Pixel Scroll 10/29/17 Please Remember To Scroll Your Pixels In The Form Of A Question

(1) THE ORIGINAL KTF REVIEWER. Humanities revisits “Edgar Allan Poe’s Hatchet Jobs”.

Poe churned out reams of puff-free reviews—the Library of America’s collection of his reviews and essays fills nearly 1,500 dense pages. Few outside of Poe scholarship circles bother reading them now, though; in a discipline that’s had its share of so-called takedown artists, Poe was an especially unlovable literary critic. He occasionally celebrated authors he admired, such as Charles Dickens and Nathaniel Hawthorne. But, from 1835 until his death in 1849, the typical Poe book review sloshed with invective.

Tackling a collection of poems by William W. Lord in 1845, Poe opined that “the only remarkable things about Mr. Lord’s compositions are their remarkable conceit, ignorance, impudence, platitude, stupidity, and bombast.” He opened his review of Susan Rigby Morgan’s 1836 novel, The Swiss Heiress, by proclaiming that it “should be read by all who have nothing better to do.” The prose of Theodore S. Fay’s 1835 novel, Norman Leslie, was “unworthy of a school-boy.” A year later, Poe doomed Morris Mattson’s novel Paul Ulric by pushing Fay under the bus yet again, writing, “When we called Norman Leslie the silliest book in the world we had certainly never seen Paul Ulric.”

Attacking better-known writers – a tactic still in use today by several minor sff authors — was also typical of Poe.

The twist, though, is that as a critic Poe often treated ethics as disposably as we do coffee filters. That self-dealing rave review is just one example. Poe plagiarized multiple times early in his career (most notably in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym and “Usher”), but still spent much of 1845 leveling plagiarism accusations against Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Poe delivered his attacks under his own name, but also anonymously, and through an imaginary interlocutor named “Outis.” But for all of Poe’s bluster, evidence of Longfellow’s thievery was thin, and the poet, wisely, didn’t respond. “Poe’s Longfellow war,” said publisher Charles Briggs, who’d hired Poe at the Broadway Journal, “is all on one side.”

(2) WHAT A REVIEWER IS FOR. New Yorker’s Nathan Heller revisits the American Heart controversy in “Kirkus Reviews and the Plight of the “Problematic” Book Review”.

People make sense of art as individuals, and their experiences of the work differ individually, too. A reviewer speaks for somebody, even if he or she doesn’t speak for you.

To assume otherwise risks the worst kind of generalization. I went to high school in San Francisco at the height of the multiculturalism movement. My freshman curriculum did not include “The Catcher in the Rye,” “The Great Gatsby,” or “Moby-Dick.” We read, instead, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and “Bless Me, Ultima,” and other books showing the range of American fiction. I’m glad. (One can read “The Grapes of Wrath” anytime.) I remember finding Hurston’s novel brilliant and Anaya’s novel boring. I did not conclude, from these feelings, that African-American literature was interesting and Chicano literature was not. Why would I? The joy of books is the joy of people: they’re individuals, with a balance of virtues and flaws. We are free to find—and learn our way into—the ones that we enjoy the most, wherever they come from.

That specificity of response is what Vicky Smith seems to encourage by opening the full canon of new work to new readers. It’s also, though, the diversity that Kirkus has smothered by issuing a “correction”—the editor’s word—on the political emphasis of a published response. Although it’s easy these days to forget, a politics is a practice of problem-solving, case by case, not a unilateral set of color-coded rules. If certain inputs guarantee certain outputs, what’s in play isn’t politics but doctrine. Kirkus, admirably, is trying to be on the progressive side of a moment of transition in our reading. But its recent choices aren’t about progress, or about helping young people find their way through many voices. They’re about reducing books to concepts—and subjecting individuals who read them to the judgments of a crowd.

(3) AWARD REBOOT. Newly appointed award administrator Tehani Croft announced “Significant changes for the Norma K Hemming Award”.

The Norma K Hemming Award, under the auspices of the Australian Science Fiction Foundation (ASFF), announces significant changes to the Award structure.

Designed to recognise excellence in the exploration of themes of race, gender, sexuality, class or disability in a published speculative fiction work, the Norma K Hemming Award, which has been running since 2010, has had a major overhaul this year, with new categories and a two year cycle.

The award is now open to short fiction and edited anthologies, alongside the previous eligible work of novellas, novels, collections, graphic novels and stage plays. It will also make allowances for serialised work. In addition, entry submissions may be digital or print for all submissions.

Two prizes will now be given, one for short fiction (up to 17,500 words) and one award for long work (novellas, novels, collections, anthologies, graphic novels and play scripts), with a cash prize and citation awarded.

Nominations for the 2018 awards, covering all eligible work published in 2016 and 2017, will open in early November.

(4) THE HORROR. Chloe continues the Horror 101 series at Nerds of a Feather with “HORROR 101: The Uncanny”.

The uncanny to me is a crucial element of horror: not being able to pinpoint exactly what makes us scared. While the extreme can be terrifying (the xenomorph in Alien is a category crisis—its something we can’t classify/is not instantly knowable—but it’s not uncanny because we shouldn’t be able to know it/classify it as its something completely new to the human experience). However, even more terrifying is that which is just a little off: pod people who may look like your lover, but they smile in just a slightly different way. A man with fingers just a little too long. Women with hair in front of their faces so that their expressions are unknowable.

In technology, we refer to the “uncanny valley” (a term coined by Masohiro Mori in the 70’s) when dealing with robots and computer designed images of people. A robot who looks human-like but not realistically so (think Bender in Futurama) wouldn’t trigger the uncanny valley but a robot who looks extremely close to human, but has some tiny bit of offness, such as the more and more realistic robots we have currently, would fall into it and create a sense of slight fear, revulsion, or distrust. In the film Ex Machina (which on its surface is a film about a Turing test going very wrong, but in its heart is a take on the tropes of Gothic literature and the Bluebeard fairy tale), Alicia Vikander portrays Ava brilliantly by making the robotic elements include both Ava’s movements (more perfect than an average person’s) and speech (carefully clipped and enunciated)—this heightens the uncanny valley feeling while going against the entirely human looks of her face (which wouldn’t necessarily fall into the uncanny valley).

(5) WHEN WILL YOU MAKE AN END? Alastair Reynolds writes a whole post – “Gestation time” — around a term that also came up in a discussion of Zelazny here earlier this week.

In the previous post I mentioned that my new story “Night Passage” – just out in the Infinite Stars anthology – was one I was glad to see in print because it had taken about five years to finish. I thought that was approximately the case, but when I checked my hard drive I saw that I opened a file on that story at the end of November 2009, so the better part of eight years ago. That wasn’t an attempt at the story itself, but as per my usual working method, a set of notes toward a possible idea. I rarely start work on a story cold, but instead prefer to brainstorm a series of rambling, sometimes contradictory thoughts, out of which I hope something coherent may emerge. This process can take anything from a morning to several days or weeks, but I never start a story in the first fire of inspiration.

(6) INITIAL QUESTION. At Nerds of a Feather, The G interviews Shadow Clarke reviewer Megan AM – “FIRESIDE CHAT: Megan AM of Couch to Moon”.

MEGAN AM: …  My own personal goal was to demonstrate that good, interesting, literary SF does exist; that it can come from anyone, anywhere, and in any language; and that it can compete with the basic, Americanized, TV-style SF I keep encountering on shortlists. Unfortunately, the 2017 Clarke submissions list didn’t give me much to work with on that front–a lot of the choices were very formulaic, very bland, not to mention very British, white, and male– but I did manage to find some champions I’m grateful to have read: Joanna Kavenna, Martin MacInnes, Lavie Tidhar, Johanna Sinisalo. As for my experience as a contributor… I mean, eight people I have admired in this field–most of whom I had never interacted with before– read and talked books with me. It was the coolest thing ever. I’m curious what you thought of the whole thing. Watching you watch it from the outside was interesting: You seemed genuinely interested in bridging gaps between contentious parties, communicating good faith in all sides, and withholding judgment until it was all said and done. So, now that it is done, what do you think? …

THE G: …. I’d also extend these observations to criticism itself. So I try to have a thick skin anytime I press “publish.” Someone is bound to think my ideas are rubbish, and that’s fine. At the same time, authors and fans are often guilty of violating the text/person distinction–taking depersonalized comments on a text personally and lashing out at the person who made them. The effect is to police what critics, bloggers and other reviewers can say in public, and that’s bullshit. 

I could go on, but let’s get back to the Sharke project! Or rather, back to awards. One thing that’s come up a lot in discussions is the concept of “award worthiness,” i.e. that there is some objective-ish bar that works of fiction must live up to in order to be proper candidates. I’ve bandied this term about a few times, generally when talking about the Hugos. I have a very clear sense of what, for me, constitutes award worthiness in science fiction and fantasy–some combination of ideas, execution, emotional resonance and prose chops. Not always the same combination, but hitting all four to a significant degree, and hitting one or two out of the park….

MEGAN AM: ….This comes back to questioning the idea of an objective kind of “award worthiness.” You mention “comfort SF,” which is just as subjective, because I don’t find that kind of SF comforting at all. We’re living in a Trumpnado, where critical reading and thinking skills are devalued, fake news accusations are flying from all directions, nazism is being given a platform in centrist media, and yet progressive SF fans feel threatened by the idea that it might be necessary to sharpen up on difficult, rigorous, uncomfortable novels? I’m not sure it’s appropriate right now to award anything less than radical and complex. And even setting politics aside, the these ‘comfort food books’ are aesthetically old and crusty. Reading award-nominated novels from different decades really helps to put that into perspective: Not a lot has changed in the styling of SF and its “coding” of metaphors, so I’m confused by why we keep awarding the same styles and thoughts… seventy. years. later.

(7) TODAY IN HISTORY

Amazingly, Clemens photographed 117 of the 156 episodes of the series. His crisp black-and white photography is well featured in the Blu-ray format – so crisp that a freeze-frame sometimes reveals details that even the art directors didn’t want you to see. For instance, in the Donald Pleasence episode “Changing of the Guard” (the final episode of the third season), the diploma on the wall of Professor Ellis Fowler’s office should feature his name. It doesn’t. Thanks to George Clemens’ crystal-clear photography, we see that it belongs to another man.

  • October 29, 1998 – John Glenn returned to outer space.

(8) THINKING ABOUT MOOLAH.  Franklin Templeton Investments gives a rundown about AI “Science Fiction To Science Fact: The Rise Of The Machines”.

By Mat Gulley, CFA, Executive Vice President, Head of Alternatives and Co-Head IM Data Science, Fintech & Rapid Development; Ryan Biggs, CFA, Research Analyst

The rapid expansion of artificial intelligence (AI) has generated a lot of excitement, but also some (perhaps justified) paranoia. Will computers replace-or even overtake-human beings? Mat Gulley, executive vice president and head of alternatives at Franklin Templeton Investments, and Ryan Biggs, research analyst at Franklin Equity Group, explore the ramifications of “the rise of the machines” in the realm of asset management. They say the full implications of the new machine age will likely take decades to fully play out, but will likely be staggering.

We have been anticipating their arrival for decades. As far back as 1958 the New York Times wrote a story about a machine developed at Cornell University called the Perceptron. The device was said to be “the embryo of an electronic computer … expected to walk, talk, see, write, reproduce itself and be conscious of its own existence.” In 1958!? That would have been an astonishing achievement in a time even before the microwave oven graced our kitchen countertops.

For the past half century, humanity has been eagerly anticipating the age of artificial intelligence (AI); imagining it in Hollywood and reporting on its progress in the media. Perhaps at times our optimism has gotten ahead of itself. Not any longer. This time, the machines are not just coming-they are already here….

(9) SPEAKING UP. The Washington Post’s Todd C. Frankel looks at the career of the video game voice actor, who can spend four hours straight practicing ways of screaming death scenes and who went on an eight-month strike to get better working conditions and residuals: “In $25 billion video game industry, voice actors face broken vocal cords and low pay”.

Yet voice actors in this industry are not treated like actors in television and movies. This led voice actors to go on strike last year against 11 of the largest video game developers over bonus pay and safety issues such as vocal stress. The bitter labor dispute dragged on for 11 months, making it the longest strike in the history of Hollywood’s largest actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA. Burch was forced to give up a critically acclaimed role she loved. Gaming fans feared delays for their favorite titles before a tentative deal was reached late last month. A vote by the full union is going on now.

The lengthy strike highlighted how video games have emerged as the scene of a tense clash between Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Voice actors want to be treated more like TV and film actors, who are viewed as central to the creative process. Tech firms often see the developers and engineers as the true stars of the show.

“They keep saying, ‘Games are different,’?” said J.B. Blanc, a well-known voice actor and director who has worked with Burch several times. “But that’s no longer true. Because games want to be movies, and movies want to be games. These are basically 100-hour-long movies.”

(10) EASY PICKINGS. Abbie Emmons has now taken her Twitter account private after absorbing a thorough and professional internet beating. The punishment began after she tweeted the opinion belittled by Foz Meadows in “Dear Abbie: An Open Letter”. Foz begins with the admission “I don’t know where your hometown is” but doesn’t let that keep her from making assumptions about it, or from working in “white” and “Christian” four times in her opening paragraph, and not in a positive way.

You’re quite right to say that you, personally, will not encounter every type of person in your small corner of the world. But “small” is the operative word, here: wherever your hometown might be, the fact that it’s the basis of your personal experience doesn’t make it even vaguely representative of the world – or even America – at large.

You claim that you “love everyone” regardless of their background, and I’m sure you believe that about yourself. Here’s the thing, though: when you say you wish people would stop being “correct” and “just write books that actually… reflected the kind of thing we encounter in real life,” you’re making a big assumption about who that “we” is. There might be very few black people in your hometown, but if one of them were to write a novel based on their memories of growing up there, you likely wouldn’t recognise certain parts of their experience, not because it was “incorrect,” but because different people lead different lives. And when you claim that certain narratives are forced and unrealistic, not because the writing is badly executed, but because they don’t resemble the things you’ve encountered, that’s not an example of you loving everyone: that’s you assuming that experiences outside your own are uncomfortable, inapplicable and wrong.

(11) EXOTIC NATTER. NextBigFuture declares “Teleportation and traversible wormholes are all real”. You wouldn’t doubt Han Solo would you?

Einstein-Rosen or “ER” bridges, are equivalent to entangled quantum particles, also known as Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen or “EPR” pairs. The quantum connection between wormholes prevents their collapse without involving exotic matter.

The quantum-teleportation format precludes using these traversable wormholes as time machines. Anything that goes through the wormhole has to wait for Alice’s message to travel to Bob in the outside universe before it can exit Bob’s black hole, so the wormhole doesn’t offer any superluminal boost that could be exploited for time travel.

Researchers are working towards lab tests of quantum teleportation to verify their theories…

(12) POT. KETTLE. BLACK. Camestros Felapton, in “Reading Vox Day So You Don’t Have To: The last essay on Chapter 6”, thinks the way to refute Vox Day’s characterization of alleged SJW organizational tactics is to show how Republicans have done the same thing to each other. True as that may be, the trouble is tit-for-tat casemaking isn’t entertaining – and usually, Camestros is very entertaining.

Organizational Tactics

These are the terrible things SJWs are supposed to do to organizations. Vox lists seven and he manages to set up a deeply insightful analysis of how an organization can be destroyed by political extremists. The only problem is that as an analysis it fit bests how the right have wrecked the Republican party. Again, I’ve changed the order to show the sequence of events better.

“The Code of Conduct: Modifying the organization’s rules and rendering them more nebulous in order to allow the prosecution or defense of any member, according to their perceived support for social justice.”

Lobbying organizations on the right like the NRA or “Americans for Tax Reform”  have systematically created an extension of the GOP’s actual rules and accountabilities for their politicians. For example the ATR has been pressurizing Republican candidates (at state and federal level) to sign the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge”: …

(13) DEAR SIR OR MADAM. SyFy Wire tells about the exhibit where you can read J.K. Rowling’s original Harry Potter pitch to publishers.

Rowling’s original pitch opens with:

Harry Potter lives with his aunt, uncle and cousin because his parents died in a car-crash — or so he has been told. The Dursleys don’t like Harry asking questions; in fact, they don’t seem to like anything about him, especially the very odd things that keep happening around him (which Harry himself can’t explain).

The Dursleys’ greatest fear is that Harry will discover the truth about himself, so when letters start arriving for him near his eleventh birthday, he isn’t allowed to read them. However, the Dursleys aren’t dealing with an ordinary postman, and at midnight on Harry’s birthday the gigantic Rubeus Hagrid breaks down the door to make sure Harry gets to read his post at last. Ignoring the horrified Dursleys, Hagrid informs Harry that he is a wizard, and the letter he gives Harry explains that he is expected at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in a month’s time.

The synopsis goes on to discuss Hagrid’s arrival and his revelations about Harry’s forehead scar while also explaining that “Harry is famous among the witches and wizards who live in secret all over the country because Harry’s miraculous survival marked Voldemort’s downfall”.

(14) SPACE VAMPIRES AND THE FUTURE OF “I”. Peter Watts brings a whole new level to the term “self-effacing” – “The Bicentennial 21st-Century Symposium of All About Me”.

This feels a bit weird. Creepy, even.  If it makes any difference, I advised them not to go ahead with it.

A couple of weeks from now— Nov 10-11— the University of Toronto will be hosting an academic symposium about me. More precisely, about my writing.

You could even call it an international event. While U of T is providing the venue, the symposium itself is organized by Aussie Ben Eldridge, of the University of Sydney. At least two of the presenters are from the US (although one of them will be Skyping in, doubtless to avoid the mandatory cavity search that seems to be SOP at the border these days).

Friday is layperson-friendly: a round-table discussion of my oeuvre, or omelet, or however you say that; a reading (new stuff, yet to be published); an interview; a bit of Q&A.  The schedule only listed 15 minutes for drinks after that, but as Ben reminds me he is an Australian and would never make so rookie a mistake. That 15 minutes is only for warm-up drinking on campus, after which we retire to the Duke of York.

Saturday is the academic stuff….

(15) VISIBLE WOMAN. We probably have more cyborgs than Taylor Swift fans on this site — which still means some of you should be interested in this new recording: “Taylor Swift Turns Cyborg For New ‘Blade Runner’-Inspired Video to ‘…Ready For It?’ Watch”.

As fans of the Blade Runner universe mull over Denis Villeneuve’s cerebral cinematic study of what makes a human, Swift goes full replicant in the new futuristic music video, which dropped at midnight.

Taylor lit up the Internet earlier this week when she teased snippets from the sci-fi clip, in which she appears in a skin-tone thermoptic suit, giving the illusion of actually being her birthday suit. Who needs threads when you’re a machine, right?

 

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Martin Morse Wooster, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Carl Slaughter, and Elizabeth Fitzgerald for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Jack Lint.]

Pixel Scroll 10/27/17 Dark Scroll Crashes, Pouring Pixels Into Ashes

(1) ASSUAGING YOUR TBR GUILT. Fantasy-Faction’s Nicola Alter playfully advises about “Coping with Reading Guilt in 7 Easy Steps”.

Signs you might suffer from Reading Guilt of one form or another can include:

1. The pile of unread books on your shelf, be it virtual or real, makes you feel anxious every time you look at it.
2. You occasionally dust off that book your friend loaned you and pretend you are about to read it, knowing in your heart you are just preparing it to collect more nightstand dust.
3. The sight of a bookstore evokes complex feelings of longing and guilt.
4. The book-devouring speed of a well-read friend makes you irrationally envious.
5. The question, “have you read…” elicits an instinctual dread, because whatever it is, you’ve usually never read it.
6. When someone recommends a book to you, you smile and make enthusiastic noises to cover the sinking feeling in your stomach, because it’s just another to add to the endless list and you’ll probably never get around to reading it anyway.
7. You are so behind on that reading goal you set that it just serves to depress rather than motivate you.
8. You have a vague but pervasive feeling that you haven’t read enough of the “important” books.
9. The hunt for bookmarks depresses you, because you realise they are all wedged in half-finished books and you can’t bring yourself to remove them.
10. You participate in online “How many of these books have you read?” quizzes, even though you know the results will not cheer you up.

Fortunately, Reading Guilt is a very treatable disorder, and if you are exhibiting these symptoms, you are not alone. Here are seven easy steps to help you cope with Reading Guilt, and prevent it from getting in the way of your bookly enjoyment….

(2) A CHEESY EVENT. The Harry Potter Festival that promised to “bring the magic” to Jefferson, WI last weekend has been roundly criticized as a dud: “Angry fans say organizers of Harry Potter Festival in Jefferson were unprepared”.

Some Harry Potter fans are cursing their decision to attend last weekend’s Harry Potter Festival USA in Jefferson, Wisconsin.

Fans says organizers promised an immersive experience but were instead unprepared for the crowds. City officials provided an estimate that around 35,000 attended the event on Saturday.

Here are some of the main criticisms circulating on the festival’s Facebook page: 1) Visitors say hidden costs were added on top of the price of admission 2) the effort put into decorations were at the level of a high school homecoming and 3) poor transportation planning caused long lines for shuttles.

…For hours people waited to get to certain attractions that have also been highly criticized online.

One person commented on the festival’s Facebook page “‘Hagrid’ ate breakfast without his wig and played on his phone the whole time and did not get up once for pictures. Very disappointing, especially for $20 per person!”

Another person wrote “Went to the ‘prison’ – where nothing was happening?! Empty tennis court? So extremely disappointed.”

Others say they wouldn’t make the drive to the again and regret doing it the first time.

“We traveled an hour and a half,” Maria Remillard of Elk Grove Village, Illinois said.

“And once we got there we were basically stuck there. The bus lines were hours long. I ended up walking back to the fairgrounds to pick up our car so I could go back and pick up my parents, my sister, and my daughter,” Remillard said.

“‘The Owlry’ was a small VFW hall with one stuffed animal and one girl signing letters for an extra fee,” Remillard said.

(3) SUBURBAN BLIGHT.  Adweek highlights another scary ad: “Xfinity Adds Its Own Creepy 5-Minute Film to 2017’s Fright Fest of Longer Halloween Ads”.  See the video at the link.

The Comcast cable brand just unveiled its own five-minute horror short, titled “The Neighborhood,” developed by Goodby Silverstein & Partners and written and directed by Dante Ariola of production company MJZ.

The tale concerns a spooky old mask, made out of a burlap sack, that seems to be making the rounds in one suburban neighborhood on Halloween. But those gifted with it quickly come to regret their mysterious new present.

(4) PULP ART BOOK. IDW Publishing has released “The Art of the Pulps: An Illustrated History” co-edited by Doug Ellis, Ed Hulse, and Robert Weinberg. Doug Ellis gives the background:

“The Art of the Pulps”, co-edited by myself, Ed Hulse and Robert Weinberg, came out earlier this week, on October 24 from IDW. For me, it was a long wait, but I think the final book was well worth it. Bob and I actually started preliminary work on the book back in January 2016, so it’s been nearly a two year project for me. Bob unfortunately passed away in late September 2016, just as we were about to start working on it in earnest, but fortunately Ed Hulse was willing to step in and help see the book through to its completion. I think Bob would have been very pleased with how it came out.

The book focuses on the colorful cover art of the pulps, along with a sampling of some black and white interior pulp art, containing roughly 460 images. But in addition to the images, there’s well over 50,000 words of text, written by some of the top experts in the pulp field. Besides contributions from the co-editors, we were fortunate enough to enlist the writing talents of (in alphabetical order): Mike Ashley (science fiction), Will Murray (hero), Michelle Nolan (sports), Laurie Powers (love), Tom Roberts (air and war), David Saunders (the great pulp artists), F. Paul Wilson (foreword) and John Wooley (detective). We think you’ll agree, if you read the book, that each did a bang-up job!

(5) DOWN THESE MEAN STREETS. Stevens Point author Patrick Rothfuss’ new show on Travel Channel, Myth or Monster, debuts with three showings this weekend on Travel Channel. Myth or Monster will first air 9 p.m. on Friday.

Rothfuss “dives into the past and consults with present-day eyewitnesses to expose the truth behind stories long believed to be sheer fantasy.”

The first episode is titled “Mothman:

Armed with new evidence of a modern-day sighting, acclaimed fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss investigates the local legend of an 8-foot-tall man-bird hybrid that has haunted a small West Virginia town for over 50 years.

(6) THE DICKENS YOU SAY. Alonso Duralde of The Wrap was disappointed: “‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’ Review: Scrooge’s Origin Story Ends Up a Bit of a Humbug”

The history of Christmas is a fascinating one, from the biblical account of Jesus’ birth, to the church’s moving of his birthdate so as to capitalize on the popularity of pagan holidays like Saturnalia and Yule, to the Puritans banning it as a feast of licentiousness, to the abundant, familial celebration we know today. Standiford touches upon all of this, and on how the immense popularity of “A Christmas Carol” changed the culture around the holiday, but screenwriter Susan Coyne (“Anne of Green Gables”) and director Bharat Nalluri (“Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”) gloss right over it in a way that will leave most viewers befuddled by the film’s title.

While Dickens (played here by Dan Stevens) was a well-established writer by 1843, the author was in something of a slump before he decided to take a crack at writing a Christmas story. “Barnaby Rudge” and “Martin Chuzzlewit” were slow sellers, and his essays about his trip to America hadn’t flown off the shelves either; meanwhile, he and his family were grandly restoring a new house, and his constantly-in-debt father John (Jonathan Pryce) was one of many people in Dickens’ orbit with hands perpetually out.

(7) KING TUT. Someone apparently tutted at John Scalzi about his weekly photos of incoming ARCs and review copies.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOYS

  • Born October 27, 1948 – Bernie Wrightson
  • Born October 27, 1953 – Robert Picardo, who played the holographic doctor in ST-Voyager and is on the board of directors of the Planetary Society.

(9) LOOK OUT BELOW. Newsweek brings out Michael Rampino  to answer the question: “Did Dark Matter Kill the Dinosaurs? How Mass Extinctions Are Linked With Universe’s Mystery Ingredient”.

… Over the last three decades, some scientists have found a good correlation of mass extinctions with impacts and massive volcanism. Curiously they have also turned up evidence that these events occur in a cycle of about 26 to 30 million years. This attracted the interest of astrophysicists, and several astronomical theories were proposed in which cosmic cycles affected Earth and life on the planet.

My own hypothesis linked the Earthly events to the motion of the solar system as it moves through the galaxy.  Now, it seems that these geologic cycles may be a result of the interactions of our planet with mysterious dark matter.

How does dark matter affect our planet? Most dark matter can be found as huge haloes surrounding the disc-shaped spiral galaxies, like our own Milky Way. But in 2015 physicist Lisa Randall at Harvard, proposed that significant dark matter is concentrated along the central mid-plane of the galactic disk.

During the cyclic movement of the sun and planets through the galaxy, we pass through the mid-place about once every 30 million years. At these times, the dark matter concentrated there tugs on the myriad Oort cloud comments found at the edge of the solar system. This gravitational perturbation causes some of the loosely bound comets to fall into the zone of the inner planets, where some would collide with Earth, producing a roughly 30 million year cycle of impacts and associated mass extinctions. As a result, dark matter may have killed the dinosaurs.

(10) TREMONTAINE. At Fantasy Literature, Marion Deeds reviews the book version of Tremontaine Season One by Ellen Kushner, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malinda Lo, Joel Derfner, Patty Bryant, Racheline Maltese and Paul Witcover — “Tremontaine Season One: Magic can’t always be re-created”.

The most interesting secondary character is Micah, a young county girl in the city, who is a math genius. Disguised as a boy, Micah is taken up by the university students because she has a gift for winning card games, and because she is a genius. Micah is a problematic character for some of the writers. She is neuro-atypical. In some of these novellas, Micah convinces me that she is somewhere on the autism spectrum. In the hands of others she reads more like an innocent, much younger girl (eleven or twelve). This wobbliness broke my suspension of disbelief. Beyond the problem of Micah’s characterization, tone in general is a problem, changing from episode to episode, and sometimes clashing with the previous chapter, as it does most noticeably in Episode Seven, “The Swan Ball.”

(11) THEY LOST HIM AT HELLO. Superversive SF’s Declan Finn says he was so offended by Star Trek: Discovery that he had already turned it off before they reached the part that was designed to offend him: “The STD That Will Never Go Viral”.

I gave up at the 40 minute mark. So, all of this is this is, of course, before I got to the stuff that was designed to offend me. I’m told there are gay, bisexual and other sexes all over the place, that the Klingons were supposed to be Trump supporters, that they use cussing but can’t say “God” on the show.  Heck, I didn’t even get far enough into the episode to see “Michael” assault her captain, take over the ship in a mutiny specifically so she could commit an act of war on the Klingons… which happened.

But they never got a chance to appeal to my politics. They never got a chance to offend me. They never got a chance to make me angry. Because they never got me to care. Because this isn’t Star Trek. This is just a bad parody.

This is one STD that will never go viral.

(12) THE NOT RIGHT. Prager University produced a video, “What is the Alt-Right?” which briefly mentions Vox Day.

What is the alt-right? What is its worldview? How big is it? Michael Knowles, bestselling author and host of The Michael Knowles Show, took a deep dive into alt-right culture. Here’s what he learned.

When a reader of Vox Popoli brought it to Day’s attention he teed off on the site’s namesake.

I would have been shocked if Dennis Prager had anything positive to say about me. He’s a mediocre thinker and a mediocre writer whose columns on WND were lightweight, little trafficked, and almost entirely forgettable.

(13) ARISTOTLE! Speaking of Aristotle….Camestros Felapton has now reached Chapter 6 in his dissection of Vox Day’s SJWs Always Double Down: Anticipating the Thought Police.

“It is one of more than a dozen such tactics that I have observed SJWs utilizing over the past few year, and what is fascinating is how many of these tactics were first observed more than 2,400 years ago by one of Man’s greatest thinkers, Aristotle.”

Having said that, we don’t get an illustration of social media bait and report re-imagined for ancient Athens (which might have been interesting). I’d imagine the advice would be simple from Aristotle – if somebody is trying to bait you then don’t let them wind you up. There is an excellent example from Jesus in the New Testament dodging a “bait and report” when he is quizzed about paying taxes. Mind you I don’t think Vox reads the New Testament much, particularly not a section where his God implies that you should pay your taxes.

Anyway, put my side trip to Jesus aside, Vox is back with our friend Aristotle. This time rather than Aristotle’s Rhetoric, Vox wants us to look at The Organon and in particular the section called On Sophistical Refutations. “Sophistical” here referring to sophists – the quasi-professional arguers of stuff and/or Plato’s contemporary philosophers not in tune with the Socratic wing of thinking.

Aristotle lists 13 fallacies and Vox goes through them all to some extent. I’m going to look at them from a different direction…

(14) LET THERE BE LIGHTS. Tesla in real-world success: “Turns Power Back On At Children’s Hospital In Puerto Rico”.

Tesla has used its solar panels and batteries to restore reliable electricity at San Juan’s Hospital del Niño (Children’s Hospital), in what company founder Elon Musk calls “the first of many solar+battery Tesla projects going live in Puerto Rico.”

The project came about after Puerto Rico was hit by two devastating and powerful hurricanes in September, and Musk reached out about Tesla helping.

Musk’s company announced its success in getting the hospital’s power working again less than three weeks after Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello tweeted on Oct. 6, “Great initial conversation with @elonmusk tonight. Teams are now talking; exploring opportunities.”

Tesla’s image of the project’s solar array, in a parking lot next to the hospital, has been liked more than 84,000 times since it was posted to Instagram Tuesday.

(15) SOFTCOVER SCARES. Rise of a genre? “These ‘Paperbacks From Hell’ Reflect The Real-Life Angst Of The 1970s”. NPR did an interview with Grady Hendrix who argues that “horror” was not a mainstream term before _Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, et al.

On the appeal of horror paperbacks in the ’70s and ’80s

In the early ’70s, I think part of the appeal of these books is [that] they were written fast and without a lot of pretensions, and so in doing that, these authors were kind of capturing the time in which they were writing. And so you had in the early ’70s, late ’60s, all this fascination with the occult. Astrology was big, Time magazine had two covers that were like, “The New Age occult craze in America” and also there was a fear of our children — “What is this rock music and this LSD and this ‘Summer of Love’? Surely there must be a dark side there.”

And so these books really reflected a lot of where we were at the times and answered a lot of questions, and the answer to most of the questions was, “Yes, be very, very afraid of everything.” Jellyfish, mattresses, curtains, dogs, moths, caterpillars, children, dolls, clowns, puppets. But at least they were answers.

(16) NO RENDEZVOUS WITH THIS RAMA. Passing through: “Scientists Spot First Alien Space Rock In Our Solar System”.

It’s long been assumed that an interstellar object like this one should be out there, because giant planets in forming solar systems are thought to toss out bits of space crud that haven’t yet glommed into anything. But this is the first time scientists have actually found one.

The mysterious object is small — less than a quarter mile in diameter — and seems to have come from the general direction of the constellation Lyra, moving through interstellar space at 15.8 miles per second, or 56,880 miles per hour.

“The orbit is very convincing. It is going so fast that it clearly came from outside the solar system,” says Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “It’s whipping around the Sun, it has already gone around the Sun, and it has actually gone past the Earth on its way out.”

(17) INSECURITY. The internet doesn’t know you’re a dog – or an AI: “AI Model Fundamentally Cracks CAPTCHAs, Scientists Say”.

A new model, described in research published today in Science, fundamentally breaks the CAPTCHA’s defenses by parsing the text more effectively than previous models with less training, George says.

He says that previous models trying to get machines to learn like humans have largely relied on a prevailing AI technique called deep learning.

“Deep learning is a technique where you have layers of neurons and you train those neurons to respond in a way that you decide,” he says. For example, you could train a machine to recognize the letters A and B by showing it hundreds of thousands of example images of each. Even then, it would have difficulty recognizing an A overlapping with a B unless it had been explicitly trained with that image.

(18) RUNAWAYS. Marvel’s Runaways will be on Hulu starting November 21.

(19) YOU HAD ONE JOB. Alien Invasion S.U.M. 1 official trailer.

[Thanks to JJ, Carl Slaughter, Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, Andrew Porter, Martin Morse Wooster, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Xtifr.]

Pixel Scroll 9/8/17 The Heinlein Appertainment Collision: Pixel, The Cat That Walks Through Scrolls

(1) HINES ARC GIVEAWAY TO SUPPORT DISASTER RELIEF. Jim C. Hines is doing a giveaway of an advance copy of Terminal Alliance to encourage people to donate to flood/hurricane relief: “Disaster Aid and Terminal Alliance Giveaway”:

Two weeks ago, Sophie received advance review copies of Terminal Alliance. I’ve been meaning to do a giveaway, but I was struggling to come up with a good way to do it.

Then I started seeing the damage reports come in from hurricanes and flooding. The devastation they’ve left in their wakes, and the devastation yet to come. A million people without power in Puerto Rico. Record-breaking rain and flooding in the southwest U.S. 41 million affected by flooding and landslides in South Asia.

And now I know how I want to do this giveaway. You want to win an autographed ARC of Terminal Alliance? There are two things you need to do.

  1. Donate to one of the organizations helping with disaster relief.
  2. Leave a comment saying you donated.

(2) USE YOUR OWN DARNED IMAGINATION. Bestselling fantasy writer Mark Lawrence tells his fans “Why you’re not getting a map”.

A question posed to me on this blog.

Q: When are you going to draw a map for Book of the ancestors series? I’m dying to read Red Sister but can’t bring myself to do it without a map.

A: I’m not going to. If you can’t read a book without a map I guess it’s not a book for you.

I’m often asked: “Did you draw the map first or as you wrote the book.” This is frequently by people who haven’t read any of my books.

There is an assumption there … fantasy books have maps. Which is odd, since I have read hundreds (possibly thousands) of novels without maps, many of them set in regions I’m unfamiliar with. The fact is that for a great many works of fiction maps are irrelevant, they are about what people are doing in their lives, if Sarah goes to visit her uncle in Vostok it is sufficient for me to know it took her several hours on the train and when she got there the forests were covered in snow. I don’t need to look it up on a map. It doesn’t matter.

(3) SELLING SHORT. Charles Payseur begins a new series of posts with “MAPPING SHORT SF/F: Part 1, A Key to the Kingdom” at Nerds of a Feather.

Really, the reasons I want to do this can be broken down thusly:

  1. To provide a tool for readers to break down short SFF into meaningful, manageable chunks that will help them locate stories they will hopefully love.
  2. To counter the narrative that short SFF is either too massive, too disparate, or too opaque to be successfully navigated.
  3. To talk about short SFF, which is one of my great loves.
  4. To highlight publications, authors, and trends within short SFF.

…One last thing before I close this down. People often come to me to ask how to find stories. How to refine their search. While I hope to help through this series, there are some tools that are available to you right now, and I find that not everyone thinks of this when they’re considering where to look as readers for particular genres/styles/etc. Your best resource as a reader is…submissions guidelines. Yes, they are written for writers, but if you want to know what a publication is interested in, submissions guidelines are where to look. Skip the About Us section of publications. Read what they want. See if they have a diversity statement. Check to see what other tactics they might have to encourage marginalized writers to submit. This is a really easy “cheat” for readers to get a feel for a publication without checking out reviews or reading sample stories. And using a tool like The Submissions Grinder at Diabolical Plots allows you to search by genre, by length, by basically whatever you want. It’s not what it was designed for, but it is amazing for searching out venues and stories to read.

(4) SINGULARITY SINS. Rodney Brooks has written an excellent article explaining in detail why the future of AI isn’t going to be quite as scary or as exciting as most SF stories would have you think: “The Seven Deadly Sins of Predicting the Future of AI”. Here’s an excerpt from one of his seven main points.

Some people have very specific ideas about when the day of salvation will come–followers of one particular Singularity prophet believe that it will happen in the year 2029, as it has been written.

This particular error of prediction is very much driven by exponentialism, and I will address that as one of the seven common mistakes that people make.

Even if there is a lot of computer power around it does not mean we are close to having programs that can do research in Artificial Intelligence, and rewrite their own code to get better and better.

Here is where we are on programs that can understand computer code. We currently have no programs that can understand a one page program as well as a new student in computer science can understand such a program after just one month of taking their very first class in programming. That is a long way from AI systems being better at writing AI systems than humans are.

Here is where we are on simulating brains at the neural level, the other methodology that Singularity worshipers often refer to. For about thirty years we have known the full “wiring diagram” of the 302 neurons in the worm C. elegans, along with the 7,000 connections between them. This has been incredibly useful for understanding how behavior and neurons are linked. But it has been a thirty years study with hundreds of people involved, all trying to understand just 302 neurons. And according to the OpenWorm project trying to simulate C. elegans bottom up, they are not yet half way there. To simulate a human brain with 100 billion neurons and a vast number of connections is quite a way off. So if you are going to rely on the Singularity to upload yourself to a brain simulation I would try to hold off on dying for another couple of centuries.

(5) LUCASFILM HELPS DESIGN REAL WORLD MISSION PATCH. In space no one can hear you squee.

Taking a modern twist on a longstanding spaceflight tradition of mission patch design, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) partnered with Lucasfilm to blend iconic images from the Star Wars franchise with a real-world space station for its latest mission patch.

BB-8 meets ISS

Though it should come as no surprise that the intersection of space science and science fiction fans is quite large, it isn’t often the two areas come together in such overt fashion, even with something as basic as a patch. Indeed, mission insignia are usually designed by astronauts or engineers involved with a particular mission, not an outside organization.

CASIS, however, has a history of engaging third parties to influence – or outright design – its ensigns. Before the current collaboration with Lucasfilm, CASIS worked with Marvel to design its 2016 mission patch. That work featured Rocket Raccoon and Groot from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy looking upwards toward the International Space Station (ISS).

(6) TECHNOLOGY AND FREEDOM. Coming September 17 at the Brooklyn Historical Auditorium: “Structures of Power: Politics, Science Fiction, and Fantasy presented by the Center for Fiction”

Science fiction and fantasy are uniquely positioned to explore structures of power. Four authors examine how power struggles impact individuals and collectives, intersections between technology and politics, and methods of resistance to oppressive governments and technologies. N.K. Jemisin (The Stone Sky), Eugene Lim (Dear Cyborgs), Malka Older (Null States), and Deji Bryce Olukotun (After the Flare) will discuss how science fiction and fantasy respond to our hopes and fears for the future, offers alternatives to conventional politics, and examines how technology affects freedom. Moderated by Rosie Clarke.

(7) BRADBURY ALL THE TIME. Here’s the first of “11 Deep Facts About The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” from Mental Floss.

  1. THE MOVIE WAS PARTLY BASED ON A RAY BRADBURY STORY.

It all started with a roar. One night, while he was living near Santa Monica Bay, legendary sci-fi author Ray Bradbury was awakened from his sleep by a blaring foghorn. Moved by the mournful bellow, he quickly got to work on a short story about a lovelorn sea monster. Called The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (later retitled The Foghorn), it was published in The Saturday Evening Post on June 23, 1951.

At roughly the same time, Mutual Films was developing a script for a new action-packed monster movie. The finished product would ultimately bear more than a slight resemblance to a certain Saturday Evening Post story. For instance, both of them feature a scene in which a prehistoric titan lays waste to a lighthouse. According to some sources, Mutual had already started working on its marine creature flick when studio co-founder Jack Dietz happened upon Bradbury’s yarn in the Post. Supposedly, he contacted the author without delay and bought the rights to this tale.

But Bradbury’s account of what happened behind the scenes is totally different. The other co-founder of Mutual was one Hal Chester. Late in life, Bradbury claimed that when a preliminary script for what became Beast had been drafted, Chester asked him to read it over. “I pointed out the similarities between it and my short story,” Bradbury said. “Chester’s face paled and his jaw dropped when I told him his monster was my monster. He seemed stunned at my recognition of the fact. He had the look of one caught with his hand in the till.”

In any event, Bradbury received a $2000 check and a shout-out in the movie’s opening credits.

(8) TODAY’S DAY

Star Trek Day

[The anniversary of when the first episode aired in 1966.]

“I haven’t faced death. I’ve cheated death. I’ve tricked my way out of death and patted myself on the back for my ingenuity; I know nothing.” ~ James T. Kirk, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Long ago, in the depths of the cold war, America had a prophet arrive. He spoke not of religious texts and damnation, but instead provided us with a vision of the future so hope-filled, so compelling, that it has indelibly marked the imaginations of man-kind ever since. Star Trek Day celebrates that vision, and the man who created it, Gene Roddenberry.

(9) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • September 8, 1966 — Original Star Trek series debuted on television.
  • September 8, 1973 Star Trek: The Animated Series premiered. (Talk about coincidences.)

(10) COMICS SECTION.

  • Chip Hitchcock rightly says, “Today’s Rhymes With Orange is for the strong of stomach.”
  • John King Tarpinian found a funny about cosplay – today’s Lio.

(11) YOU’RE FROM THE SIXTIES. At Galactic Journey, The Traveler is giving out his annual Galactic Stars – this time in the TV category: “[Sep. 8, 1962] Navigating the Wasteland (1961-62 in (good) television)”. These awards are not limited to sff – Route 66 and The Andy Griffith Show made the list – but The Twilight Zone a couple other genre series made the list.

Other stand-outs include:

Mr. Ed 1960-: despite being overly rooted in conventional gender roles, one can’t ignore Alan Young’s charm, the fun of the barbed banter between Young’s married neighbors, or the impressive way they make a horse appear to talk.

Supercar 1961-62: this British import is definitely kiddie fare, but it’s still fun to watch Mike Mercury and his two scientist associates defeat criminals and triumph over natural disaster.  Of course, the acting’s a bit wooden…

(12) WHEN BRUCE WILLIS ATTENDS YOUR OFFICE PARTY. Io9 reports “The Best Christmas Movie of All Time Is Being Turned Into a Must-Have Children’s Book”. I was thinking, A Christmas Story? Miracle on 34th Street? I was wrong….

It’s unfortunate that Die Hard, the best Christmas movie of all time, isn’t really a film you can watch with your kids. But this year, instead of suffering through Elf once again, you can spend some quality time with your PG-rated family members by reading a new holiday children’s book based on the adventures of John McClane.

A Die Hard Christmas: The Illustrated Holiday Classic, written by comedian Doogie Horner, and illustrated by JJ Harrison, was inspired by the classic Christmas poem, Twas the Night Before Christmas. But instead of detailing Santa’s attempts to deliver presents to good boys and girls, the book tells the timeless tale of a New York police officer single-handedly taking down a gang of European terrorists.

(13) THE IT FACTOR. The children’s movie about a clown with a red balloon did well. SyFy Wire says “The weekend’s only starting, and IT has already broken 4 box office records”.

According to Deadline, the R-rated IT’s record-breaking take of $13.5 million means it had:

  • The largest gross for a horror pre-show gross.
  • The largest gross for a R-rated preview gross.
  • The largest gross for a September preview, ever.
  • The largest gross for a movie based on a Stephen King novel.

This Thursday night preview kicked the stuffing out of the R-rated Deadpool, which only earned $12.7 from its pre-show screenings. Experts are predicting more record-shattering as the weekend progresses.

(14) KOWAL SIGNED FOR NARRATION. Parvus Press has contracted with Mary Robinette Kowal to perform the audiobook narration for the upcoming title Flotsam by R J Theodore. The book will be released in digital, print, and audio on January 30, 2018.

“We are incredibly excited to be able to work with a world-class talent like Mary Robinette Kowal on this title,” said Colin Coyle, Publisher at Parvus Press. “We know that this book is going to find a dedicated fan base and we want to bring it to as many readers and listeners as possible.”

…R J Theodore couldn’t be more pleased with Parvus’ choice for FLOTSAM‘s narrator. She says, “Mary’s voice is a complex bourbon that bites with a wry humor on the way down. I am very excited to hear it applied to FLOTSAM’s narration.”

Cat Rambo, author of “Beasts of Tabat”, describes FLOTSAM as “Combining the best elements of steampunk and space opera,” and promises “[P]laced in a lavishly detailed and imagined world, Flotsam will hold you firmly till the final page.”

…Mary Robinette Kowal, a professional puppeteer, also performs as a voice actor (SAG/AFTRA), recording fiction for authors including Seanan McGuire, Cory Doctorow, and John Scalzi. She lives in Chicago with her husband Rob and over a dozen manual typewriters.

(15) NEXT TURN OF THE WHEEL. Although the blog has devoted years to teaching indie authors how to put together and market their books, Mad Genius Club’s Peter Grant has a new message: “It’s time to face facts: online lending and streaming media is, increasingly, the future of books”.

I’ve written before about the threat that streaming media poses to traditional book sales.  I’ve had a certain amount of pushback about that, particularly from those who don’t like the thought of their income from writing declining to such an extent.  Some have even refused to make their books available on streaming services such as Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.  Now, however, the signs are clear.  We have to face up to the reality of streaming media in our future – or be swept aside.

Those signs are most clear in other areas of the entertainment industry.  Let’s not forget, that is our industry, too.  We’re not selling books.  We’re selling entertainment, and our products (books and stories) are competing with every other avenue of entertainment out there – movies, TV series, music, games, the lot.  If we don’t offer sufficient entertainment for consumers’ dollars, they’re going to spend them on another form of entertainment – and we’re going to starve.

(16) TODAY’S THING TO WORRY ABOUT. At Phys.org they ask: “Are we being watched? Tens of other worlds could spot the Earth”.

Thanks to facilities and missions such as SuperWASP and Kepler, we have now discovered thousands of planets orbiting stars other than our sun, worlds known as ‘exoplanets’. The vast majority of these are found when the planets cross in front of their host stars in what are known as ‘transits’, which allow astronomers to see light from the host star dim slightly at regular intervals every time the planet passes between us and the distant star.

In the new study, the authors reverse this concept and ask, “How would an alien observer see the solar system?” They identified parts of the distant sky from where various planets in our solar system could be seen to pass in front of the sun – so-called ‘transit zones’—concluding that the terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) are actually much more likely to be spotted than the more distant ‘Jovian’ planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune), despite their much larger size.

“Larger planets would naturally block out more light as they pass in front of their star”, commented lead author Robert Wells, a PhD student at Queen’s University Belfast. “However the more important factor is actually how close the planet is to its parent star – since the terrestrial planets are much closer to the sun than the gas giants, they’ll be more likely to be seen in transit.”

(17) THE MARTIAN HOP. Stephen Baxter is featured in “Tell Us 5 Things About Your Book: A Sequel to ‘The War of the Worlds’” at the New York Times.

What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?

The work that Wells put into the original; the development it went through. There are some surviving drafts, at the University of Illinois. What really surprised me was how the narrator evolved. In the initial drafts, he’s a much more competent character, much more purposeful. He loses his wife to the Martians; they destroy the town he lived in. He becomes enraged and wants revenge, so he falls in with the resistance, and he’s going to blow up the Martians, like a suicide bomber.

But Wells clearly wasn’t happy with that. In the final draft, the narrator is burned, wounded, but he follows the Martians in a way that’s more “get it over with.” Then he goes into a fugue, a kind of three-day dropout. I think Wells was groping for a prediction of shell shock, which wasn’t a recognized condition until the First World War, 20 years later. So it’s a tremendous prediction, which I think is underrated by critics. That discovery, of how much Wells worked on the book, was a real revelation for me.

(18) ANOTHER GLIMPSE. Victor Fernando R. Ocampo, in “My Late Post regarding the 2017 Hugo Awards”, shares  great photos from the ceremony.

(19) BEARS DISCOVER EMAIL. End of a bizarre story: “Judge dismisses email invention claim”. The plaintiff was looking not for royalties on email but for libel damages for a story doubting his claim to have created the “definitive” email program — the modern equivalent of claiming to have invented fire?

Shiva Ayyadurai sued news website Tech Dirt earlier this year after it published several articles denying his claim….

Mr Ayyadurai’s controversial claim revolves around a program he wrote in 1978, called EMAIL, that was used by staff at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. He was granted a copyright for this program in 1982.

Many news websites have published detailed rejections of his claim.

Tech Dirt was one of the most vocal critics of Mr Ayyadurai’s campaign to establish his software as the definitive version.

Technology history suggests that modern email programs have a lot of influences, but much of the work was done prior to 1978 by many different developers.

Ray Tomlinson is widely acknowledged as the programmer who, in the early 1970s, first used the “@” symbol as a way to describe a particular user on a particular network.

(20) RIDE WEST, YOUNG MAN. Adweek tells about this bit of fictionalized history: “Lyft Travels Back to 1836 With Jeff Bridges in First Brand Work From Wieden + Kennedy”.

Man invents the wheel. Man walks on the moon. Man calls a car to the East Village on a Friday night, when you can’t flag a yellow cab to save your life.

These are some of the major developments in the history of human transportation, according to Lyft, whose big new brand campaign is set to debut during NFL games this Sunday.

…W+K made a splash with a summer activation in which Lyft “took over” an Los Angeles car wash, but the new work is even more ambitious. In the first spot, “Riding West,” Jeff Bridges relays a few lessons about the importance of choice that are as relevant today as they were to the wagon trains of the early 19th century.

 

There are a few more videos at the link. I also like this one:

[Thanks to Andrew Porter, Greg Hullender, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Steven H Silver, Chip Hitchcock, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Soon Lee.]

Pixel Scroll 3/13/17 Do Androids Dream Of Crottled Greeps?

(1) UNENDING DANGER. Jared takes a look back at Ellison’s never-published “The Last Dangerous Visions” at Pornokitsch.

The Last Dangerous Visions might be the most famous science fiction book to never exist. ‘TLDV’ was the long-mooted and nearly-almost-published sequel to Dangerous Visions (1967) and Again, Dangerous Visions (1972) – two vastly important and influential publication in modern speculative fiction.

This ambitious anthology, seemingly intended to be the final word in contemporary SF, was delayed for numerous reasons, documented elsewhere by both Ellison and many others. The anticipation, the delays, and the numerous authors it affected made for, to put it mildly, a great deal of drama….

(2) THE BIRDMAN OF AL-LAWZ. John Ringo’s “The Raptor God Incident” has its rough spots but the last four lines are sweet. (This is an excerpt from the middle).

One day as I was preparing to come off night guard duty I noticed some big birds flying by. It was dawn (another pretty time) and there were three of them in a group just beginning to catch the thermals. They ended up going by right at eye level and no more than fifty meters away. I identified them as goshawks, large black and white raptors. They were involved in their annual migration from Africa up to Northern Europe.

I sat and watched as more and more of the groups came by. They were one of the first signs of beauty I’d seen in a long time. And it was clear the migration was just starting.

I thought about that for a while that day and I thought about how much I hated to be woken up at O Dark Thirty to go freeze my ass off in the shack.

So I made a deal with the other guys. I’d take ALL the day duty. Every day. Seven days a week. IF I didn’t have to take a night watch.

‘The Deal was made in Sinai, on a hot and cloudless day…’ (Hmmm… That even scans…)

(3) CARD TRICK. Cat Rambo advises pros about “Working Comic Conventions” at the SFWA Blog. First on the list —

Make sure you have a business card. This should have your contact information, your social media presence (you’ll see why in the at the convention tips) and at least one way to find your books. You will also use it for networking; make sure there is enough blank space on it for you to jot a note down on it before handing it to someone. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on cards but I would also suggest not cheaping out. The lowest rate cards are often flimsy and can look unprofessional….

(4) CAMPBELL AWARD ANTHOLOGY. Jonathan Edelstein, in a comment here, let everyone know that this year’s Campbell anthology, “heroically thrown together at the last minute” by Jake Kerr, is now available. It has stories from over six dozen writers, including Edelstein. Get the free download here.

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer is presented annually at WorldCon to an outstanding author whose first professional work of science fiction or fantasy was published within the previous two years. This anthology includes over 75 authors and nearly 400,000 words of fiction. A resource of amazing new writers for both Hugo Award voters and those interested in seeing the brightest new lights of fantasy and science fiction, Event Horizon is exclusively available via this page until July 15, 2017.

(5) CONS THAT WISH THEY WERE FOR-PROFIT. Trae Dorn at Nerd & Tie posted about two more cons with financial problems.

Effectively, organizer Ben Fritzsching told the event’s guests that there was no money to pay them at the event. Fritzsching then, at several guests’ request, gave them written IOU’s with the promise that the money would be paid by the end of 2016. Agent Nery Nolan Lemus posted a copy of one of the IOUs to the group Rate that Comic Con on Facebook…

As it’s now March of 2017, and we’re writing about this, you can imagine how well those IOUs held up.

No reasons were given for the event’s cancellation beyond “complications with the facility,” though we can speculate it’s likely for the normal reasons any con cancels — no one is buying. Frankly, we’ve heard reports of sub par experiences from their 2016 event, so there’s been a distinct lack of surprise. The event organizers did go on to say in the comments that they were unsure of their plans for the con in 2018 as well.

(6) RESISTANCE RADIO. Sometimes it’s hard to keep the resistors separated from the transistors. “Amazon launched a fake radio station to promote ‘The Man in the High Castle.’ Angry Trump supporters thought it was real.” The Washington Post has the story.

An ad campaign for a dystopian television show has some Trump supporters seeing red.

Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle,” loosely based on a Philip K. Dick novel, is ramping up for its third season. The thriller, set in 1962, imagines a world in which the Axis powers won World War II and America is controlled by fascist leaders. The East Coast belongs to Nazi Germany; the West Coast is in the clutches of Imperial Japan.

At SXSW in Austin last week, as part of a marketing campaign for “The Man in the High Castle,” Amazon launched “Resistance Radio,” a fake Internet-based radio station broadcast by the fictional American “Resistance” from the show.

“Hijacking the airwaves, a secret network of DJs broadcast messages of hope to keep the memory of a former America alive,” the website said. Click through, and an interactive image of an antique, dual-knob radio appears while mod tunes drift through your computer’s speakers. In between songs, DJs on three different stations speak about how to fight the “Reich” in America.

Soon #ResistanceRadio, the campaign’s sponsored hashtag, spread like wildfire on Twitter. Some Trump supporters seemingly mistook it for an anti-Trump radio station and expressed their displeasure. (Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

….It’s important to note that well before Amazon launched this campaign, #ResistanceRadio had been used, however sparingly, on social media while promoting certain anti-Trump podcasts.

 

(7) FAREWELL. Gardner Dozois, in a public Facebook post, told about Saturday’s memorial service for his wife, Susan Casper.

We had people who came in from New York City, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Delaware, and England, and celebrities in attendance included Samuel Delany, Michael Swanwick, Pat Cadigan, Ellen Datlow, artists Bob Walters and Tess Kissinger, Scott Edelman, Sheila Williams, Ginjer Bucanan, John Douglas, Moshe Feder, Tom Purdom, and Greg Frost. After the speaking part of the function, everyone fell on a huge fish-and-coldcuts platter from Famous Deli, one of the last traditional Jewish Delis left in the city, and devoured nearly all of it.

This half-hour video slideshow of Casper played in the background. (YouTube has muted its soundtrack, which contains copyrighted music.)

(8) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • March 13, 1942 The Ghost of Frankenstein was released, starring Lon Chaney Jr as the Monster and Bela Lugosi as Ygor.
  • March 13, 1969 The Love Bug, a Walt Disney movie about the adventures of a Volkswagen Beetle named Herbie, opens in theaters.

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOYS

  • Born March 13, 1855 — Percival Lowell (astronomer)
  • Born March 13, 1911 – L. Ron Hubbard

(10) TODAY’S COINCIDENCE

  • March 13, 1930 — The discovery of Pluto, formerly known as the ninth planet, was officially announced on this date, which was Percival Lowell’s birthday. Lowell was founder of Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, where Clyde W. Tombaugh discovered Pluto on February 18, 1930.

(11) STUFF THEY DON’T KNOW YOU ALREADY KNOW. ScreenRant offers “Lord Of The Rings: 15 Things You Never Knew About Galadriel”. Titles like this are one of the recurring motifs of the internet, so don’t take offense when you find how many of these things you already know. I can say there were a couple I’d never thought about before.

  1. SHE’S MARRIED

It speaks to Galadriel’s significance that her husband hardly figures into the picture. Still, it’s important to acknowledge his existence, even if it doesn’t have a huge impact on the overall story of Lord of the Rings. Galadriel actually rules over the land of Lothlórien alongside Celeborn. While all elves are relatively old, Galadriel is older than Celeborn. Galadriel was born before the first age began, and Celeborn was born in Doriath before it fell, which suggests that he’s at least 500 years younger than his wife.

While this age difference probably isn’t all that significant in the extended lives that elves live, it’s still interesting to consider, especially alongside the fact that Galadriel is much more well-known than her husband. He may not be as wise as his wife, but Celeborn is still considered one of the wisest elves in Middle Earth, and stayed in Middle Earth for a time into the Fourth Age before joining his wife in the Undying Lands.

(12) 2017 PRIX BOB MORANE. Locus Online has reported the winners of the 2017 Prix Bob Morane, awarded by a jury of French-speaking writers, journalists, critics, and collections directors.

Romans francophones (French Novels)

Manhattan Marilyn, Philippe Laguerre (Éditions Critic)

Romans traduits (Translated Novels)

Les enfermés [Lock In], John Scalzi, translated by Mikael Cabon (L’Atalante)

Nouvelles (Short Stories)

Il sera une fois, Southeast Jones (Éditions Séma)

Coup de coeur (Favorites)

L’exégèse de Philip K. Dick (J’ai Lu)

Rae Armantrout

(13) WELL VERSED. The Arthur C. Clarke Center for the Human Imagination presents Entanglements: Rae Armantrout & the Poetry of Physics on April 13 at 6 p.m. in Atkinson Hall Auditorium on the UC San Diego campus. It is free to the public.

One of the favorite subjects of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Rae Armantrout (Professor Emerita, UCSD) is physics–from the big ideas of cosmology to the infinitesimally small wonders of the quantum world. To celebrate the publication of Entanglements, a chapbook selection of her science-minded poems, Brian Keating (Astrophysics, UCSD) and the Clarke Center are hosting an evening with Rae Armantrout, who will read selections and discuss the creative process behind her work. Keating, along with Brandon Som (Creative Writing, UCSD) and Amelia Glaser (Literature, UCSD), will join her in a conversation about how these poems mix the personal with the scientific and speculative, the process of interdisciplinary creativity, and what her poetic engagement with physics can teach those working in the physical sciences.

(14) SOLVING FOR X. Melissa Leon’s really thoughtful and well-written review of Logan appears in The Daily Beast.

Logan, Hugh Jackman’s ninth and final outing as the Wolverine, is really a profoundly hopeful film. It loves and deeply understands its characters and the fraught, familial relationships between them. Its action scenes—brutal, bloody, and thrillingly inventive in a way comic book beat-em-ups rarely are—are as character-driven and impactful as its story. (Like, really impactful: You feel each punch, stab and dismemberment. Bless that R-rating.) This is a Western that happens to star superheroes; a road movie grounded in quiet, tender moments. It’s an elegy, wholly unconcerned with franchise-building or connecting distant universes. And with the introduction of Laura, a young mutant with powers similar to Wolverine’s, it becomes a portrait of makeshift families, empathy, and finding normalcy, too. That’s what the best X-Men stories are usually about. Turns out no one knows this better than her.

(15) TANGLED TECH. At SWSW, Disney showed plans to add AI to animatronics.

It’s rare that the company delves too far into how the “magic” – as they call it – works. Their logic is a magic trick doesn’t get better if you know how it’s done.

On Saturday, Disney – quite uncharacteristically – gave us a bit of an insight into how they plan to use technology to bring their much-loved brand of storytelling to new forms, by using robotics and artificial intelligence.

Jon Snoddy, the company’s senior Vice President for research and development, explained how soon you’ll be able to interact with story-telling robots at Disney parks.

“I think AI [artificial intelligence] and machine learning is going to be very important for what we do,” he told the BBC.

“Things like characters that can move around among our guests. They’re going to need to understand where they’re going, have goals, and they’re going to have to know how to navigate in a world with humans….

During a panel discussion, the company shared footage – which unfortunately we’re not able to republish here – of a robotic Pascal, the cute lizard from 2010 movie Tangled.

It’s a terrific recreation of the digital character, but the real challenge for Disney will be to avoid the so-called “uncanny valley” – the theory that if something is very lifelike, but not exactly right, it can be slightly creepy or disturbing.

“Obviously we’re not the business of scaring kids!” Mr Snoddy said….

(16) THE PEN FROM OUTER SPACE. The perfect placeholder while you’re waiting to win your Hugo — the Astrograph.

….As you first encounter it, the Astrograph is an elongated teardrop, with window-like depressions picked out in black lacquer at the narrow end. The wider end has three curved metal elements ending in sharp points, and there’s a miniature ladder going up one side of the barrel that ends in a tiny door.

The door is actually a hidden lever that, when pulled, deploys those curved elements, which are the landing gear – and suddenly the pen is a miniature spaceship.

The spaceship illusion is underscored by touches like a red “thruster” at the pen’s base. The landing gear has actual working shock-absorbing struts, and with the gear down, the bottom half of the pen acts as a pen-holder.  The pen itself is housed in the upper half of the Astrograph, which you release simply by unscrewing it (it’s available either as a fountain pen or rollerball pen, but both work the same way)….

The Astrograph, in keeping with its philosophy of taking a toy to its logical extreme, also comes with, naturally, a tiny astronaut figurine with a magnet in its chest that lets you pretend the little guy’s climbing up or down the ladder, the better to explore strange new worlds; it also comes with a landing pad base that doubles as the pen’s box. Did you really expect anything less? I didn’t think so.

[Thanks to Chip Hitchcock, Cat Eldridge, Jonathan Edelstein, Andrew Porter, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

Digital Assistants at the Forefront of AI

By Brandon Engel: Important touchstones in technological history come about when something jumps the gap from experimental testing to widespread consumer use. Nowhere else today is this more apparent than within the market for “digital personal assistants”, voice-user interfaces which facilitate an understanding between us and our machines.

Within the broader field of artificial intelligence, machine learning algorithms are rapidly improving to better extract knowledge from our natural, spoken language patterns. The profit motives of large corporations like Apple and Amazon indicate the companies behind these increasingly-powerful softwares are attempting not only to perfect human-to-machine communication, but to also to insinuate themselves and their services in a position that will expand their authority. That has led to something of an arm’s race, as firms jostle for control of the most accurate means of determining consumer’s spoken – and unspoken – desires.

Image result for clippy

We’ve come a long way from the days when Microsoft Word users wanted to slap Clippy, the first widely known “PDA”, for providing inaccurate editing assistance. Users of Apple’s iOS-based products have now been happily making friends with the company’s Siri system for some time. Amazon, however, is perhaps the best positioned for dominance in the speech automation space. The Echo home speaker is grounded in its Alexa AI service. Even Microsoft has made huge strides with Cortana, another hands-free helper at the intersection of computer science, linguistics, and human psychology.

A New Frontier

These intelligent virtual assistants signal a new frontier in computing. They go much further than just recognizing your requests and attempting to fulfill them: gathering information from the Cloud, their “minds” are informed by millions of pieces of data input by users in real-time all around the world. For the biggest internet players – Apple, Google – access to a massive pool of voice data has help software coders built systems that act as flexible roadmaps for how certain questions should be answered. When consumers speak a search query aloud or ask a question, the software that supports Alexa and her cohorts is able to act efficiently on a wide range of natural language tasks.

A.I. That Listens and Learns

At their worst, these products can seem a bit creepy. At their best, they offer a highly customized experience. Amazon’s push into consumer electronics is not easily separated from its interest in many smaller Internet-connected devices and its broader role as one of the world’s biggest retailers. Now that the day has come when customers no longer have to visit a screen to shop online, voice assistants are encouraging purchasing decisions and facilitating new modes of customer interaction.

According to this website, smartphone users make the most use of voice assistants in their home – at 43%. Using voice assistants while driving ranked second at 36%. Assaf Ronen, Amazon’s vice president of voice shopping, recently applauded the company’s voice assistant skills saying, “Our Alexa speech science engineers have made something so incredibly challenging appear effortless to customers.” On “Prime Day”, Amazon’s yearly discount sale, users ordering products via voice assistant were offered special deals – resulting in the company’s most profitable shopping day ever.

The Invisible Hand

The privacy concerns attached to such systems seem so obvious as to hardly be worth mentioning. Carrying around a smartphone means carrying around a GPS-connected device that ties you to the “Cloud”, where all information is accessible should you know how to look. The fact that we’re all online, all the time has not been lost on advertisers and sellers, and neither by crooks, hackers, and the identity thieves.

Like many ethical concerns in the consumer world, the final verdict is likely to be rendered by the invisible hand of the market. Will end users prize the newfound intelligence of their digital personal assistants? Will they value them enough to trade a sense of privacy for the promise of a better experience while shopping, reading the news or just searching the web? In the meantime, the major software companies are more focused on figuring out the how rather than dealing with the ethical and legal implications. How it all shakes out remains to be seen, but it will be exciting to watch as A.I. grows as an everyday presence in our lives.