Friday, March 23, 2018

Treacle Pudding

Treacle Pudding
I don't have a picture of the pudding

Serves Four

1½ oz suet (125g)
4½ oz self raising flour (375g)
½ teaspoon baking powder
golden syrup (or treacle if you're daring)
fat for greasing
plain flour for rolling

Grease a pudding basin. Sieve the flour, salt and baking powder together into a mixing bowl. Stir in the suet. Add water, stirring as you go, until it makes a firm dough.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface to a thickness of perhaps a third of an inch. Put a good teaspoonful of golden syrup in the bottom of the pudding basin. Cut a piece of dough that will fill the bottom and lay it on top. Then add another spoon of golden syrup, then another piece of dough until you finish. The top layer should be dough.

Cover the pudding basin with greased greaseproof paper, and then with a pudding cloth or with foil. Put into a pan of water and steam for 2 and a half hours. Turn out onto a plate and serve.


This is adapted from a recipe for a jam layer pudding in the 1950s cookbook Cooking with Creda by Joan Whitgift. Do not stint on the syrup as the suet dough is heavy and unsweetened. In general substituting vegetable suet works perfectly well in recipes, but I have not actually tried it with this one.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

I Read Stories: Boojum

Boojum is a Lovecraftian short story by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette. It is about Black Alice Bradley*, a junior engineer on the living pirate spaceship Lavinia Whateley**. Things go... okay, until they capture a cargo that she won’t countenance selling which leads her inevitably towards betrayal and mutiny.
From The Hunting of the Snark, another influence on the story

It is full of strangeness, some of which is adapted and extrapolated from Lovecraft’s works, and has a surprisingly upbeat ending, assuming that mass death and failure and unimaginable destinies count as upbeat.

Read This: For cool Science Fiction.
Don’t Read This: If dark Lovecraftian stuff is not for you.
Read It Online: At Lightspeed magazine.

* Probably?
** Ha ha yes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

I Watch Films: The Fate of the Furious

After seven previous films do you really need to hear my thoughts on The Fate of the Furious, aka Fast and Furious 8, Fast 8 and (sigh) F8?

Well then. The auto-drive-hack-car-swarm is pretty good, if ridiculous. In fact that’s everything. Including the auto-drive submarine. It’s all ridiculous.

It’s about family. The villain tries to use that, spouts a few tired lines about fate, and a few better nihilistic ones, hints at an actually interesting motive. Some previous villains and allies come back and do a few things. Jason Statham is actually a fine comic actor, possibly the funniest in the cast (maybe Kurt Russell but his character is a bit too smug). Is the cast too bloated now? I feel that no one really gets a proper re-introduction.

Anyway, respect and honour beat murder and blackmail, plus explosions, car fights, fist fights, gun fights, a prison break, a twist that just about works and another meta-textual ending.

Watch This: If you watched and enjoyed the previous 7, though maybe not 2 Fast 2 Furious, or Tokyo Drift.
Don’t Watch This: If you're looking for witty exquisite sublime filmmaking.
The Timeline: Fury is a prequel; Fury Road a sequel, don’t @ me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

I Read Books: First Lensman

(I'm reading E E "Doc" Smith's classic Lensman series, and you can read my review of the first book Triplanetary by clicking on that link. That post also explains (some of) the publication history and the conceit of the series).

The second prequel to the Lensman series, set a few years after Triplanetary. Virgil Samms, head of the newly formed Solarian Patrol, has a number of problems. The first is that the inertialess drive makes interstellar travel easy, so that criminals can commit crimes and then flee to strange planets where tracking them down is impossible. Other than that there’s dirty politics (Operation Maltese), illegal narcotics (Operation Zwilnik), piracy (Operation Boskone), and, um, odd signals coming out of space (Operation Zabriska).

Samms is able to solve one of the problems with the help of the mysterious Arisians (not mysterious if you’ve read Triplanetary or the introduction to this book). Going there he receives a Lens, which acts as a telepathic communicator, an unforgeable identification, and a guarantee of integrity, becoming First Lensman.

This has something of an ensemble cast, some coming back from Triplanetary, others being new characters, mostly from the younger generation. Most of them become lensmen; one major exception being the only major female character Jill* Samms, Virgil Samms' daughter. Women, it seems, can’t become lensmen although the Arisian mentor is very nice about it, telling her she doesn’t need a lens to do what she does. Turns out he’s right though that doesn’t stop her being kidnapped by Herkimer Herkimer III, the sadistic secretary of corrupt Senator Morgan, and having to be rescued.

The novel has, of course, big space battles (a sine qua non of the series), a variety of strange aliens that Samms meets while trying to expand the Solarian Patrol into the Galactic Patrol, and a bit of intrigue. I’m finding the most interesting parts are when the lensmen go undercover; Samms pretending to be his own cousin and Conway Costigan as a disgraced engineer who starts at the bottom of the uranium mines. When there’s a disaster down in the bottom level there’s quite a tense sequence where they dig themselves out using weirdo sounding machines that nevertheless depend on Costigan’s brute strength. Reading through I’m almost thinking I’d prefer a ground level series, in which the whole Civilisation vs Boskonia plot is in the background and we have a 1940s future of manly men solving industrial problems while all the secretaries admire them.

Read This: More over the top space opera, taking on real problems with slightly dubious solutions, though the climax being the newly formed Patrol enforcing a 99.999% fair election was pretty good.
Don’t Read This: If you want something other than old fashioned, somewhat ludicrous science fiction.

This post is supported by my Patreon, where you can find some of my own space opera stories for free.Also crossposted at GoodReads.

* “Virgillia”

Monday, March 19, 2018

I Watch Films: Baywatch

Films Watched in 2018: Baywatch

Purely as an action comedy about a bunch of lifeguards who solve crimes this is okay, though without anything particularly interesting to recommend it. As a remake of the TV series it tries too hard to have its cake and eat it; slow motion running by the beautiful cast members is commented on by the watchers, several times the fact that they should let the police handle it is brought up and dismissed etc.

Baywatch can’t carry this kind of deconstruction and still have me take seriously the corruption-land-deal-drug-smuggling-murder plot without causing mental whiplash. Also Mitch isn’t trying to juggle lifeguarding, international terrorist catching and being a single Dad, which gave, I don’t know, some texture, to let us appreciate the action and/or eye candy.

There are a couple of good knob jokes.

Watch This: For a couple of hours of unpretentious action comedy.
Don’t Watch This: For a modern attempt at Baywatch, or for a savage takedown of the show. Also if you don’t like seeing willies.
Also: Yes, both the Hoff and Pamela Anderson make an appearance.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Liner Notes 4

Some information of my story Negotiation Tactics and also the attendant piece Carriers.

Liner Notes 4

A quick thriller in which Robb, the security chief, gets killed. Later he gets better. I don’t have a lot to say here as it’s pretty straight forward. I poke a little at ideas used in stories about kidnapping and the economics of interstellar trade. But not too hard or it might undermine the foundations of the series. The key phrase to understand the Deep Patrol is probably Information Economy.

The hostage episode is a cliché, but I hope that escape by dying at least gives a little novelty to it. Death is a possibility here in the Deep Patrol, and it’s neither permanent nor inconsequential. Robb is shrugging it off but really, it’s quite serious.

The story brushes off the question – if we clone someone and then reinsert the original’s brainstate, are they the same person? This is a favourite of TV and especially comics, in which moral choices are often resolved by heroes fighting versions of themselves in a different colour palette. I’ll come back to the question, in later stories and (sorry) essays.

Liner Notes 4a

The Deep Patrol are nomads, as noted previously, organised around carrier groups. There’s a bit of Battlestar Galactica (both versions) in the lineage of this series, maybe even more than Star Trek. Unlike a TV show I don’t have to worry about budget (well, not in that way) so I don’t have to make frugal use the standing sets for the Carrier. But they’ll be back aboard it soon.

As should be obvious this piece is supported by my Patreon, which also hosts the Deep Patrol stories, of which there are currently four.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

I Read Books: Quantico

Quantico by Greg Bear is a near future bio-terror technothriller from an author perhaps better known for his hard science fiction. It is unrelated to the TV show of the same name, other than the fact the FBI academy is within the Marine Training base of Quantico.

It starts with some unlikely clues, and some FBI trainees, and some long hidden terrorists. It becomes about anthrax, and then something stranger, and an attack on the world’s major religions.

Bear’s plotting is sparse for a techno thriller, requiring you to pay attention to keep up; hints about the political situation in Washington and around the world come into sharp focus to frame the final confrontation.

Read This: For clever and interesting near future thrills.
Don’t Read This: If you prefer things clear rather than the murky, shades of grey, hidden clues and hints this book prefers.
While Writing This Review: I discovered that there is a sequel, Mariposa, that links to his not-near-future thriller Queen of Angels.