasts.

Paul Cornell, from November 2012: http://thedoctorwhopodcast.com/upload/CornellBSFA.mp3

Dave Hutchinson from January 2013: https://www.dropbox.com/s/529fegd6kx5p5u5/BSFA%20Meeting%2030.1.13.m4a

Thanks to Paul Cornell, Tony Whitmore and the Doctor Who Podcast for the first, and to Dave Hutchinson for the second.

SF Masterclass 2013

The seventh SF Criticism Masterclass will be held in Liverpool in conjunction with (and following on directly after) the Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space: The Fantastika and the Classical World. A Science Fiction Foundation Conference.

The lineup of tutors for the Masterclass is different every year: this is your only chance to spend three immersive days studying sf criticism with Nick Lowe, Graham Sleight, and Cat Valente! I encourage all of you to seriously consider applying for this year’s class.

Seventh SF Criticism Masterclass 2013

Class leaders:
Nick Lowe (author of the long running, Mutant Popcorn)
Graham Sleight (Editor of Foundation, and managing editor for the Hugo Award Winning Encyclopedia of Science Fiction)
Catherynne M. Valente, author of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, and participant in the Hugo Award winning Squeecast.

To be held 2nd thru 4th July 2013 at The University of Liverpool.

Cost: £200.
Accommodation: this is not provided but Andy Sawyer (A.P.Sawyer@liverpool.ac.uk) is able to assist, and if you have attended the
concurrent conference you may wish to stay on.

To apply, please send: a piece of critical writing (between one and five thousand words), and a short cv and bio to farah.sf@gmail.com

The deadline to apply is February 28th.

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vN by Madeline Ashby

vN: The First Machine Dynasty by Madeline Ashby (Angry Robot, 2012)
Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

The robots in Canadian author Madeline Ashby’s novel are self-replicating artificial humanoids designed by a “global mega-church” as post-Rapture “helpmeets” for those humans left behind after the ascension of the just. Why, it’s not clear – though given what we learn about how these robots are conditioned to engage with humanity, something beautifully ironic and poignant could have emerged. That is not what we get but vN is an interesting though flawed work.

Amy is one such construction, the daughter of robot Charlotte and flesh-human Jack. vN robots like Amy and her mother eat special robo-food and are fitted with a “failsafe” – a kind of First Law which not only prevents them from harming humans but actually causes them to shut down if violence is observed. On Amy’s graduation from kindergarten, her grandmother Portia turns up and attacks Charlotte. Amy eats her in her furious attempt to defend her mother but Portia somehow survives as a consciousness linked to Amy’s. Fleeing, Amy encounters Javier, a “serial iterator” who has given birth (vN reproduction is not gendered and vNs exist in networks of identical clades) to a dozen unauthorised copies of himself and becomes involved in a rather hazy political plot. The revelation that in her the failsafe has broken down is key: each side, human and vN, sees her as a potential weapon to be used or destroyed.

The novel only takes us so far and like many sf futures, vN suffers from something of a lack of focus. The robot-world is well evoked, with vN vagrants living off junk and tensions between vNs and humans. There has been a violent quake on the USA’s West Coast and, somewhere, a (semi?)-autonomous city-state of Mecha exists as a possible sanctuary. But is this culture all world-wide? Does every country in the world “have” vN humanoids? All this may be explored in subsequent volumes but some generic flattening undermines the interesting things Ashby is doing with the “robot” icon.

Still, there are fascinating things here in what is implied about families here – notably the relationship between Amy and her artificial-humanoid mother and human father and between her and Portia, the predatory grandmother. There’s also a skilful creepiness. It’s clear that these robots are – as ‘real’ robots may well be – used as sex toys. The term helpmeet does not necessarily have (in its original Biblical context) a sexual implication but it certainly derives this as a term for marriage partners and equally certainly New Eden Ministries, Inc. means this. The ungrown “child” vNs are of course tempting for those whose interests lie that way. The development of the ability in Amy’s clade to overcome their failsafes is ingeniously linked to her family history and the darker side of desire for robot sextoys that will do whatever you want.

There is, though, a lot about the nature of love (not all sexual) in the novel: obsessive love, the kind of love that may be simply exploitative. And here the most interesting figure may be Jack, Amy’s father: “Charlotte didn’t do drama… now he suspected he’d find human women too warm, too loud, too mobile.” Or, on the same page, “at one point [Amy] and Charlotte would be indistinguishable. Jack worried about that sometimes. What if one day, years from now, he kissed the wrong one as she walked through the door?”

This review originally appeared in Vector #271. vN has been shortlisted for the 2012 Golden Tentacle Award for debut novel that best fits the criteria of progressive, intelligent and entertaining. The winners of this award and the rest of The Kitschies will be announced on Tuesday, 26 February 2013.

Cécile Matthey’s Vector 271 cover art

Back in May of last year, when I put out a request for help with images of London for Vector 271, Djibril al Ayad, editor of The Future Fire, pointed me to a piece which Cécile Matthey had done for a story published there, “The Recycled Man”, by Rob Sharp. (Image is on the story’s second page.) Cécile not only gave us permission to use her image for Vector, but kindly scanned it in at a higher resolution so it would be viable as cover art.

Ian Whates has taken on a cover art project for future issues of Vector. He’s soliciting artwork to use on future Vector covers, together with interviews with their artists, the better to showcase science fiction artists working in the British science fiction community. His work is for future issues, but Djibril interviewed Cécile about her work as a freelance and scientific illustrator just last year, so in the spirit of the new cover art project, I’ll link you to that instead.

Vector 271

Vector 271: the London issue, along with the latest guest-edited Focus, has shipped! The last issue of 2012 (technically) is an exciting one, even if it is arriving in your post boxes nearly half a year after its originally-intended completion date. How exciting is it? Well, read the table of contents for yourself.

271-cover

 
Features
FantasticLondon.co.uk – Edward James
The Shapes of London – Paul Cornell
Memories of Future London – Philip Reeve
London is Fractal – Sophia McDougall
The future of London is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed: A user’s guide to William Gibson’s London – Tom Hunter
Danie Ware Interview – Tom Hunter

Columns
Foundation Favourites: Proud Man – Andy Sawyer
Kincaid in Short: The Cold Equations – Paul Kincaid
Picture This: No Marvel or DC – Terry Martin
Resonances: Where exactly is Zoe Heriot’s Wheel in Space? – Stephen Baxter

Plus, of course, The BSFA Review, edited by Martin Petto (né Lewis).

My very great thanks to Ben Jeapes who finished getting this issue laid out, as well as to all the generous readers of Torque Control back in May and June who enabled the images in this issue. As well as (of course!) the writers who contributed the features, columns, and reviews. This issue really was even more of a group effort than usual.

This issue was originally suggested by James Bacon, in support of the UK in 2014 Worldcon bid, and now in support of the very real Loncon3. (Only 558 days to go, says its website!)

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