Friday, March 13, 2015

Terry Pratchett

I've never been a massive fan of Terry Pratchett. I've read a few of his books, and liked them and found them funny (especially those featuring the Witches), but I was never one of those waiting on the arrival of every Discworld novel.

That does not mean, however, that I don't recognise how important he was, and fully understand why my Facebook feed yesterday and this morning is full of tributes to him. With Douglas Adams, he helped reshape the English comic novel. With Neil Gaiman, he helped reshape the English fantasy novel. And Ankh-Morpork is one of the great Other Londons.

Over a quarter of a century ago, Pratchett, just recently gone full time as a writer, was a guest at Edinburgh University SF Society's Freshercon. For some reason, I ended up on a couple of panels with him, one on writing where he and Graham Dunstan Martin did all the talking, and one in which we were telling a live round robin story - so in a way I've collaborated with Terry Pratchett. I never really spoke to him after that, though saw him on panels a lot. I also have a very vivid memory of Iain Banks doing a note-perfect Pratchett impersonation.

And I always liked the stuff about dwarves.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Places still available on the 2015 Masterclass in Science Fiction Criticism

There are still places available on the 2015 Science Fiction Foundation Masterclass in Science Fiction Criticism. If you would like to apply, please contact

Full details of the Masterclass are here:

"The 2014 SFF Masterclass."

2015 BSFA Lecture

The 2015 BSFA Lecture at Dysprosium (the 2015 Eastercon) will be given by Dr Simon Trafford (Institute of Historical Research), and is entitled ‘“Runar munt þu finna”: why sing pop in dead languages?’ The lecture will be given at 5.30 pm on Saturday April 4th, in the Discovery room of the Park Inn, Heathrow. The lecture is open to any member of Dysprosium.
Simon Trafford is Lecturer in Medieval History and Research Training Officer at the University of London’s Institute of Historical Research. He specialises in the history and archaeology of the later Anglo-Saxon period in the north-east of England. He completed his undergraduate studies and his D.Phil. at the University of York, where his supervisor was Professor Edward James, who sf fans know as current Chair of the Science Fiction Foundation. Simon has a particular interest in the depiction of Vikings in popular culture. His talk for us develops this, with a special focus upon the use of dead ancient and medieval languages in pop and rock songs.
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 eighth BSFA Lecture.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

International Women's Day 2015

Last year for International Women's Day I posted about Edith Hamilton. This year I want to write about something a little different. Instead of writing about Classical Studies, I'm going to write about classical music, and in particular Marin Alsop.

There are plenty of female virtuosos on piano, violin, etc., such as Nicola Benedetti and Arabella Steinbacher, the latter of whom I'm always ready to go and hear. But there aren't many female conductors, at least not in prominent roles. There doesn't seem any particular reason why this should be, other than institutionalized sexism. Conducting doesn't particularly need strengths that are particular to men - after all, Sue Perkins won the BBC's celebs-learn-to-conduct series Maestro, and has done some conducting since. Vasily Petrenko supposedly said that orchestras are too much in danger of being distracted by a pretty woman, to which the only reply is "Do you think with your penis all the time?"

Anyway, in about ten years of going to classical concerts, I don't think I've ever seen a woman conduct. So when I saw that Marin Alsop was conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra in February, Kate and I decided to go. It's unusual for us to go to the LPO - we're usually loyal to the Philharmonia. But as far as I know, Alsop has never conducted the Philharmonia (they should try to rectify this).

Anyway, we went to see her conduct three Beethoven pieces, Leonore Overture no, 3, Piano Concerto no.3, and Symphony no. 7 (which I always forget I know until I hear it). And it was great. Alsop really brought the music to life. She's a bundle of energy on the podium, and is clearly having a wonderful time. I would definitely go and see her conduct again, and I urge you to. And I hope that by the time I am put in the ground, a female conductor is not such a rarity.