(1) PETALS TO THE METAL. At Young People Read Old SFF, curator James Davis Nicoll is a little worried:
My hit rate for this series so far has been… somewhat lower than I hoped. It’s not that I am going out of my way to find older SF stories that do not consistently appeal to younger people; it is just that I turn out to have a remarkable talent for finding older SF stories that do not consistently appeal to younger people.
So this time he pulled out one of the greatest short stories in the genre, Daniel Keyes’ “Flowers for Algernon”. Turns out his young audience wasn’t all that fired-up about it, either. Which reminds me of a favorite joke:
A dog food company once held a convention for its sales force. The president got up and said, “We have the greatest product in the world!” Everybody applauded. “We have the best sales people in the industry!” The cheered wildly. “So,” asked the president, “why aren’t we selling any dog food?” A little man in the back got up and shouted, “It’s the damn dogs, sir! They don’t like it!”
(2) DON’T STAND UNDERNEATH WHEN THEY FLY BY. The odds say that these things are supposed to crash in the ocean. Except when they don’t. “The Space Debris Problem: Dual Impact In Myanmar Shows What’s To Come”.
A mining facility in northern Myanmar became the crash site of a huge piece of space debris last Thursday. As the impact occurred, a smaller piece of debris with Chinese markings on it simultaneously destroyed the roof of a house in a nearby village. Fortunately, no one was injured in either incident.
The larger object is barrel-shaped and measures about 4.5 meters (15 ft) long, with a diameter barely over a meter. “The metal objects are assumed to be part of a satellite or the engine parts of a plane or missile,” a local news report said. The Chinese government is neither confirming nor denying whether both pieces of space junk came from the same object.
(3) FIGHT INTERNMENT. George Takei’s op-ed in the Washington Post reacts against talk about rounding up Muslims and reminds people of what happened when we interned the Japanese — “They interned my family. Don’t let them do it to Muslims”.
There is dangerous talk these days by those who have the ear of some at the highest levels of government. Earlier this week, Carl Higbie, an outspoken Trump surrogate and co-chair of Great America PAC, gave an interview with Megyn Kelly of Fox News. They were discussing the notion of a national Muslim registry, a controversial part of the Trump administration’s national security plans, when Higbie dropped a bombshell: “We did it during World War II with Japanese, which, you know, call it what you will,” he said. Was he really citing the Japanese American internment, Kelly wanted to know, as grounds for treating Muslims the same way today? Higbie responded that he wasn’t saying we should return to putting people in camps. But then he added, “There is precedent for it.”
Stop and consider these words. The internment was a dark chapter of American history, in which 120,000 people, including me and my family, lost our homes, our livelihoods, and our freedoms because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. Higbie speaks of the internment in the abstract, as a “precedent” or a policy, ignoring the true human tragedy that occurred….
(4) THE FRANCHISE THAT LIVED. The BBC renders a verdict — “Film review: Is Fantastic Beasts a Rowling triumph?” Chip Hitchcock says, “tl;dr version: way too many characters for one movie. Rowling says it’s the first of five; sounds a bit like the opening episode ST:TNG, which spent most of its time setting up the main players.”
As exhilarating as all the new sights and sounds are, though, it’s soon apparent that Rowling et al are enjoying their relocation a little too much. A major flaw of the later Harry Potter films was that they crammed in so many characters and incidents from the ever-longer novels that they were baffling to anyone who didn’t know the books by heart. What’s slightly disappointing about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is that, even though it isn’t adapted from a novel, it has a similar problem. Rowling’s superabundant imagination won’t let the story build up momentum: she keeps shoving minor characters and irrelevant details in its path.
(5) TODAY IN HISTORY
- November 18, 1928— Mickey Mouse appeared for the first time, with Walt Disney doing the voice of his soon-to-be-famous creation, in “Steamboat Willie,” the first fully synchronized sound cartoon produced.
- November 18, 1963 — Push-button telephones made their debut. John King Tarpinian was one of the early button-pushers:
I remember being at the County Fair and there was a display with kiosks. You used a rotary phone to dial your number then using a push-button phone you dialed a random phone number. The elapsed time was displayed and you saw how much faster the push-button phone was compared to the rotary.
- November 18, 1990 — Stephen King’s It premieres on TV.
(6) TRIVIAL TRIVIA. Actor Charles Bronson appeared in the 1953 horror classic House of Wax as Vincent Price’s assistant, Igor. Bronson is credited under his real name, Charles Buchinsky.
(7) ABOLISHING A EUPHEMISM. NPR’s Glen Weldon says “The Term ‘Graphic Novel’ Has Had A Good Run. We Don’t Need It Anymore”.
…And all the other, sillier, less meaningful stuff. Science fiction, or whatever.
Oy. OK. Lots to unpack here, and, to be fair, at lot of it’s our fault. Comics readers and creators, that is.
By the time the great cartoonist Will Eisner slapped the term “graphic novel” on his 1978 book, A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories, the term had been percolating around comics fandom for years. Eisner, however, was a tireless advocate, and wanted people to appreciated that comics are a medium, not a genre. A medium dominated, then as now, by superheroes, but nevertheless a storytelling medium that could be used to tell an infinite number of stories in vastly different ways.
Which is why—
Um, OK. It looks like you’re ramping up. I’m gonna … I’m just gonna grab a seat then.
Fine, go ahead.
The reason Eisner latched onto the term “graphic novel” and ran with it is because … well, it was 1978. He needed to. Comics were considered, if they were considered at all, junk culture. Kid stuff that was beneath serious notice, if not beneath contempt….
Chip Hitchcock comments: “They use Gaiman’s less-colorful metaphor; when he spoke in NYC a decade or so back, he said someone who insisted he did ‘graphic novels’ made him feel like a streetwalker being told she was a lady of the night.”
(8) CHESTNUTS ROASTING. Annalee Newitz lists “All the science fiction and fantasy novels you need to make it through the winter” at Ars Technica.
Everfair, by Nisi Shawl
2016 was a good year for alternate histories, and Shawl’s thought experiment about 19th century colonialism in Everfair is no exception. In this alternate reality, Fabian socialists in Britain manage to team up with African-American missionaries to buy part of the Belgian Congo from King Leopold II, establishing the free African nation of Everfair. Based on an actual historical plan that never came to fruition, the novel imagines how Everfair would develop, changing the history of other colonized African nations as its population swells with American former slaves and liberated peoples of the Congo. Though there is a strong Utopian core to the novel, Shawl does not shy away from depicting thorny, internecine battles between different groups who have opposing definitions of freedom. Plus, we get to see how Everfair develops breathtaking new technologies. Shawl has done incredible research on the history of the Congo, and it shows. This is steampunk done right, with all the tarnish, sweat, and blood visible on the gears of the world’s great industrial technologies.
(9) AH, THAT EXPLAINS IT. I wondered why Vox Day kept using this as a figure for Trump. James McConnaughy makes the connection in “#NotMyGodEmperor: Why Are There So Many Actual Fascists in the Warhammer 40K Fandom?” at The Mary Sue.
That’s ridiculous, I told myself. There’s absolutely no way they could be genuinely identifying with the Imperium of Man or its fascist power structure. After all, the Imperium of Man is a parody of fascism, and not a particularly subtle one at that, since the game constantly talks about how much life sucks and how the authoritarianism causes more problems than it solves. They’d have to be blind to not see that Warhammer 40k is… kid…ding.
Oh. Oh no.
Let’s stop for a moment and talk about satire, because I like hard shifts like that. The problem with satire (or, more directly, the problem with writing satire) is that it has a goal, beyond simply being funny. Satire is pointed, it has a purpose, it is, to use a phrase I often dislike, saying something. More specifically, satire is saying something by taking something it wishes to criticize and blowing it up to absurd proportions.
And therein lies the problem: Satire is always walking the razor’s edge. By using the words and concepts of the thing you are satirizing, you are often giving voice to those words and concepts, and someone out there is going to agree with those words, not the actual point of your satire. That’s the basis of Poe’s Law: Without a blatant display of comedy, it is impossible to create a parody of extremism or fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.
(10) PLONK YOUR MAGIC TWANGER. The Financial Times has a regular feature about the one thing people take with them when they travel. Chris Hadfield explained in the November 12 issue why he always carries his guitar with him.
He explains that on his first trip to the Mir space station in 1995 he had a special guitar made by Wright Guitars where owner Rossco Wright “adapted one for me, cutting the neck in half and putting a locking piano hinge on it so it would fold and fit in the shuttle. I had to get approval from Nasa: from the highest level, the director of the space shuttle programme.”
“Just before the flight while I was in quarantine, I got a call from the payloads people saying that although Nasa had approved it, the Russians weren’t gonna let me take the guitar on to Mir because it hadn’t passed all the electromagnetic and flammability tests. So some people from Nasa came to my house, found my spare SoloEtte, did all the testing and passed the results to Russia. We launched–still without permission from the Russians–and I assembled the guitar on Mir, but we weren’t allowed to plug it in. Then,. as we were doing a press conference with Russian prime minister Victor Cheromydin, he said, ‘I understand you have a new guitar–play me a song.’ That sounded like permission, so we played a concert on Mir, and nothing caught fire or blew up.”
Hadfield says that the Larivee Parlour guitar Hadfield used to cover “Space Odyssey” in 2013 “was put there” in the International Space Station “for psychological support (along with books, movies, a harmonica and a couple of footballs” and has been in space since 2001.
(11) SPIGOT, RHYMES WITH… In October, Alexandra Erin created a satirical news feed on Medium called The Daily Spigot. She tells her Patreon supporters that she intended it to be daily, but that illness and the election interrupted her momentum; however, she has started writing new posts again. The latest is: “Trump Asking Every Business In Phone Book About Mexico Plans”
This reporter was allowed into Donald Trump’s private office to witness the real estate developer turned job saver in action.
“Hello, Triple A All-American Locksmiths?” he asked during a typical such call. “This is the President of the United States. That’s right,” he said, while an aide frantically mouthed the words “no, no, no” and another scrawled, “You have to stop saying that” on a piece of paper, which was then pushed across the desk to Trump, who frowned at it, signed it, then pushed it away.
“I’m just calling to see if you had any plans on moving your plant or any jobs to Mexico in, say, the next two months to four years? No? Great! Tremendous. Thanks a bunch. Make America great again!”
He then hung up the phone and said, “That’s another one for the Twitter.”
(12) GROWING UP GROOT. CinemaBlend poses some knotty questions in “How Groot Will Be Different In Guardians Of The Galaxy 2, According To Vin Diesel”.
While plugging his new movie Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk to Collider, Vin Diesel detoured into Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 territory, and noted how in the sequel, Groot will have a significantly more naive mindset compared to how he was as an adult. While it was generally assumed that Baby Groot would behave like a juvenile, Diesel statement confirms that the alien basically be a child, albeit one with extraordinary abilities. However, that mentality doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t remember what he was like before he was destroyed and regrown. At San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said Baby Groot will retain his memories, although director James Gunn later told a fan that as far as Baby Groot being the original Groot or a “son,” that situation is “complicated.”.
(13) NOT YOUR AVERAGE OBLATE SPHEROID. Astronomers claim to have discovered the roundest object ever measured in nature. Write this on your hand.
Kepler 11145123 is a distant, slowly rotating star that’s more than twice the size of the Sun.
Researchers were able to show that the difference between its radius as measured to the equator and the radius measured to the poles was just 3km.
“This makes Kepler 11145123 the roundest natural object ever measured,” said lead author Prof Laurent Gizon.
He added that it was “even more round than the Sun”.
(14) INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY IN THE SKY. Elon Musk’s latest: satellite internet: “SpaceX aims to launch internet from space”.
Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, announced last year that the service would be “larger than anything that has been talked about to date” adding that it would take about $10bn (£8bn) to get it off the ground.
The latest documents did not include costs.
It suggested that the first 800 satellites would be used to expand internet access in the US, including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin islands.
Each satellite, about the size of an average car, not including solar panels, would weigh 850 pounds (386kg), the firm said.
[Thanks to JJ, Todd, Martin Morse Wooster, Chip Hitchcock, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]