Jasmine is considering

After a couple of weeks of idyllic holiday it is difficult to get back into routine, especially when there is so much to make one want to just curl up again – I won’t say what.  One thing did concern me. It was a report in the news over a week ago about the transwoman who committed suicide while in a male prison. I was concerned to read that she was only 19 and had been living as female since the age of 10.  But, and this is what got to me, she had little idea of what being transsexual means and had had no advice, medical or otherwise to help her transition. Despite all the publicity in recent years about various trans people, she still felt isolated and did not know where to go for help. She had not even begun to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate, probably because she had not started any authorised medical treatment.

My understanding is that you do not need to go through surgery or even drug treatment to get a GRC but you do have to have a medical opinion that you are gender dysphoric. I have also heard that your mental state is taken into consideration. You can get to a sort of Catch 22 situation where if you are mad i.e. have mental health issues, you can’t get a GRC while a lot of people consider wanting to change gender a sign of madness.

This woman obviously had issues as she was convicted of crimes and sent to prison. What is appalling is that she received no care from the authorities that were responsible for her welfare while in custody. It also shows that there is still a lack of information about being trans available to the general public, despite the heap of material on the internet. We may be just 1% of the population but that just makes it that much more difficult for people who need help to make contact with those that can provide it. It also shows that the majority of people have a poor grasp of gender issues and do not understand how to help someone who is struggling to come to terms with their gender identity.

………………

IMGP5962I have a busy two or three weeks coming up so a new Jasmine novella will be on hold for a bit longer. In the meantime I’ll continue with other short stories I have stored away (there are lots).  This week I have a recent SF story I wrote (somewhat hurriedly) for a competition.  It didn’t get anywhere which I’m not surprised about.  I think it reads more like a synopsis than a short story.  It is also a familiar theme – colonisation of the Moon – but I hoped I had an original slant. Anyway, here it is.

Life on the Moon

The dark sky. That’s what surprised me most when I got here. I spent lots of time staring at the sky back home. There wasn’t much else to do lying in a cot. I watched the clouds move, that’s all. Then they gave me the neuro-interface. Here, on the Moon’s surface with my suit working at one hundred percent to keep me cool and my visor filter at maximum, the sun’s still too bright to look at directly and yet the sky is black. Yeah, that’s what tells me I’m on the Moon. It’s not the lower gravity, that’s just a pleasure. The weight on my chest is less and my useless muscles don’t have to work so hard.
The thing is they didn’t mention it during training. I suppose those career guys who’d been up to orbit lots of times didn’t think of it. Perhaps they weren’t allowed the time to just stare out of the windows of the space station. Me, well, when I’m turned away from the Sun and see all the stars on that black background it still takes my breath away. That’s probably not a good way of putting it. A break in my breathing would set off all sorts of warning alarms and have the monitor reprimand me for wasting time – time we haven’t got.
I’m outside for almost all my ten-hour shift, keeping an eye or more accurately a few brain cells, on the drills and the rock shifting kit, making small adjustments here and there, occasionally taking control of the waldos and really moving stuff. I love it. I feel useful for the first time in my life. Useful and important.  When I hand over to one of the others I feel as if I’m giving up a part of my body. In some ways, I am.
Yesterday, when I got back from my shift there was a celebration going on. Li told me all about it. We’re friends. She’s so like me; in abilities if not looks or personality. The fuss was over the completion of Cavern 1. Now they can start filling it with all the kit they’ve been hauling up from Earth. That gear will make this place self-sufficient in water, oxygen, metals, and lots of other stuff. The bosses were pleased because the hole was dug ahead of schedule and that was all down to our team.
Soon we’ll finish Cavern 2. It’ll be great to start filling it with the permanent living quarters. The temporary surface pods are cramped and there’s always the chance of a meteor puncturing the skin. The next bunch to come up from Earth will find their cosy apartments all ready for them.  By then the bio domes should be producing real food. I’m looking forward to having something to chew on instead of the concentrated, dried, pre-cooked mush we get from Earth. Once we’ve got our own food supply we can really start calling ourselves colonists.
Some of the guys talk about going home when we’ve finished the heavy work. Not me. Why should I go back to that gravity-well where I can’t move a muscle and I’m treated like a dependent waste of space? Here I’m free and a respected member of the gang. I’d happily see out my life working as a farmer or extending the caverns. Li feels the same. We may pair up and take a shared apartment in Cavern 2; maybe even have kids. I wonder if they would be like us?
Anyway, who really wants to go back to Earth now? It’s not exactly a pleasant place to be these days. The guys who want to go back have family down there so perhaps that gives them a reason. There’s no one down there who wants me back, not when getting food and staying alive is such a struggle, even for people who have the use of their own limbs.
I saw a meteor today. You don’t see them very often because there’s no atmosphere for them to streak through. It caught my eye, well, my camera lens, when it reflected the sunlight. A brief flicker, then it was gone. Thinking about it, perhaps it wasn’t a meteor after all. It wasn’t moving fast enough. Some of the states on Earth don’t like what we’re doing and have threatened to lob a bomb at us. One or two of them still have the capability. That’s why we’re on the “other side” facing away from Earth. Some of the guys are upset that we don’t have a view of Earth but I don’t care. I don’t want to see what we’ve done to that place, or let the bad guys down there have a good view of what we’re doing.
………………..
It was a missile. Li told me that someone she knows in admin said that our defences took it out before it got anywhere near. They’re not expecting many more as they’ve started lobbing nukes at each other down there. That should take their minds off us. Mind you the chances of us getting more supplies look pretty slim. Just like the chances of some of the guys going home.  I’ll just get on with my job managing the machines fitting out Cavern 2. I’m a builder now not a digger.
…………………
That’s it. We’re on our own. The multi-nationals who were behind us don’t exist anymore, like their customers, or most of them anyway. Admin have cut our rations to tide us over until the first crops are ready in a few weeks. It’ll be tough but I don’t need much to eat.
Chatting to Li, she thinks that the company bosses knew this was going to happen. That was why there was such a rush to get the colony set up. She says they used up all their capital to move as much stuff up here as possible in the time that was left. They had to do it without the governments noticing as otherwise their resources would have been commandeered for the patriotic wars.
……………………..
Li and I moved into our new home today. It’s on floor 6, two hundred meters below the surface but handy for the elevators. We’ve got more room than we expected because there’s no more people coming up from down below.  We celebrated with a special dinner – a tube of protein paste saved from yesterday’s ration, re-hydrated rice and a fresh lettuce from our first crop.  Food may be short still, but we’re nice and cosy down here and the solar energy collectors on the surface are 100% as it’s mid-moon day. We selected a view of the surface for our video-screen. Some of the others have selected scenes of Earth relayed by the satellite. I don’t know how they can look at that spoiled place now. It’s not the blue, white and green globe it used to be but a dirty brown ball.
………………….
We had boiled egg today. Okay, Li and I had to share it, but it was a real egg; shell and everything. We spent as much time looking at it as eating it. I had no idea that we’d brought chicken embryos up with us. Once we got the bio pods up the chicks were incubated. Now they’re hens and laying.  We had bread with the egg; real bread made from grain grown in the bio pods. Food is still rationed, probably always will be, but we’re self-sufficient.  Li and I talked about raising a kid. Of course, we can’t actually make a baby by ourselves, not us two, but we’re going to have a chat with the meds.
……………………
We’re going to be a mum and dad!  I supplied the sperm and Li the egg and the cybermeds did the rest. Nine months’ time we’ll have a daughter called Selene. We decided against gen-eng so she’ll be like Li and me. Admin agreed to it. In fact, they suggested it. They need our brains but being immobile we don’t need as much food as the ables. Selene won’t be the first child. Dmitri and Makena are having theirs the traditional way, a few weeks sooner. Admin were delighted. Without the extra people that were expected from Earth we’re a small number. Now that the food situation is easing, they want more mouths to feed, and hands and brains to do the work.
……………………..
I’ve got a new job.  Admin have patched me into the colony’s mainframe. I’m making sure that all the systems are running to plan. I look after the farmbots in the bio pods, energy generation, the foundries extracting metals and making plastics, the water and oxygen extractors, life support, everything really. It’s not just me of course. Li does a shift and there are others like us.  I wonder if the guys who designed the neuro-interface that give us a life, guessed that one day we’d be running the first colony on the Moon. Okay, it’s probably the last as well, but we have a future, which is more than those poor folks on Earth have got.
………………………..
It’s a good job that we can override the default settings. A few of the guys who couldn’t go home to Earth got a bit upset. I had to cut their oxygen. They won’t cause any more problems.
I love this job. It means that I’m on the surface any time I like, looking out through the cameras on the bio pods, the solar collectors and the communications towers. I can see the ragged ridge that surrounds our crater, the grey dust that’s now criss-crossed with the tracks of our machines and I can look up and see the stars in that black sky.
………………………………

Jasmine at rest

IMGP5962I’ve been on holiday and had a thoroughly relaxing time. So relaxed in fact that I have not done any writing, which is unusual when I am holiday. There’s been lot’s to do like reading and walking and gazing at the glorious views and lying on the sand with my eyes closed listening to the waves and watching the sunset (not the sunrise – haven’t been up early enough). It has been lovely just being. We have kept up to date with the news and there have been plenty of emails to delete every day but for once we have just not felt like bothering. I know that getting home will change all that but perhaps this feeling of “let it be” will continue. We have decided one thing – that I must do more to market Jasmine but how remains to be seen.

To fill in the gap, here is another of my older short stories. This one is fairly recent. I wrote it as a test to see if I could write an SF story based on an article in a random edition of New Scientist. The trouble is I am not sure how fictional it is or how far into the future it is set..

Potential for Evil

The room I was shown into reflected the contradictions of the British Security Service. An antique comfy sofa and dark wood panelling denoting the history of the service while the holographic projector on the mahogany desk signalled that technologically it was up to date. The projection blinked off as I entered like a bubble bursting and the figure behind the desk rose to greet me.
‘Ah, Professor Isabella Boyle.’ He pronounced each syllable of my title and name as if making sure he wouldn’t forget it. He was tall and dark and, I suppose, handsome in a 2020s sort of way. It looked rather dated today, like the pale blue summer suit he was wearing. He indicated the sofa and invited me to sit.
I settled into the soft, low cushions, thankful that I had chosen to wear trousers rather than a skirt despite the continuing summer heatwave.
‘You know who I am but I do not know your name,’ I said, perhaps showing a bit of irritation in my voice.  I had been summoned by my comm implant which let it be known that I couldn’t really refuse but with no information whatsoever about why my presence was required.
‘We don’t go in for identities here,’ he said lowering himself onto the sofa beside me, ‘It’s an historical thing I suppose. You can call me N if you like.’
‘N?’
‘It comes after M. Now Professor I want you to watch this.’
He wiggled his fingers and the projection formed in the air in front of us. ‘Resume, rewind, start,’ he said.
I saw a planar view of some dusty middle-eastern town. There were lots of people, men, women, children going about what seemed to be their normal business. They were surrounded by a cloud of buzzing insects which seemed to hover over or near each person.  As the picture moved I realised we were following one particular character, a young man. He seemed to know where he was going as he strode through the awning-covered streets until he came to the steps of a white concrete building. It appeared to me to be a meeting place where people got out of the extreme heat to eat, drink, chat, play games and do business.  The man we were pursuing stopped, took the bag he had been carrying off his shoulder and drew out a compact automatic firearm, bigger than a pistol. He held it in one hand and started firing.  Immediately people fell to the ground, bleeding, dying. Some fled but he shot them in the back. He turned, shooting continuously, spraying fire into every corner of the building, the gun automatically selecting targets, aiming and firing without any likelihood of missing. The assassin stepped forward and our viewpoint moved with him deeper into the shadows. Many people had no escape because the exits were blocked by those who had the time to start to flee. He carried on shooting, mercilessly cutting down everyone in line of sight.
He reached the far end of the building and paused. Now as well as the cries of the dying and the incessant chatter of his gun there was another noise – answering fire from outside the building. He stopped shooting, held up his hands and exploded. The image disappeared.
‘So?’ I said looking at N, ‘an act of terrorism in some foreign town. I can see plenty of those on newsfeeds if I wish – many closer to home.’
‘Of course,’ N said, a thin smile playing across his lips. ‘Didn’t you notice anything unusual?’
I thought for a moment, ‘The point of view followed the killer. You had a surveillance drone on him. Why couldn’t he be stopped?’
N smiled. ‘It wasn’t one of ours. We hacked it after the incident. The state follows everyone over the age of twelve with flybots but while it stores the uploads it doesn’t have the AI power to analyse them in real time so they’re only good for reviewing events not influencing them. The incident happened three days ago but what was interesting was who committed the atrocity.’
I was surprised at his use of the word “atrocity”.  It reminded me of my childhood when events like we had watched were not daily events. What had happened to make an atrocity an everyday occurrence?
‘A member of a rival faction?’ I suggested.
‘Could have been. There are plenty of jihadi groups vying for the reputation of being the most barbarous. Not that this was any more deadly than many others – just a hundred dead. No he wasn’t with one of them. His home was one of our supposed allies.’  He seemed particularly gleeful by that revelation.
‘How do you know? Whichever country he originated from he could have been a radicalised member of one of these terrorist organisations.’
‘Ah, that’s where you are wrong. You see we have accessed his i.d. He worked for one of our “friends”.’
‘How did you find out?’
N smiled broadly. He was enjoying showing off. ‘We’re not as out of touch as the public sometime think. We have agents in the field. One of them managed to get hold of the bomber’s body, well, his head actually. It arrived here yesterday.’
‘So you were able to read his implant.’
‘Yes, we know exactly who he is, what he’s been doing, what porn he’s accessed, everything. Except we don’t know what this is.’  N reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a small, clear plastic bag. He handed it to me.
The bag appeared empty until I held it up to examine closely. Inside was a bundle of fine wires, each much thinner than a human hair, almost too thin to see. Attached to the wires were slightly larger nodes.
‘Where was this found?’ I asked although I was beginning to get ideas.
‘I think it is called his prefrontal cortex – the PFC? Separate to his comm implant anyway.’
‘Why are you showing this to me?’ I asked although I was pretty sure of the answer now.
‘You’re a top neuroscientist, Professor,’ N said, beaming at me and taking care to look at my face and not my breasts. ‘We think you can explain what this was doing in the agent’s brain and what it has got to do with his actions on behalf of our “ally”.’
I took a deep breath. ‘I suppose you realise that it was connecting to the neurones in the part of the brain that you named. The PFC is responsible for our higher functions – rational thought, decision-making, that sort of thing.’ I dangled the packet in front of me. ‘This is a behaviour modification device.’
‘I guessed that. But what is it doing exactly?’
‘Ah. I would need to know exactly where it was situated.’
‘I can help you there,’ N said, and began waving his hands in the air again. A new image appeared in front of me, 3D this time, – a full colour scan of the brain. ‘You can manipulate it,’ N said.
I raised my hands and fingers to hold the image of the brain, turn it, expand it. I reached in to grasp the piece I wanted to examine more closely.  The silver neural modifier stood out from the grey brain cells.
It was as I thought. ‘It’s made him evil,’ I said.
‘Really?’ N said as if I had confirmed his own guesses.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘A couple of decades ago it was discovered that a part of the PFC was involved in giving the person the potential for evil. That is the ability to perform violent acts frequently and without emotion and be willing to follow orders and adopt the belief system of the group which they have joined. It’s called Syndrome E.’
‘Your typical jihadi,’ N said nodding.
I pointed to the image that hung in the air. ‘This part of the PFC was found to be active in suppressing the moderate, altruistic, risk-averse instincts of other parts of the brain.  It seems that someone has engineered this implant to control the function – turn the evil on and perhaps off.’
‘So it seems. Thank you Professor. I suspected as much but needed your opinion as proof. You see N stands for Neurological Section Leader.’
I was confused. ‘But why would someone do that? Why put that thing in someone’s brain?’
N smiled again. ‘It seems that our ally has decided that trying to bomb our enemies into submission isn’t working. It isn’t. We’ve known that for decades but there hasn’t been any acceptable alternative. So they’ve decided to copy the enemy’s tactic of indiscriminate brutality.  Give them back the terror. But they needed a single minded, evil assassin happy to blow himself to bits if it killed enough innocent bystanders.’
‘Would they be able to find such a person?’ I asked realising immediately that I was being naïve.
‘Of course they could. Think of the Nazis, Irish IRA and protestant militia, Serbians in Bosnia, numerous American college boys.  Every nation has its reservoir of easily led, homicidal maniacs. The problem is controlling them.  With this device the guys in charge, like me, can turn anyone, or almost anyone, into a multi-murderer whenever we wish.’
I suddenly felt cold. ‘You said “we”.’
He gave me that broad grin again, like the cat that not only had the cream but a tasty dead bird as a side dish. ‘You don’t think we’re going to let our “friends” go on with this on their own do you? The Prime Minister wants our own Syndrome E Squad a.s.a.p. and as the leading authority on neural implants you are the person we are relying on to provide it, Professor.’
‘But how will releasing our own programmed killers end the war on terror?’ I asked.
‘It won’t,’ N replied.
‘Then, why?’
‘Because it will be a damn sight cheaper than operating the current fleet of drone bombers. Now, Professor, you’re not getting moralistic qualms about this are you? Not after developing the neural implant that has connected the whole population to the internet and allowed governments and corporations into everyone’s heads.
My uncertainty surfaced as an ‘Umm.’
‘I am sure I don’t have to remind you that under the state of emergency that has existed for the last twenty years your citizenship is dependent on you carrying out your government’s, that is my, wishes.’
I had no choice, unless I wanted to be deported from my own country. Any other that took me would make the same demands on my knowledge and skills. It appeared that from now on I would be harnessing the evil present in most, if not all minds, but perhaps I would also be able to insert an off switch.
‘When do I start?’

…………………….

Inspired by Roots of brutality, Laura Spinney, New Scientist p.40, no.3047, 14/11/15

………………………………………….
 

 

Jasmine questions Milla’s partner

Layout 1There have been two things that have lifted me this week and will encourage me to go on writing and publishing (I hope that prospect doesn’t terrify you too much). The first was a good review of Bodies By Design on the Eurocrime website. Go to my Jasmine Frame publications page for the link.

Seventh Child cover, designed by Alison Buck

Seventh Child cover, designed by Alison Buck

The second item was the news that the first volume of my fantasy series, Seventh Child, is a finalist in the Wishing Shelf awards (for teenage fiction). There’s more about that on my SF&F page.

 

 

With that news out of the way, here is the next episode in the Jasmine Frame prequel, Resolution. After the climax last week, we’re onto the other strand of the story here.

 

 

Resolution: Part 7

Jasmine yawned as she pulled up outside the smart, recently-built, detached house. It was still mid-morning and the little red Fiesta had made a good job of swallowing up the miles between Reading and Birmingham. Nevertheless, it had been a fairly early start after a late arrival back home. Despite what DS Trewin had hoped it took some time to charge Michelle Greaves and put her into custody. Only then could they begin the drive back to Kintbridge from Sheffield. They had been elated at their success in getting a confession from Greaves but James had felt exhausted when he finally joined Angela in their bed.
She checked her make-up in the vanity mirror and got out of the car, smoothing the cotton skirt down her thighs and making sure that the plain white vest covered her bra. It was turning into a hot day and she was pleased that she had dressed appropriately. The blonde wig was feeling a bit warm though. She recalled Milla Sparrow saying she could pass as a woman even with her short fair hair but Jasmine felt more confident with the disguise the wig provided. She brushed hairs from her face, locked the car, tossed her bag over her shoulder and advanced up the driveway to the front door.
The door opened before she got to it. Jasmine was a little surprised to see that Tania Portman looked older than she expected. She was in her late thirties, a few years older than Milla, and had short, dark hair and tired eyes.
‘I saw the car pull up and guessed it must be you. Jasmine Frame?’ Tania said, pulling the door wide and holding her hand out.
Jasmine extended her hand. Tania took it and shook it gently.
‘Thank you Tania. I hope I’m not too early,’ Jasmine said, stepping into the bright hallway. Tania gazed at the road and then closed the door.
‘No. I’ve finished breakfast and all that. On Milla’s days off, we used to hang around in bed for ages. Not that she had days off very often. Now though I just want to get up and get on. Come on through. Coffee?’
‘Yes, please.’  Jasmine followed Tania into the spacious and well-equipped kitchen. ‘You’ve got a lovely place here.’ Jasmine was comparing the house with the one she and Angela were purchasing in Kintbridge. Though she was delighted with their move into their own property it was small and cramped in comparison to this.
Tania looked around as if seeing her surroundings for the first time. ‘Yes, I suppose it is. It was meant to be a fresh start for Milla and me. Our own place, decorated how we liked; and of course we could afford a better place up here than in Kintbridge.’
‘House prices down there are pretty ridiculous,’ Jasmine agreed, wondering when the inconsequential talk would be finished.
‘But now. . .’ Tania went on, ‘It doesn’t feel right. It wasn’t meant to be just for me.’
‘You miss Milla?’ What a stupid thing to ask, Jasmine thought. Of course she misses her partner and lover.
Tania gave her a polite smile and busied herself with making the coffee. Although the question needed no answer she did respond. ‘I miss her terribly. She was the one person who I could talk about anything to and her to me. We both lead busy lives of course and police work meant a lot to her but at the end of the day, or most days, we ended up curled up together on the sofa or in bed just enjoying being in each other’s lives.’  Tania filled a mug from a coffeemaker. ‘Black or white?’
‘Black please,’ Jasmine took the mug from her and Tania proceeded to pour another.
‘Her death must have been a great shock.’ Oh, not another silly, obvious statement, Jasmine remonstrated with herself. Why was it so difficult to talk about death sensibly? She could do it when the death meant nothing to her personally, but here . . . well, she felt bound by convention.
Tania put a splash of milk in her mug and grunted. ‘I still can’t believe it’s happened. It’s over a month now but I still I expect her to walk through the door at the end of a long day and just call out “Hi”.’
Tania lead Jasmine into a lounge, sparsely furnished with a big, soft sofa and a thick, furry rug over wood flooring. ‘It all happened so soon after we’d moved up here that we hadn’t even finished unpacking or buying stuff. I don’t feel like doing either now.’
They sat next to each other on the sofa. Jasmine carefully crossed her bare legs. Tania slumped with her jean-clad legs stretched out in front of her.  Tania examined Jasmine over the rim of her steaming mug.
‘So, you’re James Frame to the police force, but Jasmine the rest of the time?’
Jasmine nodded. ‘That’s about it.’
‘None of your colleagues know about Jasmine?’
‘No. Milla was the first and only one. Did she tell you how she got to know?’
‘Yes,’ Tania said, ‘She didn’t talk about all her cases, couldn’t a lot of the time, but I remember clearly when she came home and talked about meeting you first as James then how you became Jasmine to deal with those drug deaths.’
Jasmine smiled at the memory. ‘She was great. It made sense to be in my femme mode because so many of the people involved in the case were trans in one way or another but she really worked hard to keep my secret from the guys in the force.’
‘And now you’re a detective yourself.’
Jasmine grinned. ‘Yes. It’s what I wanted to do and I think I can thank Milla for helping me to get the posting.’
‘She did say that she thought you’d make a good detective. Do you think you’ll tell DCI Sloane about Jasmine?’
Jasmine shivered despite the warmth. The thought of revealing herself to the stern, old-time-copper was horrific.
‘I don’t think so.’
‘So you’re happy with the double-life.’
Am I, Jasmine wondered. It was a question she avoided asking herself as the wrong answer created all sorts of other questions about work and her life with Angela.
‘Yes,’ she said hoping that uncertainty didn’t show in her voice.
‘But you’re married?’ Tania went on.
‘Yes. Angela has known about Jasmine from the time we first met. She met Jasmine before James actually. She’s very relaxed about me being both male and female.’  Is she really? Jasmine wasn’t certain about that either. What would Angela do if she decided to transition to the woman she almost certainly felt herself to be? Surely she wouldn’t be as obstructive as Michelle Greaves’ wife.
‘Milla was unsure about coming out at work but once we started living together it became silly not to,’ Tania said.
‘Did she have any problems?’
Tania shook her head. ‘Not really. One or two male officers looked at her in a leery sort of way, so she said, but the police force today is pretty careful about getting diversity right. I’m sure you’d have no problem if you decided to become Jasmine full-time.’
Jasmine nodded and sipped her coffee.
‘But you didn’t come here to hear my opinions on your prospects in the police service,’ Tania said.
‘Um, no.’ Jasmine had been waiting for the chance to get on to DS Sparrow’s death and it seemed Tania was making the move.
‘You want to know what happened to Milla.’
‘Yes, if you don’t mind talking about it.’
‘I don’t. Perhaps talking about her will get it out of my head and stop it going round and round with me wondering if there was anything I could have done.’ Tania paused and looked faraway for a moment. Her eyes focussed again. ‘How much do you know?’
Jasmine shook her head. ‘Not a lot. A few comments from people but that’s all. Why don’t you tell me all that you know?’
Tania took a mouthful of coffee, swallowed and thought. She took a big breath. ‘We hadn’t had time to get settled in. It was just a week after Milla started work here. I’d already been here a few weeks in my job, getting the house liveable. Of course as soon as Milla started she was up to her eyes in work but that day she got home at a similar time to me, about six. We decided to go out for something to eat. There hadn’t been a chance to find decent places but the local pub looked pretty okay so we thought we’d give it a try.’
‘Pub?’ Jasmine interrupted.
‘The Shakespeare. On the main road. Less than half a mile.’ Tania pointed out of the front window in no particular direction. ‘We walked there, had a fairly reasonable meal and a bottle of wine. It was pretty busy as it was a good summer’s evening, but we felt comfortable. It was just getting dark as we wandered home, arm in arm.’ She paused and Jasmine saw cracks appear in her face. ‘It happened so fast. I didn’t see everything that I could have done, should have done.’ Her voice croaked.
‘Take your time, Tania. I don’t want to upset you.’ Jasmine shuffled along the sofa and took Tania’s hand in hers.
‘The car just appeared, coming towards us, fast. It hit the kerb then just flew at us. Milla shoved me out of the way. I fell on the pavement and the car shot by. I heard a thump which I realised later was the car hitting Milla. Then it stopped, reversed and drove off. They went over Milla twice. I was dazed and sore, I’d banged my knee. I felt sorry for myself, then I saw her lying there, blood all over the place. I crawled to her. I wouldn’t have recognised her except for her yellow skirt. She was already . . .’ The tears had been building for a while but now they came, flowing freely down Tania’s cheeks. Jasmine put her arm around the older woman’s shoulders and pulled her to her. Tania sobbed on Jasmine’s false breasts. ‘She saved me but couldn’t save herself.’
……………

Jasmine seeks out Cleo

All week I have been keeping an eye on a certain e-book supplier (here) to see how Seventh Child (Evil Above the Stars vol.1) is doing.  Well it’s not in the best seller list but has moved up and down and up so I presume that means some copies have been sold. Volume 2, Power of Seven will be available soon and then we’ll see what happens.

I’ve been having discussions and giving thought to how I can promote both of my series – Jasmine Frame and Painted Ladies and September Weekes and Evil Above the Stars. The problem is that they are in two different genres with, probably, very different readerships. It has been suggested that I have a website linked to this blog and stick solely to  crime fiction and transgenderism  i.e. Jasmine Frame, with my fantasy/SF material promoted elsewhere.  What do you think?

It was interesting to learn this week that Jasmine (and me for that matter) are no longer allowed to drive in Russia, because Putin’s government have included  trans on a list of “medical” conditions that could cause drivers to have accidents. What! How blatant can prejudice be? Well, that’s it. I won’t be visiting Russia (another country crossed off).

Penny Ellis -  no longer allowed to drive in Russia

Penny Ellis – no longer allowed to drive in Russia

So to Discovering Jasmine, a prequel to Painted Ladies. Here’s the next instalment. Let me know what you think.

Discovering Jasmine: Part 5

They were back in the police car, driving out of the town centre, heading home. James felt tired and depressed but he couldn’t stop thinking about Cleo the transsexual.
‘Did you catch the gang that attacked Cleo?’ he said.
The police officer in the front passenger seat twisted to face him.
‘What was that, lad?’
‘Did you get them? The man with the knife and the others.’
The officer shook his head. ‘They ran off when we turned up.’
‘Didn’t you chase after them?’
‘No. Our first responsibility is to the victims. We had to check that you and Cleo were safe and getting the treatment you needed. We try not split up. It’s not like on TV you know.’
‘So the men got away.’
‘I wouldn’t call them men,’ the officer said. ‘From your descriptions, and other bystanders, they were youths, a similar age to you, possibly even younger.’
‘But you will go after them?’ James had the feeling that the police weren’t too concerned.
‘We will be continuing with our enquiries.’
‘What will you do?’
‘Someone will talk to Cleo when she gets home from hospital. There’s a good chance that she knew the boys. They probably live on her estate.’
‘And that’s it. Couldn’t you be rounding up the kids on the estate to question?’
‘Look lad. We don’t go pulling in people unless we’ve got a good idea they are involved in a crime and we haven’t the officers to launch a major inquiry just because one tranny has got himself beaten up. The investigation is live, that’s all, OK.’ The officer turned back to face the front. Holly patted James’ hand.
‘Don’t say anything more,’ she whispered.
‘But…but…’ James wanted to say that Cleo’s life had been threatened and it sounded as if it wasn’t the first time she’d been attacked. Why wasn’t she being protected? Was it all because she was transsexual?

They soon arrived at the dark house. James and Holly got out and watched the police car drive off at speed before they went inside. James trudged upstairs without a word and went to his bedroom. He pulled off the sandals, slipped the remains of Holly’s dress over his head, extracted the one bag of rice and unclipped the bra, then wearing just the knickers went to the bathroom to wash off the make-up. When he emerged, Holly was waiting on the landing.
‘I’m sorry about your dress,’ James mumbled. Holly waved her hands dismissively.
‘I’m not bothered about that. I’m just sorry you got hurt and that your evening out got spoiled.’
James shrugged his shoulders. ‘Yeah, so am I. Look Hol, I really appreciate what you did. You’ve been really great to me, helping me be Jasmine.’
Holly placed her hand gently on James’s shoulder. ‘Look, I’m not sure I fully understand why you want to dress up as a girl but it obviously means a lot to you. We’ll do it again sometime, although with Mum and Dad back at the weekend I don’t know when or how. It may be the new millennium and all that but I don’t think they’ll want to know you’re a transvestite.’
James shuddered. The thought of revealing Jasmine to his parents was scary as was being found out by his mates.
‘Don’t tell them,’ he said hurriedly.
‘Of course, I won’t, James. It’s our secret if you want it to be.’
‘Thanks.’
Holly gave him a quick kiss on his cheek and went off to her room. James pushed his door open, went in and threw himself onto his bed.

Next day was warm and sunny so when James set off for the council estate, shortly after breakfast, he wore a T-shirt, jeans and old trainers. He thought that would make him blend in as he searched for Cleo’s flat. He got off the bus and started walking the streets. There were a few kids on the road kicking a ball around but otherwise there was little movement. Most of the buildings were shabby terraces and semi-detached houses put up in the fifties and sixties. There were scruffy patches of grass or dried mud in front of them where cars were parked or dumped with one or more wheels missing.
He came to a development of four storey apartment blocks. It wasn’t difficult to guess which contained Cleo’s flat. The ground floor walls on two sides of the block had slogans and pictures crudely sprayed on them. “Tranny” and “Perv” were a couple of the legible words and a few fanciful images of penis and testicles. It appeared that someone had attempted to remove most of the graffiti but some looked older than others and more ingrained into the brickwork. A window facing the road was partly boarded up. James walked up the side of the building till he came to a communal door. It opened when he pushed on it and he stepped into drab foyer with a dusty, vinyl-tiled floor. There was a stairs and entrances on the left and right. He chose the left. There was no bell or knocker so he tapped his knuckles on the door. It was a few moments until he heard feet scuffing against a carpet on the other side of the door.
‘Who’s there?’ A voice called out. Neither deep nor high-pitched it was impossible to tell if it was a male or female.
‘Is that Cleo?’ James replied. ‘We sort of met last night; on the promenade; when you were being attacked. I tried to help.’
There was the rattle of locks being undone and the door opened a few centimetres but was stopped by a chain. Half a face appeared, pressed into the gap.
‘Who are you? What are you doing here?’
‘I’m James Frame but last night I was Jasmine. I wanted to know if you were OK.’
‘You were the kid who stopped those thugs attacking me?’
‘Yeah. Well, I tried.’
‘You’re trans?’
‘Um. Yes.’ It was still difficult for James to admit it to someone else. The door closed, the chain clanked and then the door opened wider.
James noticed Cleo’s head first. Mousy hair flecked with grey covered her ears but had receded from her high forehead. One eye was covered with a patch and bruising showed around it. There was dried blood in a cut on her lip and another bruise on her cheek. Then James looked down and noticed the pressure bandage on Cleo’s right wrist, the short pink vest revealing a paunch and the miniskirt that failed to cover most of her plump thighs. Her legs were bare but she wore high-heeled sandals.
‘You’d better come in.’ Cleo looked over James’ shoulder, obviously checking there was no one else in the foyer, then stepped back into the short hallway. James stepped through the doorway and waited while Cleo closed the door and replaced the chain. Then James followed her through a door into a small living room with a tiny kitchen attached.
‘Have a seat,’ Cleo said sweeping a heap of newspapers off the grubby two-seater settee and shoving a dirty plate underneath it. James sat down hugging himself tightly so he didn’t have to touch too much. The room was a mess, with heaps of papers, magazines and post and piles of clothes, washed and unwashed. It was quite dim despite the bright sunlight outside because half the small window was covered with cardboard.
‘So here you are,’ Cleo began. She tried to speak in the upper register of her voice but every few words it dropped an octave. ‘You can see I’m fine. Just a bit bruised. Is that all you want to know or is it the first time you’ve seen another tranny?’
James was confused. Cleo was suspicious and not very welcoming. Perhaps she had reason to be.
‘I can see you took a hammering,’ he said. ‘Are you sure you’re feeling alright. Can I do anything for you? Go to the shops or something. Those blokes were vicious.’
‘Kids they were. Just fucking kids. I don’t need any help but thanks for the offer.’ Cleo pulled up a dining chair and sat down spreading her legs. James stopped himself from looking up her short skirt at her knickers. His eyes rose to her T-shirt stretched across her high, ample bosom and battered face.
‘One of them had a knife. He took a swipe at me,’ he said.
‘Yeah. The cops asked me about that. I didn’t see it.’
‘The police officer thought you might know them.’
‘They’re probably from around here. I might recognise them. Don’t know their names though.’
‘You get bothered a lot?’
‘Bothered!’ Cleo laughed. ‘Obscenities sprayed on my wall; banging on my door at all times of day and night; stones thrown at my windows, some large enough to smash the glass.’ She pointed to the boarded up window. ‘Followed whenever I step outside the door, name-calling the whole time. Oh, yes, I get bothered.’
……………………………….

Painted Ladies: a Jasmine Frame story is available as an e-book and paperback from all booksellers including Amazon

Painted Ladies cover

Seventh Child and more Discovering Jasmine

I’m learning – at least I hope I am. Once upon a time writing meant putting pen (or pencil) to paper.Then  it was tapping the keys on a typewriter. Now I’m perfectly happy writing on screen but that’s not enough these days. If you want people (that is more than just a few friends and family) to read your creations you have to learn how to promote them. But you have to be careful – it can’t be all sell, sell, sell. Apparently you have to be subtle, cosy up to people, comment on their efforts and sort of slide in mentions of your own offerings.

Seventh Child cover, designed by Alison Buck

Seventh Child cover, designed by Alison Buck

So, I will just say that this week has been exciting with the publication in e-book formats of Evil Above the Stars vol.1 Seventh Child published by Elsewhen Press. You can purchase it here and find out more about it here.   Now the hard work starts, trying to get reviews, pushing it up the lists so it gets noticed. Perhaps it will be easier when volume 2 Power of Seven is published in a week or two or perhaps when the paperbacks come out in March. The struggle for readers will be interesting. All comments will be appreciated.

While September’s adventures in EAtS are at the forefront at the moment I am still thinking of Jasmine and trying to promote her story and cases. Here is the next episode in the prequel to Painted Ladies.

Discovering Jasmine: Part 4

She was falling from her first step as the high heels skidded from under her, but by pumping her legs and with pure willpower Jasmine maintained her momentum. The woman was fending off the blows with her bare arms as Jasmine crashed into the attackers. Two were sent spinning to the ground with Jasmine between them. Her knees and knuckles grazed the concrete. Stunned, she pushed herself to her knees.
One of the boys stood over her with something in his hand. A triangle of silver.
‘You stupid fucker,’ he said. His arm swung. Jasmine leaned back. Something snagged on her dress and bra strap then sliced through them and on across her breast. Rice grains trickled from the gash.
‘What? Another sodding trannie!’ He pulled his arm back again.
A blast on a whistle. A siren. Shouts.
‘Cops!’ A different boy’s voice
‘Let’s get out of here!’ The boys ran away. For a moment Jasmine was alone with the woman slumped against the railings then there were people crowding around, muttering, calling for help.
Holly’s arms on her. ‘James are you alright?’
Her legs didn’t want to work, nor her voice, as she relived those milliseconds. Then more authoritative voices, fully clothed, with belts loaded with devices, urging the onlookers back.
‘Are you hurt, Miss?’ One of the police officers said, addressing her.
Jasmine found some words. ‘Uh, I’m okay. I think.’
‘Let’s get you into the car while we sort out this other person.’
Strong arms lifting her onto her feet, onto her heels, supported her as they staggered a few metres to a police car. She was put into the rear seat. The door closed shutting out the noise.
‘Holly?’ Jasmine whispered, but Holly wasn’t there. She could see her standing not far from the car, talking to the police officer. Another siren, an ambulance arriving.

The police station was just a short drive from sea-front. The car pulled up at the front entrance. The police officer jumped out and opened Jasmine’s door. She pushed herself out and stood up. Her knees were stiffening up.
‘Come inside,’ the officer said. ‘It won’t take long to get your statement down then we’ll run you two kids home.’
Holly joined her and they entered the police station. The PC spoke to the desk officer then lead them on to an interview room. He stood by the door as Jasmine and Holly entered.
‘Take a seat. I’ll get you a nice cup of tea.’
The door closed.
Jasmine and Holly sat next to each other at the table in the centre of the room.
‘Are you sure you’re alright, James?’ Holly said. She seemed to have given up all pretence of calling her by her female name.
‘I’m fine,’ Jasmine muttered, examining her knees, knuckles and torn dress. ‘They’re just grazes where I hit the ground.’
‘But look at that slit in the dress and bra. A sharp knife did that. You could have been cut badly. Why, James? Why did you do it?’
Holly’s words came to Jasmine through a fog of fatigue and disappointment at the end of her evening of being a girl. She saw again that glistening triangle of steel coming towards her and an image filled her mind of a blade slicing through flesh, of blood spurting and tissues parting. A wave of cold passed over her. That’s what could have happened if the boy had stretched out his arm another centimetre or so. It would have been her skin and muscle that would have torn not just the clothes. Her blood that would have spilled. Her chest may have been scarred or perhaps he might have caught her throat and her life might have trickled away through an opened artery. She shivered, her arms, legs and body shaking involuntarily.
‘What’s the matter?’ Holly asked, ‘You’ve gone white.’
‘The…the knife,’ Jasmine whispered.
‘Yes, I said, you were lucky.’
‘I w…was.’
‘Oh, James. Is that it? The shock of being attacked with a knife. I didn’t know you were scared of knives.’ Holly clamped her arms around Jasmine, stilling her shaking limbs. Jasmine felt her warmth passing through the thin layers of cloth between them.
‘I…I didn’t know I was s…scared of knives,’ Jasmine said.
‘Here you are.’ The police officer’s voice came from the doorway as he pushed the door open with his foot. He set down two paper cups of steaming weak tea on the table along with a pad of paper he had tucked under his arm, then sat opposite Jasmine and Holly.
‘Are you feeling okay? You look a bit, um, shaky.’
Jasmine felt the trembling in her limbs subsiding. Holly let go of her.
‘I’m fine. Just got a bit shivery,’ Jasmine said.
The PC’s face showed concern. ‘You’re cold? You haven’t got a coat or anything? I could get you a blanket.’
‘No. I’m fine. It’s passed off now.’ Jasmine cupped her hands around the tea, feeling the heat.
‘Right then let’s get the details down.’ He pulled out a cheap ballpoint pen from his shirt pocket and held it above the pad of paper. ‘What’s your full name?’
Jasmine paused. She was going to have to reveal who and what she was. She knew she was being silly because her partly bared chest made it obvious, but putting the truth into spoken language was difficult.
‘James Lyndon Frame.’
The officer looked up, his eyebrows raised. ‘Lyndon?’
‘It’s a family name. I don’t use it.’
‘Oh. Where do you live?’
James recited the address.
‘And you, miss?’ The PC continued.
‘Holly Ann Frame. Same address.’
‘You’re brother and sister? You’re very alike.’
James saw a thin smile cross Holly’s face. ‘Yes, although we don’t usually look so similar.’
‘So you were out together. Just taking a walk along the seafront?’
‘Yes, well, no,’ James stuttered. ‘We’d been to The Safe. You know, the dance club, and we were on our way to Hypnotism.’
‘I see. Moving upmarket were you,’ the officer chuckled.
James didn’t know what to say.
‘I thought it would be less, um, threatening,’ Holly said.
‘Threatening?’ the PC queried.
‘Well, you know. The Safe is rather full of lads on the pull. Jame…Jasmine was getting a bit too much attention.’
The officer looked closely at James.
‘So you’re Jasmine when you’re, uh, dressed as a girl?’
James nodded.
‘Do you do this often?’ the officer continued. James shook his head.
‘It was his first time,’ Holly explained.
‘A pity it ended like it did,’ the police constable said. ‘So you were walking along the promenade. What time was that?’
James shrugged.
‘I didn’t notice the time,’ Holly said, ‘but it all happened very quickly, it was just a couple of minutes before you arrived.’
‘So just after twenty three hundred, eleven o’clock,’ the PC said. ‘Tell me what happened.’ He looked at James.
‘Um. We were just walking along. I heard shouts. Someone said ‘trannie’. I looked and saw this gang of guys surrounding the woman.’
‘Did you know them?’
‘No!’
‘What did you do?’
‘I went to help her?’
‘Why?’
‘They were attacking her. Beating her up.’
‘What did you do?’
‘I just ran at them.’
‘Did you think they’d run away?’
‘Yes. No. I don’t know. I just knew I had to help her.’
‘Why did you feel that so strongly? Would you normally take on five fit men alone?’
‘No. I just felt she needed my help?’
‘Why your help particularly?’
‘Because…because we were the same. We are both trans…’ James couldn’t finish the word.
The officer scribbled on the sheet of paper.
‘I’m sure she appreciated your support but I don’t think you are that similar.’
James stared at the officer.
‘You know her?’
‘Oh, yes. We’ve met Cleo before, on many occasions actually. She’s a transsexual, had the op, the whole sex-change thing. Says she’s a woman and insists on being treated like one. But, well, she’s too well known and will get herself into situations like this.’
James felt a flush rise up his neck. ‘You mean she asks for trouble?’
‘Well, I don’t suppose she wants it,’ the policeman shrugged, ‘but let’s say she takes offence easily and doesn’t help herself. Anyway what happened when you launched your rescue?’
‘I’m not sure,’ James shook his head trying to recall the events. ‘I collided with one or two of them, fell on the ground. Then as I got up one of them swung a knife at me.’
‘A knife?’
‘Yes.’ James saw it again and shivered. ‘He had it gripped in his fist. It was a short blade, triangular.’
‘Ah, a craft knife, Stanley knife. That sort of thing.’ The officer wrote urgently. ‘He took one swipe at you, and then?’
‘That was all. They ran off. You must have appeared.’
‘Yeah, lucky we were cruising the seafront. It could have got a lot worse. Here have a look at what I’ve written down.’ He pushed the pad across the table. James and Holly bent their heads to read.
James nodded. ‘That’s it. That’s what happened.’
The PC smiled. ‘Good, anything you want to add, Holly?’
Holly shook her head. ‘No. It was all so sudden. We were walking along then James was flying and crashing into the bunch of lads. I’d hardly taken in what was happening. There was a lot of noise then you guys appeared and that was it.’
‘But you saw the, uh, woman being attacked before James launched his rescue mission.’
‘Oh, yes, I heard the lads call her some vile names and I saw them hitting her.’
‘Right, well that’s it then. Sign the statement. Drink up your tea then we can get you home.’
‘What happened to Cleo?’ James asked, his hand gripping the cooling tea cup.
‘An ambulance took her off to be checked over,’ the officer replied.
‘Does she live nearby?’
‘Oh, yes, up on the council estate. Why? Are you thinking of visiting her?’
‘Um, I’m not sure. Yes, perhaps.’
‘Well, think carefully about it and don’t go dressed like you are now. Trannies and other misfits aren’t popular up there. You can’t miss her place though. She’s got a ground floor flat which has been graffitied rather a lot.’
‘Oh. Thanks.’ James wondered how someone could cope with being perpetually targeted for just living as who they felt themselves to be.
Holly put her empty cup down and took James’ arm. ‘Come on, James. I’m not sure you should be thinking about seeing this Cleo person.’
James stood and shook his arm free. ‘I will see her. I must.’

…………………

Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available as an e-book and inpaperback from all booksellers including Amazon

"Jasmine and Me": readings and discussion about the Jasmine Frame stories and transgenderism

“Jasmine and Me”: readings and discussion about the Jasmine Frame stories and transgenderism

Conflict in fiction from Gruffalo to Hobbit

Last week I bemoaned the emphasis on dystopias and post-apocalypse societies in SF as “easy” ways of introducing conflict in stories while novels based in utopian civilisations such as Banks’ Culture require a more imaginative plot. I was being provocative as of course there are many excellent stories set in dystopic societies from 1984 onwards. What I was thinking about was the need for conflict to make a story interesting. This week I am spending quite a bit of time reading to my 3-year-old grandson (and hence not writing much myself) which has caused me to think further about tension in stories.

I must admit to a growing admiration for Julia Donaldson. First of all the language in all her books is a delight to read aloud – the rhythms and rhymes with their selection of appropriate vocabulary (not always the simplest or most common words) creates wonderful word pictures, but the stories are also exciting because of the conflict or tension she evokes. Gentle they may be as they are aimed at young children but the plots of the Gruffalo (and G’s child), Stickman, Superworm and Room on the Broom, place their characters in sticky (no pun intended) situations resolved by cleverness or team work. For example, Superworm is rescued from the wicked wizard lizard by the combined action of all the insects and amphibians he helped, while Mouse uses guile to avoid being gobbled up by various creatures including the Gruffalo. These are all much more satisfactory stories than traditional tales that often require a deus ex machina to resolve the plot.  Even on (many) repeated readings Donaldson’s work gives pleasure to the older reader as well as the young listener. Which is more than I can say for Dr Seuss and “Green Eggs and Ham”.

It is a pity that so much modern SF, particularly films, think that resolving  a conflict can only be done by lots of flashes and bangs and violence instead of using intelligence. My main dissatisfaction with The Hobbit films is their use of destruction to solve problems rather than Bilbo’s cleverness as happens in the book. Now I must admit that in my fantasy series, Evil Above the Stars, September destroys the forces arrayed against her using miraculous powers but they are controlled by the qualities she finds within herself. Transsexual detective, Jasmine Frame too, while facing violent antagonists, relies on her powers of deduction more than her physical prowess, although I have to admit that she has to be rescued on more than one occasion by her buddy, DS Tom Shepherd. Of course how much tension there is in my stories is up to my readers to report.

Painted Ladies: a Jasmine Frame Story is available in paperback and as an e-book from all booksellers.

Evil Above the Stars: volume 1 Seventh Child and volume 2 Power of Seven will be published by Elsewhen Press in e-book in Jan. 2015 and in paperback in March 2015.

Seven is a theme of Evil Above the Stars

Seven is a theme of Evil Above the Stars

 

A day at Novacon

It’s November, it’s Nottingham, it must be Novacon, the annual convention for SF fans. It was actually my first time and only my second visit to an SF/Fantasy convention after my brief visit to the Worldcon in London in the summer. Novacon is a regular event, this was the 44th, and for a lot of the attendees it was an important event in their year. As it happened I could only get there for one day, the Sunday, which was a pity as I think I missed some of the best sessions.

My first impression was that it was an event for middle-aged bar huggers as a considerable proportion of the delegates had apparently attended all the previous 43 Novacons. But looking closer there were a good number of women, younger fans and even families – O.K. one family. Things ran smoothly, evidence of a well-oiled mechanism performing familiar tasks.

The main purpose of my visit was to link up with the folk from Elsewhen Press, in particular, Peter and Alison and the ever-smiling Deirdre, but also their keen group of authors. It was great to see that Elsewhen had the biggest and most visible stand in the dealers’ room and fantastic to see the array of publications that Peter and Alison have published since they went into the business. As I was sizing things up for the launch of my fantasy series, Evil Above the Stars, in the new year, it was good timing that I arrived in time for Elsewhen’s new publication session.  This was the launch of Chris Nuttall’s new volume, Necropolis, in his historical magic fantasy series.  There was a good attendance and fun was had by all thanks to the free drinks. I am looking forward to a similar affair at Eastercon!

I managed to fit four more sessions into my day. The first was a discussion on “Girly Sci-fi” with an all-female panel. The discussion looked at the current fashion for “strong” women leads, as in The Hunger Games series, compared with the weaker(?) females of yore and the Twilight series. With “strong” often meaning adopting male attributes of aggression and violence, the developments weren’t uniformly welcome. As the lead character of EAtS, September Weekes, is a 16-year-old girl with issues, thrust into a position of power and authority, I found the discussion interesting and look forward to reviews of the first two volumes, Seventh Child and Power of Seven.

Seven is a theme of Evil Above the Stars

Seven is a theme of Evil Above the Stars

Next there was a discussion on the expansion of Print-On-Demand publishing, with a very good contribution from Elsewhen’s Peter. It answered some of my prejudices. Then there was a gem – screening of the 1957 Soviet film “The Road to the Stars” which began with a history of rocketry, focussing mainly on Tsiolkovsky of course, but then launched into a fantasy on the future of spaceflight (hopelessly wrong, of course). Finally, I attended the Awards ceremony – the Nova awards are among the most sought after in SF fandom (certainly the trophies based on a Ray Bradbury spaceship are well worth competing for). Actually most of the session was taken up with drawing raffle tickets.

It was an enjoyable day although I realised that I had not heard much in the way of discussion or criticism of actual SF stories, novels or films. Perhaps that was my fault in not spending enough time at the bar engaging in conversation. My imminent publications are more fantasy than SF which is a bit of a mystery as my first love has been SF. I started on Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke, moved through Brunner, Niven and Cherryh and now, having lost Banks, look out for Reynolds, Baxter and Mieville – to name just 10 of my admired authors (there are lots more – don’t ask me to name a favourite.) One topic that did get mentioned was the current preponderance of dystopias. I think it’s quite easy to envisage everything falling apart whether through disease, war or self-inflicted environmental disaster. Once civilisation has been fractured, the population almost eliminated, and technology lost, the “world” of the novel becomes a simple desolate wasteland where a few survivors struggle for existence.  How much more exciting to work out a future where things actually work – however crooked or unfair the society may be. Here civilisation must be self-consistent and have a past, a present and a future. That was what I liked of the best of Banks’ Culture  and Reynolds Chasm City novels to name but two. I see that the second of Ann Leckie’s “Ancillary” series is out in paperback so I have some reading to look forward to.

………………..

Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available in paperback or as an e-book from all booksellers including Amazon

Painted Ladies cover