All That is Solid – plus post-Worldcon musings on aromanticism, horror, politics and hope punk

All That is Solid cover

I’m excited to announce that my new chapbook All That is Solid is now available for order from Eibonvale Press. It will meet the public for the first time at Fantasycon, along with a host of other chapbooks and a new anthology from Eibonvale.

If the title rings a bell, it’s because the story first appeared in The Scarlet Soul: Stories for Dorian Gray. This anthology sold out very fast so the story has been out of print for a couple of years. Now this tale about art, anxiety and Brexit will be available again and accessible to a wider audience.

The best possible introduction to the story was written last February by Tom Johnstone, author of The Monsters Are Due in Madison Square Garden and the forthcoming collection Last Train to Wellsbourne.

Taking issue with some suggestions otherwise from Ian McEwan, Tom’s blog post asks if we are ready for ‘Brexlit’ and his answer is a resounding yes and suggests that “the best way of treating the subject in fiction is by means of fantastic or science fictional devices”.

He focuses on my tale and his own story Mask of the Silvatici as examples. I would also suggest Ali Smith’s Autumn for its evocative prose and sweeping Dickensian portrayal of a certain time in 2016.

I was struck by the way Tom’s post identified themes in the story that I hadn’t been consciously thinking about when I was writing it – but they are definitely there. For example, this:

The title’s from a line in The Communist Manifesto, “All that is solid melts into air”, referring to the inherent instability and tendency to crisis of capitalism, and the story’s Polish-born protagonist Gosia meditates on the disconnect between the apparent solidity of matter and its state of flux at the sub-atomic level, what quantum physicists would call ‘the uncertainty principle’, which mirrors the social forces turning her life upside down.

It was only after I read the piece I thought: “Uncertainty principle… Fuck yeah, of course!”

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The view from World Con at the Dublin convention centre

In my previous post I wrote about the impending World Con in Dublin. Since then I travelled to Germany with my partner for a wedding; I also visited family and friends in Seattle and I’m still recovering from jetlag. So the experience of Worldcon is receding into the smog of time and you’ve probably read many, many detailed accounts since August. Therefore I’ll limit myself to a few comments..

I liked being in Dublin again and on the whole I enjoyed the con. First, I’ll  speak highly of the Green Room set-up, complete with bars for coffee/snacks  and alcoholic drinks. It’s the first time in my Worldconning experience that I was able to get a freshly brewed cappuccino and in the case of my evening session on Sex Positivity in F/SF, a most excellent G&T. I was on four panels so I ended up in the Green Room on a regular basis. A well-appointed, relaxing Green Room made a big difference in feeling that my participation was valued.

It was also the first time I’ve done a late-evening panel.  I usually stick to three panels per con, but I decided to accept a later invitation to go on the Sex Positivity confab. I thought this was a good decision when subsequent email discussion referred to the feminist ‘sex wars’ of the 1980s-1990s. I therefore had an opportunity to talk about some of the writers who sustained and influenced me at the time – Jewelle Gomez, Cherie Moraga and Dorothy Allison.

The room was packed and the audience lively – it had the atmosphere of a gig – and discussion continued apace. Then during the Q&A someone asked: “How would you write a sex scene where the characters are aromantic?”

That’s ‘aromantic’, not ‘aromatic’ (though it’s true that scents tend to be the most neglected detail in prose). It was an off-the-cuff question but it set a train of thought in motion.

But first, I didn’t have a clue what the term meant. I had to excuse myself and have a google: apparently it refers to people who do not have romantic feelings and don’t fall in love and generally reject the idea. And I had to think: so what’s the big deal? It doesn’t mean you don’t have sex. I finally said: “But I write from that perspective most of the time! And in many cases, the writers we’ve been discussing have been doing that too.”

I suggested that a critique of the romantic ideal of love has been central to feminist thought for centuries, and important to socialist and anarchist analyses too (This 1998 article from the feminist journal Trouble and Strife is only one example). The ideology of romance is seen as a component of the emotional glue of patriarchy; and in our current case, part of the privatised emotional terrain of late capitalism. Rejecting romantic love or feeling distant from it doesn’t rule out enjoying sex and experiencing strong feelings of affection and desire.

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Taking time out from our busy convention schedules!

I found the concept of ‘aromantic’ as an identity and sexual orientation somewhat bemusing. It seemed symptomatic of the way certain strands of queer theory (I believe that’s where the label comes from) parcel political critiques and opposition into a series of identities.

Another notable panel that provoked some thought was one on horror and politics. It was a pleasure to meet the other panelists. We talked about our writing and how we approach horror as politically engaged people. We swapped names of favourite writers, and I had a chance to big up the late Joel Lane. We also talked about writers like Victor LaValle who capsize regressive tropes by Lovecraft and others.

I also went to some excellent panels and readings. One that still stands out a month or two later was a panel on ‘hope punk’. I attended with some preconceptions and skepticism because I’m usually on the sarcastic, cynical and pessimistic side of the spectrum. But I was curious and wanted to find out what hope punk means in the first place.

The panelists emphasized that hope punk can be dark and sarcastic as hell but it is also be about resistance and fighting back – that’s where the ‘hope’ part comes in.  In a reference to  Ursula K Le Guin’s classic tale, someone said that hope punk is about the ones who walk away from Omelas – but return with pick axes and hammers.

On that note, I’ll sign off!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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World Con panels and a Radical Art Review natter

D2019Hi folks! Here’s what I’ll be up to in Dublin at World Con. In addition to the panels below, you will be able to find my skulking around or hanging out at the bar. You’ll also be able to find copies of Resonance & Revolt and Helen’s Story at the Swan River Press stall – along with all the unique and strange literature published by the press.

You’ll see that I’m on four panels. Normally I do three, which seems to be just the right amount. But I was later asked to do a fourth and given the subject matter I couldn’t say no. Yes, yes, yes I said. This should contribute to an interesting and fun Friday night to start off my panels. It’s a good time too, just when some folks might’ve enjoyed a few drinks but not so late they’ll be snoring in the back row just yet.

Yes! Yes! Yes! Sex positivity in SFF
16 Aug 2019, Friday 21:00 – 21:50, Liffey Hall-2 (CCD)
Sex positivity encourages us to remove the stigma from consensual sex, allowing characters to explore sexual relationships without judgement. How has SFF’s relationship with sex, and sex positivity, shifted over time? Can characters be said to be ‘sex positive’? Can the alien nature of SFF societies offer opportunities to embrace sex positivity, and escape current systemic biases and repressions?
Annalee Newitz (M), Vina Prasad, KM Szpara, Rosanne Rabinowitz

The politics of horror
18 Aug 2019, Sunday 12:00 – 12:50, Wicklow Room-1 (CCD)
Is horror political? Should it be? How do the metaphors of horror map onto social and political concerns? What creators are using horror to engage with the contemporary political climate right now?
F. Brett Cox (Norwich University) (M), Rosanne Rabinowitz, Charles Stross, Cristina Alves (Rascunhos / Voz Online / The Portuguese Portal of Fantasy and Science Fiction)

The art of collaboration
18 Aug 2019, Sunday 14:00 – 14:50, Liffey Room-1 (CCD)
Collaboration isn’t always easy – learning to work with others, even your friends, can be tricky – but it can create some amazing results. Our participants share their experiences, advice, and questions as they reveal the joys and pitfalls of partnered art.
Gerald M. Kilby (M), Rosanne Rabinowitz, Alicia Zaloga, Mark Stay, J Sharpe (Zilverspoor)

Blowin’ in the wind: SFF and counterculture
19 Aug 2019, Monday 13:00 – 13:50, ECOCEM Room (CCD)
Both SFF stories and counterculture music are opportunities to imagine a different society. When they intersect they illuminate how people act in times of upheaval and change. Protest songs such as John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ and Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Sun Is Burning’ present visions of dramatically different futures. Were the 1960s and ’70s the zenith of this style of music and fiction, or are modern creators putting their own twist on this valuable expression of vision?
Pádraig Ó Méalóid (Poisoned Chalice Press) (M), Renee Sieber (McGill University), Rosanne Rabinowitz

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And now for more nattering…
Check out this interview with Niall Walker at Radical Art Review. Subjects of my natterings include:

  • antifascist pop sensation Vengaboys (pictured right)
  • art for arts sake (or not)
  • ghosts and quantum physics and spooky solidarity at a distance
  • Hidden histories from Munich to Millbank

…and much much more!

Resonance & Revolt shortlisted for BFS award!

Screenshot 2019-07-30 18.03.32Some brilliant news – Resonance & Revolt has been shortlisted for Best Collection in the British Fantasy Awards. For a full listing of the nominees and jurors in all categories, check out the BFS link.

I’m in fabulous (and female) company on this shortlist, which also includes All the Fabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma, The Future is Blue by Catherynne M Valente, How Long ‘til Black Future Month? by NK Jemisin, Lost Objects by Marian Womack and Octoberland by Thana Niveau. I found it very interesting that this shortlist has turned out to be all women.

This is the first time that I’ve appeared on a BFS shortlist so I’m thrilled to be included alongside these brilliant writers. And I’m especially excited to see that women writers have made a strong showing in all categories as well as the collections shortlist.

27654537_1364622573643699_4256024437919273175_nI’m also very pleased to see that Eibonvale Press has done well – David Rix has been nominated for Best Artist and Humangerie (edited by Allen Ashley and Sarah Doyle) shortlisted for Best Anthology.

Meanwhile, to mark World Con in Dublin I’m looking back on my visit to the city last year for the Dublin Ghost Story Festival at the Milford SF blog with an update of my 2018 post: Return to Dublin. These are two very different cons: one will be massive while the other was designed to be small and intimate. But Dublin’s rich heritage in the speculative and the supernatural provides a common thread through them both. I look forward to visiting this city again to talk about weird stuff! I’ll be back very soon with more details about my panels in my next post.

20190803_07071620190803_070338In other news, I’ve contributed a two-part piece to zine extraordinaire Dykes Ink. This is produced by Dead Unicorn Ventures, an LGBT+ events company based in West Cornwall.  My old friend Julie Travis, who is one of the moving spirits behind this project, suggested I write something about dykes and squatting in the past. Seeking a connection to Cornwall, I hit upon my tender memories of the notorious Treworgey Tree Fayre, which has become legendary in the chronicles of festive excess and headbanging. Then I remembered that the festival was the second event of a paradoxical and exciting summer in 1989; the first event on our calendar was the International Revolutionary Women’s Gathering just outside Ruigord in Holland.

So I ended up writing about both: “From the vantage point of 30 years, these two events may stand in contrast to each other. Yet they were both very much part of our stream of partying and politics.”

Finally, the Pareidolia anthology came out last month. You can read about my story “Geode” and what inspired it here in my last blog post. Now I look forward to reading all the stories in my contributor’s copy. And here is an overexposed shot of my copy seated on a purple velvet cushion that seems suitably pareidolic.

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Resonating & resonacting

unnamedTime to highlight a wonderful and thought-provoking review of Resonance & Revolt from Rachel Hill at Strange Horizons. It’s been out for a few weeks so yeah, I don’t exactly blog at the speed of light. But in case you’ve missed it, I’m here now to share it and express thanks and appreciation for the knowledge Hill brings to the review.

To begin with, she has a winning familiarity with the history of south-east London: “A location which, from the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt to 1977’s ‘Battle of Lewisham’ (where local counter-demonstrators prevented the far-right National Front from marching), has a rich history of revolt and features heavily in her stories.”

Some reviews inspire writers to look at their own work in a new way and that’s the case with this one. Hill references the writing of philosopher Ernst Bloch on music and the utopian impulse when discussing my story In the Pines  (natch, Ernie now occupies a place on my TBR list):

stramge horizons-logo“Bloch places music as the foremost form of utopian impulse, as it affords “ways in this world by which the inward can become outward and the outward like the inward” (Spirit of Utopia, p. 231). These ways of being are full of productive “revolutionary tension.” In other words, music yokes together listeners in a shared experience of resonance which can be the basis of collective action. Similarly, Rabinowitz echoes Bloch’s structure of harmonious oscillation between self and world(s), prompted by music, as demonstrated by the collection’s first story, ‘In the Pines’.”

Hill coins a cool new word: resonacting or a “process of resonance which catalyses new action”. Such resonaction “refracts throughout the collection, propagating further revolt through new and extended frequencies”.

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She stresses the prominence of psychogeography in my stories and the role of the dérive, a concept that comes from Guy Debord (his classic text pictured left) and the Lettrist and Situationist International. A dérive is a critical wander through a city or a landscape that opens up our understanding of the environment and how it manifests its social history. It can involve breaking out of everyday relations and discovering new ways of occupying space. She suggests that Evelyn in Return of the Pikart Posse goes on a dérive through the town of Tábor and the ruins of a fortress that had been occupied by the free-loving anti-authoritarian heretics that she is researching: “Evelyn attunes herself to the resonances of the Czech landscape, enabling her body to become a channel, or a transtemporal site.” Transtemporal – I like that.

At the time I wrote the story I was thinking: hey, Evelyn’s pissed on the pivo and having a wander. As you do. While I’m no stranger to psychogeography and situationism – and I’ve taken part in activism where they were influences – I wasn’t thinking about these elements consciously.

But yes, my character is indeed dériving under the influence of heightened emotion and perception (perhaps helped by a few drinks) and a deep longing to connect with the past and a different kind of future. And then there are sensual encounters with “psychic residues”, an idea that casts some of my motifs in a different light too.

Hill also offers insight into The Turning Track – co-written with Matt Joiner – and the way its multidimensional train unites the layers charted throughout the collection. 

I’ll add that after reading Rachel Hill’s piece, I reacquainted myself with the general excellence of the reviews and critical essays in Strange Horizons – which describes itself as “a free weekly speculative fiction magazine with a global perspective”. And then there’s the fiction! This brings us to their current fundraiser and a link to their Kickstarter if you’d like to donate something to ensure that this good work continues. Be assured I’m not just making this plug because they gave me a good review – I believe it’s a project worth supporting. Really.

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And since we’ve been on the subject of inspiring critics and criticism… Des Lewis has collected his online ‘real-time reviews’ into a series of books. I’m in this one, alongside Nicholas Royle (as editor), Ron Weighell, Andrew Hook, Helen Marshall and Malcolm Devlin. Needless to say, I’m there in excellent company. If you haven’t read it, you can still check out Des’ real-time review of R&R online and see my comments about real-time reviews (and rugelach) here.

Finally, you might be amused by visiting a link to a humorous look at psychogeography in a cartoon by Tom Gauld. Pigeons and focaccia are involved!

 

 

Seeing Things

perf5.000x8.000.inddI’m pleased to announce that my story “Geode” will be appearing in a new anthology called Pareidolia, edited by James Everington and Dan Howarth. Here’s the lineup… needless to say I’m proud to be appearing alongside this group of talented writers.

Into the Wood  Sarah Read
Joss Papers for Porcelain Ghosts  Eliza Chan
What Can You Do About a Man Like That?  Tim Major
The Lonely  Rich Hawkins
A Shadow Flits  Carly Holmes
The Butchery Tree  GV Anderson
The Lens of Dying  Charlotte Bond
How to Stay Afloat When Drowning  Daniel Braum
Geode  Rosanne Rabinowitz
House of Faces  Andrew David Barker

When I was asked to contribute to a book about “pareidolia” I had to google the word and I confess that I still need to check the spelling every time I write it. So some of you might be wondering: WTF is pareidolia? This blurb from the publisher, Black Shuck Books, explains the concept:

Pareidolia is the phenomenon where the mind perceives shapes, or hears voices, where none apparently exist. But what if what you were seeing was really there? What if the voice you heard really was speaking to you, calling you?”

My story, “Geode”, was inspired by a few lines of poetry and a YouTube video. The poetry comes from Sleep of Prisoners, a play by Christopher Fry. I first read this as a teenager, and it somehow left an impression. I always liked these five lines:

“Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no winter now. The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.”

And now for the YouTube video. When I first saw this video of  an ‘ice tsunami’ or ice shove I was stunned with the power of it and its sheer noise – those thin fingers of ice tinkling as they break, the chugging sound as it moved. Very creepy. I imagined a Lovecraftian story but it turned into something else.

Pareidolia is now up for preorder and an ebook edition is also available. Release is set for 13 July, along with a launch event at Edge Lit in Derby.
No doubt I’ll have more to say about my story closer to the time…

 

 

 

May Day sale plus more reviews for R&R

Only a few more wicker-weaving days until May Day! You also have the opportunity to nab a book bargain…

To mark May Day, Resonance & Revolt is on sale with the Kindle edition going for a mere 99p! For those who prefer paper, the very handsome hardback edition is also slashed to a third of the price. In addition, prices are also cut on Hive and other online booksellers (or they were the last time I looked). 

priyaAnd if you want to find out more before you spend your 99p, Priya Sharma – author of the wonderful collection All the Fabulous Beasts and forthcoming novella Ormeshadow – gives a good rundown in her February 2019 review on Goodreads:

“Medieval activists lie side by side with modern scholars, Jewish protesters bend space to seek an alien Golem and a woman walks through the past in her pink patent leather boots… There’s a fascinating archeology in this book, some of the work revealing London’s sociopolitical geography by slipping through time. And it’s shot through with droll, knowing humour.”

The first review for 2019 was followed by several others that definitely put a spring in my step. On the morning of 30 March I woke up with a sore throat and a headache, sure I was coming down with something nasty. But then I came across a new review of R&R from Nancy Oakes on the Oddly Weird Fiction blog and I recovered from whatever ailed me. Oakes writes:

“The book is a beautiful blending of the historical, the mystical, the surreal, and the strange, but more than that, it is a book that is absolutely relevant to right now in her rendering of many recognizable contemporary issues. The stories do not easily yield answers, but the more you read the more in tune you become, as her writing not only crawls under your skin, but deep into your pores, your veins and your entire being.”

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Oakes’ review also includes a shoutout for Lynda E Rucker’s “excellent and most insightful introduction” and praise for the quality of books published by Eibonvale Press. She also suggests: “There is just something about this collection of stories that makes me want to buy a gazillion copies of it, then hand it out to people and tell them “you really need to read this.” 

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Supernatural Tales then published a review on 5 April. Editor David Longhorn mentions some difficult personal circumstances so I particularly appreciate that he took the time to write these kind words:

“These stories are fun to read, as playful and intelligent as anything you will find elsewhere… I recommend it to anyone who likes well-written imaginative fiction that has something passionate and thoughtful to say about our human condition, and how we might struggle to improve it.”

Melanie Whitlock’s review at Super Ink Arts first asked the question “Should I read this book?” I am pleased that the answer is ‘yes’:

“Rabinowitz has delivered us a collection of short stories and tales that are completely out of the ordinary, spanning from the medieval era all the way to modern day London, covering quantum entanglement and the often gritty anti-austerity life in-between. Rebellions, war-torn Munich, the swinging free-loving 1960s and Russia, all becoming key places of interest and stop offs along our journey back and forth between the past and the present. Each story set, linking to the last and filled with the mysterious, wondrous and often at times the weird.”

Screenshot 2019-04-25 20.28.46I keep hearing that it’s not the done thing to respond to reviews in any way. If you’re talking about arguing with a bad review or harassing a critic, I certainly agree. But I wonder how it could be wrong to thank someone for the time they took to read and review a book, or to respond to a thought-provoking point. 

So I’ll say here, on my own blog, that I was delighted with all of these reviews. Thank you to all the folks who wrote them. And I’ve been especially chuffed when the words ‘fun’ and ‘humour’ came up. I hoped to avoid any impression of worthiness and preachiness while I was putting the book together, and I’m very glad that it’s worked for at least a few people. 

Meanwhile, the voting for the British Fantasy Awards shortlist is open until 3 May. If you are eligible to vote I urge you to do so and support the authors you’ve enjoyed. R&R happens to be eligible in the single-author collection category but 2018 was also a bumper year for excellent collections from many of my favourite writers. So please vote for the books of your choice – it doesn’t have to be mine! And if you’re as indecisive as I am you’ll be pleased to find that several choices are allowed in each category.

I’m thrilled with the growing interest in short stories and collections of shorter fiction – not too long ago they were seen as a dying breed. Here’s a chance to affirm that’s not the case.  

Finally… here’s a fine version of In the Pines/Where Did You Sleep last night. I confess that I responded to the Super Ink Arts review, which mentioned this song, by tweeting the video below. So shoot me! 

 

 

 

A shit argument for Brexit

Featured Image -- 6112I’ve only just catching up with Giles Fraser’s reactionary warm-beer-and-cricket bexiteering spiel, though I gather that there’s been lots of twitting about it for days. So here’s an excellent counter-spiel from a blog called Wee Ginger Dug – with links to the original – tellingly titled A shit argument for Brexit. I imagine that Mr Fraser’s folly has already been a big generator of bottom-oriented puns.

The blogger’s titular ginger dog is as good as any an illustration for this article!

“Essentially, Giles’ argument about why ending freedom of movement is a good thing boils down to this. When you’re old and incontinent, it means that your kids can wipe your arse for you instead of some social services worker from the EU, and that’s great for family cohesion. We can all bond as a family over soiled toilet paper.
It’s telling that Giles in his piece felt it was the role of a daughter to wipe her father’s arse.”

Wee Ginger Dug

I wrote a blog article last night which was published in the wee smaa hours. Then this afternoon I published the weekly dugcast. So I had reckoned I’d done enough for one day to keep readers of this blog amused. But then I came across Giles Fraser’s apologia for Brexit and ending freedom of movement on the digital site Unherd, and now I’m fuming.

https://unherd.com/2019/02/why-wont-remainers-talk-about-family/

I’ve not been this angry since Magrit Curran was my MP. First off, a word of caution. Please don’t read on while eating. This blog deals with some unpleasant realities about the human body.

Essentially, Giles’ argument about why ending freedom of movement is a good thing boils down to this. When you’re old and incontinent, it means that your kids can wipe your arse for you instead of some social services worker from the EU, and that’s great for family cohesion. We can all…

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