The 2006 Clarke Awards

The Clarke Awards judging meeting and award ceremony was fun. Hard work at times, but fun.

And in case you didn’t know, I can now reveal that after the longest judges meeting ever (over three and a half hours!) we finally chose Geoff Ryman’s wonderful novel Air, which I highly recommend you all go out and buy.

It was a terrifically hard-fought (but always congenial) judges meeting that really did come right down to the wire – the award and cheque are supposed to be given out just after seven o’clock, and we were still arguing at 5.45. And as Paul Kincaid, our superb adjudicator and Clarke Award “handyman” extraordinaire pointed out both in the meeting and at the awards ceremony: any of the six books would have been an entirely worthy winner this year, and all of them are very well worth a look.

But in the end we had to pick just one winner, and it was Air

Clarke Award
2006 Clarke Award judges

I only finished rereading it on the bus home the day before (and only seconds before I reached my stop, too!), and as much as I’ve been honoured to be a Clarke judge – and as much as I’ve enjoyed it, too – I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief that it was at last done with. I’m not a judge next year, although I may well be in 2008 or 2009 (you’re only allowed to serve as a judge for two years), because Millie now occupies a lot of the time I would have spent reading before, plus, it did get a bit claustrophobic at times last year, having no choice about what you get to read; so I’m now going to spend most of the next few months on some non-genre fiction and a whole bunch of non-fiction books.

I have to say, also, that the Clarke Award ceremony this year was quite a step up from the last few – there was free booze, delicious free food and a fantastic venue (the Apollo West End cinema – so posh it has what looks like ice in the troughs in the gents’ toilets!). All this is because the Clarke’s have linked up with the Sci-Fi London film festival, which is going on till Sunday night, showing a wide range of new and new-ish sf films (I’ve been along to see a few films there over the last few years, and some of their fare is really good).

I also finally got to meet the very lovely Keith Brooke, the guy who gave me my first “big break” in book reviewing back in about 1998, I think it was, after I emailed to ask him if he had any tips on getting a job in sf publishing (he didn’t, but he did ask me if I’d like to try writing some book reviews for his highly respected website, Infinity Plus). A pleasure to finally meet you, Keith. 🙂

I had to stand up in front of everyone at the award, as one of the judges, and give a little wave. I chatted briefly with Charles Stross, Geoff “The Champ” Ryman and Alastair Reynolds – all nominees, all very very nice folks indeed.

Isn’t it nice when people you admire and respect turn out to be, well, not bastards?

Then I drank a little more free beer, nibbled on a few more complementary cocktail sausages and, tired, a little bit tipsy, but happy, decided it was time to head home to the family.

Better lake than never – finally, an update on our Lake District holiday

Bah, I’m never going to get the time to do a full update on all the exciting stuff we’ve been up to for the past (cough) days, so let’s just wipe the slate clean, have a very quick update and then try to get back to normal, eh?

First of all, Millie.

While we were on holiday in the Lake District (did I mention we’d been on holiday in the Lake District over Easter? For a week, sharing a cottage with 8 other adults and four very young children – of which Millie was the youngest, but not by much – we had a very nice time indeed, despite some initial trepidation about being trapped in a single house in the middle of nowhere with four babies – we were very scared about a domino effect with babies crying, i.e. one starts crying, which starts another one off, which starts them all off and the crying then goes on forever in a self-reinforcing cycle… Fortunately that didn’t happen.

Anyway, while we were on holiday in the Lake District Millie manifested a new ability – that of happily floating in a big bath completely unsupported! I’d always held her head up in the little “baby bath” we had at home, (so that she wouldn’t drown, or something like that, which sounds a bit silly now, really). But whilst in the Lake District (did I mention that we’d been to the Lakes…?) there was no baby bath, there being no room to put it in the little Vauxhall Astra we hired to get us up there, so we had to bath Millie in the Big Bath, which we have done before and which has always induced hysterical crying in Millie previously, so we were understandably nervous about doing it in a strange place.

But…no, Millie bobbed about on her back, was surprised to get water in her eyes a couple of times, but then learnt the rule that “While floating in a bath you will always get water in your eyes if you turn your head too far to the left or right”. And so we’ve been bathing her since we got back in the big bath – she was getting a little bit big for the baby bath anyway, a fact that I still find startling, remembering how small she looked in it to begin with.

What else? Er, well, Millie was almost as good as gold on the journey to and from the Lake District (did I mention that we’d…? I did? OK.) The journey took us seven hours each way, which sounds horrendous, but a good two hours of that was spent in service stations feeding the fat baby, and the journey felt much much easier than the five hours it normally takes with just a single quick stop to take a piss.

While we were away (in the Lake District…) a combined strike force of my parents and the Lovely Melanie’s parents invaded our house and, in a top-secret, hush-hush operation of devastating effectiveness fitted lino in our kitchen and bathroom. Fortunately, there were no civilian casualties, just a vastly improved living environment for all of us (especially once I’d fitted some blinds in the kitchen, which is now one of the three rooms in our house that I regard as “completed”). 

Now, keep this under your hat – loose lips sink ships and all that – but, flushed with the success of “Operation Lino” the top brass are buzzing about plans to carpet Millie’s room. Remember, mum’s the word, eh?

Doubtless I’ll remember something else to add later but that’ll have to do for now. Hope you’re all well and everything – I’m off to finish judging the Clarke Awards tomorrow, and thence to the awards ceremony – and I’m reliably informed that even the token “non-sf” writer up for an award, Kazuo Ishiguro, is planning to attend.
So there you go. 😉

ID cards – a bad idea

As a number of people have said to me over the past year when discussing the forcible introduction of ID cards into the UK,
“Why are you against them? Only people with something to hide will have anything to worry about.”
In reply to which I post the following (a large part of which is shamelessly lifted from Charlie Stross’s excellent blog)

OK, so you haven’t done anything wrong, you’ve no reason to be scared of the police, the government, debt-collectors, immigration or the social security fraud squad; and you’re not bothered about the endlessly exciting possibilities open to anyone who can hack the government ID card database and pretend to be you, and therefore the ID card idea is a good idea, yes?

Jolly good, so you won’t mind in the least being forced by law to do all of the following, will you?

ATTEND an appointment to be photographed, have your fingerprints taken and iris scanned, or be fined up to £2500. Additional fines of up to £2500 may be levied each time you fail to comply until you submit to these procedures.
PROMPTLY INFORM the police or Home Office if you lose your card or it becomes defective, or face a fine of up to £1000. If you find someone else’s card and do not immediately hand it in, you may have committed a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment for up to two years or a fine, or both.
PROMPTLY INFORM the National Identity Register of any change of address or face a fine of up to £1000 (you will supply evidence of your previous addresses, not just your current address).
PROMPTLY INFORM the National Identity Register of significant changes to your personal life or any errors they have made or face a fine of up to £1000. You may also be obliged to submit to being re-interviewed, re-photographed, re-fingerprinted and re-scanned, or face a fine.
PAY between £30 and £93 (Home Office estimates — every other body involved says it will be substantially more) to be registered, with further charges possible to change your details and to replace a lost or stolen card.

If you’re quite happy with all that, then well done, you! You’re an awful lot more patient and forgiving than I am.
And since you’ll have an ID card you’ll be eligible for all of the following “privileges”:

You’ll be allowed by the government to:

  • Rent or sell a home
  • Stay in a hotel
  • Buy or sell a car
  • Buy a mobile phone
  • Open or close a bank account
  • Travel overseas
  • Obtain medical care
  • Attend an institute of education
  • Work or run a business
  • Be declared dead (or alive)
  • Be registered to vote

What a glittering array of bright “new” opportunities await you!

Cup of tea and a chinwag

Ahh… Morning. Wait a minute, let me just get a cup of tea and then we can have a good old chinwag.

Doh, the kettle’s taking ages to boil!

Well, anyway, so how have you been? What have you been up to? Oh, yeah, really? Yeah, we’re cool, great, you know; been pretty busy what with one thing and another. The garden’s coming along a treat – you should come and see it, and…

There’s no need to shout, I was going to mention Millie in a moment.

Yes, I’m sorry it’s been so long, but… Oh, hold on: the kettle’s boiled now.

Ooh, lovely tea. Slurp.

Sluuuuurrrrrrrrrp.

Yeah, so, um, anyway, been very busy, or resting between bouts of busy-ness. We were in Swindon for one weekend, Hertford for another; I had a night out with the boys (and girls) this last weekend. I’ve also been working very hard in the garden. And the computer broke for quite a few days – screen went all funny so we bought a cheap new one from eBay. Turns out it wasn’t the screen, but the graphics card, so we had to get a new graphics card (a GeCube Radeon x800GTO 128Mb, for those of you making notes).

Millie remains just fine. We were, perhaps, a little premature with the walking announcement. She’s still making some sterling progress on that walking action, but it’s very much a work in progress, and has been somewhat sidelined by her newfound interest in the whole Michael Flatley, Lord Of The Dance-type phenomenon. If she’s in the right mood and if she’s held up with her feet just above the floor then Millie will do a very respectable imitation of all that fiddly-diddley Oirish dancing malarkey.

She’s also had her first taste of dead animal flesh – so far some fish and some chicken; as with most new experiences (e.g. mirrors, cats, plants, outdoors, her grandparents talking to her on Skype, etc…) she was absolutely gobsmacked by it to begin with, but soon recovered and quite enjoyed it.

Which is a terribly good thing as the main problem we have with Millie these days is getting her to eat. Unless she’s absolutely starving Millie doesn’t enjoy eating: she finds it tiring and boring and long-winded – and so do her parents, quite frankly, because she takes so bloomin’ long at it.

The first time we saw another baby drink a bottle of milk in less than 10 minutes it was we who were gobsmacked! The Lovely Melanie and I both assumed that all babies took about an hour to drink a bottle of milk, and that they all usually left at least a quarter of it.

(actually, I say “to drink“, but I really mean “forced to drink through a combination of cheek squeezing, raised voices, shaking of the bottle and – peculiarly – imitation fart noises, which Millie finds terribly distressing”)
It’s the one thing that makes life with Millie difficult; because mealtimes are such a drawn-out exhausting process we’re loath to try and feed her in public.

On the plus side, she still sleeps very very well, for the most part. The same baby that we saw drink a bottle in ten minutes apparently leads his parents a bit of a merry dance at nights, so it’s all swings and roundabouts…

What else has happened…? Hm. Let me get some tea a second… Mmmm.

Not strictly Millie news, but I went up in a microlight the weekend before last. Only for 15 minutes, mind, as a heavy rainstorm was coming in so we had to land pretty sharpish. I’m going to go back probably sometime in June to finish off my lesson. If you get a chance to do a microlight flight I highly recommend it – microlights these days look more like very very very small ordinary planes, rather than the hang-glider with a lawnmower engine tied on the back that I was expecting, but they’re still very small and truly amazing to fly in. With a large passenger aircraft (which is all I’d flown in before) it’s not unlike being on a train, except for the remarkable scenery out the window; in a microlight you’redefinitely not on solid ground any more, and I was very much aware of there being only a thin sheet of metal under my feet. I can’t wait to get up there again for a full 45 minutes! 😉

I could also mention flooring in our house, but I won’t.

I will mention that the Clarke Award final judging panel is on the 26th. And just add that I’m going to take a sabbatical from science fiction for a few months once that’s done. I desperately want to read some non-fiction and some non-science fiction.

And one other thing… What was the other thing…? Other thing…other thing…

Ah, of course: the sewer trip!

No, we haven’t done it yet, but did get confirmation from Thames Water the other day about it. Apparently there’s a finger buffet beforehand (yes, it is “a good job it’s before and not after!” as almost nobody has said to me…) and a presentation, and then we descend into the depths of the sewers at West Ham for just over an hour… And I promise to try to get some photographs.

OK, now my cup of tea is empty, and I really have to get on with some work before my boss notices I’m not really subtitling, just typing this!