Archive for the 'Internet' Category

Accessing the Future

My good friends over at The Future Fire are putting together another incredible-looking anthology, ‘Accessing the Future’. Having previously put together collections of stories about how bodies will be controlled and manipulated in the future, and post-colonial science fiction, their current crowdfunding drive is for an anthology of “speculative fiction stories that interrogate issues of disability—along with the intersecting nodes of race, nationality, gender, sexuality, and class—in both the imagined physical and virtual spaces of the future.”

I cannot wait to see what they come out with! For a while now, Future Fire have really been at the cutting edge of the intersection between social justice and speculative fiction, which are two things that get me really enthused!

In the meantime, they’ve asked me to take part in a Blog Hop that has some really interesting questions in it!

1) Tell us about your Work In Progress (WIP) and the world it’s set in.

At the moment, I’m working on something set in the same world as ‘The Labyrinth of Thorns’ which was published in Interzone #250. Cyberpunk and far-future, both stories take place in a city called Babel which began life as a supermassive oil rig in the dying days of fossil fuels and was later redeveloped as a research platform by two multinational corporations. With time, the platform grew into a city, and the city developed an underbelly at its centre–trapped between the corporate high-rises and the ocean, shut off from all light, and populated by folks who had nowhere else to go. Beyond Babel, most of the rest of the world is in a state of turmoil. The US has collapsed into a collection of warring states, and previously developing countries like Mexico and India are rushing to fill the vacuum.

2) Who are the most powerful people in this world?

Without a doubt, the two corporations who founded Babel. Hestia Genetics are responsible for the development of inhuman supersoldiers called dragonblooded, which are widely deployed in the wars in the Divided States. Psikinetics creates cybernetics devices and then implants them into people (called the Violet Children) to turn them into kind of the ultimate network administrators.

Of course, there are people in the city that fall outside of the companies’ influence–the undercity is full of obsolete Violet Children whose implants are degrading, as well as demobbed dragonblooded and other cast-offs. These folks inevitably fall under the rule of one of the undercity’s many mob bosses whose methods are no less brutal than their counterparts above, but who tend to be more direct in their use of violence.

3) Where does their power come from?

Quite simply? Ownership. Not only do the two companies own every inch of Babel between them, but the city exists in international waters which means that the word of their CEOs is quite literally law. In addition, both the dragonblooded and the Violets are more or less contractually owned by the companies that created them (they’re carrying propriety technology in the form of their implants or their DNA, after all).

In the undercity, might is right. Mob bosses rule through violence and intimidation. When they want something, they get it, or else they will take it by force from whoever is stupid enough to try and deny them.

4) What physical and/or mental characteristics underpin their positions of power?

Society in Babel is remarkably egalitarian in a lot of ways: the mob bosses don’t mind whether their heavies are male or female so long as they’re happy to beat someone to death, and none of the managers and executives in the uppercity care if their research scientists are able-bodied so long as they’re talented enough to get the job done–and besides, cybernetic implants can compensate for many physical limitations. The one factor that can make or ruin someone in Babel, however, is neuro-conformity.

It sprang from the fact that many of the dragonblooded return from war suffering from post-traumatic stress, and most of the Violets in the city will eventually suffer some kind of implant decay. Since the Violets have been trained since childhood to rely on their implants and integrate them as fully as possible, they cannot cope when they begin to break down and their brains slowly lose their ability to function. The traumatised and obsolete quickly became second-class citizens, and it becomes increasingly important for those at the top to be able to illustrate their mental conformity and neurotypicality. The result of this is that anyone suffering from depression, bi-polar disorder, or any other deviance from the neurological norm are outcast, while those at the top go to increasing lengths to prove their ‘normal’ mental functioning.

5) How does this affect the weakest people in the world?

First off, it makes it utterly imperative for anyone who wants to drag themselves out of the undercity (in a city that has almost no social mobility of any kind) to be able to give the impression of neurotypicality. Even within Babel’s gangs and mobs, any sign of mental deviance is treated with violence and disdain. Those who cannot even pretend to conform–either due to post-traumatic stress, degrading implants, or the presence of any other of a wide variety of conditions from schitzophrenia to obsessive compulsive disorder–are the lowest of the low. They live in great slums around the city’s central water treatment plant where the air is thick with steam and Legionnaire’s Disease is rife, or else live shadowy existences in the Wash–the network of pipes and tunnels that separate the undercity from the sea.

Many, many more exist on the fringes, or else cling on to their position by their fingernails: faking conformity as best they can and developing habits of silence and secrecy around anything that could cost them their jobs, their livelihoods, and even their lives.

Now for some nominations! Seems like the kind of thing that Dylan Fox, Benjanun Sriduangkaew and Alyc Helms might enjoy :)

Broken Facebook Link

These last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about anger, despair, and willful ignorance. Anger and despair increasingly look like both opposite states from each other, and like a reaction to one another. Most pertinent here is how despair arises from situations where we feel incapable of expressing our anger. But this kind of despair isn’t useful. It’s a poison. It doesn’t change our situation. In fact, the only thing it changes is how miserable we feel about ourselves and the world that we live in.

But let’s backtrack and provide a little context, shall we?

Recently, a group that I admire immensely removed a post from their Facebook page because some of their members found it distressing. The link it question was to a petition calling on the Indian Prime Minister to take serious steps to address the culture of rape and violence against women. It was prompted by the rape and murder of two girls in Uttar Pradesh, and the comments of a minister from the ruling party that rape is a “social crime… sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong”. The petition included a blurred out photograph of the bodies of the two girls, where apparently “the villagers had sat in a tight closed circle around the mango tree, refusing to let the bodies of their girls be taken down, until the authorities and the media had to pay attention.” [via the BBC]. At the same time, I’ve noticed a lot of people complaining about things coming up in their news feed that are ‘upsetting’. Talking about hiding, blocking, or defriending people who post activism-related articles, images, and petitions that cause them distress.

I personally don’t sign online petitions unless they seem likely to actually achieve something. But in this case, international pressure seems to be one of the best ways of forcing the Indian authorities to address the caste- and gender-based violence threatening the country’s women. It is one of those situations where we comfortable members of wealthy Western states actually have more power over what gets done than the women and girls who actually have to live in a culture of fear because of it.

To call for posts about this petition to be removed (not least from a community who really should be invested in a culture of activism, both environmental and human) because it causes us distress is to exercise an immense amount of personal privilege. More than that, it is to take part in a culture of willful ignorance that actively supports the systems of oppression, discrimination, and exploitation that destroy our world and our communities.

The people who lived in that village put their their own bodies between the authorities and the girls’ corpses to force the world’s media to see them, knowing that the most effective thing that they could do to prompt change was to get the images of their broken bodies out there. To ensure that the whole world saw, and shared in their outrage. These pictures are meant to shock us. And if they cause us upset and distress, then get fucking angry. Then, when you are good and angry, go out there and damned well do something about it. Because if you allow all of that hurt and anger to turn inwards, if it makes you despair, and if in that despair you hide yourself away from it all, then (whether you like it or not) you are contributing to the status quo. More than that, you are complicit in a system in which this kind of shit is going to keep on happening.

This kind of willed ignorance isn’t just limited to issues of sexual assault, or to matters that solely affect places far, far beyond comfortable little lives. It supports horrific working conditions in factories that produce our clothes, personal electronics, and consumer goods. It enables the mind-blowing cruelty of factory- and mechanised-farming that fills our supermarkets and puts food in our kitchens or on our tables. It is complicit in mountaintop removal, open-cast coal mines, the poisoning of the water, earth, and sky, the copyrighting of life itself, and the catastrophic effect that we are having on our own atmosphere in order to keep our lights on.

Ignore it. Ignore it. Ignore it.

Having to deal with it is too difficult. Too painful. There’s nothing I can do to change it. All I can do is stop myself from getting upset by stopping myself from coming into contact with anything about it.

Damned right it’s painful. Damned right it’s distressing. But do you for one moment think that it’s as distressing for you as it is for the people (and animals) who actually have to live with this shit every single day of their lives? Do they have the opportunity to just close their eyes, wave their hands, and forget about it? Of course they don’t.

Instead of feeling sorry for yourself: get angry.

It’s a difficult emotion. Believe me, I understand that. I grew up in a very violent home, and (like many with abusive childhoods) have repeated that same pattern in my adult relationships. I have been so scared of anger that the sight of it in anyone else is enough to make me bolt and hide. When I feel any trace of it in myself, more often than not I don’t have a single idea of what to do with it. It is chaotic, impossible to control, and if I allow it to fester then it will eat away at me for days and days until every living cell in my body is poisoned. Anger is a big, red, squirming nightmare, and I have to somehow find a way to live in a world where I’m exposed to it all the damned time.

This rant is a part of that process.

Similarly, it occurs to me that posts on social networks (like this petition) could be distressing to some individuals not because of a culture of willful ignorance, but because it is directly triggering to survivors of sexual assault. That one is a difficult circle to square, for sure. Trigger warnings are an important part of the healing process for a lot of people, and a vital exercise in compassion for those of us fortunate enough to not have been traumatised in that way. However, to a specific person under specific circumstances, almost anything can potentially be triggering. Yes, it is important that we show some good old-fashioned empathy when thinking about the people who might be exposed to these images and petitions, but it’s also important for those of us who aren’t personally triggered to continue to share and shout and scream about these issues so that we can make a damned difference to it all.

That is why I will keep yelling about this stuff even though, as a friend pointed out, these sorts of posts will bomb on social networks compared to pictures of my cat. I’ll keep working on opening my anger up to the air, washing out those wounds, and learning how to dress them and bind them so that they can heal. And when I see these issues being pushed aside and ignored because it makes people uncomfortable, I’ll continue to cause a damned fuss.

Because this shit is important. Because it might be the only way that anything will ever change.

Steampunk Hands Around the World image by El Investigador

Steampunk Hands Around the World image by El Investigador

February this year is time Steampunk Hands Around the World a project that aims to celebrate global steampunk community. So many people have helped and supported me since I first got involved with steampunk back in 2009. Many of them have quite literally changed my life. This feels like the perfect opportunity to honour some of them.


Margaret ‘Magpie’ Killjoy

If it wasn’t for Magpie, then steampunk and I would likely have been little more than ships that passed in the night.


I met Magpie a few days after finding out that steampunk was a thing. At the time, I was editing a tiny Doctor Who fanzine called YANA–mostly just as an excuse to draw stupid comics and write silly stories. I’d happened upon some pretty cool pictures of a Steampunk TARDIS, which in turn led me to SteamPunk Magazine and messaging Magpie to tell him how much I’d enjoyed his “Yena of Angeline” stories. At the time, I didn’t even realise that he was also the editor.


About a week later, he messaged me to say he was actually about to wrap the magazine up, and before I knew what I was doing I was messaging him back to say “I’ll take over!”. I knew almost nothing about steampunk, literally nothing about the politics that SPM was built on, and even less about how to edit, layout, and run a magazine. In Magpie’s place, I’m pretty sure I would have responded with: “Thanks, but I have no idea who you are”. Magpie, being the incredible human being that he is, came back with: “Sure, why not”.


The next couple of years editing SteamPunk Magazine honestly changed my life. Not only has the experience given me confidence in my abilities, it’s influenced my politics, the skills I possess, and the whole way that I see the world. And I owe so much of that to Magpie–who was always there to recommend the right books on anarchist politics, walk me through how the hell to deal with InDesign, advise me on how to find printers and get the magazine into physical form, and offer encouragement and support.


I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if it wasn’t for him, and I almost certainly wouldn’t be involved with steampunk. I don’t think I’ve ever really thanked him for everything he did for me, so I guess that this is my chance :)


John Reppion

I have a terrible admission to make. Despite living less than two dozen miles apart, John Reppion and I have never actually met. We have, however, exchanged a bunch of emails over the last few years.


I got in touch with John not long after taking over at SPM, because at the time he was writing an ongoing story for the magazine. At the time, the whole editing thing was damned new to me, so I was glad to meet another writer–since I at least had some idea of what was involved in that. John and I also shared a love for the occult, the esoteric, and the downright supernatural, so we got on famously almost right away.


To talk about the biggest way that John has helped me out, I have to talk about ‘Journeys‘. This started out as a vague idea to create a steampunk shared world anthology with some of the many awesome writers that I met while working at SteamPunk Magazine. Sadly, we could never quite get the collection to gel together as a whole. The energy eventually ran out, Magpie released a couple of the stories that came out of it as ‘White is the Color of Death‘ through his new project (with one of the other writers involved) over at Combustion Books, and I consigned my own contribution to the cutting room floor.


A lot of time passed after that. My life went through some tectonic changes. To some extent, it fell to pieces. And right then, out of nowhere, John dropped me a little email to say hey, why didn’t we pair our stories up with the one that Dylan Fox had written and publish them ourselves? To this day, I think that John feels like he kind of put me to a lot of effort with that, but he’s dead wrong. The truth is that when his email dropped onto my screen, I had no idea what I was doing with my life. I felt directionless, and increasingly depressed. That one little email from him gave me something to focus on. Not just stories to edit and layout to do, but a whole micropublisher to re-found. On top of that, he gave me the opportunity to put a collection of stories together that I am damned proud of.


Jaymee Goh

Jaymee needs a special mention on this list for being more patient with me than I had any right to expect anyone to be. I’m not sure how we first got talking, but I do know that post-colonialism and anti-racism was still a complete bewilderment to me when it happened, and that Jaymee is pretty much responsible for me getting at least a tenuous handle on my own privilege.


There were several long (doubtless incredibly frustrating) conversations over IM about white privilege, post-colonialism, cultural imperialism and exotification. More than that, when I had the (in retrospect, utterly stupid) idea of organising a huge online debate for every steampunk on the internet to scream at each other about politics, Jaymee was the only person to stand up and tell me it was a really bad idea. She was right, and I ignored her, but when everything went to hell she didn’t slam the door in my face.


I owe her a hundred thousand thanks for that, and for continuing to pour her blood and sweat into her post-colonial steampunk blog at Silver Goggles, where I read and read slowly learned exactly where I’d gone so badly wrong. Jaymee, along with fellow post-colonial steampunk Ay-leen (who she introduced me to) have done wonders to diversify steampunk–to make it something other than an echo chamber of white, Imperial wet dreams. For that, I think that we can all be bloody grateful.


Carolyn Dougherty

Carolyn was the first ‘real’ steampunk that I ever met in the flesh. I think I’d been editing the magazine for a couple of months at that point, and was still feeling out of my depth. All of a sudden I was stumbling across strange new ideas like feminism and anti-racism that shook me out of my quiet, self-obsessed little world. Then I went to Whitby Goth Weekend to see Abney Park play, and found myself face-to-face with this fierce, independent, vintage-motorcycle-riding, Californian civil engineer who’d written a couple of articles for the magazine that I didn’t really understand yet. Needless to say, I was kind of terrified of this lady, and of her finding out that I didn’t actually have a clue what I was doing.


Carolyn and I have kept in touch ever since, and she doesn’t scare me any more (at least, not quite so much 😉 ). She’s taught me how to waltz, to polka, and how to do at least two different Regency set dances. She helped me put on the first ‘Steampunk Magazine Spectacular’ weekend in Oxford, let me ride her 1940s Royal Enfield J2 (his name is Henry), fed me from her allotment, introduced me to Ursula LeGuin, and blew my mind wide open with everything she knows about the process of Progress and gender politics.


I still think of her as fierce, independent, and as one of the most terrifyingly intelligent people that I’ve ever met, but she’s also a damned good friend, a hero, and has left me a hell of a lot smarter than she found me.



There are dozens and dozens of other people who have helped me out, taught me things, or just been there to offer support over the past few years. That’s part of what makes steampunk so great. Sure, we have our fair share of trolls, bigots, and assholes. Every group and subculture does. What makes steampunk different is the incredible spirit of invention amongst its communities, and how eager so many of these people are to share their skills, knowledge, and inspiration with others.


I haven’t always had the most straightforward relationship with steampunk, but it’s immensely valuable to look back from time to time and realise the things that you have. And steampunk? Steampunk has introduced me to a whole panoply of wonderful, funny, intelligent, caring people. That is an awesome, awesome thing.

Over the last few days, feminist-and-popular-culture website Jezebel has found itself in a lot in hot water after publishing a piece titled ‘American Guy In Paris Freed From The Idea Of “Consent”’. In this travesty of an article, American writer ‘Edward Pasteck’ (not his real name) talks at great length about how ‘liberated’ French women are from the restrictive, puritanical concept of ‘consent’, and how French women don’t feel the need to consent “if a decision will suffice.”

Not surprisingly, the piece was met by a torrent of comments from people questioning the difference is between ‘consent’ and ‘a decision’, and plenty more people angrily pointing out that the topic of consent shouldn’t be up for debate.

While I was reading the article, I did find myself wondering why a website like Jezebel (that has traditionally been a safe space for women and feminists to discuss the intersection of feminism and pop culture) would decide to publish a piece by an male American writer that not only exotifies and sexualises French women, but that also read suspiciously like rape apology.

Since then, Jezebel have published a response by an anonymous French woman discussing the realities of living in a city like Paris, and also an editorial by Editor-in-Chief Jessica Coen in which she talks a little bit about why the article was published without sufficient warning of it’s content. However, as many of Jezebel’s readers have quite rightly pointed out, none of this does much to address the question of why a feminist website appears to believe that the subject of consent is up for discussion.

Reading these articles, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a similar incident that occurred a few months ago, when Feministe chose to publish an article called ‘Fat and Health’.

The problem with this piece is that it reinforces a system of body-shaming where women (and men) are told that they should be ashamed of their own bodies, and supports a society in which the Focus on Fat is placed way, way ahead of a focus on health. Or, for that matter, a focus on people’s rights to do what they please with their own bodies, regardless of whether they’re taking risks with their physical health or not (a privilege that’s happily awarded to, as an example, young men who drive dangerously or practice extreme sports that are likely to place them in hospital, draining public services).

Monica’s article caused a similar amount of outrage on Feministe as Edward Pasteck’s piece is currently stoking up over at Jezebel, and in fact caused Feministe to publish a very similar sort of response/counterpoint article by Zuzu.

The problem here is that, once again, we are left clueless as to why a feminist website would choose to publish something that is so obviously a part of the system that continues to oppress and shame women all around the world. In short: websites like Jezebel and Feministe really should know better. However, the more that I think about it, the more I realise that the issue is more complicated than that. Because, while articles like Monica’s ‘Fat and Health’ and Pasteck’s ‘American Guy in Paris’ have compromised these previously safe spaces, and upset and enraged a good proportion of the websites’ readership, they have also provided heated and articulate responses in the comments section that have exponentially increased my understanding of issues like fat acceptance and street harassment.

And I doubt that I’m the only one.

I found myself in a similar sort of situation in the wake of RaceFail 09 which pretty much served as my introduction to issues of equality activism generally, and did an awful lot to educate me about anti-racism. Just like with the debacle over at Jezebel/Feministe, we’re left in a situation where a lot of harm and damage has been done, and yet as a result of that harm, there has been an increase in people’s awareness of these issues.

The only way forwards, then, must be to accept that these things have happened—and both the good and bad that occurs as a result—without getting bogged down in an argument about whether the trade-off is ‘worth it’ or not. As with all things, the worth of any consciousness-raising vs. damage done is something that is going to be different for every individual, and we must be sure not to fall into a trap where harm needs to be caused to the minority in order for the dominant majority to be educated.

I guess that no one ever said that the path to total equality would be paved with gold. However I, for one, am grateful to all the readers and commenters over at Feministe and Jezebel for the lengths that they’ve gone to in order call these websites out on their bullshit, and for the amount that I have learned as a result—even though my level of respect for the websites concerned may take some time to recover.