Rhianna Pratchett is taking over Discworld but hopefully it won’t take over her life

Terry Pratchett at Worldcon 2005 in Glasgow, A...

In the last few weeks it has been announced that the beloved Terry Pratchett plans to hand over the reigns of the Discworld to his daughter Rhianna Pratchett when he can no longer write them himself. He has been suffering from Alzheimers for a long time now and anyone who has seen the heartbreaking clip of Terry from Living with Alzheimers in which he is unable to read a loud pages from his own novel must be all too well aware that his days of writing are numbered. Indeed these days he cannot use a computer keyboard at all and instead uses people and software to take dictation. Rhianna (will she ever be PRhianna in the way that her dad is affectionately known as PTerry?) has a writing career in her own right. While writing primarily for video games she is also set to co-write The Watch, a spin off series about characters from Night Watch. When she takes over the Discworld she will have a lot to prove but I, like many others it seems, am willing to wait to pass judgement if only because I love the Discworld and am hoping it can continue. Terry has given her his stamp of approval which also counts for a lot and I feel that the Discworld is rich enough that Rhianna can explore and take things in her own direction without treading on any toes.

Learning about Rhianna and Sir Terry’s decision reminded me of a deeply irritating article I read in the wake of Valerie Elliot’s death. She was not only TS Elliott’s wife she was also his secretary and by all accounts an amazing woman in her own right though I will always have a soft spot for his troubled first wife Vivie Elliott due to watching Tom & Viv at an impressionable age. The article posed the question “Without the great secretary-wives, who will guard the great writer’s archive?” This question first assumes that all great writers are men – what pray tell of the illusive secretary-husband? It secondly assumes that should you be a woman and married to a ‘great writer’ you should devote your life to being their secretary or condemn them to the whims of history. In the article Kathryn Hughes even appears to begrudge women married to writers’ their “good degrees” and “bold ideas about their own economic and intellectual status”. How can these poor men manage with the “fractured, fractious administrative life” which comes of being married and divorced in this day an age? Reading it leaves me with a persistent image of hand wringing and pearl clutching and deep seated need to make her see sense.

Female writers have managed without secretary-wives for as long as they have been published and yet we still know their names. And to be frank if a male writer cannot take responsibility for his own legacy either by keeping is papers in order or hiring a professional then that’s his own look out. Don’t foist the responsibility off on the poor woman who happens to marry him.

While I doubt Terry Pratchett was the kind of great writer Kathryn Hughes was talking about you might imagine he has more right to ask his female relatives to play secretary than most given his Alzheimers. However in Pratchett’s case Rhianna has her own career which has served her well and will doubtless continue along side her work on The Watch and Discworld in general. There is no need for her to devote her life to her father’s work in order to protect it or even be a part of it. As for Terry Pratchett’s wife of 44 years, Lyn Purves though she clearly ought to be devoting her time to being her husband’s secretary and does read his mail I presume that if she had the time or the inclination to be a secretary Terry would not have hired Rob as his assistant. Either way the Pratchett family seem to be managing very well and there is little danger of his work being lost, torn up or frittered away.

Free Speech & The Internet: Lord McAlpine plans to sue 10k twitter users

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Lord McAlpine apparently plans to sue individual twitter users for libel. Approximately 1,000 defamatory tweets and 9,000 retweets apparently sprang up after the Newsnight program that inferred, inaccurately, that Lord McAlpine was a paedophile. He is seeking an apology and a nominal sum donated to Children in Need from most of the 10,000 or so twitter users who identified him as the high profile conservative figure from the Thatcher era. He is prepared to seek more from the likes of Alan Davies and Sally Bercow who have more than 500 followers. So far newspapers report that only 40 of the 10,000 have taken him up on it.

I grant you Lord McAlpine has suffered a terrible ordeal as a result of this furore. I also agree that people should be held accountable for what they say online however this has been pushed too far. Apart from any other consideration the logistics seem patently absurd but that is irrelevant. Are these tweets defamatory? Yes, unfortunately they are. However it seems to me that though the BBC choose not to name Lord McAlpine they did the ground work and left the breadcrumbs that lead unsuspecting tweeters to Lord McAlpine’s door. From what I have seen these people were speculating following the Newsnight allegations rather than coming to their own independent judgements. Apparently honestly believing it to be the truth carries no weight legally speaking it ought in my opinion to have been taken into account. The BBC should and have paid for their mistakes (£185000) as have ITV (£125000 + legal costs) and that should have been an end to it.

One of the beauties of the internet, until now, has been that it is a hotbed of free speech – much of it wretched but some of it stunning and all of it free. We need to protect free speech online. Our free speech laws in this country are dubious at best – it is one area in which America has us knocked into a cocked hat. Our libel laws put the burden of proof so much on the defendant that in 2008 the United Nations Human Rights Committee said they stifled free speech. For years people have been coming to England from all over to censor works that would be perfectly acceptable in their home country, especially the United States. In response to increasing UK libel tourism, in 2010 the US passed the SPEECH act making foreign libel judgements invalid unless they were consistent with the first amendment. There have been efforts to curb libel tourism since then but we are still currently stuck with outdated libel laws and little guarantee of freedom of speech. If Lord McAlpine is successful in suing these tweeters and current thinking seems to suggest he could be then I think it will be time for the UK to seriously consider whether we believe in free speech.

Never Again: Let women choose

About Ten Thousand People Attended A Rally In ...

About Ten Thousand People Attended A Rally In Dublin In Memory Of Savita Halappanavar (Photo credit: infomatique)

On the 21st of October in Galway, Savita Halappanavar was admitted to the hospital complaining of back pain. She was 17 weeks pregnant and was told, by her doctors, she was miscarrying. The same doctors told her there was no hope of saving the fetus and yet when she asked for an abortion she was refused. With the baby dying and the mother in increasing agony even an anti-choice person could see that an abortion to save the mother would be permissible. However for three days, while a fetal heartbeat remained, the doctors refused to perform the abortion because Ireland “is a Catholic country”. When the fetus was finally dead they extracted the corpse but it was too late for Savita. Her health had deteriorated during her ordeal until she suffered massive organ failure and died of septicaemia or blood poisoning on 28th October.

In summary over the course of a week a woman was forced to suffer agonising pain while her baby died inside her which directly lead to her own death. It sounds like the concept for a horror film.

Over the weekend over 10,000 people descended on Dublin to protest against Ireland’s draconian abortion laws. They chanted ‘Never Again, Never Again’ and called for new laws to protect women. It is a murky area in Irish law because although a supreme court decision made abortion to save the mother’s life legal it has never been codified in law. What makes it worse is that in this case it wasn’t even about pro/anti-choice. It was about saving a woman’s life.

Now I recently wrote about the particular brand of misogyny that seems to be endemic in geek culture. That is still bad but a horrifying thing like this gives a new perspective on the words of jerks. It serves as a stark reminder that words are not the half of what women have to put up with even in 2012, even in the so called developed world. It boggles the mind how much influence the Catholic church continues to have over politics in Ireland. Though perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised given how long the infamous Magdalene Laundries persisted there. My problem with religion getting into bed with government is simple. If you are a Catholic woman and would rather die with your baby than have an abortion that is your choice and I will defend your right to make it. What appals me is forcing women like Savita, who wasn’t even Christian, to adhere to your moral values. I am pro-choice because all women have the right and the ability to make their own decisions. Taking away a woman’s free will in anything, let alone something as intensely personal as abortion is disgusting. The Catholic church, the doctors at Galway and Ireland’s politicians thought they knew what was best for Savita and now she is dead.

What more is there to say?

Women Are Geeks Too aka Shut Up Tony Harris

English: Team Unicorn cosplaying during the pr...

English: Team Unicorn cosplaying during the production of their music video “G33k & G4M3R Girls” aka Geek and Gamer Girls Song (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tony Harris is a man who illustrates comics. He has won several Eisner awards which is a huge achievement and I appreciate his work on Ex Machina written by Brian K Vaughan. Apart from this he has never really been on my radar, nor have I expended much time or effort to consider him beyond his abilities as an artist. Recently however he has come to my attention in a most upsetting way in his rant about women cosplayers.

Geek women (such as Team Unicorn on the right) put up with a lot of shit. I have been lucky to have experienced internet geek culture largely from a safe, predominantly female space but when you dare to venture outside those spaces you expose yourself to unwarranted ridicule and abuse. Frequently women are made to feel as if they are intruding on a sacred male preserve by daring to play games, attend cons or dress up as characters despite the fact that women now make up approximately 42% of US gamers. Geek women and girls of all stripes from gamers to comic fans receive constant abuse from their male counterparts in games, message boards and emails. Even geek goddesses such as Felicia Day are not immune to criticism simply because they are women.

Other than mindless misogyny and attacks focused on the sexual freedom and/or attractiveness of the women and girls in question the primary issue for women is that men refuse to see them as real geeks. In his rant Tony Harris manages to combine all three of these problems in one unhealthy, immature, diatribe. Tony Harris rails against women who dress up in sexy costumes to portray their favourite characters firstly because they are “CON-HOT” (apparently merely “quasi-pretty” in non-convention spaces) and secondly because he believes they “DONT KNOW SHIT ABOUT COMICS, BEYOND WHATEVER GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH YOU DID TO GET REF ON THE MOST MAINSTREAM CHARACTER WITH THE MOST REVEALING COSTUME EVER” [sic]. Lest you think this is one lone nut job with his all caps and raging insecurities I point you towards Joe Peacocks very similar rant on CNN’s geekout blog  “booth babes need not apply”.

The assumption behind both these articles are two fold: 1. women will go to cons, dress provocatively and prey on awkward geeky men for attention and 2. conventionally attractive or even “hot” women are not geeks.

The first is a damaging assumption to make because very few women are like that and assuming they are is offensive to the vast majority of perfectly nice women who also happen to love Black Widow or Black Canary or Cat Woman – the list is endless. The fact is there are limited costume choices for geek women because there aren’t that many female comic/game/book characters to begin with and those that do exist are always scantily clad. That you cannot control yourself in the presence of these women is not their fault, it’s yours. However not only is the assumption hurtful to women, if you – the awkward geeky man – cannot control yourself and/or spend your life assuming that any attractive woman who speaks to you is using you, you will have a sad and lonely life.  My final note on is even if women are dressing up in outfits they know nothing about for attention – so what? I don’t love the idea either but seriously move on with your life.

The second is just an outright lie. I shouldn’t even dignify it with a response except it makes me livid. In my travels on the internet I have met many men and women of varying levels of attractiveness but the thing that united them? Geek fandom. Who are you to say who is or isn’t a geek anyhow? We all know John Scalzi is the only one allowed to do that.

Geek culture claims to be an all inclusive place that doesn’t care what you look like as long as you really love something but for women this is far from the truth.  I believe women have done you wrong in your life but that’s not a good reason to hate all women especially women who are trying to connect with you about something you love. Women the world over choose to be geeks because they love to dress up or because they read Harry Potter at an impressionable age or because they love comics or any number of legitimate reasons that haven nothing to do with how attractive they are. Mainstream culture is finally coming around to the idea that women are able to make their own choices, geeks need to grow up and realise the same thing.

More exciting and articulate people than me have written the recommended reading:

What Did Tuesday Night Teach Us About America?

American Elections 2012

American Elections 2012 (Photo credit: Vectorportal)

So, the protracted and seemingly endless American election cycle is over for another 4 years. Everyone got a bit crazy there for a minute but its all over but the commentary.

As a Brit I watched the furore that surrounded the American election with a mixture of amusement and terror. I couldn’t avoid the coverage if I’d wanted to. As it was I stayed up until 4am with cookies and milk waiting to see what happened. I place myself firmly in the Democrat camp and was very pleased by the Obama victory. I always hoped it would happen but looking at the results it seems almost inevitable, no matter what Fox News would have you believe.

The Republican party has become almost a parody of itself to the point that it amuses and bemuses me in equal measure and yet the things its various members espoused during the campaign were terrifying. This election however has proved that not even the majority of their own voters support their extremes and excesses. The Republicans appeared to repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot, particularly over rape and abortion. Look at Akin and Mourdoch, both senators lost their seats on Tuesday despite hailing from states that voted for Mitt Romney and running against previously unpopular or unknown candidates.

Outside the Republican party those all important swing voters are veering even further away from Republicans over issues like gay rights. This has been quite a good year for LGBT people in America. In May it was reported that over half of Americans support gay marriage and this summer DADT was repealed. This election brought more good news; the election of Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay US senator, in Wisconsin and the passing of gay marriage bills in Maine, Maryland and Washington and the defeat of a bill in Minnesota banning gay marriage.

The Republicans have pandered to the tea party for too long. America has grown up while the Republicans weren’t looking and it remains to be seen whether they can work with this new America. My advice, and the advice of many people more knowledgeable than me, is to clean house now or risk being reduced to an irrelevance.


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