Pixel Scroll 3/31/16 The One They Pixel, The One You’ll Scroll By

(1) IT’S BIG. At Entertainment Weekly, “Jeff VanderMeer explains what it’s like to edit The Big Book of Science Fiction”.

During one part of our research, we even had to contact the Czech ambassador to the Philippines for intel on particular authors; in another life this man had been the editor of a Czech science-fiction magazine that, before the Wall came down, paid Western writers in items like books of surreal erotic photography. He had become an expert, due to his travels, on fiction in many countries. From him we received a flurry of photocopies and advice that will likely inform future projects. It’s a small world, but also a big, complex one, too.

(2) ENOUGH PI? NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory answers the question “How Many Decimals of Pi Do We Really Need?”

We posed this question to the director and chief engineer for NASA’s Dawn mission, Marc Rayman. Here’s what he said:

Thank you for your question! This isn’t the first time I’ve heard a question like this. In fact, it was posed many years ago by a sixth-grade science and space enthusiast who was later fortunate enough to earn a doctorate in physics and become involved in space exploration. His name was Marc Rayman.

To start, let me answer your question directly. For JPL’s highest accuracy calculations, which are for interplanetary navigation, we use 3.141592653589793. Let’s look at this a little more closely to understand why we don’t use more decimal places. I think we can even see that there are no physically realistic calculations scientists ever perform for which it is necessary to include nearly as many decimal points as you present. Consider these examples:

  1. The most distant spacecraft from Earth is Voyager 1. It is about 12.5 billion miles away. Let’s say we have a circle with a radius of exactly that size (or 25 billion miles in diameter) and we want to calculate the circumference, which is pi times the radius times 2. Using pi rounded to the 15th decimal, as I gave above, that comes out to a little more than 78 billion miles. We don’t need to be concerned here with exactly what the value is (you can multiply it out if you like) but rather what the error in the value is by not using more digits of pi. In other words, by cutting pi off at the 15th decimal point, we would calculate a circumference for that circle that is very slightly off. It turns out that our calculated circumference of the 25 billion mile diameter circle would be wrong by 1.5 inches. Think about that. We have a circle more than 78 billion miles around, and our calculation of that distance would be off by perhaps less than the length of your little finger….

(3) WHICH GHOST WROTE THE MOST? “Houdini manuscript ‘Cancer of Superstition’ divides opinion over Lovecraft, Eddy ghostwriting”. The Chicago Tribune has the story.

…Potter & Potter lists Lovecraft as the ghostwriter, in part citing “An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia” by S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, a 2001 anthology of Lovecraft’s work. The book says, however, Houdini approached Lovecraft and Lovecraft’s fellow Providence, R.I., author C.M. Eddy Jr. “jointly to ghostwrite a full-scale book on superstition.”

But how much of “The Cancer of Superstition” was the work of Lovecraft vs. Eddy is up for debate.

Douglas A. Anderson, co-founder of Wormwoodiana, a blog dedicated to researching and discussing the work of Lovecraft and his peers, said one needs to look at “The Dark Brotherhood and Other Pieces,” a 1966 Lovecraft anthology edited by August Derleth that published a detailed outline and the project’s first chapter. Derleth, who had exchanged letters with Eddy prior to the book’s publication, listed Lovecraft as the author of the outline but Eddy as the author of the chapter….

(4) CASSIDY IN GALLERY SHOW. Kyle Cassidy’s photos from Toni Carr’s Geek Knits book will be part of an art show opening April 1 at the Stanek Gallery in Philadelphia. The book, subtitled Over 30 Projects for Fantasy Fanatics, Science Fiction Fiends, and Knitting Nerds, has been mentioned here in the Scroll before. Cassidy is known in sf for his photographs of fans taken at the Montreal Worldcon in 2009.


thread of art exhibit

(5) LOSE THE RECUSE. Kevin Standlee says Cheryl Morgan ”Talked Me Into It”.

I am quite obviously eligible for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award for the stuff I write on this LJ plus a whole lot of writing elsewhere, possibly most notably on Mike Glyer’s File 770 news site. But as people were talking me up for a Hugo Award nomination, I was uneasy, given that I’m Chairman of the WSFS Mark Protection Committee and possibly the most visible member of the Hugo Awards Marketing Committee. While I’m not required to recuse myself from consideration, I thought it possible that it would be unseemly and that I’d be considered using undue influence. But Cheryl Morgan wrote yesterday about this subject, and I found her argument persuasive. So if you should in fact think that my writing is award-worthy, don’t think that you’re throwing your vote away to mention me.

(6) INFLUENCE VS PERFORMANCE. Or as Cheryl Morgan said it in “Kevin and the Hugos”

My view on this is that it is one thing to have a high position and get nominated for something else (in my case being on the staff of Clarkesworld). It is quite another to have a high position and get nominated for doing that job. In my case, if my WSFS job was getting me votes for my Clarkesworld work, that could be construed as unfair. (I think it is silly to suggest that it was, and the Business Meeting agreed, but that’s not relevant here.) In Kevin’s case the job and the work are the same thing. So yes, having the job makes him noticed, but he’s being nominated for doing the job. That seems entirely reasonable to me.

(7) YOUTUBE STARS. Here’s a trailer for Electra Woman & Dyna Girl, which will be “available on all major digital platforms” on June 7.

(8) COME CORRECT. Adam-Troy Castro says “No, You Have Not Been Nominated For a Hugo This Year”.

Attention to a certain self-published author: no, you have not been nominated for a Hugo this year. Now, I don’t know whether you’ve made an honest mistake, have fallen prey to wishful thinking, or are actively lying, but in any event, you are wrong; just because some folks have filled out the name of your magnum opus on the online Hugo nomination form, doesn’t mean you are “nominated;” certainly not before the nomination period closes, this Thursday.

(9) IT’S GREAT TO BE A GENIUS OF COURSE. Kate Paulk holds forth on “The Problem of Being Too Good” at Mad Genius Club.

One of the things I learned was that in pretty much any creative endeavor the really good ones don’t look like they’re making any effort. They’re so good they make it look easy. They make it feel easy, and they appear to effortlessly produce the effect they’re aiming for, be it a gem of a musical performance or a story that’s a perfect or near perfect example of its art – and it’s so apparently effortless and clear that those of lesser understanding can too easily fail to see the work the author or musician or artist has carefully concealed behind the appearance of easy. That is why seeing the writer sweat is annoying.

Of course, this leads to those of lesser understanding (many of whom think they’re the bees knees and – to paraphrase Douglas Adams – the every other assorted insectile erogenous zone in existence) thinking that a book (or performance or whatever) that looks effortless actually is effortless and therefore is easy. Simply put, they mistake sweat and visible exertion for skill.

What this reminds me of is my favorite Robert Moore Williams quote. Williams was a self-admitted hack sf writer. He was leery of losing sales by being too literary. He said, “You have to stink ’em up just right.”

(10) WHERE THE ROCKS ARE. An amazing map of prehistoric stone structures in the United Kingdom can be found at http://m.megalithic.co.uk/asb_mapsquare.php.

This map of Britain and Ireland, is divided into 100 kilometre squares. Locations of prehistoric stone circles and stone rows are indicated by the red dots. Click on a grid square to see that map sheet in greater detail. Many of the pages have images and links to information elsewhere on the web, making this a master index of Britain and Ireland’s Prehistoric sites.

(11) MEOW WOW.  “George R.R. Martin Spent $3.5 Million to Make This Sci-Fi Art Utopia a Reality” – at Vice.

Perhaps the only thing more disorienting than visiting the art collective Meow Wolf’s permanent art installation, the House of Eternal Return, is getting a Skype tour of the place, which is what I recently received. Labyrinthine and almost hallucinatory, the sprawling former bowling alley has been transformed to a freak-out art mecca, funded by $3.5 million from Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin and another $2.5 million from Kickstarter and other fundraising.

The 20,000-square-foot art space, the size of Gagosian’s Chelsea gallery, opened on Friday with a cavalcade of 5,500 visitors in the first three days, including Martin himself and Neil Gaiman. Described by 33-year-old CEO Vince Kadlubek as the “inside [of] a sci-fi novel,” the House of Eternal Return is many things: a psychedelic art space, a bar, an educational center, a ceramics studio, and an elaborate music venue (with a half school-bus upper deck), featuring a slew of dream-like elements such as black-light carpeting, a laser harp, pneumatic doors, and a 20-foot climbable lookout tower.

(12) COLE’S HEART. I was very impressed with Myke Cole’s contribution to “The Big Idea” feature at Whatever – but I didn’t want to pick an excerpt that would dilute the reading experience, so here is a comparatively bland quote…

When I did my Big Idea post for Gemini Cell, I straight up owned the PTSD allegory. Schweitzer’s undead status kept him permanently apart from the living. He was among them, but not of them, anymore. The resultant isolation was pretty much the same thing many returning veterans feel.


  • March 31, 1969 — Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Slaughterhouse Five, published.

(14) SUPER BOOKS. Random House Books for Young Readers announced the acquisition of four DC Comics YA novels, with bestselling young adult authors: Wonder Woman will be written by Leigh Bardugo, Batman will be written by Marie Lu, Superman will be written by Matt de la Peña, and Catwoman will be written by Sarah J. Maas.

Wonder Woman will release first at the end of August 2017.

(15) CURSES VERSUS. “Superman And The Damage Done” at Birth.Movies.Death.

There have been other Supermans since, and while none have, in my opinion, reached the heights of Christopher Reeve, all have imparted a similar sense of decency, humbleness and grace. From Brandon Routh to various animated incarnations, children growing up over the past 40 years have found new Supermans they could look to as inspirational models of how heroes act.

But what do the children of today have? Warner Bros, custodian of the Superman legacy, has handed the keys of the character over to Zack Snyder, a filmmaker who has shown he feels nothing but contempt for the character. In doing so they have opened the character to an ugly new interpretation, one that devalues the simple heroism of Superman and turns the decent, graceful character into a mean, nasty force of brutish strength.

Where Superman was originally intended as a hopeful view of strength wielded with responsibility, Snyder presents him as a view of strength as constant destructive force; where Christopher Reeve’s Superman would often float and flit away, Snyder’s version explodes like a rocket at all times, creating sonic booms above city centers in fits of pique, such as after his scene of moping on Lois Lane’s Washington DC hotel balcony. He is a constant weapon of destruction, often smashing concrete when he comes to earth. There are no soft landings for this Superman.

(16) CROWD PLEASER. “SciFi Author Alan Dean Foster Draws Largest Science Speaker Series Crowd in Prescott Campus History” reports the Embry-Riddle Newsroom.

Hundreds of students, staff and faculty filled the AC-1 lecture hall to capacity to hear internationally acclaimed science fiction author Alan Dean Foster talk about “Science in Science Fiction” as part of the College of Arts and Science Speaker Series last Friday.

Foster has written over 100 novels but is best known for authoring the novel versions of many science fiction films including “Star Wars”, the first three Alien films, “The Chronicles of Riddick”, “Star Trek”, “Terminator: Salvation”, and two Transformers films.

Foster believes science is the foundation of science fiction. If the work is not grounded in science then it’s not science fiction, it is fantasy or science fantasy.

“Science fiction sets you on other worlds where you have to create entire environments. Maybe it’s a world with seven different layers or an entirely frozen world. You have to look at a problem and say what’s the best solution here, even if it’s not been created yet,” said Foster. “That solution should still be reasonable. As an author of science fiction, and especially with novel adaptations from movies, I try to fix the science as best as I can. Sometimes they let me and sometimes they don’t.”

(17) BREAKING GAME SHOW NEWS. The March 31 episode of Jeopardy! had a Hugo Award-Winning Novels category – but I haven’t found out what the titles were yet.

(18) SAD NUMBERS. Brandon Kempner spends the last voting day “Estimating the 2016 Hugo Nominations, Part 4” at Chaos Horizon.

What we do know, though, is that last nomination season the Sad Puppies were able to drive between 100-200 votes to the Hugos in most categories, and the their numbers likely grew in the finally voting stage. I estimated 450. All those voters are eligible to nominate again; if you figured the Sad Puppies doubled from the nomination stage in 2015 to now, they’d be able to bring 200-400 votes to the table. Then again, their votes might be diffused over the longer list; some Sad Puppies might abandon the list completely; some Sad Puppies might become Rabid Puppies, and so forth into confusion.

When you do predictive modelling, almost nothing good comes from showing how the sausage is made. Most modelling hides behind the mathematics (statistical mathematics forces you to make all sorts of assumptions as well, they’re just buried in the formulas, such as “I assume the responses are distributed along a normal curve”) or black box the whole thing since people only care about the results. Black boxing is probably the smart move as it prevents criticism. Chaos Horizon doesn’t work that way.

So, I need some sort of decay curve of the 10 Sad Puppy recommendations to run through my model. What I decided to go with is treating the Sad Puppy list as a poll showing the relative popularity of the novels. That worked pretty well in predicting the Nebulas. Here’s that chart, listing how many votes each Sad Puppy received, as well as the relative % compared to the top vote getter.

(19) FROM TEARS TO CHEERS. Dave Hogg is basically a happy voter tonight.

(20) NOT AN APRIL FOOL? From the Official Gmail Blog: “Introducing Gmail Mic Drop”.

Friends and family have been testing Gmail Mic Drop for months, and the response so far has been awesome:

  • “Sending email is so much easier when you don’t have to worry about people responding!”
  • “Mic Drop is a huge improvement over Mute! I can finally let everyone know I’m just not interested.”
  • “My team solves problems so much faster with Mic Drop. In fact, we stopped talking to each other entirely!”

Gmail Mic Drop is launching first on the web, but mobile updates are on the way. So stay tuned, and stay saucy.

Will R. asks me, “Will you be introducing a similar feature? It would make the flounce a whole lot easier.”

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, A Wee Green Man, Daniel Dern, Martin Morse Wooster, Michael Swanwick, Will R., Rich Lynch, and Reed Andrus for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day StephenfromOttawa.]

224 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 3/31/16 The One They Pixel, The One You’ll Scroll By

  1. I was under the impression that The Cold Equations was intended as a subversion of the then common Invincible Science Hero saves the day With Science tropes. As these tropes have largely died out we’re just left arguing over its heavy handed setup. If Campbell had let Godwin save her the story would have been forgotten too.

    The Martian actually resurrects those tropes if anything.

  2. > “My recollection is that the piece of flying equipment that hit Watney was the backup communications system, or at least a vital piece thereof.”

    OK. Then why wasn’t *that* adequately secured against this known “high Martian wind” problem?

    (Honestly, I’m starting to think the movie makes more sense if the Jeff Daniels character was secretly determined to kill Matt Damon all along, no matter how many other crew members he might kill or pieces of valuable equipment he might destroy in order to do it.)

  3. @Kyra, my handwaving headcanon is that they were only supposed to be on-planet for a couple of weeks, and Mars hurricanes were about as common as Earth hurricanes, which is to say, not very. So not everything was secured to that level (although the Hab was).

  4. I think I remember from the book (not guaranteeing it’s not headcanon) that that storm was unusual and perhaps a little early/out of season.

  5. “If everyone behaved sensibly & took appropriate precautions, we’d have much fewer exciting stories.”

    Agreed. Alien was on last night. If only they’d listened to Ripley!

  6. @Will R

    Ash let them in and it was acting on its orders not in the crew’s interests.

  7. @IanP She tries to tell them it’s an especially dumb rule to ignore, but they don’t listen. 🙁

  8. Dallas: Something has attached itself to him. We have to get him to the infirmary right away.

    Ripley: What kind of thing? I need a clear definition.

    Dallas: An organism. Open the hatch.

    Ripley: Wait a minute. If we let it in, the ship could be infected. You know the quarantine procedure. Twenty-four hours for decontamination.

    Dallas: He could die in twenty-four hours. Open the hatch.

    Ripley: Listen to me, if we break quarantine, we could all die.

    Lambert: Look, could you open the god-damned hatch? We have to get him inside.

    Ripley: No. I can’t do that and if you were in my position, you’d do the same.

    Dallas: Ripley, this is an order. Open that hatch right now, do you hear me?

    Ripley: Yes.

    Dallas: Ripley. This is an order. Do you hear me?

    Ripley: Yes. I read you. The answer is negative.

    Yeah, Ash opens the door, but Dallas ordered the door opened, and they continue to be dumb about it with Dallas’s support and don’t even freeze Kane. (Not to mention, why didn’t they X-ray Kane *after* the face-hugger detached, whereupon they probably would have seen the thing in there?) Ash or not, I will continue to think they violated common sense in some major ways there.

  9. @Will R
    I find very few people have common sense in the real world. It’s an uncommon attribute. This is not something that causes me to suspend belief unless a character typically shows common sense throughout the story.

  10. @Will R

    Oh I agree, but Ripley was a last minute replacement on the crew whereas Dallas might have more of a history with Kane. The script doesn’t specify that admittedly.

    I’d have taken Ripley’s stance but I can understand the “get him to medbay” reaction too. These were also tool pushers not soldiers or scientists, and the rules were more to do with biological agents not rampaging Xenomorphs. It’s also hard to view Alien free of bias these days as now we all know that you never let someone who’s had a face full of alien wing-wong anywhere near you.

  11. Also one of Alastair Reynolds books, Pushing Ice, featured a concept called an incident pit which is a term apparently used in real life by divers and engineers amongst others. Where small incidents in themselves spawn reactions that deepen the issue until it is inescapable.

    These are very difficult to appreciate when you are at the sharp end while a dispassionate observer or reviewer would recognise the danger more easily.

  12. @tasha Agreed, common sense isn’t all that common, though “no alien face-huggers of unknown abilities inside our fragile biospace” would be one of the more common, I would think! Still, suspension of disbelief about others’ suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite to many stories, and to IanP’s point, it is a human reaction to want to save one of our own even when we know it risks everyone else. (Cue Spock and “the needs of the many” speech.)

    @ianP Ripley does seem oddly out of place in the culture of company-men and -women. We don’t ever really get her back story, do we? How’d she get through the screens? That would be fun fanfic…Ripley as unaware undercover operative.

    It is also a good point that crises compound bad decisions. Which is why it’s so bad when they don’t freeze Kane, which still might have saved them. (Of course, who knows what Ash would have done then. Maybe a Fassbender/Prometheus situation.)

  13. @IanP Also, “alien wing-wong.” Made me chuckle. It is indeed hard to remember just how shocking that first chest-burster was back then.

  14. Parker does suggest freezing Kane, but unfortunately just as he wakes up.

    Would you like to have had to get into the freezer next to him with the face hugger still on? And after it comes off they only have a short time, during which they’re still fixing the ship and returning to orbit, before he wakes and seems fine. They had no reason to imagine freezing him would be time critical either.

  15. Hmm. I thought I remembered someone suggesting it (Ripley?) in the sick bay before they tried to saw the alien’s leg off and nearly breached the hull. Well, in any case, I guess I can concede, once you’ve let a known alien parasite on the ship, none of the options are great at that point. I still think if I were the captain, I’d have asked for a full work up on Kane before having him to dinner with the crew…I mean…we’ve already sidestepped quarantine protocol, but c’mon…

  16. You’re right, I checked on my copy and Parker suggests it then too. He even bangs on the glass and shouts it through to Ash and Dallas but they seem preoccupied.

    Apparently he also tells Ripley she was right not to let them back in in a deleted scene.

    If I’d been Dallas I’d have maybe looked at something that was able to burn through Kane’s visor as being too dangerous to bring on board. But again it’s easy to armchair quarterback that one.

    ETA Ash could have probably hand waved the freezer suggestion away as medical officer.

  17. The title “Big Book of Science Fiction” was used by the great pioneer SF anthologist Groff Conklin back in 1950. Now, I understand that you can’t copyright a title, but this re-using of other older SF writer’s titles is becoming way too common and borders on plagiarism morally, if not legally. Shame on VanderMeer!

  18. @KBK:

    Come on. Titles get reused all the time. That’s why it’s important to check both title and author/editor to make sure the book you have is the book you want.

  19. KBK: Now, I understand that you can’t copyright a title, but this re-using of other older SF writer’s titles is becoming way too common and borders on plagiarism morally, if not legally. Shame on VanderMeer!

    Oh, please. The Big Book of X is about as generic as you can get — there have been dozens of those. They’re hardly infringing on anyone’s IP — it’s not as if they called their volume Again, Dangerous Visions.

    Oh, and look. It’s being published by Vintage, which is a subsidiary of Random Penguin, and Conklin’s book was published by Crown, which is… wait for it…

    A subsidiary of Random Penguin.

  20. IanP

    It’s also hard to view Alien free of bias these days as now we all know that you never let someone who’s had a face full of alien wing-wong anywhere near you.

    Oh, it’s always “Blame The Victim”, isn’t it?…

  21. Titles get reused all the time.

    It’s my understanding that titles can’t be copyrighted.

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