Pixel Scroll 7/23

Six stories, a French rant and a video adorn today’s Scroll.

(1) “Cap’n, it’s a Class M planet.”

“Any lifeform readings?”

Described in media reports as an “earthlike planet” is the Kepler space mission’s first discovery of a world smaller than Neptune in the middle of its star’s habitable zone.

Also called the Goldilocks zone, the habitable zone is the region around a star where a planet’s surface is not too hot and not too cold for liquid water—and thus life as we know it—to exist.

(2) Atlas Obscura has posted its “Obsessively Detailed Map of American Literature’s Most Epic Road Trips”. I’ll bet there are some fan fund reports crying out for the same treatment.

The above map is the result of a painstaking and admittedly quixotic effort to catalog the country as it has been described in the American road-tripping literature. It includes every place-name reference in 12 books about cross-country travel, from Mark Twain’s Roughing It (1872) to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild (2012), and maps the authors’ routes on top of one another. You can track an individual writer’s descriptions of the landscape as they traveled across it, or you can zoom in to see how different authors have written about the same place at different times.

(3) Thunderbirds fans are very enthusiastic about the plan to combine old-fashioned “Supermarionation” with audio lifted from three original 21-minute mini-albums released in the 1960s (each was a 7″ single, but played at 33-1/3 rpm). The Kickstarter appeal to fund production, with a goal of $115,789, has already gathered $206,325 in pledges from over 2,000 contributors. The original goal would have paid for one – the current total should pay for all three.

[Director] Stephen La Rivière says: “We have shot new sequences with the puppets using the old-fashioned techniques. Whilst many of the methods used seem a little archaic and time-consuming by today’s standards, we thought that it would be very special to do a one-off project bringing Thunderbirds back to life 1960s style. Sadly, many of the original voice cast have passed away since 1965. However, thanks to the original audio footage we’ve rediscovered, we have new, authentic stories that have never been adapted for screen.”

 

(4) Being a critic is a higher calling for Jonathan McCalmont than most sf bloggers who spend a lot of energy churning other people’s advertising in return for pageviews. (Pay no attention to the man behind the file…) McCalmont inquires “What Price, Your Critical Agency?” on Ruthless Culture.

These days, few cultural ecosystems operate independently of commercial interests. The ability to artificially engineer an interest bubble means that commercial interests will always have some control over the agenda of an enthusiast press. Reviewers will request DVD screeners and ARCs of books they have been encouraged to look forward to and editors will always be happy to slipstream a wave of hype by providing content that satisfies the readership’s artificially-engineered interest in a particular subject. Money and effort devoted to creating buzz translates into traffic and so anyone who is interested in getting more traffic will always go out of their way to chase the hype.

While traffic is a significant carrot to offer in return for collaborating with commercial interests, review copies are another great way of controlling the agenda. At an institutional level, it is difficult to run a reviews department without review copies you can pass on to your reviewers and so the output of a reviews department will always be dependent upon the nature of the screeners and ARCs provided. At an individual level, a commitment to operate any kind of reviews platform means an open-ended commitment to media consumption and while you may very well be willing to pay for the media you choose to consume, the volume of reviews required to build an audience realistically means deep pockets, a relationship with publicists, or a willingness to obtain review materials for free by either borrowing or stealing.

One of my favourite recent discoveries has been S.C. Flynn’s Scy-Fy, a blog that features no fewer than 100 different interviews with book bloggers, magazine editors, podcasters and something he somewhat alarmingly refers to as ‘booktubers’. One thing that struck me about these interviews is that despite many of them warning about the dangers of writing only about new books and how setting your own critical agenda is the best way to stay productive and stave off burnout, most of the interviewees operate platforms that lavish their attention on new releases. In other words, they know that allowing commercial forces to influence their critical output is dangerous and yet they continue to let it happen.

(5) But at the very tip of the cultural pyramid is the blogosphere’s most highly evolved parasite, with an enviable track record of breaking stories before the studios’ own PR staffs ever hear about them. Alex Pappademas on Grantland tells how El Mayimbe creates those leaks.

El Mayimbe’s real name is Umberto Gonzalez, born 41 years ago in Queens, New York, of Dominican and Colombian descent, and as a self-proclaimed “fanboy journalist” and “ace scooper,” he lives for moments like these. If a studio’s measuring an actor for an iconic leotard or cowl or enchanted helm or loincloth, if a director signs up to reboot a trilogy based on an action figure, Gonzalez wants to be the first to know, and the first to trumpet that information on the Internet, via a fistful of social-media accounts and a new website called Heroic Hollywood, which went live in June. In an era when the movie business sometimes appears to be rebooting itself as a machine that cranks out nothing but superhero movies, Gonzalez is far from the only reporter whose beat includes stories like these, but no one follows it as closely or as aggressively. Gonzalez broke that Brandon Routh would play Superman, that Heath Ledger would play the Joker. He knew that Bradley Cooper would be supplying the voice of Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy, he says, before Cooper’s own publicist did.

(7) You don’t need to know French to catch the drift of this Telerama article about the Puppies, titled “Hugo Awards : le plus grand prix de SF menacé par des groupes d’extrême droite.”

Fervent défenseur des armes à feu

Cette année, le débat est autre. Un groupe de fans extrêmement conservateurs, les sad puppies (« chiots tristes »), dirigés par un fervent défenseur des armes à feu, Larry Correia, s’était déjà fait attaquer pour ses choix. En 2014, il avait mis de l’eau dans son vin, proposant aussi sur ses listes des auteurs progressistes. Trop, au goût de certains de ses membres, qui ont formé un groupe dissident, les rabid puppies (« chiots enragés »), l’ont débordé sur sa droite et ont réussi, en faisant voter en masse leurs soutiens, à faire inclure dans toutes les listes de nominés la plupart de leurs candidats. Démarche parfaitement en accord avec les règles du prix. Mais les livres ainsi proposés deviennent les fers de lance d’une percée idéologique forte. Et le prix est aujourd’hui au bord de l’implosion.

[Thanks to Steve Green and John King Tarpinian for some of these links.]

213 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 7/23

  1. FINAL ROUND OF THE SF “BRACKETT” BRACKET!

    1. “WILL YOU TELL US ABOUT THE OTHER WORLDS OUT AMONG THE STARS — THE OTHER KINDS OF MEN, AND OTHER LIVES?” … HE WAS SOON BORNE AWAY BY THE WAVES AND LOST IN DARKNESS AND DISTANCE.

    Ursula K. Le Guin: The Left Hand of Darkness
    Mary Shelley: Frankenstein

  2. (I will remind everyone that it is also possible to vote for a work not listed. That being said, have at it!)

  3. Zelazny! Sigh…

    Le Guin

    PS: Guess what I want included in a fantasy bracket.

  4. Mary Shelley: Frankenstein

    LeGuin’s work is excellent, but I don’t see it quite as ovular (heh) as Shelley’s work (and on a personal level, I like Russ and Tiptree’s feminist works better than LeGuin’s: I’m afraid that _Tehanu_ soured me quite a bit, and over the decades, I’ve developed an allergic reaction to Jungian archetypes in any context, and I don’t respond well to her use of the Tao in her fantasy–at this point, I like her essays more than her fiction which I’ve sort of given up on. ALl of that aside, she’s an incredible kickass feminist-literary activist, and an amazing voice for sff).

  5. The journalist writing that French article seems to think that opposition to Puppies is based entirely on their ideology, and says nothing about the problem of slates as such. His research seems to amount to reading one recent post by GRRM, finding out who VD is, and asking some French authors and editors for their thoughts, which again are all about ideology, This makes it hard to see why GRRM would say that the Hugos could be permanently broken, as he is quoted.

  6. I’ve been thinking about this since the last bracket, and my vote is for:
    Mary Shelley: Frankenstein

  7. Thanks to the person/people who recommended Seveneves by Stephenson: it was INCREDIBLE (I was sort of half sick with a cold or major allergies while at my mom’s, so had a couple of days of lazing around during which I read Anathem which was pretty good, but I thought Seveneves blew past it–definitely putting it on my Hugo list.

    Fantastic mind-blowing sf premise (and I even enjoyed a lot of the data dumps hee!) and yet a twist to make sad canines even sadder.

  8. I shall stir myself for the final bracket and vote my namesake! LeGuin forever!

  9. 1. Le Guin
    Like so many other choices throughout the bracket, I am torn. Ultimately though – Shelley imagined characters; Le Guin imagined a culture. On the strength of world building and breadth I have to go with Left Hand.

    @Kyra
    Your bracket titles have been wonderful; your commentary both fun and insightful. I have very much appreciated the opportunity to really think about what I value in books. Thank you for taking this on!!!

  10. LeGuin – The Dispossessed

    Rrede: I agree about Tehanu. I have an aversion to writers coming back to old worlds and stories they left long ago. They are seldom in the same head space as originally and often their style has morphed out of recognition making “the new sequel” an out of place mess.

  11. Shelley. Primordial.

    LHoD is more agreeable to my sensibilities and a more enjoyable read for me, but Frankenstein is a great work and wellspring to so many stories I enjoyed.

  12. Le Guin – The Dispossessed

    Thank you Kyra for the effort to organize this and keep everyone’s interest with wonderful commentary and fight titles.

  13. Argh! Boneland is another example indeed. But an example of what not to do in my book. I was quite surprised to learn that Collin and Susan were twins. It wasn’t mentioned in either Weirdstone or Gomrath. Then the mythic side story that is predominantly alegorical and doesn’t link at all with the established mythos.

    These sorts of things may be okay for an adult reader with vague fond memeories and post-modern sensibilities, but for a child who may be coming to it as the third book in the Wierdstone set; or someone(like me) who has read and re-read the first two books and really wanted to see what happened to the children next, it was a waste of time and frustrating as all heck.

  14. Mary Shelley. Frankenstein not only is a cornerstone of the genre it echoes throughout pop culture loudly to this day.

  15. Le Guin—The Dispossessed.
    Or Always Coming Home which is remarkable for its experimentation with form.

    I agree with those disappointed by Tehanu. The Other Wind was also painful but some of the magic began to return in Tales from Earthsea. Despite how much I love the original Earthsea trilogy, I have sometimes thought that Le Guin is better at SF than at fantasy. At any rate, she is usually better able to fold her political questions into SF without distorting story and character than into fantasy. (Though The Telling also had its weaknesses.) Or is it that the tropes of fantasy are more regressive and require more obvious (wo)manhandling?

  16. A previous bracket had The Left Hand of Darkness up against Neuromancer. That broke me, and I’m not sure I can be repaired.

    I hope the final round doesn’t do the same to McJulie.

    TIE

  17. Since in today’s scroll the slating dilemma posed by the chiots enragés has already been discussed avec enthousiasme, I noted this fascinating comment on ML calculating the effect of a slate on categories other than Best Novel, which aligns with my earlier – totally ignored! – request that EPH’s crime-fighting maneuvers be demonstrated in other scenarios, especially in the smaller, more vulnerable categories.

    For 2013, under EPH with 200 slate ballots added, the results would be:

    Best Novel: at least 1 slate work, maybe 2
    Best Novella: at least 2 slate works, maybe 3
    Best Novelette: at least 3 slate works, maybe 4
    Best Short Story: 4 slate works
    Best Related Work: 3 slate works
    Best Graphic Story: 3 slate works
    Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): 1 slate work
    Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): 2 slate works
    Best Editor (Long Form): at least 2 slate works, probably 3
    Best Editor (Short Form): at least 1 slate work, maybe 2
    Best Professional Artist: at least 3 slate works, maybe 4
    Best Semiprozine: at least 1 slate work, maybe 2
    Best Fanzine: 3 slate works
    Best Fancast: at least 3 slate works, maybe 4
    Best Fan Writer: at least 3 slate works, maybe 4
    Best Fan Artist: 4 slate works
    The John W. Campbell Award: 3 slate works…

    Results for 2014 would be broadly similar.

    Maybe the Mad Geniuses are going to get their 50 Hugos after all. 😀

    ps. the author of that comment (an EPH supporter) doesn’t seem to agree with me on anything at all. My only point of sympathy with a longlist is that I think asking voters to tackle one would be in keeping with the spirit of treating Hugo voters like a special kind of reader and fan who are inclined to take participation in a literary award seriously, which is all we want to do. However, I’d fear people don’t realistically have time to read 10 or 15 books, novellas, etc. If people do have the time, it would be a great idea.

  18. Le Guin.
    I started a long screed about why, but then deleted it. Le Guin.

  19. ETA re. this assessment of the smaller categories, don’t forget that a relatively low-ranked work which squeaked onto the ballot based on having slightly more nominations can also be easily knocked off à la Tepper even if there was not a pattern of bloc voting. So add those to the dommages collatéraux.

  20. Brian, that list of results under EPH is totally 100% meaningless unless compared with the results under the current system (and, optimally, the results under some other system that you think is better than either the current demonstrably-easily-broken-by-slates system or the Sherri-Tepper-doesn’t-make-the-ballot EPH proposal).

  21. Morris Keesan, I understood it to be a logical extension (to other categories) of the EPH demonstration PowerPoint showing a hypothetical slate being vanquished in the Best Novel category by using a statistically generated faux 2013 data set. I don’t know if the math is correct or not – I just read the comment with interest.

  22. Le Guin.

    ______
    I found Tehanu weak, but I thought Tales from Earthsea made up for much (it came out next and in part set up the Other Wind), and I loved the Other Wind.

  23. Brian Z.: So add those to the dommages collatéraux.

    Did you just call only some of the works on a slate making the ballot, instead of all of a slate’s works taking up the whole ballot, “collateral damage”?

    Why, yes. Yes you did.

    That’s not “collateral damage”. That’s mitigation.

  24. I’d just like to interrupt this Le Guin frenzy long enough to point out that the creator of the American literature road trip maps not only hates Bill Bryson’s “The Lost Continent”, he left the second half of the book out of his map. I’ve already written in.

  25. Now, I loved Tehanu. Other Wind did nothing for me, though.

    Always Coming Home I loved more, but Tehanu worked for me, if only because there are so few older women heroes and Granny Weatherwax can’t carry that field alone.

  26. The marionette shows of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson hold a very special place in my heart (as I wrote about, here!

    http://www.tvparty.com/fall-supermarionation.html

    My old amigo Tom Rogers (aka Thomas W. Rogers) or myself were actually the first people to write a history of those science fiction shows, here in America, back in the ’70s… (Tom and I could never figure out whose article–mine appeared in FANTASTIC FILMS–came first!)

    But I was compelled to write it, as I write these words now, because the producing duo’s production team managed to create something very special, on many occasions.

    The documentary created by the fella behind the new THUNDERBIRDS project was just terrific.

    And there’s no reason to think that the new episodes, based on those original audio recordings, is anything but a spelndid idea!

  27. Frakenstein spoke to the world at large, and affects the world to this day in no small way

    But Left Hand…, and Le Guin, spoke to *me*.

    Le Guin.

  28. Brian:

    Yes, you’ve already made it clear that you’d prefer to let the slates continue to destroy the Hugo village ad infinitum.

  29. RedWombat: I do wonder as I get older if I’ll appreciate Tehanu more. I am a severely different person than I was when I read it, in my later 20s. It’s also, for unrelated reasons, the only Earthsea book I don’t have. (I was trying to get matching editions and for no reason they stopped printing Tehanu in the same size and cover artist as my copies of the first three.)

  30. What Brian Z at 8:49pm is failing to mention is that that ‘analysis’ is done by a commenter who doesn’t like EPH and wants a long-list (so that people can vote strategically). And said commenter has been told ‘no’, and had it explained to them why it’s not going to fly, several times.

  31. LeGuin.
    Always the Little Bear Woman for me. I’m with Camestros and RedWombat; I love Tehanu, Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind, in part because it was the older version of the author debating the younger. But another part of the attraction was seeing the debate happen in real time; I read the later books after LeGuin’s debate with feminists such as Russ, and was fascinated to see the effects in LeGuin’s fiction, after her essays.

  32. What Brian Z at 8:49pm is failing to mention is that that ‘analysis’ is done by a commenter who doesn’t like EPH and wants…

    Who cares what she “wants” – she’s asked to be corrected if her math is wrong. I hope you don’t mean that nobody has bothered to model how EPH would perform with a slate of short stories or novelettes? That would be shortsighted!

  33. Brian Z:. I hope you don’t mean that nobody has bothered to model how EPH would perform with a slate of short stories or novelettes? That would be shortsighted!

    Of course they have. How EPH performs is this: only some of the works on the slate make the ballot, instead of all of that slate’s works taking up the whole ballot.

    Mitigation.

  34. JJ on July 24, 2015 at 12:04 am said:

    Of course they have. How EPH performs is this: only some of the works on the slate make the ballot, instead of all of that slate’s works taking up the whole ballot.

    Doesn’t that happen to be our preferred, fair, outcome?

  35. Has anyone ever said that EPH was the perfect solution that would eliminate the problem? I don’t think that’s possible without a time machine so we can go back to talk to Teddy and Brad’s mothers and persuade them not to raise entitled dickweasels.

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