Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

The Windsor Castle

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A couple of years ago I made the mistake of ordering lamb with herring and nasturtium relish at Konstam. Earlier this year, I went into the Windsor Castle and was surprised to see lamb with sprat sauce on the menu. Turns out it is the same bloke in the kitchen, Oliver Rowe. He’s obviously proud of his creation but I’ve learnt my lesson.

The gist of the menu of the menu is well-cooked locally-sourced protein with intriguing vegetable accompaniment and not too much fuss. Between us we ordered pretty much everything on the menu except the lamb and there wasn’t a single duff note. Starters are £7 which is good value (my cuttlefish was particularly mountainous), mains are £13 – £15.50 which is slightly less so. My over-ridding impression, however, was not of the food but of the inordinate amount of time it took to produce it. I couldn’t quite see into the kitchen (it is open but thankfully not as intrusive as at Konstam) but it seemed like they needed another warm body in there. It is a big pub but they were streched by only a couple of covers.

It is also a new pub. The Windsor Castle is on Lower Clapton Road which, when I moved to the area, was colloquially known as Murder Mile. The idea seems ridiculous now. An ongoing wave of gentrification caused by people like me has seen old man pubs drop like flies over the last couple of years. They have then re-emerged as craft beer pubs or what we’d once have called gastropubs (a term that seems quaint and archaic these days) to meet the needs of a new, high-spending clientele. The Windsor Castle is a bit of both, the name in the kitchen balanced by the great selection of beers, including Five Points Pale which is brewed above the Tesco Metro opposite my flat.

Or rather my ex-flat. By the time I returned last weekend, I had become a victim of gentrification myself, forced over the physical and psychological boundary of the Lea by Hackney’s ludicrous house prices. Again, I got the impression the kitchen was hanging on by its fingernails. They start serving food realtively late at 1pm but the menus weren’t printed until after then. To mitigate against any further wait, despite being the first customer of the day, I made the mistake of ordering some pork scratchings. These turned out to be the single worst pub snack I’ve ever consumed. You know when you buy a bag of scratchings and there is always a fat, stale one at the bottom that squishes rather than crackles? These were all like that. This was half to do with execution – their fat to skin ration was too high – but I suspect they had also been sitting around for some time.

But my lamb arrived promptly – yes, I asked for it without the sprat sauce – and lived up to my last meal: simple, clever, excellent. I’m glad I got in early though.

Written by Martin

19 March 2014 at 11:48

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Eat My Hat

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It’s been a while since I’ve offered odds on the Arthur C Clarke Award (and what a good shortlist that was) but today seem like a good opportunity to start again.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie – 1/2
The Machine by James Smythe – 2/1
God’s War by Kameron Hurley – 3/1
The Adjacent by Christopher Priest – 6/1
Nexus by Ramez Naam – 12/1
The Disestablishment Of Paradise by Phillip Mann – 12/1

I guessed three of the six so egotistically I’ve made these the favourites. You probably can’t discount Priest’s greatest hits album but the Naam and the Mann are surely rank outsiders.

Written by Martin

19 March 2014 at 09:20

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2013 Nebula Awards – Short Story

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I should have written about ‘Spin’ by Nina Allan for the BSFA Award short story club by now but I moved house a couple of weeks ago and my copy is packed in a box somewhere. So I’ll be waiting for the awards booklet to be send out to BSFA members before continuing. I used the pause to have a look at the recently announced short story shortlist for the Nebula Awards (all available online) to see if it had any likely contenders for my Hugo ballot. The short answer is no.

This is not to say it is all bad but whilst there are two very good stories on the list, they are no use to me. The first is ‘Selkie Stories Are For Losers’ by Sophia Samatar which I’ve already written about. The second is ‘If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love’ by Rachel Swirsky which contains no speculative elements whatsoever.

Next we have two examples of RUMIR that awards should weed out but instead tend to elevate. ‘Selected Program Notes From The Retrospective Exhibition Of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer’ by Kenneth Schneyer is a slipstream story told through the medium of the title, a frame that exists solely to conceal the fact the doesn’t get any further than feeling very slightly strange. Meanwhile ‘The Sounds Of Old Earth’ sees Matthew Kressel pretending to be Mike Resnick by writing about a dude who neglects his family because of nostalgia but gets a hug in the end.

Finally, there is ‘Alive, Alive Oh’ by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley. This is less a story than a scientific experiment to see how much much contrivance and sentimentality can be crammed into 3,000 words as possible. “Sad and beautiful”, say the comments; “devastating and brilliant”. It is a pile of shite of ‘That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made’ proportions (though not actively offensive in the same way). It is a problem for SF that stories like this regularly get through the slush, the fact they make it on to award shortlists is a travesty.

Oh well, I’m sure the Hugo shortlist will be better…

Written by Martin

10 March 2014 at 15:46

Posted in awards, sf, short stories

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Hugo Nominations – Best Semiprozine

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Best. Semi. Pro. Zine. Just typing it causes me pain. Of all the made up categories, this is the most made up. This places is me in a bit of a quandary because Strange Horizons (which is eligible in the category) is the centre of my SF universe and I’d love to see it recognised. I also think it has a pretty good shot this year since despite being a notionally American magazine, it is very international in content and outlook. But come on! Semi-fucking-prozine! I’ll vote but I sure as hell won’t encourage this idiocy by nominating.

Written by Martin

4 March 2014 at 10:46

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The Owls Are Not What They Seem

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March 2014 is the 25th anniversary of the murder of Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks. I watched the series for the first time last year and it is a gloriously odd. Not just odd in the way we might describe a work as Lynchian these days but often straight up baffling and sometimes simply bad. That goes double for Fire Walk With Me. But when it works, it really works. So I thought I would share my favourite scene from the series, one of the most unexpectedly powerful bits of television I can remember:

The score for Twin Peaks was composed by Angelo Badalamenti and has proved as enduring as the television series itself. This includes ‘Laura’s Theme’ which was a part of my life long before I’d even heard of Lynch via Moby:

Badalamenti describes composing the theme with Lynch at the beginning of this extraordinary Essential Mix by Nicolas Jaar:

(That mix truly is essential, make sure you download it.)

Written by Martin

3 March 2014 at 22:05

Out On The Wiley, Windy Moors

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The paradoxes of being a heavy reader is that you don’t really like to receive books as gifts. “Oh, a book! Wonderful! I’ll pencil that in for 2018…” But, of course, a book is never unwelcome. My wife got me The Breakfast Bible by Seb Emina and Malcolm Eggs (of the London Review Of Breakfasts) for Christmas and I’ve been reading it in bite-sized chunks since then. I have learnt many things along the say but the most important is that to make a perfect soft boiled egg, all you need to do is place a large room-temperature egg into simmering water and then put on ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Kate Bush:

When the song is finished so is the egg.

Written by Martin

2 March 2014 at 09:25

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Hugo Nominations – Best Related

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Everyone thinks the Hugos need fixing but everyone has different solution. For example, the G at Nerds Of A Feather suggests in ‘A Modest Proposal For Hugo Reform’ that the number of categories need to be expanded. As I say in the comments, I think the opposite: that number of categories need to be reduced to concentrate on the things the voters know well. The corollary to this is that I think better use should be made of the Best Related category to cover everything the other categories exclude.

The wording of the category is: “The best work related to the field of science fiction, fantasy, or fandom, published in the prior calendar year and which is either non-fiction or noteworthy primarily for aspects other than the fictional text.” That is pretty broad as – in addition, to non-fiction – there are lots of things that are neither fiction or non-fiction. In practice, though, the award is dominated by criticism, biography and writing about writing with the occasional art book thrown in for good measure. So my list of nominations is a deliberate attempt to push the boundaries of the definition.

But just before that, two quick points on exclusions. Discussing Best Editor: Short Form, I said that collections and anthologies were eligible for this category. This is incorrect and was based on a misleading description of the category (from the Nerds Of A Feather post linked above, in fact). I would still like it to be true but there is no way to stretch the actual definition that far so I’ve not included any this time. Discussing Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form, I said that it should really be Best Film. If that ever came to pass then I’d nominate computer games here; since it hasn’t yet, my nomination for Tomb Raider goes where it is most likely to attract other nominations.

1) Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers Of Space by Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman


Popular science book for children in which Dr Walliman’s tour of the solar system is accompanied by Newman’s lovely Soviet-influenced illustrations (all the rage in SF art at the minute). It is simultaneously educational, inspiring and beautiful. If you truly want to install a sense of wonder in your kids, buy them this.

2) Les Revenants by Mogwai

Soundtrack to the French television series by the Scottish post-rock stalwarts. A more sombre affair than their own albums, chilly, coiled and gently menacing. Fuck filk. (By the way, this year’s Rave Tapes is even better.)

3) Speculative Fiction 2012, edited by Justin Landon and Jared Shurin

Spec Fiction 2012

Collection of the best of internet criticism compiled by one of my Best Fan Writer nominations and some other guy. I don’t own the book but I’ve read the individual pieces. This vote, however, is for the enterprise itself. The baton has now been passed to Ana Grilo and Thea James, the perfect pair of, er, pair of hands.

4) Red Doc> by Anne Carson

You could
take the entirety of the
common sense of humans
and put it in the palm of
your hand and still have
room for your dick

A mix of poetry, drama and narrative that holds the unique distinction of being shortlisted for both the Kitschies and the TS Elliot Award. It is a painfully grounded fantasy that manages to be instantly welcoming and accessible whilst retaining layer after layer of depth. (Niall Harrison will tell you that this book belongs in the Best Novella category as it is a science fiction or fantasy story of between 17,500 and 40,000 words. Don’t believe his lies.)

5) Sky Arts Ignition: Memory Palace


Exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in which a Hari Kunzi story is matched with twenty works from designers and illustrators (that is Mario Wagner above). If you missed it, a book is available. Here is Lila Garrott’s review for Strange Horizons.

What these nominations all have in common is that they are substantial, discrete pieces of work that are not eligible for any other category. Some people are taking it even further than that and I’ve seen a couple of nominations for individual blog posts such as ‘We Have Always Fought’ (which, incidentally, is being collected in Speculative Fiction 2013). This doesn’t seem quite right to me – it just about works in the BSFA Non-Fiction Award but only just and it is much narrower in scope. Equally, whilst I will be nominating a Janelle Monáe video in Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form, I’m not convinced you can brigade the album and its video into a single Best Related nomination. But more power to them. Just because it isn’t how I see the award, doesn’t mean I want to set up a needlessly complicated definition. This urge to cover and control everything is part of the problem behind several of the current categories when Best Related offers a wonderful opportunity to be unconstrained.

Written by Martin

28 February 2014 at 09:54

Posted in awards, sf

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