The crap you don’t mind

ddb 373-06-scanMy late friend Suzanne Allés Blom, author of the novel Inca among other works, had a theory about why books are categorized as science fiction, romance, thriller, Western, literary, etc.

As you know, Sturgeon’s Law says that 90% of everything is crap; that is, most science fiction, romance, thrillers, Westerns, and literary fiction, etc. (along with movies, poetry, comics, you name it) simply isn’t great stuff.

But 10% of it is great. Sue thought that pretty much all of us would like the best of anything. I agree. I prefer speculative fiction, but now and then I read the best in Westerns, romance, thrillers, literary fiction, etc., and I enjoy it.

I also read a lot of speculative fiction that’s not in the top 10%, and I enjoy that, too. I can tolerate speculative crap, although romantic or literary crap sets my teeth on edge.

Sue believed that’s why there are categories. They help lead us to the shelves where we will probably enjoy most of what we pick up. Categories don’t exist just to help marketers know how to sell a book and to tell booksellers where to put it. Categories exist to protect us readers from the wrong kind of crap.

Photo of Sue Blom by David Dyer-Bennet at the 1976 Midamerican Convention.


The fun of an Irish Worldcon


On Saturday afternoon, I participated in the panel “Into the Woods: How have forests shaped fiction?” with Navah Wolfe, Jennifer Mace, Sarah Gailey, and Seanan McGuire, and we had fun.


This is what winterhazelly took from it.

Report: Dublin 2019, an Irish Worldcon
The 77th World Science Fiction Convention was held in Dublin, Ireland
August 15 to 19

Future Worldcons should be held in a Tardis. Popular events could be put on a time loop so anyone could attend even if they conflicted with other events. More importantly, every room for panels, ceremonies, readings, or other events could be bigger on the inside than the outside so everyone would fit in.

As with some other Worldcons, space became an issue in Dublin. The convention was sold out at about 5,800 people, which was a few more than the Convention Centre Dublin (CCD) could handle. To accommodate that, the Spencer Hotel hosted children’s programming. The Odeon Point Square, a movie theater and unfinished commercial space almost a kilometer from the CCD, hosted the Art Show, book launches, acoustic concerts, craft workshops, art projects, displays, autographs, some panels, and the academic program.

Convention volunteers and venue staff did the best they could for crowd control cheerfully and efficiently. Despite the inconvenience, the snaking queues to get into events became good places to meet new people.


On Sunday afternoon, I gave a reading, specifically the opening of Chapter 6 from Interference, in which Stevland gets into an argument with a locustwood tree.

Other than that, the convention was splendid: well-organized and always on time. Events started at 9 a.m. with accessible yoga and a “stroll with the stars” morning walk, and ended in the wee hours at Martin Hoare’s Bar – known as Martin’s, named for the volunteer who was to be Fan Bar Manager but who died a few weeks before the convention.

The city of Dublin made visitors welcome with a good selection of hotels and other accommodations, convenient trams and buses, museums, sightseeing, restaurants, and bars. Like many people from overseas, I came early to tour the city and country, which was as green and beautiful as I’d been told.

During the Worldcon, thousands of tempting events vied for attention. I was drawn to panels, talks, readings, a couple of concerts, a medieval combat demonstration, a stand-up comedy show, and a dance; I wandered through the Art Show and Dealer’s area, perused displays and fan tables, attended parties, and spent a lot of time meeting friends from around the world. I could have also attended podcast recordings, plays, films, and workshops, gone on a treasure hunt, run through the park, and joined in role-playing or board games.

Convention organizers deserve praise for the volume, quality, and variety of programming, including some deftly made last-minute additions and changes due to crowds or popular demand. We never forgot for a moment the delight of attending an Irish Worldcon and being wished a hearty fáilte (welcome) at every turn. The convention newsletter, The Salmon of Knowledge, often included bits of local lore, such as the legendary origin of the Giant’s Causeway.

Like many people, I watched the Hugos in the overflow viewing area, the Second Stage, with the ceremony live-streamed on a large screen. The room had tables, a bar and a rapt audience. The ceremony, with charming and enthusiastic presenters, was marred only by a robot captioning system that we quickly learned to ignore after it turned Ada Palmer’s references to Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones to “bored with the rings” and “cream of thrones” during her introduction to the Campbell Award winner. Of course there was a word or two by the evening’s recipients that ignited controversy, but that’s a feature of the Hugos, not a bug, and it seems to have accomplished something.

For me, one of the many highlightss of the convention came on Saturday evening at the Bright Club Ireland, a stand-up comedy show. Steve Cross made an obessively deep textual reading of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to determine the exact date that the Earth is destroyed by the Vogons. (Listen to a version of it here on BBC radio.)

John Scalzi’s Saturday night “Dance Across the Decades” turned one of the CCD halls into a three-hour writhing, rhythmic celebration of fannish ecstasy. It may become legend. Its stomping, sweaty crowd no doubt broke at least three distinct safety regulations, but the CCD staff wisely turned a blind eye.

Where to find me at Worldcon

WorldconDublinThis year’s World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, will be in Dublin, Ireland, from August 15 to 19. About 5,000 people are expected to attend. If you’ve never been, events include panels, gaming, writing workshops, costumes, speeches, awards, movies, music, dancing, parties, art, science, theater, children’s activities, and a lot more.

Worldcons are run by us fans — no paid staff. This helps account for the variety of activities. The size of the venue, not our collective imagination, is the only limitation. That’s why when you buy your ticket, it’s a membership fee. You don’t just observe, you belong.

I’m scheduled for four events:

Panel: Continuing relevance of older SF
Friday, August 16, 11:30 to 12:20, Odeon 4 (Point Square Dublin)
We are in a new millennium, a literal Brave New World. Surely much of the fiction of the 20th century no longer holds relevance? Or does it? The panel will discuss the fiction of the past and how it can still be relevant in the 21st century. What lessons from older authors such as Orwell, Asimov, Butler, Delany, Kafka, and Atwood can we apply to our app-loaded, social media-driven age?
I’ll moderate panelists Alec Nevala-Lee, Aliza Ben Moha, Robert Silverberg, and Joe Haldeman.

Book launch: World Science Fiction #1: Visions to Preserve Biodiversity of the Future
Saturday, August 17, 12:30 to 13:30, Point Square: Warehouse 2 – Performance space
Science fiction happens everywhere! World SF #1 collects some of the best stories published by Future Fiction, a multicultural project created by Francesco Verso to preserve the narrative biodiversity of the future. Come and celebrate these science fiction stories from thirteen countries and six languages. I translated the story “Francine (draft for the September lecture),” by Maria Antónia Marti Escayol. There will be light refreshments.

Panel: Into the woods
Saturday, August 17, 16:00 to 16:50, Wicklow Hall-1 (CCD)
From Little Red Riding Hood’s forests to Annihilation’s eldritch fungi, nature and plants have been a powerful force in fiction from historical fairy tales to far-future hydroponics. How have forests shaped fiction, and how has the use of nature in fiction changed over time? What do we love — or hate — about leaves?
Navah Wolfe will moderate panelists Jennifer Mace, Sarah Gailey, Seanan McGuire, and Sue Burke.

Reading: Sue Burke
Sunday, August 18, 17:30 to 17:50, ECOCEM Room (CCD)
I’ll read from Interference, the sequel to the novel Semiosis, and something else fun and plant-related.


My husband and I are also coming to Ireland a week earlier as tourists. We’re preparing to be enthralled by the beauty of the Emerald Isle, the depth of its culture, and the charm of its people.

Stranger than Sci-Fi: Talking Plants – on BBC Radio 4

p07h0tzsIf you’re in Britain, you can hear me at 21:00 tomorrow, July 31, on BBC Radio 4, as part of the Stranger than Sci-Fi show’s episode “Talking Plants.”

I’ll provide some strange science fiction ideas for your hosts, physicist Dr. Jen Gupta and comedian Alice Fraser. Discover real-life science that sounds too strange to be true.

If you’re not in Britain, you can listen anytime after the broadcast, online at