Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Queen o't'owd Thatch

While not reading books and failing to get round to blogging about them I often find myself on a bike riding about North Yorkshire generally on the way to,  or the way back from a pub. And it has come to my notice that there is a peculiar cluster of gastropubs (no, mister predictive text, I did not want to say gastropods, even though there are plenty of the about as well) north west of York.
There's the Dawnay Arms at Newton on Ouse, and a little past that the Crown at Great Ouseburn, which is rather wonderful, even if they haven't got anywhere to park a bike. There's the Durham Oxford at  Crayke and apparently a new place at Lower Dunsforth, which I shall try at some point. There's obviously something in the water, or perhaps that bit of land more or less equidistant from York, Rippon and Harrogate that means people all head there when fancying a drive out, a drink and a nice meal.
Now I like these places. All do good food, most do good beer, all provide a nice bike ride to get there, and all of them are rather in the wrong direction to meet up with most of my friends, who tend to live to the south.
So where are the other good foodie pubs? You would have thought that if the York / Rippon / Harrogate triangle would keep so many going them there would be a similar cluster between York and Leeds, but they seem far less common.
Discussing this at work a friend suggests the improbably named Queen o't'owd Thatch, in South Millford. Checking the maps, it's about 20 miles, it's a surprisingly nice and sunny day, so why not?
I'm here for lunch on a Saturday, and perhaps a bit early - I don't think there are any other customers in when I arrive, though some are trickling in as I write this. It's a nice open place with a large dining area and only a few more pubbish tables to one side. Definitely good attentive staff, which of course may be a side effect of not having many people in to attend to.
Impressions: you often find that foodie pubs are a little less imaginative when it comes to be than the food and wine, which might be the case here. Leeds Pale, York Terrier,  Ossett Blonde. All good reliable drinks, even if none of them are surprising. Nice to get the beer in a proper old fashioned mug with a handle. I don't know many places that still use them. Are they more expensive? Do they take up too much space in the dishwasher?
The QoTT obviously does think about the wine a lot, since the menu suggests a type ideally paid with every course, which I am strenuously ignoring in favour of beer. They even have an extensive list of cocktails, with a fair number of non - alcoholic options.
As I said, good attentive staff, who check exactly how is like my beef done, and I'm pleased to have some wait for the food to arrive. There's little worse than the sense that the food was sat under a warming lamp just waiting for you to come in. And it's a good bit of beef, pink and succulent on the inside, crisp and slightly smokey on the outside. If there's a criticism then it's that I'd have liked a little more in the way of veg with it - yes, there were side dishes in the menu, but I never expect to have to think of greenery an extra. Remember that for next time. It was a very nice bit of beef,  with mash and turnips and a wonderful intense sauce, which I expect a proper good blogger would call jus.
So to contemplate desert. I don't normally go for pudding when cycling out to pubs, but there's a lemon tart calling to me and what the hell? Throw caution to the wind. And I am a sucker for a good lemon tart. And (he writes a few minutes later) that was a splendid lemon tart, sharp citrus complemented by raspberry sorbet and completely lacking in soggy bottom.
So all in all? I can't see this being somewhere on a regular pilgrimage route, but so somewhere to suggest to meet up with friends in Leeds or coming up the M1, certainly. It's not cheap, but good food shouldn't be. And it says definitely good food.

Friday, 21 June 2013


By Terry Pratchett
Not  Discworld for a change. Second non-Discworld in the last few years now that I thinks about it,  following,  but quite unlike Nation a few years ago.
I'm not entirely sure why this isn't set in the more familiar milieu though. Nation,  taking themes from Robinson Crusoe and The Coral Island could have be said to take place on a previously unknown island in the middle of an unknown Disc sea,  but it would have added nothing. This is a Dickens pastiche, and the modern Ankh-Morepork is pretty much evolving into a  steampunk version of Victorian London as it is.  But this is the real London,  so let it be.  And if Sir Terry needs a break now and again from his well worn settings to keep things fresh,  then more power to him.
Our protagonist is not quite the slightly older incarnation of Oliver Twist's friend,  but it's close. The suggestion,  seeing as how the great novelist appears as a character is perhaps that this Dodger is the inspiration of the literary  character,  which is a bit meta for a Friday afternoon. We have here a bit of Dickens,  a bit of  Ruritanian romance,  in which an urchin saves an girl from swarthy European ne'er do wells, eventually earning the appreciation of Her Majesty, after plots,  double dealing and chases through the sewers under the streets of London.
There's honestly nothing wrong with the book.  It's a romp,  does what it sets out to do,  no point trying to read loss of drop thought into it because there wasn't any great thought in it.  Or perhaps I'm being more than normally obtuse. But let's take it as gave value. A romp.  A heroe risen from the streets,  from beneath the streets even,  with a heart of gold and no discernable flaws. All rather easy really. Perhaps that's why I felt it kind of lacking.
I applaud Sir Terry's willingness to try something new,  I just didn't really think there was enough depth to it.

Friday, 14 June 2013


By Ramez Naam
I never really got cyberpunk.  Friends did.  Friends were terribly keen.  I vaguely know someone who still dresses in a heavy leather coast and mirrorshades in a manner nominally derived from William Gibson,  but despite there being decent scenes,  I could never be bothered to read beyond Necromancer.
This is perhaps what cyberpunk has evolved into,  and I rather enjoyed it.
Disclaimer: the book was somewhere between a gift and a bribe from the author who was trying to secure a nomination for the Hugo awards, by offering chips of his novel to anyone able to give it a nod. I do not know if such things are considered 'sporting', but I thought I should at least read the thing before allowing the bribe to work.
2040 or thereabouts. The terrorist weapons of choice by now are tailored bioweapons, especially those that allow criminals to subvert the will of innocent bystanders, nasty things that have hit America several times,  rendering the authorities deeply jumpy.
Into this we mix an innocent,  which might even be thought of as naive,  researcher who is working to transform a party drug allowing fleeting impressions of others thoughts into a permanent enhancement to the human brain allowing effective telepathy.
The descriptions of the nanotech involved are reasonably convincing,  especially given the recent stories about connecting rats' brains together (link). Kade, our naive hero is convinced that this kind of communication will bring only good to the world,  despite the repeated evidence of it being really scary shit. Two way communications are great,  but what about one mind controlling the nanotech in another's body? What if one could therefore cause someone to kill themself, or someone else?
But Kade doesn't worry about that kind of thing. Not at first anyhow. Open,  free communications,  that's the thing. Raided by the specialist anti-scary tech cops he is blackmailed into trying to infiltrate the research group of a particularly worrying Chinese academic who's work may be responsible for a wave of unexplained assassinations. So off he reluctantly trots to a conference in Bangkok,  with a buffed out handler,  who may herself be exactly the kind of post-human that she's supposed to stop. And shenanigans ensue.
There's a nice ambiguity to the book. Hardly anyone's evil,  though many are pretty irresponsible. Given the awful things some of these emergent Telford can do,  resisting them seems fairly sensible, even if their methods are extreme.  The technologists for the most part are looking to build a better future,  even if they've not much clue about the ways their tools could be subverted. Those that don't reject human culture and society in favour of the  transhuman world they aim to create.
I remember years ago working in an office that was just getting internal email for the first time,  with managers horribly worried about what uncontrolled communication might do to their sense of control.  "How will I know who's been told what?" they would say. The same conversations happen now with regard to Skype,  and must have done with telephones and telegraphs and probably the printing press. We fear the new,  until a few years later when we can't remember being without it. There's a lot in the new here to be fearful about,  but the telling is solid. The whole thing collapses into a firefight at the end which is less interesting than the socio-political questions,  but I enjoyed it.
He didn't get onto the shortlist though.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Scar

By China Mieville
Only the second CM I've read (more will follow) and sadly not quite as mindblowing as Perdido Street Station. But still pretty damn good.
Linguist Bellis Coldwine is fleeing from New Crozubon, having been somewhere on the edges of PSS and having seen those closer to the action rounded up and arrested, which isn't all that surprising given the problems they caused.
Sailing rather reluctantly to a new land is further spoilt by her ship's capture by the pirate city of Armada  a mobile conurbation assembled from the thousands of vessels seized over the centuries. She doesn't like being impressed, even if it is to serve as a librarian rather than, as she expected, a deck hand, not terribly surprising, and spends much of the book plotting an escape, or rather being manipulated by a Crozubonite spy captured with her, as Armada procedes on a reckless course seeking to achieve vast power by capturing an avanc, a primordial sea monster and using it as an outboard motor.
All reasonably fun and there are plenty of adventures along the way, perilous journeys onto the island of the dreaded mosquito women and into forbidden oceans while fighting off attacks from the navy and vampiric uprisings, but it never struck me as having as much to say as it's predecessor. An Amiable enough fantasy-pirate romp I suppose, but I can't see myself re-reading it. 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Whispers Under Ground

By Ben Aaronovitch
Honestly nothing new to say. I enjoyed it, I'll be keeping an eye out for the fourth in the series. But I've already written about the first two.


By Chris Roper
I'm rather writing this on the assumption that hardly anyone will read it. The review that is. Perhaps people will read the book, and hopefully they'll enjoy out more than I did.
Chris is someone from work, who has taken the bold step of publishing his first fiction through Amazon. In this I applaud him. Unfortunately it's a Big Dumb Object story, and it's only in thinking about how to review this and previously Heaven's Shadow that I have come to realise how much I dislike that sub-genre of SF.
The story's about a relatively near future space mission sent to deliver a mcguffin to Triton forced to make emergency maneuvers which lead it drifting out towards the Kuiper belt with no hope of rescue before discovering a mysterious black cube that may be a conduit to another universe.
So we've got the BDO problem, coupled here with the fact that of the only three characters, two are certainly insane, and the third might be. 
It's not badly written or anything, it's just starting off with all the cards stacked against it. At least as far as I'm concerned.  Your mileage may vary.
Sorry Chris.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Heaven's Shadow

By David Goyer and Michael Cassutt
There's an awful lot of Arthur C. Clarke to this book, coupled perhaps with Steven Baxter's NASA series.
Ten years into a what might already be an alternate future, in which the US space agency has been kicked back into a space race with an Indian-Russian-Brazilian coalition and missions to the Moore once again a going concern, an asteroid is detected making a close approach to Earth and the latest moonshot is diverted to visit it.
Not the only ones mind you, since a suspiciously well prepared coalition craft is also trying to be the first men on Keanu. Two spaceships land, as the asteroid starts to behave very oddly, revealing itself not to be a passing rock, but a star craft from who knows where.
Exploring the object reveals a cavernous interior able to create alien creatures and raise the dead, much to the discomfort of astronauts confronted by their dead wives, friends or children. There is evidence to suggest the mysterious Architects, creators of this world, whatever their motives might be, strange things in the body of the object, further in, further in.
Very Rendezvous With Rama. More immediate, more now, but very similar concepts.
I half liked it. I enjoyed the bulk of the stuff on Earth, with mission control scurrying about trying to form a sensible response to what might be an attack from the stars. Rather a sense of the whole Apollo-13 scrubbers episode, very clever men suddenly out of their comfort zones. The central astronaut was a bit dull, but well formed. In fact pretty much all the characters are well presented, rounded people, even if the American called Tea left me wondering if she had a sister called Coffee. Yes. I know Te-a.
So what was it I didn't like.
It occurs to be that there is in fact an entire Big Dumb Object sub-genre of science fiction that I don't care for. I was never that excited by Rama. Of all the Known Space books, Ringworld is the one I care least for. I know people who rhapsodise about Greg Bear's Eon, but it left me very cold. This is the same.
So you get these books and in them you haver some space explorers find a thing. What kind of thing? A big thing. An alien thing. Often involving a tunnel. So they dock/land/crash their spaceship at one end of the tunnel and weird shit starts to happen. And the further in they go the weirder the shit is. And eventually the shit gets so weird that they run back to the mothership and escape, often leaving one or two people behind.
It all becomes about exploring the unknowable. Instead of being driven, as the first half of the book is, but people and their interactions and competitions it just devolves into pushing further in and seeing how much weirdness the author can come up with. Which is generally lot when not constrained by much need for it all to make sense.
Essentially you get something formulated as a mystery, but without any ability to solve it. That lovely understanding that comes when the writer's presented their clues just right, so you grasp the plot a page or two before the hero? Impossible.
Obviously some people like this style of book. They're welcome to it.
There's a sequel, indeed I think there may even be an unpublished third volume. Unless I hear lots of people praising it to the high heavens, I think I'll give them a miss.