Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Big, Dumb, but Eminently Loveable

Science fiction loves its big, dumb objects.  Although almost always macguffins, the best are mysterious, creepy and mind-blowingly awesome.  They epitomise SF’s sensawunda at its best and I love them.  So, to celebrate them, below the fold, in no particular order, are some of my favourite.  Where I’ve read and reviewed books that refer to some of these objects, I’ve linked to my review on GoodReads.

Warning: there may be some spoilers ahead.


Thursday, 2 January 2014

Happy New Year

Happy new year to everyone! My annual retrospective is now up, as usual, on my website.

Whether for sadness or joy
The old year comes to an end
The slate wiped clean.
May the new one bring you
More happiness than sorrow.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

A Hugo Award for Young Adults?

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about a new Hugo award category for best Young Adult novel.  My instinct is that this is a bad idea.  Not because I have any problem with YA literature or any desire to ‘snub’ it, but for the same reason I don’t like the Oscar for Best Animated Feature: it feels like it ghettoises the genre.  At least with Best Animated Feature, there’s the possibility of being nominated for Best Picture as well (although this has very rarely happened), but as it stands, being nominated in one category for the Hugos precludes nomination in other categories and I’d hate to see novels which are good enough to win the Best Novel award being ‘relegated’ to Best YA Novel.

Reading up the subject, there have been some creative solutions, including the suggestion that only young people should be able to nominate and/or vote in any YA Hugo category, to avoid the suggestion that older people are telling the younger what to read, which is interesting.  This, and the suggestion of the YA category at all are both touted as ways to make WorldCon and the Hugo awards more relevant to young people and bring the next generation into fandom, something which can only be a Good Thing.

After having followed up on some of the discussion, I’m not as opposed to the idea as I was at the start.  There are some good reasons out there for having one.  I just think it needs to be done carefully, to avoid the problem of ghettoisation.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

First’s response to my consultation comments

First Glasgow have responded to my comments on their consultation and I’ve included their response below.  As expected, there’s little there, but at least they’ve agreed to indicate when buses have differing termini.  Although you know you’re in trouble when something as minor as that is considered a victory.

Services with different terminii will now have a different prefix.

The vast majority of passenger journeys are to or from the city centre and due to the proposed changes to corridor services the waiting time for customers who wish to change services will be reduced.

Service 2 will continue to provide a high frequency link between the east and west ends of the city as will services 3 and 6 between the west end and the south side.

There are a relativley few number of withdrawals in the network and these have been taken as a result of the continuing poor financial performance of these services. Strathclyde Partnership for Transport are aware of our proposals.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Response to FirstBus SimpliCITY consultation

First Glasgow recently announced an major change to their service network in Glasgow.  Although I think that Glasgow’s bus network needs an overhaul, I don’t believe that First’s plan is the solution.  Below is my response to their consultation.

The first thing that jumps out at me in this proposal is the unwelcome extension of an existing problem — that of bus services with the same number that have different destinations (and, in come cases, different sources).  This problem exists at the moment — for me on the number 23, which goes to both Blairdardie and to Summerston — and would be exacerbated on the proposed new 19 service which not only goes to two different destinations, but has two different sources (Easterhouse or Robroyston).  A similar problem will exist on the proposed new service 6, which seems to just merge the existing 20 and 66.  The worst culprit seems to be the proposed service 38, which has no less than four different sources and four different destinations!

There is no current shortage of numbers available to us, or even letters, if you want to indicate that two services are related; there is a time-honoured tradition of appending an ‘A’, ‘B’ etc to the end of a route number to indicate a variation.  The only justification that I can see for this change is so that you claim a high headline frequency.  Of course, this is merely misleading window dressing — just because the service runs every 10, or even 5, minutes along some core part, doesn’t help anyone travelling from, or to, the extremities of the route.

Examining the proposed changes, it seems that you are also falling into the trap of designing a ‘star’ network, with a hub — the city centre — and spokes, similar to Glasgow’s rail network.  In my opinion, this is a mistake.  Forcing people to change buses in the city centre merely lengthens journeys and frustrates passengers.  Having longer point-to-point connections, some of which bypass the city centre entirely, would help to reduce city centre congestion and connect the city up, especially the somewhat neglected East End of the city.

The proposed changes seem to make no effort to connect the East End with other parts of the city, particularly into the West End, which also seems to be lacking connections to the South Side, at least without having to to along one of the spokes into the hub and change in the city centre.  I urge you to look again at longer routes that connect all parts of the city.

Finally, I am worried about the withdrawal of services in “unprofitable” areas.  This is something which is unconscionable as it will leave poor and/or elderly people stranded, with no way to get to their local shops or around to other parts of the city.  I am uncomfortable that you may end up creating ghettoes in areas that are not served by other forms of public transport.

I approve of this attempt to look at Glasgow’s bus network from a completely fresh point of view, trying to determine what the needs of a modern city are and I hope that my comments will help improve your current proposals and that we end up with a network that we can justifiably be proud of.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Happy New Year

Happy new year to everyone!  My annual retrospective is now up, as usual, on my website.

The years sweep by
Like Leaves off a tree in autumn
Let this be one to savour

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Eastercon photos

If anyone’s interested, I’ve put some of the photos I took at this year’s Eastercon up on Picasa.  They’re mostly of the (very impressive) masquerade with a few other random shots as well.

Widening participation in fandom

I am a science fiction fan.  That won’t come as a surprise to most people reading this.  But beyond that, I identify as a fan, and the whole subculture of fandom.  It is a fairly large part of my personality and much of my free time is spent associating with other fans and with books and media within the genre.  I spent the Easter holiday weekend at Olympus 2012, the annual British National Science Fiction Convention (Eastercon) and had a thoroughly amazing time.  Now, it’s not unfair to say that the genre and the subculture as a whole has a reputation for being overwhelmingly male and white, but one of the things I found exhilarating at Olympus was the feeling of a culture in the middle of change – it really felt like there’s a push to bring women and feminism into fandom and it was good to be part of that.  This year’s Eastercon could proudly boast that half of its 1300 or so members were women, and there was gender parity on panels as well.  While there’s still a long way to go — I did hear about incidents this year that no woman should have to put up with in the 21st century — it does feel like the idea of diversity is starting become part of fandom.

And so it’s obvious that the next logical step to diversifying fandom is minority ethnic representation.  Just looking around the con, there were probably more BME fans that I’ve ever seen at a con before (not that that is saying much, given that I’ve only made it to about half a dozen of them so far).  Partially I imagine this was the “London effect”, and partially a function of just how big Olympus was, but I also attended a panel on widening minority representation in fandom which indicates that it’s something which is starting to be discussed within the culture itself, which I’m glad about.  At said panel, I was intrigued to hear one of the panel members, the actress Ruby Sahota, state that Indians really love SF.  That’s a very general statement, and one that I’d love see more analysis on.  However, I can’t even provide any anecdotal evidence evidence, given that I actually don’t know many Indian people.  I grew up in a small town in the heart of Northern Ireland where the Indian “community” consisted of two families.  Then I moved to Glasgow, where my friends were almost all met through science fiction, and, well, you can see the flaw in that plan :-).

Actually, on that note, I joined Io in my second year at Uni and remained active in the society for about a decade.  In that time, as far as I can remember, there were, in addition to myself, two other non-white active members (and one of those was my sister, who I introduced to the society, and would probably not have otherwise have become involved, so I’m not sure she even counts for this purposes of this discussion).  In that time, I very much noticed the lack of BME members, especially in a University with a fairly decent non-white student population and embedded in a city with a large Asian population.  University seems like a great time to bring people into fandom, with students trying out new things, but Io remained stubbornly mono-coloured during my decade’s involvement.  Perhaps I could have done more to change that, bringing it to the attention of the society as a whole, trying to appeal outside the traditional market, but I never did, which I somewhat regret now, although I’m still not really sure how to go about widening the appeal of the genre in that way.

Anyway, the point that Ruby was making was that although Indian people may love the genre, most of them would never think about about coming to a con or getting involved in fandom.  The panel didn’t really come to any solid conclusions or make any suggestions on how to change that (to be honest, it could have done with some stricter moderation and cutting off some audience members who had a tendency to ramble and go off-topic) but it’s definitely the beginning of a new conversation within my fandom.  It’s inspired me to look for new writers beyond the traditional (an appeal over Twitter has given me several leads which I intend to follow up on this year) and I’m certainly going to continue to follow the development of minority representation in fandom over the next few years, in the leadup to Satellite 4 and London in 2014.

Monday, 23 January 2012

A Modest Proposal Regarding the West Lothian Question

There was a discussion on this week’s The Week in Westminster on Radio 4 regarding the West Lothian Question (i.e. the ability of non-English MPs to vote on matters regarding only England).  Since this discussion is now being set in the context of huge constitutional change (that is, Scottish independence) then why not think big when it comes to creative solutions to the Question too.  Assuming that Scotland remains a part of the United Kingdom, my question is: why is nobody discussing a possible federal structure for the United Kingdom?  Scotland already has its own Parliament, we just grant it some more powers and upgrade the Welsh and Ulster Assemblies to full Parliaments and set up one for England as well.  Westminster would remain the ‘Federal Parliament’, with a much reduced number of MPs (and possibly even peers) and a remit to cover only those issues relating to the UK as a whole.  The most obvious of those are defence and foreign policy, but no doubt there are others.

Obviously it would be More Complicated Than That (© Ben Goldacre) but it’s a good starting position, surely? Is the fact that such a discussion isn’t happening at all purely inertia and conservatism (with a small ‘C’) or are there more serious objections to a federal UK that I’ve missed?  That is very likely since I don’t have a political science background and haven’t thought through all the implications, but surely there are many models throughout the world that we could look to, the US being the most obvious, but also Germany, Russia and India spring to mind (and there are more on the Wikipedia page).

As I said above, I’m discussing this purely as a side-issue to that of Scottish independence, so issues specifically relating to whether such a state would satisfy the demands of Nationalists are irrelevant to this discussion.  I’m interested purely in the thought-experiment of a federal UK.  I’d love to hear thoughts on the subject.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Happy New Year

Happy new year to everyone!  My annual retrospective is now up, as usual, on my website.

After the turbulence of the last year
May the tides of history subside.
Wishing you peace and happiness
For the year before us

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