Hugo Recommendation Season: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

So between holiday season and the local windpocalpyse that had us without power for nearly a week, I haven’t been keeping current writing up Hugo recommendations for the last month, but I also haven’t had strong opinions about the recent categories either. I’ve been content to read others’ recommendations, rather than formulating any recommendations of my own, and those have been tremendously helpful.

With Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) coming up, however, I do have some opinions. Rather than yet another review of Mad Max or Star Wars, however, I wanted to suggest something that hasn’t received quite as much critical attention.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell

So, true confession, I haven’t actually read Susanna Clarke’s book on which the seven-part BBC miniseries adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is based. But having read a few disgruntled reviews of the series from fans of the book who objected to the liberties that the BBC took with the source material, I’m at least in a good place to judge the series on its own merits rather than in comparison to a beloved book.

Visually, it’s gorgeous, with a moody, atmospheric palette and beautiful production design, but it’s no secret that the BBC already does period drama well. The truly pleasant surprise was the casting: Bertie Carvel is equally at home playing Jonathan Strange, the waggish upstart, as he is Jonathan Strange, the man pushed in way too deep by his own hubris and self-promotion. And Eddie Marsan, as Mr Norrell, nails the part in both its reclusive timidity and its incendiary jealousy.

There’s some GGI involved – this is an alternative nineteenth-century where magic is real, after all – but the show is tastefully parsimonious in its application, reserving the special effects for climactic scenes where they’ll have the biggest impact, while well-written dialog and character development do the real heavy lifting. The series in total clocks in around seven hours total, but well worth a weekend binge watch.

Hugo Recommendation Season: Galen Dara

Edit: Since I posted this, Lightspeed has announced that, as of 2015, they no longer qualify as a semi-prozine, which means Dara’s 2015 art for Lightspeed is considered professional in Hugo terms, namely her illustrations for And You Shall Know Her By The Trail of Dead, He Came From a Place of Openness and Truth, and Time Bomb Time.

Galen Dara is another artist I’m recommending for the Professional Artist category. Most of her work this year seems to have been in semiprozines like Lightspeed or Fireside (and semiprozine art can be considered only for the Fan Artist category), but she’s also done work that qualifies her for the Professional Artist category.

This year her work has appeared on the cover of Kevin Hearne’s Two Tales of the Iron Druid Chronicles and in the short-story collection Three Slices, including the illustrations for Chuck Wendig’s story “Swallow” and Delilah Dawson’s “Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys,” both shown below.


Not my Circus, Not My Monkeys
I think Dara really excels at using impressionistic brushstrokes and bold color contrasts to produce visceral, dynamic images. Dara won Best Fan Artist in 2013 and was nominated for Best Professional Artist in 2014. But she hasn’t yet taken home a Hugo in the latter, and I really think she merits another shot for this year’s work.

Hugo Recommendation Season: Cynthia Sheppard

It’s professional artist week at the Hugo Recommendation Season blog, and I admit I find it challenging to talk about art. I know what I like, but struggle to explain my reasons. Still, I’ll give it a try.

Cynthia Sheppard is one of the artists whose work caught my attention this year. Her cover art for Karen Memory, below, is probably the work that the most readers will have seen this year. She’s also done covers this year for The Iron Assassin by Ed Greenwood and the forthcoming A Daughter of No Nation by A. M. Dellamonica.

Karen Memory cover art

Sheppard has also done quite a bit of artwork for the Magic: The Gathering card game. Her 2015 work includes Reclusive Artificer, Emeria Shepherd, Send to Sleep, Lithomancer’s Focus, Youthful Scholar, Harsh Sustenance, and Transgress the Mind, the latter shown below.

Transgress the Mind
So what do I like about her work? In particular, I like Sheppard’s atmospheric palette choices and her ability to imply subtle detail with soft painterly brushstrokes. She also demonstrates quite a bit of versatility with well-composed action scenes like Transgress the Mind above, as well as static scenes like the Karen Memory cover.

Hugo Recommendation Season: Rhiannon Thomas

So, next week on the 2016 Hugo Recommendation Season blog is Best Fan Writer, and so far, my list of possible nominees is made up almost entirely of individuals who have been nominated in the past or who nearly made the cut for last year’s nominations.

I expect that most of them will show up in next week’s roundups, so rather than repeat those, I figured I’d recommend someone who hasn’t gotten as much buzz: Rhiannon Thomas blogs regularly at her website, Feminist Fiction, where she discusses movies, television, novels, and video games, mostly of the SF and fantasy variety.

Feminist Fiction

She approaches media from a feminist perspective, obviously, but her writing tends to be casual and accessible, avoiding overly academic arguments or specialized jargon. She also frequently discusses YA fiction – Thomas’ own debut YA novel was published earlier this year – which doesn’t otherwise tend to get much attention among the usual suspects for Best Fan Writer.

Some of her more popular posts this year, judging from the lively comment threads, include “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken: Why that scene made no sense,” “Ant Man and the problem of Marvel’s necessary women,”  and “How to be a female superhero according to Age of Ultron,” if you want a representative sample.

She’s not quite as prolific a blogger as most of the others on my list of potential nominees, but most of what she does write is substantive and very readable.

The Unofficial Veg*n Guide to Sasquan

With Sasquan now at more than four thousand attending memberships, I figure there’s likely a nonzero number of vegetarian or vegan attendees coming to Spokane. I’m not much of a con person myself – I’m planning to stream the awards from the comfort of my own couch, maybe get a day pass for the one day I’m not working – but I do eat in downtown Spokane with some frequency, so for the two or three of you for whom this is applicable, here’s my guide to vegetarian- and vegan-friendly dining in downtown Spokane:

That One Block of Main at the East End of Downtown
So, yeah, what’s been called the hippest block in downtown Spokane doesn’t really have a name, nor can we agree on what to call it. Suggestions have included the bewildering moniker “East West Main” and the groanworthy “Little Portland,” but nothing has really stuck. But just head vaguely southeast from the conference center and look for the Main Market Co-op at the corner of Main and Browne, and you’re there.

Next door, you’ll find Boots Bakery & Lounge, one of the more popular brunch spots in Spokane. All of the food at Boots is vegan, much of it also gluten free. The food is served deli style from the case, but for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, they often have waffles prepared to order. Across the street, the Saranac Public House is one of my favorite places for casual dining, with a number of local brews on tap and ample vegetarian and vegan options on the menu. I go there nearly every week for the Thai flatbread with tofu and smoky vegan cheese.

Mediterrano at the Saranac Commons
Mediterrano at the Saranac Commons

Near the Saranac Public House, you may want to check out the recently opened indoor market, Saranac Commons. Inside, the lunch spot Mediterrano has falafel and other options, and Caffe Affogato, just across the aisle, had vegan ice cream options last time I was by. And while you’re in the Commons, keep an eye out for the magical side exit that will take you straight into Merlyn’s, downtown’s biggest location for comics and tabletop games.

Elsewhere in Downtown
For more upscale dining, you may want to make a reservation at Mizuna Restaurant and Wine Bar, about two and a half blocks west of the convention center. The menu at Mizuna rotates seasonally, but they have always have a separate vegetarian menu, much of which can be prepared vegan on request. Mizuna is also conveniently located near Spokane’s largest independent bookstore Auntie’s, tabletop game shop Uncle’s, and novelty shop Boo Radley’s, in case you want to do a little shopping.

Further west in downtown, Method Juice Cafe, just across from the STA Plaza, serves up freshly blended juices and healthy fare. The brown rice and quinoa bowl with peanut sauce is perfect for a quick lunch. And if you’re staying at the Davenport Hotel, you can hop across the street to grab a beer and a burrito at Neato Burrito, the dimly lit hipster eatery attached to Spokane’s tiny but popular Baby Bar.

North of the River
If you happen to take a stroll through Riverfront Park to gaze upon the nation’s second largest urban waterfall (and you should), it’s not much further to the Ethiopian restaurant Queen of Sheba and the gourmet sandwich shop Stella’s Cafe, both of which have vegetarian- and vegan-friendly options. While you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to check out the collections of eclectic second-hand books at Giant Nerd Books and vintage toys at Time Bomb Collectibles.

Finally, if you’re feeling particularly ambitious, I strongly recommend finding a taxi, bus, or car north up Nevada Street to Allie’s Vegan Pizzeria & Cafe. Allie’s pizzas feature fresh veggies and house-made vegan cheeses on delicately thin, hand-tossed crusts. Well worth the side trip out of downtown.