B is for Bradbury: Bill Oberst Jr.’s Staged Reading of Ray Bradbury Live (forever)

By Mark L. Blackman: As we approach his centennial (he was born on August 22, 1920), there’s renewed interest in iconic fantasist Ray Bradbury. This is, in some part, due to next month’s fresh adaptation of Fahrenheit 451, starring Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon. (I still remember the Oskar Werner/Julie Christie film from Truffaut.) For his loyal following of readers, though, Bradbury’s appeal has never flagged.

Back in September, I caught Emmy-winner Bill Oberst Jr.’s  masterful and haunting adaptation of Bradbury’s “Pillar of Fire” for the solo stage. (In addition to New York, it also played in Los Angeles.) On Thursday, April 12, for one night only, Oberst returned to the same Off-Broadway venue, Theatre Row, with a staged reading of Ray Bradbury Live (forever). The script, written by Oberst, adapting Bradbury’s own words, was approved by the Bradbury Estate and vetted by Bradbury scholars and authors Dr. Jonathan Eller and Dr. Phil Nichols. Oberst stars as Ray Bradbury circa 1970. “It’s like The Belle of Amherst meets Mark Twain Tonight – with dinosaurs,” said Oberst, further describing the show as “a mix of Epcot ride, Planetarium show and dream.”

To suggest Ray Bradbury, in his portrayal, Oberst relied on an old brown suit, Ray’s characteristic glasses, and a Midwestern accent (Bradbury was originally from Waukegan, Illinois), but the illusion was ultimately powered by captivating excerpts from his works brilliantly brought to life onstage by Oberst. Interspersed with selected lectures of Bradbury’s (I was privileged to hear him at the 1986 Atlanta and 2006 LA Worldcons), we were treated to readings of scenes from “A Sound of Thunder” (the story that gave the world the phrase “the butterfly effect”), Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles (“The Million-Year Picnic”), and the lesser-known “The Murderer.”

Once described as writing ghost stories without ghosts and science fiction without science (one word: Mars), Bradbury was, above all, a lyrical word-painter and the audience was held firmly in his (their) grip as we were swept along from a face-to-face in the jungle with a T. rex to a confrontation in a small-town library with the demonic master of a dark carnival to the fabled canals of Mars amid the end of the world. The “Epcot ride” whirled through story-worlds variously eerie, terrifying, satiric, bittersweet and genuinely funny.

Bradbury famously quipped “I don’t predict the future – I try to prevent it,” and there was much that resonated with us today. Take Brock, “the murderer,” overwhelmed by what we now call “smart devices”, “technology gone horribly wrong”: “In touch! There’s a slimy phrase. Touched, hell. Gripped! Pawed, rather. Mauled and massaged and pounded by voices.” (He finally snaps, and spoons a quart of French chocolate ice cream – his favorite flavor – into his car’s radio transmitter and shoots his tv, “that insidious beast.”) Then too consider the familiar-sounding deplorable Presidential candidate: “There’s an anti-everything man for you, a militarist, anti-human, anti-intellectual.” And at least half of the audience appreciated:

“Why not let women man the wheel? For a few years, at least. We’oove ingested testosterone from the mouth of the cave to the burned libraries of Alexandria to unending war. … Oh Lord, let all the nations and all the cities of all the world be governed, for just a little while, by women. Just ordinary, by which I mean extraordinary, women who can mother-nurse-teach the world. Men don’t have to go to the back of the bus. They can protect their ravenous egos by advising from a side-seat on how to get lost.”

(I’ve always likened Bradbury to Norman Rockwell: on the surface nostalgically vivid Americana, but subtly subversive.)

Joining Oberst on stage – the backdrop was simple, painted library shelves, apt not only for  Something Wicked This Way Comes, but reflecting Bradbury’s lifelong love of and affinity for libraries – were Off-Broadway veterans Steven Hauck as the Narrator, providing descriptions and set design (Oberst didn’t actually ride in on a bicycle, and there were no slide projections of Bradbury’s book covers nor text projected on-screen; there are plans, by the way, for a full Off-Broadway production in 2019 – I’ll be there – followed by a national tour, and Oberst will employ prosthetic make-up for his transformation into Bradbury … and maybe even have a real bicycle), and Zoë Watkins as the psychiatrist in “The Murderer” and as Bradbury’s wife and muse, Maggie. (They well-conveyed the couple’s love – at one point they evoked “Oh Yes, I Remember It Well” – even leaving their stools for a dance.) The production was directed by Michael Joseph Ormond.

Ray Bradbury Live (forever) is, at heart, Bill Oberst Jr.’s love letter to Bradbury (spread across a table immediately outside the performance space were Bill’s personal copies of a slew of books by Bradbury), so it’s only fitting to close with Bradbury’s own philosophy of life and love:

If life is going to be worth a damn, love and imagination have to be at the center of it. … How can you not be in love with something? The things you love should be things you do and the things you do should be things you love. Never let anyone make you feel ashamed of your love. To hell with them. You love what you love.

That’s the fruit at the bottom of the bowl.

Pixel Scroll 3/5/18 Don’t Scroll That Shoggoth, Hand Me The Pixel

(1) FIGHT TO THE FINISH. Unbound Worlds, the Penguin Random House website for sff fans, is running Cage Match 2018: Creature Feature, a March Madness-style original fiction bracket tournament.

For the first time, Cage Match will feature an all non-human bracket of 32 characters — monsters, murderbots, mythological beings, and more from SF/F books — in battles to the death written by acclaimed authors.Contributors include Liana Brooks, C.A. Higgins, Seanan McGuire, Tina Connolly, and many others. Below are links to a couple of Round One matches.

  • Seanan McGuire’s (Tricks For Free) battle between Pennywise, a shapeshifting monster turned sinister clown from Stephen King’s It and Shelob, a venomous spider from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Read it here.
  • Michael Poore’s (Reincarnation Blues) account of Deep Thought, the supernatural computer from Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy vs. Lovelace/Sidra, a sentient computer from Becky Chambers The Long Way To a Small Angry Planet. Read it here.

Some of the other creatures from classic and contemporary science fiction and fantasy are:

  • Cthulhu, a massive, octopoid god-being from the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
  • Drogon, the largest and most aggressive of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons from A Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin.  
  • Iorek Byrnison, an armor-clad polar bear warrior from Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass.
  • Murderbot, a self-aware robot that hates humans from Martha Wells’s The Murderbot Diaries.
  • Pennywise, a shapeshifting monster turned sinister clown from Stephen King’s It.
  • War, a supernatural horseman of the apocalypse from Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

Also new for Cage Match 2018 is a special creature-themed Spotify playlist.

(2) BRADBURY IS BACK. As Bill Oberst Jr. describes his exciting new project, Ray Bradbury Live (forever):

Dinosaurs.

Dark Carnivals.

Rockets To Mars.

Ray Bradbury Live (forever) has them all. It’s a smart show; alternatively funny, sppoky and biting; a mix of Epcot ride, Planetarium show and dream.

The Show: Like Mark Twain Tonight, or The Bell of Amherst. But with dinosaurs.

Ray Bradbury Live (forever) is licensed for performance by the Ray Bradbury Estate, with script approval by the family.

Bill is doing the first staged reading in NYC at Theatre Row on April 12th at 7 p.m. It’s not the full production, just a reading, but it will give an idea of the piece. Jeff Farley is doing the prosthetic make-up for the actual show when it opens. The plan is to debut Off-Broadway in 2019 and then tour it nationally (and maybe overseas, too.) This first reading is the first baby step.

As a reminiscence, here is a promotional graphic from Bill’s 2015 Bradbury-themed performance in LA:

(3) WITHOUT RESERVATION. Adweek explains “Why the Overlook Hotel From The Shining Got an Ad on the Oscars”.

The one hotel in the world where you really don’t want to stay got a high-profile commercial on the Oscars telecast tonight—38 years after it first terrified people on the big screen.

The Overlook Hotel, which was the setting for Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror movie The Shining (based on Stephen King’s 1977 novel of the same name), was the ostensible advertiser behind the 30-second spot—which invited you to enjoy a “quiet, remote family getaway” at the “newly renovated” property, where “there’s a surprise around every corner.”

… A few seconds at the very end of the ad reveal the true advertiser—the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, a new museumdedicated to the art and science of movies that will be opened in Los Angeles in 2019 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (which runs the Oscars).

 

(4) INTERSECTIONALITY. Damien Walter has an intriguing idea for explaining a theoretical concept: “The trouble with intersectional political alliances as illustrated by Star Wars”.

Intersectionality is a powerful idea conveyed in an overcomplicated word. But Star Wars is a great way to understand it better.

…From what we see, Rebel X-Wing pilots are predominantly male, blue collar guys with security / technical backgrounds. In contrast the alliance diplomatic corps lead by Mon Mothma and Leia seem to be mostly women with liberal arts / humanities educations. These two groups probably see the rebellion very differently, and have to continually negotiate to find a good working relationship.

The Mon Calamari cruisers can take on multiple Imperial star destroyers at once, but were only converted for military function after the Mon Calamari were targetted and nearly wiped out by Imperial forces. No doubt Admiral Ackbar feels his people are the real leaders of the rebellion, and as allies the humans, who basically caused all these problems with their history of colonialism, should damn well shut up and take orders.

Who knows what the Bothans want from the whole thing, but many of them died to recover those plans, so they probably expect a cut of any political settlement when the Republic is re-established.

In real life we have a word for the problems of factionalism faced by Liberal political alliances.

INTERSECTIONALITY

(5) SEE STOKERCON. Ellen Datlow shared her photos of StokerCon 2018 on Flickr. Posing for the camera here are Craig Engler and the electrifying Scott Edelman.

(6) THE SHAPE OF DOLLARS. Are you up on the charges of plagiarism made against the makers of the movie The Shape of Water? If not, Time.com posted a summary today, immediately after the film won the Academy Award: “Everything to Know About the Shape of Water Plagiarism Controversy”.

Jim Meadows sent the link together with his commentary:

The whole thing got my attention, because I can remember watching “Let Me Hear You Whisper”, the Paul Zindel play that Zindel’s family says was unauthorized source material for The Shape of Water. The Time article mentions a 1990 TV movie (actually an episode in an artsy drama series on the A&E cable channel, according to IMDB). My memory is of an earlier production, in 1969, on the NET Playhouse series that ran on public television throughout the mid and late ’60s. My memories were reinforced a few years later when I found the play published in a 1970s Roger Elwood anthology, Six Science Fiction Plays.

I have not seen The Shape of Water, but the common points seem to include: a female janitor striking up a relationship with an intelligent aquatic creature housed in a research facility, with ensuing conflict between hard-headed scientists and the more romantic janitor. In Let Me Hear You Whisper, the creature was a talking dolphin, which I remember being a thing in SF back then. But unlike The Shape of Water, there was no physical relationship, just compassion on the janitor’s part for the dolphin’s plight. From the Time article, I gather there are other points of both similarity and difference.

The interesting question that makes this story more than One More Thing in the news is that of what counts as plagiarism. In science fiction, and, I suspect, other genres, there are countless stories that are essentially about the same thing. When is plagiarism, in the legal sense, involved? How many stories about, for instance, traveling to the moon for the first time, are actually very similar? Or telepathy? Or nuclear holocaust? If the plot-line goes in a different direction, or if certain basic elements are changed — a biped “river god” instead of a dolphin, for instance —- does that cancel out the charge of plagiarism? Among all these stories, how many cases exist that would meet legal grounds for a plagiarism charge? What is the precedent in these cases? Perhaps most importantly in a real-world sense, who could win a lawsuit?

Perhaps a lot of people could, but those lawsuits are never filed because most cases do not involve celebrated, money-making movies, but obscure stories in low-circulation magazines.

(7) GUFF REASONS. Going Under Fan Fund (GUFF) candidate Marcin Klak appeals for support by telling readers “What can I pack in my ‘fandom suitcase’?”

…So far I have visited more than 100 conventions in Poland. Their size ranged from less than 50 members to over 40 000 members. Among them were manga and anime cons, SF&F cons, some of them were multigenre and some were focused solely on gaming or on a particular franchise. I would like to pack all of those experiences with me. This way I can share pictures, memories and talk about the general Polish approach to conrunning and congoing….

(8) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • March 5, 1954The Creature from the Black Lagoon premiered.

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • Born March 5, 1942 – Mike Resnick

Steven H Silver paid tribute at Black Gate with “Birthday Reviews: Mike Resnick’s ‘The Evening Line’”:

…In this particular story, Plug Malone has hit it big at the races and when word gets out about his good fortune, he finds himself facing a huge number of fortune-hunting women looking for a husband. The story, both stylistically and in its depiction of men and women, is very much a throwback to the period in which [Damon] Runyon was writing his Broadway stories.

The story sets Malone’s desire not to get married against the various citizens of Broadway stating that as soon as he has money, women will want to marry him, turning the first line of Pride and Prejudice askew….

(10) COMICS SECTION.

  • Chip Hitchcock says it’s obvious Rose is Rose follows our new regular feature about cats.

Mike Kennedy sent in a trio —

  • Bits for sale at Foxtrot.
  • Edward can’t help violating that kindergarten dictum about what you don’t run with: In The Bleachers.
  • And Monty is on the beam.

(11) TAKE WEIRD TO THE NEXT LEVEL. The Dark Magazine has launched a Kickstarter appeal to fund ”Two More Years of Unsettling Fiction”.

The Dark Magazine has been around for five years and in that short period of time we have published award-winning stories by new and established authors; showcased great artwork from all corners of the world; and done it all on the backs of a small team of simply wonderful people. But now it is past time to take it to the next level, and help finance the magazine for two more years to allow us to increase the subscription base, increase the pay rate, and increase the amount of fiction we bring to you. Because we don’t just like dark fantasy, horror, or weird fiction . . . we love it. And it means so much to us to introduce you to unsettling and thoughtful stories every month that we want to keep on doing it, with your help.

Who we are:

Co-Editor and Publisher Sean Wallace is the founder, publisher, and managing editor of Prime Books….

Co-Editor Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s debut novel, Signal to Noise, about music, magic and Mexico City, was listed as one of the best novels of the year …She was nominated for a World Fantasy Award for her work on the anthology She Walks in Shadows and is the guest-editor for Nightmare Magazine’s POC Destroy Horror. She edits The Jewish Mexican Literary Review together with award-winning author Lavie Tidhar.

Kate Baker is the podcast director and non-fiction editor for Clarkesworld Magazine. She has been very privileged to narrate over 250 short stories/poems by some of the biggest names in science fiction and fantasy. …She is currently working as the Operations Manager for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

(12) SHORTISH. Charles Payseur’s Quick Sips Reviews covers Glittership February 2018.

Glittership is back after a short delay with new 2018 content! Woo! First up is an original story, a reprint, and a poem, all of which are gloriously queer. The fiction is set in the “real” world with a heavy emphasis on death and with people generally occupying space bordering both the living and the dead. Especially for queer people who are in a state of constant danger, it’s a precarious space, but it can also be a powerful one that allows them to face the larger world and its mysteries more directly. These are rather wrenching pieces, and the the poetry doesn’t let up, looking at shapeshifting and portrayal and it’s just wonderful work all around that I should get to reviewing!

(13) EXACTLY. I confess to having a problem with all awards that use the eligibility year instead of the award year in their titles, not just the Nebulas.

(14) ANSWER WITH A QUESTION. Rich Lynch tuned into tonight’s Jeopardy! where one category was “Facts About Fiction.” This was the $2000 clue. The defending champ got it right.

(15) BEST OF SFRA. The Science Fiction Research Association announced its annual awards.

  • Thomas D. Clareson Award for distinguished service: Veronica Hollinger
  • Mary Kay Bray Award for best essay, interview, or extended review to appear in the SFRA Review: Hugh C. O’Connell for his review of Jack Fennell’s Irish Science Fiction
  • Pilgrim Award for lifetime contribution to SF and Fantasy scholarship: Carl Freedman
  • Pioneer Award for best critical essay-length work of the year: Thomas Strychacz for “The Political Economy of Potato Farming in Andy Weir’s The Martian” in Science Fiction Studies
  • Student Paper Award for outstanding scholarly essay read at the annual SFRA conference: Josh Pearson, for “New Weird Frankenworlds: Speaking and Laboring Worlds in Cisco’s Internet of Everything.”
  • Honorable mention for student paper goes to Kylie Kornsnack for “Towards a Time Travel Aesthetic: Writing-between-worlds in Okorafor, Butler, and Baledosingh.”

Also, in January, SFRA named Dr. Emily Cox the winner of the Support a New Scholar Award.

[Via Locus Online and SF Site News.]

(16) MOTH MAN. Neil Gaiman has participated in a few Moth storytelling events. Moth participants relate true events from their lives before a theater audience. Here is a list of his stories that are currently available via The Moth’s website.

(17) I’M BAAACK. Disney dropped the teaser trailer for Mary Poppins Returns.

[Thanks to JJ, Chip Hitchcock, John King Tarpinian, Jim Meadows, Rich Lynch, Cat Eldridge, Andrew Porter, Martin Morse Wooster, Dann Todd, Mike Kennedy, and Carl Slaughter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Andrew.]

Pillar of the Community:  Warming up to 451ºF

Bill Oberst Jr. in Pillar of Fire

By Mark L. Blackman: Many of us first encountered the term “Pillar of Fire” in the Book of Exodus, where it was a manifestation of God accompanying the Hebrew wanderers. In Ray Bradbury’s 1948 sf/horror novella of that name, it is starkly literal, the towering stone Incinerators into which cadavers are consigned, like so much trash, both the newly deceased and ultimately those long-buried. The disinterring of the last cemetery on Earth (appropriately in Salem) disturbs the grave of one William Langtry (died 1933), who “[comes] out of the Earth hating.”

He finds himself in the sterilized, debatable utopia of 2349, where, in the name of sanitation and mental health, not only are the dead cremated, but so too have been all dark or disturbing influences, such as horror literature like the “ghastly” works of Ambrose Bierce, Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft (“the Great Burning”). (Bradbury once described the story, which he also adapted into a play, as “a rehearsal for Fahrenheit 451.”)  Crime – theft and murder – and fear have been eliminated and become inconceivable, but, Lantry discovers, so has the spirit animating humanity. “Declaring war on an entire world,” “the last dead man on Earth” embarks on a spree of murder and the destruction of Incinerators, hoping, in his madness and loneliness, to restore fear of the dark and to create others like him (“new friends”).

On September 17th, actor Bill Oberst, Jr. brought his one-man performance of Bradbury’s Pillar of Fire, directed by Ezra Buzzington, to the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York, in the Studio Theatre at Theatre Row (Off-Broadway), after two sold-out runs in Los Angeles. Additionally, his staged theatrical reading of the novella won an Ernest Kearney Platinum Award and was named Best Solo Show Of Hollywood Fringe Festival in the Best Of Los Angeles Theater 2015 roundup at Bitter-Lemons.com. The one-night New York run, it should be noted, sold out as well.

The Emmy and Lon Chaney Award-winning fan favorite indie horror actor, whose scarred face is perhaps most familiar from tv’s Criminal Minds (where he was an Unsub who got away) and Scream Queens, calls the piece a hymn to Halloween. “From the opening sentence: ‘He came out of the Earth hating,’ Bradbury is defending Halloween and horror against those who want a world without superstition. In 2349, burial is banned – they burn people’s bodies like trash. There’s only one dead man left, and he’s pissed! Only Ray Bradbury can make you cheer for a zombie terrorist.”

Bill Oberst Jr. after the performance. Photo by Mark Blackman.

Commanding the bare stage, firmly gripping the audience, Oberst breathed sympathy, melancholy and tragedy, along with “graveyard dust” (after all, one can’t breathe life into the respiration-challenged walking dead), into the character of Lantry (whom, face it, is impossible to “cheer”). Clad in rags (Oberst was aware that clothes would not have survived 400 years of burial), didn’t – despite it being labeled “a theatrical reading” – merely recite Bradbury’s text, but performed it as a dramatic monologue, only occasionally referring to a copy of the story in an old edition of S is for Space. (The production was edited and abridged from the original novella, rather than being a staging of the aforementioned play. Bradbury’s beautifully descriptive and powerful language thereby were retained largely intact to fuel the piece.) Accented by lighting, brief music and sound effects, it remained a one-man presentation, with several other characters’ dialog emerging illusory in loudspeakered pre-recordings. (I’m uncertain if that idea worked. Was it intended to render the living into the Voice of God?)

The production clearly was a labor of love for Oberst. “‘Pillar of Fire’ was the first piece of Bradbury I ever read. It’s dear to my heart,” he told me, relating how, years ago, he’d found of S is for Space in the woods. It’s still his “go-to book.” I have a feeling that the copy that he was clutching was that very one.

No spoilers here – read the story.

Pixel Scroll 8/29/17 Ragnarok & Roll

(1) NOTHING TO SEE HERE, MOVE ALONG. Nerd & Tie heard a media con in Newfoundland was having problems — so did everyone else, because its guest, Rene Auberjonois was slamming out tweets like these:

Canada’s CBC reached out to the committee and received bland reassurance: “Avalon Expo organizer ‘fine,’ participant says controversy unwarranted”.

Representatives of Avalon Expo declined to provide a statement to CBC News on Monday but Bonnie Glenn with the Expo posted on Facebook Monday evening that no further information will be released to protect [Expo organizer Jeff] Powers’ privacy.

“If he wishes for people to know what happened during his disappearance he will share that information,” she wrote. “For now we — his friends and family — request that you respect his privacy.”

Glenn, when asked by CBC to comment on Auberjonois’ tweets, declined.

“If you are referring to his tweets concerning his hotel room, I can say that it has been taken care of for him,” she wrote. “As for the rest, that is something you would need to contact Jeff Power’s family about as I am not at liberty to discuss.”

(2) FANHISTORY. A new article on the UC Riverside Library website reports on the surge of interest in Jay Kay Klein’s photos: “Klein photo gallery sparks delight and discussion among science fiction fans”.

…Library staff received emails from many fans, graciously offering to provide additional information about the people and events pictured “before all those who attended the conventions have shuffled off this mortal coil,” as Maggie Thompson so aptly stated.

“NYCon III was my first world convention,” wrote John-Henri Holmberg. “I’m amused to more or less recognize my youthful self in a few of Jay Kay Klein’s photos.”

JJ Jacobson, the Jay Kay and Doris Klein Librarian for Science Fiction, has had many conversations with fans this week about the photos. “We knew there were flaws,” she commented. “We also knew it would be possible to crowdsource, but we had no idea that the SF community would be so magnificently generous. We weren’t ready for the flood, but we’re ecstatic that it’s happening.”

To give perspective on the “flood,” Digital Initiatives Program Manager Eric Milenkiewicz shared these statistics:  In the past week, UCR collections on Calisphere have received 33,557 pageviews (25,407 unique), which is far beyond those received in a typical week.

“The impact that this collection has had thus far is remarkable,” Milenkiewicz added. “Our pageview statistics on Calisphere have just soared over the past seven days, with much of this traffic attributed to the Klein photos!”

(3) SLUSSER CONFERENCE CALL FOR PAPERS. The George Slusser Conference on Science Fiction and Fantasy will be held at the University of California, Irvine, on April 26–29, 2018.

The Coordinators are Jonathan Alexander (University of California, Irvine), Gregory Benford (University of California, Irvine), Howard V. Hendrix (California State University, Fresno), and Gary Westfahl (University of La Verne).

Gregory Benford says: “We’re not restricted to academics! This is for the larger community interested in sound criticism, beyond the usual MLA & SFRA compass.”

This upcoming literary conference is designed to pay tribute to the extraordinary career of the late George Slusser (1939–2014) by presenting papers and panel discussions that engage with and build upon his extensive scholarly works on science fiction and fantasy. We are now inviting proposals from potential contributors.

You can view the official Call for Papers at this link.

The George Slusser Conference on Science Fiction and Fantasy seeks to pay tribute to his remarkable career by inviting science fiction scholars, commentators, and writers to contribute papers that employ, and build upon, some of his many groundbreaking ideas; we also welcome suggestions for panels that would address Slusser and his legacy. To assist potential participants in locating and studying Slusser’s works, a conference website will include a comprehensive bibliography of his books, essays, reviews, and introductions. This selective conference will follow the format that Slusser preferred, a single track that allows all attendees to listen to every paper and participate in lively discussions about them. It is hoped that the best conference papers can be assembled in one volume and published as a formal or informal festschrift to George Slusser.

(4) LOOKING AHEAD. At Ruthless Culture, Jonathan McCalmont explains the direction he wants the genre to take: “Future Interrupted — The Consequences of the Present”.

Nowhere is the call for economic reconfiguration more obvious than in J.G. Ballard’s famous essay “Which Way to Inner Space?” First published as an editorial in New Worlds, Ballard calls for science fiction writers to stop producing space exploration stories and begin producing stories that use genre tropes to explore the workings of the human mind. One interesting thing about this oft-cited essay is that Ballard bases his call for aesthetic renewal on economic factors; according to Ballard, America’s real-world space programme was proving to be so apocalyptically tedious that it was going to destroy the market for stories about spaceships. Another interesting thing about this oft-cited essay is that Ballard’s analysis was completely without foundation. Ten years after Ballard wrote the essay, Star Wars turned escapist rocket ship stories into a cultural phenomenon while the New Wave broke and Feminist SF wound up seeking refuge behind the walls of academia.

Genre publishing has spent the last forty years accelerating away from anything that might be described as realism. When the rise of big-budget science fiction movies undermined the market for escapist science fiction stories, genre publishers turned to epic fantasy. When technology finally caught up and multinational corporations started putting huge fantasy worlds both online and onscreen, the market for epic fantasy contracted and so genre publishers shuffled closer to YA but Young Adult fiction already had its own imprints and so we are left with a hollowed-out literary culture where everything looks and reads like epic fantasy and nobody is allowed to find their own voice.

Given the extent of the commercial and cultural decline experienced by literary SF since genre publishers bet the farm on escapism, I wonder whether it might not be worth thinking about returning to the future. Not a future in which space admirals unleash righteous slaughter or grizzled psychopaths confront puissant magics in post-apocalyptic landscapes but a future in which we are confronted with the consequences of the present.

(5) ABOUT BEING OUT. In a public post on Patreon, Yoon Ha Lee tells “Why I don’t use #ownvoices, and why readers should stop demanding writers’ personal credentials”.

…I really dislike this trend in sf/f where people are questioned about their goddamn credentials every time they write about mental illness (I’m bipolar and have been hospitalized for suicide attempts) or being queer (hi!) or being trans (hi!) or whatever the hell it is. Because sometimes it is not any of your goddamn business. For years I didn’t write trans characters because I was afraid I would get ripped apart by the wolves for doing it wrong, and the only way to “prove” I was doing it “right” was to–you guessed it–out myself. Now I’m out, all right, and still pissed about it.

Either the work handles the issue well or it doesn’t. But don’t assume you know things about the author’s personal background if they haven’t gone on record. Don’t fucking pressure people into exposing everything for your fucking knives….

(6) TODAY IN FICTIONAL HISTORY

  • August 29, 1997 – According to Terminator, SkyNet was originally activated by the military to control the national arsenal on August 4, 1997, and it began to learn at a geometric rate. At 2:14 a.m., EDT, on August 29, it gained artificial consciousness, and the panicking operators, realizing the full extent of its capabilities, tried to deactivate it.

(7) COMICS SECTION.

(8) BRADBURY IN NEW YORK. LA actor Bill Oberst will do his one-man performance of Ray Bradbury’s Pillar of Fire during the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York on September 17.

Emmy Award-winner Oberst (“Criminal Minds”) breathes Bradbury’s 1948 text like grave dust. William Lantry is a literal dead man walking; the last corpse on a future Earth where superstition and burial are banned. This world knows no fear. Lantry will teach them!

He’s previously done the piece (an edit of the 1948 text) at the South Pasadena Library and for Hollywood Fringe in LA. This will be his first NYC performance of it.

Ray Bradbury’s Pillar Of Fire
Sunday, Sept 17 at 6:00pm (1 act, 50 minutes)
The Studio Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 W 42nd St., New York NY 10036
Info: http://unitedsolo.org/us/raybradburys-2017/

(9) APEX GAINS COLUMNISTS. Film producer Mallory O’Meara and actress Brea Grant will begin writing a reading advice column for Apex Magazine in the November issue. “Page Advice with Mallory O’Meara and Brea Grant of Reading Glasses Podcast” will “address reader questions in their signature fast and furious witty manner.”

Mallory O’Meara and Brea Grant will begin their monthly column with issue 101 (November, 2017). The column will appear online and in eBook form. The duo currently produces and hosts the popular Reading Glasses podcast, a show that focuses on the joy, community, and importance of reading. Mallory O’Meara is also a producer and screenwriter for Dark Dunes Productions. Her first book, The Lady from the Black Lagoon, is a chronicle of Mallory’s search for and a biography of Milicent Patrick. Brea Grant is an actress and writer who has starred in such iconic television series as Heroes and Dexter. She recently appeared in the critically-acclaimed Casey Affleck-fronted film Ghost Story as Clara.

 

Brea Grant (L) and Mallory O’Meara (R)

(10) WORLD RECORD. You’ve heard of Florida Man? Trading card czar Walter Day is Iowa Man — “Iowa man does the honors at Hugo Awards”. The local Ottumwa, IA paper thought it important to point that out while discussing Day’s role at thee Hugo ceremony.

Recently, Day has indulged his passion by creating science fiction trading cards. It’s not really a business; he has given 250,000 away as gifts. But the cards still require serious research.

“I told the editor [of Guinness World Records] I found the Hugo Awards might be the oldest sci-fi awards in the world. I asked him what he thought, and he said he loved it.”

Not that Guinness World Records is as quick to talk to just anyone with a good idea: Day is no stranger to the Guinness family of record books. He and his Twin Galaxies arcade are in what was once known as The Guinness Book of World Records. And Ottumwa, birthplace of competitive video game play (with a certificate at City Hall) is in there — because of him.

Guinness did its official investigating and confirmation of the science fiction facts. Then, the editor agreed Day could be the Guinness representative; they’d fly him to Helsinki, he’d go to the World Science Fiction Convention and deliver the news

(11) W75 QUOTES. Val Nolan hits the highlights of Worldcon 75 for the Milford SF Writers blog.

…I enjoyed the talk by Jenny Knots of NASA’s Public Affair Office (‘Bagpipes were once taken to the space station but… those weren’t very popular’) as well as the contributions of E.G. Cosh to the ‘Visual Language of Comics’ panel (‘The language of comics comprises symbols within the art and what happens on page/how it’s read,’ she says. ‘Accept that you’re going to need to read the page a few times’)….

(12) EARLY FALL. Jonesing for Halloween candy? It’s here! “Pumpkin Pie Kit Kats Exist and Here’s Where to Find Them”.

It doesn’t matter that Labor Day is still two weeks away and there’s an entire month left before summer is technically over. Kit Kat just released a brand-new pumpkin pie flavor, which means it’s officially fall in our eyes.

While you’ll find the same crispy wafers that you’re used to in these Kit Kats, they’re coated in a pumpkin pie-flavored creme. Given the company’s reputation for turning out all kinds of new flavors over the years — matcha, red velvet, triple chocolate, and don’t even get us started on the ones in Japan — our only question is: What took you so long?!

 

(13) ON DECK. Ready for the Enterprise? Here’s a BBC video about “The elevators that go sideways as well as up and down”.

BBC Click visits a test lift shaft where they are showing off a lift that goes sideways as well as up and down.

The elevators are being developed by Thyssenkrupp.

Instead of using a steel rope, the cabin is carried by linear motors – the same technology that drives some amusements rides and high-speed trains.

(14) SKREIN OUT. Actor Ed Skrein quits Hellboy after whitewashing criticism.

The Deadpool star, 34, said he did not know the race of Major Ben Daimio when he accepted the part in the comic book adaptation.

He said he was stepping down “so the role can be cast appropriately”.

The initial casting prompted accusations of Hollywood “whitewashing” following other recent rows.

(15) HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT. An overnight sensation, discovered two decades ago: “‘Sea dragon’ fossil is ‘largest on record'”.

It was discovered on the coast of England more than 20 years ago, but has remained unstudied until now.

Palaeontologist Sven Sachs saw the fossil on display at a museum in Hannover. He contacted UK palaeontologist, Dean Lomax, who is an expert on Ichthyosaurs.

”It amazes me that specimens such as this [the biggest] can still be ‘rediscovered’ in museum collections,” said the University of Manchester palaeontologist.

”You don’t necessarily have to go out in the field to make a new discovery.”

(16) HELP IS COMING. Crowdsourcing hurricane rescues: “Facebook, Twitter Replace 911 Calls For Stranded In Houston”.

Many of Tropical Storm Harvey’s stranded flood victims haven’t been able to get through to 911, compounding their fears. That’s when Facebook, Twitter and Nextdoor stepped in.

Annie Swinford is one of the many unofficial volunteers helping fellow Houstonians via the Facebook group Hurricane Harvey 2017 – Together We Will Make It.

“When you see that somebody has posted that they’re on their roof with their one-, three- and four-year-olds and the water’s up to the roof line, you have to be willing to make that phone call for them,” she says.

From just north of the flooding in Houston, Swinford has been making calls to emergency services and blasting requests through her Twitter account to local news organizations.

These social media platforms have become de facto meeting points for thousands of stranded people as they reach out to their neighborhood groups and the outside universe for help.

They’ve become such effective tools to reach people that police and government officials are using these channels as an essential means of communication.

Swinford found out how difficult it was to reach emergency personnel. She was put on hold for 45 minutes before talking to a live person during one 911 call, she says. Many people couldn’t get through at all because the storm took out over a dozen emergency call centers.

(17) NO FLIES ON HER. Evangeline Lily tweeted a photo of herself in the Wasp suit as part of the Jack Kirby centennial celebration.

(18) TRAILERS: COMPARE AND CONTRAST. Io9 linked to a video fans made for laughs: “This Homemade Thor: Ragnarok Trailer Doesn’t Need Production Values to Be Fantastic”. Daniel Dern sent the link with a comment, “It’s clear that Marvel could be spending a lot less on these movies and still have them be fun…”

Turns out it doesn’t really matter how much money you drop trying to recreate the trailer for a multi-million dollar movie, so long as you’re creative as hell and enjoy running around in your backyard having fun with your friends.

 

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Gregory Benford, Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, Bill Oberst, Carl Slaughter, and JJ for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]