Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #24

File 770’s Black History Month, Part One: Black Panther

By Chris M. Barkley:

Black Panther (2018, ****) with Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Winston Duke, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman. Written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, based on characters created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Directed by Ryan Coogler.

Bechdel Test: PASS!!!!!

Ever since Marvel Studios first announced in 2014 it was developing a film version of the iconic black superhero, Black Panther, a great deal of hype and anticipation has surrounded its production. And now, I can tell you, without any hesitation, that this film has exceeded all my expectations.

Set shortly after the assassination of the King T’Chaka of Wakanda in Captain America: Civil War, heir apparent Prince T’Challa (a magnificently ripped Chadwick Boseman) is to be crowned the new King. But although T’Challa has trained and studied for this moment for a majority of his life, he feels as though he is unready and can never be the equal of his father.

T’Challa has bigger problems; the path to the crown does not go unchallenged. M’Baku (Winston Duke), the powerful leader of the agrarian northern tribe tries to depose him, a master criminal, Ulyssess Klaue (Andy Serkis) is at large peddling vibranium, the precious metal that fuels Wakanda’s existence and is distracted by his ex-lover by his concern over the safety of (Lupita Nyong’o), who spends most of her time outside the kingdom as a secret service agent.

But the sudden emergence of Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), a previously unknown heir to the throne suddenly appears to pose the biggest threat to T’Challa and his kingdom. A trained killer, he aids Klaue’s activities and seeks to take Wakandan weapons and technology to “liberate” the oppressed minorities of the world in order to dominate the world for himself.

The Black Panther debuted June 1966 in Fantastic Four # 52 and 53 by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. It is only natural to expect Marvel Comics, the innovative group of creators that gave us angst driven teenage heroes (Spider-Man and the X-Men) heroes and villains with anger issues (The Hulk, Namor, the Sub-Mariner and Doctor Doom) and physical disabilities (Daredevil) would bring the world the very first, true black superhero. I personally believe that they created the Black Panther out of their observations of the civil rights movement and seeing the potential of building bridges to the youthful African-American audience hungry for heroes they can identify with.

(In October of that year, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton created the influential revolutionary group, The Black Panthers for Self Defense as a reactionary counterpart of Martin Luther King’s non-violent movement. Neither man confirmed that the group was named after Marvel’s hero but just calling it merely a coincidence is a bit of stretch.)

I have had the privilege of watching the character of the Black Panther evolve over the decades to come to this particular moment in black cultural history.

There are several reasons why this particular film is important right now:

A) As the 17th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, writer-director Ryan Coogler has assembled of the largest and most diverse casts of black actors, both of American and international origins, in recent memory.

B) The story provides a different, but important slice of the Marvel Universe that many readers of comics were familiar with but most moviegoers were probably unaware of.

C) It also shows a fictionalized region of Africa that has never been colonized, despoiled or exploited by any outside forces, an idealized place where love of country goes hand in hand with advanced technology.

But beneath there are clearly cracks in Wakanda’s utopian vision here; much of the country’s internal success has come from a traditional intense sense of secrecy that does not allow any other points of view. When Erik “Killmonger” Stevens arrives to make his play for Wankandan crown, he finds a fertile ground to sow his nefarious plot. And what should be nagging in the back of every viewer’s mind is could there be a kernel of truth in what he’s seeking.

T’Challa may have a suit of vibranium and advanced weapons at his disposal but he knows he cannot prevail on his own. He is blessed with some serious backup; covert operator Nakia, the fearsome Okoye (Danai Gurira), the head of his all female special forces unit, his beloved mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), a frenemy CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and his spunky and techno-genius sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) who steals practically every scene she’s in.

Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole deserve an enormous amount of credit in balancing everyone’s role so the movie feels like a beautifully infectious fever dream of action, adventure and personal tragedy.

The advanced ticket sales of Black Panther have ensured its financial success, both here in America and overseas. But its cultural impact can only be measured by the number of new projects featuring racially and sexually diverse cast will made in the near future. I, along with you and many others, can only watch and wait.


Philadelphia Eagles Win the Super Bowl

[Frequent contributor Steve Vertlieb accidentally watched the Super Bowl and ended up sharing his hometown’s triumphant moment.]

By Steve Vertlieb: In case you were living under a rock in Ecuador and hadn’t heard, The Philadelphia Eagles won The Super Bowl Sunday night. Now, to anyone who knows me, the news that I am not a sports fan shouldn’t come as a complete or utter shock. Since 1950 when I was four years old, and my dad brought home our first television set, my heart and soul have been both passionately and singularly devoted to movies and to music.

My childhood was spent largely in a rapturous fantasy world inhabited by Ray Harryhausen’s dinosaurs, cyclopian monsters, forbidden planets, and the arts. When I was forced to venture out into a largely hostile, abusive environment in which both my brother and I were subjected to years of physical torment and psychological abuse by bullies and jocks, we learned to loathe and despise the predatory predilections of the anger ridden classmates who delighted in torturing and tormenting us. Now, it may not surprise anyone to learn that I am a fully accredited “nerd.” Just ask my girlfriend. I was, perhaps, the least athletically inclined or physically proficient lad in either junior high or high school.

Consequently, a substantial portion of my adolescence was spent couched in child psychiatrist’s offices, combating severe depression and suicidal yearnings. Suffice to say that I matured with a self-protective loathing for, and suspicion of, sports and the sadistic neighbors and classmates who worshipped them. At seventy-two years of age, I had never watched a football game, nor had I the slightest interest in doing so.

That was, until Sunday night. A friend asked me Sunday morning if I was going to watch The Super Bowl, and I rather cooly answered “No.” As six o’clock Sunday evening crept into my consciousness, I turned my television dial to our local NBC affiliate…more out of curiosity than for any other logical reason. After all, my home team had progressed beyond anyone’s reasonable expectations into Super Bowl contention, and was set to play against one of the NFL’s strongest competitors, the New England Patriots headed by Tom Brady. My home town’s hopes, dreams, and collective hearts were poised to be broken and shattered by reality on this cold, Winter’s Sunday evening.

I guess that I’ve always been prone to favor underdogs, and losers…as much of my early years were spent in the shadows of happiness and achievement, watching winners soar beyond my solitary comprehension and perceived existence…and so, to my utter astonishment, I found myself fascinated by the live spectacle about to unfold in Minnesota, at last unwilling to change the channel, or spend my evening on anything boring or ultimately mundane. I was hypnotized by the drama and courageous reality of this David and Goliath confrontation, and after a lifetime of angered resistance, succumbed at last to the nearly spiritual combat unfurling before my eyes.

I silently cheered every win and touchdown, while wincing in often painful resignation at our home team’s setbacks and losses. Then, at the last agonizing moment as Tom Brady stumbled, and The Philadelphia Eagles soared into football history and legend, I heard myself screaming “Oh, My God…Oh, My God…We Won…We Won.” My eyes filled with tears, and I began to cry from happiness. I had finally let go of crippling bigotry and hatred, embracing the beauty and wonder of spiritual ascension and human achievement. Losers had at last overcome their collective demons, and become winners, rising to stardom against all odds and negative predictions of failure. I had become a believer. The Philadelphia Eagles had joyously claimed what was rightfully theirs all along…the honor, dignity, and justifiable pride inherent in working toward their goal, and rising like a phoenix from the ashes of despair to the exultation and glory of sublime victory and achievement. If they could succeed, then so might we all. “Fly, Eagles, Fly,” and may we all continue to soar upon the glorious, ethereal wings of eagles.

Antonelli’s Apology Accepted By Foz Meadows and Camestros Felapton

Lou Antonelli has tweeted apologies to the victims of his false claims that blogger Camestros Felapton is a pseudonym for Foz Meadows’ husband, Toby.

Camestros Felapton accepted the apology: “A Gracious Note From Lou Antonelli”.

Lou Antonelli has sent me a polite apology via Twitter regarding his claims that I was Toby Meadows. I’d like to thank him for that.

I’ve disabled comments on this post because I’d prefer to move on from this now. I will say that I don’t regard myself as particularly the injured party in this. The Meadows family have had to put up with a lot of maliciousness from several parties.

Over the past ten days Camestros Felapton has written many posts about this kerfuffle. “Was Antonelli Set Up?” (January 26) is as good as any for learning the details if you don’t already know them.

Foz Meadows also accepted Antonelli’s apology in this exchange:

The impetus for the charge may have come from Facebook conversations that I cannot access, therefore I cannot document who originated it. But on January 21, Brad Torgersen used the charge as the basis for a malicious attack on Camestros at Mad Genius Club, “Camestros Felapton is Toby Meadows, spouse of Foz Meadows” [Internet Archive page]. Foz Meadows, after she and her husband dealt with the resulting abuse for several days, on January 29 posted “A Personal Note” about the falsehood of the claim and the emotional pain that it caused.

[Thanks to JJ, Daniel Dern, and Camestros Felapton for the story.]

Remembering Oscar-Winning Composer Miklos Rozsa

By Steve Vertlieb: Miklos Rozsa remains among the most revered composers in film history. The three-time Oscar winner for Best Original Score For A Motion Picture was a pioneering musician who, along with Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Newman, Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Franz Waxman, Dimitri Tiomkin, and Victor Young brought dramatic, melodic musical form and structure to the sound of film, thereby forever altering the way we listen to movies. Elmer Bernstein considered both Miklos Rozsa and Bernard Herrmann the finest practitioners of the developing art form of Music For The Movies in the remarkable history of the medium.

In a career that comprised some forty-five years of scoring and achievement, Miklos Rozsa created lush, romantic scoring for such beloved fantasy films as Alexander Korda’s The Thief of Bagdad, and the tale of a young Wolf Boy named Mowgli for The Jungle Book. He became the defining voice of classic Film Noir with such scores as Double Indemnity, Brute Force, The Killers, The Naked City, and The Lost Weekend for director Billy Wilder and, as the 1950s approached, virtually invented the epic motion picture score for such films as Quo Vadis, Ivanhoe, Knights of the Round Table, Ben Hur, King of Kings, and El Cid. He was a musical chameleon who reinvented both himself and the remarkably diverse genres for which he composed Time After Time. Here, then, is this published career retrospective and tribute to a consummate artist whose Lust For Life elevated the craft and power of Cinema to sublime ascension.

In sweet, joyous celebration of a cherished relationship with one of the most remarkable musicians and artists of the twentieth century, here is a loving remembrance of my twenty-seven-year friendship with three-time Oscar-winning composer Miklos Rozsa, as well as an affectionate recollection of coming of cinematic age and maturity during the comparative innocence of the nineteen fifties. Miklos Rozsa remains one of the most revered and legendary motion picture composers in screen history, and it was my sublime honor and privilege to know him for nearly three decades. Born April 18th, 1907, we remember and commemorate the monumental influence of this superlative artist and man.


Humphrey Bogart uttered one of the most famous lines in movie history when he held The Maltese Falcon in his hands and mused wistfully … “The stuff that dreams are…”

In 2007 I was asked by the folks who ran the venerable Castro Theater in San Francisco to put together a Miklos Rozsa film festival for their historic venue. I chose seventeen films to reflect a variety of moods expressed on screen by the wondrously gifted composer. The film festival ran for nine days toward the end of December, 2007, and into January, 2008. I wrote the notes for the official program handed out for the once in a lifetime event, and hosted a thirty-minute interview “live” on stage with Juliet Rozsa, daughter of this illustrious composer, before a paying crowd of some seven hundred movie goers prior to a presentation of the composer’s masterpiece, Ben-Hur, on the giant Castro screen. Proclamations, tributes, and testimonials were written for the occasion by the Hungarian Ambassador To The United States, The Honorable Mayor of San Francisco, and legendary writer Ray Bradbury.

Here is a first person report by Michael Guillen, an independent film journalist sitting among the capacity crowd during that memorable evening: The Evening Class: MIKLÓS RÓZSA—An Onstage Tribute.

Vertlieb read Bradbury’s tribute to the Castro audience and the Rózsa family members on stage: “In all my life I’ve never had a more complete relationship with a composer than with Miklós Rózsa. When MGM asked me to write the narration for King of Kings, I immediately joined a partnership with Margaret Booth, the film editor, and we became fast friends. The most wonderful moment in my life was when I went on the sound stage to watch Miklós Rózsa conduct the score for King of Kings and then heard my own voice booming out over the orchestra and dear Miklós’ head as I spoke the narration. I wish that I had a recording today of my voice with his music because it became a partnership and a great friendship for life. To everyone hearing his wonderful music this week, I send my love and regard to the memory of Miklós Rózsa.”

++ Steve Vertlieb, 2018

Reminiscence for File 770’s 40th: Living the News of 1978

By Chip Hitchcock: At some ages any year may seem momentous, but 1978 still stands out in memory. I was a couple of years out of college, but still singing in Harvard’s summer chorus and signing books out to borrowers at the MITSFS (owner of the world’s largest open library of SFF); I was working as a ~chemistry researcher, with no idea that in another couple of years I’d be massively more entangled in fandom and working for two other fans at a computer company.

For a start, Boskone (then and now my local convention) grew from 1000 people to over 1400 after a couple of years of near-stability. Star Wars, which had played downtown for several months the previous year, is the obvious explanation for this, and maybe the growth past 1900 in 1979, but how they found us is anyone’s guess; as far as I remember, Boskones then didn’t do much advertising because there was no obvious place for it. Later this led to strains on the committee, and finally to the Boskone from Hell, but at the time growth seemed like an unalloyed good; in 1979 it meant we could take all of New England’s largest hotel, instead of just working the fringes around the biggest ballrooms.

The immediate effect for me was that the RISFA Players had to do three performances in a row of the latest Anderson-Keller musical, Rivets Redux, in order to seat everyone who wanted to see it. I was playing Charles Dexter Ward (one of several obsolete characters in search of new employment), but also served as producer, something resembling music director, and technical director; this last required coming up with a representation of the appearance of the mother ship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (the previous year’s other SF blockbuster), with a jury rig that we were lucky survived all the performances. (Since this was the RISFA Players, who had first been seen in “Buckets of Gor, or Abbott and Costello Meet the Priest-Kings”, the ship appeared not to the infamous five-note motif but to “Dueling Tubas”.) In addition to the usual problems of an amateur production split between two cities (the creators and most of the cast were in Providence), we dealt with two record-setting snowstorms in the previous few weeks; the second of these shut down the city for a week, right when the entire convention was busiest getting ready. When we finally moved into the hotel we found that all the other scheduled meetings had canceled, which at least gave us a space for some desperately-needed on-site rehearsal.

Then there was the Boston in 1980 Worldcon bid. I had joined MCFI (the sponsoring organization) just a few months before, and immediately “volunteered” (i.e., I was the only person not to step back quickly enough) to find and liaise with a printer so that we’d have someone ready to do the first progress report if we won. (I just discovered that the scan of File:770 #7 is online, listing me as an “officer” of Noreascon Two due to this job.) This later led to my producing several books for NESFA Press, and editing at least one of them. I’d seen a few Worldcon bids go by but hadn’t voted before 1977; MCFI was for the time a stable group (about as many couples as singles, many in solid jobs in computers and I think averaging a little older than typical) chaired by Leslie Turek (later FGoH at Sasquan). Fandom was getting less gender-imbalanced—after the New Orleans in 1976 Worldcon bid had been torpedoed by its CVB rep (“a great place for you to hold your convention, and a great city for your wives to go shopping in!”) I estimated from published lists that the membership that heard this line at the 1974 Worldcon was about a quarter female—but it had been some time since a woman had been sole chair.

Somewhere in this timeline, Iguanacon (the upcoming Worldcon) asked MCFI and its Baltimore opposition to each take on an area of the convention; we were given the costume contest and promptly dubbed ourselves the Boston Massaquerade. I was not going to be involved with the organizing, but it was assumed (based on the aforementioned musicals, which were an outgrowth of backstage work at high-school and college theaters) that I would be tech director—Masquerades being rather less rigorous 40 years ago. (These days the TDs usually have considerable current experience.) This was the first time that a Masquerade had been held in a real theater rather than a hotel hall, and the Phoenix “Symphony Hall” came with more lights already hung than we knew what to do with—and people to focus and run them, apparently already in the budget. So the Masquerade was displayed well despite my inexperience.

Iguanacon II Program Book cover by William R. Warren.

Iguanacon itself had made news for changing its chair a few months out, for reasons discussed extensively at the time, and for GoH Harlan Ellison’s steps to prevent any money being spent on his behalf in a state that had refused to ratify the ERA; despite the noise, and weather that was hot even for Phoenix over Labor Day, it had significantly more attendees than any previous Worldcon, after a few years’ pause in the steady increase that attendance had seen since the 1960’s. The abovementioned scan has discussions of some of the other uproars, but doesn’t mention the report I heard that the Art Show had to be torn down and reconstructed to allow passage from fire doors on an inner exhibit hall through the show to the doors on its outside wall. However, Iguanacon also had some innovations that are still well-remembered:

  • They persuaded the Hyatt coffee shop to stay open 24/7. An impeachable source told me this made the Hyatt so much money that other Worldcon Hyatts a few years later reportedly refused to believe the figures—which was a pity given the shortage of food around them. These days fandom might or might not average old enough that all-night food wouldn’t be useful.
  • They picked a hotel with a serious mingling space. The Google view tells me the atrium couldn’t have been much over a hundred feet each way, but crossing it always took at least 10 minutes because you kept running into people you could stop and talk to; in a typical lobby or corridor that would get you snarled at, or pushed. Many Worldcons since have aimed for such a feature.

I answered a few questions from a local TV station that was interviewing people in the atrium. I didn’t see the result, but I was told later that the news item had led off with my comment about blaming my parents because they gave me Tom Swift instead of the Hardy Boys at age 8. That’ll teach me to be smart to mundanes….

MCFI threw parties (on a much smaller budget than nowadays, although large enough that we used the rooms’ swivel chairs as impromptu dollies for ice) and hung hundreds of feet of computer-printed banners (one of the few reasons to miss old-fashioned line-printers and their fan-fold output) on the stacks of railing around the abovementioned atrium. At one of the parties I met the only other ancestral Hitchcock I’ve run into in fandom. (It’s an old name, but not common.) We were pronounced the winner after a notoriously humorless business-meeting chair first announced that a hoax bid (of which there were several) had won. The next day, somebody at our advance-sales table started a conversation with Spider and Jeanne Robinson, who had just won a Hugo for “Stardance”; the result was a performance, called “Higher Ground”, which showed some gravity-bound idea of what stardance might be like.

This was in the early days of airline deregulation, when the cheapest fares required staying for a week, so a lot of us hung around in the hotel lobby until it was late enough Tuesday night to go to the airport for a flight one minute into Wednesday. It turned out groups of us were taking two different airlines’ flights through O’Hare, so we blearily wandered into each other around dawn on Thursday while waiting for our connections.

And a ridiculously long chain of inattentions and coincidences had led to my singing in a chorus behind the the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood (their summer home) just days before leaving for Phoenix; I ended up chorusing a handful of concerts with the BSO over the next several years. So when I got home from Iguanacon I was full of beans but had no idea how busy my life was about to get.

SFWA Denies A Membership Application

The SFWA Blog today posted a “Statement from the SFWA Membership Credentials Committee” about an unidentifed writer:

Recently, a science fiction writer made a very public announcement of his application to join SFWA. SFWA Bylaws section VI.1.c.i gives discretion to the membership credentials committee “regardless of qualifications.” Based on the behavior of and online statements by this writer over the preceding year or so, which the credentials committee believes is inconsistent with the obligations that SFWA members have to one another, the committee has determined that it has good and sufficient cause to deny this membership.

We did not take this step lightly, and we are sensitive to suggestions that this action is due to the writer’s political opinions: it is not. SFWA does not, and will not, impose a political test or political standard for membership. We strive to be welcoming to all SFF writers of good will, whatever their personal beliefs or opinions. However, the membership credentials committee, comprised by the sitting Board of Directors, believes that admitting this writer would not be in keeping with our obligations to our membership.

Interestingly, when SFWA revoked Theodore Beale’s membership, he also went unnamed in the announcement.

However, the “very public announcement of his application” (see “SFWA: Pending Membership” at the Internet Archive)  and the attention given it in social media (such as the widely-read Twitter thread by A.Merc Rustad) in recent weeks means one name immediately popped to mind.

And in any case, Jon Del Arroz promptly self-identified:

Support for SFWA’s decision has already been voiced by several writers, as in this dialogue with critic Gareth M. Skarka by Scott Lynch and Chuck Wendig.

Ann Leckie tweeted:

Critics of the decision itself (not merely as tactics) already on record are Richard Paolinelli, Mad Genius Club columnist and writer Jason Cordova, and Superversive SF editor Jason Rennie, with doubtless more to come.

[Thanks to all who pointed me to this story.]

Science Fiction & Fantasy Creators Guild Launches Prematurely

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Creators Guild may someday be a group, however, it seems author Richard Paolinelli is the only man behind the curtain right now. The SF&FCG founder says the publicity came prematurely —

Camestros Felapton discovered the under-construction website and wrote about it in “The Scrappy Dappy Club?”. (There’s also an SF&FCG Facebook page.)

Since the revelation, Paolinelli has wasted no time trying to leverage attention for his efforts. SF&FCG tweeted N.K. Jemisin, who engaged briefly, then muted the conversation.

Nick Mamatas also jumped on this yesterday. People joining his Twitter conversation tried to research who was behind the Guild, incorrectly guessing various Puppies. A WHOIS search showed the website was registered by author Karen L. Myers. However, it was neither the named Puppies nor Myers, as Richard Paolinelli (@ScribeShade) tweeted –

Today the SF&FCG looked for new targets to goad and made the mistake of trolling Alex Acks —

— who responded with tweets like these:

Then Sarah Gailey emptied the magazine – her 6-tweet explosion starts here:

And Charlie Jane Anders responded ironically to SF&FCG’s self-described apolitical stance.

Up til now, Paolinelli has been trying to follow Jon Del Arroz’ stairway to heaven, seeking interactions that could afterwards be portrayed to his base as attacks. He’s enjoyed only moderate success.

His book was part of Jon Del Arroz’ Odyssey Con book bundle [Scroll item 12], an attempt to exploit Monica Valentinelli’s publicity for quitting as the convention GoH. Valentinelli had discovered shortly before last year’s con that the committee not only still included a harasser she’d encountered before (their Guest Liaison), but she was going to be scheduled together with him on a panel, and when she raised these issues the first response from someone on the committee was a defense of the man involved. In contrast to the people who commiserated with the ex-GoH and mourned Odyssey Con’s confused loyalties, JDA attacked Valentintelli for being “unprofessional,” and went to work turning it into a book marketing opportunity. He arranged for flyers to be handed to Odyssey Con attendees offering them works by himself, Nick Cole, Declan Finn, L. Jagi Lamplighter, John C. Wright, and others including Paolinelli.

Later, when the Dragon Awards nominations came out, Paolinelli complained to me for identifying him as one of the nominees from JDA’s bundle.

Paolinelli has also been on the radar here for advertising his book as a Nebula nominee (it wasn’t a finalist; he tried to justify himself in this tweet.)

However, he has probably never been more successful in gaining the social media attention he’s pursued than he has in the past 24 hours, Despite beginning with a sentiment no more provocative than this –

— he has been getting everything that a follower of JDA’s playbook could ask for.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #22

The Doctor Who Christmas Special – Twice Upon A Time [BEWARE SPOILERS]

By Chris M. Barkley:

Twice Upon a Time, (****) with Peter Capaldi, David Bradley, Pearl Mackie, Mark Gattis, Matt Lucas, Nikki-Amuka Bird, Lily Travers and Jared Garfield.  (Also featuring archival appearances by William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Anneke Wills and Michael Craze). Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Rachel Talalay.

On Christmas Morning, 2017, I gave my True Love and Partner Juli, a Doctor Who/Bad Wolf T-shirt. After looking at it admiringly, she turned to me and said, “Wait a minute. Does this mean I’m Rose?”

I replied, “Well darling, after this evening, you can be The Doctor, too.”

Twice Upon a Time, the thirteenth and latest of the Doctor Who Christmas Special episodes, was one of the monumental milestones in the series; a meeting between the first incarnation of the Doctor (David Bradley, channeling William Hartnell) and the thirteenth Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi.

At the South Pole in 1986, The Doctor (Hartnell and Bradley), with the able assistance of his companions, Polly and Ben (Anneke Wills and Michael Craze) have vanquished the Cybermen for the first time. Feeling the oncoming effects of regeneration, the Doctors wanders from the safety of the station to seek refuge in his TARDIS…

In another time zone, The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), along with the able assistance of Bill (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (Matt Lucas) have defeated the Cybermen (and TWO incarnations of the Master) from completely seizing a generational colony ship suspended just above a black hole. In the throes of another regeneration and separated from his companions, he enters his TARDIS and contemplates ending his life. But the TARDIS has other plans, as it pilots itself to a remote Antarctic base in 1986.

As the two Doctors contend with each other, they discover that time has completely stopped and a British army captain from World War One has suddenly appears before them, asking for the assistance of a doctor…

What makes a great television show? While there is no doubt that a good premise alone can propel show to some moderate success, the addition of compelling characters ensures it.

The Doctor and his (and soon to be her) various companions over the past fifty-five years have progressed from a “children’s show” to become icons of television.

Doctor Who has also had its share of controversies, too; the recent announcement that The Doctor would be played by Jodie Whittaker (The Night Watch, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Black Mirror) under the direction of a new producer, Chris Chibnall (Torchwood, Camelot and  Broadchurch) is the biggest in the show’s history.

Speaking only for myself, I welcome it! When you’ve gone as far and as long as Doctor Who, there is nothing more refreshing than shaking things up in a big way.

My personal history with Doctor Who began in the late 1960’s with non-canonical Peter Cushing films Doctor Who and the Daleks (1965) and Invasion Earth: 2150 AD (1966) which were played incessantly on Cincinnati’s brand new UHF station. Cushing, who was clearly riffing, but not openly imitating, William Hartnell’s Doctor, was, for me, a great introduction to his character. By the time Tom Baker’s episodes started airing in America in the mid-seventies, I had more an inkling of what Doctor Who was all about.

The ingenious thing about Twice Upon A Time is the manner in which the departing writer/producer Steven Moffat’s script blended William Hartnell’s last appearance as The Doctor (The Tenth Planet) with  David Bradley’s turn  as Hartnell’s Doctor and Peter Calpaldi’s swan song. Hartnell’s Doctor is well-played by Bradley, who, ironically enough, had previously played Hartnell the actor playing The Doctor in a 2013 BBC film, An Adventure in Time and Space.

(Please feel free to re-read the last paragraph as many times as you like before continuing.)

In the cliffhanger ending of the previous season’s last episode, The Doctor Falls, Capaldi’s Doctor is continuing to forestall an imminent regeneration in a suicide attempt. He is utterly confounded by his meeting his first self and is confounded by his state of mind back then (since each Time Lord’s meeting with their previous selves are automatically erased from their memories), contemplating the same thing.

The controversial point for some of the longtime fans is the frame of mind of Hartnell/Bradley’s Doctor. Some have criticized the story putting him fatalistic mood in The Tenth Planet serial, when he shows no outward signs of distress during the proceedings.

I have not seen The Tenth Planet. However, I want to point out several things that make this explanation perfectly acceptable to me, in the context of the events in Twice Upon a Time:

— William Hartnell’s health was in decline during the filming of these episodes. In fact, he was written out of the third episode altogether due to illness and the bulk of his story exposition was given over to his companion Ben instead.

— Hartnell, despite his condition, did not want to give up the role to Patrick Troughton. There were a few lines of dialogue cut from the broadcast towards the end of the final episode indicating that his character was having some emotional or physical trouble in the prelude to regeneration.

— The action of Twice Upon A Time takes place between the moments when The Doctor wanders away from Ben and Polly after the defeat of the Cybermen and his return to the TARDIS. The first Doctor is over 900 years old and has suffered through death of a companion, the departure of others and particularly, of his granddaughter Susan.

— Dramatically speaking, it makes sense that he may have been suffering through the mistakes, the horror and regrets during his first lifetime. His meeting with his twelfth (or thirtieth, if you count the War Doctor) and their subsequent adventure, gives both Doctors the hope and strength to carry on.

There were other lovely touches for Capaldi’s Doctor; Bill (Pearl Mackie) makes an extended appearance along with cameos from Nardole (Matt Lucas) and Clara (Jenna Coleman).  And finally, Steven Moffat gives Peter Capladi grand and eloquent speeches, which are full of references of past Doctors: (See Radio Times’ article “Did you spot all the Doctor Who references in Peter Capaldi’s regeneration speech?”)

DOCTOR: Oh, there it is. Silly old universe. The more I save it the more it needs saving. It’s a treadmill.

Tardis noise

Yes, yes I know they’ll get it all wrong without me.

Tardis noise

Well, I suppose….one more lifetime won’t kill anyone. Well, except me.

Stirring music/Tardis noises

You wait a moment, Doctor. Let’s get it right. I’ve got a few things to say to you. Basic stuff first.

Never be cruel, never be cowardly. And never ever eat pears! Remember – hate is always foolish…and love, is always wise.

Always try, to be nice and never fail to be kind. Oh, and….and you mustn’t tell anyone your name. No-one would understand it anyway. Except….

He gasps, falls to the floor

Except….children. Children can hear it. Sometimes – if their hearts are in the right place, and the stars are too. Children can hear your name.

Gasps, grunts more

But nobody else. Nobody else. Ever.

Pulls himself off the floor

Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.

Stirring music.

Doctor – I let you go.


And on that dramatic note, Jody Whittaker’s Doctor appears…and promptly gets into trouble with her TARDIS. Another Doctor, another cliffhanger, just the way we LIKE IT!

Welcome aboard…

Cochran Files Bankruptcy on Eve of Trial

Connor Cochran and his companies filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy on January 4, one day before trial was scheduled to begin in Peter S. Beagle’s lawsuit against his former manager.

Beagle sued Cochran in 2015 for $52 million in damages, disgorgement of illegal gains and restitution, and dissolution of two corporations he co-owns with Cochran, Avicenna Development Corporation, and Conlan Press, Inc.

Cochran filed with United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of California. The details are public record. Cochran listed these as the largest unsecured claims against him:

$626,558  Rimon, PC – Legal fees
$500,000  Peter S. Beagle – Pending litigation (est.)
$400,000  Justin Bunnell – Judgment (*)
$ 83,592  Gloria Cheng – Property settlement
$ 24,915  Kathleen Hunt – Court-assessed fee
$ 20,000  Law Office of James R. Thompson – Legal fees
$  7,800  Son-Rise Property Management – Residential lease

Plus ten personal loans of $5,000 or less, and miscellaneous other small debts and claims.

(*) The Bunnell judgment relates to an investment by Sandbox LLC, a California partnership, and Justin Bunnell in The Last Unicorn screening tour launched in 2013. Projected for more than 150 different cities, Cochran and Beagle drove to tour destinations in a car loaded with stuff for sale. To quote the Bunnell complaint —

Specifically, on or around February 15, 2012, Defendant Avicenna and Plaintiff Sandbox entered into a written joint venture agreement whereby, in exchange for Sandbox’s remittance of Three Hundred Thousand Dollars ($300,000.00) to Defendants, Defendant Avicenna agreed to, among other things, oversee the distribution and marketing of the Picture through a “special limited release film tour” and remunerate Plaintiff, at a minimum, Four Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars ($450,000.00) and, thereafter, twenty-five percent (25%) of all profits derived from the the film tour and/or the exploitation of the Picture (the “Joint Venture Agreement”).

Commenting on the bankruptcy filing, Beagle’s attorney Kathleen Hunt said —

My favorite document so far is the one claiming that Connor has had literally $0 income for the past six months. (Presumably this is justified in his mind because the $ went to the companies, and he didn’t transfer it to his personal bank account – he just used the company bank accounts as if they were his personal accounts.)

She says the bankruptcy has put the lawsuit “trial on hold for awhile.”

[Thanks to Cat Eldridge for the story.]

SFF in Hungary: A Year in Review

By Bence Pintér: How was your year, fellow American speculative fiction readers, the first year in the reign of Donald Trump? Was it tough? As a journalist living in a self-declared illiberal democracy in the middle of the European Union, I can tell you it can be worse. Post-truth and corruption in the land of Viktor Orban is standard, Russian influence is a fact for sure, blatant xenophobic populism is rampant since 2015 and alt-right is not just an underlying theory, but a proudly declared practice. I encourage you to hold to the truth and fight for your institutions before it’s too late.

But I’m not here to tell you about the sad realities of politics. (I did that a few years ago here. Things got worse since.) I want to tell a brighter story, a story about the state of speculative fiction fandom of Hungary. 2017 was a distinct year for Hungarian genre fans: we had the opportunity to read an unusually large number of engaging books by domestic and foreign authors, established a new convention and held a survey to learn about the Hungarian SFF readers and their reading habits.

ViTa 2017

I always feel a bit of envy when I read about all the conventions where English-speaking people can come together and talk about our beloved genres. It seems like there are conventions in every city, minor or major, dealing with every genres and subgenres from every imaginable perspective. Hell, I know, because I asked them last year, that even in Poland fans have a speculative literature convention in every major town. Can’t we do that? – I asked a lot of times. As 2017 proved, we can.

Organized by Próza Nostra, a blog established seven years ago in Szeged, we held the first of a planned annual con focusing solely on speculative literature. (For the record, we had HungaroCon and some number of anime and player cons before in Hungary, but these are organized with a broader approach.) It got the name ViTa, meaning ‘debate’ and also short for “Világok talákozása”, which means “Meeting of Worlds”. It was held on 25th November in Bem Movie Theater, Budapest. (I do not write for Próza Nostra, but I was in the organizing comitee.)

I participated in the first panel, in which we talked about reviewing SFF books and the academic side of the discussion about popular culture. As other participants pointed out, Hungarian universities are not really strong in discussions on popular culture, but there is a growing number of academic theses with such topics. The philosopher and critic Tibor Bárány blames this on a supposed generational gap: elderly and even middle-aged Hungarian professors did not grow up on the products of popular culture like their peers on the Western side of the Iron Curtain. I moderated the second panel: my guests talked about the prospects of being a novice genre writer in Hungary.

After a brief lunch break we came back for the main attractions. These were the topics in the next three panels: new ways in fantasy literature, the crisis of ideas in modern science fiction and the emergence of horror and weird literature as a novelty in Hungary. All three were good, solid discussions of these topics with some of the best experts (writers, publishing professionals and bloggers) of the fields in Hungary. It was a good day, I really enjoyed it and met a lot of people whom I just knew online. Altogether 150-200 people attended, which was as much as we planned – it was full house in the Bem Movie Theater almost until the end.

The organizing committee also established an award to honor people – writers, translators, publishing professionals, bloggers and fans – who do a lot for promoting speculative literature in Hungary. All the participants and moderators of the panels could nominate and then vote in a final round. First year the annual Hexa Award was given to Csilla Kleinheincz, who brought us a lot of wonderful books in the last couple of years not only as an editor of multiple publishing houses (Delta Vision, Ad Astra, Gabo SFF) and as a translator of a whole bunch of beloved works of fiction but an author herself. (You can read her short story ‘Rabbits’ next year in the Sunspot Jungle: The Ever-Expanding Universe of Science Fiction and Fantasy anthology.)

Apart from ViTa, there were other exciting events in this year. I want to talk about one more. Organizing ViTa, we had a plan to held a panel on the importance of awards, but we shelved that idea in the end. Luckily, the SF Work Committee of the Hungarian Writers Association held another discussion few days earlier about exactly the same topic. Anikó Sohár summarized all the major English and American awards, then publishing professionals discussed their experiences about the effect of the awards on sales. As it came out, foreign or even domestic awards have no great effect on sales in Hungary.

This year also saw the creation of SFF Figyelo (SFF Watcher), a blog to keep track all the events of the speculative fiction field in Hungary.

Great Fantastic Survey 2017

As it came out on ViTa, no one really knows hard facts about Hungarian readership of science fiction, fantasy and horror literature. How many fans are out there? Do they like only one genre, or two or three at the same time? Do they read in print or on Kindle? Is there a generation gap? We had a lot of questions, so I created a survey and got answers from 1,476 readers of SFF. I give you a short summary. Please excuse me – I can’t talk in the language of statistics even in Hungarian

All respondents by gender:

  • male 53%,
  • female 46%,
  • non-binary 1%.

Respondents by age:

  • 13-18 4,9%,
  • 19-24 12,7%,
  • 25-30 25,5%,
  • 31-40 33,9%;
  • 41-50 18,6%,
  • 51-60, 3,2%,
  • 61-70 1%.

The exciting part is that under 30 there is female majority in every age group: women were the 62% of the respondents under 30. Between thirty and sixty there is male majority: men gave the 66% of respondents in those age groups. 45% of the respondents have a university degree, while 19% attended college. (For comparison: 7% of the Hungarian populace held a university, 12% a college degree.)

Women read more books in a year than men, but men are more loyal SFF-readers: most of them read mostly SFF while women are tend to read in other genres. Almost a half of the respondents read only in Hungarian, while another 31% read mostly in Hungarian. Only a quarter of the respondents told that they read only in print; while 31% told that they read mostly in print. Two-thirds of the respondents likes more than one speculative genre equally, while 31% have a favorite but read in other genres also. From all the respondents, 82% like sci-fi, 78% fantasy, 41% alternate history, 28% horror/weird, 25% YA. Going into details: men are more likely to like science fiction, while women more likely to like fantasy. People under thirty more likely to like fantasy, while people over thirty are more likely to like sci-fi. (I have charts here! Numbers! Mathematics is a universal language, I was told.)

Notable books

We have an excellent choice of fiction in translation: this mostly means English and American novels. Just some examples: in 2017 Hungarian readers had the chance to read the second, Hugo-winning installment of N. K. Jemisin’s wonderful Broken Earth-trilogy; the horror anthology Darkness edited by Ellen Datlow; the first book of Ian McDonald’s Luna-trilogy; the new books by John Scalzi, Jeff Vandermeer, Andy Weir, Kim Stanley Robinson and Neil Gaiman; the annual SFF anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan; and The Unreal and the Real, the excellent collection of selected short stories by Ursula K. Le Guin.

This year also saw the birth of several non-fiction books affiliated with speculative fiction. Last year liberal political scientist Csaba Tóth published a book about politics of science fiction worlds (‘A sci-fi politológiája’, Athenaeum, 2016), and this year he edited a collection of essays (‘Fantasztikus világok’, Athenaeum, 2017) about even more fictional universes from the viewpoint of social sciences – from the legal questions in Game of Thrones to politics of zombies in Walking Dead. (I contributed to this volume with an analytical essay of the posthuman societies in the Jean le Flambeur-trilogy by Hannu Rajaniemi.) At the end of the year HVG Könyvek published Holnap történt (‘It happened tomorrow’), a long-awaited book by András Kánai, founder-editor of the best-known speculative fiction blog SFmag. Kánai explored five topics which were once the tropes of science fiction, but nowadays they are the present or the near-future: from the 3D printing to the colonization of Mars.

We also have a handful of talented writers to entertain, enchant, surprise and horrify us with their fiction. Here is a selection of books I found the most important in the last year by Hungarian authors. Remember the first paragraph, where I mentioned xenophobic populism in our dear country? As you will see, the main topic in science fiction this year was xenophobia as well: there were three novels with the premise ‘weird alien creatures appeared here from nowhere, and a lot of people hate them’.

Attila Veres: Odakint sötétebb (Darker on the Outside)

In this engaging piece of weird fiction we follow Gábor, a typical Millennial as he flees the city to work on a farm in the countryside. But the animals he will attend to are no ordinary ones: on a cold winter night 30 years ago this little part of Hungary became a really weird place. All the owls disappeared in the forest, people killed themselves and there was an earthquake in a span of few hours. In the morning there were these uncanny creatures in the woods, the cellofoids: they are part sloth, part cat, part octopus and their milk supposedly cures cancer. That’s why Hungarians started to hunt them, and why they live in reserves nowadays. After Gábor arrives, there are more and more weird occurrences around the creatures, and it becomes clear that some really evil thing is lurking in the woods and the little village, waiting for Gábor. Then, surprisingly, the apocalypse begins.

If you ask me, this book was simply the best read this year in all of Hungarian genre fiction. See, we did not really have horror or weird authors and novels at all. I wrote about this book four or five articles, arguing that Veres proved: weird is the best genre to talk about Hungarian realities. At least this is the case with this exceptional book. (Agave Könyvek, 2017)

Brandon Hackett (Botond Markovics): Xeno

Few decades into the future an armada of alien spacecraft appears in the Solar System. The aliens (called ‘migrators’ by earthlings) conquered the planet and opened portals to three different planets populated by civilizations really different from humanity. The never-seen migrators force a million members of each race to move to the other planets. That is the order of the world for decades now. Olga Ballard, the daughter of the famous xenologist Ben Ballard is destined to become a brainwashed Speaker of the migrators, but with help of the resistance movement she flees. She and a selected team of soldiers and academics then try to find the answer for the final question: who are the migrators and what is their purpose?

Hackett’s take on the topics of migration and xenophobia in this far-reaching space opera is chilling, entertaining and gripping: once the action starts, you cannot take it down for hours, until the surprising twists at the end. (Agave Könyvek, 2017)

Zoltán László: Távolvíz (Farwater)

100 million intelligent alien aquatic creature appear on a starship/submarine in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, and they want to serve humanity. Where did the creatures called crea came from? Who created them? It seems sure that they were tailor-made by mysterious masters to serve. Maybe the Dänikanists have the truth and humans from the future sent back these little guys to help us through the hard years of climate shift? Nevertheless, humanity is changed, nation states were dissolved as everyone moved to the coasts to work with creas, and utopia came in the wake of their appearance and with their advanced technology of the “slow time machines”. But not everyone thinks that they have ultimately good intentions, and not everyone accepted them as pals. Goda Gellard accidentally grew up in a slow time machine, cut off from the world with her mother. That means that while they were inside for twenty years, outside just few hours passed. It is up to them to find out the truth about the creatures.

Zoltán László was the first Hungarian science-fiction writer who managed to fascinate me in 2009 with his novel ‘Keringés’ after years of reading the American masters of the genre. Since then he wrote an urban fantasy novel and now he is back with this thoughtful and imaginative story with an amazing mystery at its heart.

Olivér Csepella: Nyugat + Zombik (Nyugat + Zombies)

In 2013, details of a comic book circulated on the Hungarian part of internet. Depicted on them were the most famous writers and poets of Hungary, the first generation of the Nyugat literary journal (published from 1908 to 1941) – with axes, shotguns and swords, dealing with a zombie outbreak, painted in a vibrant art deco style. Everyone immediately fell in love with this snippet of a planned seven-part comic book series, and when on year later the author, Olivér Csepella asked for some spending money to create the comic, people donated twice the amount he asked.

Still, we had to wait three years for Csepella to finish his work, well over the deadline he set. Nevertheless, the 264 pages long comic book published this December is a joy to behold, an incredibly funny, thoughtful adventure in which our most famous literary luminaries killing countless zombies to save the soul of the Hungarian people.

Follow Bence Pinter’s SFF blog Spekulatív Zóna. (Link takes you to his English-language posts).