Not the Fox News: The Five Rules

As 2015 comes to a close I’ve been thinking a lot about clarity. Ricky Jay, one of the greatest magicians of his age, talks about clarity as a vital concept in performance and it applies to writing just as much. Bloggers and magicians have a lot in common. We both have to communicate exactly what we want to our audiences. If we do that then they will be pleasantly surprised when we pull the metaphorical coin out from behind their ear.

I worry I’m really bad at it.

I run long, I know that and I also know that I have a very different approach to the vast majority of critics. I am painfully optimistic. I assume best practice where others are already writing their hate pieces and sometimes it’s difficult to figure out why. Worse, I worry that it makes me come across as naïve or worse still, wilfully ignorant.

And then Ricky Jay enters, stage left and says one word; ‘Clarity’.

So here are the five rules I approach every piece of culture with. This is how I think and why I think it.


  1. You Are Allowed To Like Things

You are positively and absolutely encouraged to like things. Liking things is at the heart of geek culture. Those things do not have to be the same things others like. Some of them may be – it’s called popular culture for a reason. Some of them won’t be.

That’s great. That’s the point.

For example: I’m genuinely and non-ironically fond of Armageddon. Yes it’s a ludicrous movie with entirely too much Aerosmith but it also hits me right in my Astronaut Feels. For other people that movie is nails on a chalkboard. There’s a non-zero percentage chance one of the comments I’ll get on this piece will be a variation of ‘Yeah but Armageddon’s crap’. That’s okay because we love what we love. That honest engagement is what matters.

  1. You Are Allowed To Not Like Things

You are positively and absolutely encouraged to not like things. Some of the things you don’t like will be things everyone else doesn’t like. Some of the things you don’t like will be things everyone else loves.

That’s great. That’s the point.

Another example: I have a ton of friends who adore 1960s and 1970s era Doctor Who. From Patrick Troughton up to Tom Baker, The Doctor strides across their lives like a grinning Titan made of scarves, ruffles and reversed polarity.

For me, that era is difficult if not impossible, to sit through. Does that make them inherently bad? No. Which leads us to…

  1. Share Your Joy, Not Your Rage

There is no force more inclusive and welcoming than enthusiasm.

When we connect with a piece of art, whatever that may be, it’s like setting off a rocket. We sparkle with joy, delight in the intricacies of what we’ve seen or read or played and how it makes us feel. That intense joy naturally fades over time, simply because so much of it is wrapped up in the shock and surprise of the new.

But it never dies.

And we can maintain it by telling others about what we enjoyed and sharing why.

It leads to a virtuous circle of enthusiasm. You get to squee about something you love. Your friends get introduced to new culture. Sometimes the creators get to see their work publically shared and appreciated. You expand the horizons of others, knowing they will return the favour.

The shared joy of a piece of culture loved by many cannot be overstated. Look at the new born and amazing Force Awakens fandom to see just how welcoming and fun this can be.

  1. You Are Not Allowed To Murder Other People’s Joy

There is no force more divisive and poisonous then derision.

When you share your joy, you may also be on the receiving end of its flip side. Agendas, festering political sores, discrimination, social cliques, and the scars of long past but cherished disappointments.

It’s easy to respond to joy with negativity. It’s easier still to assume that someone that hurt you before will do so again, and even more so to lash out pre-emptively. Look at the small faction of Star Wars fans merrily spoiling The Force Awakens. Or the racist, sexist discriminatory apologia groups that have tried to ‘fix’ the Hugo Awards the last several years.

I’m not saying we can’t dislike stuff. I’m not even saying we can’t talk about why people like stuff we don’t. That discussion is brilliant and vital. What I’m against is criticising other people for liking something we don’t.

Let’s re-frame it. Say you’re sitting in a favourite restaurant. You’re chatting to your friends about how great your meal is. Someone someone at a nearby table turns round and says ‘Why are you eating that? It’s garbage.’

Rude. Upsetting. Unnecessary. At best its poor communication skills. At worst it’s cruel for cruelty’s sake.

Don’t do it. Especially don’t do it to enhance your personal brand as we’ve already, hilariously, seen with The Force Awakens. Crapping on someone’s joy is different from critique or commentary. Learn and PRACTICE that difference. Everyone will be happier. Including you.

  1. Culture Changes and Grows. So Must You.

You could read a book, see a movie, or watch an episode of a show every day for your entire life and there would still be incredible work you’d miss. But you can still have fun trying.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine chided me for my limited cinema habits. At that time I was on an ‘orange explosions and superheroes’ kick. While it was fun, it was also limiting. Since then, I’ve made a point of expanding my horizons and it’s paid off again and again especially this year. The Lady in the Van, Deceptive Practices, Burnt and Steve Jobs are some of the best movies I’ve seen this year. They all fall outside my usual inclinations. But because I saw them and liked them I’ll now go and seek out other movies in similar fields. Some will be awful, others won’t. But my tastes will expand, or at least my exposure to different things. I’ll learn more. I’ll have new things to talk to people about. I’ll enjoy more, even if it’s a single thing more.

And that’s great.

And that’s the point


Thanks as ever to Adele and the Fox Spirit team. Thanks to you all for reading. Have an excellent festive season and I’ll see you in 2016.

Not The Fox News: The World Fantasycon Problem


Right now, World Fantasy Con is busy faceplanting yet again. I was part of the volunteer team for WFC ’13 and it was, despite the magnificent people I worked with, a profoundly miserable experience. Rightly or wrongly, from our point of view it was a con defined by arrogance, hubris and a refusal to acknowledge anyone outside the tiny social circle that was choking the British genre fiction industry at that point.

To be clear, I made some of the closest friends in my life that weekend partially because of that adversity and I’d work with any of them again in a heartbeat. But not the con chairs and certainly not the WFS committee who existed that weekend as a whispered collection of ghosts, always there, always disapproving but never actually communicating.

A big part of the problem that year was the convention’s almost belligerent pride in not having a full harassment policy. It was a pride I saw articulated at a different event a year later, with some of the same people. It seemed that ‘we’ didn’t need a harassment policy. That any time something had happened in the past it had been dealt with in house. ‘we’, a group it was made abundantly clear was very small, were ‘above that sort of thing’.

Note I was told absolutely none of this to my face and neither, once again, was any other volunteer or con staff member. A Facebook echo chamber was a completely acceptable place to have this discussion though.

The one time I did see this bubble to the surface was in passing. I overhead a conversation complaining about the extensive nature of the harassment policy for the event. I pointed out to the people talking that the event they were at was a field leader and surely by those lights it made sense to over legislate as an example to others and went on my way. I had things to do. When you’re con staff you always do.

That’s why a very small part of me can see their point. The British genre scene is vanishingly tiny and a sizable portion of it shows up for this event every year. It’s easy to just assume you and your chums will comport yourself in a manner that befits you all.

But it’s not about you. It’s not about your chums. It’s not even about what usually happens.

It’s about what might happen. And how you’ll handle it when it does.

In the last two years I’ve been part of a team asked to deal with a single incident. I saw my colleagues treat the individual who had been harassed with compassion, patience and respect. I saw them be given the space they needed to collect themselves and make decisions rather than be pressured into a choice they might later regret. I have rarely been prouder of the teams of volunteers I’ve worked with over the last few years than I was on that day.

And that’s why the mealy mouthed legal tapdance WFC’15 was throwing up wasn’t just bullshit, it was and still is actively harmful. This event, that proudly lays claim to being the definitive convention for industry professionals, was not bothering to do something that events with a tenth its status and a hundredth its reach have baked into their procedures. The obvious defense here is of course the tiny size of the community and ‘we’ choosing to deal with it ‘in house’.

That’s not even in the same time zone as ‘good enough’.

No one on Earth WANTS to have a harassment policy. Even in building one you’re forced to imagine the absolute worst of the people around you, and in doing so, work out how to minimize the damage they may cause. These people have to, by definition, include your friends and colleagues. It’s an inherently cautious, inherently cynical piece of work that codifies the worst potential human behaviour and how to deal with it. No one wants that, least of all members of a community that likes to pay lip service to inclusion and diversity. But we all need it precisely because of that inclusion and diversity.


As of this morning, the WFC 15 website features this language:

New York State has strict legal requirements regarding harassment. We are developing a policy in concert with the Saratoga County District Attorney and the Saratoga Springs Police Department. It will be posted here and given separately to every member at registration. World Fantasy is a social event. Members are expected, as a matter of civility, to observe generally accepted social conventions. No means no. All members are expected to respect other convention members.

It’s an acknowledgement that harassment policies are necessary, and a massive error of judgment and tone has been noticed and is being acted upon. It is, in no way, a solution or an apology and that’s going to get them in a lot of justifiable trouble with a lot of justifiably angry people.

Since I first wrote this piece they’ve also released a statement via their Facebook page that they realize this isn’t sufficient and will roll out the harassment policy from last year, combined with the policy they already had. After the language is ‘reviewed for comprehensiveness’.

So to be clear; after not understanding how libel law works in their own State, or the incredibly complex and gentle procedures needed to deal with any harassment incident with the compassion required, they’ve decided to bolt what seems to be a serviceable policy onto their own nonsense after chopshopping the two together.


We’re saved.

It’s not just this nonsense that makes me angry. It’s the fact that it’s 2015, and, somehow this is still a conversation that keeps happening. Worse still, it’s a conversation that keeps happening around an event that has faceplanted on this issue again and and again. The history of WFC’s catastrophic attitude to harassment is a matter of public record and it’s as ridiculous as it is embarrassing because IT KEEPS HAPPENING. And I know, like most conventions, it gets passed to different groups every year. I also know those groups have members who are alive, have internet access and should have been paying attention.

A convention needs a harassment policy like it needs a venue. That’s how necessary it is and that’s how incompetent any convention that tries to skirt around this issue is being. And that’s why WFC ’15’s failure and increasingly desperate flailing makes me so angry. Because this is an opportunity for the self-proclaimed leaders of the industry to do just that; lead. And yet, again, they’re running to catch up.


This article wouldn’t have been possible without the sterling work done by Natalie Luhrs . Click on her name to go to her blog.

Not The Fox News: The Fear Awakens

I went to the local Tescos yesterday. We needed some cooking plonk, some pitta breads and the orange lift raft of American culture that is whatever Reese’s products have made it across the Atlantic this week. It was, as every visit to Tesco is, a little like a crap version of Cube. Tiny aisles, too many people, nonsensical layouts, fishing wire high velocity grids. Lasers. The usual.

But on my way out, food in hand, scars healing and the blood of the less fortunate shoppers cooling on the floor around me, something caught my eye. It was a Star Wars magazine, and the front cover had four characters in vertical columns on it. From left to right they were Luke, Han, Darth Vader and Captain Phasma.

The tide’s coming in. The new Star Wars movies are about to break over us like a vast cultural tsunami and one of the geek cornerstones for the last 30 plus years is about to be changed forever.

force awakens

The Star Wars prequels were the Twilight movies before a vampire ever sparkled; a set of films so loudly reviled that they became something less than a punchline. Whether or not they were any good is irrelevant. They’re a filling that never stops throbbing, a wound that fandom never lets close and that’s key to understanding the Force Awakens backlash. Because the thinking runs like this;the last time there were new Star Wars movies, the prequels happened. Now there are about to be new Star Wars movies again and the same thing might happen.

It’s more complex than that though. Disney have it made abundantly clear that the new material will ignore or overwrite what’s gone before. The Star Wars expanded universe is a colossal, labyrinthine place that takes in comics, games, books and all manner of other stuff over decades of accretion. It’s a fascinating exercise, a fictional universe that’s expanded in a manner both planned and somewhat organic and the only thing almost as large as it is the vast amount of material written about it.

All of which is now useless.

This isn’t the kind, rip off the band aid ‘well it’s a parallel timeline’ of the new Star Trek movies either. The new continuity, books. Movies, games and all is going to overwrite the old continuity.  And that’s terrifying to some people because it threatens not only their nostalgia, but one of the core pillars of their self-image.

A huge part of geek culture is how much you know. Done right that leads to inclusion and community as people help fill the gaps in each other’s knowledge. Done wrong you get ‘well actually’ and ‘fake geek girl’. Both of which come from the reaction some people have to their geek cred being threatened. Both are toxic, both are geek culture at its worst and both come from entitlement. The thought process looks like this:

-This thing has been around a long time.

-We’ve known about it a long time.

-We know a lot about it.

-We’ve based a lot of our mind set and confidence on that knowledge.

-Anything that threatens that knowledge threatens us.


So what we’ve got here is a double threat; the terror of new material being perceived as bad and the terror that new material will overwrite the old and with it our identities. I won’t lie to you, I can sympathise with the second quite a bit. There’s a persistent rumour about a thing that happens in The Force Awakens that, if it pans out, is going to send legitimate shockwaves through certain chunks of fandom and, well…me. How I deal with that, if it happens, will dictate a lot of how I feel about The Force Awakens.

But here’s the thing; I don’t know how I’ll react because I’ve not seen the movie yet. What we have right now is a situation where the excitement over the new movies is finely balanced with terror at what they might do both to the sainted canon and to our view of it. So on the one hand people are excited and on the other they’re annoyed and defensive about the thing they’re excited about.

Which is ridiculous. And means things like this happen.

That’s an article complaining that a comic, that isn’t out yet, explaining why C-3PO has a different colored arm in the new movie is a step too far.

Yes you read that right. A comic explaining a relatively inconsequential detail that may not even be relevant to the central plot is being decried for not being needed. Weeks before anyone’s seen it.

Let’s be clear here; I have no doubt the writer may be correct and it may be a big old piece of fictional bumfluff that has all the relevance of the 187,000th Republican Presidential candidate. But I don’t know that, and neither do they, because it isn’t out yet. So in fact what we have here is two races being run at once. The first is the crushingly depressing sprint to get more clicks than everyone else and maintain the gossamer thin tissue of relevance that is continually sacrificed for a cheap, fast piece of copy.

The second is, amazingly, even more toxic and pointless. It’s the race to be the first to ironically hipster slam something even though no one has seen it yet. Not so much ‘I hated this before it was cool’ as ‘I hated this before anyone other than the production team had seen it.’

It’s absurdly defensive, a retaliation launched before an attack. It’s also bad writing, bad journalism and bad practice and it all stems, again, from fear. In this case both the fear the comic will be necessary to enjoy the movie and the fear that it won’t be. There’s no win here, for anyone, just a never ending downward spiral of despair that leads to another decade of tired, lazy Star Wars jokes that will lock geek culture into calcified irrelevance.

I don’t want that. I damn well don’t deserve that. Neither do you. And yet, here we are.

Then there’s Aftermath. Written by word geyser Chuck Wendig, Aftermath begins in the closing seconds of Return of the Jedi and explores the immediate consequences of the victory at Endor.

Here’s its Amazon page.

You will note the remarkable skew of opinions there. You’ll also note a surprising amount of them that object to the presence of a gay character. Object to it so vociferously they feel the need to not only 1-star the book but spray their objections all over Amazon. Because apparently when Admiral Ackbar said ‘May the force be with us.’ The actual line was ‘May the Force be with us, aside from the homsexuals because they’re evil personified. Now, let’s go kick this wrinkled, bath towel wearing psychopathic cakemaker  square in the groin. For freedom! For everyone! Aside from the people whose lifestyles we irrationally object to!’

To be absolutely fair, I have some sympathy with the folks bemoaning the EU being left behind. Genre fiction is escapism a lot of the time and a lot of us have needed places to escape to and having that place shut off or simply stop growing has to hurt. But the bigots can get out, right now and make sure the door hits them on the ass on the way out. Not just because they’re bigots but because they’re luddites.

Any piece of pop culture is reflective of the time it was produced. Look at the ridiculous ‘70s hair of A New Hope, the CGI fest of The Phantom Menace, look at any film or book or album or game or comic EVER MADE and it will ring with the concerns and practices of the time it was made. Even if you object, for reasons that pass understanding, to the reality of a lot of people not being heterosexual, you have to accept that human sexuality is a far more openly discussed, protean topic now than it ever was in the ‘70s, ‘80s or ‘90s. As a result, it’s inevitable that it will be discussed in the popular culture of our time. Popular culture you are under no obligation, whatsoever, to participate in.

Except, of course, if you don’t participate. How can you complain?


We build our lives on foundations of story and we lie to ourselves that those foundations are immutable. The truth is the world around us changes, the stories change and so do we. If we accept that, then we accept that modern culture is a conversation that we never stop having and learn to revel in the new discoveries we make every day. It’s incredibly difficult and incredibly rewarding and worth every minute you spend on it. Because if you rebel against that change, then all you have left is fear. And, like Yoda, we all know where that leads.


Alasdair Stuart is a freelance writer, journalist and podcaster. He owns Escape Artists, a podcasting company that runs four pro paying markets and will shortly add a fifth. He’s an ENnie shortlisted-RPG writer for his work on the Doctor Who RPG and he tweets and blogs at places hidden behind the words ‘tweets‘ and ‘blogs‘. Click on them and learn that not only do the words do what he tells them to but his eyes are in fact sparkly. (And that last link is a mite sweary)

Not The Fox News: Nine Worlds 2015


I was at Nine Worlds over the weekend. It’s my second time at the Con, and it remains very nearly everything every con promises and very few deliver. It’s enthusiastic, incredibly varied in subject matter and refreshingly clear of the endless, dust-covered turf wars and bad history that tends to infect cons that have been around for a while.

The reason for that is that Nine Worlds isn’t so much a convention as a convention superstructure. Each content track is in essence a miniature convention in its own right and it’s entirely possible to attend one and not see any of the rest of them. You want to attend a small, extremely enthusiastic and critically nuanced comics convention? You can. Want to sprinkle some book panels, podcast stuff and Doctor Who on that? You can. I did.

In the space of three days I sat on two comics panels, one Doctor Who one, moderated a Books panel, helped win a trivia contest and was on standby to accept a Gemmell as a proxy if required. It was intensive, busy and fun. It was also a noticeably different experience from last year, in a way that’s worth unpacking. So here are three thoughts I brought home:


Take Some Time for Yourself

Tony, chill. Get some water. Sit down. You’ll make the panel in time. And if not, dude, Repulsor rays.

First and most important thing I learned this year; The best way to be at a Convention is to make sure you’re sometimes not at a convention. The Radisson Blu is a ridiculous, non-Euclidean venue that means you are always under everyone else’s feet if you’re in any space outside the guest rooms. As a result, it’s very easy to feel like I’m under foot. The fact the Radisson’s non bar public spaces were the lobby and the surprisingly tiny atrium didn’t help matters, nor did the 15 year Tube ride out to the hotel in the first place. So, a couple of times over the weekend, I slipped a gear. I was out of tune with myself and my surroundings so went somewhere quiet and reset for a bit. It really helped.

So, you are not going to see everything. Do not try. Take time alone when you need it.




Be Early If You Can

Defeat the razor sharp boomerangs of missing a panel you want to be on with the good natured, puppy-like super speedster of being a little early.

 Be there with at least half a day before the first thing you want to see or are on. I rolled up an hour before my first panel on Friday and felt like I was running to catch up for most of the day. That in turn tied into feeling a little disassociated which, in turn, tied into not wanting to be around people.

That applies to panels too. I saw a lot more ROOM FULL signs this year than last and that, coupled with the lack of social spaces, could make you feel a bit shut out. So arrive early to avoid disappointment. Or going ‘Oh COME ON!’ a lot.




Control Your Diet

The Radisson Blu’s customer care philosophy in one apathetic yet somehow still belligerent shrug.

The Radisson Blu is a very, very awful hotel that seems to actively resent the conventions that pay to happen inside it. There were a host of issues this year including but not limited to rooms being full, the terrible layout of the hotel and the two venue monte you played every morning to see which room they’d herd the nerds into for breakfast so as not to frighten the other guests.

Then there were the vast wait times for food, the incredible (And not in the good way) prices and several incidents which honestly looked like con goers were being actively messed with. Case in point; we were told there was no need to make a reservation at one of the restaurants. When we arrived later that night for food, we were told that without a reservation it would take an hour or more to be seated. I’ve also seen other accounts of guests being treated far better if they took their convention lanyards off…

All this, plus so much more boils down to two things. Firstly, this needs to be the last year Nine Worlds is at the Radisson Blu. Secondly, you will blow £100 minimum on food and alcohol if you’re not extremely careful. And take it from me, a diet of cardboard sandwiches from the filling station up the road is not going to work for you.  Likewise, our food load out last year was basically ‘Cakes! Pie! Crisps! Chocolate! An Apple!’

Not a good plan. You will feel as fuzzy and weirdly damp as the carpet beneath your room’s AC.

This year we went for:

-The Adoration of the Baby Cheeses. Or Babybels to be more accurate but less whimsical.


-Hovis digestives

Nakd bars. Fun to say, funner to eat. Basically 100 calorie or so protein grenades and, unlike so many other things of their ilk, they do not like taste like reconstituted failure and dust. I can particularly recommend the Cashew ones.

-Water. So much water. Seriously. That’s a good rule of thumb for any con but given the Radisson Blu’s internal temperature was never less than swampy, it was particularly necessary at Nine Worlds.


So that was what I learned about how to be at cons. Self care of every sort is absolutely vital at events like this so make sure you do it. Nine Worlds is a brilliant event that does a lot of stuff incredibly well but one of the ways they’ll get even better is if you feed back to them about your con experience and make sure you’re looking after yourself while you’re there.

Now, I’m off to Spokane next week for WorldCon so I really should get some laundry done…

Revisited : The Pseudopod Tapes Vol 1

In 2012 Alasdair Stuart collected his outro’s for horror podcast Pseudopod into a book sub titled ‘Not the end of the World, just the end of the Year.’ It’s a collection that showcases Alasdair’s deep genre knowledge and his very personal and honest style of journalism.


Pseudopod Tapes by Alasdair Stuart
Cover Art by S.L. Johnson

‘Not the end of the world, just the end of the year’

Alasdair Stuart, one of the UK’s most knowledgeable and passionate genre journalists has finally decided to do a book. And not just any book, he’s not just offering up his in depth genre gems for your delectation, it’s better than that.

In the Pseudopod Tapes, Alasdair gathers a years worth of outro’s from one of the worlds leading horror podcasts and collects them all together for you in this volume. Stuart hosts Pseudopod with a sharp wit, clear insight, tremendous honesty and warm humour. It translates extremely well to the page.

‘Alasdair Stuart, host of the must listen Pesudopod just became a must read!’ -Steven Savile

If You Like Books Vol 1 :  Stuart acknowledges that the zombies scratching at your door might be real or imagined, but if you don’t escape them they will eat you alive. The goosebumps and raised-hairs on the back of your neck might just be an evolutionary quirk, or they might be the very thing that keeps you safe from the monsters under the bed.

BFS reviews : Each little piece is a gem: insightful and intelligent, and I often find myself re-evaluating a story, or examining my own opinions or my whole life, based on Alasdair’s little snippets of wisdom

Opening Paragraphs

Sunday in the Park With Bruce

(Originally appeared on episode 264, January 13th 2012, A Study in Flesh and Mind by Liz Argall)

Let’s talk about comics for a minute. Grant Morrison, Scottish comics writer to some, electric wizard of the post human post millennium new fiction zeitgeist to others, is engaged in an interesting experiment with his current work on Batman. Morrison is telling a multi-year story, across multiple titles, exploring the character from every possible angle as he delves deeper not only into the psyche of a man who dresses like a flying rodent to frighten poor people, but also into the nature of fiction and fictional reality. He’s done this before, the fiction suit idea toyed with in The Invisibles for one, but he’s rarely done it in more detail and at more length than he has with his Batman work. Batman is, after all, a man with a lot more history and life experience than pretty much everyone reading him. To borrow a quote from another Scot, and horribly mangle it, Batman and Gotham City, his home has been mapped out of obscurity into street by street reality.

Don’t believe me? There is a map of Gotham City, initially designed for the No Man’s Land story years ago which has now been modified and adopted by the Christopher Nolan-directed Batman movies and the Tracy Hickman written novel, Wayne of Gotham. A fictional city is not only mapped down to individual blocks, that map is carrying across different media. Morrison talks, a lot, about fictional reality and is on record as saying he believes the DC universe is sentient and it’s only a matter of time before we make first contact. He’s been saying that for a few years now, and whilst I think if we ever do make fictional contact it’ll be with a certain madman in a blue box, but I can see his point. After all, Gotham City is now the same across three media. It’s growing, extruding, reaching out, the amalgamated geography of hundreds of creative teams’ work, a city made of stories, gleaming in the early morning light. A model ecosystem made of fiction.

But where does the model end and the art begin?

Not The Fox News: One Weird Trick To Help EVERY AUTHOR EVER

Hi everyone, welcome back to Not The Fox News. The Sun is shining, the weather is good, awards season is in full swing and we have a special correspondent to fill you in on what you missed. Former President and full time fictional person Jed Bartlet!



Yeah that about covers it.

I know, I know some of you will go ‘Oooh what’s occurring?. So,  google ‘Hugo awards 2015’ start reading and be prepared for realizing it’s somehow  a week later and you’re crying and angry and muttering ‘How? How can so many words that mean SO LITTLE be generated for so, SO long?’.

Because the internet, bunky. Because the internet.

Which is depressing. This sort of dusty ethical brushfire war has been going on for longer than a lot of people have been alive and it’s not slowing down any time soon. Worse still, it can feel very tempting to jump in and declare that you, are in fact, there to save the day. I did.

See. Not just you. Oh and nothing happened aside from one thing; I got distracted. I took my eye off the work I should be doing and tried to fix a problem that wasn’t mine to fix. That’s why so much of this stuff is so tiresome; it’s an ideological conflict in a village, a West Side Story dancefight with no dancing but way too many crappy response posts. Not to mention a mystifying belief that Fisking is the nuclear weapon of debate when it’s not even the nuclear weapon of Fisking. (DO NOT CLICK THAT LINK IF YOU ARE SQUEAMISH. Or haven’t seen Daredevil yet.)

There are some interesting, good pieces hidden in the conversation, certainly. But the operative word is most definitely ‘hidden’.

So, world’s most rubbish kaiju battle going on in the genre, vast amount of signal being swapped out for noise, you caught in the middle, no sign of Cherno Alpha. What is an internet savvy, articulate, positive reader like yourself to do?

Well, there is that one weird trick…

1-Read a book. There are LOADS of them. A lot of them are great. Go pick one. I just finished this and it’s top. This too.

2-Have opinions about that book.

3-Write a review. It doesn’t have to be a magnum opus. It can be two lines or forty. It can be a full scale blog post or just ‘I really liked this, especially the characters.’ Write how you write. Talk about what you loved. Talk about what you didn’t. Look at the experience of your interaction with the book and the things that make your heart beat faster or that you really want to tell other people about. Make a note of them. Write up your notes. Congratulations, it’s a review.

4-Follow the two rules. Firstly, run a spellcheck. I have friends who have dyslexia and similar conditions who sometimes worry that the problems that causes them prevent them from doing this sort of thing. That’s where your spellchecker comes in. I have other friends who sometimes don’t believe in the second draft as a stage of their process or a philosophical construct. On occasion those friends are me. That’s where your spellchecker comes in.

-4b-Don’t be an asshole. If you read your review back and chortle at the creative ways you’ve insulted the author, you’ve done it wrong. There’s a whole conversation about if negative reviews have value that I don’t want to go into here. Firstly because I like you people, secondly because I don’t really want Jed to keep headbutting the desk and thirdly because they do, with one qualifier; don’t be an asshole. If you didn’t like a book, explain why. If you’re personally offended by the book’s existence and feel the need to vomit your electronic bile over the internet, don’t bother. That vacancy was filled a very, very long time ago.

5-Post your review to your blog, your local Amazon and Nook sites and any others you want to and GoodReads. Some of you, like me, will view GoodReads as a cruel User Interface joke inflicted on us all by angry time travelling developers from 1991. That’s fine. It is. But post it there anyway.

Also, about Amazon, I know a lot of people have problems with them as a book seller. I know they’re all valid concerns.

I also know every single author in history enjoys being paid, eating and being able to pay bills.


So, to sum up: Every single review for a book helps. If you hated it, say why but make sure you follow 4 and 4b up there. If you loved it, say why. But please, please say it and say it in as many places as possible. Here’s some good places to start:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Amazon Germany

Amazon Japan


Nook US

Nook UK

Because every single time you post a review, you do four things;

-Express your emotional response to a piece of culture using the largest megaphone in human history.

-In doing so, release much needed brain space to go fill with the next piece of culture you encounter.

-Help an author not only get more visible but feel like everything they went through getting the book to print, or indeed, electron, was worthwhile.

-Make this a more positive space for us to all be in.

One weird trick, four positive outcomes. Looks like good value to me, what do you think Jed?


Awesome. See you next month, folks.


Not The Fox News: Memeoriam Day 2015

(Supercut by the magnificent David Ehrlich)

It’s Memeoriam Day once again. That day when we take a look at the tired old gags that the internet leant on throughout 2014 and lovingly, reverently, throw them into a hole and cement it shut. This year there are just two entries. That’s for two reasons, they’re two sides of the same coin and secondly because I suspect you all have a good four years of blog posts titled ‘In Which…’ in you.

I am Jack’s resigned acceptance.

Except where these two particular memes are concerned because they can screw right off. Alone they’re annoying and insincere. Together, they speak to a colossal failure at the heart of both male psychology in particular and fandom culture in general that I feel is directly responsible for some of the most horrendous damage of the last few years. The two memes in question?


‘That emotional ending was great. But I got something in my eye…’


And it’s emotional cousin:


‘If you didn’t weep at the first half hour of Up! You have NO SOUL!’


They need to go, folks. Today. Here’s why.


The ‘Something in my eye’ defense is a sword that cuts deeply and two ways every time it’s used. Firstly, if you’re a guy, every time you say that in public you’re actually saying:

‘This affected me emotionally and I’m so uncomfortable about that I’m attempting to cover it up using humour that, in turn, draws attention to the fact that I’m uncomfortable about it.’

An unwieldy sentence for an uneasy sentiment. It’s a complex one too which says three very different things at once. Firstly, that you’ve been emotionally affected by a Thing, secondly that you’re embarrassed about it and thirdly you really want to be able to admit it to a group of supportive friends but you’re frightened to. Using this isn’t a defense, because it’s a shitty defense. It’s you showing your neck to your friends and hoping they don’t bite it or point and laugh and call you a sissy girly man. Because God forbid a guy, especially a British guy, should dare to respond to anything or anyone with something other than ‘not bad’.

The purpose of art is to communicate and evoke emotion. What the art is doesn’t matter. Whether or not it’s viewed by the general public as worthwhile doesn’t matter. The only thing that does, that makes any piece of art not just worthwhile but whole is this;

Did it affect anyone?

If the answer’s yes, the artist has succeeded. If the answer’s yes, and the person it affected was you, then congratulations you’ve just had a formative experience. The bad news is it might have been painful. The good news is there are thousands more of those in your future and most of them won’t be.

Art sustains us. We complete Art. Bury that beneath waves of stiff upper lipped bullshit or nerdy over articulate pseudo analysis and we bury ourselves.

Don’t do that.

Because if you do, you’re not just hurting yourself, you’re hurting every single one of your friends who use the same defence. You’re not saying ‘You guys cried at that too, right?’, you’re saying ‘YOU cried at that, didn’t you? I DIDN’T.’ So no one blinks, no one admits it and everyone goes around being the same puffed up, chestbeating nerds who secretly just want to be real people who talk about their emotions but know they can’t trust their closest friends to be okay with that.

Business as usual.


The other side of the coin is actually more aggressive in some ways. Where the ‘Something in my eye’ defense is a heavily encoded call for acceptance, ‘If you didn’t cry at this you have no soul’ is about as direct and discriminatory a piece of language as you can get. Its saying ‘You’re responding to that wrong’, using culture and our interaction with it not as a universal constant but as a competition.

It’s not a competition. It’s never a competition. It’s like calling something a ‘guilty pleasure’ which barely escaped Memeoriam Day this year. All three of them speak to a fundamental insecurity; the fear that the things we love, or hate, or laugh at won’t be the things other people respond to.

They won’t be.

That’s the point.

We come into every form of media there is alone. We interact with it based on our previous experience and most of the time that interaction doesn’t rise above mild interest. But when it does, that teaches us not just about the art but about ourselves. We join a conversation that started with cave paintings and has gone on for as long as we’ve existed as a species. We owe it to ourselves to join that conversation honestly, and we owe it to everyone coming after us to make it easier to participate.

These memes both get in the way. They both slow down how we grow culturally. So today they both get thrown away.


Happy new year, folks. Go forth and engage.

Not The Fox News: The Second State of the Union

We all wash up alone. In different places, on different shores, we find ourselves free of the constant turmoil and chaos of our pasts. We become so used to clinging on for dear life that it seems normal, tossed around on the tides of loneliness, stress, trauma, adolescence. We share a common past of turmoil and disruption, an early life defined by what we don’t understand, what we don’t know. A life mapped out not by what we have done but by what happens, or sometimes is done, to us.

The past is what we all run from. The future begins the moment we wash up on that shore.

Bedraggled, hurt, bleeding and angry we all stumble out of the waves and up the beach. Some of us want to know what happened, some of us want vengeance for the wounds that drove us here but most of us are just delighted that the storm has passed and that, at last, we’ve found dry land.

And what land it is. A place that doesn’t just welcome us but seems to understand us, seems to sing our songs and laugh at our jokes. For the first few weeks we’re amazed that we could have been this lucky, escaped to somewhere this perfect. Then we stop thinking about the escape and start thinking about the future. That moment, difficult to notice as it always is, is the moment we stop running. It’s the moment we realize we’re home.

As time goes by and we settle down, we find that other people were washed ashore on this spit of land too. We share stories, find common ground in old wounds and new perspectives and before too long we form friendships and partnerships that will define the rest of our lives. There is no point in a person’s history more thrilling than the moment they look out across their new home and map it not into obscurity but into identity. This is the place youi are, this is the place you will be. This is how you will live in it.

Of course, we don’t settle. That’s not what humans do. The same drive that pushed the American settlers so far west they had to go up drives us all. We explore our new home, find new people, places resources and, even after years of exploration, that still manage to surprise us. It’s an untidy business and we all find things that we dislike or that shock us. Sometimes we mark that area on the map as somewhere to avoid. Sometimes we go back a few years later and wonder what the problem ever was.

As we explore, we make two discoveries, both of which will change our lives. The first is that this place, beautiful as it is, constantly evolving as it does, is finite. There are coasts, just like the one we washed up on. There are storms, sometimes out on the horizon and sometimes close in, and there are always new people washing ashore. Sometimes we recognize ourselves in their jagged shock and panicked relief. Sometimes we can help them, and sometimes they have to find their way alone. Knowing the difference between the two, being able to spot it, will be one of the greatest challenges of the rest of our lives.

The second discovery is more profound. We all have a day where we climb as high as we can, look out across our island and realize something; it’s one of millions. A vast, flat sound stretches out across the world as far as the eye can see and for every point on the compass there are a hundred islands. When we look closely we see that there are people on those islands too. Exploring, climbing, realising that the other islands exist.

We all come in alone.

But that’s the last time.


As we gaze out across the archipelago, we realize just how fluid it is and just how long it has been in existence. We see ghosts of bridges between islands, boats out in the straits and, from time to time, new land appearing as the mist clears. This is an ecosystem, one as rich and vibrant as any you’ve encountered before and one just as loaded with opportunity and fraught with danger.

The opportunity comes from finding likeminded people to help you explore. The danger comes from not seeking out anyone else. Island life, for all its peace, can breed insularity. Some of those bridges, you notice, were burnt. Some of the islands, close together as they are, do not talk to one another. Other snipe, or steal. Others still watch the newcomers struggle ashore and, instead of asking if they can help, critique their swimming or complain about how crowded the island is becoming. These people, you note, never actually do anything besides complain. For a while, you find their lifestyle an attractive prospect; sitting in comfort, fighting imaginary wars for a high ground all of them can see but none can reach. It looks simple. Relaxing.


But there is always work to be done. Always new places to go, new things to find and best of all, new people to tell about what you’ve found. That’s the glue that holds this society made of survivors together; the expansion of joy, the sharing of enthusiasm. And as you sit, at night, swapping stories about your travels with your friends, you’ll find yourself gazing out across the sea to the next island over. You can hear music and laughter coming from there and a dozen other places, see brightly coloured lights on the boats in the straits. Distantly, you see fireworks, wonder how they made them and realize that, tomorrow, you can go and ask them if you want to. Better still, you can take your friends with you.


We are citizens of the Archipelago of Enthusiasm, united in a common love for exploration and the need to discover something new and tell people about it. We all wash up alone but the moment we do is also the moment we come home.


Happy new year, everyone. I’ll see you in 2015.

(Images taken from the excellent Tomb Raider game released in 2013 and the remarkable Dear Esther. Both absolutely worth your time.)

Not The Fox News, January 2014: Memeoriam Day

(With special thanks to Saxon Bullock for looking at early drafts and helping me untangle the rat king of stuff I wanted to say.)


Let’s talk about what’s going to happen when I rule the world. Being a global dictator isn’t easy and, these days, it’s all about the PR. So, in addition to the social media push and viral ads that will shortly spring up, I intend to mark my coronation with the creation of a new national holiday; Memeoriam Day

Memeoriam Day will be the day that we say goodbye to all the tired old running jokes that have barnacled the hull of the good ship Pop Culture across the last decade. Festivities begin at the start of the year as the jokes start their long trip across the world. As the months pass, retrospectives will be aired, the talking heads who always get wheeled out will be allowed a day pass from their secure reserve somewhere on the Norfolk Broads to pass comment and, quietly, the countdown website will mark time.

Then, the final stage will begin. A huge, open air party will begin as the jokes, carried by members of the public or, perhaps, their original writers, will process to the Tower Of London. There, they will be interred in a vault far beneath the ground where tearful monks will recite them one last time. On the final, whispered ‘lol’, the monks will withdraw and the vault door will shut. It will not open again before the next ceremony. No one has the key to it, not even me and the plans were destroyed once it was constructed.

Finally, Jules Holland will lead the planet in a rousing chorus of ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’ because for some reason that one’s bullet proof. Once it’s concluded, we’ll all go on with our lives, stumbling out onto the freshly mowed grass of pop culture to explore it anew. The jokes interred will be remembered but never spoken of again, at least, not in public. Of course there will be speakeasies, places where the old jokes flow freely. They will exist because every society needs a pressure valve and, more importantly, because I allow them to exist.


For Now.


So, what will be the first batch of jokes into the Vault, and why? Hypothetically? Because clearly I’m not planning on executing this plan this year…



-JJ Abrams and lens flare, because even he’s admitted it was a touch out of hand.

-All Michael Bay movies are awful, because they’re just not. Oh, certainly, some are and Revenge of the Fallen is legitimately one of the worst films I have ever seen. But this is also the director behind the original Bad Boys, The Rock, Con Air and Pain and Gain. There’s more to him than incomprehensible action scenes and a deep profound love for military hardware.

Shut up.

There is.

Some of the time.

Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey as arbiters of bad writing. This one is a straight up public service because the only thing you’re proving every time you make this point is that you haven’t paid enough attention to modern popular fiction. There is much, much worse out there. Waiting. Testing the fences. Looking for weaknesses. It remembers…

-Jar Jar. Please, baby, for all of us. Let it go.

-Joss Whedon shows are always brilliant and always fail. Because they aren’t and they don’t. Worse, believing either perpetuates the underdog myth that continues to surround the writer and director of one of the most successful films of all time and the disproportionate and massively tedious backlash against his most recent projects.

-Waiting to the end of the credits just in case Nick Fury shows up to recruit the character into the Avengers. I’ve done this one myself. I love this one. But it’s time. It’s just (sniff) it’s time…(whimpers)

-Summer Glau kills shows. Because Summer Glau is not the show-killer. Summer Glau is not the little death that brings total obliteration. We will face Summer Glau’s body of work. We will permit it to pass over and through our minds. Perhaps even in Arrow. And when Summer Glau has gone past we will turn the inner eye to see her path. Where Summer Glau has gone there will be something. Her work on The Sarah Conner Chronicles in particular will remain.

-‘Hate-Watching’. The entire concept. Seriously. What the Hell is wrong with you?


Should this be successful, a second scheme would be introduced the following decade. A global holiday entitled ‘Never Going To Happen Day’, it would be a sad day of remembrance dedicated to laying to rest those cherished fan dreams that will forever remain so. Doctor Who fans will observe this as ‘Sally Sparrow Day’.


Finally, every day really will be the first day of spring. I’ve seen the blueprints for the satellites. This is going to RULE.


Anyway, those robot armies won’t build themselves! See you next month, citizens!

Getting Foxy 3 – Alasdair Stuart

Alasdair Stuart: ‘Ladies’ Geek, Geek’s Geek, Geek About Town’ with his encyclopedic knowledge of geekdom and everything in it has the distinction of being one of the very nicest people in all the nine worlds and our regular columnist here on the FS site bringing you views from outside the den.


Al does write fiction and we will be featuring some of his shorts in the forthcoming Fox Pockets, however what he is perhaps best known for is his genre journalism and hosting of Pseudopod and Escape Pod.

His first book for us ‘The Pseudopod Tapes Vol 1’ came out almost exactly a year ago and is a series of his outro’s for the much loved podcast. His honest and personal way of writing makes for compelling reading even if you don’t know all the references. The next volume in the series is to follow in 2014.