Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #17

Nobels, Guns and Money

By Chris M. Barkley

NOBELS

For several years, literary critics had been putting the Nobel’s Literature committee’s feet to the fire (and I count myself among the match lighters) on their long exclusion of American writers. Since they threw us a huge (and oddly shaped) bone last year in naming Bob Dylan, the consensus was that another American was probably not in the cards. Meaning Harlan Ellison, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, Louise Erdrich, Don DiLillo other perennial Nobel benchwarmers will have to wait until next year. (SIDE NOTE to the Nobel Literature Committee: You KNOW there is absolutely NOTHING stopping you from awarding more than one person in this category every year, right? One woman, one man. Two women. Two men. Just Sayin’.)

And the winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature is…Kazou Ishiguro from the United Kingdom!

Mr. Ishiguro’s anointment to the highest level of literary immortality is well deserved and we in the f&sf community should enthusiastically applaud him.

Well, yeah, with a few pointed qualifiers, which I am more than happy to provide for you.

Mr. Ishiguro’s 2005 novel Never Let Me Go is a dystopia tinged novel set in our near future. It received generally good reviews and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award and, (SURPRISE!), the 2006 Arthur C. Clarke Award.   Upon the 2011 release of the film in the UK, he was quoted in The Herald of Scotland saying, “It’s almost like they’ve given us older writers license to use it [science fiction]. Before, it was ghettoized and stigmatized. For years there has been a prejudice towards sci-fi writing, which I think has been to the loss of the literary world, and not vice versa. But with things like graphic novels now, people are taking it seriously.”

Which was very gracious of Mr. ishiguro. That is, until he then qualified his statement later in the interview with, “In truth, the sci-fi label is misleading, says Ishiguro. ‘I’m just wary like everybody else that it’ll bring in the wrong audience with the wrong expectations.”

I confess to be a little puzzled by this attitude since, if he truly felt that way about sf, he had every opportunity to decline the Clarke nomination.

In any event, it was the publication of The Buried Giant in 2015 that brought Ishiguro into direct conflict with our very own Ursula K. Le Guin when, in an interview with the New York Times, pronounced his novel, an Arthurian era set tale complete with ogres and a dragon, was NOT a fantasy. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. Will readers follow me into this? Will they understand what I’m trying to do, or will they be prejudiced against the surface elements? Are they going to say this is fantasy?”

This drew the ire of Le Guin, who tartly replied:

Well, yes, they probably will. Why not? It appears that the author takes the word for an insult. To me that is so insulting, it reflects such thoughtless prejudice, that I had to write this piece in response. Fantasy is probably the oldest literary device for talking about reality…  No writer can successfully use the ‘surface elements’ of a literary genre — far less its profound capacities — for a serious purpose, while despising it to the point of fearing identification with it. I found reading the book painful. It was like watching a man falling from a high wire while he shouts to the audience, “Are they going say I’m a tight-rope walker?’”

To be fair, The Buried Giant is Mr. Ishiguro’s work; if he does not want to call it a fantasy, it’s his call. However, in doing so he does what most “mainstream” writers do when they publish a work that is perceived as “genre fiction”, either vehemently deny it and incessantly worry how their peers will react, their standing with literary critics and how it will affect their career.

Literary snobbery, whether it is perpetrated by the literary establishment or the rest of us on the outside looking in at them, does not help the cause of literature. Congratulations are in order for Mr. Ishiguro; he may have written two “genre novels” but he still managed to win the Nobel Prize in literature. I sincerely wish I could forward the following view from one of his esteemed American colleagues, Michael Chabon, taken from an interview with WIRED Magazine in 2012:

One of the points I was trying to make in those McSweeney’s anthologies, and in the introductions I wrote for those, is that it was not even 100 years ago — and certainly as long ago as 150 years ago — when all kinds of incredibly important work was being done by writers in France, and England, and Russia, and Germany. The great European literary 19th-century tradition is a genre tradition, and it’s unmistakably, unashamedly, unabashedly in the works of the greatest writers of the 19th century. You find sea stories, and ghost stories, and adventure stories, and early forms of proto-science fiction and fantasy, across the board.

And that kind of boundarylessness, or literary realms where the boundaries are very porous and indistinct and can be reconfigured at will, is much more interesting and appealing to me as a writer than a world where the categories are really set and really distinct, and the boundaries are really high, and people have to stay where they start, and can’t move out of those categories. I mean, that’s just inherently deathly. And the reasons why it changed are bad reasons, they’re economic and financial and marketing kinds of reasons, and they have to do with snobbery and academic laziness. I mean, there are almost no good reasons involved for that change that took place since writers like Dickens, who wrote crime fiction and supernatural fiction as easily as social realist fiction, and often all in the same story.

A final word to the Nobel Committee: a literary work should be judged on its own merits, not the “genre” of literature it is arbitrarily assigned to by people who make it their business to discriminate and squash it.

GUNS

“An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.”

Robert Anson Heinlein (Beyond This Horizon, 1948)

The day after the Las Vegas Massacre, Monday, October 2 was a very emotional for me. Two fans I know well were in Las Vegas. Both of them (whom I am not naming due to privacy concerns) marked themselves safe on Facebook within 24 hours.

I’ve only held a real firearm in my hands only twice in my lifetime and by an astonishing coincidence, both guns were WWII era German Lugers. (It’s a long story. Ask me about it some other time.)

At the moment, I have no desire to own a gun. I don’t want to take anyone’s legally owned guns away from them (unless it warranted). I would be willing the pick up a firearm to defend myself, my family, my friends and my country if I were called upon to do so. I also have an incredible amount of respect for what they can do in the hands of a skilled professional and a pathological fear of what can happen in practically anyone’s else’s.

Libertarians and gun enthusiasts love Robert Heinlein’s quote because it simply purports that the presence of a firearm in everyone’s hand insures harmony amongst everyone. Well, THAT may work in a novel but when you apply this maxim to real life and real people, you quickly discern that this isn’t a dream scenario; it is America’s ongoing nightmare.

The NRA and their supporters, lobbyists, apologists and sycophants are creating a dystopia of fear in this country. They want the wearing of firearms in public everywhere to become a social norm in all fifty states and territories. They advocate this “utopian” goal in spite of five thousand years of recorded human stupidity regarding the widespread human use of weapons and armaments all over the world.

And when an individual fires into an unsuspecting crowd of twenty thousand people, kills fifty-eight and wounds over five hundred, something unusual happened. The gun lobby, finally alarmed at the massive casualties in Las Vegas, blinked. Three days after the tragedy, the NRA signaled that “bump stock’ devices, which convert semi-automatics into automatic weapons, should be subject to “further regulation”. Needless to say, gun enthusiasts nationwide started a run on bump stocks before they are banned.

Now the cynic in me thinks that the real reason for this tiny bit of capitulation on their part is because of the hue and cry from all sides of the political spectrum, including some of their most ardent supporters, and that the use of bumps stocks were the primary reason so many were killed and injured. They are deathly afraid (pun intended) that this will be the incident that will lead directly to the banning of the most popular semi-automatic sold in the US, the AR-15.

My inner cynic also feels that if the gun lobby were truly serious about promoting gun safety over gun rights, something would have been done after another crazed person cut down twenty children and six school teachers in cold blood back in 2012. And if they were truly interested in promoting public safety and responsible gun ownership, their response about regulating bump stocks and its use at the Las Vegas massacre should have taken twelve hours, not three days.

But the gun culture has progressed so far and deep into the American psyche, outright prohibition is out of the question. We all know what happened when we tried a constitutional ban on alcohol. It solved nothing and caused unintended consequences we’re still dealing with today.

The best, practical, common sense goal is to make those who would want to purchase a gun at a certain point in the future more responsible for their weapons and their actions.

The minimum we should require of a purchaser would be a mandatory waiting period, say 72 hours, should be established for any purchase, along with some proof that each weapon is insured for loss and liability. In addition, there should be some mandatory certification or a state issued license that the purchaser has undergone firearms training.

Whether progressives, liberals and gun control advocates like it or not, we are awash in guns and the only thing concerned citizens can do now is to pursue a course of moderation and hope we gradually come to our senses.

I would like to think that Robert Heinlein would approve.

Nita Green with her son, Merritt and her daughter, Rose-Marie.

…And MONEY

Rose-Marie Lillian has a BIG problem and she is sorely in need of your HELP!. Her mother, Nita Green, passed away in April 2015. Her intent, as stated in her will, was to have her only daughter inherit a logical percentage of her worldly goods. Rose-Marie was promised Nita’s collection of original paintings by Frank Kelly Freas, a legendary, multiple Hugo Award winning artist and long-time personal friend of them both. Rose-Marie lived with and cared for her mother and stepfather for the last two years of her mother’s life. Since Nita’s death, she has been denied her inheritance, despite the stated wishes of her mother and an agreement made at a legal deposition in December 2016. At this point, she has no recourse but to sue.  Though her husband (the esteemed fan writer and multiple Hugo nominee, Guy Lillian III) is an attorney, he is licensed in Louisiana and her cause of action is in Florida. All attorneys rightly require retainers before beginning representation and the urgent need now is to obtain funds to pay it.

Rose-Marie turns to you for help.

The retainer required will fall between $5,000 and $7,500. She also has past legal bills incurred in this matter to cover, and future expenses to bear. Funds are needed as soon as possible to move this long-delayed case forward and to help bring Nita Green’s last wishes for her daughter to reality. Meticulous accounting of all donations will be kept and a strict account of expenditures supplied.

Rose-Marie Lillian is a longtime member of our sf community in good standing and deserves our BEST EFFORTS!

I can personally vouch for her; I LIKE her so much I once gave her a Justice League of America sweatshirt, which she proudly wears occasionally.

CAN YOU HELP?  DO SO TODAY by going to the link below! THANK YOU!

“Save Rosy’s Inheritance”

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #16

An Amicus Brief for The Dragon Awards

By Chris M. Barkley:

To the Dragon Con Committee,

I am willing to bet that this year’s Dragon Awards ceremony was barely over before the fannish naysayers and provocateurs began to bray that the Dragon Awards went to dismal writers and creators, and thank maker our own awards aren’t tainted like theirs…

What a load of BS.

Well, I want to assure all of you that I do not hold the same opinion as that rabble; I am here to offer some advice, not to slay the Dragon Awards.

And believe me, I KNOW how hard it must have been for your committee to start a set of awards from scratch; selecting categories, setting up a voting system and eligibility rules.

Since 1998, I have been at the forefront of nearly all of the changes to the Hugo Awards categories. I urged the splitting of the Best Dramatic Presentation and Best Editor categories, helped established of the Best Graphic Story category, co-sponsored the Best Fancast category and, over various and numerous objections of the more conservative elements in fandom, spearheaded the effort to recognize Young Adult books in the Hugo Awards ceremony starting next year.

I’m not reeling off these accomplishments as just braggadocio; I just want you to understand that I’ve gone through years of email exchanges, online taunts, face to face arguments, compromises and interminable hours of parliamentary procedures, pointless points, haggling and compromise at numerous Worldcon Business Meetings in order to keep the Hugo Awards fair, honest and relevant.

I admit that even though I have never attended Dragon Con, your convention has several enviable attributes over the Worldcon that I (and others I’m sure) have admired from afar.

You are based in a populous, major metropolitan area. You are not burdened by moving Dragon Con from year to year and your committee is a stable, fixed entity. And most importantly, you have the flexibility to change the structure of your awards on a dime from year to year as needed.  As you may have noted, it took the World Science Fiction Convention’s Business Meeting cabal SEVERAL YEARS of contentious debate before they could effectively block various miscreants from interfering with or gaming the Hugo Awards.

My own personal obsession about awards started when I began watching the Emmys and Academy Awards broadcasts of the late 1960’s and early 70’s. My earliest and most vivid memory was watching the 1972 Oscar show as Liza Minnelli presented Gene Hackman with his Best Actor award and the simple, halting and eloquent speech he gave afterwards.

As the decades have gone by, my interest in the process has deepened; it’s easy to follow most movie, tv and literature award shows and ceremonies, either being streamed or online. I cheer when someone I know or like wins and commiserate when they lose.

(Note to self: Ann Dowd, who won a Best Supporting Actress Emmy Award for The Handmaid’s Tale is a fine actress but there’s no way in hell she was better than Millie Bobby Brown was in Stranger Things. You’ll get over this. Eventually. Just Sayin’… )

Since Dragon Award nomination period is opening up later in next month, I want to offer you the following recommendations:

  • First of all, KEEP THE SINGLE VOTE SYSTEM!

I have a confession to make: I really dislike the Australian ballot system that the World Science Fiction Convention has been using since the mid 1970’s. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Australian ballot process, you can see a simplified explanation of how it works here: http://www.chickennation.com/2013/08/18/you-cant-waste-your-vote/)

The Hugo Award voters (and administrators) seem to prefer to rank their preferences but frankly, going through the tabulations and rows of figures every year make my eyes roll around in my skull like a pair of out of control dice. In fact, I try to vote for one nominee on my Hugo ballot if I find a single story or work deserves the honor.

I must say that it is quite refreshing to sit down and actually make a single choice on the Dragon Award ballot for a change. (And yes, I did participate in the voting this year.) The only thing I do regret is that the eligibility period, which runs from July 1st  to June 30th of this year, meant that I had to choose between Arrival, Logan, Rogue One and Wonder Woman for Best SF film on this year’s ballot. But since Arrival had already won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation this year, I was happy to acknowledge Wonder Woman with a vote (and a win) this year. This brings me to my next point:

  • Use the 5% rule to focus choices:

I don’t know what criteria your award administrators use to finalize the number of nominees on the final ballot, but if Dragon Con is going to continue with the single vote system for the foreseeable future, I recommend that they be named on at least five percent of the nominating ballots. The World Science Fiction Society Constitution had a rule until recently:

No nominee shall appear on the final Award ballot if it received fewer nominations than five percent (5%) of the number of ballots listing one or more nominations in that category, except that the first three eligible nominees, including any ties, shall always be listed.

(This was taken directly from a previous version of the World Science Fiction Convention Constitution.)

Please note that this would allow for the same number nominees IF they meet the five percent rule. The rule also insures that you are putting the most popular things on the ballot and will also give you an indication that a category is not working out well enough to continue on the ballot. If you’re doing this already, great! Also, you might want to list NO AWARD on your ballots as an option for voters.

  • Divide Best SF and Fantasy-Horror film and television categories:

Spread the wealth; with dozens of film and television projects coming out annually, I think you can afford to be more generous in with these categories. I am quite certain that the voters would appreciate it as well. Another major plea; PLEASE list the writer of the film or television episode with each nomination. This is a personal pet peeve of mine; I don’t buy the auteur theory (that the director is the ‘true author” of a work) so unless the director was also the author of the work, it’s just common courtesy to list writers, too. After all, this stuff doesn’t write itself, you know.

  • Establish a Best Artwork Category:

I applaud the number of awards for the creators of comics but I am quite sure that you realize that artists who render book covers, art books and other illustrations and  are a BIG part of the sf and fantasy community. Establishing an award for a body of yearly work would be quite a nice gesture towards them.

  • Special/Life Achievement Awards:

This is a versatile award that can truly express the appreciation of the committee, and by extension, fandom itself, than a special or lifetime achievement award to some of the more notable members of the fantasy and sf community. Also, it might be fun to include the attendees in on the selection as well.

  • Restrict voting to Members Only!

Once upon a time, I thought it might be a great idea for the Hugo Awards to have voting open to the public OR voting with a small fee that was lower than obtaining a supporting membership. I think that the slating efforts of both set of Puppies have put an end to that sort of utopian thinking. Thus, bringing me to my last point:

  • Make the voting process MORE transparent:

Publishing and the nomination and voting results annually and publicly naming a rotating set of administrators would be immensely helpful to Dragon Awards. Starting an award is hard work. Establishing and maintaining high standards of a new award in the modern information age is even harder.

In any event, I wish you all the best of luck with the Dragon Awards and with Dragon Con.

Cheers (or Seinfeld),
Chris B.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #15

Flash Review: Star Trek Discovery
“The Vulcan Hello” and “Battle at the Binary Stars”

By Chris M. Barkley: STAR TREK: Discovery, The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars, (4 out of 4 stars, 2017) with Sonequa Martin-Green (First Officer Michael Burnham), Doug Jones (Lieutenant Saru), Michelle Yeoh (Captain Philippa Georgiou) and James Frain (Ambassador Sarek). Created by Alex Kurtzman and Bryan Fuller, Story by Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman. Teleplay by Bryan Fuller and Akiva Goldsman. Directed by David Semel (The Vulcan Hello) and Adam Kane (Battle at the Binary Stars).

When a Starfleet monitor goes silent on the edge of Federation space, the USS Shenzhou, commanded by Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) is sent to investigate. The situation becomes complicated when an inspection of the monitor shows deliberate damage and an unknown object in a nearby asteroid field is obscured from their sensors. The First Officer, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) performs a flyby of the object, which turns out to be a Klingon scout ship. The occupant attacks her without provocation, which in turn starts a cascading sequence of events that will bring the Federation and the Klingons to the brink of war…

I went into last night’s airing of Star Trek Discovery with very low expectations. While I was very familiar with the works of writer-producers Alex Kurtzman (Sleepy Hollow, Hawaii Five-O), Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, Pushing Daisies), Akiva Goldsman (Fringe) and director David Semel (House, Heroes), there was no guarantee any of them could crack and tame a vast franchise like Star Trek.

I have watched EVERY version of Star Trek over the past fifty plus years and I must say that I am far more excited by them than I was by the first three episodes of The Orville.

The first thing that I was impressed by was the way the dynamic was set between Commander Burnham and Captain Georgiou in the first sequence on the desert planet. Some complained that a captain and her XO on a long walk to perform a minor mission was about as unusual as those Kirk and Spock missions, I saw it as a chance for the show to set a tone with the main characters, which is clearly a master-apprentice situation.

With seven years of duty as a First Officer under her belt, I was beginning to think that the series was setting Burnham up to be the captain of her own vessel. But no, that rug got pulled out from underneath me right away when she’s nearly killed by a Klingon warrior and then nearly fried to death by radiation exposure. So I thought, hey, maybe she’s not ready for command after all.

By the time the third and fourth acts roll around, I was really in a tizzy; is Burnham actually thinking of doing something that very few characters have attempted in Star Trek… DID SHE ACTUALLY…Jose, Mary and Joseph! In the very first freaking episode? At the end of the second episode we find Burnham in a deep dark hole that is perfectly designed to tantalize viewers to come back for more.

After watching the pilot episode on Sunday, I immediately went to social media outlets to gauge the reactions of the fans. And, as I suspected people were polarized about nearly every single aspect of the show. Some of the more negative ones were:

  • It was too dark (both in the tone of the story and the lighting of the sets).
  • What, a war with the Klingons?  That’s not what I signed up for.
  • Michael Burnham is not very likeable. The focus should have been on Captain Georgiou.
  • It’s a production design in search of a story.
  • Hey, those weird-looking Klingons aren’t canon.
  • Lens flare? REALLY?
  • And the inevitable, I don’t wanna pay for Star Trek!

Well people, you’re going to have to face up to a few facts: we don’t live in 1966, 1987, 1993 or 2005 anymore. Things change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse and that applies to television drama, too. The best dramas challenge their audiences in every way. And in the crowded state of television today, ST: Discovery is going be competing for the time and attention of audiences against dozens of streaming, cable and network shows.

Having said that, I still think that ST: Discovery has a chance to be one of the best versions of Star Trek yet AND one of the best shows on television, period.

I remember not being very impressed by a good majority of the first season episodes of the Next Generation. But I stuck with it and was rewarded on the fifteenth episode, “11001001” one of the best of that season.

Similarly, with Deep Space Nine (which had an exceptionally brilliant pilot, BTW), Voyager and Enterprise, I’ve heard all of the same cycle of complaints. Look, my advice to the naysayers is this: either give the show a chance to find its sea legs or find something else to watch. If you don’t want to watch on CBS All Access, you’ll just have to wait for the release of the DVDs some point next year.

To the people who don’t want to pay for Discovery, fine. But I’ll just point out that an All Access subscription costs just $5.99 a month or $9.99 without those pesky commercials. If you pay streaming or cable fees for Shameless, Game of Thrones and Homeland, this is no different than paying for that. True, CBS has only two original programs streaming at the moment (the other being the Good Wife spinoff, The Good Fight) but they do have several thousand episodes of shows to watch anytime. And it’s a relatively low-cost monthly subscription that won’t tie you to a long-term contract.

CBS has the rights to Star Trek and they are demanding money from fans in order to produce a quality show on this scale. But the question remaining is will Discovery turn out to be a great entry into the pantheon of Star Trek lore or a bust?

I’ll end on this note; if Discovery had been just a another clone of the Original Series or the Next Generation with a weekly meet and greet of alien species, problem stories and planetary intrigue, I would have been incredibly disappointed. All I can say is that I am suitably impressed by the pilot and it far exceeded my own meager expectations. I believe that these creators know what they’re doing and are building a credible and, dare I say it, fascinating storyline that I am more than eager to follow.

And I’m willing to pay for it; I subscribed to CBS All Access earlier today.

When the season ends, I’ll be back with a full review.

See you on the other side!

Pixel Scroll 9/17/17 You Cannot Move This Pixel. It Is Still Used By A Scroll On Your Computer

(1) JUST DESERTS. Will Collins describes a little-known influence on Frank Herbert’s Dune, in “The Secret History of Dune” at LA Review of Books.

Melange, the hallucinogenic drug at the heart of Herbert’s book, acts as a prerequisite for interstellar travel and can only be obtained on one harsh, desert planet populated by tribes of warlike nomads. Even a casual political observer will recognize the parallels between the universe of Dune and the Middle East of the late 20th century. Islamic theology, mysticism, and the history of the Arab world clearly influenced Dune, but part of Herbert’s genius lay in his willingness to reach for more idiosyncratic sources of inspiration. The Sabres of Paradise (1960) served as one of those sources, a half-forgotten masterpiece of narrative history recounting a mid-19th century Islamic holy war against Russian imperialism in the Caucasus.

Lesley Blanch, the book’s author, has a memorable biography. A British travel writer of some renown, she is perhaps best known for On the Wilder Shores of Love (1954), an account of the romantic adventures of four British women in the Middle East. She was also a seasoned traveler, a keen observer of Middle Eastern politics and culture, and a passionate Russophile. She called The Sabres of Paradise “the book I was meant to do in my life,” and the novel offers the magnificent, overstuffed account of Imam Shamyl, “The Lion of Dagestan,” and his decades-long struggle against Russian encroachment.

Anyone who has obsessed over the mythology of Dune will immediately recognize the language Herbert borrowed from Blanch’s work.

(2) THE STORY THAT KEEPS ON GIVING. Pajiba’s Kayleigh Donaldson is still hot on the trail of the fake bestseller: “The ‘Handbook For Mortals’ Saga Continues As Lani Sarem Goes On The No Apologies Tour”.

Remember Handbook For Mortals, the urban fantasy novel about magic in Las Vegas that catapulted out of nowhere to take the top spot on the New York Times best-seller list? We thoroughly documented the torrid tale of Lani Sarem’s debut novel, which gamed the system through bulk purchases in order to debut at number 1 on the YA list, knocking off Angie Thomas’s mega-hit The Hate U Give. It had everything – scams, Carrot Top, Blues Traveller, Glory from Buffy, the guy from Rookie of the Year, an in development film adaptation with the author set to play the lead role, art theft, and Jasper from Twilight. It was such a fascinatingly layered scam that even the author of the worst fan-fiction of all time came forward to deny any involvement with it.

The book is no longer on the list, and clearly that’s upset Sarem and her team. While GeekNation, the near abandoned geek news website who published the novel, have been silent on the subject, Sarem has gone into PR overdrive to try and scrape together a semblance of goodwill after angering YA fans, the publishing community and John Popper himself. First, the music manager turned author wrote a piece for Billboard. You know, that bastion of publishing, where she defended her actions. Now she’s over at the Huffington Post doing the same….

(3) LOSING A LANDMARK. More coverage about the closing of a historic bookshop (the story is from July): “After 41 years, Berkeley sci-fi bookstore Dark Carnival is closing”.

“Passion or mania would certainly have played a factor,” he wrote. “One long-time friend described him as a ‘business genius,’ though I felt that, due to the nature of small bookstore business, he was actually more adept at responding to crises (financial) which regularly crept up on him.”

Juricich continued: “It was probably the best stocked, most complete store for sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery fiction in most of California, though The Other Change of Hobbit might have given it a run for its money before it, too, finally closed some years ago. I’m sad for the loss of the store to the community and no one could ever blame Jack for not having applied his intelligence and passion to its continued survival, but, much like the business of comic book retail, selling reading matter is an uphill climb.”

As Juricich points out, running a brick-and-mortar bookstore, or indeed any retail business, in the age of Amazon is notoriously tough, and it’s not the first time Rems has struggled with Dark Carnival. In December 2013, he put out a public plea to the community, writing: “No other way to say this. We need your help. To our staunch supporters: it’s thanks to all of you that we’re still here. Please, if you have any shopping to do, now and for the holidays, do some of it here… P.S.: If you’re broke, and believe me I understand, please come in anyway, say hi, hang out, I’ll give you something good to read, no charge.”

(4) NIGHT OF THE LIVING AUTHORS. Jeff VanderMeer told Facebook readers about his nightmare:

I had this horrible dream last night that I was the host of the World Fantasy Award ceremony, but this was sometime in the future when there were 1,200 categories instead of the dozen or so there are now. And the banquet hall was so huge and I had no assistant, so I had to ride a tiny tricycle (!?) to the back of the hall each time before announcing a winner….

And it gets worse/funnier after that.

(5) LIVE FROM NEW ZEALAND. Well, it was a live performance – now hear Seanan McGuire’s LexiCon concert online.

Did you miss Seanan McGuire’s concert on Saturday night – or enjoy it so much you want to listen again? We recorded it for you and it’s now on YouTube! You can hear Seanan – accompanied by local fans Daphne Lawless of Vostok Lake and Alastair Gibson.

 

(6) ABOUT THOSE SUPPORTING CHARACTERS. In From a Certain Point of View (Star Wars),  Random House Audio Publishing invites fans to “experience Star Wars: A New Hope from a different point of view.” All participating authors have donated their proceeds to charity.

On May 25, 1977, the world was introduced to Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, C-3PO, R2-D2, Chewbacca, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, and a galaxy full of possibilities. In honor of the fortieth anniversary, more than forty contributors lend their vision to this retelling of Star Wars. Each of the forty short stories reimagines a moment from the original film, but through the eyes of a supporting character. From a Certain Point of View features contributions by bestselling authors, trendsetting artists, and treasured voices from the literary history of Star Wars:

  • Gary Whitta bridges the gap from Rogue One to A New Hope through the eyes of Captain Antilles.
  • Aunt Beru finds her voice in an intimate character study by Meg Cabot.
  • Nnedi Okorofor brings dignity and depth to a most unlikely character: the monster in the trash compactor.
  • Pablo Hidalgo provides a chilling glimpse inside the mind of Grand Moff Tarkin.
  • Pierce Brown chronicles Biggs Darklighter’s final flight during the Rebellion’s harrowing attack on the Death Star.
  • Wil Wheaton spins a poignant tale of the rebels left behind on Yavin.

Plus thirty-four more hilarious, heartbreaking, and astonishing tales from: Ben Acker • Renée Ahdieh • Tom Angleberger • Ben Blacker • Jeffrey Brown • Rae Carson • Adam Christopher • Zoraida Córdova • Delilah S. Dawson • Kelly Sue DeConnick • Paul Dini • Ian Doescher • Ashley Eckstein • Matt Fraction • Alexander Freed • Jason Fry • Kieron Gillen • Christie Golden • Claudia Gray • E. K. Johnston • Paul S. Kemp • Mur Lafferty • Ken Liu • Griffin McElroy • John Jackson Miller • Daniel José Older • Mallory Ortberg • Beth Revis • Madeleine Roux • Greg Rucka • Gary D. Schmidt • Cavan Scott • Charles Soule • Sabaa Tahir • Elizabeth Wein • Glen Weldon • Chuck Wendig

Narrated by a full cast, including: Jonathan Davis, Ashley Eckstein, Janina Gavankar, Jon Hamm, Neil Patrick Harris, January LaVoy, Saskia Maarleveld, Carol Monda, Daniel José Older, and Marc Thompson.

All participating authors have generously forgone any compensation for their stories. Instead, their proceeds will be donated to First Book—a leading nonprofit that provides new books, learning materials, and other essentials to educators and organizations serving children in need. To further celebrate the launch of this book and both companies’ longstanding relationships with First Book, Penguin Random House has donated $100,000 to First Book, and Disney/Lucasfilm has donated 100,000 children’s books—valued at $1,000,000—to support First Book and their mission of providing equal access to quality education. Over the past sixteen years, Disney and Penguin Random House combined have donated more than eighty-eight million books to First Book.

And the contributors have been hyping the book with designer pull quotes.

(7) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • September 17, 1978 — The original Battlestar Galactica premiered on television on this date.

(8) COMICS SECTION.

(9) PAY TO PLAY. Gabino Iglesias, in “Submission Fees are Classist as Fuck”, delivers an invigorating rant, but it’s just as full of holes as the cases he’s criticizing.

  1. “It’s really about gatekeeping”

If you don’t want to read bad fiction/nonfiction/poetry, don’t edit a book/magazine/blog/journal. Bad writing is to the writing game what dirty teeth are to dentistry; it will happen all the time, the only that varies is the level of awfulness. Submission guidelines, genre specifications, and word counts should help you do your precious gatekeeping. If you need to rely on charging writers $30 to enter your chapbook contest in order to keep what you think are bad writers away, know these two things: having money has absolutely nothing to do with having writing chops and your fees, not to mention your bland gatekeeping excuse, are nothing but classism in action. I’ve also heard that charging writers is just a way to “reduce the workload for overworked editors.” Get the fuck outta here with that. You’re sitting in front a computer because you want to, not working in the mines. Don’t want to edit? Don’t be an editor. There’s a ton of jobs out there that need to get done that don’t involve the arduous task of having to deal with a huge slush pile.

(10) TALK ABOUT YOUR WORK. The Kingsman “funny dinner” movie clip —

(11) OUTRAGED. Lou Antonelli issued a strong challenge to Chris Barkley’s column posted yesterday at Amazing Stories, in particular the part where he was named:

“Their views vastly contrast with The Rabid Puppies, primarily represented by Theodore Beale (aka Vox Day), John C. Wright and Lou Antonelli, they are unabashedly and enthusiastically racist in their worldview and their fiction. They believe a white male hegemony over all peoples of color, women and the LGBTQ community is the best course for the human race AND any aliens we may encounter, to put it mildly.”

Ok, I don’t know what kind of stupid bullshit rumors have wafted through Mr. Barkley’s empty cranium, but it is specious to lump me in with Vox Day and John C. Wright. Plus to claim I am “unabashedly and enthusiastically racist” in my worldview is simply libelous. I dare this hatemonger to point to anything I have ever said or did that was racist – because I’m not. As the first generation non-white child of an illegal immigrant, I have always felt revulsion towards ethnic and racial prejudice – I have been on the receiving end, believe me….

…Just to make my position on racism clear, I’m a Christian. God made man – all men: White, Black, Brown, Yellow, Red, whatever. A racist is God-defiant. He’s putting himself above God by saying God made a mistake. A racist does the Devil’s work.

(12) DANIEL JOSE OLDER NOVEL REVIEWED. Amal El-Mohtar reviews Older’s Shadowhouse Fall for NPR: “In ‘Shadowhouse Fall,’ Magical Threats Map Real-World Peril”.

Everything I loved about Shadowshaper is found in Shadowhouse Fall, but sharper and fiercer, pushed harder and farther. The love and loyalty Sierra and her friends feel for each other is all the more affecting for being forged in fire: They walk through metal detectors into school every morning, endure and resist casual assaults on their personhood and bodies in relentless routine. As with Shadowshaper, the parts I loved best were the characters, the exuberance of these people’s voices, the intimacy and honesty of their interactions. I loved seeing more of Sierra’s relationship with her best friend Bennie, more of Izzy and Tee’s romance, more of Juan and Pulpo’s devotion to each other. All of these relationships are complex and full of friction, and the sparks they give off illuminate important facets of the story.

(13) DOESN’T PASS GAS. A new type of space drive? “Will This ‘Impossible’ Motor Take People to Other Planets?”

When NASA one day sends humans to Mars, the journey could take six to nine months each way. But there’s a highly-experimental device being developed that could help get us there in less than half that time — if it really works.

A small lab at NASA is creating a motor to propel ships through space much faster than today’s conventional rockets can. Decades from now, a trip to Mars might take mere weeks, without burning any fuel. The only problem? The motor seems to violate the laws of physics.

To power a spacecraft, a propellant is ejected out of the rocket’s end, because you can’t accelerate forward without pushing back against something. But NASA’s alternative gadget, called an EM drive, would generate thrust without the need to belch exhaust. And dropping the weight from fuel could make ships much lighter and space travel more efficient.

(14) SPACE SNAPPERS. The BBC has “In pictures: Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2017”, with the winning picture and many runners-up:

The winning images from this year’s competition have now been announced, with Artem Mironov’s vibrant clouds of dust and gas in the Rho Ophiuchi Cloud Complex scooping first place.

(15) IG NOBELS. SJW Credentials studied: “Ig Nobels Awarded For Research Into Big Ears, Feline Fluidity”.

Can a cat be both a liquid and a solid? Does contact with a crocodile influence a person’s willingness to gamble? And do old men really have big ears?

Those are just a few of the questions studied by scientists who received Ig Nobel Prizes at Harvard University on Thursday, at the less-than-prestigious ceremony put on by the otherwise-august institution for the past 27 years.

“Each winner has done something that makes people laugh, then think,” said Marc Abrahams, who founded the awards in 1991 and writes for the decidedly non-peer-reviewed journal Annals of Improbable Research.

The complete list of winners is available from Improbable.com.

(16) MAKES THEM WONDER. The Columbian believes “Jenkins the future of DC movies, but not the way you think”.

Jenkins will lead WB/DC into a future where story comes first, not multimovie connectivity. Yes, the potential of “Justice League” movies is exciting, but every single DC film doesn’t have to be a two-hour commercial for the super-team’s gathering. “Wonder Woman” taking place in the past — far away from Batman, Superman, Doomsday and horrible Daily Planet story-budget meetings (why is Clark Kent going from the city beat to covering football?) — was the best thing that could have happened to DC. It showed that singular stories and a strong supporting cast are more important than movie-universe building.

Jenkins also showed the power of having DC Entertainment president Geoff Johns, formerly one of DC Comics’ top comic-book writers who now spends most of his time on the movies, at her side. As the new president, “Wonder Woman” was the first DCEU movie where Johns could provide his superhero storytelling skills in a more authoritative way.

(17) VIDEO OF THE DAY. “Auto Nom” by Foam Studio is a silly story about all the fun a yellow Mercedes-Benz has in the city.

[Thanks to Rich Lynch, Carl Slaughter, Chip Hitchcock, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Hampus Eckerman, Martin Morse Wooster, ULTRAGOTHA, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Peer.]

Pixel Scroll 9/16/17 We’ll Have Fun, Fun, Fun, ‘Til Her Daddy Scrolls The Pixel Away.

(1) PROOF AND REPROOF. David Brin, after congratulating N.K. Jemisin for her latest Hugo win, asks readers to predict what’s coming next in the sff genre, in “Perspectives from Science Fiction: Hugos and other marvels”.

Oh and also, let’s celebrate that science fiction has always – and yes always, ever since it was founded by our revered grandmother of SF, Mary Wollstonecraft (Shelley) – been the genre of literature most welcoming to bold ideas about human and non-human diversity, and brashly exploratory authors. Yes, SF was always “better than its times” when it came to such things, though every decade deserved the reproof of later decades, for its own myopic misdeeds. Leaving our self-critical movement always looking for the next cause for self-improvement!

So what are we doing now, that will cause later generations of brave questioners and boundary-pushers to reprove? What terrible habit will reformers tell us to break next, when we get the upper hand on racism, sexism and cultural conformity? I think I know what it will be! (Hint: what is the most harmful and nasty thing that even good people now routinely do to each other, with barely a thought to fairness or consequences? And I include people as good as you envision yourself to be. Discuss in comments, below.)

(2) THE SHAPE OF YEARS TO COME. And at Examined Worlds, Ethan Mills wants to know “Where did all the far-future science fiction go?”

This is a question I’ve thought about a lot lately.  I recently re-read the last book in the Dune series and am working my way through the delightfully/impossibly difficult Book of the New Sun, which my Goodreads review describes as “like taking an acid trip through a thesaurus.”

These days far-future stuff is harder to find.  There’s even a popular genre of science fiction that takes place in the past: steampunk.  Contemporary readers will call a book “far future” if it takes place a mere few hundred years or even sooner. See this list of allegedly “far future” science fiction that puts Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 on the list, and even more weirdly, Charles Stross’s Accelerando.  One of the main complaints about Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves was that people didn’t care for the the part that takes place in thousands of years (which for the record was my favorite part — see my review for more).

(3) THE RONDO OF A LIFETIME. Steven J. Vertlieb recently found buried digital treasure:

Discovered these wonderful photographs for the first time recently on my brother’s cell phone while vacationing in Los Angeles just a couple of weeks ago. This marvelous shot was taken in Louisville, Kentucky during the prestigious annual Rondo Award ceremony in early June, 2016, after which actor, director, artist, writer, and old pal Mark Redfield and I were awarded these coveted Rondo “Hall of Fame” plaques in joyous recognition of a lifetime of creative productivity, and dedication to the arts.

(4) PUPPIES AND RACE.  In “Words Matter, Actions Matter and Race Definitely Matters” at Amazing Stories, Chris M. Barkley rebuts author Christopher Nuttall’s editorial, “A Character Who Happens To Be Black”.

When a writer, of any ethnicity, admits using characters of different ethnicities without even the slightest hint of any sort of context for doing so, it is the worst sort of cultural appropriation and is an insult to his readers as well. Using the “I don’t see color” explanation to pander his own world view about race may be satisfying to his bubble of readers ordering online, but I am quite willing to bet it would not pass muster at most publishing houses or with discerning and critical readers as well.

By erasing ethnicity, class or race as a factor in his characters, Mr. Nuttal is stating those centuries of history and culture, on which his future or fantasy worlds are built upon, don’t matter or worse, never happened. By homogenizing his black characters with his white male viewpoint, he is giving them the “gift” of being white and being as good as anyone else and calling for their heritage and culture is a bad thing and should essentially be swept under the rug. His attempt to do so does not make them equal, it diminishes them. It’s disingenuous at the very least and a patronizing example of white privilege at worse.

No person who is consciously aware of their ethnicity, culture and history would tolerate such a cleansing. By taking away their joy, you also take away their sorrow and their history. We are all human and that is the factor that should unites us, not divide us. By erasing our differences to make everyone the same, no one is special or an individual.

(5) APOLOGIZING. At Fast Company, Mike Su proffers “7 Lessons White People Can Learn From Bodega’s Apology”.

… Setting aside the idea of rebranding a mini-bar and putting it in apartment buildings and street corners and calling it disruption, there are some important lessons that can be learned from their poor apology that can be particularly important for well-meaning white people to understand when they unintentionally offend. Here are my key takeaways:

1. “I Didn’t Mean To” Doesn’t Matter

“Despite our best intentions and our admiration for traditional bodegas…”

Most of the post was focused on helping people understand what they were really trying to do. Why they weren’t super evil, and all the steps that they took, and basically, “I know we seemed like assholes, but we’re not! Or, at least, we didn’t mean to be!”

But here’s the thing?—?just cause you didn’t mean to hurt someone doesn’t mean you didn’t actually hurt them.

But if you spend all your time explaining what you meant to do?—?you’re spending all your effort on trying to make yourself look less bad, and make yourself feel less bad. That may do it for you, but then your apology is not about actually making the person you offended feel any better. Which leads me to…

(6) IN THE NEWS. Brookline, MA Town Meeting member (and noted sf writer) Michael A. Burstein isn’t kidding: “Town Leaders Seek to Make ‘Selectwoman’ the Official Title”.

“There’s been some recent interest in Massachusetts to change the name of board of selectmen to something that would be a bit more gender-neutral,” said Michael Burstein, a town meeting member.

Two warrants have been submitted to the Board of Selectmen and take aim at changing the governing body’s title and title of its members.

“One of them is kind of a straight forward and just wants to create gender-neutral language,” said Hamilton.

The other warrant filed by Burstein is very specific.

“I deliberately and specifically filed a warrant to change the name of Board of Selectmen to Board of Selectwomen,” he said.

The Boston NBC affiliate interviewed him for its September 14 news broadcast.

(7) ROMM OBIT. SF Site News reports the death of Minneapolis fan Baron Dave Romm.

Fan Dave E Romm (b.1955) died on September 14. Dave was active in Minneapolis fandom and was an avid photographer, taking pictures of various Minicons and other conventions he was able to get to. He traveled to Antarctic in 2005 and wrote about his experience in Argentus. He also hosted Shockwave Radio Theatre on KFAI-AM and archived the podcasts on his website. Romm became a baron of the micro-country of Ladonia in 2001.

(8) GOGOS OBIT. Bloody Disgusting bids farewell to “Legendary Monster Artist Basil Gogos” (1939-2017)  who died September 14.

Some of the most iconic pieces of classic monster art were found on the front covers of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine throughout the ’60s and ’70s, that art no doubt responsible for countless monster kids being bitten by the proverbial bug. Vibrant and eye-catching, the magazine’s cover art made horror stylish, beautiful and cool.

Those paintings were the work of illustrator Basil Gogos, who we’re sad to report is the latest in a long line of true horror legends who have recently left us….

Gogos also provided cover art for several other Warren magazines including Creepy, Eerie, Spaceman, Wildest Westerns and The Spirit.

(9) HANGDOG CHARACTER ACTOR. Harry Dean Stanton (1926-2017) died September 15 says The Hollywood Reporter.

Stanton, who also was memorable in Cool Hand Luke (1967), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (1981) and John Hughes’ Pretty in Pink (1986) — in fact, what wasn’t he memorable in? — died Friday afternoon of natural causes at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, his agent, John Kelly, told The Hollywood Reporter.

(10) TODAY’S DAY

Play-Doh Day

Play-Doh Day is an opportunity for everyone, whether a child or simply young at heart, to celebrate this iconic modeling clay. Play-Doh was originally developed in the 1930’s, not as a toy but as a product for cleaning wallpaper! It was not until the 1950’s that it was marketed as a toy, in the trademark vibrant colors of red, blue, yellow and white.

(11) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • September 16, 1926 — Many people reported seeing lake monster Ogopogo in Lake Okanagan, British Columbia.
  • September 16, 1963 The Outer Limits premiered on television.
  • September 16, 1977 — Returned television audiences to the world of Logan’s Run.
  • September 16, 1983 – The aptly-titled Strange Invaders was first screened.

(12) TODAY’S FORBIDDEN PLANET BIRTHDAYS

  • Born September 16, 1927 — Jack Kelly
  • Born September 16, 1930 — Anne Francis

(13) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • Born September 16, 1917 – Art Widner

(14) JAY KAY KLEIN PHOTOS. Crowdsourced identification of Jay Kay Klein’s digitized fanhistorical photos is proceeding apace.

J.J. Jacobson, the Jay Kay and Doris Klein Science Fiction Librarian at the UC Riverside Library, says —

The first re-index of the Klein photos on Calisphere has loaded. We’ve harvested amazing amounts of amazing information, thanks to the generosity of the fan community.

She has been keeping an eye on the info form and as of September 11 there had been 448 entries, many of them containing multiple identifications.

(15) QUARRELING CURATORS. New Statesman says “Two museums are having a fight on Twitter and it’s gloriously informative”. They’ve collected the tweets.

2017 is undoubtedly the year of the feud. As celebrities and corporations alike take to Twitter to hash things out, two of the UK’s most respected scientific institutions, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum have got in on the action.

It all started with this rather innocous tweet, during The Natural History Museum’s Ask a Curator event on Twitter, where users could tweet in questions to The Natural History Museum’s twitter account. The resulting back and forth is both amusing and educational….

(16) THE TRUE MEASURE OF A MAN’S INTELLIGENCE… JC Carlton’s goodbye to Jerry Pournelle at The Arts Mechanical begins with a memory of the author’s opposition to the lowered expectations policy of the Seventies. That was one of the first things that came to my own mind when I heard he had died. And while Carlton was looking at another collection of his science essays, I was taking down That Crazy Buck Rogers Stuff from my own shelf.

At a time when technical optimists were as scarce as hen’s teeth, at least in the public eye, Jerry was unabashedly that technical optimist.  I did a post about  A Step Farther Out when I started this blog and how relevant it still remains today.

https://theartsmechanical.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/stepping-farther-out/

At a time when the language of the day all across the media was how we were all DOOMED, DOOMED by the monsters of our own creation and that there was nothing that could be done to save us.  Even the best stuff in media, like the classic series Connections was mildly pessimistic. Contrast that with any column in A Step Farther Out. 

… He thought though that, that people wouldn’t just collapse into a series of unending ghettos and endless tyranny.  he thought that people would use the skill and minds, the technologies that humans had created to overcome the problems we had.  He never accepted that we would just surrender and mostly die. he was also optimistic that with a little more oomph people would reach for the stars and create wealth for all.

(17) THE BREWS THAT MADE SPEC FIC FAMOUS. Charles Payseur is back with another installment of his review column where he pairs short stories with the appropriate beer: “THE MONTHLY ROUND – A Taster’s Guide to Speculative Short Fiction, 08/2017”.

Welcome! Pull up a stool—let me tell you what’s on tap today. August represents the height of summer for some, and for others the first step toward Autumn. For my SFF reading, the month seems full of heat, decay, distance, and ghosts. Which makes a certain amount of sense, what with 2017 on its downward slope, having cleared the peak of June and July and entered into the fast descent toward the end of the year. And what a year…

The flavors are mostly heavy, alluding to the coming harvest with the sweet tones of apple and barley. Looming behind that, though, is the specter of winter, and scarcity, and cold. The bite of IPA stands as a resistance to going gentle in that good night, a fire to guide lonely travelers through the chilling dark. The stories are pulled from across SFF, with a lean toward fantasy, from contemporary to historical to second world, but there’s a hint of science fiction as well, a glimpse of the void and a voice calling out into the distance of space….

Tasting Flight – August 2017

“Avi Cantor Has Six Months To Live” by Sacha Lamb (Book Smugglers)

Notes: Singing with notes of sweet romance complicated by the spices of trust, betrayal, and perception, its cloudy pour slowly resolves into a golden hue that shines with warmth.

Pairs with: Chai Spiced Ale…

 

(18) FAVORITE SON. Are you ready? In “Holy Adam West Day, Walla Walla!” the Union-Tribune tells everyone what’s laid on for the celebration happening Tuesday, September 19.

From before noon and into the evening, businesses around town will display Bat signal stickers and posters of West and offer special promotions. The city will also install a new sign commemorating West near his childhood home at the intersection of Clinton Street and Alvarado Terrace.

Other memorials to West can be found at the post office at 128 N. 2nd Ave and at the Marcus Whitman, both based around photos from the collection of Joe Drazan.

West will also be the focus of a series of events throughout the day. Here’s the itinerary, as listed by Grant:

11 a.m. — Opening ceremonies at the corner of First Avenue and Main Street. Mayor Alan Pomraning will present a key to the city to members of West’s family, and attendees will have the opportunity to meet Batman and pose for photos with an exact replica of the Batmobile that West drove as the Caped Crusader….

(19) ESTATE SALE. The LA Times reports “Debbie Reynolds’ family ranch and dance studio to hit the auction block in October”.

The ranch-estate in Creston, Calif., had been offered for sale before Reynolds’ death last year for $4.8 million but was taken off the market in June. The studio on Lankershim Boulevard is for sale, with an asking price of $6.15 million.

Both will hit the auction block Oct. 7-8 in Los Angeles as part of the Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds personal property collection, according to auction house Profiles in History.

Owned by Reynolds for more than two decades, the 44-acre ranch comprises a main house, a guesthouse, a caretaker’s cottage, an art studio and a barn. A 10,000-square-foot support building with metal and stage workshops and a 6,000-square-foot film and television production studio are among other structures on the estate.

(20) HOBBITS INHALE. Matt Wallace’s tweetstorm shows that where there’s smoke….there’s even more smoke.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Steven H Silver, Martin Morse Wooster, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Andrew Porter, JJ Jacobson, and Steve Vertlieb for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Xtifr.]

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited SPECTACLES! — #14

SPECIAL REPORT for File 770

THE GREATEST SHOW OFF EARTH – The Total Solar Eclipse of 2017

By Chris M. Barkley: My journey to Monday’s total solar eclipse actually began back on Saturday, March 7, 1970.

The eclipse began in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, up through central Mexico, across the Caribbean, up the Atlantic coast where Virginia Beach, VA and Halifax, Nova Scotia were in the path of totality and then out over the ocean.

Not only was I watching the coverage on network television, I also took a pinhole projector outside (as instructed by our science teacher) and watched in fascination as the Moon cover up 77% of the Sun. I remember feeling disappointed; I had seen eclipses depicted on television and the movies and I was anticipating that the sky would be become darker than what actually occurred, which was a slight was dimming around the horizon.

But the main thing I remembered was a science correspondent intoning that the next great solar eclipse would happen in the year 2017. I sat on the sofa and thought about THAT for a while. I tried to just imagine what life would be like that far into the future. What would I be like then? Would I even be alive? I was thirteen years old.

And today, August 21, 2017, a day I had been anticipating and preparing for forty-seven years was finally here.

I was awake at 6:20 a.m. The plan was good, the plan was simple. I drove from Cincinnati to Middletown, Ohio, to meet some old friends with airplanes, Doctor Bruce Walls (Retired) and his wife and navigator Liz and I will fly in a borrowed Cessna 182. Bruce’s nephew Mike, his wife Megan, their two-month old Daisy and mutual friends Jason, his wife Stephanie and two daughters, eight-year-old Sophia and five-year-old Olivia were in a Cessna 210.

Our pilots, Bruce Walls M.D. (retired) and Mike Crouse.

Mike Crouse, Bruce Walls, Liz Walls, Baby Daisy, Sophia, Jason, Olivia and Stephanie.

Your Intrepid Correspondent.

In the preliminary planning, the pilots had decided on going to one of three airports directly in the zone of totality, depending on weather conditions:

  • Sparta TN (SRB) 215 miles southwest, round trip flying time 3 hours
  • Perryville, MO (PCD) 275 miles west, round trip flying time 4 hours
  • Manning, SC (MNI) 411 miles southeast, round trip flying time 6 hours (7 in the 182)

On Sunday evening, the choice was made; the Upper Cumberland Regional Airport located between Cookeville and Sparta, TN was the closest spot AND had an excellent forecast for clear weather. When Bruce made reservations for the two planes, he also inquired about expected influx traffic at the airport. The manager on duty told him that they were expecting more planes than they thought and that the sooner we arrived, the better chance they had of securing their spots. This necessitated moving up our departure from 10:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.

After checking the fuel levels and other pre-flight checks, we departed; Mike in the first plane took off first and we followed 20 minutes later.

In Transit To Sparta

Ascending, our plane rose above a light, but noticeable layer of haze. When I remarked about that, Bruce responded, “Well, this is actually pretty good flying weather for this time of the year.”  He also reassured me that the weather in Sparta was mostly clear and probably would not affect our viewing of the eclipse.

The only problem both planes had in transit was detouring around the airspace surrounding the Greater Cincinnati Airport due to the normally heavy traffic patterns. But this only added ten minutes to our flight time.

Fernald Power Plant along the Ohio River.

The Ohio River at 5000 feet.

Clear(er) sailing at 12,500 feet.

Upper Cumberland Regional Airport

An hour and a half later, we entered Upper Cumberland airspace of our target airport. Mike landed with a little difficulty as several planes request to land on the single landing strip at the same time. Apparently the word had gotten out to pilots in the area that the weather was clear here and this place had become a prime spot for viewing.

As Bruce was approaching he got an urgent call from two other pilots approaching from the southwest that they were aborting their flight paths. I knew that both Bruce and Liz had logged thousands of hours flying in all sorts of conditions so I wasn’t too worried…until I glanced back over my shoulder as we backed downwards and saw a Beechcraft Bonanza less than a quarter of a mile away and a few hundred feet below us turning very tightly to the right!

So, I just clenched my teeth slightly and settled back in my seat for the landing, which Bruce executed perfectly. After taxiing to a spot between two rows of hangers, we exited the plane to see that there were at least several dozen planes, fixed wing, small jets, helicopters and even an auto-gyro (?!?) lining the taxiways and hangar areas.

At 10:45 a.m. (Central) local time the sun was high over the airport and climbing. It was hot, almost 90 degrees but it was not very humid. The skies were clear, save for a few scattered cumulus clouds. The airport had set up a huge tent in a small field off one of the service areas. Nearby there were two food trucks and a small open trailer serving homemade machine cranked ice cream.  We all settled into the tent feasting on hot dogs, calzones, hamburgers, chips and cold beverages, all the while taking a glance upward with our eclipse glasses.

The line for the machine made ice cream.

All the while, a public address system in a tent nearby was playing a parade of sun and moon related songs including Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon”, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising”,  Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse”, Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” and, of course, Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Jason complained that the dj should be severely reprimanded for not adjusting the bass, which he claimed was set too high.

At a few minutes past noon, we all looked up and noticed that the Moon had begun to cover the Sun at around the one o’clock position.

At 1:00 p.m., the Moon had covered more than fifty percent of the sun. Twenty minutes later the sunlight around the airport had noticeably dimmed.

Then the music stopped and Krystal Tyler, a postdoctoral researcher at the School of Physics and Astronomy at the Rochester Institute of Technology came on to explain that totality would begin in a few moments. She also advised everyone NOT to remove their protective glasses prematurely, least they damage their eyesight!  The ONLY time we should remove the glasses was during full totality. The total amount of time in totality was estimated to be 2 minutes and 39 seconds.

Krystal Tyler, Postdoctoral Researcher at the School of Physics and Astronomy at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Once she finished speaking, I hustled over quickly to get her name and take a picture for posterity. Once that was done, a woman standing near us glanced at the Star Trek Voyager comm. badge I was wearing and asked in a stage whisper, “Hey can you actually talk into those things?”

“Are you ‘asking for a friend’, I asked in an amused tone.

“Yeah!”

“I’m sorry, that’s classified,“ I said with a laugh. She gave a hearty laugh as well.

It was then that most of our party (except for Megan and Daisy) emerged from the tent and walked fifty or so yards into a clear spot approaching the runways. We turned to gaze towards the northwest, where the immense, seventy-mile-wide shadow was bearing down on us at a thousand miles an hour.

At 1:32 p.m., it began.  Suddenly it became incredibly dark.

I had hoped to capture the moment the shadow enveloped us by aiming my cell phone at a white building beyond the runway by about half a mile away. The transition was too fast for my eyes to discern. You will notice that as well in the nine-minute video I shot.

I tried to capture all of the ambiance of the event by making sure there were a few 360-degree shots, especially of the distant horizon, where the sun was shining outside the zone. Some of my companions can be heard shouting that they could see Mercury and several prominent stars, but I focused in on getting a shot of what I thought was Jupiter but must have been Venus, a fuzzy but unmistakable presence just off the right of the eclipse.

2:13pm: There is a noticable dimming of sunlight, especially around the horizon.

And I as I tried to hold the camera steadily, I glanced upward to see the eclipse…which looked BETTER and MORE AWE INSPIRING than any special effect I had seen in any movie! EVER!

2:22pm: Photo of the Sun taken with the cell phone with the lens covered by the eclipse glasses. Cell phone cameras are notorious for taking terrible pictures of celestial objects…

But just as I was getting used to the darkness, it was over. The Sun emerged to the gasps, cheers and laughter of the crowd of thousands.

And, as the sun fully emerged, the audience sprinted towards their planes.

Mike and his crew were gassed up and gone in ninety minutes, Bruce Liz and I followed a half an hour later. The flight back was uneventful and we landed back in Middletown around 5:30 pm local time, just 20 minutes ahead of a line of thundershowers approaching from the west.

Well, I can truthfully say that I witnessed one of the most profound spectacles of my lifetime.

Or HAVE I?

The next great North American solar eclipse will occur on April 8th, 2024 and it is happening practically in my back yard: https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEgoogle/SEgoogle2001/SE2024Apr08Tgoogle.html

Oh YES, we’re taking reservations RIGHT NOW! Heh!

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #13

“The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.”

~ Gloria Steinem ~

By Chris M. Barkley

On July 19, Variety, once the primary news sources of the entertainment industry, reported that the Home Box Office network issued a routine press release announcing a new project, an alternate history series called Confederate, created by D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, the show runners of their top-rated show, Game of Thrones.

Confederate chronicles the events leading to the Third American Civil War. The series takes place in an alternate timeline, where the southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution. The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone – freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall,” said the Variety story, written by Elizabeth Wagmeinster.

“Benioff and Weiss created Confederate and will serve as show runners, executive producers and writers, along with Nichelle Tramble Spellman (Justified, The Good Wife) and Malcolm Spellman (Empire), who will co-write the series and executive produce. Game of Thrones producers Carolyn Strauss and Bernadette Caulfield will also serve as executive producers,“ it stated. (It should be noted at this point that Nichelle and Malcolm Spellman are African Americans.)

Now, if you are a tried and true sf fan and reader, you are well familiar with the concept of “alternate history” which we will delve into in a moment. But first, let gauge the initial reactions to the announcement, which were swift, and furious.

The first rumblings of trouble came the very next day in a New York Times article by their television critic, David Itzkoff titled, “Confederate Poses Test Over Race for Game of Thrones Creators and HBO.” “To the show’s critics, its promise to depict slavery as it might be practiced in modern times is perhaps the most worrisome element of Confederate. They say that slavery, a grave and longstanding scar on the national psyche, especially for black Americans, should not be trivialized for the sake of a fantasy tv series,” wrote Itzkoff.

The story quotes Dodai Stewart, the editor in chief of Fusion, a social justice culture website, saying, “Racial history in this country is a very open, sensitive wound.” Also, “Nothing’s settled, nothing is healed. I want to believe that this will be handled sensitively. But it’s an emotional subject, and for too many people, it’s uncomfortably close to the reality they already experience.”

David Harewood, a black actor who has a starring role on the WB superhero program Supergirl tweeted, “Good Luck finding black actors for this project.”

The producers and HBO, realizing that they were facing a major blowback on social media, granted an interview on Vulture the very next day in which they defended the project and stated their intentions. “We plan to approach Confederate in a much different spirit, by necessity, than we would approach a show named Game of Thrones” said co-creator D.B. Weiss.  His partner David Benioff added, “You know, we might fuck it up. But we haven’t yet.” That last quote did not help matters very much.

On that same day, ReBecca Theodore tweeted:

On July 25, bestselling feminist author Roxanne Gay penned an NYT editorial titled, “I don’t want to watch Slavery Fan Fiction”.

Activist April Reign, creator of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite in protesting the whitewashing of the Academy Award nominations of the past several years, came out with a new hashtag on Sunday, July 31: #NoConfederate, calling for HBO to cancel the series altogether. In an interview with Vox Reign stated, “One red flag was the premise of the show itself. This is supposed to be alternate history, yet we see in the news almost every day the way that the Confederate mindset is still very alive and well in present-day 2017. You’ve got somebody like Dylann Roof, who is a Confederate flag waver, a white nationalist, very calmly going into a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and killing nine black people. You’ve got textbooks in the state of Texas literally rewriting history so that black people and Africans and African Americans were not ‘enslaved,’ they were merely workers.”

This past Friday, author and Hugo award nominee Ta-Nehisi Coates weighed in with essay on The Atlantic’s website, “The Lost Cause Rides Again”.

And THEN, just when you thought things weren’t turbulent enough, Amazon threw another shoe into the cauldron: African-American producers Will Packer (Girls Trip and Straight Outta Compton) and Aaron McGruder (The Boondocks and Black Jesus) announced on August 1 that they were teaming up to create Black America, in which former slaves are granted the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in the post-Reconstruction South as reparations for slavery. In other words, the “anti-Confederate.” And both producers readily admit that the announcement of their project, which had been in development for over a year, was spurred by the controversy surrounding Confederate.

Now, I have to admit that all of this sturm und drang regarding these two projects did not surprise me at all. In a world where a lie can circle the earth several times while the truth is still struggling to get into its pants, this sort of reaction is very typical of any breaking news flash, political misstep or celebrity meltdown. (And fan feuds; now, more than ever.)

It has always been personally dismaying to me that when a project something like Confederate is announced, people who are so damned concerned about the feelings of a constituency, whether it be whites, minorities and sexes, gather together to condemn, decry and call for either boycotts or cancel said projects.

I am particularly perturbed that two writers that I admire, Roxanne Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates, would jump on the censorship bandwagon. And let’s not kid ourselves, when you call for creators to abandon a project for being perceived as racist in nature, before a frame of film has been shot, it’s censorship.

What also upsets me is that when social critics attack science fiction or, in this case, the alternate history branch of sf, they often don’t know nor care about its history or purpose.

According to my good friend and Hugo-nominated sf author and editor Steven H Silver, an alternate history story requires three things: a point of divergence from the history of our world prior to the time at which the author is writing, a change that would alter history as it is known, and an examination of the ramifications of that change.

While there are many sources on what may have been the first literary instances of alternate history, the first one I vividly remember reading was Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, wherein the Ghost of Christmas Future show Ebenezer Scrooge the consequences of his actions if he continued his curmudgeonly ways.

Many historians of modern sf recognize Nat Schachner‘s 1933 story “Ancestral Voices” and Murray Leinster’s “Sidewise In Time”, published a year later, as the most influential templates from which most alternate history stories we read today can trace their origins. Some of the more famous literary examples include Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee (1953), Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962), Harry Turtledove’s The Guns of the South (1992) and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon (2007) . Media contributions include many episodes of Star Trek, The Back to the Future series, the Terminator films, Groundhog Day, the Amazon series version of The Man in the High Castle, and Timeless.

So as an ardent fan of some of these works, the idea of the Nazis or Russians taking over America, World War Three starting right after the end of WWII or the enslavement of the human race by aliens or other humans doesn’t faze me in the least. In fact, the most disturbing thing I have seen recently is Netflix’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Which brings me to my first point, when well made, alternate history tales are meant to inform, illuminate and SCARE an audience into a different frame of mind. Or, as Robert Heinlein famously posited in the 1940’s, “if this goes on…”

Secondly, specifically to Roxanne Gay’s point, she does not want to watch “slavery fan fiction”. Well, as it turns out, neither do I. Yet one of her reasons for tuning out is that, and I quote, “My exhaustion with the idea of Confederate is multiplied by the realization that this show (referring to Game of Thrones) is the brainchild of two white men who oversee a show that has few people of color to speak of and where sexual violence is often gratuitous and treated as no big deal. I shudder to imagine the enslaved black body in their creative hands.”

Well to begin with, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff may have created the television version of Game of Thrones, but the outline of the story they are dramatizing is the sole property of one George R.R. Martin.

And Martin’s story is about power, greed, avarice, pain, faith, loyalty, perseverance and the longing for true freedom, all cloaked in a fantasy world where sometimes, doing the right thing, having a conscience or just being kind is an excellent way to a quick and sudden demise. Women have endured rape, betrayal, poisoning, torture and other various forms of violence. But men have not gotten off the hook so easily in the show as you imply; they have been decapitated, totally emasculated, has their throats slit and died other equally horrible fates. All of the characters, male and female, are serving the main substance of the story; surviving, forging on and trying to retain some small thread of humanity amid the carnage and terrible circumstances.

And when Weiss and Benioff approached Martin with the idea of turning his books into a maxi-series, he, a seasoned television producer himself, was highly skeptical it could be done with any semblance of quality or coherence. What persuaded him to relent was their impressive demonstration of their knowledge of the material and a battle plan to interpret the story for the small screen.

And what are their qualifications? I mean despite winning the Emmy Award for Best Drama Series (from their industry peers mind you) for the past two years?

David Brett Weiss has a Master of Philosophy in Irish literature from Trinity College, Dublin and attended Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. He has written one novel, Lucky Wander Boy (2003), was an executive producer of The Specials (an Oprah Winfrey Network show about five friends with intellectual disabilities who share a house) and has co-written 45 episodes of Game of Thrones with his writing partner, David Benioff.

Mr. Benioff is an alumnus The Collegiate School, Dartmouth College and also attended Trinity College in Dublin for a year, where he met his writing partner, D.B. Weiss. He has a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of California, in Irvine. He has written two novels, The 25th Hour in 2001 (which was adapted for the screen starring Edward Norton and directed by, wait for it, Spike Lee!) and City of Thieves in 2008. He drafted an early version of Troy (2004) and wrote screenplays for the films Stay (2005) and The Kite Runner (2007).

You, Ms. Gay, object to these “two white men” tackling an alternate history project you don’t approve of? Well, I have a term for that, barefaced racism. One’s race, Ms. Gay should NOT disqualify a person to write, direct or produce anything. And from the credits of these two men cited above, I would hardly call either man close to being anything like Simon Legree. I feel some empathy for your distress you expressed in your editorial, Ms. Gay, but not at the expense of artistic freedom. Yes, I miss President Obama, too and the current occupant of the White House is an abomination to any rational person’s standards. Wringing our hands about him is not the way to react. In my opinion, projects like Confederate; if it’s done correctly, illuminates what makes human beings act in such a abhorrent manner. You may choose to cover your eyes, Ms. Gay, I intend to stay “woke” and attentive.

Secondly, Ta-Nesihi Coats and April Reign’s comments attack Confederate on the corporate level, taking direct aim at the motives of HBO. In his Atlantic editorial Coates writes, “A swirl of virtual protests and op-eds have greeted this proposed premise. In response, HBO has expressed ‘great respect’ for its critics but also said it hopes that they will ‘reserve judgment until there is something to see.’

“This request sounds sensible at first pass. Should one not ‘reserve judgment’ of a thing until after it has been seen? But HBO does not actually want the public to reserve judgment so much as it wants the public to make a positive judgment. A major entertainment company does not announce a big new show in hopes of garnering dispassionate nods of acknowledgement. HBO executives themselves judged Confederate before they’d seen it—they had to, as no television script actually exists. HBO hoped to communicate that approval to its audience through the announcement.

“HBO’s motives aside, the plea to wait supposes that a problem of conception can be fixed in execution. We do not need to wait to observe that this supposition is, at best, dicey.”

Well, it’s pretty clear to me what, HBO’s motives are; money, audience and acclaim, in that order. They provide the programming, money is provided by paid subscribers, the audience watches (ad free, I might add) and the acclaim, through ratings, awards and attracting bigger audiences, is the goal. Mr. Coates says we should be skeptical and on that point we are in total agreement; more often than not Hollywood rarely gets films or tv shows about race relations right. I don’t mind the criticism or the protests. What I mind is the insistence or even the implication that NO ONE (except maybe, people of color) should attempt to do these subjects, ever.

What both Mr. Coates and Ms. Reign seem to be asserting is that black people live in oppression and fear every single day, so why should we, as people of color, tolerate it being dramatized as entertainment?

Because, I reply, we, the American people, have a tradition of freedom of expression. Goodness knows, it has not been a perfectly implemented or even a fair tradition at certain points in our history. But it’s THERE, in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Yes, it only insures that the government is mostly inhibited in the free expression of speech and the arts. But we, without exception, are free to speak about almost anything we like without fear of retribution from the government. But the double edged sword is that we are not free from the consequences of our speech.

Just as Chic-Fil-A COO Dan T. Cathy, Mark Fuhrman, Paula Dean, former sheriff Joe Arpaio and pharma-bro Martin Shkreli and other miscreants ultimately discovered, you can express an unpopular, dumb, stupid or racist sentiments but the payment for that freedom will insure the bright glare of social media scrutiny, ridicule, protests, loss of privacy and yes, boycotts of their products and services.

HBO is not in the business of backing a losing proposition or inviting scorn. When they made a production deal for Confederate, they had the two writer-producers of the most popular television show in the world pitching it to them. Weiss and Benioff were given the benefit of the doubt by HBO, not the critics, protesters and naysayers. Nor, I suspect, do they want it. They, the other writers and co-producers bear the weight of the responsibility of producing a show that should provoke and confront the deepest and most powerful emotions from us.

What I sense from both you Mr. Coates and you, Ms. Reign, is that you appear angry and afraid; angry that Hollywood is going to screw it up again, afraid that the show is going to be a rallying cry for racists, right wing neo-conservatives and crazy people and angry that the creators of Confederate do not have the interests of minorities at heart.

And I say this: I am afraid of all of those things, too. But you know what I am more afraid of? That if artists and entertainers give into these sorts of protestations, we stifle free speech and artistic freedom to the point where people will go out of their way NOT to take a chance to be innovative, daring or take risks.

I am adamant in saying that we can’t give in to or give any credibility to this sort of fear and loathing. We must confront, overcome and transcend the fears within us. And sometimes, that means going head to head against it, not merely wanting to wish it away.

Those risks, of alienating the public, taking unpopular stances or being outright controversial or just plain wrong come with the territory of creating any art. But those are risks worth taking. That is why we revere the works people who were the risk takers of their times; Mozart, Janis Joplin, James Baldwin, Alice Cooper, Robert Mapplethorpe, Judy Chicago and Misty Copeland. Without the risk of failure, there is no reward and certainly no art worth noting for prosperity.

Frankly, we are damned lucky to have these four veteran writer-producers in charge of this particular high wire act.

And finally, Confederate, and Black America for that matter, are still untold stories right at this moment. Other than the provocative premises of each project, we know less about them than what Jon Snow knew during the first season of Game of Thrones.

Since the beginning of humankind, we have always expressed the compulsive desire for parables, tales and stories, either cut from real life or made from the fears and longings of our minds. These stories come in many forms, crime, romance, biography and yes, even fantasy and science fiction.

Speaking for myself, I don’t care for poorly told stories, only well told ones. My only charge to the writers, directors and producers of these projects is this: Make me CARE. Make it MATTER. And most importantly, make me beg to ask, WHAT COMES NEXT?

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #12

Dear America, We Need to Talk…

By Chris M. Barkley: Hey America, rough weekend?

Yeah, I was watching and listening. Now, we need to talk. About what happened in Charlottesville.

And other things.

I am an African-American man. I was not born of privilege. Each day, I know that I am a marked man.

Marked as a threat by white people. Marked as a security risk by store owners. Marked to be maimed or murdered by fascists, racists and white supremacists. Marked for scrutiny (or worse) by various agents of law enforcement.

All because my skin tone is darker than their own.

But each day I awake, rise and step out my door, America. I do so with the full knowledge that I may never return to the embrace of my loving partner, my family and friends. I may fear all the things that may happen to me in the course of a day, but that is leavened by what I know:

  • That my parents, loved me enough to bring me into this troubled world.
  • That they provided me with a comfortable home, the love, guidance, education and love to be a kind and thoughtful person.
  • And that these things were given to me, my life, beliefs, associations and citizenship, are protected by the Constitution of the United States of America.

I was born a child of the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower; smack dap in the middle of the past century. My father, Erbil Augustine Barkley and my grandmother, who hailed from Birmingham, Alabama, came north to Cincinnati as part of the black diaspora of the 1930’s. My mother, Alice Elder and her four orphaned sisters came to Ohio to attend school. When they met, in a corner drugstore in the neighborhood I grew up in as a child, it was love at first sight. The best and worst of American history lay ahead of me.

I grew up in the age of science and science fiction. Vaccines. Lasers. Computers. Jonny Quest, Fireball XL-5 and Star Trek! Actual men flying actual space capsules, solo, in pairs and then, more. Neil Freaking Armstrong and Buzz Freaking Aldrin walking on the freaking MOON in the summer of ‘69, America! And all of this was balanced out by my constant fear of being vaporized in a nuclear war, the ongoing communist menace, the Vietnam War on the evening news everyday and the constant threats from the nuns at school and in the bullies on the neighborhood streets.

I mostly kept to myself, riding my bike, walking, watching old movies on television and reading. I read throughout the Silver Age of DC, Marvel, Gold Key and Charlton comic books. I read the adventures Danny Dunn and Alvin Fernald. I also dabbled in young adult books by Madeleine L’Engle and Isaac Asimov and Eleanor Cameron. These pursuits were not as frivolous as my parents made them out to be; they were essential tools that led to my being who I am today.

In 1976, I had the good fortune to fall in with sf fandom, which changed my life forever. Author David Gerrold recently described sf (and fandom, too, I think) as, “our private little secret, sniffed at by those who ‘knew better.’” Fandom has been my second family for over forty years and I have never regretted my association with these wonderful people who greeted me with wide and open arms.

But lately America, the stresses and strains of these modern times have tested even the strongest bonds of the best of families.

Nowadays, with social media and modern communication systems, a misunderstanding, a rumor, faked news or blatant lie can circle the globe a million times before the truth finishes rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

I am the direct descendent of people enslaved here. I don’t want revenge. I don’t want reparations for the actions of people I have never met or seen.

You know what I really want, America? I want all of us dwelling here to have a lengthy conversation about slavery, Native American genocide, immigration, the treatment of the veterans of our armed services and the basic right to just be FREE.

Free to explore places I’ve never been. Free to love my partner and friends. Free to hate the New York Yankees (in a benign way, of course), free to assemble peacefully, free to protest, free to make mistakes,  free to watch, comment, read and speak. These freedoms should be extended to everyone without reserve; to those I agree with but ESPECIALLY to those of whom I disagree with.

As I wise person I encountered once said, The First Amendment and the freedom to speak isn’t a private dance party limited to the elites, best buds or your social clique. Everyone dances and no one should be excluded.

I know that these freedoms come with a price and that while I am free to speak and express myself, I am not free from the consequences of any of my decisions.

And if the fascists, racists, opportunists, fear and hate merchants have their way and change to Constitution, to place legal limits on the freedoms we hold so dear, I am afraid that I and many of my family and friends may come to a parting of ways with you. This is a shame, because while 241 years is quite a run for a freedom loving people, I expected you to last far past my lifetime and far into the future.

I never met the late Heather Heyer, but I consider her to be my sister. According to her friends and family, she was an advocate of the poor and disadvantaged in her city.

I mourn her death because she did not have to be downtown in Charlottesville on a beautiful Saturday protesting the presence of fascists, nazis, and other merchants of hate and fear. She WANTED to be there because she wanted to show them that she was not afraid of them and to show them what the true face of democracy looks like.

Her martyrdom and the injuries to the wounded were sudden, brutal and so unnecessary.

What have we become, America? Can we honestly look in the mirror and call ourselves “that shining city on the hill” anymore?

We are no longer the envy of the civilized world. We are no longer considered the gold standard of liberty.

The slow erosion of American manners and civility, in the course of our everyday lives, in our business and trade practices and especially with our politics, makes us out to be a country to be loathed and feared. The current occupant of the White House and his minions are reinforcing this heinous message with each passing day.

We are on the verge of a new Civil War. But what will be different about this new war is that won’t be fighting about borders or slavery, we’ll be in conflict between the haves and have-nots, the disenfranchised verses the uninformed, the rich and bigoted against the poor and minorities of all races and beliefs.

And so America, the battle is on. The battle for your heart and your soul. Who will prevail?

And despite the pessimism and grief I have expressed in this letter to you, I believe in my heart that there are more Americans who want to maintain our shores as a beacon of freedom and prosperity than there are those who would seek to tear it all down.

For the sake of my families, my friends and fellow freedom fighters, I hope it’s us.

See you in the streets. Best Wishes,

Chris B.

Docherty and Whyte Seek Hugo Study Committee

Chris Barkley and Vincent Docherty’s proposals to make major changes to several Hugo categories, first published by File 770, are now on the Worldcon 75 business meeting agenda (see page 29, item D.6.)

However, Docherty would prefer they not go to an immediate up-and-down vote, but be sent to a study committee. Docherty writes:

Given the number of Hugo category proposals this year, and that we have managed to trigger some public discussion about the proposed changes, we have proposed the creation of a Hugo Awards Study Committee, to which a number of the category changes can be referred to.

Docherty, seconded by Nicholas Whyte, have made a motion to that effect (same link above, page 6, item B.2.1).

B.2.1 Short Title: Hugo Awards Study Committee (amendment by substitution)

Moved: to substitute for B.2 the following: To create a Hugo Awards Study Committee, appointed by the Chair, to

(1) Study revisions to Article 3 (Hugo Awards) of the WSFS Constitution, including any such proposals for amending Article 3 as may be referred to it by the Business Meeting or suggested by others;

(2) Make recommendations, which may include proposing constitutional amendments, to the 2018 Business Meeting; and

(3) Authorize the Chair of the Committee to appoint other persons to serve on the committee at the Chair’s discretion.

Docherty told File 770 there are certain rules to be navigated before the committee can be created:

As mentioned in the commentary under B.2.1. the rules of the Business Meeting are that Constitutional amendments currently on the agenda for this year’s meeting cannot be referred to this proposed committee by the Preliminary Business Meeting (on Thursday), but can be referred to it by the Main Business Meeting (on Friday or later). Kevin Standee and the Business Meeting team have been very helpful with the preparations and will keep us on track I’m sure.

Pixel Scroll 7/31/17 I’ll Get You, My Pixel, And Your Little Scroll, Too

(1) FANDOM FEST AFTER ACTION REPORT. Randall and Anne Golden decided they’d go to Louisville’s Fandom Fest despite “Weird Al” Yankovic’s cancelling his appearance. They lowered their expectations and lived to tell the tale in a two-part conreport.

We finished our FandomFest experience and were out the door by 12:30. For the math-curious that’s four hours of two-way driving, one hour spent on the line to get in, forty minutes on ticket exchanges, and 110 minutes on actual conventioning. We’ve done worse for less.

By the end of the day at least a couple hundred more fans had packed into the Macy’s and begun turning into a bona fide crowd. Anne noted that today’s attendance was probably more people than the actual Macy’s had entertained in years. But it was never anywhere near 1700. For a show that once welcomed a five-digit annual attendance, that’s an alarming deceleration.

For a show in its twelfth year, with so many years of experience and resources (you’d think, anyway), that’s a drastic sign either of incompetence, evil, or intentional downsizing. We can’t speak for the innumerable fans still upset with their FandomFest fleecing and still crying out for retribution, but I wish more could be done for them.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: on Saturday my wife Anne and I attended FandomFest in Louisville, KY, the twelfth iteration of this entertainment/”comic” convention that’s quite low on comics, heavy on controversy, improper in its online customer service, saddled with a years-old negative image not really helped by the depressing role call of thirty-one canceled guests, and graded a solid F by the Better Business Bureau. But beyond the mountains of baggage, their volunteers were pretty friendly to us in person despite their upper management, and the fifteen actors in the house seemed like decent folks.

Publisher Tony Acree of Hydra Publications talked about the (literal) silver lining he found in the clouds surrounding the con — “Fandom Fest 2017 Day 1 Recap”. (Lots of cosplay photos in his Day 2 and Day 3 recaps.)

What hasn’t changed, is the number of high quality vendors who have been to Fandom year after year. Hydra Publications lucky to be in “Author Corner” along with Stephen Zimmer and Holly Phillippe of Seventh Star Press, the wonderful ladies of Per Bastet, along with Lydia Sherrer, Lacy Marie and my fellow Hydra authors, Arlan Andrew Sr., Dave Creek, Lynn Tincher and Stuart Thaman. Oh. And super editor Josiah Davis.

Despite all the negative news, we sold more books this year on Friday, than we did last year. To you, the fans, we say thank you.

 

Arlan Andrews Sr. and Dave Creek at the Hydra table

Jeff raises an interesting question – when quoted by the press, the co-organizer of Fandom Fest went by the name Myra Daniels.

Noah Bisson posted a video of his walkthrough of the con. Crowding was definitely not an issue.

(2) NO SHOW. Steve Davidson, in “What’s Happening with the TV Show?”, explains why you shouldn’t be looking for an Amazing Stories revival on NBC. For one thing, the check wasn’t in the mail.

I waited for a period of time to determine if I would receive something.  After months of waiting and still receiving nothing, a notice of Termination/Breach of Contract was sent to NBC legal, seeing as how pretty much everybody we had previously been working with was no longer with NBC.  It sure looked to us like Amazing Stories The TV Show had become an orphan:  no showrunner, prior contacts no longer with the company, no word, no checks.

The notice was properly delivered to NBC in May of this year.  Despite the fact that the orginal contract would have expired in August of this year, I had completely lost confidence in two things:  NBC’s ability to treat me properly AND NBC’s ability to deliver a show.

(3) HE SECONDS. Robert J. Sawyer has added himself to the list of people sponsoring the “Separate Fantasy and Science Fiction Hugo Best-Novel Awards Amendment” submitted by Chris Barkley and Vincent Docherty and discussed here last week.

(4) MOVING DAY FINALLY HERE FOR MACMILLAN.  After years of rumors, Macmillan Publishers is really going to bid farewell to the iconic Flatiron Building.

Macmillan Publishers is officially leaving the Flatiron Building, having signed up for 261,000 square feet at Silverstein Properties’ 120 Broadway.

The space will span five full floors, the New York Post reported. In April, sources told The Real Deal the publisher was weighing a move to the Lower Manhattan building, but the size of the space was not clear.

Asking rents at 120 Broadway are in the mid-$50s per square foot, according to the newspaper.

Macmillan is the Flatiron Building’s sole tenant. The property has not been totally empty since it was built more than a century ago. Sorgente Group of America, which owns a majority stake, may rent it out to new tenants or potentially go through with a plan to turn it into a hotel.

(5) SHAKEN UP. A Marvel Comics editor posted a selfie of herself and some coworkers enjoying milkshakes. For this innocuous act, she has been harassed on Twitter: “Female Marvel Comics editor harassed online for milkshake selfie”. (Warning: the harassment is extensively quoted in the article.)

Antos condemned the abuse the following day, writing that “the internet is an awful, horrible, and disgusting place.” She added, “Woke up today to a slew of more garbage tweets and DMs. For being a woman. In comics. Who posted a selfie of her friends getting milkshakes.”

(6) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • July 31, 1971 — Astronauts David Scott and James Irwin became the first people to drive a vehicle on the Moon.
  • July 31, 1976 — NASA released the famous “Face on Mars” photo, taken by Viking 1.
  • July 31, 1999 — The ashes of astro-geologist Eugene Shoemaker were deposited on the Moon.

(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY GIRL

  • July 31, 1965 – J.K. Rowling

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY WIZARD

  • Born July 31, 1980 – Harry Potter

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY KRYPTONIAN

  • Born July 31, 1966 – Dean Cain

(10) COMIC SECTION. Chip Hitchcock recommends today’s Rhymes With Orange.

(11) FILER ALERT. Greg Machlin extends an invite to all Filers in Helsinki for his very first Worldcon panel as a panelist —

Science Fiction & Fantasy in Musical Theatre

Thursday 16:00 – 17:00, 103 (Messukeskus)

Wicked, Into the Woods, Rocky Horror, Little Shop of Horrors – fantasy and science fiction have long been represented in the musical theatre. The panelists discuss their favorites and also perhaps some not-so successful SF musicals.

Emily January, Sari Polvinen (M), Ada Palmer, Greg Machlin, Sami Mustala howeird

Also on the panel: Ada Palmer (Too Like The Lightning).

Machlin adds: As someone who’s written and had produced a fair amount of sci-fi/fantasy theatre (Keith Haring: Pieces of a Life in L.A. in 2014; the one-act “Sushi” all over the place), this is my jam. I may, if the other panelists are patient, present a song from an actual sci-fi musical I wrote the book and lyrics for, The Great Swiss Cheese Conspiracy Theory.

(12) MARLOWE MAKES FINALS. Congratulations to Francis Hamit who is a finalist in the London 2017, New Renaissance Screenwriting Competition. The winners will be announced at the awards ceremony, on August 20.

Christopher Marlowe

Feature Screenplay • Drama, Thriller, War, History, Biography

Francis Hamit 

COUNTRY  U S A

The poet, playwright and spy lives in two worlds at a time when politics was religion and vice-versa. He is a brilliant playwright and an effective spy but his intemperate ways and desire for power as well as fame combined with a free thinking pose of atheism eventually lead to his death at the hands of his fellow agents at the order of Queen Elizabeth herself. Timeline is from 1585-1593 and includes real events such as the Babington Plot, The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the sailing of the Spanish Armada. Characters based upon real personalities of the time, and extensive research.

(13) LET DARKNESS FALL. The Planetary Post, hosted by Robert Picardo, is devoted to the Total Solar Eclipse coming on August 21.

In this month’s episode, we explore all things eclipse, including a special visit to NASA JPL to see a spacecraft that can create artificial eclipses!

…The Total Solar Eclipse on August 21st is coming up! We’re getting ready with the U.S. National Parks Service and a new Junior Ranger Eclipse Explorer activity book. Also, Starshade is new technology being studied by a team at JPL/NASA and Picardo has the inside scoop.

 

(14) ON BOARD. The Borg site is impressed with this tie-in edition of the classic game: “Monopoly–Planet of the Apes means a tie-in madhouse for Hasbro”.

For its next franchise tie-in, Hasbro has partnered with 20th Century Fox Consumer Products to release this summer’s strangest mash-up game: Monopoly: Planet of the Apes Retro Art EditionIt’s not just your typical Monopoly tie-in with a popular franchise.

For Monopoly: Planet of the Apes Retro Art Edition, Hasbro tapped artist Dan Perillo to give the game a design it might have had, had it been released when the movie premiered in 1968.  Perillo is known for his retro style.  One of his works was featured in last year’s Star Trek: 50 Years/50 Artists project (reviewed here at borg.com), and he’s produced some stunning work for Mondo.  Perillo’s work for the new Monopoly game should appeal to Planet of the Apes fans, but it’s also a dose of silly fun that will appeal to fans of all things retro.

The standard game is altered–slightly.  Instead of paying an Income Tax, in the new edition you get strung up on a spit by your hands and feet and led off.  Instead of the joy of landing on Boardwalk you get to discover the ruins of the Statue of Liberty.  And that’s Taylor’s marooned space capsule instead of the valuable Short Line railroad.  Perillo created six character tokens to choose from: Taylor, Cornelius, Zira, Dr. Zaius, Nova, or a gorilla general (it looks like you could play the gorilla as either General Ursus from Beneath of the Planet of the Apes, Chief of Security Urko from the TV series, or General Aldo from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes).  As with all Monopoly editions, the four corners of the gameboard never change.

(15) NEVERTHELESS, HBO PERSISTED. The Wrap, in “HBO Responds to #NoConfederate: Slavery Drama Will Be Handled ‘With Care and Sensitivity’”, says that the hashtag #NoConfederate was the #1 hashtag last weekend. Despite the protests HBO replied they are going to develop this series.

A campaign protesting the planned HBO series “Confederate” flooded social media Sunday night, with viewers tweeting #NoConfederate in massive numbers during “Game of Thrones,” propelling the hashtag to Twitter’s No. 1 trending spot in the U.S. and No. 2 worldwide.

“We have great respect for the dialogue and concern being expressed around ‘Confederate,’” HBO responded in a statement. “We have faith that [writers] Nichelle, Dan, David and Malcolm will approach the subject with care and sensitivity. The project is currently in its infancy so we hope that people will reserve judgment until there is something to see.”

“Confederate” tells an alternate version of history in where the South has seceded from the Union… and slavery has remained legal and continued into the modern era.

(16) WHITE HOUSE BEAT. Camestros Felapton has a scoop: “Breaking news: Talking cat named Whitehouse Communications Director”.

Followed by another scoop: “Breakin News: Timothy the Talking Cat Fired as Whitehouse Communications Director”.

Both stories are dated August 1. How is anybody supposed to compete with someone who gets tomorrow’s cat news today?

(17) THRONE QUESTIONS. Did Camestros and Melisandre graduate from the same J-school? …Vulture has burning questions after “The Queen’s Justice,” the latest episode of “Game of Thrones”:

  • Did Varys get a tan on Dragonstone?
  • Does Melisandre know how Varys will die?
  • Will it all come down to two women battling for the Iron Throne?
  • Will Theon ever redeem himself?
  • What fate awaits Yara?
  • Which city is a worse place to live: Gotham or King’s Landing?
  • Will Cersei really marry Euron? And is Euron actually the best thing to ever happen to Jaime?
  • How has Cersei not yet grown out that pixie cut?
  • Why is Littlefinger quoting True Detective to Sansa?
  • We know, Baelish, time is a flat circle. #hbocrossover
  • When will Jon find out about his parentage?
  • Will Jorah and Sam forge the alliance between Jon and Dany?
  • Was that seriously all we get to see of Casterly Rock?

(18) CULTURE WARRIORS. At Nerdist, “Darth Vader and Captain Picard Face Off for a Sci-Fi Debate”. Click through to see the debate between two toys.

When you have toys, all things are possible, including a dream crossover between Star Wars and Star Trek: The Next Generation! In the new episode of Toy Shelf, we finally get to see what happens when Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation starship Enterprise encounters the Dark Lord of the Sith: Darth Vader!

Keep in mind that these are toys that know they are toys. And Vader catches Picard as he goes for more of a cowboy diplomacy by swinging a lightsaber around. It’s pretty much the laser sword of Picard’s dreams, and if Vader was looking to tempt the Captain to the Dark Side of the Force, then he would have a pretty good head start.

(19) RARITY. Ashley Hoffman of TIME, in “A Super Rare Copy of Super Mario Bros. Just Sold for $30,000 on eBay”, says that a copy of “Super Mario Bros. that has been sealed since its release in 1985 and never opened just sold for $30,100 on eBay

To outsiders, that may seem like a high cost to become the proud owner of a game, but they might not appreciate the most exciting feature, which distinguishes this Nintendo Entertainment System game from all those unwrapped $10 versions: a hangtag on the back that indicates the copy originates from back when video games hung on pegs in stores.

“They said the reason that game went for so much was because Mario was always sold in the system,” CEO Drew Steimel told Mashable quoting the experts of Reddit. “You bought it with the system, it came in the box. This particular copy was from before that happened, before Nintendo decided to bundle them. They only did it for a short time.”

You read that right. No box for this game, hence its final price.

(20) BOTTLED LIGHTNING. I would have answered yes if the question had been, “Should I use this to launch a torpedo?”

(21) HARD SCIENCE FICTION. The 1910 Thomas Edison production A Trip To Mars begins with “The Discovery of Reverse Gravity.”

[Thanks to rcade, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Carl Slaughter, Greg Machlin, Francis Hamit, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Bill.]