Pixel Scroll 3/25/17 Not Really Very Specific

(1) CASHING IN. Naked Security has discovered “Spock will unlock Kirk ransomware – after you beam up a bunch of Monero”.

Star Trek fans might remember an episode from the original series where our heroes were transported to a mirror universe where their counterparts served an evil version of the Federation. At the end of “Mirror Mirror“, it is the alternate universe’s Spock who begins to set things right.

One has to wonder if the creators of the recently discovered Kirk ransomware had that episode in mind. SophosLabs threat researcher Dorka Palotay told Naked Security that this new specimen appeared a few days ago….

Monero is the new (or old) latinum

Unlike the ransomware families SophosLabs has seen so far, this family uses Monero for ransom payment, which is a cryptocurrency similar to bitcoin. Monero has already been popular among cyber-criminals. You could say it’s the new latinum – the favored currency of the Ferengi. Or, you could say it’s the old one. (These temporal paradoxes give us a headache.)

(2) SPOOK FANAC. Naked Security also disclosed that the CIA named one of its hacking tools after a famous science fictional gadget – “Latest Wikileaks dump shows CIA targeting Apple earlier than others”.

Here’s a breakdown of the tools documented and their purpose:

Sonic Screwdriver: Fans of Doctor Who know that the Sonic Screwdriver is the Doctor’s trusty device for analysis and defense. In the CIA’s world, it’s a “mechanism for executing code on peripheral devices while a Mac laptop or desktop is booting,” allowing attackers to “boot its attack software even when a firmware password is enabled”. The CIA’s Sonic Screwdriver infector is stored on the modified firmware of an Apple Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter. The documentation for this was released internally at CIA headquarters November 29 2012….

(3) IRON FIST. While my Facebook friends have leveled plenty of criticism, Comicbook.com declares “Iron Fist Is The Second Biggest Marvel Netflix Premiere”.

Marvel’s Iron Fist may not have gone over well with critics, but fans can’t seem to get enough.

According to a report by Parrot Analytics, Marvel’s Iron Fist is the second-biggest debut for a Marvel series on Netflix so far, performing better than both Marvel’s Daredevil and Marvel’s Jessica Jones in the first week it was available to stream. Iron Fist falls just short of Marvel’s Luke Cage, which was Marvel’s best debut to date.

It should be noted that Parrot Analytics is a third party industry analyst and that these metrics are not endorsed by Netflix. Netflix does not share its viewership numbers publically.

(4) DO’S AND DON’TS. Here are the first two of “Ray Bradbury’s 12 Rules For Writers” at Tripwire.

  • Don’t start out writing novels. They take too long. Begin your writing life instead by cranking out “a hell of a lot of short stories,” as many as one per week. Take a year to do it; he claims that it simply isn’t possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row. He waited until the age of 30 to write his first novel, Fahrenheit 451. “Worth waiting for, huh?”
  • You may love ’em, but you can’t be ’em. Bear that in mind when you inevitably attempt, consciously or unconsciously, to imitate your favorite writers, just as he imitated H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle and L. Frank Baum.

(5) BY YOUR ROYAL LEAVES. Standback guested on Jonah Sutton-Morse’s Cabbages and Kings podcast. (I’m not trying to blow his cover, he sent the link indicating it should be a “scroll item for Standback.”)

This episode I am joined by Ziv Wities (@QuiteVague), host of the SFSqueeAndSnark short story discussion site, to discuss Jo Walton’s The Just City.  We covered our different reactions to the story, the elevation of Plato’s Republic to a holy text, and the problems of privilege and how it is portrayed in The Just City.  In addition, Brandon O’Brien returns for the second installment of Black Star Cruises, a review of Maurice Broaddus’ forthcoming novella Buffalo Soldier.

There’s a transcript of the podcast available at the site, too.

Z – So, this is the only book in my entire life that I have ever bought based on a book ad. There was a print ad for the Just City in Fantasy & Science Fiction and I saw it and I read it and I said that sounds really really really cool. I don’t think I’ve ever reacted that way to a print ad before.It’s just, it’s just a cool high-concept idea, and one of the things that really grabbed me about it was the idea that it’s not only a recreation of The Republic but specifically that it is done with the support of a goddess.  With Athene, Athene?

JSM – Yes

Z – With Athene supporting and bankrolling and magicing together the entire thing.

(6) DON’T BLAME WEIR. The Wrap reveals “More Hollywood Whitewashing: CBS Pilot Casts 2 White Actors in Lead Roles Written for Minorities”.

Andy Weir’s sci-fi drama “Mission Control” was written with a bilingual Latina and African-American man — now played by Poppy Montgomery and David Giuntoli…

According to an individual familiar with the project, producers initially did reach out to and offer the roles to non-white actors, but they passed. The production ultimately moved on as the script evolved, leading to the casting of Montgomery and Giuntoli. Montgomery’s character will no longer speak Spanish in the final version of the pilot.

The pilot, which the individual described as an “ensemble drama,” does feature nonwhite actors in other roles, including “Desperate Housewives” alum Ricardo Chavira as the director of the Johnson Space Center and Nigerian-born actress Wunmi Mosaku as Rayna, the mission’s public affairs officer….

(7) A NUMBER OF BUGS. Find the answer to “What Kind of Bug Eats Books” here. There are five main types, a number that suits the Scroll perfectly.

Bugs that eat books aren’t injurious to humans, but they can destroy your library. Book-eating insects inhabit books in their larval stage, eating collagen glues, cotton, leather, linen and paper. These insects can be difficult to spot because of their small sizes and hiding instincts. Use a magnifying glass to inspect volumes for intruders. There are five types of bugs that commonly infest books.

(8) SOMETIMES IT CAUSES ME TO TINGLE. Future Nobel laureate for literature Dr. Chuck Tingle weighs in on Castalia House’s latest antics at The Rabid Puppies.

in recent days man name of JOM SCALZI put out a big time book name of THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE. bad dogs blues said they could copy it and do better, so to keep bad dogs blues honest this is now website to show current sales rank between BAD DOGS BLUES fake book and JOM SCALZI real book. this is good way to determine wether or not being a devil is a WINNING WAY. please enjoy.

JOM RANK #235

BAD DOGS BLUES RANK #1671

(9) MAKING PROGRESS. Christine Valada gave this update about Len Wein’s health:

Len is doing better but still not on social media. It’s boring when he’s not actually working and he’s at war with the restrictions on his diet. What a surprise, right? The amputated toe is considered healed (yay), but the doctor needs to do some clean-up work on his second toe which had been delayed because of the neck surgery. He’s a captive patient in rehab, so that will get done on Monday evening.

(10) SAD TRIVIA. Today’s Livestream of the Debbie Reynolds/Carrie Fisher public memorial had over 63,000 views. Right now, the link is just showing a short slide-show of the pair at various ages.

Their celebration of life was in the same auditorium that Sammy Davis, Jr.’s was held.

The BBC had a few brief quotes from before and during the memorial.

Earlier Mr Fisher said the public was invited to the memorial “because that’s how my mother would want it”.

He added that she was “very connected to her fans and felt they were a part of her”.

James Blunt was friends with Carrie Fisher and recorded part of his debut album in her bathroom. His tribute song will be accompanied by a montage of photographs of the pair.

Todd Fisher called it a “beautiful song to Carrie”, adding that “it might rip your heart out”.

 

Princess Leia from Star Wars reel shown at SDCC 2015.

(11) NO CGI FOR FISHER. Gene Maddaus of Variety, in “Bob Iger Reveals ‘Star Wars’ Han Solo Spinoff Details, Talks Plans After ‘Episode IX’”, reports on a talk that the Disney CEO gave at USC.  Iger says that Carrie Fisher’s performance in Episode 8 is complete and does not have to be digitally enhanced and the forthcoming moving about young Han Solo will reveal how Chewbacca got his name.

At the conference, where he also confirmed that he’s “definitely” leaving in 2019, he said he has seen Episode 8, “The Last Jedi,” and addressed how the company is handling the death of Carrie Fisher, who appears extensively in the film.

“We are not changing ‘8’ to deal with her passing. Her performance remains as it was in ‘8,’” he said. “In ‘Rogue One’, we created digitally a few characters… We’re not doing that with Carrie.”

…Iger was otherwise tight-lipped about Episode 8, saying that he sometimes reviews dailies “in my laptop in bed under the covers” to keep the project secret from his own teenage boys.

(12) TODAY’S DAY

TOLKIEN READING DAY

The Tolkien Society started Tolkien Reading Day in 2003 after a journalist from New York enquired as to whether or not there was such an event. March 25 was selected because that is the date of the Downfall of Sauron.

(13) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • March 25, 1957 — United States Customs confiscated 520 copies of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems, printed in England, on grounds of obscenity.

(14) BY THE LITRE. “Discovery enables ‘mass produced blood’” – the BBC has the story. Chip Hitchcock says, “The kicker is that it’s so expensive it’s only useful for types so rare that they’re in very short supply — e.g. Heinlein’s AB-.”

(15) HOT PILOT. You can listen to the recording of Harrison Ford excusing his Han Solo moment at this link: “’I’m the schmuck that landed on the taxiway’”.

A recording has emerged of Harrison Ford explaining to air traffic control why he flew directly over a waiting passenger jet and landed on a taxiway at John Wayne Airport in southern California in February.

(16) CURRENT READING. Rosemary Benton visits a newsstand 55 years ago at Galactic Journey — “[March 25,1962] A Double Hit (A.Bertram Chandler’s The Rim of Space and John Brunner’s Secret Agent of Terra)”.

I turned to Brunner’s Secret Agent of Terra. I couldn’t help but feel as if I was reading a novella that pitted the characters of H. Beam Piper’s Paratime series against the American agents of The Time Traders. In almost exact contrast to the universe of Chandler’s piece, Brunner’s protagonists are agents of the Corps Galactica – a economic and security force powerhouse for Earth’s galaxy-wide territories. When a remote and technologically backward world called Planet 14 is penetrated by off-worlders looking to take advantage of the natural resources of the isolated human society, it is up to agents of the Corps to infiltrate the population without notice and take down the exploitative evil doers.

(17) FREE DELANY. You do not need to be a member of Facebook to read this unpublished novel excerpt by Samuel R. Delany:

Here’s the coda to a not yet published novel, whose manuscript ran more than 700 pages in 2006: Shoat Rumblin: His Sensations and Ideas.

Samuel Delany

(18) FURTHER DELIBERATIONS. Here are the newest reviews from the Shadow Clarke jury.

Tidhar’s novel is both subtle and quotidian, bolshie and wildly inventive.  In common with some of its characters, it is a cyborg patchwork; a novel about a bold future that has its feet firmly planted in the past.

The book started life as a series of short stories, reworked and ordered here within a narrative frame to form a novel.  It’s complex and wily, structured around three points in time: a present, a future and a far future. The author introduces themselves quietly in a first-person Prologue, a writer sitting down in a shebeen in Tel-Aviv – perhaps in our present, perhaps not – to tell a science fiction story.  They sip cheap beer while the rain falls outside and put pen to paper: ‘Once the world was young,’ they begin, ‘The Exodus ships had only begun to leave the solar system then…’ (2)  Our writer in the present addresses us as if were a knowing audience in a far distant future, ‘sojourners’ amongst the stars who tell ‘old stories across the aeons.’  These stories – of ‘our’ past but the author’s fictional future – make up the meat and substance of the book that follows.  It sounds like rather a baroque set-up and it’s barely gestured at but it is thematically fundamental.  Central Station is a book about how the future remembers, about the future’s past. It’s a historical novel as much as a science fiction novel.

Good Morning, Midnight is a bit of a shortlist risk, as shadow jury conversations have proved. Ranging in complaints about too much lyrical sciencing to complaints about too much overt preciousness, overall, the general jury criticism toward the book has been along the lines of “too much too much.” And yet, the novel has been blurbed as a blend of Station Eleven and Kim Stanley Robinson– two supreme yet entirely different approaches to SF, flawed in their own “too much” ways (the first, a well-written, but literary carpet bagging of superficial SF tropes, the other, an over-lingering on most things, including the sublimation of ice). With comparisons like these, Good Morning, Midnight might be just the kind of “too much too much” I, and other Clarke readers, would relish. Besides, it has stars on the cover, a spaceship in the story, and is free of the usual, predictable pew-pew hijinks that tends to come with spaceship stories, so, for those reasons, it seems like something worth discussing within the context of possible Clarke contenders.

If the blurring of the ‘human/animal’ distinction gives Geen’s book its substance, the thriller plot gives it its shape—and here the novel comes a little unstuck. With two plot strands unfolding over the length of the novel, the reader is geared up to expect two conclusions: first, the revelation of whatever it was that caused Kit to flee ShenCorp; and second, the final reckoning. ‘Uncanny Shift’ builds the intrigue, as Kit is invited (not compelled, no, not at all) to work on the development of a new income stream: consciousness tourism. She’s not sure about the ethics of this, as she tells one character:

When discussing Steph Swainston’s fiction within the context of the Clarke Award, it is never long before the question arises: but is it even science fiction? I have heard it said that Swainston’s debut, The Year of Our War, should not have been eligible for the Clarke Award by reason of it being a work of fantasy rather than SF. No doubt similar objections were voiced in respect of the volumes that followed. The old dragons versus spaceships dichotomy, in other words, complicated only by the fact that there are no dragons in Swainston’s Fourlands novels, and there is a strong argument to be made that the multi-generational, FTL space craft so beloved of much heartland science fiction is as much a fantasy as any mythical leviathan and possibly more so.

(19) POWER GRAB. Prosthetic limbs with built-in power cells could be self-charging.

A synthetic skin for prosthetics limbs that can generate its own energy from solar power has been developed by engineers from Glasgow University.

Researchers had already created an ‘electronic skin’ for prosthetic hands made with new super-material graphene.

The new skin was much more sensitive to touch but needed a power source to operate its sensors.

Previously this required a battery but the latest breakthrough has integrated photo-voltaic cells in to the skin.

(20) IN THE END, GOODNESS PREVAILS. NPR says Power Rangers is fun in the end: “In The Agreeably Schlocky ‘Power Rangers,’ ‘Transformers’ Meets ‘The Breakfast Club’”.

Power Rangers cost a little over $100 million to make and looks about half as expensive, unless catering services were provided by Eric Ripert. The five Power Rangers are appealing but bland, as if skimmed from a CW casting call, and Israelite stages the action sequences in a chaotic mass of swish-pans and rapid-fire edits, perhaps to hide the daytime special effects. And yet the film grows steadily more disarming as it approaches the grand finale, in part because it believes so earnestly in the unity necessary for good to defeat evil and in part because everyone appears to be having a ball.

[Thanks to Cat Eldridge, Martin Morse Wooster, David K.M. Klaus, Mark-kitteh, Andrew Porter, Chip Hitchcock, Matthew Johnson, John King Tarpinian, and Standback for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Meredith.]

Pixel Scroll 3/20/17 The Pixelated Empire. Filed, Scrolled And Godstalked Since The Fifth Era

(1) WHAT DID YOU NOMINATE? Arifel compiled the votes reported in “What Did You Nominate for the 2017 Hugos?” and posted the top-level results in comments:

If you want to see the complete tallies with everything that got even one mention, go to this Google drive document.

(2) SECOND STAGE FANSMEN. Rocket Stack Rank is hosting its own compilation of File 770 commenters’ votes in the short fiction categories, which has the advantage of linking to the works online, as well as to RSR’s reviews.

(3) ONE LUMP OR TWO? Congratulations are in order and everyone is invited to “Celebrate 10 Years of the Black Gate Blog!”

There was precisely one comment on that post, a pingback from something called “The Scrolls of Lankhmar.” 8,355 blog posts and 10 years later, the Black Gate blog is stronger than ever, with a staff of 45 volunteers, and two Hugo nominations and a World Fantasy Award under our belt.

Just one thing surprises me – that they are counting Hugo nominations they turned down — withdrawing after the first (though too late to be removed from the ballot), and declining the second. They even got an Alfie for turning down the second.

I admit I was stumped to discover the Science Fiction Awards Database, maintained by Mark R. Kelly of Locus Online, also credits them with two nominations.

I think the final arbiter ought to be the Sasquan and MidAmeriCon II reports of Hugo voting statistics. Black Gate appears in the 2015 report with 489 votes received and the notation “withdrawn after deadline.” In the 2016 report Black Gate is not reported receiving any votes because it was not on the ballot, and in the section counting nominating votes, it is shown above the cutoff but with its name lined out.

So my personal opinion is – Black Gate has one Hugo nomination because it has only appeared on the final ballot one time.

That answer would also square with the way the Science Fiction Awards Database skips over 1996 in its list of File 770’s nominations. I withdrew because I was chair of the Worldcon that year, but the final report shows I still got enough votes to have been a finalist. Since File 770 wasn’t on the ballot, it should not be counted as a 1996 finalist, and isn’t.

(4) A MARTIAN ODYSSEY. WIRED writes about “A Stunning Video of Mars That Took Three Months To Stitch Together – By Hand”.

If you should one day find yourself in a spacecraft circling Mars, don’t count on a good view. The Red Planet’s dusty atmosphere will probably obscure any window-seat vistas of its deep valleys and soaring mesas. “The best way to see the planet’s surface would be to take a digital image and enhance it on your computer,” says planetary geologist Alfred McEwen, principal investigator on NASA’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment. He would know: In the past 12 years, the powerful HiRISE camera has snapped 50,000 spectacular, high-resolution stereo images of the Martian terrain from the planet’s orbit, creating anaglyphs that anyone can view in 3D using special glasses. The highly detailed stereograms depict the planet’s surface in remarkable detail—but 3D glasses aren’t always handy, and still images can only convey so much about Mars’ varied topography.

 

(5) THE WEED OF CRIME. Two of quarterback Tom Brady’s stolen Super Bowl-worn jerseys were recovered from a credentialed member of the international media. A couple of weeks before, Brady had posted a parody suspects list on his Facebook page that includes Gollum and other genre characters.

(6) BEST-OF COMPILATION. At Bookscrolling, “The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of 2016 (A Year-End List Aggregation)”

“What are the best Science Fiction & Fantasy books of 2016?” We aggregated 32 year-end lists and ranked the 254 unique titles by how many times they appeared in an attempt to answer that very question!

There are thousands of year-end lists released every year and, like we do in our weekly Best Book articles, we wanted to see which books appear on them the most. We used 32 Science Fiction & Fantasy book lists and found 254 unique titles. The top 42 books, all appearing on 3 or more lists, are below with images, summaries, and links for learning more or purchasing. The remaining books, along with the articles we used, can be found at the bottom of the page.

(7) OUT OF STEAM. “Denver Based Steampunk Convention Anomaly Con Callls It Quits” – a former guest, Nerd & Tie’s Trae Dorn, is sorry to see it go.

After seven successful events, Denver, CO based steampunk convention Anomaly Con has called it quits. Organizer Kronda Siebert made a lengthy post to both the con’s official website and Facebook page explaining their reasoning. For the most part it sounds like losing ten of their twelve directors over the years (and not having replacements) was a large part of the decision,

(8) BRESLIN OBIT. Columnist Jimmy Breslin died March 19. While reading about him I followed a link to his 1963 piece “Digging JFK grave was his honor”. It was deeply moving and I thought you might like to see it, too.

(9) TODAY’S DAY

World Storytelling Day

Once upon a time, a long time ago (well, actually, back in 1991 in Sweden), a Storytelling Day was held. The ethos behind this event caught on around the globe, and now we celebrate World Storytelling Day on an international level. The aim of World Storytelling Day is to celebrate the art of oral storytelling, with as many people as possible around the world telling and listening to stories in their own languages on the same day. People taking part can link up with others around the globe who are also contributing – making it a truly international festival that creates new friends and promotes positive understanding of cultures around the world! So, go on, sit down with your friends and loved ones and join the United Nations of storytellers on this day of celebrating cultural folklore and the art of oral storytelling! Why not spin a yarn, and pass down your stories to the next generation?

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY FOWL

  • Born March 20 Sesame Street’s Big Bird  

(11) COOKING CORNER. She deserves her own show on the Food Channel.

(12) THE PEOPLE’S CLARKE. More input from the Shadow Clarke Jury.

As readers of the finished work we, of course, don’t begin with a blank page. We start with the first chapter, a half-page that introduces its text in the broadest of strokes: “I grew up in a world of music, in a time of war,” says Priest’s narrator. “I became an inadvertent traveller in time.” In this short chapter, Priest effectively summarises the entire novel. But this only serves to emphasise that being provided with the scaffolding is not the same as being able to walk around the whole edifice. This reflects a key aspect of The Gradual the extent to which an extraordinary experience can be captured in a linear narrative.

If science fiction doesn’t make us look differently at our world, then science fiction doesn’t have a point.

Let me unpack that. Science fiction makes changes in the world, that is one of the key things that makes it science fiction. But that change must connect in some way with how we understand the here and now. An alien in a story makes it science fiction, yes, and the author may have taken great pains to specify the greenness of the skin or the exact length of the tentacles, but unless the intrusion of the alien reflects upon what it is to be human it is little more than wallpaper. When H.G. Wells wrote about Martians invading Surrey it wasn’t a novel about Martians, but about being human in the face of that invasion, about people used to being colonisers suddenly finding themselves colonised. The way the novel looks out into the world is why The War of the Worlds is still read today.

One of the ways in which genre reviewing differs from mainstream reviewing is that genre reviewers have traditionally been willing to go after books that get their facts wrong and fail to achieve verisimilitude. It is easy to understand why mainstream reviewing tends to frown on this type of approach as questioning an author’s use of style directs discussion back towards the book while questioning an author’s grasp of how space elevators are supposed to work only ever results in people slapping their slide-rules down on the table.

I mention this as while I think there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in Joanna Kavenna’s fourth novel, my enjoyment of the book was hampered by my initial urge to disagree with every word of it. In fact, the only thing that kept me from throwing the book across the room was a growing suspicion that I did not so much disagree with A Field Guide to Reality as agree with it far too much.

The story begins in thirteenth-century Oxford where the great and the good of medieval philosophy dine on bread and discuss the nature of reality. Rather than portraying this fledgling academic community as a place of potential and great innovation, Kavenna presents it as dark, dank, and treacherous. Outside the colleges, monks get stabbed for the contents of their pockets. Inside the colleges, monks get burned for the contents of their heads.

(13) REGAL SWIMMER. BBC’s video of this 18th-century masterpiece is a public post on Facebook

The Silver Swan, made by James Cox in London in about 1773, is a life-size clockwork automaton that imitates the behaviour of a real swan. The mechanism is clockwork, of great quality. It plays music, moves its head, preens, and eats a fish.

The Wikipedia entry explains further:

The swan, which is life size, is a clockwork driven device that includes a music box. The swan sits in a “stream” that is made of glass rods and is surrounded by silver leaves. Small silver fish can be seen “swimming” in the stream.

When the clockwork is wound the music box plays and the glass rods rotate giving the illusion of flowing water. The swan turns its head from side to side and also preens itself. After a few moments the swan notices the swimming fish and bends down to catch and eat one. The swan’s head then returns to the upright position and the performance, which has lasted about 32 seconds, is over

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Mark-kitteh, and Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Peer.]

Pixel Scroll 3/2/17 Doing The Trilogy Backwards

(1) RECURSIVE NEWS. The Large Hadron Collider gets a pixel tracker.

Officials said the replacement of a key component inside the CMS experiment represented the first major upgrade to the LHC – the world’s biggest machine.

Engineers have been carefully installing the new “pixel tracker” in CMS in a complex and delicate procedure on Thursday 100m underground….

More than 1,200 “dipole” magnets steer the beam around a 27km-long circular tunnel under the French-Swiss border. At certain points around the ring, the beams cross, allowing collisions to take place. Large experiments like CMS and Atlas then record the outcomes of these encounters, generating more than 10 million gigabytes of data every year.

The CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) pixel tracker is designed to disentangle and reconstruct the paths of particles emerging from the collision wreckage.

“It’s like substituting a 66 megapixel camera with a 124 megapixel camera,” Austin Ball, technical co-ordinator for the CMS experiment, told BBC News.

In simple terms, the pixel detector takes images of particles which are superimposed on top of one another, and then need to be separated.

(2) COLLECTING THE CURE. A bidder paid top dollar for a moldy piece of history.

The mold in question — which actually outpaced early expectations to be sold for a whopping $14,617, according to The Associated Press — is a capsule of the original Penicillium chrysogenum Alexander Fleming was working with when he discovered the antibiotic penicillin. Encased in a glass disc, inscribed with the words “the mould that first made Penicillin,” and signed by Fleming himself, the little sample comes from the collection of Fleming’s niece, Mary Anne Johnston.

(3) GOLD RUSS. James Davis Nicoll has the panelists reading “When It Changed” by Joanna Russ at Young People Read Old SFF.

With this story we enter the 1970s, the last decade in the Young People project . I knew which story I wanted to begin the decade with: Joanna Russ’ 1972 Nebula-winner “When It Changed”. Noted author and critic Russ’s story is a reply to such classics as Poul Anderson’s Virgin Planet, stories in which planets populated entirely by women are granted that most precious of treasures, a man and his unsolicited advice. Russ was not always entirely pleased by the status quo. Subtle hints of her displeasure can be detected in this classic first contact tale.

Of course, we live in a modern era of complete equality between the sexes. Who knows if this story can speak to younger people? Let’s find out!

Here’s one participant’s verdict –

….I’d still be willing to suggest that “When It Changed” is the most relevant of all the stories we’ve read so far in this project. I’m sure this is a very hard to believe statement, especially when you compare the story to some of the others we’ve read (i.e. dolphin-people and doomsday don’t-let-the-sun-set cultists), but I’m willing to say it and stand by it, for a few reasons….

(4) DEALING WITH IT. Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “Business Musings: Writing with Chronic Health Problems” deals with something I’m sure many writers are doing after seeing people’s comments here.

It wasn’t until I got a Fitbit on a lark that exercise became do-not-miss for me. Why? Because I can hit my 10,000 steps even when I’m sick. I shuffle around the house like the walking dead, determined to hit that magic number, because I’m anal, and because finishing my steps every day before midnight is something I can control.

The knee injury got in the way. I made my doctor give me a schedule and benchmarks so that I wouldn’t start up again too soon, but also so that I would start as soon as I could. He thought I was nuts, but he did it. And I followed it, even though I didn’t want to. (I wanted to hobble around the house to hit that magic 10,000 steps.) Even with an injured knee, I got 3,000-4,000 steps per day (using crutches), because I really can’t sit down for very long.

It drives me crazy.

So why am I telling you all of this? This is a writing blog, right?

Because dozens of you have asked me, both privately and in comments, how I write with a chronic health condition.

There really is a trick to the writing while chronically ill. But the trick is personal, and it’s tailored to each individual person.

So, more personal stories—and then tips.

(5) MoPOP. Nominations for next year’s inductees to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame are being taken from the public through April 16.

We’ve opened up our Hall of Fame nominations to the public so that you can choose the creations (e.g. a movie, video game, book, comic/graphic novel, superhero, etc.) and creators (e.g. director, actor, writer, animator, composer, etc.) that have most inspired you!

MoPOP also says the public will be able to vote for the selected finalists later this year, although it’s unclear what impact that vote will have. The website says —

Founded in 1996, the Hall of Fame was relocated from the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas to its permanent home at MoPOP in 2004. Nominations are accepted from the public and the final inductees are chosen by a committee of industry experts.

A public was invited to vote was taken on last year’s nominees, too, but as it says above, selected experts chose the inductees.

(6) NEBULA NOMINEE. Brooke Bolander, who calls this “sputtering,” writes a pretty good thank-you: “Nebula Finalist Frenzy, or: IT HAPPENED AGAIN WTF BBQ”.

Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies,” my thousand-word rage bark published in Uncanny Magazine, is a finalist for the Best Short Story Nebula. Again, to everyone who put it on their ballot: holy shit, thank you so goddamned much. I was helping clean up after a family funeral when I got the call, so to say that I needed that good news is a grave and frankly insulting understatement to the gift you all handed me. I didn’t expect to get on the ballot last year. I figured it was probably the last time I’d be within six city blocks of a ballot for a long, long time, if ever. Is being a finalist again so soon intimidating? You’d better fuckin’ believe it, buster. Is trying to figure out how I am going to follow this up absolutely bowel-twistingly terrifying, the fear that I’ll never write anything else worthwhile once again lurking at the edges of my internal narrative like a shadow beneath a 1 AM streetlamp? DING DING DING.

(7) SURVIVOR. Pat Cadigan is deeply reflective in this installment of “Still Making Cancer My Bitch”.

…At the same time, however, it’s a little spooky to think that, had my cancer followed its standard course––had I not gotten so extremely lucky––I wouldn’t be here now. And the two friends I lost were supposed to be living their lives as usual. John Lennon once pointed out that life is what happens while you’re making other plans. Truer words were never spoken.

A few days ago, I had started writing a post about survivor guilt. There have been a few posts I found very difficult and uncomfortable to write but this one was impossible. I have seldom written nonfiction; it’s really not my metier. I did write two nonfiction books in the late 1990s, one about the making of Lost In Space and another a year later about the making of The Mummy; they were assignments I lucked into and I think they turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. But I digress.

Survivor guilt is one of those things easier felt than explained––easier done than said, if you will. You can’t write about it without sounding like you’re fishing for comfort: Please forgive me for still being alive. You know people are going to tell you that you have nothing to feel guilty about. Except for the few whom you secretly suspect don’t forgive you.

Personally, I’ve always thought of survivor guilt as something suffered by people who have been through terrible catastrophes––natural disasters, mass transit crashes, explosions, wars. These people have been through extreme trauma and injury themselves. So claiming I have survivor guilt sounds self-aggrandising. The truth is, I’ve never been in pain and thanks to my family and my ongoing support system of friends far and wide, I’ve never felt alone or like I had no one to talk to.

What I’m feeling is more like survivor embarrassment. It’s like this: you find out you’re terminal, and you make a big deal out of it, because what the hell, it is a big deal, to you anyway. Then, holy guacamole! Things take a completely unexpected swerve and it turns out you’re not as terminal as they thought. You’re not exactly well, not in remission, but you’re stable and you’re not leaving any time soon unless someone drops a house on you. (And even then, it would probably depend on the house.)

(8) BEAR NECESSITIES. Worldcon 75 has received a 5000 € grant from Art Promotion Centre Finland. If you read Finnish, you can find out the details in the organization’s press release.

(9) ROCK SOLID EVIDENCE. “Oldest fossil ever found on Earth shows organisms thrived 4.2bn years ago”. The Telegraph has the story.

Oldest fossil ever found on Earth shows organisms thrived 4.2bn years ago

It’s life, but not as we know it. The oldest fossil ever discovered on Earth shows that organisms were thriving 4.2 billion years ago, hundreds of millions of years earlier than previously thought.

The microscopic bacteria, which were smaller than the width of a human hair, were found in rock formations in Quebec, Canada, but would have lived in hot vents in the 140F (60C) oceans which covered the early planet.

The discovery is the strongest evidence yet that similar organisms could also have evolved on Mars, which at the time still had oceans and an atmosphere, and was being bombarded by comets which probably brought the building blocks of life to Earth.

….Space expert Dr Dan Brown of Nottingham Trent University added: “The discovery is exciting since it demonstrates how quickly life can form if the conditions are right on a planet or moon.

“This makes it clear to me that as soon as we find conditions on an exoplanet that would favour life as we know it, the probability of finding some form of life on that planet is very high. However, we are not talking about little green aliens but about microorganisms.

(10) ABSTRACT THINKING. Click here for the table of contents of the March issue of Science Fiction Studies which brings us, among other headscratchers, Thomas Strychacz’ “The Political Economy of Potato Farming in Andy Weir’s The Martian” —

Abstract. This essay examines the diverse political-economic registers of Andy Weir’s The Martian (2011) in terms of its symbolic response to the material and ideological crises of the Great Recession. The 2008 financial collapse in the US led to millions losing their homes and posed a serious challenge to the legitimacy of mainstream economic principles. Published at the height of the crisis, and concerning itself with the monumental challenge of bringing just one person home, the novel writes contested economic discourses into cultural fable. On Mars, Mark Watney’s potato farming evokes the paradigmatic neoclassical economic figure of homo economicus, the self-interested, maximizing agent who constantly prioritizes competing choices in order to allocate scarce resources rationally. NASA’s Earth, conversely, is a fantastic world of “unlimited funding” where, overturning two centuries of (neo)classical economic principle, “every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out” (Weir 368-69). The novel’s confused attempts to reconcile homo economicus with a workable concept of the common good can be historicized. Other prominent documents of the recessionary era—the US government’s official Report on the Financial Crisis and Occupy Wall Street’s Declaration among them—manifest the same yearning to restore a vanishing sense of commonwealth.

(11) REVENGE OF THE SON OF THE RETURN OF THE SHADOW CLARKE. Two more shortlists from Shadow Clarke jurors.

One of the things I wanted to do with my shortlist was to explore the idea of the Arthur C. Clarke Award as an institution that challenges the near-monopoly that genre publishing has over not only the field’s annual hype cycle but also over the construction of literary excellence. Traditionally, the Clarke Award has filled this role by smuggling a few choice mainstream titles over the ghetto walls but what if those disruptive tendencies were allowed to manifest themselves more fully? What if the Clarke Award came to represent genre publishing industry’s systematic failure to drive the genre forwards?

In order to come up with a deliberately counter-cultural shortlist, I made several passes through the submissions list in order to rule things out before making more positive choices about the things I wanted to read and write about:

…Second pass: Genre publishing has slowly developed a near-monopoly on the means through which individual works acquire a word-of-mouth buzz. This monopoly is partly a result of publishers and authors developing direct relationships with reviewers and partly a result of critics and reviewers losing influence in the age of Goodreads and Amazon reviews. With most of genre culture’s systems of recommendation skewed in favour of genre imprints and established genre authors, I chose to prioritise works that were either produced outside of conventional genre culture or which have been marginalised by genre publishing and forced towards smaller publishing venues….

…The task of compiling a shortlist is slightly different for the shadow Clarke juror, because there is more scope to set a personal agenda. What do I want my shortlist to be? This question came into sharp focus when I looked at the list of submissions, and realised that I wouldn’t want to shortlist any of the books that I’d already read.

So I have had to fall back on books that I would like to read. On that basis, I decided to orient my shortlist around the idea of discovery, focusing primarily on authors I hadn’t read much before, and taking note of a few strong recommendations from trusted sources….

Mark-kitteh sent the links along with these comments: “I did a spot of tallying up:

  • The Underground Railroad — Colson Whitehead 5
  • Central Station — Lavie Tidhar 4
  • A Field Guide to Reality?— Joanna Kavenna 4
  • The Many Selves of Katherine North?—?Emma Geen 3
  • The Power — Naomi Alderman 3
  • The Gradual?— Christopher Priest 3

“Which conveniently makes a potential shortlist of 6. It’s unlikely to be the final result, but the jurors seem to have more to agree on than to disagree.

“They are followed by another 7 chosen by two jurors, plus 10 singletons with a lone champion. Nick Hubble has the honour of being the only juror with at least one other agreeing with all his choices.”

(12) TRIVIAL TRIVIA

Monopoly Board Games produced after September 2008 come with $20,580 in play money. Standard editions produced before that came with $15,140.

(13) TODAY’S DAY

Today is Dr. Seuss Day, a full twenty-four hours to make a mess with the Cat in the Hat, dance around with the Fox in Sox, hear a Who with Horton, count the red and blue fish, help the Grinch see the error of his ways, and listen to Sam I Am’s friend complain about his dish of green eggs and ham, the ungrateful hairball!

(14) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

(15) EARLY BARR. At Galactic Journey, Victoria Silverwolf has an eye for talent — “[March 1,1962] Hearts and Flowers (April 1962 Fantastic)”:

Appropriately, The April 1962 issue of Fantastic is full of romance, along with the sense of wonder demanded by readers of speculative fiction.

Before we get to the mushy stuff, however, Judith Merril offers us a mysterious look at The Shrine of Temptation.  George Barr’s beautiful cover art appears to have inspired this ambiguous tale of good, evil, and strange rituals.  Barr’s work has appeared in a handful of fanzines for a few years, but I believe this is his first professional publication.  Based on the quality of this painting, I believe the young artist has a fine career ahead of him.

(16) IT’S MERVEILLEUX. At The New York Review of Science Fiction: “Brian Stableford: Madme De Villaneuve and the Origins of the Fantasy Novel”

The first concerted attempt to define and characterize a genre of fantasy fiction was made by Charles-Joseph Mayer between 1785 and 1789 when he published the 41 exemplary volumes of Le Cabinet des fées, ou Collection choisie des contes de fées et autres contes merveilleux [The Cabinet of the Fairies, or, Selected Collection of Fairy Tales and Other Marvelous Tales] in parallel with Charles Garnier’s Voyages imaginaires, songes, visions et romans cabalistiques [Imaginary Voyages, Dreams, Visions, and Cabalistic Fiction]. The latter is now regarded as most significant for the volumes containing imaginary voyages that can be affiliated in retrospect to the nascent genre of roman scientifique [scientific fiction] but, as the full title illustrates, it contains a good deal of material that would nowadays be considered to belong to the fantasy genre, and some of the items, such as Madame Roumier-Robert’s “Les Ondins, conte moral” (1768; tr. as “The Water-Sprites”) would have been perfectly at home in Mayer’s collection. It was, however, Mayer’s assembly that identified the two principal strands of the genre of the merveilleux as the mock folktales that became fashionable in the literary salons of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in association with the court of Louis XIV and tales written in imitation of Antoine Galland’s collection of Les Mille-et-une nuits (1707–19), which claimed to be translations of Arabian folklore, although many of the inclusions are drastically rewritten from the original manuscripts or wholly invented by Galland.

(17) PULLMAN. In “Paradise regained: ‘His Dark Materials’ is even better than I remembered”, the Financial Times’ Nilanjana Roy uses the forthcoming publication of The Book of Dust to discuss how she read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy ten years ago and how much she enjoyed these books. (The article is behind a paywall; the link is to a Google cache which can be read after taking a survey.)

The first in the trilogy is the most memorably dazzling, a classic quest story where the young Lyra travels to the north, befriending armoured bears and witch-queens. She has a daemon, Pantalaimon — most people in her world do, the daemon being an animal who is the external manifestation of a person’s inner spirit — and that is what I remembered most about the trilogy. When His Dark Materials came out, most of my friends abandoned their dignity and played games of Guess His Daemon? assigning slinking jackals or brown marmorated stink bug daemons to those they didn’t like.

(18) IT PAYS NOT TO BE IGNORANT. BoingBoing tells about the Norwegian news site that makes readers pass a test proving they read the post before commenting on it.

The team at NRKbeta attributes the civil tenor of its comments to a feature it introduced last month. On some stories, potential commenters are now required to answer three basic multiple-choice questions about the article before they’re allowed to post a comment. (For instance, in the digital surveillance story: “What does DGF stand for?”)

(19) THE CULTURE WARS.  Yes, it’s Buzzfeed – perhaps someday you’ll forgive me. “This Far-Right Tweet About ‘The Future That Liberals Want’ Backfired Into A Huge Meme”. A lot of tweets have been gathered in this post – here are three examples, the tweet that started everything, one of the pushback, and a third from the bizarre spinoffs.

(Buzzfeed says the photo was originally posted on @subwaycreatures, where it was used to “showcase the beauty of New York’s diversity.”)

Finally:

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, Cat Eldridge, JJ, and Mark-kitteh for some of these stories. Title inspiration credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Lis Carey.]

Pixel Scroll 2/21/17 Troll, Troll, Where’s My Scroll? Gone To The Pixel, Lol Lol Lol!

(1) SPIRIT QUEST. The Society of Illustrators in New York City will host a Will Eisner centennial exhibit from March 1-June 3.

  • An opening reception will be held at the Society of Illustrators on the evening of March 10, from 7:30 – 11:00pm. Suggested donation of $20 helps support our programming and exhibitions. Cash bar will be open until midnight.
  • On April 22, there will be a gallery talk led by curators Denis Kitchen and John Lind.
  • A panel discussion on Will Eisner is scheduled for May 9.

The lasting legacy that Will Eisner (1917–2005) has in sequential art cannot be overstated—he is known as the Champion of the Graphic Novel. His innovative storytelling, layouts, and art on his newspaper series The Spirit inspired a generation of cartoonists, and his turn toward an acclaimed run of graphic novels, beginning in 1978 with A Contract with God, helped pioneer the form. Among the honors bestowed upon Eisner are the Reuben Award, the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award, the Yellow Kid Award, and multiple Harvey Awards and Eisner Awards—the latter of which were named in his honor.

This two-floor retrospective—the largest Eisner exhibition ever in the United States—curated by Denis Kitchen and John Lind, comprises over 150 pieces including original artwork from Smash Comics (1939), key sequences from his graphic novels including A Contract with God (1978), Life on Another Planet (1983), A Life Force (1988), To the Heart of the Storm (1991), and over 40 pages of originals from The Spirit (1940–1952) newspaper section.

SI is located at 128 East 63rd Street between Lexington and Park Avenue in New York City.

(2) DRAGON CON LOSING AWARD? SF Site News carried the Parsec Awards announcement that they are surveying fans about their receptivity to a virtual awards ceremony in place of the annual presentations at Dragon Con. The Parsec Awards “celebrate speculative fiction podcasting.” From the awards site —

This is not something we take lightly. Over the years the awards ceremony has been an opportunity for us to share laughs, music, triumph and tragedy as a community. You, who have supported us and each other, are the reason the awards exist and we would be remiss if we didn’t attempt to serve you in the best way possible.

We feel that a virtual awards ceremony may help us do that.

By dissociating the awards with Dragon*Con, we feel that more of our community will be able to participate. No longer will travel to Atlanta be a prerequisite for presenters, entertainers or recipients. Many of those who attended Dragon*Con even found their schedules did not allow their attendance at the awards. We also feel that we can have a better chance of securing judges’ time when we are not smack in the middle of Con season as we can now have some flexibility in scheduling the awards.

So far 73% of the respondents to the survey favor moving to a virtual awards ceremony.

(3) ONE STOP. Marco Zennaro has organized a cover gallery for the “2016 Nebula Award Nominees” plus a synopsis of each work and links where to buy or find them for free.

(4) PRAISE FOR RAMBO. Rich Horton comments on “Nebula Nominees”.

Three stories that showed up on my list of potential Hugo nominees. (“Red in Tooth and Cog” was on my Short Story list (my word count for it is 7000, making it technically a Short Story but eligible for nomination as a Novelette).) The other two are “Blood Grains Speak Through Memories” and The Jewel and Her Lapidary. (Curious that in length those three stories are at the very bottom end of novelette, right in the middle, and at the very top end.) The remaining three stories are decent work that I didn’t have listed among my favorites of the year, but none of them strike me as poor stories. So, again, a pretty strong shortlist, with my personal inclinations favoring either Cat Rambo’s story or Jason Sanford’s story; with Fran Wilde’s a close third — a win for any of those would make me happy.

UPDATE: Apparently there is no deadband for Nebula nominations, and “Red in Tooth and Cog” has been declared too short for novelette. It would have been nominated as a Short Story, but Cat Rambo graciously declined the nomination.

This is a shame from my point of view — Rambo’s story is (to my taste) definitely one of the best couple of stories on either the short story or novelette list, and so the shortlist is diminished by its absence. (“The Orangery”, the replacement novelette, is a fine story, to be sure, but not as good as “Red in Tooth and Cog” (in my opinion).)

This also makes the overall shortlist even more Fantasy-heavy (vs. SF), which is of course totally allowed, but to my taste again a bit to be regretted. I do think the Nebulas recently are tending to lean a bit heavily to the Fantasy side.

(5) NOW READ THE STORY FREE. You can find “Red in Tooth and Cog” in its entirety online at at Cat Rambo’s website.

(6) GONE WITH THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS. In a piece called “Warfighter: Toad Hall”, The Angry Staff Officer reimagines The Wind in the Willows as if it were a wargame for military strategists to analyze, complete with the use of animal intelligence or AMINT.

How Wind in the Willows can teach us about small unit actions in warfare.

That sound? Oh, that’s just the clunking of heads hitting desks, as people react to their beloved childhood book being brought under the scrutiny of the military microscope. But really, we’d be doing an injustice to that mighty asymmetric warfighter, the Badger, if we neglected to share his courageous story with an entirely new generation of military strategists. Wind in the Willows is not a military work by any means. But the Battle for Toad Hall bears noting, because Kenneth Grahame unwittingly factored in some key elements of small unit warfare.

(7) BELLE CHIMES IN. Emma Watson sings in this new Beauty and the Beast clip.

(8) SUCH A DEAL. Director Alfred Hitchcock paid $9,000 anonymously for the film rights to Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho.

(9) SAVAGELAND. The award-winning Savageland from Terror Films will be released online February 24.

Terror Films has locked in a U.S. release date for the multi-award winning film, Savageland. To celebrate the film’s February launch, a “Dead Alive” clip is available, now!

The film is centered on the night of June 2, 2011. On this date, the largest mass murder in American history occurs in the off-the-grid border town of Sangre de Cristo, Arizona, just a few miles north of Mexico. The entire population of fifty-seven disappears overnight and the next morning nothing is left but blood trails leading into the desert.

 

(10) LENGTHENING SHADOW. The final three Shadow Clarke jury members introduce themselves, followed by the first shortlist post.

In the world of translation lit-blogging, I also discovered the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (now Man Booker International Prize) shadow jury. The idea was that a group of bloggers would read the Prize longlist; write about and discuss the books; create their own shortlist; and choose their own winner. It sounded great fun, so I asked to join – and it was.

I’ve had such wonderful times as a shadow juror, it has become a highlight of my reading year. I’m delighted that Nina Allan has adapted the idea for the Clarke Award, and excited to be participating in the project. I look forward to new conversations about science fiction, new insights, thoughts and perspectives.

These days I would describe myself as a reader on the outer edge of the sf genre; a frequent dipper of toes but a dipper nonetheless. I say that in context. I read 100 fiction books last year, of which just under a quarter could be characterised as science fiction or fantasy.  That’s quite a significant proportion I suppose, and if asked I would identify sf as something I’m interested in.  But I know that in some parts of the reading universe that’s not a great deal, and that what I’ve read doesn’t qualify me as an expert in any shape or form. At the most basic level I think of my role in the shadow judging process in this way: I’m the kind of person who uses the Clarke Award as a litmus test of quality and a steer to sf books to look out for.  I’m looking for ways to supplement the limits of my expertise and this is one of them.  As a reader of predominantly ‘literary’ and historical fiction I’d like to think the Clarke shortlist is a shortcut to the most critically challenging, engaging and powerful fiction in the field in any given year.

Even as I grew to recognise science fiction as a specific branch of literature, I remained wholly ignorant, for a long time, of the culture surrounding it. I had no idea there was such a thing as SF fandom and, most likely because I knew no one else who read SF or even knew about it beyond the Doctor Who or Star Wars level, I rather think I cherished the idea that novels like The Time Machine and The Day of the Triffids had been written especially for me. How could it be otherwise, when these books contained everything I might hope to find in a story: mystery, adventure, that fabled sense of wonder and that secret silver seam of something else, something that tastes like fear but is closer to awe.

[Before I start, I would like to state for the record that for the purposes of the shadow jury I am pretending that The Gradual – written by my partner Christopher Priest – does not exist. As such I will not be considering it for inclusion in my personal shortlist, or talking about it in this post.] 

So here we are again – the submissions list for the 2017 Clarke Award has just been posted, and the speculation about the runners and riders can officially begin. I’ve been playing this game by myself for a number of years now, poring over the list, winnowing the wheat from the chaff, trying to arrive at a list of six books that I would consider my ‘ideal’ shortlist. It’s never easy. Out of the thirty to forty novels I would personally consider as genuine contenders – and for me that would be books that aren’t zombie/vampire/horror/fantasy novels with no science fictional sensibility or run-of-the-mill commercial SF – there are always around eight to ten I could pick quite happily, with the result that I usually end up feeling I’ve short-changed one book or another by not including it in my reckoning.

(11) MONSTER ARTIST. A Guardian interview: “Emil Ferris: ‘I didn’t want to be a woman – being a monster was the best solution’”.

There has never been a debut graphic novel quite like Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. The 55-year-old artist’s first published work, which came out last week, is a sweeping 60s-era murder mystery set in the cartoonist’s native Chicago. It’s composed of ballpoint pen drawings on wide-ruled notebook paper and is the first half of the story with the second volume out in October. Before she began work on Monsters, Ferris paid the bills with freelance work as an illustrator and a toy designer, making figurines for McDonald’s – she sculpted the Mulan line of Happy Meal prizes for one of the fast food behemoth’s subcontractors – and for Tokyo toymaker Tomy, for whom she worked making the Tea Bunnies line of dolls.

But in 2001, Ferris contracted West Nile virus. At the time a 40-year-old single mother, Ferris’s work was all freelance, she said – with the effects of west Nile hindering the use of three of her limbs, her work dried up, and she looked for another outlet, in part for her creative output, and in part to exercise a dominant hand damaged by the effects of the disease. She went back to school and produced My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, which draws on her own childhood and on the experiences of family and friends who survived the Holocaust. But when her book was finished the Chinese company shipping the copies from the printer in South Korea to the United States went bankrupt and the whole print run was held hostage at the Panama Canal by the shipping company’s creditors along with the rest of the cargo on the ship carrying it.

Now, it is finally here.

(12) LOADED SF. Joshua Sky tells Tor.com readers about “Collecting Philip K. Dick: Science Fiction’s Most Powerful Gateway Drug”.

Philip K. Dick has a way of taking the reader there. Each of his novels presents a whole new experience in of itself; a totally different world that is both new yet enticingly familiar. The reader, upon finishing the book, finds that they’re no longer the same person who started it. As I’ve said, his work is perception-altering.

By age 22, I landed my first job out of college at Marvel Entertainment—it was just as the crash of 2008 was happening, so I was relieved to find something full-time. In my department was a Japanese fellow, Teru, who also collected PKD’s work and we bonded over that, swapping books and chatting about our interpretations of his stuff. Teru suggested that I also read Alfred Bester and J.G. Ballard. Another friend and co-worker during this time was a Brooklynite named Eric. We’d met at Brooklyn College and would discuss Dick’s work and make up different word games–my personal favorite was coming up with bad titles for PKD novels (since Dick himself had some deeply strange titles for his books, such as The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, to cite just two examples.)

The more I read, the more I learned about PKD himself. Turns out, most of what he wrote was first draft material with just a bit of polishing. He’d probably laugh at how most of the universities have trained an entire generation of writers to be self conscious and to over-rewrite, probably one of the most detrimental things a writer can do.

(13) LIBERATED JEDI. FANAC.org has added to its YouTube channel the video of MidAmeriCon’s (1976) audience Q&A session with the producer and leading man from the yet-to-be-released movie Star Wars.

Right out of the gate, some fan questions Princess Leia’s costume choice, and asks haven’t they seen covers of Amazing?

Gary Kurtz answers, “And we’ve got to remember women’s liberation. At this time we can’t be, we aren’t sexually selling females or males in this film.”

You didn’t know that, did you?

MidAmeriCon, the 34th World Science Fiction Convention, was held in Kansas City in 1976. Before the film was released, before Star Wars and George Lucas were household names, producer Gary Kurtz, star Mark Hamill and marketing director Charles Lippincott came to MidAmeriCon to promote Star Wars. This Q&A session is full of fascinating background information about the film, the filming and the attitudes of the Star Wars team. For example, listen to Kurtz talk about the massive $18M gate they would need to break even. This is brought to you by the FANAC Fan History Project, with video from the Video Archeology project (coordinated by Geri Sullivan, with technical work by David Dyer-Bennet).

 

[Thanks to Andrew Porter, JJ, Darrah Chavey, Mark-kitteh, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Stoic Cynic.]

Leading Critics Form Clarke Award “Shadow” Jury

Nina Allan has announced a “shadow” jury will critique the Clarke Award this year, composed of Megan AM (“The AM stands for Anti-Matter”), Vajra Chandrasekera, David Hebblethwaite, Victoria Hoyle, Nick Hubble, Paul Kincaid, Maureen Kincaid Speller, and Jonathan McCalmont.

Allan explains in her introduction:

The idea is not to ‘challenge’ the official jury in any way, but to bring more to the party: more readers, more critics, more books, more discussion. And the beauty of a shadow jury is that everything can be out in the open. Over the following weeks and months, you’ll be able to read along with us, find out which books we love and which we’re not so wild about – and more to the point, why. I’d bet there isn’t a single Clarke-watcher out there who hasn’t at some point found themselves completely at a loss over some jury decision or other.

THROWING SHADE. Will fans feel a thrill of controversy because the group is taking the form of a jury, and reminding people about occasions when they were “completely at a loss” at a Clarke jury decision? (No one will soon forget Christopher Priest’s rant about the 2012 shortlist.) Will the prestigious critics on the shadow jury – some of them among the best-known working today – end up overshadowing the official jury? Is there any reason to mind if they do?

STATEMENTS AND MANIFESTOS. The Anglia Ruskin Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy, hosting the jury online, has launched its activities with lengthy justifications. And as an added resource, they have posted Paul Kincaid’s introduction to a 2006 essay collection about the award-winners.

ANNOUNCING THE SHADOW CLARKE 2017: a note from the Centre by Helen Marshall

The Arthur C. Clarke awards are different from the Hugos in that shortlist and eventual winner are determined solely by a juror, thus, in many respects, bypassing the contentious process of lobbying and promotion that has accompanied voted awards. And yet the award has been no less controversial. Paul Kincaid, in his introduction to The Arthur C. Clarke Award: A Critical Anthology, writes that the original organisers at no point set out firm criteria for what was meant by “best”, by “science fiction”, or even by “novel” (12). In consequence, the earnest debates—of individual juries as well was the broader community of reviewers and critics—have both through their agreement and their opposition sketched out a fascinating survey of what science fiction might have meant in any given year.

After the Clarke award celebration in 2016, when Nina Allan first approached me about arranging a shadow jury of the Clarke Awards, I could see the value of the suggestion. Similar experiments have been illuminating in respect to mainstreams awards such as the prestigious Man Booker Prize, but no such experiment, to my knowledge, has been undertaken for a science fiction award. 2017 seems a particularly auspicious year to begin particularly because it is a time in which many in the community feel the need for an outlet for reasoned debate and discussion. Of course it isn’t our intention that the shadow jury will challenge the decision of the conventional jury; rather the value of the experiment comes, I think, in expanding the commentary. Questions about the state of the field and the underlying definitions of “best” and “science fiction” continue to be meaningful, particularly in an industry that is increasingly dominated by marketing categories and sales figures rather than criticism. What science fiction is and what it ought to be doing should continue to be debated if the field is going to evolve beyond the commercial pressures that inevitably influence the decision to publish.

ANNOUNCING THE SHADOW CLARKE 2017: an introduction and a manifesto by Nina Allan

It goes without saying that the overall health of a literary award is determined by the quality of the debate surrounding it. No matter how lucrative the prize or how glossy the promotion, no award can remain relevant or even survive unless people – readers, critics and fans alike – are actively talking about the books in contention. For readers, fans and critics to remain engaged, an award must aspire to foster an intellectual climate in which rigorous and impassioned debate is seen as an important and significant aspect of the award itself. Such a climate will by definition ensure that an award can not only survive, but flourish.

Inspired by the shadow juries that have worked wonders in enlivening the climate of debate around mainstream literary awards over the past few years, we thought it would be a fantastic idea to harness some of the considerable critical talent that exists within the SFF community in similarly enlivening the climate of debate and critical engagement around the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

The normal process by which shadow juries operate involves a panel of shadow jurors – usually drawn from those readers, critics and book bloggers who habitually follow the award – reading the official longlist of their chosen award when it is released, reviewing the books individually and then coming together as a jury to decide on a shadow shortlist: that is, the shortlist they would have chosen had they been the official jury. When the official shortlist for the prize is announced, the shadow jury would then critique that shortlist, before once again convening to vote on their shadow winner. In the case of the shadow juries for awards such as the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (now the Man Booker International) and the Baileys Prize, the shadow winner has normally been unveiled on the evening before the announcement of the official prize. One need only cast a casual glance around the literary blogosphere to see how the presence of shadow juries within the literary landscape has increased the feeling of excitement and personal involvement on the part of readers, armchair critics and students of literature.

Because the Arthur C. Clarke Award does not at present implement a longlist stage, the formula we have agreed upon is a little different, but will hopefully prove at least as effective in fostering debate, if not more so.

Our panel of shadow jurors will convene when the submissions list for the Arthur C. Clarke Award is made public. From the list of these submissions, each shadow juror will then select their own personal, preferred shortlist of six books – these could be books they have already read, books they are keen to read, or a mixture of the two. Having chosen their shortlist, each juror will commit to reading and reviewing their six books before eventually declaring the ‘winner’ they would have chosen, had their shortlist been the official one. We believe that by giving each shadow juror the opportunity to select and discuss what they believe was ‘best’ in ‘science fiction’ in 2016, the Shadow Clarke will be able to showcase a wider variety of books, writers and styles of science fiction, thus generating a sense of involvement and inclusion across the entire length and breadth of science fiction fandom. It goes without saying that we would encourage fans and readers beyond the shadow jury to read along with us, to posit their own guesses and above all to disagree with our choices! That is what critical engagement is all about.

INTRODUCTION from The Arthur C. Clarke Award: a critical anthology by Paul Kincaid

[[Paul Kincaid has been on over a dozen Clarke Award juries, many times serving as the chair. He co-edited The Arthur C. Clarke Award: A Critical Anthology (2006) with Andrew Butler, another frequent juror and chair. This is an excerpt from his introduction.]]

…Since Clarke wanted to use the award to encourage British science fiction, our second topic for debate was whether the award should be limited to British writers. In the end we all felt that there were just too few British writers to make that sustainable, so we decided that the award would be for the best science fiction novel receiving its first British publication in the year.

…It is what was left to the jury that has made the Arthur C Clarke Award both idiosyncratic and controversial, often at the same time. At no point did we decide what was meant by ‘best’, by ‘science fiction’, or even by ‘novel’. Consequently, the jury meetings I’ve taken part in have featured some very lively debates on each of these topics – and no two juries have ever arrived at precisely the same definitions.

It is, however, the very nature of those debates, the fact that what is considered ‘best’ or ‘science fiction’ is going to be different every year, that has made the Arthur C Clarke Award such a lively and essential survey of the year in science fiction. As The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by Peter Nicholls and founding judge John Clute is at pains to point out, the award was controversial from its very first year. When Margaret Atwood received the first Arthur C Clarke Award for The Handmaid’s Tale, it seemed that the Award was deliberately turning its back on the core of the genre (particularly given that the runner-up that year was Bob Shaw’s The Ragged Astronauts – not, as Edward James has suggested, Samuel R. Delany’s Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand). In fact what I think that first jury was doing, after what I recall as very close debate, is something that has been a surprisingly recurrent practice of juries since then: they were not looking in towards the heart of the genre, but outwards from the genre. As Nicholas Ruddick points out, The Handmaid’s Tale has had such resonance, both within and outwith the genre, that it is hard to think why it might ever have been considered a controversial choice.

Of course, that was far from the only time that the Award has skirted controversy. If stimulating debate, not to say heated argument, is one way of raising awareness of science fiction, then we have to admit that the Award has been a rousing success since the start. Tempers have tended to fray most when the Award is imagined to be flirting with the mainstream. There was even jeering at the presentation of the Award to Marge Piercy for Body of Glass (again, I suspect, this was at least in part because the runner up was another popular genre favourite, Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson). But, as Maureen Kincaid Speller shows, you don’t need a rocket ship on the cover to raise exactly the problematic issues of who we are and what we might become which are supposedly central to everything we understand about science fiction.

… Of course the job of the Award is to raise awareness of science fiction, not just inside the genre but more generally, but that is not achieved by saying science fiction and the mainstream are the same. Rather, the Award points out how many interesting, exciting, challenging and innovative things there are to be done with genre materials, some of those things speak to the core of the genre and some bring a freshness and vitality to mainstream, and some do both….

[Thanks to Mark-kitteh for the story.]