The Full Lid 17th May 2019

Welcome friends! I'm Alasdair Stuart, professionally enthusiastic pop culture analyst, podcaster and 2019 Best Fan Writer Hugo finalist. This is The Full Lid, my weekly pop culture enthusiasm download.  Let's see what's on deck, shall we?


One More Go
Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water
Spotlight: Foz Meadows
So Where Can We Find You This Week?
Signing Off/Playing Out
Spoilers abound and sharing is caring so if you enjoy this issue, let your friends know. Now, let's open the lid!
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One More Go

We visited the National Video Game Museum last weekend and it was great. Not just because ‘here is a giant room full of video games you can play for free’ is an inherently great concept but because of how it’s curated and, oddly, how it isn’t finished.

Games are a deeply weird medium because they’re arguably the only one (Aside from podcasting) where the beginning is still in living memory. That beginning is in the NVM too, a small, beige plastic box and cathode ray tube TV with green text that says BBC ACORN. It only now strikes me how incredibly appropriate that name is, given what’s grown from that machine and it’s ilk. The Acorn, by the way, is located in The Lab, a side room of the NVGM which also includes coding tools for kids, a motion sensor rig you can play with and various games. Some of them are demos or in beta testing like Lightmatter, which I spent a lot of time with. You’re visiting a science facility built into a mountain when the science becomes Science. Guided out by the grumpy Cave Johnson-alike whose project it is, you have to manipulate your surroundings to stay in the light. Because every shadow will kill you. It’s got that Portal ‘feral science’ feel to it mixed with a great, monochrome graphic palette that throws stark light and shadow everywhere. Once this is done, I’m going to pick it up.

So that’s a game I would never have known existed. That’s still being built. And you can play for free in a museum. Video games are a mercurial, protean field where the future pays homage to the past (As evidenced by the multiple Street Fighter arcade machines) and the past plays host to the future. That’s as reassuring as it is inspiring and it’s the NVM through and through.

That variety runs through everything in the building and even how the building is laid out. One of the first things you see is the massive, NORAD-style wall of Donkey Kong at the top of this piece. Along the far wall an actual Space Invaders machine sits happily between various Street Fighters, Dance Dance Revolution, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other classics. It’s like the Source Wall only with unlimited credits and if you want nostalgia then that is absolutely where you’re going to spend time.

Sandwiched between them are the rest of the displays which is where things get really interesting.. There’s a smattering of the Marios and Sonics you’d expect but they’re side by side with some really odd and very cool choices. Indie classic Spelunky sits in an arcade cabinet like an indie kid wearing her dad’s jacket and making it look awesome. A pinball machine is actually a dressed up iPad running Inks, the single most beautiful pinball game I’ve ever played. Eccentric Japanese imports rub shoulders with ancient and venerable NES games and art installations which change the way you think about what a game is. One of the best, and most popular games the NVM has is a one dimensional eight foot tall loop of LEDs. One of my absolute favorites, is a small, polite TV tucked away in the back of the Lab called THERE IS NO GAME.  You can play it further down this newsletter. Isn’t the future amazing sometimes?!!

The through line here is creativity, and fun and it shows. With the exception of the original Duck Hunt there are no gun games and the most popular fighting game by far is a local company’s, again in beta testing, four person comedy beat’em’up. The visitors were an even gender split with a massive amount of kids. The overall effect was like those arcades you were never old enough to get into, except now you can, they cost less and there’s a surprisingly great coffee shop on one side.

The NVM is everything good about video games, constantly evolving and changing like the medium it celebrates. Creativity, respect for the past rather than the fetishisation of it, total interest in the future and above all else, an open armed embrace of the escapism and joy this deeply weird field can bring. The past and the future, open to anyone who walks through the doors. It’s an extraordinary place to spend some time and, I suspect, an even more extraordinary one to come back to. After all, just one more go can’t hurt...

Mike Bithell's games are complex, literate, fun and occasionally cheerfully nasty. They demand forward thinking, emotional engagement and occasional strategic violence. So they are a perfect fit for this.

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water

Bee is a telepath in her own personal Hell. Locked into a constantly evolving set of caves, filled with rushing water, hungry insects and constant danger, Bee’s only companions are Chela, her love and fellow telepath and her guilt. Bee knows one thing; they deserve to be here, their powers locked behind a wall, their bodies trapped in eternal darkness. Bee is a war criminal, a bomb you bury but can never diffuse. At least, that’s what she's been told.

Kaftan’s novella moves as fast as it’s leads. It starts on the run and with a sweaty palmed approach to both the incarceration and the claustrophobia. This is exertion as punishment, location as incarceration and it’s viscerally well presented. I’ve not seen this sort of scenario this well done since I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream and the novella plays several of the same notes, albeit in a darker key and on more up to date instruments.

But as it goes on, what comes to the fore is not the situation but Bee herself. Kaftan has an extraordinary eye for character and there isn’t a page here where the central relationship doesn’t feel real and grounded. Bee is brave, determined, heartbroken. Chela is cheerful, tough and the light that Bee sees by in more ways than one. Their romance has the tired, bruised intimacy of people in difficult situations finding victory, happiness, safety where they can. Their interactions have a pace and snap to them that’s up there with the best dialogue you’ve heard. You like these people. You believe them. You worry about them.

And then Kaftan shifts focus and you can see that while Bee and Chela have been making their way through the labyrinth they’ve also been solving a puzzle, one they have very different attitudes to. The second half of the novella explores not only this but the different ways they use their abilities and the cost of that usage, both personal and societal. Kaftan uses language with surgical precision, giving shape and form to the unknowable and invisible powers the women have but are terrified to use. Then, we're shown why they’re terrified to use them and we understand everything. The world building, the characters, the prose, all of it never breaks eye contact. Even as Kaftan systematically challenges everything the characters, and you, know

Her Silhouette, Drawn In Water is a love story, a horror story, a thriller and a puzzle. It’s deceptively clever and always has a card up its sleeve. It’s final act, for Bee and for the reader, is one of trust and both earn that trust completely. A quiet, immensely confident work from one of the strongest writers publishing today and yet another strong entry in Tor’s Novella line. It's available now.

There is no game. Seriously. Don't click through. Nothing will happen. Because there is no game.


Frank is a caretaker who is himself under care. One of a crew of volunteers spending decades tending to interstellar colonists, Frank has not been in the same room as another human for seven years. His only regular contact is CASPER, the ship's onboard computer who is one part personal trainer, one part nurse, one part confidant. That and the 15 minutes he gets to vid-chat with another caretaker. But Frank doesn't like people, and we're about to find out why...
There's a new format of podcast starting to emerge which Directive, Moonbase Theta, Out and Great & Terrible are all pioneering. Short episodes, short seasons, drilling down into compressed periods of times or experimenting with the perception of reality we get as audio listeners. All three are excellent shows and it's interesting to see what different paths they take across the territory. Moonbase Theta, Out is a disaster/thriller/love story told in voicemail. Great and Terrible is like very little I've ever heard before in the best possible way and Directive is concerned with the minutiae of the life of a man who is all about minutiae.
Frank is Sam Bell's chilled neighbor, a man so comfortable with his own company, and so painfully aware of his own faults, that the offer of total debt relief in return for decades of solitude seems like a bargain. He's funny, wry, refreshingly clear eyed about his bad life choices and also believably flawed. We've all been Frank, at one time or another. Sometimes we've even been happy about it. He certainly is. For a while.
As the show progresses, writer David Megadan cleverly folds the origin of Frank and the project into it's present and uses that extra weight to begin to fold his lead in half. Frank is under more stress, feels more emotion than he lets himself express and the top notch writing and voice cast bring all that to the fore without ever being unsubtle about it. Frank is far from okay, and as we find out why and why he's there the show never loses sight of its central objective. Rather, it contextualizes itself in a similar way to Moonbase Theta, Out simultaneously raising the stakes and keeping things desperately personal. All of which leads to a last episode which is deeply sad, deeply kind and sets up so much even as it brings everything else into land.

Directive has one season so far with another on the way. It will take under two hours to listen to and you absolutely should. Because everyone deserves to meet Frank and Frank? Frank doesn't deserve to be alone.

You can find Directive on twitter here, tumblr here and on all good podcatchers.
This is the deeply lovely and weird Spunky Spelunky. Play it here and get ready to play it again straight away.

And of course, here's my Ko-Fi.

Spotlight: Foz Meadows

Best Fan Writer finalist Foz Meadows is a genderqueer essayist, reviewer, blogger, poet and novelist. If you're noticing the common thread between this year's finalist as 'WE ALL DO ALL THE THINGS' then you're absolutely right. Fan writers are one of genre fiction's multi-classes and Foz's wide variety of work proves that point.

Foz's essays and editorials have appeared everywhere from The Book Smugglers and Uncanny magazine to the Speculative Fiction: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary series (A series she'd also contribute to as a co-editor with Mark Oshiro for the 2015 volume). Her work appears regularly at Strange Horizons too. In every case, Foz's critical approach finds every flaw but also celebrates every victory and the topography of her writing is defined both by that willingness to explore the depths and celebrate the peaks. Her wide remit column, Trash & Treasure, embodies that ideal; the joy of genre when it works and the horrors of when it doesn’t and what we can do to understand why.

You can find Foz on twitter at @FozMeadows and online, in addition to these places, at her blog

So Where Can We Find You This Week?

At PseudoPod! At SciFi Bulletin!
  • Arrow came into land on its penultimate season with a couple of excellent episodes.'Living Proof' turns the 'injured hero hallucinates long dead guest star' on its head to great effect. 'You Have Saved This City' could function as a show finale but instead sets up next year's Crisis and throws about four curveballs at once. 
  • Meanwhile over at The Flash, the show sets up its biggest season finale yet with 'The Girl With The Red Lightning'. One very bad move aside it's a great episode and sets up a better season finale.
  • The Orville's season 2 finale is arguably the best episode of a show that's had an amazing second season. This review got retweeted by Seth MacFarlane too which is both great and oddly comforting. After all, if the showrunner for multiple TV shows searches his projects you are TOTALLY  legit doing the same.
  • Finally, Legends of Tomorrow continues to be the oddest and best version of itself. 'Seance and Sensibility' mixes sexual politics and a funeral with Bollywood musicals while 'The Eggplant, The Witch & The Wardrobe' is flat pack horror at its absolute best. Also the best romance this most romantic and weird and lovely of shows has done to date.

Signing Off/Playing Out

It's been a long road. Getting from there to he-

Wait, sorry.

That was a Week! Preceded by several Weeks! All of them good but all of them super intense! This week should calm down a little bit. But just in case I'm staying buckled in. It's all good, it's just the sort of good which involves G-forces. Massive thanks and love, as ever, to Marguerite, the other half of the dynamic duo, my in-house legal counsel and active duty Kryptonian.

Anyway! Do you enjoy your ears? Do your ears enjoy listening to things? Why not check out our shows at Escape Artists podcasts ? Also do pop along to the Instagram page Marguerite and I share at KennerStuart

Finally, if you enjoyed this week and want to say thanks? I love coffee. Click here if you'd like to buy one for me

We're at the weekend again, folks. You all did GREAT and I'll see you back here in seven days. Playing us out this week is the Australian 2019 Eurovision Song Contest entry, 'Zero Gravity' by Kate Miller-Heidke. It's three straight minutes of perfectly timed escalating stage craft that will make you go 'WHAT?!' every 30 seconds. Which is perfect because this? 
Is a Full Lid.
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