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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