Ohio’s Context: Mostly Dead?

Harassment complaints made by several attendees at Context 27 in September resulted in a publicly-announced 5-year ban of the accused staffer. However, two committee members – Steven Saus and Lucy Snyder – resigned anyway, citing the resistance of several board members of the con’s parent corporation to taking public action on the harassment reports.

The combination of internal dissent and public scrutiny caused the board of Context’s parent corporation FANACO to dissolve itself at the end of November (see Official Statement Regarding the Dissolution of Fanaco’s Board of Directors).

A new president, Mark Freeman, and the six other successors to the FANACO board thought the former leadership intended to assist in a transfer of power that would save the convention. Freeman tried to arrange for signing the state form to name another agent of record, and changing the signers on the convention bank account. But according to Freeman’s detailed statement,  published by Steven Saus, former president Jan Province has not cooperated. Last week Freeman e-mailed her this warning:

“If you fail to sign on Friday [December 26] as you previously agreed in our meeting on December 19th and on the phone with me after you stood me up on December 22nd, I will recommend to the new Board that we all walk away and make public the documentation of the events that led up to the failure to authorize a new Board.”

And how did that work out? Says Freeman —

Instead, on the day of the scheduled meeting, she had a lawyer send a rather over-the-top email to me saying that she would not sign the form and threatening me with police action if I went to her house, among other things. The new Board is, of course, now walking away.

Steven Saus, who made his own observations in a separate post, believes the convention now has no future:

…All the new people who wanted to be part of the new board, who wanted to see Context survive and thrive, realized that they couldn’t fight a (frivolous) lawsuit and simultaneously prepare a convention. Context is dead.

What You Learn
From the Latest Mr. Sci-Fi

Marc Scott Zicree’s new Mr. Sci-Fi videolog documents what our idea of really really insufferably cold weather is here in Los Angeles. Cold enough to make you want to wear a hat.

Yes, we whine and complain about temperatures that are not cold enough to keep students at my Ohio alma mater from donning bathing trunks and tanning themselves on the lawn.

Does that make it harder to believe Zicree when he “ruminates on how life is more and more like a science fiction reality, from cyber-attacks to Elon Musk to Blade Runner’s 2019 Los Angeles — only four years away!”?

Or is the idea that LA is going to hell in a handbasket so obviously true it cannot be undercut by an unreliable narrator?

Feghoot Winners Posted

The victors in the Washington Post’s feghoot contest were published in the Style Invitational column on December 24. As you know, Bob –

A little story that ends in an elaborate pun: It’s sometimes called a feghoot, named for a series of sci-fi tales by the pseudonymous Grendel Briarton, “Through Time and Space With Ferdinand Feghoot.”

Honestly, the four top finishers did nothing for me, but I liked several of the honorable mentions. For example —

Humphrey Bogart had several rather odd hobbies; one of them was collecting miniatures of Greek mythological characters. One day he was talking about his collection with fellow movie star Ray Milland. “You know, Broderick Crawford has always greatly admired them,” Milland said. “Yes, I know,” answered Bogie. “Tell you what: Give my wee gods to Brod, Ray.” (Mae Scanlan, Washington)

And, given the nature of the beast, it is only right to quote this runner-up as well:

If John Dryden were alive today and having lunch at McDonald’s, he would never order a hamburger: He believed that a bun is the lowest form of wheat. (Gary Crockett)

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster for the story.]

A Little Knight Cap

Sir Patrick Stewart is unaccountably overcome by the ordeal of wearing a talking Christmas hat.

To paraphrase Chekov in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: “They put things on our heads to control our minds!”

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster for the link.]

Snapshots 146 BC Carthago delenda est

Here are 11 developments of interest to fans.


(1) “Two thousand million or so years ago two galaxies were colliding; or, rather, were passing through each other.” So began the first sf novel I ever read, E. E. “Doc” Smith‘s Triplanetary, its opening line fraught with such cosmic drama it has remained imprinted on my memory.

As I understand it, “Doc” Smith’s story begins that way because theorists of his day assumed that kind of cosmological accident was a prerequisite for creating large numbers of planets. Otherwise we’d be wondering how he guessed — it was only in 2012 that NASA scientists announced our Milky Way actually is bound on an collision course with Andromeda.

The galaxy is already close enough that if it were fully visible to the naked eye and as bright as the Moon it would appear as shown in the photo above. In about 3.75 billion years, Andromeda will dominate the night sky. Click here for an artist’s interpretation.

(2) Tetris the movie. No kidding.

“It’s a very big, epic sci-fi movie,” Threshold’s C.E.O., Larry Kasanoff, told the Journal. “This isn’t a movie with a bunch of lines running around the page. We’re not giving feet to the geometric shapes.” The people at Tetris were equally vague. In a press release, the company said, “In this new universe, as you’ll soon find out, there’s much more to Tetris than simply clearing lines.”

“The response was not surprising, because how the hell are you going to make a movie out of Tetris?” Kasanoff told me on Thursday. He declined to offer any specifics about the story, but said that it would be a live-action movie. “When you make a movie out of a video game, you don’t make it of the game itself, but you try to figure out what is the essence of that game,” Kasanoff said. “And then you go up a level on the food chain to tell a story.” For the nature of that essence, he pointed to what Henk Rogers, the founder of the Tetris Company, once identified as the game’s appeal: that it speaks to people’s desire to create order out of chaos.

(3) Britain’s first sf movie, A Message from Mars, has now been restored as part of a special project by BBC Arts and the British Film Institute.

A Message from Mars follows the story of a Martian, who is sent to Earth as a punishment for misbehaving. The silent film has been given a new soundtrack, composed by creative director Matthew Herbert.Brian Robinson from the BFI told BBC Breakfast: ‘Anything that’s lost for 100 years is going to have some elements of decay… those had to be painstakingly removed.'”

You can watch the entire film online here.

I suspect that if they put it on a double-bill with Tetris, the Martians of 1913 would look a lot smarter than 21st Century movie producers.

Martian court

(4) And if you have two more minutes to spare, this short video traces Superman through the years, from his first appearance on the cover of Action Comics #1 to Henry Cavill in this year’s Man of Steel.

(5) I’m a great admirer of thought experiments, and Chris Lough’s effort to deduce How Fast is The Millennium Falcon wrangles math and fictional cosmology with an agility worthy of the applause of Gregory Benford himself.

We know—unlike Obi-Wan Kenobi, seriously wizard don’t you read SmugglerFeed?—that this is the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. But we also know that a parsec is a measure of distance, and since Han doesn’t specify how long it took the Falcon to make this sub-12 parsec shortcut, we don’t actually get an idea as to how fast the ship can go.

Oh, but she’ll do “.5 past light speed” which…doesn’t tell us much either. Obviously ships in the Star Wars galaxy can go faster than light speed otherwise there’d be no movie, but how fast is .5 on their hyperdrive scales in terms of light years traversed per day?

(6) Did anyone say spending time on research is nuts? Scientists in Canada using peanut shells have created a hybrid sodium ion capacitor in a pioneering study bridging the gap between conventional ion batteries and supercapacitors.

(7) Here’s a whale of a tale. World News Report said an entire dead whale was found in a field in Utah. Locals responded by flooding the cops with calls:

Dispatchers say the amount of calls regarding the story have been over-whaleming. Ever since the story hit, people can’t seem to stop blubbering about it. It’s unknown if the pod of citizens calling was orcastrated from the beginning, but the Sheriff’s Office is kindly asking residents to stop, as it’s giving them a humpback.

Eventually somebody was forced to explain that World News Report is a satirical news site – something which was never a secret in the first place.

I have my own plans for the fake photo WNR ran with its story. In a few weeks, when memories have become sufficiently fuzzy, I’m going to gank the photo and run it here as part of an item congratulating Larry Correia for being the first bowhunter to bag a whale in Utah.

(8) Plans for remaking Fahrenheit 451 are in development hell. Hoping to spark some interest (so to speak) the proposed designs for the fire trucks have been published.

These concepts revealed what the trucks of Fahrenheit 451 may have looked like in the final film if it ever gets made, although in Hollywood, nothing is ever really dead. So why has the film not been made yet? For the same reason all films get delayed: budget. Sometimes it’s the talent who has to finish a film, but generally, everything comes down to money and has to answer one basic question. Would you guys go see this movie? I would… as long as there’s cool cars.

(9) I see this following item as being like the counterpart of HO railroading for …oh… insane people… It’s about making a line of action figures for the first Alien movie.

Unlike the first Star Wars, which had a wealth of action figures featuring virtually every character in the film, the first Alien never had a proper toy line of its own. Though one was planned back in 1979 and prototypes were built, Kenner ultimately cancelled the idea before the toys went to manufacturing. (Toy company Super7 released its own figures in 2013 based on the original prototypes.)

For [Dayton] Allen, this made Alien an ideal project to tackle: not only was it his favorite sci-fi movie, but he’d also be helping to fill in a gap. “One of things I most enjoy about the hobby is creating figures and environments which the current toy industry would never consider producing,” he explains.

It’s still a work in progress, but Allen’s Alien project is a wonderfully detailed and complex recreation of the film, at 1:18 scale. Built in his spare time — Allen is a graphic designer by day — so far he’s managed to complete several characters, most of the terrifying xenomorph, and a good chunk of the interior of the Nostromo spaceship. “Since I’m not on a payroll to complete the work on a deadline,” he says of the project, “I take my time and enjoy the ride.”

The process starts with a lot of reference material — screencaps from the films, behind-the-scenes-photography, and other production-related imagery. Allen has even gone so far as to talk to some of the original production crew to suss out some of the finer details. After that, he gathers the right materials — he builds figures and sets out of everything from epoxies and clay to laser-cut MDF board — which is followed by the pain-staking process of modeling and sculpting the figures. “This being a Ridley Scott film,” explains Allen, “nothing is without complexity.”

(10) Brother Guy Consolmagno, whom the internet likes to call “the Pope’s astronomer,” is co-author (with Paul Mueller) of Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?

Consolmagno’s short answer is “yes.“ But “only if she asks!”

(11) Some people at Texas A&M find fandom – I attended a convention on campus once – but a lot more of them find Bonfire. Grantland’s story about the community that engineers the tower of flaming logs (which cost the lives of a dozen students 15 years ago) shows the quasi-fannish culture that has helped this tradition persist in the face of tragedy.

It is practically inevitable that Lechner’s crewmembers are known at Bonfire as Lechnerds. On one side of Eckardt’s pot are the words “NERD CHIEF,” on the other “BOTTOM POT.” The other crew chiefs are dubbed Strange Pot and Charm Pot. Bottom? Strange? Charm? “Those are three types of quarks,” one kid explains. Lechnerds.

Nearly six feet tall and trim as a tennis pro, Eckardt wears denim overalls. A fawn-colored braid falls from under her pot and over one shoulder. When she wields an ax, it is with power. In appearance and dexterity, there is nothing nerdy about Alia Eckardt. Her major is civil engineering. Born and raised in Dallas to parents who are not Aggies, she turned down Cornell to attend A&M. At first she was unsure she’d made the right decision. “I can easily say, if I had not found Bonfire in my first semester, I would not be nearly as happy at this university as I am now,” she says. “Especially for our fish, the nerdy ones, the ones who aren’t necessarily going to go out and meet people, Bonfire gives them a community.”

[Thanks for these links goes out to Dave Doering, John King Tarpinian, Andrew Porter and Martin Morse Wooster.]

New Mexico Journalists Cover GRRM’s Showing of “The Interview”

showing of move the interviewSecurity measures were in effect at George R.R. Martin’s theater for the Christmas Day opening of The Interview – no backpacks or purses allowed inside. There were even some threats received, theater manager Melania Frazier told the Albuquerque Journal — but only from people who couldn’t get tickets to the sold-out showings.

Martin welcomed the audience with jokes and reassurance. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported:

Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, owner of the Jean Cocteau, was among the first to offer his theater for screenings, and on Thursday he introduced the film. “I figured if we get blown up by North Korea, I should be here personally with all of you brave people,” Martin said, to cheers and laughter.

Martin said he was doubtful there would be any attack on his small theater, however, theater management did ask Santa Fe and State Police to post officers near the theater, which they did.

Incidentally, the Jean Cocteau Theatre is named after the French writer, playwright and filmmaker who, among other things, directed the 1946 film Beauty and the Beast, a well-known title in GRRM’s resume, too.

showing of move the interview

Alex Film Society Showing World’s Greatest Cartoons 12/27

This Saturday, December 27, animator-director Frank Gladstone and animation historian Jerry Beck will present the latest installment of the Alex Film Society’s “The Greatest Cartoons Ever!” at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.

The duo will introduce classics from Disney, Warner Bros., Universal, Paramount and MGM that feature such animated superstars as Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Popeye, Tom and Jerry and Woody Woodpecker. Such renowned animated directors as Dave Fleischer, Chuck Jones, Robert McKimson, Bill Hanna & Joe Barbera, Tex Avery and Friz Freleng are represented in the program.

Jerry Beck told the Los Angeles Times

McKimson’s 1950 Warner Bros. cartoon “It’s Hummer Time,” featuring a hummingbird, a cat and a very large dog, “is the weirdest cartoon we are showing.”

And having just watched it online, I wouldn’t argue with him at all – even though all the slapstick cartoon violence is nothing new, the wildly ungrateful stunt that brings it to an end is out of the ordinary.

The program is open to the public. Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., December 27. Admission: $10-$15.

We Interrupt This Christmas

As I touch down at home at the end of Christmas Day, ballasted by pumpkin pie and carrying a stack of gifts, I can offer File 770 readers two more digital souvenirs of the holiday.

First is Gahan Wilson’s F&SF cover for Harlan Ellison’s 1969 story “Santa Claus vs. S.P.I.D.E.R.” — the link goes to Google Books’ multi-page excerpt (via Steven E. de Souza).

Ellison Santa Claus Gahan Wilson

Then, James H. Burns’ affords us the opportunity to see the cast of Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera lip-synch Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” something they did because every year Mariah Carey is in the audience with her mother, seeing her mom’s favorite show once again. (The video was directed by cast member Jeremy Stolle.)

“Thanks to the good folks at Playbill.com,” says Burns. “This is actualy kind of joyous, and, inherently, a neat, behind the scenes look at a Broadway show!”

The Morning and the Evening Star

By James H. Burns: If prognostication holds sway, come a future Chanukah or Christmas, or Thanksgiving (of course), some folks might be cooking a turkey in the acidic atmosphere of VENUS…

A NASA research group is suggesting a manned mission to our sister planet.

But Venus is actually closer to Earth than Mars, and experts say a manned mission there isn’t unreasonable. Venus is one of the least hospitable places in the solar system. Its close proximity to the sun makes its surface unimaginably hot — 462 degrees Celsius. And its lower atmosphere is a highly pressurized oven of noxious gases.

And it turns out the idea of DIRIGIBLE-homes in the Venusian atmosphere has been gaining ground at the Atlantic CityLab:

Why worry about building a colony on Mars when instead you could float one high above the surface of Venus? Science fiction writer Charles Stross recently revived the idea of building a Venutian colony when he suggested, cheekily, that billionaires ought to be compelled to donate to massive humanity-improving projects. He suggested two: a Manhattan Project-like focus on developing commercial nuclear fusion, or the construction of a floating city on Venus.

There is much discussion of these potential “floating cities,” and other fascinating extra-terran possibilities, at the intriguing website, Selenian Boondocks (see its Venus category), already an abode for many scientists and science fiction writers.

The Planet: One Last Landing

The delightfully inconclusive debate here on the topic of whether the Scienceers or the Eastbay Science Correspondence Club was the first sf club led to a discovery I am happy to share with you.

From Guy H. Lillian’s The Zine Dump I learned Ned Brooks had scanned a photocopy of first issue of The Planet, published by the Scienceers in July 1930. Ned kindly sent the images to me and I have uploaded them here.

A squib on page 3 says the Scienceers published meeting notices every Friday in the New York Evening World, confirming Allan Glasser’s memory about the weekly meeting schedule. Unfortunately, I was denied the minor pleasure of locating one of those ads because the paper has only been digitized through 1922.

As for Aubrey MacDermott and the Eastbay Science Correspondence Club, Fred Patten wrote in comments about his conversation with Cliff Amsbury, one of the other members: “He said that, yeah, MacDermott and other S.F.-area teenage s-f fans often got together in 1928, so they were first. But those were all one-shot social meetings. They did not hold club meetings.”

MacDermott only claimed they met, not that they met on a regular schedule. Bill Higgins’ jibe, “Which is more fannish?” hits the nail on the head.

The Scienceers had more traits of the prototype sf club. Yet the Eastbay group identified itself as a club and met socially in 1928 more than once. Depending on your preferred criteria, either club could claim to be first. And since 99% of you are already picking the Scienceers, there is your official wisdom-of-crowds answer…

P.S. Read The Planet’s science fiction quiz on page 2. I used to consider myself a trivia master but I scored zero out of 10…