FebTBR3

Catching up with Hugo-eligible works

It’s Hugo Awards nomination time again!

The nomination period for the 2016-2017 Hugo Awards is now open. If you’re a member of last year’s Midamericon in Kansas City, this year’s Worldcon 75 in Helsinki or next year’s Worldcon 76 in San Jose, you can nominate your favourite Sci-Fi & Fantasy works of 2016 for a Hugo Awards in a whole host of categories.

Every year I try to read works as they are being published but I end up falling behind because there are just So. Many. Great. Books.
As a side effect, come Hugo nomination time, I’m left with a very small field of works I’ve actually read or watched and I have to leave blank spots in my nomination ballot which I just don’t like doing.

Shockingly it happened again in 2016 & there’s some catch up to do…

Here’s what I read and watched in 2016 that’s eligible:
  • Novels: Ghost Talkers, False Hearts, Obelisk Gate, The Family Plot
  • Novella: Every Heart A Doorway, Forest of Memory
  • Novelette: Superior
  • Short stories: None. Absolute FAIL.
  • Graphic novels: Descender Vol 2, Saga Vol 6
  • Films: Arrival
  • TV: Game of Thrones, Doctor Who

I’d be happy to put most of these on my ballot (Every Heart A Doorway and Superior will definitely be on there, as both made my Favourite Reads of 2016 list). But I would still love to have a wider selection to pick from, so I decided to get some reading & some watching done…

Making it into a bit of a project to make it more fun:

For the next three months, I’ll try and read, watch and consume some works that came out in 2016 – stuff I heard was good, or stuff I wanted to get to but didn’t – and then hopefully by the end of three months I’ll have a wider pool of eligible works to nominate from.

I decided to keep all of this fairly casual and not put too much pressure on myself. Instead of targeting things I should *absolutely* get to, I just amassed a giant list of STUFF that fits the bill, with help from Renay’s excellent Hugo Eligibility Spreadsheet of Doom. My own personal Hugo List of Doom is 4 pages long so far, with a full page dedicated to short stories!

That might seem daunting, but since I already know I won’t get through everything, I don’t feel pressured to try and get to everything. I’ve printed out a copy of The Hugo List of Doom, and I’ve started marking works off with a highlighter once I’ve checked them out. To me, that smattering of colour throughout The Hugo List of Doom proves that I gave the project a good try, and it’s satisfaction enough on its own.

If you have any recommendations for Hugo-eligible things I should try to get to before the end of the nomination period in March, let me know in the comments!

FebTBR3

My new shiny ASUS Chromebook C300

chromebookI’ve only had the chromebook for a few days but I’ve been very impressed with it so far. I’ve tried many different combos of desktop and laptop found the perfect combination that works the best for me and my usage. it’s a bit too early to say whether a well optimised desktop which I can upgrade in the future and a lightweight chromebook are the solution but it is looking positive so far.

First, a bit of background:

For at least three years, my main computer was a 15-inch ASUS laptop I bought new in 2012. Even at the time, it was reasonably priced (£400, iirc). I made all of my videos on that laptop for the first year of the channel, and still used it regularly once I got my hands on an old desktop for editing.

A few months ago, I build a desktop computer optimised for video editing (it was such a great process: I learned about computer specs in more detail, honed my parts list until Reddit approved of it, then had a friend over to show me the ropes of actually building the thing). That’s now what I use to make all of my videos, for everyday internet browsing & the occasional bit of gaming.

So now I have a desktop that runs significantly faster, smoother and overall better than my laptop, and that means I hardly ever use the poor, neglected laptop. The only times I’ve reached for it in the past few months have been to go and do some writing outside of the house, which a bulky 4-year old laptop is hardly suited for: it’s quite heavy (it hurts my back to carry it for too long), takes ages to turn on and keeps freezing & going all ‘blue screen of death’ on me.

So I decided to go hunting for a new laptop specifically for carrying out and about, hence…

The Chromebook C300:

The Chromebook does take a bit of getting used to and it is certainly not for everyone, nor the same as a full laptop, but it has definite advantages if you’re after something lightweight & portable.

I’m not going to lie, the main reason I decided to go for a Chromebook was the price: I know there are very high-end Chromebooks but this model has modest specs, and will only set you back £199. Mine is a factory refurbished unit, so I got it for £129! There’s supposedly some cosmetic damage on it that caused it to be reduced but I honestly can’t see any marks or scuffs, it looks perfectly new to me.

As advertised, the chromebook turns on near instantly and is ready to go as soon as you input your password (that’s true for the initial setup as well as everyday use). I’m not entirely happy with how I’ve arranged my Google accounts and my apps yet, but it’s only been a few days. I’ve never really explored browser apps before, so the ones I have so far are things that have a direct phone app equivalent. Even then, I’ve already found a free video editing suite and image editor. If you have any tips on apps to use, leave them in the comments please!

I was on the tube the other morning for six stops (about 15 minutes), and I had time to take my chromebook out, turn it on, log into the right account, get into my writing app and do almost 200 words on a short story outline. As soon as the train started pulling into my station, I saved my work, shut the chromebook, put it into my bag and I was out the door without having to hurry. I’ve done this with other computer and had to walk out of the tube carriage with the laptop under my arm so I could fix my bag on the platform… Not an ideal situation.

chromebookThis is definitely the quietest computer I’ve ever owned, I can’t hear it at all when it’s on & when I turn it off there’s only the tiniest difference. That’s pretty impressive considering I used to have to turn off my previous laptop when I filmed videos to avoid its whirring making it onto the recording.

The battery life also seems very promising: once fully charged the Chromebook promises me over 12 hours of battery life, removing the need to carry the charger around, ie. another victory for lightweight & portable. I haven’t tested that very thoroughly so far (I’ve only had it for a few days), but after a full charge and three days of moderate use on the go and at home, the battery is at 54% with another 5 hour 20 remaining.

I know some people might not like the obnoxiously bright red order shell I picked but for me it’s a big bonus. Every time I look at it, it makes me smile, it’s such a cheerful tone of red. The inside shell around the screen and keyboard is white with regular black keyboard keys, so the colour isn’t actually distracting when you’re trying to work.

Overall it’s a gorgeous little machine and I always want to have it out with me so I can show it off. As long as you know what you’re buying (translation: as long as you don’t expect to get a full laptop!) and don’t mind having to learn to use a new OS provided by our benevolent Google overlords, it’s a really choice in my humble opinion. I’ll let you know if the honeymoon period wears off but it’s looking good so far!

FebTBR3

Sci-Fi Month 2015 Introduction!

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Welcome to Sci-Fi Month 2015!

It’s my first time participating & I’m really excited for the month ahead. I might not read a ton of new works (I’m stepping up work on editing my novel this month for Nanowrimo) but I can’t wait to dig in to the Sci-fi portion of my TBR. Without further ado, here is a little bit more of an intro:

Tell us a little bit about yourself

Tabby

The internet wants more cat pictures, right?

 

I’ve been a fan of sci-fi & fantasy stories since pretty much forever.

I have a booktube channel that focuses on SFF and I’m currently writing a steampunky-horrory Victorian medical mystery, complete with an airship crash and mutated carnivorous plants.

Aside from books, I like crafting, board games, chocolate, twitter and my cat, a 10-year-old rescue called Tabby, who is the sweetest, most ridiculous feline ever.

How long have you been a fan of science fiction?

I came to science-fiction through fantasy: I was raised on The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings as bedtime stories & fell completely in love with Dragonriders of Pern when I was 12. As soon as those books took a sci-fi turn, I was hooked & wanted to read more.

In high-school, I neglected assigned reading & devoured classics like Brave New World, Farenheit 451 and 1984 instead. Now I’ll read anything that can be labelled as genre fiction, but I especially love social science-fiction, historical fantasy & weird books that mixes genres.

Why do you like sci-fi and what is your favourite thing about it?

I’m obsessed with all the ‘What ifs?’ in speculative fiction, so I tend to love big books with epic world-building or really weird ideas. Before I moved to the UK, I did a degree in English Language, Literature & Cultural History, and I’m still quite nerdy about these things. I love a book that goes deep into explaining a culture, or discusses language in an innovative way. The linguistic & cultural aspects were my favourite thing about Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and its sequels.

Favourite books/games/films/TV shows in the genre?

Well that’s certainly a broad question! Let’s tackle these one by one:

Books

All time favourites include The Dispossessed, Dune & Nightfall. Recently, I’ve really enjoyed The Martian, but the latest books to really stand out for me have been Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves & Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy.
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Video games

My current favourite is FTL: Faster Than Light, a tense resource-management rogue-like with awesome pixel art. I also really, really want to play Civilization: Beyond Earth but my current PC specs isn’t quite up-to-scratch. One day…

Board games

galaxy truckerOne of my favourite board games ever is Galaxy Trucker: a space opera game in which you’re just trying to get to the end of the mission with your spaceship in one piece. That’s be easier if you didn’t build your spaceship out of random parts at the opening of each game, in a timed, competitive tile-laying round.

I also really enjoy Race for the Galaxy, a card game in which you build a space empire by collecting planets – it also gets bonus points for being an excellent two-player game.

Film

I don’t go to the cinema nearly as much as I’d like to, as it’s gotten ridiculously pricy, but I recently saw The Martian & absolutely loved it. Here’s to hoping its success means we get more cool sci-fi films! Honestly my sci-fi film knowledge is lacking A LOT, so if you have any suggestions for things I should watch please let me know in the comments!

Television

I’m an unabashed Firefly fangirl, I love Futurama & I still have a soft spot for Sliders, which I used to watch in high school.

I’m not 100% on calling Doctor Who science-fiction, there’s too much hand-wavy ridiculousness (and I’ll often rage about it), but I still watch. Favourite episodes include Blink & The Doctor’s Wife, I’m also pretty excited about the introduction of Maisie Williams’ character, fingers crossed this plotline goes somewhere neat!

What are your plans for Sci-Fi Month?

longwayI’m hoping to make a good dent in the Sci-Fi side of my TBR pile, which includes The Three by Sarah Lotz, Binti & The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor, and Calculating God by Rob Sawyer.

I’m currently reading The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, and I will be hosting the 3rd week of the Readalong organised by Lisa at Over the Effing Rainbow.

I have a signed book and a few other sci-fi themed bits & bobs to give away, so keep an eye out for that later in the month!

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Convention-Fest 2014!

As I’m sure everyone knows by now, the past fortnight had been filled with conventions and various other geeky things. Everybody else probably had their con reports done ages ago, but I got ill with a pretty darn impressive bout of con-plague right after coming home from Loncon, so I haven’t had time yet. So now that my insides have forgiven me for my wicked convention ways (all the snacking, all the coffee, none of the healthy stuff…), here are a few highlights of my con experience!

photo 1I went to Nine Worlds right from work on the opening night (Thursday 7th) and stayed until Sunday night. I had an absolute blast there, particularly as a bunch of my close friends & writing group buddies were going, and I also knew a bunch of other people from the London fannish scene. I’d booked the week between Nine Worlds and Loncon off work, so I used it to chill out and work on structural edits to The Paradise Swarm. I’m so glad I did this, I don’t know how I would have been anything but zombie-Claire for all of  Loncon if I hadn’t.

photo 3Then on the morning of Thursday 14th, I trekked down to the Excel Centre with a massive suitcase to attend Loncon3, which was my first WorldCon. I was also on staff, meaning I volunteered ahead of the con and had extra responsibilities for specific things (in my case, the Party Maven team! We walked around the Fan Village in the evenings being helpful and liaising with Ops. Shame I didn’t think to bring a pedometer!). I ended up doing way more than I’d expected which was really good fun although a bit taxing.

After I went home on Monday and searched my suitcase quite thoroughly at the front door, it became clear I’d lost my keys at the con! Luckily someone had brought them into the lost and found at the Excel and the staff there was extremely helpful, letting me send in a courier to get the keys back to my house.

On Tuesday, it was back to the office with me, with what I thought at the time was a little bit of a cold. That night, I went to the awesome George & Robin event at the Freemason Hall in Central London, which was super cool, because ROBIN HOBB!! GEORGE R. R. MARTIN!! The interview was really super interesting, especially when they started talking in more detail about the writing process and how they approach their work. I also got a gorgeous signed hardback of Robin Hobb’s latest novel, Fool’s Assassin, which is about Fitz! It is literally shiny.

photo (2)Of course, after that, my ‘little bit of a cold’ morphed into stomach flu and I had to take some time off sick. I’m feeling better now though, and I don’t think I’ll ever plan two back-to-back conventions like this. It was epically good fun, but I kind of feel like I’ve entirely lost the following week.

For 2015, I’m hoping I can make it to my first EasterCon and go to Nine Worlds again, as they are both in Heathrow and neither is too long, meaning I can take a few days off AFTER each con to recuperate. I’m never going back to the office the day after a con again!

Con Highlights:

Panels!

I went to a lot of panels over the last couple weeks so I couldn’t name them all, but there were some outstanding ones. At Nine Worlds, I loved The Vampire vs Werewolves vs Dragons vs Warlocks debate, which had authors debating the merits of each (dragons won); Paul Cornell’s Only a Moment panel; and the Costume talks in the fandom track, which had @Hello_Tailor discussing the impact of film/TV costumes on the narrative, and @whatkatie_did talking about stealth cosplay! At Loncon, my favourite was hands down the Diversity in YA panel, which had great panelists and moderation. I also really enjoyed the various Kaffeeklatsches and Literary Beers I got to attend, with Emma Newman, Mur Lafferty, Seanan McGuire & Mary Robinette Kowal.

Cosplay!

dariajaneI cosplayed all three days at Nine Worlds! My costumes weren’t the most involved I’ve ever had, but they were generally well received. In the end I got enough of Nine World’s new ‘Awesome Cosplay’ tokens to win a little goody bag with candy, a toy dinosaur and an ‘Outstanding Cosplay’ badge!!

On Friday, @Jenepel and I went as Daria and Jane, which was tons of fun, except that I wore a wig and contacts and pretty much no one recognised me as me. I kept having to point as my name tag and be all “Hi, we’re friends!”. On Saturday, I wore my Sally Skellington dress but without the white sleeves or face-paint. I think that worked well as a compromise between cosplay and looking like myself! On Sunday, I was Tank Girl, which was THE BEST to make, but which I forgot to take a picture of! Must dress in it again soon for photo-op!

Books!

photo 5I got some free books in my Nine Worlds welcome pack, at the Gollancz party there and from the Helsinki in 2017 bid (because I’d just supported it). I also bought lots of books, so now I have a nice stack of them. I even got a few signed. :)

New people!

I got to meet so many new people, from fans to writers I’ve admired for ages, with everyone in between; I can’t possibly name-check everybody (without forgetting some people and being rude). I knew fewer people at Loncon, but volunteering and being chatty do really help! Because a bunch of my friends were at Nine Worlds, hanging out in the bar there was great fun (except for the price of everything!) and led to meeting even more people. I had nice chats with people after the New Voices panels too!

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Salted Caramel Cupcakes & Other Crafts!

My good friends Brett & Rachel recently got married, which was a great excuse for indulging in many a glass of Pimms, a literal stack of cheeses, and best of all, ALL OF THE CRAFTS!

Between wedding cupcakes, a guest book and the most involved handmade present I think I’ll ever make, I spent a lot of time before this wedding doing three of my favourite things: quilting, bookbinding and baking.

The Giantest Quilt That Was Ever Quilted!

A few months back, I took a quilting class with @Jenepel. We both thoroughly enjoyed it and were already planning many a lap quilt when we found the gorgeous Downton Abbey fabric collection. We kept thinking how much the bride would love those fabrics and what a good wedding present a quilt would be, so we decided that one day-long class had probably taught us enough to attempt a full size quilt. On a deadline. A very short deadline.

quiltWe decided on making a quilt quickly, but discussed which pattern, which fabrics, how to arrange them together… for ages before we actually ordered any of the fabric and started working. Hence the tight, tight deadline. We’ll know better for the next quilt!

We chose a traditional pin wheels design and lots of blues, and then we cut, pressed, pinned and sewed frantically for evening after evening.

We watched lots and lots of episodes of Daria, and did our best to keep the cats from sniffing too close to the sewing machine. The scale surprised me, though I guess it shouldn’t have. In retrospect, the self-imposed tiny deadline made it a tad stressful, but all in all it was good fun. Now that it’s done and we’ve given it to the happy couple, it definitely feels worth it. Even that scary bit where the needle broke mid sewing and landed in my fingernail…

OMG, I Made a BOOK for someone’s WEDDING!

Shortly before the wedding, the bride and groom asked me to make their guest book, which I was thrilled about. I’ve made some books before, but I still watched a lot of YouTube videos to refresh my memory on coptic stitch binding. I found the channel Sea Lemon particularly helpful! Her tutorials are so clear and detailed, I’d definitely recommend them for beginner or advanced book binders.

WeddingBookThe book itself is A5 and portrait, which made it really easy to find material for the pages and covers. As per Sea Lemon host Jennifer’s advice, I bought an A4 drawing pad and used the paper for the pages and the cardboard back for the covers. The book is made of recycled paper and has twelve four-page signatures, so there’s plenty of space for messages.

For the cover, I was very lucky to find a vintage map of London in the first shop I looked. Because it’s in black and white, it works really well as a background and doesn’t clash with the other elements.

The colour scheme was purple, so I used purple card stock, ribbon and waxed bookbinding thread. I special ordered the thread instead of making my own because I wanted to be sure the book would last. You can’t see it very well here, but I’ve bound it in two different colours, which was totally a design decision and not an oh-darn-I’ve-run-out-of-thread decision.

OM NOM NOM CUPCAKES!

BothCupcakesInstead of a wedding cake, there were many different flavours of cupcakes, all handmade by wedding guests.

I brought in two different batches, Cookies & Cream/Oreo cupcakes and Salted Caramel cupcakes. They were gone fast and I kept getting compliments for them all night long, which made me all giddy (definitely the compliments and not the Pimms!).

The Oreo cupcakes followed this Cookies & Cream Cupcakes recipe from Bakerella to the letter, as I’d had pretty good comments about it every time I made them. It’s a fairly straightforward recipe which makes a lovely and moist chocolate sponge. The trick is that the batter has some milk and hot water added in, which keeps it from drying out. I also used this sponge for the Salted Caramel cupcakes; one batch and a half yielded just about 24 cupcakes.

The Salted Caramel cupcakes went down particularly well, with several people asking me for a recipe, so I thought I’d share it here:

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Salted Caramel Cupcakes Recipe

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Ingredients: 

  • A batch of Bakerella’s chocolate cupcake (see link below)
  • A 397 gr tin of Carnation Caramel. You can also make Dulce de Leche by boiling a similar sized can of condensed milk, but buying the caramel will save you four hours.
  • 150 gr butter
  • 500 gr icing sugar
  • fine table salt
  • good quality sea salt, preferably Fleur de Sel

For the cupcakes:

Bake a batch of Bakerella’s chocolate cupcakes from this post, it should yield 12 cupcakes comfortably, likely more.

When the cupcakes have cooled a bit, use a teaspoon to make a small hole in the top of each, then spoon in a good dollop of your caramel and sprinkle on a small pinch of your good salt. This will take the cupcakes from nice-and-moist level into OMG-caramel-gooey-deliciousness territory.

For the buttercream: 

Mix the butter, about 50 gr of caramel, and two or three good pinches of fine table salt with an electric mixer. Once it’s reached a creamy consistency, start adding the icing sugar little by little. Taste to check that you’re happy with the saltiness, and adjust if needed.

Spread or pipe the buttercream onto the cupcakes, and finish them up with a drizzle of caramel and a pinch of the good sea salt. Voila!![/box]

Let me know what you think if you try the recipe!!