Category Archives: Science Fiction

Cymera – meet the boss

If you haven’t already met Ann Landmann at some event, you’re in for a treat at her Cymera weekend. And today, as a bonus, I have asked Ann a few questions from which you can find out, roughly, how to start your own litfest. That is, if you have even a fraction of Ann’s energy.

How do you even come up with the idea of starting your own book festival?

I love book festivals, big and small, and living in Edinburgh obviously means I have one of the best on my doorstep. Over the years I have noticed that SFFH authors don’t feature in book festival programmes as much, and while I know there are lots of conventions, a lot of them are down South.

The easy solution to bringing authors that I love to Scotland was starting my own book festival. So, armed with festival experience, events organiser experience, an MA in Arts, Festival and Cultural Management and a lot of enthusiasm, I found some equally crazy people and here we are.

Was it obvious what category books and authors you wanted?

Yes. Cymera is dedicated to Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, and we pretty much stuck to those categories. As to authors, we’ve been super lucky – the support from publishers has been great, and we actually got almost every author we asked for. I suspect the lure of Edinburgh, Scotland, played into this too!

According to the press release you have 81 authors. Have you read all of them?

I have read a lot of them, but not all (yet). There’s still time though …

How do you go about finding a venue?

From the beginning it was clear that we wanted to create the buzz you get when everything is in one venue, like at a convention. We also needed a bar, it had to be accessible and have lots and lots of space.

For my old job as Events Manager for a local bookshop I’ve always stayed on top of what venue in Edinburgh does what, and I knew the Pleasance just had a refurbishment making it more accessible. EUSA, who run the Pleasance, have been great to work with, and hopefully the space is as perfect as I am envisioning it.

Has it been hard to get volunteers? Who is volunteering?

We’ve had a fantastic response for our call for volunteers for the weekend! We have people from all sorts of backgrounds, from students to people that have volunteered at festivals before.

Are you actually looking forward to the Cymera weekend, or just to it being over?

I can’t wait! I hope we’ll get that buzz going, that everyone has a great time, makes new friends, discovers new writers – all those things that make a successful festival!

Dare I ask; once it’s over, will you do it again?

We fully intend Cymera to become an annual event that people look forward to every year. There’s definitely plenty of authors out there to fill an annual programme, and we have lots and lots of ideas of what we else we can do. 2019 is the year we are trying things out, and we are hoping for lots and lots of feedback that we can build the 2020 festival on.

I like the convention idea! Now all I need is a bed under the stairs.

See you there! (At Pleasance, not under the stairs.)

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Cymera

Today I give you a ‘mythological, fire-breathing monster, commonly represented with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail.’ Or you could just accept a new, great sounding, Edinburgh based, book festival.

Cymera

Cymera, as it is called, is Ann Landmann’s new baby. As if she didn’t have enough to do anyway, she is doing that thing many of us think might be ‘nice’ but seems like too much work so we don’t, which is set up our very own litfest.

Cymera is Scotland’s Festival of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Writing, and it is taking place in Edinburgh the weekend of 7th to 9th June. Lots of people I sort of know, are taking part, as are countless more that I don’t really know, because I haven’t specialised in all that much horror, and have only recently returned to science fiction, and there is a lot of fantasy in this world.

I haven’t counted, but somewhere I saw the words eighty authors mentioned, and that sounds like a lot. A quick look at the programme tells me I will have to make actual choices, unless I work out how to be at several events at the same time.

And the food..! That sounds good too. And there will be books to buy, and workshops have been planned, and there will be a quiz, and an open mic session. If you know where Blackwells is, then Cymera is a short way east of this lovely bookshop, so it should be easy to get to.

I have to admit to having tweaked my holiday dates so I don’t need to miss anything. Will I see you there?

Star Wars: Cobalt Squadron

I would say that any Star Wars fan would like this book, but what do I know? I saw the first Star Wars film 41 years ago, not knowing there’d be more of them. Didn’t understand it, forgot most of what I saw, and I was an embarrassment when I was taken to see one of the more recent films a few years ago.

But yes, I think you’d like Elizabeth Wein’s Cobalt Squadron, which ‘takes place prior to – and contains characters and ships from – The Last Jedi.’ I liked it. But then I like sci-fi, and felt I didn’t need to know more than I do to read it. I trusted Elizabeth – who apparently watched The Empire Strikes Back 13 times as a teenager – to get it right.

It’s got that Carrie Fisher in it, as Leia Organa, and when looking stuff up, I see that the main character in Cobalt Squadron, Rose Tico, was also in the film, so is actually ‘real.’ I liked her. Clever and brave, and good with technical stuff.

Elizabeth Wein, Cobolt Squadron

The story here is about saving Atterra Bravo from the First Order, and the rescue mission undertaken by Rose and others, with the blessing of General Organa. Having to fit in with plots before and after, there is obviously a limit to what can happen, and where, but as I said, I liked it.

It’s good when knowledgeable fans write extra stories to do with what they love so much.

And If I’d known then what I know now, maybe I’d have paid more attention back then, and not got my various robot characters mixed up. I won’t insult or upset you by showing quite what an idiot I was. Still am.

Glass Town Wars

How I had waited for the new novel by Celia Rees! It had been far too long. But as they say, good books come to Witches who wait.

Glass Town Wars is an interesting blend of Emily Brontë’s childhood made-up world, and gaming today. Plus a few other ideas. It’s sort of Truth or Dare meets Haworth.

It’s not explained to you. The reader has to work out what’s going on, between the young – seemingly unconscious – man in the modern hospital bed, and the girl in Yorkshire who dreams her fantasy world, and her alter ego in that other world. And then they all meet.

Celia Rees, Glass Town Wars

This is good stuff, and being left in the dark adds to the experience. I’m woefully uneducated in the Brontë ways – outside of their books –  so am guessing I’d have known more, had I known more, so to speak.

It’s about love, and lust, and fighting; whether in imaginary wars two hundred years ago, or in an intensive care unit right here and now. And I couldn’t very well ignore the fact that the lovely nurse who looks after Tom – our unconscious hero – is an immigrant. Where would we have been without him?

2018 is the bicentenary of Emily Brontë’s birth, and Glass Town Wars is a fabulous way to celebrate; to bring her and her siblings back to life – if they need it – and maybe introduce a new generation to their books, while keeping readers entertained with our own ideas of cyberspace. This is something Celia does well.

George and the Ship of Time

The sixth and last book about George, and I’d been on tenterhooks ever since Lucy Hawking had him jump aboard a spacecraft heading into outer space at the end of the fifth book. It’s a good cliffhanger, but I was sure George would soon be back on Earth again, among his friends.

I was right. Sort of.

George and Boltzmann, the robot, return to Earth after first having failed to turn the ship around. But it’s not exactly the place they left; it’s hot, dusty and deserted. But Boltzmann assures him they are ‘in Foxbridge’ where George lives. Lived.

Lucy Hawking, George and the Ship of Time

After a slow start, where I kept expecting things to become clear and a bit more normal, this story turns into a fully fledged time travel dystopia. Where the earlier books have featured criticism of aspects of modern life and the way science and the environment are ignored by the government, this is much more serious.

The duo do meet up with humans, and other creatures, odd robots, but they live in the future. George is seen as strange, if not downright dangerous. They’re in Eden, which is paradise. In a way, at least.

There is much that is dysfunctional in this place, ruled over by a tangerine coloured man by the name of Trellis Dump. The second Trellis Dump. I’ll leave you to interpret that as you see fit.

The reader keeps thinking that this can’t really have happened. If this is the future, then George’s family and friends must be dead. But if this Dump era can be reversed, then the people alive now would cease to exist. It’s quite a conundrum, and I won’t tell you how it ends.

I would like to think that those who read this book will have, or adopt, sensible opinions regarding war and destructive weapons, and climate change, and possibly even oddly coloured politicians.

The really shocking aspect about all this is how long the war lasted.

(As always, illustrated by Garry Parsons, and at the back of the book there are scientific papers aimed at its young audience. But I missed one by Stephen, as he used to sign off.)

The Word for World is Forest

I have at long last read my first Ursula Le Guin. It was the novella The Word for World is Forest, and it was in translation, arriving as it did from a friend’s garage, where it had also been a bit unexpected.

It was all right. The sentiments are ones I obviously identify with. Don’t use violence. Don’t burst in on someone else’s world and start telling them what they must do, enslaving them in the process. First published in the early 1970s, it’s clear where this was coming from.

Ursula Le Guin, Där världen heter skog

But I didn’t enjoy it. Not really. I suspect my garage-owning friend felt much the same, but we both had a curiosity that needed satisfying. Like why had we not read Ursula’s books when we were young? And why had we not even heard of her?

The trouble is, I was under the impression this was a children’s book, due to its size and design. I stopped believing it was for children after about a page. But it still looked like a children’s book. At least this translated version did.

Basically it is about a faraway planet invaded by Earth, and where the hitherto peaceful inhabitants are forced to become cruel and violent like the invaders in order to get rid of them, which mostly involves a lot of killing.

I think I would have liked to see ideas like these executed with a bit more thought through science fiction elements.

Ursula Le Guin

Luckily, there are some really great authors in this world; great both as authors, and as persons. I understand that Ursula Le Guin was one of them.

When the news of her death broke earlier this week, I noted two things. One was that everyone had something to say about her. The other was a question to myself, ‘why did I never read any of her books?’

Because I’m afraid I didn’t. I had to look her up to see when her first books were published, in an effort to work out why they didn’t cross my path earlier. I only heard of Tolkien when I was about 16. Everyone read him, but I still haven’t. The odd thing was that he’d never been mentioned, until I was the sort of age when it was the done thing to read Lord of the Rings.

And I would have thought the same would go for Ursula Le Guin. I could have read her in English, but for that I’d have needed to know about her. And I see that only one book had been translated by the time I left school, which presumably explains why no one much talked about her books.

Then, I sensibly married a man who liked Ursula’s books. I thought they looked slightly weird, had no wish to read them, but discovered they were not books I was allowed to take to Oxfam… And the no-Oxfam rule has remained in place all these years.

But my thought this week was why I never tried them later on. I have a dreadful feeling I had catalogued them as ‘those books that sit on the shelf but are not for me.’

I was pleased to discover this article in the Irish Times, by her long-standing fan Adrian McKinty. I like his memories of Ursula and her books. I already knew she had been a fine author and person, but Adrian just proves it.