Summer break

Critical Mass traditionally takes a break over summer. Our last meeting this year is the traditional dinner gathering, to be held this year on Sat,  December 8th.
If you’re interested in coming along, contact Roman (websmith @ to get the details and give us accurate numbers for the restaurant booking.

We’ll return to our regular monthly meetings at Kappy’s on the first Wed of the month on February 6th, 2019.


World States in SF?

How stable would a World State be, in practice? Sure, one could argue (and people have) that without external enemies there’s no particular reason for a world-spanning government to fall apart. That was the argument in A World Out of Time: the state controlled all the apparatus necessary to sustain Earth’s vast population, making rebellion suicidal.

The problem is that one can point to historic polities that managed to dissolve into independent regions without much help from the outside. Gran Columbia lasted twelve years. The West Indies Federation lasted about four years. The United Arab Republic lasted three. All that’s needed is for the divisions driving people apart to be slightly greater than the ones binding them together.

Indeed, peace might exacerbate internal divisions, since there is no common enemy against which to unite. Canada might have escaped the West Indies Federation’s fate only because of the perception that a moment’s inattention would allow our hegemonic neighbour to invade (again), burn our cities (again), commit affronts against our Catholic population (again ) and leave the letter “u” out of some words for some reason (still).

— from “World States and Mega Empires in SF” by James Davis Nicoll
at See the full article for examples of large empires on Eaeth and how long they survived…

how spec fic gained respectability

A broad church

Perhaps what counts as speculative fiction is also changing. The term is certainly not new; it was first used in an 1889 review, but came into more common usage after genre author Robert Heinlein’s 1947 essay On the Writing of Speculative Fiction.

Whereas science fiction generally engages with technological developments and their potential consequences, speculative fiction is a far broader, vaguer term. It can be seen as an offshoot of the popular science-fiction genre, or a more neutral umbrella category that simply describes all non-realist forms, including fantasy and fairytales – from the epic of Gilgamesh through to The Handmaid’s Tale.

Read more: Guide to the classics: the Epic of Gilgamesh

While critic James Wood argues that “everything flows from the real … it is realism that allows surrealism, magic realism, fantasy, dream and so on”, others, such as author Doris Lessing, believe that everything flows from the fantastic; that all fiction has always been speculative. I am not as interested in which came first (or which has more cultural, or commercial, value) as I am in the fact that speculative fiction – “spec-fic” – seems to be gaining literary respectability. (Next step, surely, mainstream popularity! After all, millions of moviegoers and television viewers have binge-watched the rise of fantastic forms, and audiences are well versed in unreal onscreen worlds.)

One reason for this new interest in an old but evolving form has been well articulated by author and critic James Bradley: climate change. Writers, and publishers, are embracing speculative fiction as an apt form to interrogate what it means to be human, to be humane, in the current climate – and to engage with ideas of posthumanism too.

These are the sorts of existential questions that have historically driven realist literature.

— excerpt from Rose Michael’s essay “How Speculative Fiction Gained Literary Respectability” in The Conversation Nov 2nd

2018 British Fantasy Awards Winners

The British Fantasy Society has announced the winners for the 2018 British Fantasy Awards:

Best Fantasy Novel (the Robert Holdstock Award)

Best Horror Novel (the August Derleth Award)

Best Novella

Best Short Story

  • WINNER: “Looking for Laika”, Laura Mauro (Interzone 11-12/17)

Best Collection

Best Anthology

  • WINNER: New Fears, Mark Morris, ed. (Titan)

Karl Edward Wagner Award

  • N.K. Jemisin

Winners were chosen by jury, except for the special award (the Karl Edward Wagner Award), which was chosen by the BFS committee. Winners were announced during an awards ceremony at FantasyCon 2018, held October 19-21, 2018 at the Queen Hotel in Chester, England.

— from Locus magazine, which includes runners up and details of several media awards.

The Basic Science Fiction Library, 1975

The first meeting of the Nova Mob for 1975, on Jan 2nd, discussed the Basic Science Fiction Library.

They started by considering the List from Lee Harding.

Basic for whom? Anyone, when pressed, should be able to name their favourite (12) sf books. This has not been my intention. I have chosen a list of titles I would recommend to anyone not yet acquainted with the genre – in particular schools and other libraries — and i would use all or any one of them to convert educated readers to sf. My intention has been to produce a short list of relatively permanent value: one that will not be made unfashionable by social progress of literary pretentiousness. So: a Basic Library of SF for all time (one hopes):

  1. Earth Abides George R Stewart. The definitive catastrophe novel; well-written and, in this respect, well ahead of the competition.
  2. Tiger! Tiger!* Alfred Bester. The best example of what has been loosely termed ‘wide-screen baroque sf’, and easily the most entertaining sf novel ever written. [* also known as The Stars My Destination]
  3. The Silver Locusts* Ray Bradbury. He has his detractors, and no one will deny that his later work, chocolate fudge and all, has tarnished a reputation that once burned brighter than any other sf star. But time cannot efface the weird lyricism of these tales. They helped sf to take a giant leap into literature and influenced a generation of writers. It is good to reflect on that.
    [* aka The Martian Chronicles]
  4. Space Lords Cordwainer Smith. His unique vision of a far-out future deeply reflecting our past hardly needs any introduction. These stories seem to best typify his remarkable output… but it’s hard to choose.
  5. Hot House Brian Aldiss. Chosen to best represent the far, far, future sub-genre. Aldiss’ apocalyptic vision of a world gone mad with vegetation is surely one of the most extravagant in all sf.
  6. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame ed Robert Silverberg. This is volume 1 of the series, but any one of them will suffice. The more one digs into the sf past the more it becomes apparent that the best material has been under novel length…
  7. Cities in Flight James Blish. The one volume Avon edition, naturally. Of all the so-called ‘epics’ of sf, this one seems to me the most satisfying. Blish’s imagination continues to soar when lesser writers give out, and his prose remains constantly readable where, say, the Asimov of Foundation time hasn’t aged at all well.
  8. The Nine Billion Names of God Arthur C Clarke. When it came to selecting a one-author collection, Clarke’s seemed the one best suited to display the short storey medium. he has the hard-science approach of many of is compatriots — Anderson, Clement, Niven, etc. — but blended with the gentle poetry I have been convinced best represents a ‘sense of wonder’.
  9. The Man in the High Castle Philip K Dick. A fine, smoothly-written novel that best typifies the sf predilection of playing with alternative possibilities. Quiet, moving and richly detailed; possibly the best book Dick has done.
  10. The Sirens of Titan Kurt Vonnegut. Chosen because it is such a damn fine book — probably the only one to match Tiger! Tiger! for sheer entertainment.
  11. The Paradox Men Charles L Harness. Sorry, but I just had to slip this one in. It overlaps with the bester book — both being superior examples of wide-screen baroque. But it has so many brilliant passages that cry out for examination and appreciation that I had to put it in.
  12. The Short Stories of H G Wells This needs no special reading: here a re just about all the plot elements of every sf story you have ever read. Wells was a master story teller, then and now. I know of mo better way to begin an odyssey into short story sf than this marvellous volume.

Well, there it is. One final word: my selections have been soundly based on availability of the works mentioned. Bearing in mind the basic premise of the above library, I feel this is essential.

Have fun,

Lee Harding

—— from John Foyster’s Nova Mob Leaflet, Jan 1975, reproduced by Bruce Gillespie as part of his incomplete history of the Nova Mob, *brg* 102


The 2018 Hugos

Here’s the complete list of nominees, with winners indicated in bold, followed alphabetically by other nominees.


  • The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
  • The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (Tor)
  • New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
  • Provenance by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
  • Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
  • Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty (Orbit)


  • All Systems Red by Martha Wells ( Publishing)
  • And Then There Were (N-One) by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March / April 2017)
  • Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor ( Publishing)
  • The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang ( Publishing)
  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire ( Publishing)
  • River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey ( Publishing)




  • No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate by Zoe Quinn (PublicAffairs)
  • Iain M. Banks (Modern Masters of Science Fiction) by Paul Kincaid (University of Illinois Press)
  • A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison by Nat Segaloff (NESFA Press)
  • Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler edited by Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Sleeping with Monsters: Readings and Reactions in Science Fiction and Fantasy by Liz Bourke (Aqueduct Press)


  • Monstress, Volume 2: The Blood, written by Marjorie M. Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image Comics)
  • Black Bolt, Volume 1: Hard Time, written by Saladin Ahmed, illustrated by Christian Ward, lettered by Clayton Cowles (Marvel)
  • Bitch Planet, Volume 2: President Bitch, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, illustrated by Valentine De Landro and Taki Soma, colored by Kelly Fitzpatrick, lettered by Clayton Cowles (Image Comics)
  • My Favorite Thing is Monsters, written and illustrated by Emil Ferris (Fantagraphics)
  • Paper Girls, Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matthew Wilson, lettered by Jared Fletcher (Image Comics)
  • Saga, Volume 7, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)


  • Wonder Woman, screenplay by Allan Heinberg, story by Zack Snyder & Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs, directed by Patty Jenkins (DC Films / Warner Brothers)
  • Blade Runner 2049, written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, directed by Denis Villeneuve (Alcon Entertainment / Bud Yorkin Productions / Torridon Films / Columbia Pictures)
  • Get Out, written and directed by Jordan Peele (Blumhouse Productions / Monkeypaw Productions / QC Entertainment)
  • The Shape of Water, written by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, directed by Guillermo del Toro (TSG Entertainment / Double Dare You / Fox Searchlight Pictures)
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi, written and directed by Rian Johnson (Lucasfilm, Ltd.)
  • Thor: Ragnarok, written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost; directed by Taika Waititi (Marvel Studios)


  • The Good Place: “The Trolley Problem,” written by Josh Siegal and Dylan Morgan, directed by Dean Holland (Fremulon / 3 Arts Entertainment / Universal Television)
  • The Good Place: “Michael’s Gambit,” written and directed by Michael Schur (Fremulon / 3 Arts Entertainment / Universal Television)
  • Black Mirror: “USS Callister,” written by William Bridges and Charlie Brooker, directed by Toby Haynes (House of Tomorrow)
  • “The Deep” [song], by Clipping (Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes)
  • Doctor Who: “Twice Upon a Time,” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Rachel Talalay (BBC Cymru Wales)
  • Star Trek: Discovery: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” written by Aron Eli Coleite & Jesse Alexander, directed by David M. Barrett (CBS Television Studios)


  • Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas
  • John Joseph Adams
  • Neil Clarke
  • Lee Harris
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Sheila Williams


  • Sheila E. Gilbert
  • Joe Monti
  • Diana M. Pho
  • Devi Pillai
  • Miriam Weinberg
  • Navah Wolfe


  • Sana Takeda
  • Galen Dara
  • Kathleen Jennings
  • Bastien Lecouffe Deharme
  • Victo Ngai
  • John Picacio


  • Uncanny Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, and Julia Rios; podcast produced by Erika Ensign & Steven Schapansky
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies, editor-in-chief and publisher Scott H. Andrews
  • The Book Smugglers, edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James
  • Escape Pod, edited by Mur Lafferty, S.B. Divya, and Norm Sherman, with assistant editor Benjamin C. Kinney
  • Fireside Magazine, edited by Brian White and Julia Rios; managing editor Elsa Sjunneson-Henry; special feature editor Mikki Kendall; publisher & art director Pablo Defendini
  • Strange Horizons, edited by Kate Dollarhyde, Gautam Bhatia, A.J. Odasso, Lila Garrott, Heather McDougal, Ciro Faienza, Tahlia Day, Vanessa Rose Phin, and the Strange Horizons staff


  • File 770, edited by Mike Glyer
  • Galactic Journey, edited by Gideon Marcus
  • Journey Planet, edited by Team Journey Planet
  • nerds of a feather, flock together, edited by The G, Vance Kotrla, and Joe Sherry
  • Rocket Stack Rank, edited by Greg Hullender and Eric Wong
  • SF Bluestocking, edited by Bridget McKinney


  • Ditch Diggers, presented by Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace
  • The Coode Street Podcast, presented by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
  • Fangirl Happy Hour, presented by Ana Grilo and Renay Williams
  • Galactic Suburbia, presented by Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce and Tansy Rayner Roberts; produced by Andrew Finch
  • Sword and Laser, presented by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt
  • Verity!, presented by Deborah Stanish, Erika Ensign, Katrina Griffiths, L.M. Myles, Lynne M. Thomas, and Tansy Rayner Roberts


  • Sarah Gailey
  • Camestros Felapton
  • Mike Glyer
  • Foz Meadows
  • Charles Payseur
  • Bogi Takács


  • Geneva Benton
  • Grace P. Fong
  • Maya Hahto
  • Likhain (M. Sereno)
  • Spring Schoenhuth
  • Steve Stiles


  • World of the Five Gods, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Harper Voyager / Spectrum Literary Agency)
  • The Books of the Raksura, by Martha Wells (Night Shade)
  • The Divine Cities, by Robert Jackson Bennett (Broadway)
  • InCryptid, by Seanan McGuire (DAW)
  • The Memoirs of Lady Trent, by Marie Brennan (Tor US / Titan UK)
  • The Stormlight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson (Tor US / Gollancz UK)

New Dr Who clip!

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 12.22.37 amThe BBC have just released the first extended clip from Doctor Who season 11’s premiere episode, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”. While it isn’t a perfect indicator of what Whittaker’s 13th incarnation of the Doctor is going to be like — she’s still in a post-regeneration haze, unsure of who she really is or even that she’s a she now… after all, as she says, she was a white haired Scotsman not too long ago!