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Who Owns SF?

[This is an essay in the old sense of the word. I'm not here to pick fights or bludgeon anyone with my point of view on SF1. I want to explore, to wander a little. I've used footnotes not as a scholarly buttress but in an attempt to keep this exploration from becoming a hopeless tangle.]

I’m English. I've lived in the US a long time (in fact last year I got my US citizenship) but I’m still English. You can tell: all I have to do is speak. There's no hiding that accent. In England, I belong. I visit often; I feel at home; I just don't live there anymore.

A few years ago, when William Gibson was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, he said: I am a native of science fiction but no longer a resident.2 I understood exactly what he meant.

My most recent novel, Hild, has no fantastical elements whatsoever. It's not set in a secondary world, there are no dragons, no wizards casting spells, no special swords or magic rings. Yet the book has been nominated for three SF awards3. Why?

Perhaps it's because I'm a native of SF and it shows: Hild might be a literary novel but it speaks with a fantasy accent and uses the grammar of science fiction. It relies on world-building, the grand "What if...?" learnt reading and writing SF. More than that, it relies on readers being willing to take that leap of faith into the unknown—the ability to take odd spellings, strange names, unfamiliar concepts in stride, to risk just going with the flow and trust it'll make sense eventually—that is one of the mainstays of our genre.

Perhaps it's because of the setting. Hild begins fourteen hundred years ago, in the north of Britain. A time that used to be called the Dark Ages, lit in our imagination by flickering flame, with menhirs looming from the mist and men on horseback waving swords. It was a time when kings were petty warlords, might was right, and some thought there was a god on every hill.4 The tropes of this milieu are often appropriated by fantasy writers, so much so that it's become a cliché. But here's the thing: the setting of Hild is real. Hild was a real person. Everything in that book could actually have happened.5

Perhaps, then, it's because I deliberately worked to give the book the feel of myth and epic. It might be a novel of character—Hild is in every single scene; there's no "Meanwhile, several hundred leagues away in the head of a character you've forgotten about"—but it's painted on a heroic canvas. There's gold and glory, plots and politics, sweeping change and a focus on systems (economic, climatic, and behavioural). There's also very human joy and misery, fear and hope, lust and boredom, and a few simple contentments.

I admit, I wanted Hild to be the Platonic ideal of a novel: to feel like myth, yet to make sense not only on an epic but a personal scale; for its magic to be the wild magic of the landscape and that of the human heart.

Margaret Atwood (in)famously defined speculative fiction as being about what could happen. If we focus only on that and ignore her other idiotic pronouncements6 , then Hild is separated from the genre only by a matter of tense; if I've done my research properly, it's what could have happened.

In this sense, then, I'm comfortable defining Hild as speculative fiction. It relies on a tradition practised by fantasy and science fiction writers and readers. It could not exist without the particular reading stance honed by and required by genre, the willingness to reach understanding as one proceeds. But I was surprised when it (along with Karen Joy Fowlers's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves) was nominated for a Nebula.

Clearly some voting members believed a fantasy accent or science fiction grammar enough for a book to belong to the genre. But maybe it's not the books that are considered to belong but the authors.

I can't speak for Karen but, yes, I am part of the SF community and have been for decades. And it is a community (or, rather, many interlocking communities). I went to the Nebula Awards Weekend in San Jose not because I thought I'd win—I knew I wouldn't7—but to hang out in the bar. To spend time with my people. Because the readers and writers of SF are my people. I feel at home here; I belong.

In May, before I went to the Nebulas, I read a review of Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry, edited by TC Tolbert and Tim Trace Peterson.8 Frances Power, the reviewer, suggests (I'm paraphrasing) that speculative writing helps us to live because the definitions by which we live are products of culture. They are imaginary; we made them up.

She's referring to the work of Judith Butler on the gender binary but I think her opinion applies equally to the artificial division between SF and so-called mainstream fiction: both are cultural constructs, invented categories; we can uninvent them.

The tricky part, of course, is who are We—whose definitions are we using?

The world is changing. It no longer belongs to angry white boys sitting around in their white-wall buzz cuts eating white bread and watching Leave It To Beaver. (I'm not sure it ever did, but they certainly thought so.) The world is changing and the SF community is changing with it. I understand that this upsets some people; change is hard. But change also lies at the heart of the genre. It's who we are, what we do. We ask "What if...?" and follow the answer relentlessly.

The big "What if..." in Hild is: What if women had always been real human beings, human in, of, and by themselves rather than in relation to men? What if, despite the stories we've been told—and ask yourself who told those stories—women have always found a way around their constraints, just as we do today? What would history have really looked like? I wrote this book to find out.

What we read, what we experience in the privacy of our heads, changes us one at a time. For me the best books put us right there, right then with a character, make her experiences our own, his lessons our lessons, their lives ours lives. We become them, just for a little while, and come back increased.

In this way, books can change the world: they change us, one at a time. With Hild I've come back to the question that lay at the heart of Ammonite: What if all people are just people? What if that has been, is, and will be true in every time and place?

And so, for me—though of course every writer is different—the past is where I turn the key that unlocks the answers. If someone like Hild, someone with her agency, her will, her determination was possible fourteen hundred years ago, then she is possible now. If she's possible now then the odds are good that we're making very sure she will be possible in the future. And suddenly the world looks different: if the lights go out, women don't have to be chattels.9

This is why I made the world of seventh-century Britain as real as I could, why I decided against an alternate history or secondary world fantasy, though that would have been far easier: I wanted to change this one.

At SF gatherings built around books and stories—functionally I see no difference between conferences, conventions, and award weekends—the sense of community is palpable. It can be hard to tell the difference between writers and fans. First and foremost, SF writers are fans; we are readers. In this genre there's an assumption of equality between those two sides10 that I had no idea was not true for others. The gathering is structured for mutual support of readers and writers. We exchange reading recommendations, information on publishing, direct experience of life, the universe, and everything. The weekends (they are usually weekends) are administered and run by the community itself.

In my experience, then, the SF community is something special. Yes, there's always been in-fighting, some of it vicious. We have always fought, as all communities do, over who owns the clubhouse: who makes sets the standards and makes the rules? Who is Us and who is Other?11

Our community is in the process of experimenting, of unmaking and remaking. Expect the pendulum, the definition of what is and what is not genre, to swing wildly meanwhile. I have no doubt that many find this unsettling, but meanwhile there are some astonishing moments.

It was amazing to sit at the Nebula Awards and watch women win, cheer women of colour as they climbed the stage, listen to a woman who loves women tell her Toastmaster jokes. It was fabulous to see men applaud heartily and laugh at the jokes about gender. To me and many people in that room, it felt like a vast hand pushing aside old boundaries, making room for even more experimentation.

And isn't that the point of SF, to experiment, to ask "What if...?"

Perhaps my insistence on realism is what disqualifies Hild as SF. I'm okay with that. For now. But it'll be interesting to see if this holds true in the future, to see who We become, who owns SF.

1 I'm going to use SF as an umbrella term to cover fantasy, science fiction, speculative fiction, horror, etc. It's just easier.
2 I'm paraphrasing. This was relayed to me secondhand at a dinner party by someone who attended the ceremony. That was six years ago. But I think the essentials are accurate.
3 Shortlisted for the Nebula and John W Campbell Memorial Awards and named a Tiptree Honor book.
4 Not everyone, of course. Perhaps not even most. Then, as now, culture was not monolithic; there were many layers, levels of status, belief systems. Then, as now, individuals in the same family could have radically different worldviews. (Just like the SF community. Or communities. I'll come back to this.)
5 Though I did, apparently, make one idiotic error regarding hay: they kept it loose and didn't bale it. (Mea culpa.) What people of early seventh-century Britain did or did not do with hay, though, is not (in my opinion) enough to classify a novel as fantasy.
6 See, for example, the Guardian.
7 Though I admit I was disappointed when I didn't win. Yes, intellectually I knew I wouldn't. Yes, I've won it before. No, Hild's not fantasy. Yes, it was an honour and delight to be shortlisted. But it turns out hope springs eternal and I want all the prizes!
8 May 2014 issue of Poetry magazine, beginning p 105.
9 Or the world all white, or straight.
10 Samuel R. Delany has talked about the egalitarian foundations of the genre as we know it today. I can't find the reference but he mentions Wagner and his demand that audiences listen to his music as though it were more important than they were. And how SF's refusal to privilege creator over audience antipates postmodernism. Or something like that...
11 Men and Women. White people and People of colour. Straights and Queers (whether we're talking sexual orientation or gender identification). Able and Differently Abled (whether we're talking physically or neurologically). The list is almost endless—and not particular to SF. Religion and class and political ideology are the stuff of war and revolution.

*[Many thanks to Gary Wolfe, Jonathan Strahan, and Kelley Eskridge for the conversations that helped shape some of these ideas. See, for example, this Coode Street podcast.]*



Hi Nicola!

I think there are ways of approaching something like historical fiction that make it more, or less genre-like in its tone and argument. There are, have been genre writers who have written historical novels whose novels haven't been enfolded into genre. But yours has.

Hearing the linked coode street podcast was when I first started thinking whether or not it counts. But then Gary and Jonathan are very interested in "edge cases" of fantasy and SF and have put Hild and you on the same footing as Margo Lanagan, or Ellen Klages/Andy Duncan, or Kij Johnson.

Also, SF is all about today, not the period or place it is set, and when you say "I wanted to change this [world].", you indicate that tradition.

It's an imperfect definition, but I think a story or novel is Fantasy and Science Fiction if we (the community) want it to be. Hild clearly gets a genre nod on that basis.


Yet the book has been nominated for three SF awards3. Why?

The big "What if..." in Hild is: What if women had always been real human beings, human in, of, and by themselves rather than in relation to men? What if, despite the stories we've been told—and ask yourself who told those stories—women have always found a way around their constraints, just as we do today? What would history have really looked like?

That may be part of the reason behind the "why" of the SF nominations. Just having a female character in that milieu with agency doesn't feel like something that is "real" to folk. Our preconceptions of dark ages doesn't have the holes for characters like Hild to fit into.

I think there are ways of approaching something like historical fiction that make it more, or less genre-like in its tone and argument. There are, have been genre writers who have written historical novels whose novels haven't been enfolded into genre

For me there is that element of strong world building the best historical fiction brings that is very similar to some SF.

It lets you live somewhere "other" for a while.

For me the world that Patrick O'Brian builds in his Aubrey–Maturin books is no less wonderfully odd than Frank Herbert's Dune books, or Iain Banks Culture. It just happens to be real(ish) ;-)


I second your notion and would like to add to the list Jack Whyte's completely non-magical telling of the Arthurian legend in the Camulod Chronicles series. Also, CJ Cherryh's works are more about sociology and relationships than about aliens, spaceships and genetic engineering, although they contain all of those.


This is, I'll say at the outset, a diversion from the actual focus of your comments—but I'm struck by your use of the phrase "gender binary." I encountered the use of "binary" in a similar sense a few weeks ago in a book I was copy editing, and it struck me as odd: I would have said "duality" or "dichotomy." I'm used to "binary" being short for "binary star"—that is, two objects that are not exhaustive of the space of possible objects, nor polar opposites on some one-dimensional continuum, but that happen to be associated with each other especially closely—or for "binary arithmetic." It's not obvious to me how it fits the meaning it's clearly being used to convey, and I'm not sure why the other words aren't felt to be suited to the purpose. When did this usage emerge? Is it perhaps British, or academic, or derived from some specific critical theorist? I'm afraid I can't help but be fascinated by language change, and this seems to be one.


Who is Us and who is Other?

A question that doesn't arise in other genres.

Though most people associate SF with robots and time travel and spaceships, SF is really just what's left over when the other genres draw their lines in the sand.

cheer women of colour as they climbed the stage, listen to a woman who loves women

You're all black print on white paper to me; if there's a more egalitarian medium I can't think of it. Unless your race, politics, or gender issues get in the way of your story, the depth my my lack of concern is hard to express.

There's a whole market out there who don't intersect in any meaningful way with the autocannibalistic scrum of fandom or awards, and I expect most of them don't care about your sex, gender orientation, race, or national origin.

This is, I'll say at the outset, a diversion from the actual focus of your comments—but I'm struck by your use of the phrase "gender binary." […] Is it perhaps British, or academic, or derived from some specific critical theorist? I'm afraid I can't help but be fascinated by language change, and this seems to be one.

In this instance it's binary as in "relating to, composed of, or involving two things", in reference to the work of Judith Butler. Butler spends some time arguing against a fixed masculine/feminine gender binary.


I've always taken (although I've never critically examined it, my bad) gender binary as indicative of male-female heteronormative relationships and they're not limited to dyads, although in Western Christian culture dyads are the socially accepted norm too. They're not automatically white - the orthodoxy of the African Christian churches are strongly, violently even, anti-homosexual and pro-heterosexual, even in cultures that are somewhat pro-polygamy. Strict Islam is pro-heterosexual and in some sects not anti-polygamy in some circumstances. (Yes, there are exceptions to all of these statements and I'm not trying to get into an argument about the merits of the religions, nor insult members of those religions. I'm using them as quick examples of fairly large and widely known cultural groups that support what I think is called the gender binary world view by those used to the term. I'm pretty sure that's within the guidelines of the moderators but apologies to anyone I offend and if it's not.)

I always assumed it's binary in the arithmetic sense, you're either in this role or that role. A 1 or a 0. There's no other spaces. Where do you go if you're any variety of queer, gay, bisexual? In a wider Western cultural sense where do fit if you're an dominant female (not necessarily in the fetish/BDSM sense but if you're an alpha and would be happy leading in the relationship but society denies you that chance? It's a lot better now than it was even when I was a kid.

But while for the majority sexuality might not be on much of a spectrum - if you fancy boys, or girls, you probably don't vary much and you quite possibly have a "type" even - as a species it's pretty clear we have a spectrum. Any attempts to force us into "Girls like boys, and demure, sweet, stay-at-home blonde girls with large breasts and no brains like 'go-get-em' alpha boys with lots of muscles" will work by accident for some subset of people but not for most. Even though it's the Hollywood dream.


who owns SF? Certainly, the writers, editors, artists...etc who make sf works. On the other hand,the fan community (people who go to conventions, award weekends and the like) make up maybe 1% of the SF book-buying public. I've bought upward of 2000 SF books over the past 50 years but never had any urge to go to a SF Convention (As a matter of fact, the very thought of going to one makes me cringe)

A question that doesn't arise in other genres.

I see folk having the same passionately tedious arguments in other genres. Romance, especially, has the same problem as SF in that anything "good" is reclassified as literature ;-)


Interesting that Hild, like say, oh, Clan of the Cave Bear, isn't regarded as hard science fiction.

After all, if you spend the effort to get the science right in the setting, why does it matter that it doesn't contain starships or rayguns or AI? If a story privileges the science by, oh, I don't know, trying to get the science RIGHT for a change, isn't it science fiction of the purest type?

It seems to me sometimes that SF has become regarded as a subset of fantasy set apart by its props, rather than its nature. Rather than magic, SF runs on applied phlebotinium. Rather than magic gates, SF has dimensional portals. Rather than other worlds, SF has alien planets. SF may have the Force (with those laughable midichlorians) rather than magic, but they serve the same purpose. And so forth. The science has been lost, perhaps because most of the people who write science fiction don't have much (or any) science training. As a result, they miss the point, and simply use science as a props store room.

Real science fiction doesn't have to be written by scientists, but it does have to obey the fundamental rule of good science, which is that reality is always right. In reality-based stories, if the desires of the author conflict with the reality of the situation, the reality automatically wins and the author changes the story to conform to it. In fantasy, it's the other way around: everything's malleable and at the service of making a good story, and in a conflict, reality changes to conform to the author's (or editor's) whim.

It's sad that, ultimately, real science fiction seems to be in a ghetto of its own: speculative fiction, deprived even of its proper name. SFF (science fiction/fantasy) is effectively one genre, where the science is purely ornamental, and they're all fantasy stories that could never take place in the real world. Yes, there's freedom in SFF, but there's irrelevance too. The most dangerous stories are speculative, because they challenge the world to be a different place, by showing what could actually be. SFF seems mostly to be simple escapism, defined equally by Sturgeon's Law and the LCD marketing. Yes, that's not entirely bad, but it's definitely second best.


Oooh, I like "passionately tedious" as a phrase, although I think you could use "tediously passionate" as well.


think there are ways of approaching something like historical fiction that make it more, or less genre-like in its tone and argument.

I'm of the opinion that all fiction is alternate reality, even (or possibly especially) historical fiction. No matter how much research the writer does, even if they could have transcripts of conversations ro that they have the exact words said by their 'characters' there's going to be interpretation by the author that takes it into speculation. The same goes for so-called Non-Genre or Literary fiction.

I'd also like to get rid of the cliché that all fiction is about the time it's written in. Yes, history will have an influence on it--it should, and is what helps make it realistic, and now is the history that informs the future of SF. But does that automatically make it about now?

Apologies for stating the obvious, and not expressing myself as well as I'd like--have a migraine at the moment.


> Who is Us and who is Other A question that doesn't arise in other genres.

I take it you don't read much "Immigrant" Fiction? Books by immigrants or their children, or really anyone who is not in the majority are pretty much all about being Other.


Margaret Atwood (in)famously defined speculative fiction as being about what could happen. If we focus only on that and ignore her other idiotic pronouncements

Have you read Atwood's "In Other Worlds", her collection of essays on SF? Well worth a read.


@Princejvstin Yes. Damon Knight said something along the lines of "SF is what I'm pointing at when I say that's SF." Best. Definition. Ever.


@Adrian Howard I know. But my hope is that enough writers of every stripe write enough women with agency that it becomes the norm; we will expect it. It won't feel like fantasy at all. Perhaps if we do our job well enough, we'll write ourselves out of the genre marketplace.


I love Patrick O'Brian! I've read his Aubrey/Maturin novels a dozen times. I talk about why in a piece for NPR last year:


I liked Whtye's books. Mostly. I loved the process descriptions in them--how to forge a sword!--but he could have benefited (IMO) from a much stronger editorial hand.


@ William I first encountered binary as a gender-related term in the 80s. If I recall correctly (and it's been a long time) it's used dismissively, to point to the fact that gender is not an on/off yes/no either/or state but a continuum.


@TRX People don't care, no, as long as we don't talk about it. I lost count of the number of reviewers, for example, who complained that Slow River was all queer, that there's no straight sex at all. There was plenty of straight sex, they just couldn't see it because all they saw was the queer sex. Obviously I overstepped some kind of internal quota.

We all have them--quotas--whether we're aware of them or not.


@michael b Ah, but you're part of the community if you're commenting here.


@Adrian Oh, god, yes. I get so tired of the "but your work transcends genre!" crap. And the speaker doesn't even understand why I might feel that my genre is being insulted.


@heteromeles Well, Sturgeon's Law is definitely still operative, in any genre. Though I admit I tend to think of genre as a marketing label, not an artistic/writerly one.

I write books (and the occasional story). I try to make each conform to its own logic, to follow its stated principles ruthlessly. The thing is, much SF (umbrella term) begins from a place that is either impossible (fantasy), didn't happen (if you ignore the the notion of the multiverse, alternate history), or hasn't happened yet. You have to allow for that one exception to what we know to be true, and then apply the ruthlessness.

Increasingly, I find that I'm okay to do that with short fiction--which is why all my stories and novellas could be labelled SF without blinking--but not with novels. Why? I haven't figured that out. Yet.


@JamesPadraicR Yes. All fiction is, in its way, speculative.

Sorry about the migraine. Hope it improves.


I have not. But it's on my list.


I was wondering if you had. Admittedly, my memory of reading it is a little hazy (it was a stressful month, a couple years ago, when I did), but I think it's safe to say that Atwood's views have evolved past the "Space Bats and Talking Squids", or whatever she had once said. Not that she was exactly wrong about some of the genre at the time. Well, she's entitled to her opinion, and we to disagree.

And the head is better. Thanks!


In a conversation over dinner with an sf critic a month ago I heard that Atwood simply doesn't know what she's talking about--that judging by the book, she stopped reading widely in the genre in the 50s.

I'll reserve judgement til I've read it for myself. But it wouldn't surprise me to find the critic right, sigh.


If it could have happened, then somewhere in one of the half dozen possible multiverses it has.


I've been thinking about the wider question of the original title and essay, as well as going off topic about gender binary.

The easy answer is, of course, the community. However, the label for the genre is created I guess by advertising people in publishing houses. They wanted to make it easy for people to find books and authors they consider to be similar. They still label books, be they dead tree or electronic - although with electronic tags it's easier to get them into more places of course. But for walking into your typical bookstore they're going to want to shelve the book in one place. But from the publisher's perspective it's also complicated because they want someone who reads one of your books to make it easy to find another one - and although the Big River makes that easy, in a physical bookstore, if I found your first book under historical fiction (or much more likely SF&F) I want to find your other books there. (OK, these days I'm searching on iBooks by author name and it's not important, but I do search by genre too.)

None of that accounts for why a particular book might get counted as SciFi when you don't particularly think it is. The laziest suggestion of course is that the community counts you as one of "our authors" so, unless you've written a factual book, what you write is SF&F. And ultimately I suspect that's it. I've not read Hild yet (it's downloaded, but it's in the queue to read and I'm having a busy time at work) and nor have I read any of Hilary Mantel's books. But what makes her stuff literature and yours "only" SciFi? What makes Margaret Atwood and Doris Lessing two of the few authors (Aldous Huxley perhaps?) able to transcend the boundaries between literature and SF?

And will we ever get to an answer... we can always chase around this but ultimately I think it comes down to the human need to categorise, label and pigeonhole. And for most people, once you're in one pigeonhole you're doomed to stay there. You're one of "ours" - an SF writer so anything you produce however much it's an accurately researched historical literary piece, will be speculative fantasy.


BTW, why isn't Hild classified as historical fiction?


@El nor have I read any of Hilary Mantel's books. But what makes her stuff literature and yours "only" SciFi? What makes Margaret Atwood and Doris Lessing two of the few authors (Aldous Huxley perhaps?) able to transcend the boundaries between literature and SF?

I imagine their first novel wasn't a mass-market paperback with a lurid yellow-orange-and-red colour scheme and a jellybean spaceship on the front :)


I've always felt, and apparently the SFWA voters feel the same, that what makes a story fantasy/sci-fi is the world building. Historical fiction can certainly sneak in this way, especially if the setting is an alien as dark age Britain and extensive world building is required.



If you look at the US Amazon info HILD is described: Literature & Fiction > British > Historical and Literature & Fiction > Literary Fiction > Sagas UK publishers call it "A literary triumph - an epic historical novel"

So basically publishers and retailers call it what they want. I sit back and watch with interest.



Hild is all about the world-building. I love that stuff. Setting is my primary joy as a writer and this was an excuse to time-travel, to visit Yorkshire 1400 years ago when the skies weren't cut by contrails, the landscape by road and rail, and the air stank only nature (and, even then, humans' excessive footprint upon it).


I grew up in the 1950's. SF is owned by John W. Campbell, jr.

Personally, I like some "fantasy" better than SF, e.g. the Dennis Schmidt Kensho series (which I'm currently rereading). But I never call it SF, even if it does involve Space Ships and alien planets and life forms. (Campbell was rather peculiar about what he allowed and what he didn't allow. But for me he defined the genre.)


I lost count of the number of reviewers, for example, who complained that Slow River was all queer, that there's no straight sex at all.

Which doesn't surprise me, but it doesn't always work that way.

When I sent "Rule 34" to my agent in (thinks) 2010, she read it and liked it ... and completely failed to notice that only one of the major protags wasn't LGBT! As, it appears, did a lot of the reviewers. Sniff. (I don't think it even got noticed by the Lambda judges.)

I seem to have gotten so pigeon-holed as "straight white male SF author" that people don't notice when I do something else. While if you're identified as QUILTBAG or PoC or Other, whatever you do will be noticed and interpreted as a statement even when you're not making any statements.


I guess you weren't calling it your "Big, gay, near future, crime novel" loudly enough? Unfortunately that might have lost it readers.

And because of that phrase I think of Rucker's "Turing and Burroughs" as his "Big, gay, 1950s Sci-Fi B-movie novel". Though not so big, but a lot of fun.


While if you're identified as QUILTBAG or PoC or Other, whatever you do will be noticed and interpreted as a statement even when you're not making any statements.

That goes back to what I said about "Immigrant Fiction". I read an interview with Jhumpa Lahiri where she said she was tired of that label, she'd rather just be considered a good writer.


Yes. It gets tiresome to have the label Writer qualified all the time. Because when people use labels like 'SF Writer' or 'Lesbian Writer' or 'PoC Writer' or 'Woman Writer' the subtext is: only a lesbian or PoC or woman or SF writer. That is, not a real writer.


The Library of Congress has catalogued it as:

600 0 4 ‡a Hilda, ‡c of Whitby, Saint, ‡d 614-680 ‡v Fiction.

651 0 ‡a Great Britain ‡x History ‡y Anglo-Saxon period, 449-1066 ‡v Fiction.

655 7 ‡a Historical fiction. ‡2 gsafd

The 600 refers to a person as a subject, the 650 to the Library of Congress subject classification, and the 655 to a genre classification, in this case through the Guide To Subject Analysis For Fiction And Drama.

It's historical fiction - you'll have to give the Nebula nomination back, Nicola!


Writers are like dragons: we hoard our awards and nominations, we gloat over them, we croon. We never, ever give them back!


I don't know if it applies here, but it's very easy to imagine a story in which the orientation of any of the characters is not, in fact, determinable with any reliability.

This probably won't stop such stories being labelled as "everyone is straight".

It also may not apply to Rule 34, which I confess to not having read. I don't know how much romance and the like is in there.


For a concrete example, see My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Only four characters have any orientation in evidence: Rarity, Spike , Cadence, and Shining Armour.

Almost everyone else, no hint is given.

I'd argue that in such a case, if one were to insist that this still says something about orientation, that it says everyone is completely asexual.


I'm trying really hard to express this (not just because my first caffeine is still diffusing through the blood supply so the thought processes aren't clear) but I remember noticing in Halting State that the copper was a lesbian. It's harder to remember how clearly I noticed in Rule 34 the LGBT nature of all the characters because you've pointed it out here often enough - but I remember a few, including the cop, the protagonist, the guy in the pub and so on that struck me at the time.

But in quite a lot of what I'm going to be lazy and lump together as 'Queer Fiction' their non-heterosexuality is the core of their identity. It's Paul the gay hairdresser, Emily the butch dyke cop and Charlie the transgender gardner. (I don't know why TG people work outdoors in relatively low skilled jobs, but that's another stereotype. Hey ho. Although it is changing.) With all your characters (perhaps it's also an artefact of the second person storytelling, it's hard to be sure but I don't think so) they're much more like actual people you might meet. The woman that runs the shop over the road from the coffee shop I frequent who is also a butch lesbian and her femme partner who I met once (who I think of as the femme partner because I can't remember what her job is.) But Tara is first Tara, who I chat to, then "her job", then a lesbian. Laura (who owns the coffee shop) is likewise a friend I chat to, then "her job" and then straight - although in her case its closer simply because her partner is the cook and they both chat to me about recipes they might try to add to their repertoire, particularly veggie ones, so I know her partner well too.

So while the book contains LGBT characters, they fit the mould for characters who happen to be LGBT rather than books that the LGBT writing and awards community recognise. Hope that's clear. Coffee levels high enough but time to work.


I'm far from certain that I'm addressing your point here, but I'd suggest that the reason that most "organised religion" has a down on same-sex relationships is that, until recently, they didn't (couldn't) produce a new set of targets for the brain-washing programme.


I was going to try and say something similar in response to #37, but I think I can just agree that Rule 34 (and Halting State) treat sexuality (and any kinks) as an aspect of a character's personality, rather than a definition of "who they are".


I think we're drifting WAY off topic and we're not up to comment 100. We're also drifting dangerously close to warning card territory. I don't think I'm going to get there with what I'm going to say - I'm going to try very hard not to - but I'm conscious it's a possibility.

I'm going to claim (without much evidence except I'm going to assume you can observe it too) that there's (at least) two things within large organised religions. There's a group of people with genuine spirituality. They (usually at least) include the founder(s) and early followers and many of the laity. Then there's a drive for power and control. Within the Christian Church the rank of Bishop was regarded as "A Prince among Men" and today the bishops all (I believe) automatically have a place in the upper house of the UK parliament. Oddly they bother me less than the hereditary peers - they're unelected (like all our Lords) but at least they've done something and been selected to get there. But that's by the by.

Machiavelli isn't my favourite author on power politics, and I'm not sure he's right: most organised religions point out something he missed. Machiavelli suggested you should make those who follow love you or fear you. Religions tend to suggest love you, or the one you speak for on Earth, fear the alternative and hate someone else. Add in some arcane rules to control basic human urges so they, the gullible masses, feel guilty all the time and you're on to a winner.

Religions love to demonise based on silly things. Swift thought it was satire when he had schismatic wars based on which end of the boiled egg you opened. Is that really any sillier than whether you talk to God in the body of the priest, or you talk to God directly and are advised by the priest? But we had long, long bitter wars about that one. (Or you talk to God and (heaven forbid) don't talk to the priest at all. Ok that's much worse because the church has no power there.)

And while it's very easy to be rational and say "It shouldn't matter who you love, who you have sex with" if you have someone with the power to say "You're evil and no one in this village is allowed to help you!" who also says "Two women who sleep together are an abomination in the eyes of God. Sex is not for pleasure, it is the source of sin. It is only allowed for the begetting of more humans within wedlock and how are two women going to make babies with each other?!" However much you think he's wrong are you really going to stand up and speak out against him and risk starving to death if you're ill in the winter and no one will help you for fear of being excommunicated too?

Fortunately most of the world, at least the world I live in, is seeing that more and more openly gay people is not making the world fall over. They're seeing the frothing and ranting by the people who claim it is making the world fall over as... well frothing and ranting by madmen. That's not the case everywhere I know - Russia, parts of Africa and other places are clamping down. But I'm hoping it's the tail-end reaction of the scared old men clinging to power desperately.

Sadly, I'm not so sanguine about human nature. As LGBT people become accepted, as the variety of human sexuality does, we'll be a healthier culture. But human nature being what it is, we'll find something else to hate and fear and someone will exploit that and come to power on it.

Sorry for the rant. Normal service will be resumed. I must go back to work, my tea break isn't normally long enough to write this much!



Romance, especially, has the same problem as SF in that anything "good" is reclassified as literature ;-)

I've seen claims for some huge percentage of all fiction sold in North American being "romance," but that seems to be more of a publisher/imprint thing than anything to do with the kind of stories they are. I've encountered romance-SF, romance-Western, romance-detective, etc., all apparently recognized subgenres.

"What is SF?" vs. "What isn't romance?"


I lost count of the number of reviewers, for example, who complained that Slow River

...aaand... are you writing to please reviewers, who generally don't even pay for your books, or are you writing to please your paying customers, who generally don't care what some reviewer thinks?

No, I'm not persuaded that reviews relate to sales in any meaningful way.


I actually own some books that qualify as "romantic fiction", and also as (ray guns and FTL spaceships) "space opera", and could also squeeze into "humour" in some cases.


Risking even further straying off topic and into dangerous waters, I suspect that the basis for many religons having a downer on homosexuality and children born out of wedlock can be found by viewing their rules on relationships and sexuality as a societal survival guide for the time and place they were first written.

If you begin as a small tribe in an incredibly hostile environment, you want to produce as many children as possible that have the best chance of reaching a productive age. So you need a way to encourage (force?) every member of the tribe to breed and form stable long-term family groups. Bingo.

I suspect that the power and control aspects are factors that were initially side effects to the main purpose of the relationship/sexuality rules, but as the survival need that drove the rules has eroded over time, the power and control aspect has become the dominant factor for many religions.

Of course, I could be talking utter bollocks.


While that could be utter bollocks, I think you could be on to something. If it is wrong, a good explanation of the why would be interesting. And the idea that something doesn't make sense now is certainly tempting. But I am not sure that you do more than pick out one factor.

It's intriguing that the Roman Catholic church developed its idea of celibacy in the way that it did. Partly it's a reaction to inherited power, and that might explain both the existence of the Borgias and the distaste that developed. But what power would Cesare Borgia get in the modern world? The impression I get is that he would still be competent and ruthless, and he would be turning up at somewhere such as Davos — the World Economic Forum — but would there be things he wouldn't do?

I think any counter to your argument would start with your argument being too simple.


Well, on the question of the RCs and celibate clergy, my (possibly flawed) understanding is that it developed from around the Synod of Whitby.


I'm not sure that Cesare Borgia would be a Roman Catholic today?

Taken as a whole, the family sought and gained power. As did their rivals of course; the Borgias broke the 11th commandment, and while it's hard to say they lost, they certainly didn't win. History hasn't been kind to them.

In those days the oldest son went to the army, the second son went to the church and other sons went to... can't remember the rhyme. They added bankers and so on of course.

I'd guess we'd see more Borgia bankers and land owners. Probably an arms trading arm. Given the state of US adventurism, something like Haliburton or whatever they're called this week that runs private military contractors and reconstruction companies. Probably under a million cut out names.

Given how dirty their reputation is, it's not out of the question that they'd be mixed up in the illegal drugs trade, people trafficking and the like.

Perhaps the question is, would Cesare be a public figure or more like Don Corleone?


Yup, you're right.

Priests were angling for their children - that is their sons obviously - to inherit their parishes. The Synod of Whitby amongst other things established celibacy for the priesthood and the Roman rule rather than the Ionian rule. (Circular tonsures, Easter as a movable feast and so on.)


Of course, I could be talking utter bollocks.

Yes, you are.

The proof being that those original, earliest recorded codified tribal beliefs didn't actually obsess over what we today call homosexual behaviour. (Historical cultures had radically different attitudes to human sexuality and to family structure; consider for example the Roman attitude to how social status determined the degree of sexual shame attached to particular actions. Or the ancient Greek porneia.)

The Biblical "roots" of homophobia barely exist, for example. Leviticus denounces men who lie with men as being unclean in one passage ... but uses exactly the same language to denounce the eating of shellfish and the wearing of cloth made from mixed fibers! Eating pork is apparently a worse abomination, as is astrology. But which of these practices gets the no-love response from today's religious fundamentalists?

Some of the ancient injunctions may well have been survival heuristics. Eating shellfish is probably a bad idea if you're a desert tribe with no refrigeration and no idea about red tides or poisonous plankton blooms. The injunction against seething a calf in its mothers milk would appear to be a ban on cheese-making (hint: calves stomach linings contain rennet, the enzyme required to coagulate casein, the main protein in milk, a necessary step in cheese making). Again: cheese, made with unpasteurized milk in a desert climate -- possibly a bit dodgy.

But a lot of these rules make no obvious sense in a modern context, or even an historical one (other than to establish fixed cultural practices as barriers to defection to a wider regional culture). And they've been co-opted to serve modern purposes that they're quite ill-adapted to.


I think you're forgetting that reliable birth control only became available in the 20th century. Before that, sex always had a substantial risk of pregnancy. A lustful couple could easily have 8 or 10 children, and unless they were extremely wealthy the vast majority of them could not be fed. The odds of the mother dying in childbirth and leaving her earlier children motherless were not insubstantial, either.

In premodern times lust was seen as a serious sin, for several rather good reasons. Even within the context of marriage it had to be carefully moderated to avoid great suffering. Naturally, this left most people fairly horny and repressed. I expect homosexuality mostly got tarred with the same brush as straight sexuality.


While completely willing to own up to speculating wildly on the matter (hence my "it could be bollocks" coda), I'm not sure I'm willing to let the idea go as "utter bollocks" (and yes, I will stop using that word now, it's getting tiresome).

I think there's an underlying point that I was stuggling to make: What we are told or think of in the present as reasons for religions creating various rules on sexuality and relationships, the original reasons might be completely different and not necessarily obvious from a modern perspective. (Which I think other posters have now covered far more coherently than I.)

(Another quick coda: I'm not defending the homophobic and reactionary attitudes of many major religions, I find them pretty darn repugnant, but at the same time fascinating to try to understand where, why and how they began.)


@TRX Reviews in some journals can have a significant impact on both short-term sales and award nominations. Award nominations have a significant impact on long-term sales/career. So, yes, reviews matter. Sadly.


Who owns SF? Interesting choice of words.

I've been saying for decades that SF&F is unlike any other type of literature, though perhaps poetry comes closest. That's because, to expand on what Nicola noted, with a literal handful of execptions, all authors are fans, have friends who are fans, and most fen have, at least at some point, tried their hand at writing the genre.

What this means is that, unlike the rest, the people who read the genre most heavily and the people who write it all know each other, and listen to each other (and, of course, in many case are one and the same). The feedback is massive.

As early as the late sixties, fandom was recognized by anthropologists as being a subculture in its own right, and we're a lot bigger since then. (I have a whole nother piece on the culture....)

So if anyone owns it, it's us. Why one poster says they "cringe" at the idea of going to a con... perhaps because they all they know is from snot-nosed idiots on TV, who only shoot pics of the pretty young woman in a skimpy- media-related costume, and the Klingon, and 99.44% of the time won't ever actually talk to the rest of us, or the folks running the con, or even authors and editors....

Because SF has not conquered the world: most folks entire knowledge of SF is movies and tv shows, and vaguely know that there are books, but assume they're all related to media. I've had people people literally boggled by the idea that I have, like many fen, well over 3,000 books, and that maybe two or three dozen have anything to do with any dramatic (or idiotic) presentation.

We own it. The hoi polloi thinks they're into it...but mostly does not own it.


Regarding 'homosexuality' and religion: it's all about control. (I am distinguishing religion from belief.) The Christian hierarchy wanted believers/adherents to obey. They especially wanted women to obey men. This simple, man-is-head-of-the-household, who then obeys the priest, who in turn obeys the bishop, etc, gets messed up when households don't follow the pattern. I'm being simplistic here, but I hope you see the argument.

To bring it back to Hild, there's some evidence that pre-Christian beliefs in Britain were loose and unorganised in the sense that there was no overweening hierarchy; gods and goddesses were personal, specific, and particular to events/moments. (If you were about to have a child, you sacrificed to one deity, to go to war, another.)

In that milieu, no one cared who you had sex with, as long as it didn't mess with succession (and/or play hell with the official relationship--jealousy is not a new thing).

I've written about Hild's sexuality elsewhere, most recently at Goodreads, where a reader asked me about attitudes to homosexuality in Hild's day. Here's my response:

Hild isn't lesbian/homosexual. She's bisexual. I doubt they had such terms back then, though. I've seen no evidence that who you did or did not have sex with defined how women thought of themselves.

Actually, there's no evidence for anything, sexually, in early seventh-century northern Britain. Nothing. No material culture and no text.

I'm guessing that Roman Christians, being Pauline to the core, would have disapproved. Indeed, Breguswith says as much in the book: be careful around the priests. But that was as much about having sex with anyone as having sex with women. Monks and priests like Bede (if we go purely by written evidence) thought women were more holy if they didn't have sex at all; being a virgin was better than being married, for example.

The way I see it, at the time, before widespread conversion to Roman Christianity, no one much cared who you did and didn't have sex with. Sex wasn't a moral issue. All royal women before the founding of nunneries (I think--though I'm wary of the words 'always' and 'never' in any context, never mind a time we know so little about) got married, and that if they then wanted to have sex with other women no one would much care as long as they were discreet. After all, the point of marriage was alliance, household management, and the provision of heirs. Married girls loving other married girls wouldn't have any impact on any of these points.

I talk about that a bit here:

There again, there's this incident from Ireland from the 8th century that makes sex between women sound rather jolly and uncomplicated:

Make of that what you will...

I've been saying for decades that SF&F is unlike any other type of literature, though perhaps poetry comes closest. That's because, to expand on what Nicola noted, with a literal handful of execptions, all authors are fans, have friends who are fans, and most fen have, at least at some point, tried their hand at writing the genre. What this means is that, unlike the rest, the people who read the genre most heavily and the people who write it all know each other, and listen to each other (and, of course, in many case *are* one and the same). The feedback is massive.

I have to admit I'm a little tad sceptical that SF is special in that regard. From my experience with mystery and horror fandom they seem to have about the same number of fans who try to write. Online fanfic and amateur writing sites seem to have just as much as non-SF as SF. Friend's stories of romance fiction cons seem to be very similar to friend's stories from SF cons…


I think you're forgetting that reliable birth control only became available in the 20th century. Before that, sex always had a substantial risk of pregnancy.

Not actually true: Germaine Greer took a look into this myth in "Sex and Destiny" nearly thirty years ago. It turns out that various cultures have taken different approaches to population (not birth) control (infanticide was a particularly common one). Some actually had hormonal contraceptives; others used sponges or other forms of pessary, and abortifacient herbal remedies were quite common.

What did for this was a whole bunch of factors, but urbanization was one -- it took families away from the farms/forests where people knew what herbs to use. Another was witch hunts (the 16th-18th century witch hunt craze in Europe and America killed off a lot of midwives), slavery and colonialization did a chunk more damage, and then the post-reformation puritan "sex is for making babies" thing really got rolling in the 18th century. But mediaeval Japan (for example) was at its malthusian carrying limit for centuries, mostly using the rhythm method and infanticide when that failed (to the best of my memory), and they were far from unusual in that.

A much bigger brake on "sexual immorality" in the 18th-19th centuries would have been fear of syphilis or other diseases. And even that didn't suffice to stop rampant prostitution, baby farming, and so on.

TL:DR; modern discourse on pre-modern sexual/family practices are coloured by our grandparents attitudes, which in many cases were really rather weird and not accurate at all.


What we are told or think of in the present as reasons for religions creating various rules on sexuality and relationships, the original reasons might be completely different and not necessarily obvious from a modern perspective.

Absolutely true. I'm just saying, the roots of modern homophobia lie elsewhere: the ancient religious texts may have been retconned as a justification for it rather than necessarily being the actual cause.


Regarding 'homosexuality' and religion: it's all about control.

Yes, absolutely. And it's not just about homosexuality, either: if we view all organized religions as systems of social control, then they make a lot more sense (whether or not their overt tenets of faith do so).


My understanding of premodern birth control methods was that they were pretty unreliable. Wikipedia agrees with me, for what that's worth.

Infanticide is reliable enough, but tends to anger the mother rather severely. To my knowledge it was only widely used in extremely repressive societies like Japan and Polynesia. If women have any say in reproduction whatsoever, they tend to prefer abstinence to infanticide.

Culturally, it's hard to say anything meaningful about "premodern times". That covers hundreds of societies over thousands of years, and each culture usually changed significantly on a 20-50 year timescale.


it's all about control.

People hardly ever do anything that isn't, on some level, about control. Even saying "It's about control" usually means "Don't do or believe what that other group wants you to; instead do and believe what I want you to."


Leviticus denounces men who lie with men as being unclean in one passage ... but uses exactly the same language to denounce the eating of shellfish and the wearing of cloth made from mixed fibers! Eating pork is apparently a worse abomination, as is astrology.

Trichinosis, perhaps? Cook your pork ineffectively, get colonised by (incurable) parasites.

Meanwhile, regarding homosexuality, and the levers of social control...

What reassured me in many ways was the actual behaviour of the UK equivalent of the "buzzcut brigade", rather than the expected/feared. As an officer in the late 90s, I had to stand up and make the formal announcement that HM Armed Forces now officially did not care about sexual orientation. As I put it, we were now consistent. You could be white, black, brown, red, yellow, or pink with purple stripes; straight, gay, or anywhere in between. It didn't matter - you were to look out for your mates, trust them, and back them up. And if you picked on others, or used a position of authority for personal gain or pleasure, then expect to be nailed to a tree (metaphorically). The assembled company merely went "fair enough", and then looked strangely at the exactly one NCO (out of a roomful of nearly a hundred soldiers) who grumbled.

The naysayers with decades-plus of experience predicted doom, the end of all things, and the collapse of combat effectiveness - and yet it didn't happen. Gay and straight soldiers live together in unbelievably close quarters (there is exactly zero privacy for anything when four of you spend days in a space the area of a large double bed), and the combat experience of Iraq and Afghanistan appears to have settled any argument - young, working-class lads with high levels of testosterone, average or worse levels of scholastic achievement (note that I don't say intelligence; the Forces pick up a lot of youths whose learning difficulties went undetected or inadequately supported in the school system) appear to have decided that "if Smudger is handy in a fight, pulls his weight in the team, and looks out for his mates, who cares which way he leans?"

Strangely, the US Armed Forces appear to be determined to die in a ditch over the whole issue, but to say they are socially conservative is possibly understatement ;) I say strangely, because in many ways the British Army is positively anti-intellectual, and the Americans far more able to review their effectiveness and change direction; I'd almost expect the opposite.


Piling on the homosexuality thing, I'd point out that Bruce Bagemihl does a pretty decent job of documenting the range of "alternative sexual behavior" among both animals and different groups of people. "Alternative" includes everything from using tools as masturbatory aids (by far the most common form of tool use among animals) to long-term homosexual relationships.

One thing he points out it out is that there's been a fairly hypocritical take on homosexuality in humans, at least in American (and to a lesser extent European) science. Back in the dim past of a few decades ago, zoologists weren't writing about the kinds of sex they saw animals actually having, and the big-mouths condemned "alternative sex" as wrong because it unnatural (the sin of Onan, sodomy, ad nauseum). After all, animals didn't do it. Once zoologists started speaking up about say, bonobos (who probably have more homosexual interactions than heterosexual ones), "alternative sex" got rebranded as "animalistic," because (apparently) humans should discipline themselves to only have heterosex or do without, and not do it all the way the animals actually do.

As I said, hypocritical.

So far as I can tell, sexual diversity is one of those long-tailed phenomena in humans, with masturbation being the most common sexual behavior, followed by hetero-sex, homo-sex, and then going on a sharply decreasing frequency curve down from there with a long list of categories. We're always going to be stuck with labeling some sexual behaviors as dangerously deviant: necrophilia always makes this cut (it's dead wrong, as the joke goes, especially when the perp requires a fresh corpse), as do some forms of sexual assault. The ugly gray area is in things like incest (is it okay if you're royal and trying to keep the land in the family?), pedophilia, and rape. In our society, none of these are okay. In other societies they have all been permitted. As a member of our society, I'm a big fan of consensual sex and I'll tolerate a wide variety of forms, but I draw the line at incest (even non-reproductive incest), and non-consensual forms pedophilia and rape are also wrong in my book. Unfortunately, I've got to acknowledge that these are cultural norms, not biological truths, that I'm supporting here.


It seems that these days, we have a merging of the genres of fantasy and science fiction. There is some overlap with horror, and we have something that is very fantastical, but often with the trappings of science fiction - superhero comics.

The audience is very much overlapping, but we tend to keep these separate in our minds.


I'd say it's always been merged in a sense; that science fiction is a subset of fantasy.

This is based on characteristics of the genres, not on what people assert about them, of course. All the things that fantasy involves, so does science fiction, but not the reverse.

That said, it's easy for people to confuse the trappings with the underlying principles, with lots of subgenres that automatically go in one or the other even if they don't belong.

I'd say the principle that distinguishes SF from fantasy is how seriously the science is taken.


@69: Strangely, the US Armed Forces appear to be determined to die in a ditch over the whole issue, but to say they are socially

conservative is possibly understatement ;

I did a web search to refresh my memory of the demographic breakdown, but the statistics, as so often happens, seem curiously mutable.

Broadly, somewhere near half of all enlisted personnel are from the former Confederacy, about 20-25% from "flyoverland", and the rest from everywhere else. That's about as "conservative" a demographic as you're likely to see.


science fiction is a subset of fantasy.

I'd say it's a subset defined by limits.

If you're writing, say, a police procedural, you're working with a given set of building blocks. Cops, criminals, procedures, crime scene investigation tools, surveillance video... they're all known components of the police procedural genre.

If your some of your building blocks aren't part of the approved set - your setting is the Rome of 125 AD, or your cops are aliens, or the CSI crew are demons, your genre shifts to "historical fiction" or "science fiction" or "fantasy", even though the underlying story is still "police procedural."


"Actually, there's no evidence for anything, sexually, in early seventh-century northern Britain. Nothing. No material culture and no text."

Actually this is perhaps one of the most interesting observations - that when these cultures were making lasting artefacts, the closest they got to the subject of sex was 'fertility' - not quite the same thing.

Contrast that with today, where sex, love and yearning after one specific woman, man, sheep is the mainstay of the 'arts'.

It kind of leads to two possible conclusions:

a) they were so busy surviving, they didn't have time to waste on the whole area (Maslow-wise). Seems unlikely, if they did put some attention on gods, etc.

b) they, frankly, didn't have any trouble getting whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted it. It therefore was about the same level of importance as breathing - you wouldn't want to do with out it, but it's hardly an issue and not something you make art about generally.

All of which brings us back to the reason the discussion came round to sex when it started off being about "who owns SF". Maybe the reason someone might consider SF avoids sex is because they put more focus on it than most SF writers do; because they aren't sufficiently sated personally?


PS SF needs at least one thrust of the story be about a development of a science based idea - it's not complicated, the clue is in the title.


There's a comment, I think from a Hopi, that people make songs about the things that are limited or lacking in their lives. The Hopi songs are about water, and this Hopi was amused that Anglo songs are all about love.

As Sir Pterry said, there's a grain of truth in that.

Extrapolating from a sample size of one, we might imagine that the English of the 6th century didn't lack for love. What were their songs about, anyway? Dragons? Hopefully they lacked for dragons. I'd be rather more concerned if they had songs about cattle and grain.


ALmost entirely wrong all the way through, as you are in #56 too. Priestly celibacy didn't come in until some time between 95 - 1050 CE, IIRC. Nicola & Charlie have it. Religion is about control & even more, power. And hate of course, especially of "heretics". Hugh Trevor-Roper gave a brilliant series of lectures on the box, back in the early 60's where he said that "Heretics were even wronger" than unbelievers, because they knew the truth & then went off & did the wrong thing" Hence the Albigensian crusade, the Wars of Religion & the ongoing Sunni/Shia split.


It was about seventy years ago that the War Office was worried that British soldiers would be too friendly with German civilians (and that isn't a euphemism). My late father told a few stories about the German PoWs who worked on the family farm, and how they told him they had been well-treated by the British Army. They could show him photographs of their familes. The PoWs who surrendered to the Americans didn't have that.

My mother's stories suggested that the USAAF would try to buy anything (and that includes the euphemism).

Now, that's maybe in part the difference between being essentially at home, and being in a foreign country, but the Official Viewing With Alarm was rather different.

That's a long time ago, but those stories are why your story about the British Army reaction doesn't surprise me. There are bad stories, even post-war, and they often seem to have a strong colonial element. They're often about situations where the Army was involved with hanging on to British power in a country.

You're much closer to the reality. But, when there was a recruiting advert with the tagline "Because Their Country Needs You" I felt rather glad. I saw those soldiers at the Olympics, and heard what the foreign visitors said, and I also knew what those red and green berets signified.

Your story is one of many that tells us we have an Army we can be proud of, which seems to be rather shamefully used by too many politicians.


... and abortifacient herbal remedies were quite common. LOTS of mint - especially the variety/species called "Pennyroyal". Small ( often VERY SMALL) quantities of Wormwood & maybe Rue - though you have to be very careful with the latter - can cause permanent sterility will "Improve" the action. Hence, of course, the "Gypsies remedy", which , as you say got forgotten or wiped out in stages 1650 - 1850


Exception The late Sir Peter Scott noted "deviant" sexual behaviour in many Ducks (especially) & Swans & commented that this was only to be expected, because all species did it. [ I was reading a fascinating piece on Bewick's Swans at the time - apparently their beak-marking shapes are very distinctive, if you have acatalogue, you can easily identify individual birds, quite easily ]


There was also the infamous "No Fraternisation" order issued to BAOR in approx My-June 1945, that quite frankly, lied to the troops, blaming all Germans for "war guilt". When we knew, quite well (My father's February-1944-printed handbooks on Germany, issued to people who were going to becom part of CivMilGov/Control Commission) that there was never more than about 42% support for Adolf, that there was internal resistance that was brutally crushed & that what could you do when the NSDAP had all the weaponry & Geheimnis-Polizei? The war hero, Lt-Gen Brian Horrocks ran badly across this one in December 1945, when he gave a christmas party for German children .....

82: 16

Damon Knight said something along the lines of "SF is what I'm pointing at when I say that's SF."

Science fiction is what science fiction readers read.

Except for Dhalgren. Dhalgren is science fiction too.


Ah, but Dhalgren is by one of us...


If you're writing, say, a police procedural, you're working with a given set of building blocks. Cops, criminals, procedures, crime scene investigation tools, surveillance video... they're all known components of the police procedural genre.

You may be more hip to the police procedural genre than I am. How do Niven's Gil the ARM stories hold up under that lens? Yes, there are psychic powers and spaceships - but all the other things you list are in there too, front and center, and more important to the plot than the set dressing; generally organleggers and stun darts could be replaced by drug lords and coshes if necessary.

It probably says something about my age that I can imagine Gil Hamilton, psychic powers or not, working through a pile of paperwork in the Barney Miller squad room.


And it's a fantastic book. Blew my mind so much that I went out and got a copy for a friend.


Sorry to sidle in, TRX, but in reply to scott-sanford ? //pretty well as locked room mysteries ..locked Moon Mysteries .. combined with the SF/fantasy genre do many other genre stories.

Consider some of the Disc world stories and, oh. the Lord Darcy stories and you Really want me to wibble on interminably on the subject? If needs be I could call in my old friend Dave Langford for back up?

In the mean time you could look for ...

with attention to ..." Sci Fi "

" This is another superlative police procedural mystery, set in the fictional Hong Bay section of Hong Kong, starring those inimitable Hong Kong police officers, Harry Fieffer (the boss), Christoper O'Yee (Amerasian), and Detectives Auden and Spencer, playing once again their combination of Marx Brothers and NYC's finest. Anyway, in this outing, the boys are challenged by the arrival of a science-fiction convention, with the usual fans dressed up as their favorite aliens, parades, and general mayhem. O'Yee is hunting for...well, we won't spoil it...something REALLY hard to find, while Audena and Spencer are looking for a mugger in a multi-story parking garage. Feiffer is looking for the fiend who is incinerating citizens for no apparent reason. Marshall once again combines the zany with the suspenseful, and once again my eyebrows are sore from raising them at all the hair-raising (pun intended) hold-your-breath scenes. If you're looking for a great police procedural series, and one that doesn't take itself too seriously, you are in the right place in Hong Bay with Marhall's band of loonies. Long may they reign! "

There really is an awful lot of SF/Fantasy related stuff in the Detective/Police Proceedural ..and even the Espionage genres.

Would you like Somthing Odd in the novel line ? Somthing that you will have trouble outguessing the author on the resolution? NO, not Our Gratious Host ..try this, in which the autor totally screws up his prospect of a really successfull series in the interests of a really inscrutable mystery with a blindingly obvious soloution ..once you have read the novel. Oh he writes several more books in the series but nothing as good as ...

" Sinister, invisible forces of a secret mental weapon known only as The Dark are threatening the entire Primores galaxy, several transmitting leaps away from Earth. By the time a bizarre Mr. Smith comes to detective Jan Darzek's New York office, whole planets have been lain waste.

Darzak is offered a million dollars by Smith to accept a job that will almost certainly be fatal: identify the incredible power that is about to overwhelm the few remaining planets in the beleagered galaxy, so that these worlds might somehow halt the rampage. A superb science fiction novel by a master of the genre."

Sorry about the Big South American River link ..thats in the interest of speed and, er - shuffels feet in an embarased sort of way = laziness.


that people make songs about the things that are limited or lacking in their lives

[thinks of the lengthy worldwide tradition of religious music...]


I'm sorry. My own copies of the Gil Hamilton and Jan Darzek books (which I thoroughly enjoy) are clearly labeled and marketed as "science fiction", not police or detective.

One of us has missed the other's point, somewhere along the line.

One of us has missed the other's point, somewhere along the line.

People tend to miss that genres aren't exactly mutually exclusive. They just tend to get treated that way for ease of figuring out where to shelve things.

The multiple valid locations for filing thing affects non-fiction too: does something like the TeX manual go in Graphic design or Computer languages? I expected the latter, whoever catalogued it at the library I was in chose the former.

I'd put the specific cases of Gil the ARM and Sam Vimes under SF/Fantasy partly because they're parts of series that taken as a whole belong there, especially if you have to pick just one genre. In a computerised system, it makes sense to put them under police procedural too, unless your database can't express that.


As Charles has noted, getting put on the "Crime" shelf rather than in the SF ghetto results in a lot more sales.


I agree there's a lot of overlap between certain genres, F/SF and Crime being a case in point. My local library and my local dead-tree bookshop agree that Paul Johnston's Quint Dalrymple books (set in a dystopic future Edinburgh) and JD Robb/Nora Roberts' " Death" (set in future New York) are Crime, but Halting State is SF (I don't known what the library thinks Rule 34 is – it's got it, but I haven't seen it since it disappeared from the "New Books" shelf). The library thinks Ken Macleod's near-future books (like The Execution Channel) are Crime, but the bookshop reckons they're SF. The bookshop also thinks Jon Grimwood's Assassini trilogy is SF, but the library has it under literary fiction; Ben Aaronovitch, on the other hand, is agreed by both to be SF (interestingly, the bookshop does have a section for urban fantasy/paranormal romance, but neither Grimwood nor Aaronovitch gets put there, despite the similar cast of characters). Both the bookshop and the library agree that Ursula Le Guin's Lavinia is SF, which it definitely isn't (it's a retelling of part of Virgil's Aeneid, so either literary or historical fiction): that's the "once a science-fiction writer, always a science-fiction writer" effect that is probably what's getting Nicola as well.

There's some logic to this: I'd argue that the future settings are more of a backdrop in Robb and Johnston, more crucial to the plot for Charlie. Some of it is preconception; some's based on the publisher blurb; I'm sure the bookshop is basing it on where the staff think the books are more likely to sell.

Personally, my dead-tree books are just divided into fiction and non-fiction. That's usually reasonably non-contentious!


Sorry about the Big South American River link ..thats in the interest of speed and, er - shuffels feet in an embarased sort of way = laziness.

Which leads us to the real answer to the question in the title of this post.

Jeff Bezos



In your FAQ and in wikipedia is write you live at Edinbourg. Where is the true ;)



Uiop, if you read the heading properly you would see that this is a guest blog entry by Nicola Griffith, who lives in the United States. Charles Stross, to whom this blog belongs, lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.


I don't known what the library thinks Rule 34 is – it's got it, but I haven't seen it since it disappeared from the "New Books" shelf...

From memory, my local library keeps the physical object on the SF shelves with the other Charles Stross novels. Fair enough. Querying their computer, I find they've got it helpfully tagged thusly:

  • Mystery Fiction
  • Science Fiction
  • Murder — Investigation — Fiction
  • Computer Crimes — Investigation — Fiction
  • Ex-convicts — Crimes Against — Fiction

And below a tab I didn't notice until hitting Submit:

  • Women detectives
  • Scotland -- Fiction

The 'Genre' field lists Mystery before Science Fiction, but that may be due to alphabetical order.


Good SF explains us to ourselves in terms of the 'other'. Gadgets (social policy) are a useful device but only when they show how an already existing human behavior will be altered/amplified by that gadget (social policy).

Just finished Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep which looks at cognitive organization variants including transcendence. Written in 1992, this idea was probably considered a pretty nifty uber-high tech concept, and the book as good-quality 'hard SF'. But what really impresses is how well this book seemed to foresee the commercialization and usage of internet/social media so well.


That does seem fairly comprehensive! However, I don't think that users of public libraries use the catalogue all that much (unlike users of academic libraries, into which category I also fall, and who look it up in the catalogue first before heading over the road), so where the physical object is probably defines who is going to find it, and therefore who is going to read it. I have found a fair number of new (to me) authors by browsing the F/SF shelves; I probably wouldn't have found them if they'd been under literary fiction (which has a lot more shelves, and which I therefore attack by targeted searches rather than random browsing).

Said library doesn't seem to have any of Nicola's books, under any heading – sorry, Nicola!


Said library doesn't seem to have any of Nicola's books, under any heading – sorry, Nicola! That's a pity. Mine does, maybe you can ask for an inter-library loan.


The 'Genre' field lists Mystery before Science Fiction, but that may be due to alphabetical order.

Probably - "Science fiction" is above "Mystery fiction" in the actual MARC record. Your library has downloaded the Library of Congress catalogue record for the book, which is again using the gsafd for genre headings. There's some UK agency (UKMGB - no idea what that is) that has also catalogued it - the subject headings are the same, but the genre headings are "Detective and mystery stories" and "Science fiction", presumably as defined by a legacy LoC scheme.

My own public library stripped out those genres and stuck their own in ("Science fiction and fantasy") to suit their own shelving system.

I suspect your last subject should read "* Women detectives -- Scotland -- Fiction".


Oh, and my public library has three of Nicola's books, but has rightfully filed Hild as (historical) fiction rather than sf.

The library police will be coming for your nomination, Nicola...


I requested a copy from the San Diego City Library, and it's at my neighborhood branch for me to pick up tomorrow. That's a historical period I know little about, so I'm interested to see how the setting is presented. . . .


Libraries only buy what they 'need' to these days i.e. what people request. Whereabouts are you/your library system?


Let me know what you think.


Back to the original question The writers & the readers, of course. Also, in SF, I suspect that the "community" is much closer than in many other genres, because of internal feedback loops, of which cons are the best example. Also, in-jokes & references. I've just seen one in Hannu R's latest The Causal Angel where, on P18 of the UK edition, the protagonist's ship is named: Bob Howard Yes, well .....


...and, indeed (the names are removed or changed to protect the guilty) SF is oen of the few genres where one author is quite capable of fanboi-ing another.


This may be the wrong place to put this, but Glasgow used to have a specialist second hand bookshop which only sold detective fiction and F&SF. This was handy, because you could find most of both genres in a single establishment!


Fuuuuu. Safari just crashed and I lost my comment. See if I can remember it.

Also, in SF, I suspect that the "community" is much closer than in many other genres,

And probably more so since the interwebs. This is really clear if you happen to read writer's twitter feeds, it's very common to see conversations between a half dozen writers you like, and the occasional random stranger. It can give you (or me at least) the uncomfortable feeling of listening in. The not quite appropriate word I think of about the community is how 'incestuous' it is. I'm sure there's a better word, but I haven't bothered trying to think of one. Also clear is how it's divided into camps; the political ones are obvious, but there are more subtle dvisions. Not that any of that's a bad thing, finding your people is generally a good thing (bringing it back to being Other). But... Then there are the shmucks who feel free to say any dumb/crazy/offensive/threatening thing that occurs to them.


Agreed, to the extent that I think that a significant number of con-going fans will have met 100 or more professional writers (and I'm not even cheating by counting people like Charlie as con-going fans). We'll also have met agents, authors, professional commercial artists...

How many subgenres of the entertainment industry would anyone think you can legitimately make a claim like that for?


Eratum - "We'll also have met agents, authors, professional commercial artists" should read "We'll also have met agents, editors, professional commercial artists"


...on the other hand, I notice that the parasitic worms in Neptune's Brood that nearly eat our heroine alive are called, er, bezos worms...


I take it was a reply to #108 about the second-hand bookshop? If so, the owners retired before anyone ever heard of Jff Bzs in the context of book retailing.


No, sorry, that was a reply to the Bob Howard namecheck.

I think I remember that bookshop (did my degree in Glasgow, back in the late bronze age)


None that I can think of. That is, none where you can actually have a conversation as opposed to just be in line to get something signed in 10 seconds.


I still miss a bookshop in Atlanta (it closed long ago) called The Science Fiction and Mystery Bookstore. It's a good combination, IMO.


I'm not much of a con goer (mainly from lack of travel funds, now), but when Charlie was at the little local one a couple years ago I definitely went. I hadn't realized the different type of cons. The only one* I had been to was thirty years ago (at age 13) was the type to focus on movies rather than books. It was fun, though some of the people were a little off-putting, so colored my view of cons some (and borrowing too much money from the friend I was with to buy Dr. Who books--rather rare in the US back then), though it was cool to get Takei's autograph, which we were unprepared for and only had pieces of paper. I still have it somewhere. Then I moved, and my interests changed for a while.

Anyhow, my point--and I do have one, sort of--is that even without going to cons you can now easily "meet" authors and other celebrities online, which still seems pretty weird to me.

*Well, there was a single room comic book convention that the same friend dragged me to a few months later. I don't really count that.


Well, after Chapters 1-4, I have no doubt that I'm going to finish the book; the character portrayals, the setting, and the conflicts and tensions (in that order, I think) definitely hold my attention. Hild works as a PoV, partly because she's doubtful about the superstitions of the time in a way that makes her the "modern person in an ancient world" figure, like Bilbo Baggins or Stephen Mathurin in their respective stories.

One thing that keeps getting my attention is the economic history questions, and especially the sense of how close these people live to the production-possibility frontier. There's a scene where they have to decide if a blanket stained with the Queen's blood can be salvaged, and it's remarked that it represents two women's work for a year. Can you point at any book that's good for that kind of labor costs? I try to take such things into account as a game master, and finding sources is often challenging. (I'm remembering when I read Braudel's Civilization and Capitalism after The Baroque Cycle, and stopped every few pages to say, "Oh, so that's where Stephenson got that!")

The whole question of this getting treated as sf or fantasy makes me think of Turtledove's straight historical novels, which came out as "by H. N. Turteltaub." Was a pseudonym (even a transparent one like his) an option, and did you consider it?


Re: the economics of Hild: It was a guesstimate based on all my reading and then imagination: how long would it take, really, to birth those lambs? Shear those sheep? Card that wool? (Spin it, dye it--pick the plants, dry them, extract the colour, weave it, full it, sew it...) But sadly, no, I couldn't find a good single source with such estimates. But perhaps there are some re-enactors who have a better idea.

As for pseudonym: I never considered it. I write everything under my own name. It's how I keep myself honest: always write something I'm proud to put my name to. I've been chided by others for hopeless naiveté but, eh, that's just how I roll.

But I'm absolutely delighted that you're enjoying the book!


I recall reading somewhere that a typical Celtic woman of antiquity spent about 40 hours a week on activities related to textiles. That's spinning yarn and thread, weaving, knitting, sewing, etc. just to keep her family clothed. That figure does not include time spent on agriculture, food preparation, or child care. Before the first industrial revolution, clothes were expensive.


Can#t remember the street name off-hand, but one of the side streets off Argyll Street / Trongate leading up towards George Square / Ingram street and hence Strthclyde Uni?


I'm more used to BSFA Eastercons and smaller than to Worldcon signing queues.


Well, I'm counting "opportunities to be involved in a meatspace conversation which is not part of a scheduled programme item" (so no GoH speaches, kaffeeklatches, formal signing sessions (I am counting the time Tanith Lee just rocked up at an Albacon, not actually in the programme book list of attendees, and was given a spare table in the dealers' room for 2 hours and 4 of spent most of that time chatting with her because almost no-one wanted books signing though) or author's workshops).

124: 118 - #120

Based on some knowledge of archaeology and cost accounting, I think Jay's figures are close but too high. For instance, I've also seen a similar figure claiming that the said woman also spent 30 hours/week in food preparation, 56 sleeping... We're now at 122 of 168, so I think there must have been elements of multi-tasking in that. For instance, if preparing a soup or stew, you might spend 2 or 3 hours simmering the pot, but you don't spend that hanging over the fire: It's more stir the pot, and do something else for 30 minutes, stir, something else... so 3 hours "cooking" could actually be 15 mins prep, 15 mins bring to boil, and 5 mins stir over the next 2.5 hrs, meaning you could combine it with 2.4 hrs yarn-carding, and 3 hrs "making sure the kids don't gouge each other's eyes or fall in the fire".


I agree that it's certainly better to meet in real life, when possible. Though 'meeting' Charlie here first put me more at ease when encountering him at the local con. It was cosy enough that when he did a reading from "The Apocalypse Codex" (in the city where much of it is set) there were a dozen of us seated around a conference table, and we had a chat afterwards, and he signed some books. I normally wouldn't be terribly outgoing with someone I hadn't actually met, but when he made a comment about the dryness of the climate, my "Oh, Ya think?" came out a bit more snarky than intended. But after chatting with him more, and riding in elevators with a couple of the other guest authors (though I didn't chat with them; one seemd to be in a bad mood, and the other I hadn't read, though have since gotten some of her books), I was comfortable enough to tag along for dinner after it was over. Just Charlie, Feòrag, and the guy who gave them a ride in an empty restaurant/brewery. Sunday nights in Colorado Springs are dead.

Unfortunately, it's cosy enough that there weren't some of the opportunities that you mention, meeting agent and editors, or workshops.

And this rambled on a bit. Sorry 'bout that.


We're now at 122 of 168, so I think there must have been elements of multi-tasking in that.

Throw in a church service every midday (a welcome rest) and some gardening and her time is pretty well accounted for. Seems fairly plausible that when a peasant woman wasn't sleeping, she was working.

There would have been some variety over time. Food preparation and preservation would have occupied more of her time at harvest and slaughter times, and clothes work would have probably been concentrated during winter months and the summer growing season.


I still think your world is grimmer than the actuality.

For instance, in Scotland tweed making was a social activity as well as work, and (despite what Wikipedia says or doesn't say) is the origin of port-a-buel (mouth music), a collection of songs designed to be sung acapella to accompany rythmic work such as working a hand loom, warking a tweed (needs about 1 person per linear yeard of cloth)...


You left out the important part, that the fabric was soaked in human urine, adding to the pleasantness of hard labor. I'm used to seeing it called Waulking; see also Waulking Song. Perhaps singing requires mouth breathing, making it less likely to take in the odor?


Well, now I'm a bit past a third in (I'm fiting in chapters around the current copy editing job, a historical study of English prescriptive grammar) and still find it absorbing. But I have a thought about the "what genre is this?" issue.

I've raad a number of novels that were genuinely sf, and written by core sf authors, not by strayed mainstream or literary authors like Atwood or Lessing—but that in some subtle way read to me like mainstream bestsellers, or as if they were written for that market. I have in mind, for example, Brin's Earth and Niven and Pournelle's Lucifer's Hammer. And what I think gave me that impression was partly that the exposition was less indirect than I'm used to in the Campbellian tradition; but also that the viewpoint characters were not so cognitively engaged with their own world—if I can coin a phrase, they didn't give me the sense of cognitive agency I'm used to in sf protagonists.

And now, in Hild, you have a setting that is pure, straight historical with no fantastic elements (though the characters, sometimes including Hild, often believe in fantastic elements). But your main viewpoint character has massive amounts of cognitive agency, and is struggling to apply them to her world and its conflicts, in a way that is classically sfnal. So it feels like an sf novel, though it clearly is not.

Does that make any sense?

That's over and above the less subtle, and more straightforward effect of "You're an sf writer, so this is an sf novel." I imagine James Blish ran into that with Doctor Mirabilis, too—though he made things a bit worse by saying that it was part of a "thematic trilogy" with A Case of Conscience and Black Easter, which were respectively genre sf and genre fantasy, straight up.


@Willam H Stoddard If you listen to the Coode St podcast (it's long!) you'll hear me and Kelley and Jonathan and Gary talking a bit about this: about the protagonist solving their world, engaging with it, as opposed to simply recognising it. But I like your term: cognitive agency. I think that's just right. So, yes, it makes total sense.


Anyone interested in the nitty gritty of medieval economics might find these two products useful:

(And, yes, I have Hild on order now, even though it may not be sf 8-) )


@tony.quirke Let me know what you think of Hild once you've read it.

Those books you linked sound interesting. But it's worth bearing in mind that "medieval" covers about half a millennium--and change happens fast. Hild was born into a world where pagan kings were basically illiterate petty warlords and coinage was a novelty. She died as an advisor to kings of proto-states with a literate bureaucracy and (a least in some areas) with acknowledged mints. And that's just a single lifetime...


Heh. I am RIGHT THIS MINUTE looking at "Farm, Forge and Steam" in which the author explains why universal empires weren't, rigid caste systems leaked, and social stasis wasn't.

Also, the simple fact that an animal can't transport enough food to feed even itself for more than 200 or 250 km explains a lot more about pre-industrial life than most people realise.


The most successful workaround for that was water transport. Changing from land to river transport cuts costs around fivefold, and changing to ocean transport does it again. So you get things like Athens being fed by the grain fields of Ukraine, or Rome by the Nile Valley's wheat.

On the other hand, it doesn't seem as if you can have more than a couple cities with a million or more inhabitants on the entire planet that way.


By the way, is Farm, Forge, and Steam a book? amazon doesn't seem to list anything by that title. It sounds like exactly the sort of history I'd like to consult for worldbuilding purposes—but I don't know where to look.


There were no cities, anywhere, at all, with more than a million inhabitants, until(at the very earliest) the 18th century. [ Posible exception? Peking? ] The claims for Rome of the late classical period are rubbish - simply look at the gound area occupied - you could NOT fit 10^6 people in, & feed then & take the wastes away & etc .... Compare with size of Rome when it DID reach 1 million, some time in the 1930's ......

See also #134 Yes, the first industrial revolution in England involved steam-powered mine-draining & lots of canals + taking over + upgrading the existing model of maritime trade. Even than, a single ship could carry a lot more cargo, than anything else, at all, almost anywhere on the planet.


I found this book by that name, and the description seems to match:

Farm, Forge and Steam

It looks like it's a roleplaying supplement and only an ebook, so it's probably not on Amazon. I'm not sure if it's this one, though, but might be.


Role-playing-games got a lot of people putting together this sort of information: logistics rather than tactics. Just getting a price list for all those quasi-medieval goods in D&D is a piece of research. The info is out here, but not all in one place.

Back in the Seventies and early eighties, there suddenly seemed to be a lot of that sort of history published, more about how the world worked than about the politics.

And that first industrial revolution was a turbulent time. There's a novel called The MS in a red box which is set around land drainage in the early 17th Century. It doesn't sound exciting, but the social pressures were building up to the Civil War. There's a lot going on. It's a bit like The Nine Tailors: weather and landscape and land drainage are a part of the drama of that world.

Apparently, France lagged Britain on mechanising spinning and weaving, which is part of why Britain could clothe and arm the anti-French Armies of Europe. And there's the depot at Weedon Bec, on the Grand Union Canal, just west of Northampton. It's partly the geography that has the M1, the railway, and the A5 all close to the place.

It's geography that put the site of the battle of Edgehill under a huge modern army stores depot. And it is logistics which means that Soviet Moscow was not as populous as they claimed (the story is in Heinlein's Expanded Universe: when he visited the city he used demographics to get some other data which gave a similar result).

What's remarkable about Napoleon is that he fought and won so many battles. But I have the feeling that the military historians don't pay enough attention to where transport had changed, and why the big rivers of Europe were so important. Start invading Russia, and the rivers start running in awkward directions.


OGH continues to select excellent guest authors. I enjoyed "Ammonite", but really enjoyed "Blue Place" - read it in a single sitting ;) this means it's either Hild or Stay next...

But I have the feeling that the military historians don't pay enough attention to where transport had changed, and why the big rivers of Europe were so important. Start invading Russia, and the rivers start running in awkward directions.

Only the non-military military historians ;)

The British guide to the Soviet army pointed out that there's nothing above 500m in altitude from London eastwards until you hit the Ural Mountains. In western Russia and the Ukraine, (sweeping generalisation here) the land is largely flat and rolling, and the rivers are wide and slow-flowing - which means shallow banks with gentle angles.

This affects armoured vehicle design. If you limit the need to depress or elevate a tank gun, you can make the turret (and hence the tank) lower, and lighter, and faster. If there are no hills to hide behind or shoot up at / down from, you need "faster" because you've got further to go to any objective with people shooting at you. So the Soviet army was big on smokescreens, and deception, and speed, and efficient obstacle crossing (like, big wide rivers). They liked armoured vehicles that could swim or snorkel their way across a river, and made a big deal of engineering reconnaissance. British vehicles never took that kind of thing seriously, because when we say "river" we tend to think "30m of fast-flowing water with steep banks" not the Rhine, Danube, or Oder.

This meant that when the Soviets took their turn in one of the classic acts of military hubris ("conquer Afghanistan" - they're excused "march on Moscow" for obvious reasons) they had some problems on discovering their tanks and APCs couldn't point their main weapons very far uphill...

Logistics also meant that the Germans had problems with "march on Moscow" during winter, the horses that drew nearly three-quarters of their logistics needed a lot of forage that was now covered in snow.


I saw that Hild was historical fiction and thought, eh, I'll pass, but I may pick it up now.

Thank you for the essay, too.


I would like to see the documentation for that claim about Rome's population. I have also seen claims for Edo and for various Chinese cities, though that may be a matter of comparative productivity of wheat and rice growing; I'm not aware of any massive grain importation route in either area.

There was massive importation both to Athens or to Rome, however many people either of them had. Ancient Mediterranean shipping is comparatively well documented.


@gravelbelly22 Well, If you liked The Blue Place you'll enjoy Stay. But Hild combines the world-building of Ammonite with the physical details of The Blue Place. So: tricky decision.

If you're in the UK, the choice might be influenced by the fact that you can't get Stay as an ebook. But, oh, do NOT get me started on the vagaries of publishing...


@William H. Stoddard Yes. I wrote a blog post about that a while ago, specific to Hild's world:

It's rather general. But you'll see I was trying to answer a specific question. And for the long, long, chewy and detailed answer I came up, there's a follow-up post on my research blog:


The previous link for Farm, Forge, and Steam had html problems. Let's try another:


Thank you! It's good to get a peek into the research that went into the writing of a novel, especially when it's looking at some of the aspects of history that fascinate me. I had the usual early exposure to politically focused history; then, much later, I discovered history of science, history of technology, economic history, legal history, military history, some parts of social history, and historical linguistics, and not only found them fascinating but found that they made the political history a lot more interesting by telling me more about what the political conflicts were actually about.

Which is actually relevant to the progress of my reading of Hild, in which I've now gone from finding it interesting to finding it compelling. In fact I can pin down the exact point where that happened: The scene where the farmer's son wanted to pledge service to Hild with his beat-up sword, and she sent for stew, and he got out his spoon—and then knew enough and had enough self-control to sit and wait till she took the first bite, and Hild recognized that he was showing those qualities. Since then I've had several scenes with the kind of intensity that compels me to close the book and let my brain cool.


Of course, the invasion of the Saxons (etc) was relatively (note the relatively) peaceful affair, but 250-350 years later was another story This author takes up the tale, in detective/mystery format - I was impressed with the Bone Theif, so I will probably look for the "Traitor's PIt" soon - but AFTER Loncon, I think!


I'd recommend "Women's Work" by Elizabeth Barber. Good overview of textile production.


I have read that and in fact have it on my shelves, but for serious research I would give higher marks to one of her other books. Prehistoric Textiles is the scholarly volume that Women's Work popularizes; it covers much the same ground, but with a microscope rather than the naked eye, as it were.


I realise this is close to necroposting and Nicola has probably tucked herself away back at home away from us loonies (and who can blame her!).

But I'm finally reading Hild and thoroughly enjoying it. Like her, I'm wondering who on earth classified it as SF&F - I'm about half way through and while I'm enjoying it, I'm really struggling to spot an SF&F element. Oh well.

Just in case Nicola is still here, the real niggle for me (although I'm not a native, I've been a York resident since the mid-90's so I guess I'm not a typical reader) is every time I come across the roughly 5 centuries anachronistic city name. Why not Eboracum (you've used old Roman names elsewhere, I think it was Durovernum although it was yesterday I read it and I don't remember for sure) or the later (although possibly too late for the period of Hild since it's 7th Century according to most historians) Eoforwic? Jorvik is the viking name, which became York sometime in the medieval period, so 11th Century at a push. Reading about Gispwic (which is a good Saxon name so you'd get away with Eoforwic I expect), Brough and the like (Brough is still there of course, although not the ferry, although there's a train station) and Gispwic's changed it's name a bit works wonderfully. Then suddenly they visit York and I wonder where they left their TARDIS... Sorry, but I do.

And on a side note, did you know the seal of New York has Civitas Novi Eboracum on it? Completely divorced from any historical context... I wonder how many people in the city have a clue why?



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