Everything Is Nice

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

Changes

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As I mentioned, I moved recently. The reason I needed to leave my beloved flat was not just the constant accumulation of books but the birth of my son. That event also occasioned me changing my surname so I could share his. On one level, this is simple: you just send off a form and a cheque. On another, it is a thorny tangle of beaucracy and identity. Changing over to Martin Petto on my work IT and HR systems was simple, as was changing my multiple social media accounts. Other things took longer which is why 14 months later by wallet still contains cards with a mixture of names on them. Hardest of all, however, was working out what to do about my ‘professional’ name (don’t laugh). Having spent over a decade writing under my old name, I found it hard to make a clean break so you’ll probably have noticed that I’m still reviewing as Martin Lewis. The rough rule of thumb I had adopted (until very recently) was that I’d keep Lewis for ‘old things’ and use Petto for ‘new things’. To my surprise, one of those new things has turned out to be this:

Rite Of Spring

So yeah, I am one of the contributers to Pandemonium: The Rite Of Spring, the latest chapbook from Jurassic London. This foray into fiction has obviously been met with some gentle teasing from fellow critics but it does open up some further questions of identity. For example, it is not uncommon for it to be suggested that critics are wannabe writers or that ‘those who can, do’. I’m not a wannabe writer, I am actual writer, just one who chooses to write non-fiction rather than fiction. So a part of me feels like a traitor to the fellowship of critics and mourns the loss of the armour of my purity. But a bigger part of me doesn’t give a shit. My story, ‘Letter From the President Of The British Board Of Film Censors’, was an experiment for myself (less formal than this one but an experiment nonetheless). It was fun to write and I hope it is fun to read. If not, here is some Phil Ochs:

Written by Martin

8 April 2014 at 10:58

BSFA Review – Vector #275

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In last issue’s editorial, I wondered if 2014 would be a year for award-winning women. Since then, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie – one of the books I singled out – won the Golden Tentacle for best debut at the Kitschies and has been shortlisted for both the BSFA and Philip K Dick awards. Meanwhile, A Tale For the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki – a book that wasn’t on my radar, despite having been shortlisted for the Booker – won the Red Tentacle for best novel. I should have been paying attention but obviously others were since Ozeki takes joint first place in our poll of reviews, alongside Kate Atkinson for Life After Life.

They are a thematically fitting pair, although I think their merits are less matched. If I was being cynical, I’d say Ozeki’s novel appeals to SF readers because it consists of page after page of tedious exposition. It is the dullest sort of literary meta-fiction aligned to a self-help primer on Buddhism with a bit of pop science thrown in for good measure. Life After Life, on the other hand, is sublime. Atkinson tells a very different tale of time which encompasses the best of historical fiction, family saga and romance but amplifies these through a palimpsest fantasy narrative. A worthy winner of the Costa Award.

As you might expect, there is a lot of cross-over between our poll and the BSFA awards and the next spot goes to Christopher Priest who won the award in 2011 with his previous novel, The Islanders. In Vector #274, Paul Kincaid said of The Adjacent: “It is as complex and rewarding as any of his novels, and it repays re-reading, but above all it is a novel that is as enthralling, as mystifying and as satisfying as any other you are likely to encounter this year.”

Just outside the medal positions is Nina Allan with Spin, shortlisted for the BSFA Award for short fiction but eligible here as this beguiling novella was published in book format by TTA Press. And, of course, there is Leckie herself. (I do wonder if, despite the hype, her middling position here is an indicator of her chances for the award itself).

A Stranger In Olondria by Sofia Samatar and What Lot’s Wife Saw by Ioanna Bourazopoulou were books that I’d hoped to get to before nominations closed for awards season. Alas it was not to be but their appearance here makes me even more determined to read them in 2014. In a crowded reading schedule, I will always make time for Lauren Beukes though. The Shining Girls is substantially less interesting than her previous work but nonetheless evidence of a formidably talented writer.

Finally, we have two male British science fiction writers at opposite ends of their careers. The Machine is James Smythe’s third novel since his debut in 2012 (it was also shortlisted for the Red Tentacle); Evening’s Empires marks Paul McAuley’s fourth appearance on the shortlist of the BSFA Award since 1991. (The two BSFA shortlist novels missing here are Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L Powell and God’s War by Kameron Hurley but the later came third in the poll back when it was originally came out in 2010. Such are the vagaries of Transatlantic publishing.)

So that was 2013. My own start to 2014 has involved moving house so if you are a publisher, please check the new address for review copies at the front of the magazine. The wealth of paperwork that has accompanied this move also means that I have finally updated various accounts and pieces of identification with my married name. Which means it is time for me to do the same for Vector too.

BSFA Review Poll

=1) Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
=1) A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
3) The Adjacent by Christopher Priest
4) Spin by Nina Allan
5) Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
6) A Stranger In Olondria by Sofia Samatar
7) What Lot’s Wife Saw by Ioanna Bourazopoulou
8) The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
9) The Machine by James Smythe
10) Evening’s Empires by Paul McAuley

Reviews

  • Silent Land (Gollancz, 2010), Some Kind Of Fairy Tale (Gollancz, 2012) and The Year Of The Ladybird (Gollancz, 2013) by Graham Joyce – Reviewed by Paul Kincaid
  • Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh (Orbit, 2013) – Reviewed by Shaun Green
  • The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself by Ian Sales (Whippleshield Press, 2013) – Reviewed by Dan Hartland
  • The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi (Gollancz, 2012) – Reviewed by Jim Steel
  • Phoenicia’s Worlds by Ben Jeapes (Solaris, 2013) – Reviewed by Cherith Baldry
  • Crash by Guy Haley (Solaris, 2013) – Reviewed by Gary Dalkin
  • Close Encounters of the Invasive Kind by Sarah Seymore (LIT Verlag, 2012) – Reviewed by Andy Sawyer
  • Science Fiction Hobby Games: A First Survey by Neal Tringham (Pseudonymz, 2013) – Reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
  • Let’s All Go To The Science Fiction Disco, edited by Jonathan Wright (Adventure Rocketship!, 2013) – Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller
  • The Eidolon by Libby McGugan (Solaris, 2013) – Reviewed by Liz Bourke
  • The Ballad of Halo Jones by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson (2000 AD Graphic Novels, 2013) – Reviewed by Tony Jones
  • Terra by Mitch Benn (Gollancz, 2013) – Reviewed by Alison Page
  • The Testimony by James Smythe (Blue Door, 2012) – Reviewed by Gary Dalkin
  • The Lowest Heaven, edited by Jared Shurin (Jurassic London, 2013) – Reviewed by Dan Hartland
  • A History Of The Future In 100 Objects by Adrian Hon (Skyhook, 2013) – Reviewed by Niall Harrison
  • The Dedalus Book Of Modern Greek Fantasy, edited and translated by David Connolly (Dedalus, 2004) – Reviewed by Anthony Nanson
  • Gods & Monsters: Unclean Spirits (Abaddon Books, 2013) and The Blue Blazes (Angry Robot, 2013) by Chuck Wendig – Reviewed by Graham Andrews
  • Dream London by Tony Ballantyne (Solaris Books, 2013) – Reviewed by Donna Scott
  • The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (Head of Zeus, 2013) – Reviewed by Martin McGrath

Written by Martin

31 March 2014 at 10:36

Posted in sf

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Hugo Nominations – My Ballot

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My choices. They are ranked, though that doesn’t count for the nominations process itself. Some of these are also slightly different from my selections in the linked individual post. Feel free to try and argue me out of any of these in the comments.

Best Novel

  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • Empty Space by M John Harrison
  • iD by Madeline Ashby
  • The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
  • A Stranger In Olondria by Sofia Samatar

Best Novella

  • Spin by Nina Allan (TTA Press)
  • Black Helicopter by Caitlín R Kiernan (Subterranean Press)
  • The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself by Ian Sales (Whippleshield Books)
  • ‘Burning Girls’ by Veronica Schanoes (Tor.com)
  • ‘Martyr’s Gem’ by CSE Cooney (Giganotosaurus)

Best Novelette

  • No nominations

Best Short Story

  • ‘Your Figure Will Assume Beautiful Outlines’ by Claire Humphrey (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
  • ‘Inventory’ by Carmen Maria Machado (Strange Horizons)
  • ‘Selkie Stories Are For Losers’ by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons)
  • ‘Let’s Take This Viral’ by Rich Larson (Lightspeed)
  • ‘Free Fall’ by Graham Templeton (Clarkesworld)

Best Related Work

  • Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers Of Space by Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman
  • Les Revenants by Mogwai
  • Speculative Fiction 2012, edited by Justin Landon and Jared Shurin
  • Red Doc> by Anne Carson
  • Sky Arts Ignition: Memory Palace

Best Graphic Story

  • Prophet: Brothers by Brandon Graham and Simon Roy
  • Mind MGMT: The Futurist by Matt Kindt
  • ‘Mars To Stay’ by Brett Lewis and Cliff Chiang (The Witching Hour)
  • ‘Time’ by Randall Munroe (XCKD)
  • Saga: Volume 2 by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form

  • Upstream Color
  • Tomb Raider
  • Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2
  • A Field In England
  • Byzantium

Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form

  • Black Mirror – ‘Be Right Back’
  • Gesaffelstein – ‘Pursuit’
  • Utopia – ‘Episode 1’
  • Janelle Monáe – ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’
  • Orphan Black – ‘Effects Of External Conditions’

Best Semiprozine

  • No nominations

That said, if I was going to nominate, it would be for Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld and Interzone.

Best Fanzine

  • Pornokitsch
  • Nerds Of A Feather
  • FerretBrain
  • The Book Smugglers
  • A Dribble Of Ink

Best Professional Editor: Long Form

  • No nominations

Best Professional Editor: Short Form

  • No nominations

Best Professional Artist

  • Joey Hi-Fi
  • Olly Moss
  • Sarah Anne Langton
  • Kevin Tong
  • Galen Dara

Best Fan Artist

  • Trudy Cooper
  • Autun Purser
  • Mandie Manzano
  • Sara Webb
  • Noelle Stevenson

Best Fan Writer

  • Abigail Nussbaum
  • Jared Shurin
  • Nina Allan
  • Jonathan McCalmont
  • Requires Hate

Best Fancast

  • No nominations

John W. Campbell Award For Best New Writer

  • Sofia Samatar
  • Carmen Maria Machado
  • Tim Maughan
  • EJ Swift
  • Benjanun Sriduangkaew

The John W Campbell Award Eligibility Page will help you with this confusing award but be warned, it isn’t entirely accurate. For example, Madeline Ashby isn’t eligible as it say (or I’d have nominated her).

Written by Martin

30 March 2014 at 16:54

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Hugo Nominations – Best Novella, Best Novelette & Best Short Story

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Once again, I must confess to dereliction. I can count the genre short fiction published in 2013 that I read in 2013 on the fingers of one hand. I’ve read considerably more in the last two months or so but nowhere near enough. Luckily, there are better curators out there:

Nussbaum opens her post by saying:

They also reaffirm my belief in the vibrancy and relevance of the genre short fiction scene. I don’t know another genre in which ordinary readers habitually get excited about short stories the way that SFF readers do, and in which those stories are an integral part of the conversation surrounding the genre. I certainly don’t know another genre in which short fiction venues are proliferating–whether it’s online venues or original anthologies (often funded by Kickstarters). Far more than the best novel category, it seems to me, the short fiction categories give us a glimpse of the genre’s present state – and of its future – which is why it’s so important to me that they represent the richness and diversity of what’s being published.

I’m not sure I quite agree. There is obviously something unique about the speculative fiction short fiction landscape and worth cherishing. But whilst short fiction is part of the conversation, the discourse remains dominated by novels. At the moment, short fiction strikes me less as a glimpse into the genre’s future than a parallel universe and that is where I think the Hugos and the other short fiction awards have a role in shining a spotlight, amplfying the conversation and bridging the gap.

Best Novella

  • Spin by Nina Allan (TTA Press)
  • Black Helicopter by Caitlín R Kiernan (Subterranean Press)

I was also planning to nominate ‘The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself’ by Ian Sales (Whippleshield Books) but he’s done that himself and saved me the bother.

Best Novelette

I’ll confess I spent more time looking for a tweet from Howard Mittelmark suggesting that a novelette was “an omelette with a little book in it” than I did actually reading them. I think it is a silly term and, like several Hugo categories, is not in common usage outside the genre. Compare and contrast, for example, the Wikipedia article for novelette with those for novella and short story. Then wince a bit at the way SF shoves itself into the latter two.

A counter-argument for retaining the category put forward by Nussbaum is that “the short fiction categories, with their wider perspective and lower stakes, give a better snapshot of the field and its interests” than Best Novel. I would agree that removing Best Novelette and having five slots for novels, five for novellas and five for short stories would leave the awards unbalanced. My solution would be to have a ten slot shortlist for stories up to 17,500 words (there’s probably an argument for having ten slots for Best Novel too).

Best Short Story

With the above in mind and given I haven’t finished reading yet, here are ten short stories I enjoyed:

You will notice that almost all of these stories were published in small online magazines. If you are less of a purist than me, you might consider these venues for Best Semiprozine.

Written by Martin

26 March 2014 at 08:32

Posted in awards, sf, short stories

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Some Other Eden

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My review of Astra by Naomi Foyle is up now at Strange Horizons. I make a big deal of it not being A Door Into Ocean, Joan Slonczewski’s radical ecofeminist, pacifist utopia from 1986:

Since reading Slonczewski’s novel, I’ve been yearning for a modern version—something unabashedly aspirational—and, at first, Astra by Naomi Foyle promised to be that book. It is tantalizingly close, but Foyle had other plans and deliberately subverts her story which, for me, makes it less subversive. Nor is it literary fiction of the type a front cover quote from the Poetry Book Society and funding logo from Arts Council England might suggest. Yet it is still an unusual and appealing novel and does perhaps point towards the emergence of a new breed of core genre British publishing.

I conclude by saying:

Since 2013, however, we have seen the launch of Jo Fletcher Books (publishing Foyle, Karen Lord, and Stephanie Saulter) and Del Rey UK (Kameron Hurley and E. J. Swift). These build on the pioneering work of Angry Robot (Madeline Ashby and Lauren Buekes) to create a cohort of medium-sized, risk-taking commercial publishers who have put the larger houses to shame. Here’s to more fascinatingly flawed mainstream science fiction novels that dare to be different.

This is perhaps slightly ironic given Quercus (of which Jo Fletcher Books is part) were acquired by Hodder today. But I’ve noticed that more and more my individual reviews are in conversation with each other, as if flailing towards a Grand Unified Theory of SF Publishing, so it might be worth reading the context of some of my other recent reviews. On which note, Astra is actually my 49th review for Strange Horizons. Bloody hell.

Written by Martin

25 March 2014 at 16:13

Posted in books, sf

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Hugo Nominations – Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form

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Like comics, SF television is something I like in principle but rarely get a chance to consume and, when I do, I’m inevitably disappointed. I tried to make space to do a bit of research and watch a bit more in preparation for the Hugos but I failed.

Before moving onto the nominations I did manage to come up with, I need to discuss the category itself. I already talked about this a bit with respect to Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form but there is an additional problem here. In practice, BDP:SF maps as directly to Best Television Episode as BDP:LF does to Best Film. But whilst it is fairly straightforward to compare films since they are discrete pieces of work, television episodes are usually installments in serials. Of course, films and novels can be installments too but these are both less common and less intensive (over a year gap between such installments appearing rather than just a week).

So what does this mean? Well, I had a long, unedifying conversation with Niall Harrison about this where he put forth various insane ideas. This clarified for me that the category isn’t very satisfying but there isn’t a better replacement so you ever dump it or re-name it to describe what it actually is. But since neither of these have happened yet, my nominations are on the current rules.

1) Black Mirror – ‘Be Right Back’

The first season of Black Mirror has the best British science fiction series of the 21st Century. The second wasn’t. Jonathan McCalmont – who is also nominating this episode – points out this was “due to Brooker’s decision to write all the episodes himself despite working on other shows at the time”. Given this is still my top pick for BDP:SF, imagine what he could do if he concentrated. Roll on the third season.

2) Gesaffelstein – ‘Pursuit’ (NSFW)

3) Utopia – ‘Episode 1′

Just before screening the second season of Black Mirror, Channel 4 debuted another SF series which turned out to be an even bigger disappointment. I’d hoped that Utopia would blend the attitude and wit of Misfits with the sustance of a classic British political mini-series like State Of Play. Instead it turned out to be Cold War conspiracy cobblers of the sort that so infects comics. But it deliberately building a television programme around the concept of a comic book, it does very interesting things with its cinematography – something usually completely ignored by SF telly. It also gets the tone right and the first episode tantalisingly hints at what might have been before it all collapsed.

4) Janelle Monáe – ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’

Huge thanks to Liz Batty for help with the music videos selections. I’d planned to give my fifth slot to something from Game Of Thrones, my current soap opera of choice, but I ran out of time so other YouTube suggestions welcome.

Written by Martin

21 March 2014 at 10:48

Posted in awards, sf

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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

Posted in food

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