Dian Crayne (1942-2017)

Dian Crayne

Author Dian Crayne, 75, was discovered dead in her Northern California home on October 4 by police making a welfare check at the request of friends after she failed to show up for their book club meeting.

Writing under her maiden name, Dian Girard, she had numerous short stories published in Galaxy, Amazing, and anthologies edited  by Jerry Pournelle and John F. Carr. The Internet SF Database shows her first published story, “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry” appeared in 1974. (There are some author pages that cite a much earlier date, possibly having confused this work with Katherine MacLean’s similarly-titled short story.)

After leaving her career as a technical writing manager for Xerox, Crayne began publishing mystery and sf novels under the pseudonym J.D. Crayne. These included The Cosmic Wheel, the Mark Stoddard mysteries, and the Captain Spycer space operas, which she called her “Silverlock for science fiction,” referencing the well-known literary pastiche by John Myers Myers.

She married Bruce Pelz in 1964. They had one daughter, Cecy. Dian was pregnant when she attended the LASFS 1965 Halloween Party, notorious because while it was in progress an assailant outside fired three shots through the window. No one was struck by the bullets, but Dian was cut by flying debris. As she recalled for File 770:

Yes, I remember that incident VERY well. Bill Rotsler and I were sitting in a window seat, talking, and the bullet went between us. I had wood splinters in my cheek, Bill remarked later that he thought momentarily that for some reason one of my earrings had exploded. (He used to say later on that we had been “under fire together.”) Of course, everyone in the room hit the deck, and I remember calling out to Bruce [Pelz], “Don’t get excited, but I think I’ve been hit.” Only splinters, though.

[At the time] I was pregnant with Cecy and she was born in March of 1966.

As for the location, it was wherever Don Simpson and his house mates were living at the time. Don dug the bullet out of the woodwork and I talked him into giving it to me. Alas, I lost it during one of our moves.

The surmise was that the shooter was one of a small group of people who had tried party-crashing earlier in the evening and been ejected. The police came and took statements, but no one was ever picked up for it.

Bruce and Dian divorced on amicable terms at the end of the decade – and in fact threw a divorce party, with Jack Harness officiating, in 1970 that helped inspire Larry Niven’s “What Can You Say about Chocolate-Covered Manhole Covers?”

Dian and Chuck Crayne wed on March 5, 1972 and were married for 36 years, ending with Chuck’s death in 2009.

She was one of the many women to whom Robert A. Heinlein dedicated Friday (1982).

I met her in person a few times, including at a FAPA collating party she and Chuck hosted in the Seventies. However, it was only the past few years on Facebook that I really had a chance to enjoy her legendry intelligence, wit, and empathy. It was a privilege, and I will miss her.

[Thanks to Lee Gold for the story.]

Lifetime Positive

First meeting at the original LASFS clubhouse (1973). Jack Harness stands at left, Harlan Ellison in the doorway. Elst Weinstein is seated. Photo by Stan Burns.

[First published in 2002.]

By Mike Glyer: Early in Ian Fleming’s novel Moonraker James Bond is driving at night and spots an ominous neon sign flashing the message HELL IS HERE over and over. He rounds a hillock and once the sign is in full view sees it’s only an advertisement that SUMMER SHELL IS HERE. But I’m sure the Friday night card players would have loved adorning the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society clubhouse with the neon sign James Bond thought he saw in the days when we were obsessed by a game called “Hell’s Bridge.”

Two regulars at the game were Jack Harness and Bruce Pelz, legendary fans who both passed away within the last year, Jack on July 13, 2001 and Bruce on May 9, 2002. Mourning the loss of two of the best-known fans of their generation is appropriate, yet so is joyfully remembering their great humor and colorful personalities. I spent many hours together with them in LASFS activities, often at the card tables. The best moments sounded like this:

FRANK GASPERIK: I bid five.
MIKE FRANK: A man with a long suit.
JACK HARNESS: With a trap in the back.
BRUCE PELZ: I know what kind of opening to give you.
JACK HARNESS: But…but…but…
BRUCE PELZ: You assed for it.
MIKE GLYER: (scribbling furiously) Pun slower!

Hell’s Bridge, never actually called by anything but its first name, preoccupied about a dozen players every Friday evening. The game bears a faint resemblance to bridge in that there is a trick-taking and a trump suit (determined by a cut of the cards.) But every player makes a contract for the number of tricks he expects to take, and the total tricks bid may not equal the number of tricks available (it can be under or over.) Since the onus of that rule generally falls on the last person to bid, the dealer, people constantly refer to the “DDA” – dealer’s disadvantage.

Hell is a comparatively inexpensive game to lose: a bad night would set me back the equivalent of a burger and Coke. Yet playing Hell still inflicted all the intensity and madness of more prestigious games like poker. (At least, I never envisioned Bret Maverick saying, “My daddy always told me ‘Never gamble, stick to Hell’s Bridge.’”)

The legendary LASFS poker games went away in the mid-70s when the hosts of the old Thursday night gatherings gave up in exhaustion and the games weren’t allowed to move into the new clubhouse. Members believed even penny-ante gambling would surely lead to a police raid, whereas poker without betting is even duller than a bar without booze. On the other hand members did allow Hell to be played there because it was tracked with a scoresheet, not played with chips or cash, and not hostage to the potential nightmare of the club’s five-and-dime riverboat gamblers wallowing in their loose change when the LAPD kicked the door and charged in with the vice squad.

As Hell grew in popularity those of us who had an early start in the game profited greatly from the neos who came along and received an expensive education. But time was not on our side. In the good old days, Jack Harness finished cleaning out one table full of players (while the LASFS Board of Directors met in the front room), threw open the door, hollered, “Fresh fish!” and they came running to fill up the next game. All too soon, all the new players became competitive. It got very rugged for all but the best. Even Bruce Pelz and Jack Harness had runs of ill luck that were mercilessly exploited. That produced some mythic bursts of temper. Long has the story been told of the night Pelz, hosting a game at his apartment and doing badly, ripped the leg off his card table and chased the players into the night. Doubt it if you like. I can only testify that I never saw him rip a leg off a card table…

Other legends of the game included Marty Massoglia. He gained fame as “Captain Suicide” during a phase when he started jumping to conclusions about whether he would make his bid on a hand, and when it looked bad to him, he abandoned all pretense of making his bid in order to prevent others from making theirs. Conversely, Mike Shupp’s brief career at the Hell table earned him the nickname of “Robin Hood,” because he would junk his chances to make his own hand in order to sabotage a player he felt had bid too ambitiously.

JACK HARNESS: I don’t want to sit on the right hand of Captain Suicide.
BRUCE PELZ: Then sit on his other hand and we’ll both be out of trouble.

Those of us who frequented LASFS card games in the early 70’s saw that Bruce tracked his wins and losses in a pocket diary. While his memory was famous — thus his nickname, the Elephant – he was also a prolific list-maker and recordkeeper. With the advent of personal computers Bruce was soon keeping track of everyone’s wins and losses. Once accounts were settled for the night, Bruce would take the scoresheets home and enter the data. He assigned everyone a “handle” — real names were not used on the printouts. Years passed and we still expected the place to be raided by the vice squad at any moment.

The players with the cumulative best records were dubbed “The Hell-5 Society.” The top five scorers of the year got first crack at playing in the game held at the Nivens’ New Year’s Eve Party.

Players who were cumulatively in the black were referred to as “lifetime positive.” I think I was about $20 to the good when I stopped playing regularly after 15 years, so what was that, an average winning of slightly more than a buck a year? But as more newcomers came along and joined the minus column, a mystique grew up around anyone who had managed not to give all his money to Pelz and the other sharks.

If (in the parlance of comic collectors) Hell’s Bridge represented the Silver Age of LASFS cardplaying, its Golden Age had been the weekly poker sessions at the Nivens’ house in Brentwood. There was an endless parade of great fannish names through the game (I would like to have played poker against Dick Geis). Those poker games were, in fact, the reason I joined LASFS. Joe Minne lived upstairs in our dorm at USC and said he often went to club meetings and then went over to Larry Niven’s house to play poker.

The first time Joe took a couple of us with him, he turned his ancient Ford T-Bird off Sunset onto a dark side street whose mist-shrouded lamps must have inspired “Of A Foggy Night.” When we got into the house Larry Niven said hello and asked Minne, “Can you vouch for these two?” Insuring the integrity of the poker game was probably the least reason Niven asked for assurance: what mattered was the art collection. His home was like a year-round Worldcon art show, walls covered with huge framed Tim Kirk drawings and Wendy Pini original pastel paintings. The burglar alarm system would be no protection against light-fingered fans pretending to be poker players.

I kept going back and the welcome became warmer. After all, I had the one utterly endearing trait of losing quietly, though I could only afford to lose about $3 and then I was done for the evening. Once I accidentally left with a poker chip in my pocket and endured the embarrassment of calling Larry to confess because I needed to be able to get my dollar back next week. Joe Minne, on the other hand, answered each setback by opening his checkbook and saying, “Ahhhh!” I played at the cheap table, hosted by Fuzzy Pink Niven, and there was also a “blood” table where Larry presided over sharks like Jerry Pournelle, whose skill kept him from ever having to fill out the worn personal check he tossed in when he drew his poker chips to start the night.

A certain machismo compelled a few to play at the “blood” game who weren’t equal to it and they made losing their rent a routine, prompting Larry to conclude that “Some people win by winning, and some people win by losing.” There was a high level of pseudo-psychiatric analysis: if you screwed up at poker, your whole lifestyle was bound to be called into question. And for someone losing $200 within a few weeks, this was not unreasonable.

The Nivens set a generous sideboard for these games, which some visitors managed to abuse by melting cheese all over the toaster oven or helping themselves uninvited to the good brandy. The Nivens resorted to posting a dittoed “Rules of the House” which I regret not having kept. At last they moved out of Brentwood and the club relocated to the San Fernando Valley. The era of poker games breaking up at dawn came to an end – and descended into Hell.

Pixel Scroll 8/26/17 M. Glyer’s Classic Tale Of Wretched Hives And High Tsundokus

(1) CAN’T STOP THE BLEEDING. Have comic cons reached a saturation point, or is it a problem with this company in particular, which turned over CEOs last year? ICv2 says gateshow runner Wizard World continues to tank — “Wizard World Sales Drop Nearly 50%”.

Wizard World has released its Q2 financials, and the situation has deteriorated even further from the big loss in Q1 (see “Wizard World Revenue Decline Produces Big Operating Loss“).  Sales declined 49% in Q2 compared to the same quarter last year, and the company had an operating loss of $1.9 million, compared to a $475,000 operating profit in Q2 2016.

…The company says it is planning 22 events in 2017, and hoping to increase revenue over 2016.  That seems a bit of a stretch at this point, with first half sales over $6 million less in 2017 than in 2016.

(2) HOLLYN ON CARSON CENTER ADVISORY BOARD. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln announces: “Carson Center taps arts, entertainment leaders”.

Twenty-five international leaders and innovators in new media will offer their advice and expertise to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s new Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts.

Founding Director Megan Elliott on Aug. 23 announced the center’s initial advisory board, which will partner in the center’s strategic planning and offer valuable industry insight. The board includes leaders in art, technology, gaming, television and film, design, interactivity, communications and business, among other fields, with experience and connections with mainstays such as Lucasfilm, YouTube, Google, Disney and Paramount Pictures.

One of them is a longtime fan —

Norman Hollyn, the Michael Kahn Endowed Chair in Film Editing at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Hollyn is a longtime film, TV and music editor.

(3) UNCOMFORTABLY CLOSE. Now that its publisher’s attempt to game the NY Times Bestseller list has caused the internet to turn a glaring spotlight on Handbook for Mortals, more of their tricks are coming to light — like the cover’s similarity to another artist’s work.

(4) IT GETS VERSE. And Fran Wilde has commemorated the book’s delisting with this parody:

(5) KEEP THE MONEY COMING. Sofawolf’s Kickstarter to publish T. Kingfisher’s Summer in Orcus as an illustrated book has reached all its stretch goals, but if in the remaining hours of the drive they hit $28K then backers will be rewarded with an ebook edition of Black Dogs by Kingfisher’s closer personal friend Ursula Vernon. 🙂

So what’s next? We’ve gone over the financial numbers and everything that we have already committed to, and don’t see enough room for another physical thing without having to introduce some new levels and the resulting chaos that would cause. However, just because we can’t offer another physical thing, doesn’t mean we can’t add on a virtual one.

Many years back, we edited and published the first novel Ursula ever wrote, Black Dogs, as a two-part print edition. For a whole host of reasons (mostly lack of time) we have been slow to tackle the conversion of much of our backlist into eBook format, but we know more than a few of you have been requesting Black Dogs for some time.

Now will be that time.

We’ve gotten the okay from Ursula to release the eBook editions for free to the Kickstarter backers as part of the final stretch goal, which we are going to set at $28K (since we are already almost at $23K and we expect the usual last week frenzy). This will be added to all levels from $8 (Baba Yaga) on up.

If you are not familiar with the story, we want to stress that Black Dogs is not like Summer in Orcus in many ways. While it too centers around a young girl, in this case named Lyra, it is an altogether harsher world which she inhabits; and she both comes from and passes through some dark places to get where she is going. The writing is both clearly very early Ursula, and at the same time, very clearly all Ursula (or T. Kingfisher, or whomever you care to reference).

(6) GUFF DELEGATE. Donna Maree Hanson is chronicling her fan fund trip online. The entries about museum visits are lavishly illustrated with photos of the exhibits. This excerpt is taken from one of the posts about the Worldcon – “Guff # 6 -The Hugo Awards”.

Then it was our turn to go on stage. The ceremony is on You Tube I believe and was webcast. We were in the beginning section. There was an International group of people presenting, South Africa, Poland, China, US and Australia. We had to sit on a sofa on stage and then after we presented we had a short interview. Amazing, John [the TAFF delegate] and I got to plug the fan auction to like 5000 people! They had John’s name wrong in the script so Karen Lord called him Jeff. We gave John a hard time. So Jeff what did you do with John etc.

After the awards ceremony we were invited to the Hugo Losers’ Party. There was a shuttle bus (a small one) so a lot of people took cabs. We waited with C E Murphy and ? (I’m sorry I forgot your name again) and Nalo Hopkinson, George RR Martin, Pat Catigan and others. A Finish fan guy leaped on the bus and Nalo can I come with you and did.

The venue was Helsinki’s steam punk nightclub. It was crowded by the time we got there. Winners turn up and are boohed and made to wear ridiculous head gear. There was an amazing steampunk cake. Lots of booze. Lots of food and desserts in mini containers. The music was good at first but then we tried to dance and the music went to shit. Go figure. I had a blast but wanted to go home. Beans, my daughter, wanted to party and dance and I didn’t get out of there until around 2 am. But I met people, talked to people. John and Valerie turned up late dressed in their steam punk gear. So cute.

Here is a collection of shots, including the steampunk cake. The steampunk couple are John and Valerie Purcell….

(7) MARS CON IN SEPTEMBER. The 20th Annual International Mars Society Convention will take place September 7-10 at UC Irvine.

The four-day International Mars Society Convention brings together leading scientists, engineers, aerospace industry representatives, government policymakers and journalists to talk about the latest scientific discoveries, technological advances and political-economic developments that could help pave the way for a human mission to the planet Mars.

On opening night the convention will feature a panel of science fiction greats discussing “The Human Future in Space.”

Members of this special panel will include Greg Benford (Timescape, The Martian Race, Chiller), David Brin (Startide Rising, The Uplift War, The Postman), Larry Niven (Ringworld, Lucifer’s Hammer, The Integral Trees) and Jerry Pournelle (Footfall, A Mote in God’s Eye, Starswarm).

The science fiction panel discussion will begin at 7:00 pm at the University of California Irvine (A-311 Student Center) and will be open to the public.

Commenting on the panel, Mars Society President Dr. Robert Zubrin said, “This will be an extraordinary event. It’s like having a conference panel a generation ago featuring Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. I can hardly wait.”

(8) ARRRH. Gail Selinger’s new pirate history, Pirates of New England: Ruthless Raiders and Rotten Renegades will be released September 1.

One would be mistaken to think of pirates as roaming only the Caribbean. Pirates as famous as William Kidd and Henry Every have at various times plundered, pillaged, and murdered their way up and down the New England seaboard, striking fear among local merchants and incurring the wrath of colonial authorities. Piracy historian Gail Selinger brings these tales of mayhem and villainy to life while also exploring why New England became such a breeding ground for high seas crime and how the view of piracy changed over time, from winking toleration to brutal crackdown….

Gail Selinger is a maritime historian and pirate expert who served as a consultant on the History Channel’s Modern Marvels: Pirate Tech. Her commentary appears on the DVDs of The Princess Bride and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. She is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pirates and lectures on pirates and pirate history.

(9) NOT THE TERRITORY. Alex Acks explains why “I Don’t  Like Fantasy Maps”. And it’s not because you can never get them folded up again. Here’s the first of 10 points:

Most of them are terrible. Like geographically, geologically terrible. You’ve already probably seen me complain about the map of Middle Earth. From my experience as a reader, and I’ll readily admit that I have neither had the patience nor time to read every fantasy book ever written, the majority of fantasy maps make me want to tear my hair out as a geologist. Many of them are worse than the Tolkien map, and without his fig leaf of mythology to justify it. (And sorry, it’s not a fig leaf that works for me.)

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • Born August 26 – David K.M. Klaus

(11) ALIENS AHEAD. The New York Times previews an upcoming exhibit at UC Riverside: “For Latino Artists in Sci-Fi Show, Everyone’s an Alien”.

Starting Sept. 16, Ms. Cortez’s “Memory Insertion Capsule” will greet visitors to “Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas,” an exhibition at the University of California, Riverside that shows Latin American and Latin-heritage artists mining the tropes of science fiction.

Some, like Ms. Cortez, have created startling objects that offer portals into alternative worlds or mimic time machines. Others use the imagery of extraterrestrials to express something of the immigrant’s alienating experience. Most engage in the speculative thinking long associated with science-fiction literature and film to explore social issues.

(12) COURSE CORRECTION. Apparently there was a problem with fulfilling the incentives earned by backers of the 2015 Kickstarter for Genius Loci: Tales of the Spirit of Place, because the publisher’s new CEO is trying to make it right.

I know that there are some of you who either weren’t sent the correct rewards or any rewards at all. I sincerely apologize for this. There is absolutely NO reason that you shouldn’t have your rewards by now. That is unacceptable and just a little ridiculous. You have our apologies. We’ll absolutely be correcting this sort of problem.

I also wanted it known that Jaym (Gates) is absolutely NOT to blame for the delays. That falls squarely on our shoulders. Throughout, Jaym has been absolutely professional and has worked hard as your advocate. I also wanted to issue a public apology to Jaym for all the delays as well. Thank you for all your hard work and patience, Jaym. We really appreciate it.

Now, onto fulfillment and reward questions. Right now, I’m going through and trying to figure out who has gotten what and who hasn’t. We’re taking steps to get this sorted out immediately and to get everything to you all that you backed in short order.

To that end, it would help us greatly if you would take a few moments and fill this form out –

Genius Loci Backer Form

(13) WHEN TROI WAS ALMOST CANNED. Paramount wanted to let Marina Sirtis know who was wielding the hammer in these contract negotiations.

The final film for the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew was nearly short one cast member. According to Marina Sirtis, Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Deanna Troi, negotiations for her return in Star Trek: Nemesis were not going smoothly and at one point Paramount Pictures threatened to replace her in the film with Jeri Ryan, the actress who played the Borg Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager. …While this is the first time that Sirtis has openly discussed the threat, Ryan has mentioned in it the past, saying that she was utterly confused by how Seven of Nine could possibly make sense showing up in a Star Trek: The Next Generation movie. With Star Trek: Voyager off the air as of 2001, Seven of Nine technically wasn’t doing anything else, but with much of Star Trek: Nemesis revolving around Troi’s wedding the film’s script would have needed a serious rewrite to account for Troi’s absence and Seven of Nine’s introduction.

 

(14) MORE ABOUT W75. Sarah Groenewegen’s Worldcon 75 report is rich in info about the panels: “WorldCon75 – All bound for Helsinki”.

Anyway, I didn’t end up seeing too many panels. I heard about some excellent ones, which will no doubt be highlighted in other reviews and reminiscences. The one that I did see that stood out was the one supposed to be on pre-Harry Potter magical schools. While I quite enjoyed it and found some of the panellists interesting – and I would have like to hear more about Italian versions, rather than just the Anglophone ones – it was a victim of too many panellists for 45 minutes, and the moderator was less than optimally effective, especially when a latecomer arrived on the panel and took over.

The Resistance panel was also good, but very heavily US-centric, saved by Kameron Hurley talking about her experiences in South Africa and drawing on her academic work in the field.

I enjoyed the one on Cyberpunk with Pat Cadigan (but, honestly, I could listen to her all day), and I found Quifan Chen’s contributions to be fascinating about real-life now cyberpunk cities in his native China. I’m reading Pat’s Synners, at long last, and greatly enjoying it.

(15) MAPS OF THE STARS HOMES. For those who have been worried about aliens tracking us down and mugging us based on information we’ve sent into the universe, this might represent good news…. Ethan Siegel tells Medium readers, “Voyager’s ‘Cosmic Map’ of Earth’s location is hopelessly wrong”.

Located throughout the galaxy, the Voyager golden records are emblazoned with the relative orientations, distances, and pulse timing frequencies of 14 different pulsars. (The Pioneer 10 and 11 missions also have the pulsar information on them.)…

Pulsars were only first discovered 50 years ago (by Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, above) in 1967; they were incredibly novel still when the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft were launched. Now that we have a better understanding of how they work, how ubiquitous they are, and how their apparent properties change over time, we can see that these are terrible long-term beacons! In hindsight, it would have been better to put together the astronomical properties of the Sun, along with the masses, radii, atmospheric contents, and orbital parameters of the planets. After all, those are the pieces of information we use to identify exoplanet systems today, and would be the best way to, on a long-term basis, identify our Solar System.

(16) BANGING ON. Someone wants to know: “Is Canada’s official residence in Ireland haunted?”

Canada’s ambassador to Ireland is concerned about ghosts.

Specifically, Ambassador Kevin Vickers is worried about a spirit that might be haunting Canada’s official residence in Dublin.

In a recent Facebook post, the ambassador describes hearing unusual bangs, laboured breathing and heavy footsteps in the residence’s halls.

Mr Vickers, a history buff, suggests it may be the spirit of one of the leaders of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising.

When he first moved into the residence, the ambassador heard rumours that Irish nationalist Patrick Pearse had once lived at the home in Dublin’s Ranelagh district.

Pearse was one of the architects of the April 1916 rebellion to overthrow British rule and set up an Irish republic.

(17) MINNEAPOLIS FANHISTORY. Fanac.org has posted a photo-illustrated audio recording on YouTube of the “Minneapolis Fandom, 4th Street Fantasy & Music” panel at Balticon 51.

Geri Sullivan (Balticon 51 Fan Guest of Honor) and Steven Brust (Balticon 51 Special Guest) tell the true story of Minneapolis fandom from rent parties to 4th Street Fantasy to the music. Steve talks about how he programmed conventions, and where he got the idea for his first book, and Geri talks about her first years in fandom. There are great anecdotes about Steve, convention running and more, but overwhelmingly this audio program (with supplemental images) is about the music and culture of Minneapolis fandom. The fan history program was developed for Balticon 51 by the Fanac Fanhistory project.

 

[Thanks to Greg Hullender, Carl Slaughter, JJ, Paul Weimer, Chip Hitchcock, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor Hampus Eckerman.]

Pixel Scroll 5/18/17 For I Am A Bear Of Very Little Files, And Long Scrolls Bother Me

(1) NO NEED TO SAY MORE. Michael Swanwick recounts what he labels the shortest and most succinct discussion about the horror genre in the history of the speculative fiction community:

MICHAEL SWANWICK: “I don’t like horror because it scares me.”

ELLEN DATLOW: “That’s why I love it.”

(2) A FINE ROMANCE. Welcome to 21st-century dating. “This Man Is Suing His Date For Texting During ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy'”.

Texting during a movie is rude.

Brandon Vezmar from Texas is taking a stance on the issue by suing his Bumble date after she used her phone during a movie. The Austin American-Statesman reported that Vezmar filed a small court claim for $17.31, the price of a 3D showing of “Guardians of the Galaxy 2.”

“It was kind of a first date from hell,” he told the local newspaper.

The 36-year-old said that his date was on her phone “at least 10-20 times in 15 minutes to read and send text messages.” According to Vezmar, he told her she should text outside, so she left and took the car in which they both arrived.

Ouch.

Vezmar claimed he tried to text and call his date before taking the matter to court. He tweeted a screenshot once his date sent a statement to KVUE anonymously to say that, while she felt bad that his feelings were hurt, she chose to leave because he made her feel unsafe.

“His behavior made me extremely uncomfortable, and I felt I needed to remove myself from the situation for my own safety,” the statement read. “He has escalated the situation far past what any mentally healthy person would.”

Director James Gunn, who might have stayed safely out of this, unfortunately decided to show his ass, as if texting in the theater was the entire issue.

(3) TRAILER PARK. Aziz H. Poonawalla goes into deep analysis about the Star Trek: Discovery trailer.

But really, hairless Klingons? With a H.R. Geiger armor aesthetic?

It’s not like we haven’t seen the 60’s aesthetic embraced by modern television. Deep Space Nine went there and did it brilliantly — they arguably made the TOS USS Enterprise look even more gorgeous than any of her successors, and they didn’t change anything about her at all — just lighting and texture. Enterprise itself managed to authentically portray a pre-Kirk technology chic that had a more industrial feel, which was utterly believable as the ancestor to the softened look of the Kirk era. I do not accept that the Kelvinization of the Prime timeline was necessary to modernize the production. After all, the aesthetic of The Expanse and Dark Matter is thoroughly modern but doesn’t have the same Kelvin fascination with chrome and glass. Not that I want any Trek to go the grunge-fi look, but I do at least want Trek to honor it’s own identity. This feels like a rejection — purely a Han shot first decision.

(4) MESSAGE TO THE PAST. If the term “calendrical rot” hadn’t been invented for a different purpose, and we had a way to send it into the past, it would find the perfect Petri dish in this incredibly technical discussion of alternate timelines in Star Trek held on Reddit in 2015.

(5) SASQUATCH APPROPRIATED. In the Walrus, Robert Jago introduces his op-ed about Canada’s latest cultural appropriation controversy with an sff illustration: “On Cultural Appropriation, Canadians Are Hypocrites”.

Harry and the Hendersons is a 1987 fantasy movie about a Seattle family’s encounter with a friendly bigfoot (Harry) and their efforts to protect him from harm before releasing him in the mountains of the Pacific northwest. It’s a forgettable film, but it has undoubtedly been seen and heard in more Indigenous homes than has the story of Sasq’ets–the original sasquatch.

Sasq’ets, whose name was one of the few Halkomelem words to make their way into English, was one of a host of other legendary “wild people” living in the forests on the Pacific coast. For hundreds of generations, Salish and Kwakwaka’wakw children were raised on the stories of the wild people and taught to listen for their characteristic hu-hu-hu calls. Sasq’ets, along with Dzunuka, were said to capture wayward children, take them away from their families, and eat them. With their supernatural healing powers, the wild ones were thought to be invincible; only once was a wild person taken by angry villagers and burned alive. But to the mortals’ horror, the ashes began buzzing in a tiny chorus of little hu-hu-hu’s, and each particle sought out human flesh. This was the origin myth of mosquitos.

Sasq’ets taught our children to stay out of the forests at night. It connected us to our part of the world, in the same way that Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood connected Europeans to their ancient forests–and possibly for the same purposes. Our stories are works of genius and beauty, and vital to our relationship with the land. By no means do I want to restrict our legends to Indigenous people. I want you to know about Sasq’ets, and the psychedelically odd stories of the spirit of the South Winds, and all of the legends of our country.

But when the story is taken from us and told by outsiders without our involvement, its identity can be lost, and Sasq’ets becomes Bigfoot. The cultural dominance of non-Natives means that a B-movie like Harry and the Hendersons can have more influence over Salish children than the legend that inspired it.

(6) WESTLAKE’S BOND. Daniel Dern says be on the lookout for copies of Donald Westlake’s James Bond novel(ization) released last fall. “I’ve already just put a reserve-request in to my library.”

Forever And A Death

In the mid-1990s, prolific mystery and crime thriller author Donald E. Westlake submitted two treatments for the 18th Bond film (which would ultimately become ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’)….Never one to waste a good story, Westlake turned his treatments into a novel.

Dern adds:

Fewer Filers than normally expected might be familiar with Westlake, since he wrote near-zero scifi, by choice. OTOH, he wrote lots of great mystery/thriller/crime and other novels and stories, ranging from humorous, e.g. his John Dortmunder stories, and his tabloid-reporter ones, to serious, notably the ones written as Richard Stark.

See the Donald Westlake site.

My favorite Westlake book: Up Your Banners

(7) MACE WINDU GETS HIS OWN BOOK. The Jedi have always been the galaxy’s peacekeepers — but with the Clone Wars on the horizon, all that is about to change.

This August, writer Matt Owens (Elektra) will team with artist Denys Cowan (Nighthawk, Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of Our Fathers) to unveil the exciting story of one of the Jedi’s greatest warriors in STAR WARS: JEDI OF THE REPUBLIC — MACE WINDU #1!

One of the most accomplished and storied members of the Jedi High Council, his wisdom and combat prowess are legendary. Now, in this new story, readers will get to see Mace Windu lead his Jedi into battle, and face the ultimate test of leadership!

(8) PETER OLSON OBIT. SF Site News reports that Boston area fan Peter Olson (1949-2017) died April 28. He was active in NESFA and participated in the Ig Nobel Awards.

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY GIRLS

  • Born May 18 — R. Laurraine Tutihasi
  • Born May 18 — Diane Duane

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • Born May 18, 1897 — Frank Capra

(11) COMIC SECTION. John King Tarpinian says Ziggy has a point.

(12) WHIP OUT YOUR ROLL OF HUNDREDS. Nicole Pelletier on Good Morning America has a piece called “Classic Disney animation art featuring Snow White, Pinocchio headed to auction” about how a tranche of Disney cels from the 1940s is headed for auction in an event sponsored by Bonhams and Turner Classic Movies.

Bonhams Fine Art Auctioneers and Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will present the movie memorabilia auction, “An Important Animation Art Collection, The Property of a Gentleman” in New York City on June 5.

The sale will feature more than 290 original Disney animation drawings, storyboards, posters, concept art and celluloids, according to Bonhams’ press release.

(13) WARNING LABEL. While I was browsing Bertie MacAvoy’s Amazon page, I especially enjoyed this self-introduction:

Robert A.MacAvoy

If you are young to the S.F. field and don’t know who I am, I will prep you by warning that I often kill off my heroes, sometimes at the most unexpected times. But never in a depressing manner. I’ve never wanted to depress my readers. My outlook is essentially comic.

(14) DRYING OFF. This may be the first good news I’ve ever heard about a convention associated with the Ozarks. Nerd & Tie’s Trae Dorn reports how some fans are overcoming a natural disaster: “West Plains, MO Based Oz-Con Plans Game Day Event to Make Up For Canceled Day of Con”.

I think any reasonable person would forgive the con, considering this was an extreme, unpredictable situation where homes and lives were literally lost. What’s the Sunday of a con compared to that? To the extreme credit of the Oz-Con organizers though, they still want to try to make it right.

Yesterday Oz-Con organizers announced an event they’re calling “Flood Con.” It’s a free game day the con is hosting from 9:00am until 10:00pm on June 17th at the Missouri State University-West Plains Student Rec Center. Admission is free, but they’ll also be accepting cash donations and canned food items to help with ongoing flood relief in the area. There will be video games, tabletop games, and fellow geeks to have a grand old time with.

Admittedly, I haven’t heard much about sff in the Ozarks — just that famous story about the time Larry Niven arrived expecting to be GoH of Ozarkon only to find out the con had been cancelled. (Fans involve swear they tried to get a message to him, but in those pre-internet days it failed to reach him on the road.)

(15) FAME IN PIXELS. Who needs a monument when you can be an answer on Jeopardy!

(16) LOVECRAFT COUNTRY TO TV. Get Out writer-director Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot and Warner Bros Television are teaming on Lovecraft Country, a one-hour drama that has been given a straight-to-series order by HBO.

There is connective tissue to Peele’s breakout genre feature Get Out, which brought a Black Lives Matter theme to the horror genre. Lovecraft Country, the 2016 novel from Matt Ruff, focuses on 25-year-old Atticus Black. After his father goes missing, Black joins up with his friend Letitia and his Uncle George to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America to find him. This begins a struggle to survive and overcome both the racist terrors of white America and the malevolent spirits that could be ripped from a Lovecraft paperback. The goal is an anthological horror series that reclaims genre storytelling from the African-American perspective.

[Thanks to Carl Slaughter, Andrew Porter, JJ, Dawn Incognito, Daniel Dern, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Ky.]

Edward M. Lerner: Crafted Science, Convincing Characters

Edward M. Lerner

By Carl Slaughter: Retired professional scientist Edward Lerner talks about a host of hard science fiction topics, plus his collaboration with Larry Niven, his participation in SIGMA, and his nonfiction column for Analog.

Carl Slaughter: What was the deciding factor in getting out of full-time science work and getting into full-time fiction work?

Edward M. Lerner: There were two factors, as it happens. The first: I had to become ready for a radical change. While I had greatly enjoyed my career in science and engineering, much of the work eventually came to seem repetitive. Second, I had to prove to myself I had developed the necessary writing skills. My debut novel might have been a fluke, and for about a decade after that book’s publication my day job kept me too busy to write much. It wasn’t till after I’d sold a second novel, plus a couple shorter stories to Analog, that I took the leap.

CS: But in the end, it wasn’t all fiction, was it?

EML: As it turned out, no. Years after the career change, I developed a new interest: writing popular science. The chief example of that is the series of “the science behind the fiction” articles I did for Analog. Each article explored the science and engineering, sometimes speculative, that might underpin a common SF trope (such as faster-than-light travel, time travel, or telepathy), and is “illustrated” with SF stories, TV shows, and movies that made use of—or anticipated—some of that tech.

CS: Your science career, like your science fiction career, is all over the map. Which aspect of your science career contributed, directly or indirectly, to which aspect of your science fiction career?

EML: Certainly my employers were all over the map, metaphorically and geographically. But that first career? I’ll assert otherwise. The unifying theme—notwithstanding the mix of commercial and government-contracting employers, and the variety of situations addressed—was the tackling of complex problems with computers.

To your larger point, however, much of that experience did carry over to writing SF. For example, I put in seven years as a NASA contractor at Hughes Aircraft (now a part of Raytheon). That particular background transferred mostly after the fact, because Hughes/NASA had me working six, and sometimes seven, days a week. (Reference: the abovementioned lag between my first and second novels. But some of that Hughes/NASA experience did figure directly in the second novel.)

More generally, building any complex, responsive, mission-critical system cultivates a mindset. One learns to: consider everything that might go wrong, including recalcitrant users; design features to head off undesirable outcomes; provide ways to mitigate the consequences when such precautions nonetheless fail. As an SF writer, I also consider the implications of technology and how it might go wrong. I try not to rely upon venal or careless characters—as in most every Michael Crichton novel—to drive my stories. If, for example, a plot problem requires information from the bad guy’s computer, the solution ought not to be for the good guy to hack a computer in ten seconds flat, or for the bad guy to walk away from his desk while leaving his computer logged on. When a computer break-in is necessary, I want to make the penetration credible.

I spend much of my “writing” time wearing my engineering hat, asking myself: what about the technology available in a certain situation might go wrong or be abused? Then: what would a responsible engineer have done to minimize that risk? Then: what might a bad guy (or nature, being recalcitrant) do to circumvent those preventive measures? Then: why wouldn’t the designer have anticipated that hazard, and already done something to counter it? Iterate till no party to the developing storyline is being obtuse merely to advance the plot.

Case in point: there are many fictional examples of nanotech run amok. Most such, IMO, rely on thoughtlessness or carelessness on the part of the fictional nanotechnologists. At the start of writing my own nanotech novel (Small Miracles), I did a lot of research—and had a lot of back-and-forth with doctors, biophysicists, a biologist, a neurologist, and nanotechnologists—to come up with defensively designed medical nanobots that might nonetheless, in unforeseen circumstances, have unanticipated effects.

CS: You also did a lot of management work. You even have an MBA. Did your management background help or hinder your science fiction writing?

EML: My immediate reaction was that, apart from its utility on the business side (versus the creative side) of being a writer, my management background had no relevance. While economics is known (hat tip to Victorian historian Thomas Carlyle) as the dismal science, it’s hardly the basis for much science fiction. And when accountants do delve into fiction, we get messes like Enron and the 2008 financial crisis.

My second thought was quite different. Lots of SF, much of mine included, overlaps with the mystery genre, wherein a common method of unraveling plots and solving crimes is to “follow the money.” Maybe that’s why I’ve written three major business-oriented protagonists (and I suspect I’d find more if I did a thorough review of all I’ve written).

The best known of these protagonists is accountant Sigmund Ausfaller (in the Fleet of Worlds series, coauthored with Larry Niven, about which I expect we’ll talk further). Sigmund first appeared decades ago, in Larry Niven’s Hugo award-winning “Neutron Star” and “The Borderland of Sol,” as the foil for his protagonist, derring-do space pilot Beowulf Shaeffer. Those stories revealed little about Sigmund himself or how he came to be a super spy. To develop Sigmund’s back story (for Juggler of Worlds), I got Sigmund into—and out of—life-threatening peril through accounting. Really. (No big spoilers there: that much about Sigmund comes out in the novel’s opening pages. Sigmund went on to have many more adventures, occasionally drawing upon his accounting skills, in the course of this and subsequent novels.)

And, as it happens, my latest story series, kicked off by “The Company Man” (Grantville Gazette, May 2017 issue) has a forensic accountant as its antihero ….

CS: You’ve described some of your work as “meticulously researched novels.” What do you mean by that phrase?

EML: One corner of the broad genre of speculative fiction, as you know, is called “hard SF.” IMO that’s a terrible label, by which “hard” often gets misconstrued as meaning (too) challenging to read. The term is supposed to convey fiction in which real science is integral to the story, the adjective referring to an early emphasis within the subgenre on the so-called “hard” sciences, such as physics and astronomy. I write mainly hard SF—and getting the science right is important to me. That means research.

As for whether my research qualifies as “meticulous,” opinions will vary. To support my claims of research sufficiency, I’ll offer two anecdotes.

Take the aforementioned Small Miracles. I was researching a particular biological/medical detail that would affect where in the human body my medical nanobots could go and/or how I could design them to reach specific places. After refining the details through several iterations, a biophysicist who was helping me declared us done. He said, “Ed, it’s only a novel.”

Did I get the biology right? A doctor friend was discussing the finished novel—during surgery, over a patient—with a colleague. The colleague rushed out after surgery to order a copy, and later ordered a second copy for me to autograph as a gift for a physician relative. The medical aspects couldn’t have been too far off :-).

In Dark Secret, my latest novel (“The end of the world … and what comes next”), the supporting research ranged from gamma ray bursters to cosmic strings, from aberrant psychology to parasailing. For Déjà Doomed (the working title of my novel in progress), I’ve consulted with astrophysicists about fine points of orbital mechanics. Who says writers don’t have fun?

CS: Define artificial life. I mean, how is it life if it doesn’t form and evolve naturally?

EML: Like everything artificial, from sweeteners to skyscrapers, an artificial life is made on purpose. A conscious entity like you or me, and not (only) the impersonal and implacable forces of evolution, shapes it. This description doesn’t preclude adapting methods found in nature—nor does it preclude consciously influencing or eliminating random chance ….

Definitions of life vary, as do conclusions about whether particular things (such as viruses) are even alive. Wikipedia has a whole long article on the topic (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life). In common usage, life is carbon-based, built from one or more biological cells, and must adapt to a physical environmental. IMO, that’s merely natural life.

I imagine your question arises in the context of my novel Fools’ Experiments. That book deals with the directed evolution within a computer of entities with none of the aforementioned characteristics. The fundamental building blocks of these entities, rather than atoms and molecules, are computer bits; the next level of construction is computer instructions (and a subtle point: that’s not human-written software); and the environmental constraints are virtual. Happily (if only for storytelling purposes) those creatures of artificial life discover how their virtual world can interact—dramatically, and often even catastrophically, so!—with our physical world.

CS: Define artificial intelligence. Again, how can it be considered sentient if it was programmed rather than evolving naturally? If you tell it what to think or how to think, it’s just a machine—isn’t it?

EML: As a practical matter, an artificial intelligence is anything humans consider (a) acts intelligently and (b) isn’t us. Why? Because we’re no more able to unambiguously define intelligence than we are to define life, consciousness, or awareness.

AI was initially approached as an exercise in computer programming. That approach failed quite spectacularly. Many newer, and more successful, AI efforts have involved adapting to, or learning from experience. For example, an AI intended to identify cancerous tissue samples might be trained using images of known cancerous and non-cancerous cell cultures. After each attempted diagnosis, internal parameters are tweaked to emphasize whatever internal features of the system leaned toward the correct conclusion and deemphasize whatever internal features leaned toward the wrong conclusion. Through feedback during routine operation, the system will continue to self-adapt. (For completeness, it’s worth noting that this form of machine learning isn’t the only non-programming approach to developing an AI.)

In concept, one could reverse-engineer from the internals of a learning AI exactly which lessons from its training set (and from its subsequent experience) led to a particular decision. In practice, the effects of particular lessons and experiences overlap so much that such case-by-case deduction is impossible. We simply don’t know the inner workings of a modern AI. (Much less of most fictional AIs, such as HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey or Ava in Ex Machina.)

Looking out several years to when quantum computing matures and gets applied to artificial intelligence, it won’t be possible even in principle to understand an AI’s decision process. From basic principles of quantum mechanics, such computing will be inherently nondeterministic. My own cut at quantum-computing-based AI was the Analog detective novelette, “A Case of Identity” (December 2015 issue). If you recognized that as the title of a Sherlock Holmes story, it’s not a coincidence.

(For a far broader discussion of AI and some of the SF that best illustrates it, see my two-part nonfiction article in Analog, “A Mind of Its Own” [September and October 2016 issues.])

CS: Your stories have grand scale impact settings but also focus on the impact on individual characters. How do you strike this balance?

EML: Carefully?

But seriously, balance is the operative word. On the one hand, an unusual context—whether in space or time, physical law or the state of technology—is the distinguishing characteristic of science fiction. In a phrase, that’s world-building. So, absolutely, much of my fiction is meant to offer an exotic and impactful setting. On the other hand, all fiction, whether of the SF or any other variety, is about people. If an exotically located work of fiction doesn’t affect anyone therein, that is at best an imaginative travelogue and not a story.

And beyond making every story about people (even if they’re of an extraterrestrial, AI, or extraterrestrial-AI persuasion) I also strive to follow a dictum of Kurt Vonnegut: “Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.”

CS: How did you hook up with Larry Niven and what type of relationship do you have with him?

EML: At Noreascon 4, aka Worldcon 2004, Larry and I were both on the panel “My Favorite Planet.” As the name suggests, panelists were asked to name the world, real or imaginary, they would most like to visit. When my turn came, I named the Fleet of Worlds. In Larry’s best-known novel, Ringworld, the Fleet is a cluster of five inhabited worlds hurtling through space at relativistic speed. The Fleet and its impressively alien inhabitants are scarcely glimpsed before the reader moves on to the eponymous Ringworld. I told Larry he should write a story set on the Fleet. He said he didn’t have a plot for such a story. I emailed him shortly thereafter, to say, “Well, I do.”

Fleet of Worlds, our first collaboration, was the result. In the (woohoo!) bidding war over the novel, we got an offer as well on a sequel. That we hadn’t discussed a sequel, much less written one? We didn’t let that stand in our way. The sequel became Juggler of Worlds. The series grew to include Destroyer of Worlds, Betrayer of Worlds, and finally Fate of Worlds.

Larry and I live on opposite coasts, three time zones apart. We worked mostly by email, picking up the phone as needed. But while we see each other only occasionally, at cons, we’re friends. When SFWA (that’s the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) declared Larry a Grandmaster of Science Fiction, I was honored to be invited to write the official appreciation for him (text at http://blog.edwardmlerner.com/2015/06/the-2015-nebula-awards-weekend.html.)

CS: Fleet of Worlds, Ringworld, Known Space. The setting and chronology is a bit hard to follow. Can you sort it out for us?

EML: Larry’s universes (your question deals with only one of those) are on grand scales. Briefly, Known Space is the overarching setting of a future history that opens with early human explorations of the Solar System. Known Space stories continue for centuries, ultimately offering adventures across a bubble of space—and civilizations—many light-years across.

Within Known Space, the Ringworld is a physical artifact. Oversimplifying a bit, this is a hoop-like structure a million miles wide, 600 million miles in circumference, circling a distant star. That vast structure has trillions of hominid (although not human) inhabitants. The novel Ringworld, a part of the overarching Known Space future history, deals with the discovery and initial explorations of this wondrous setting. (And, as I’ve noted, the Fleet of Worlds is a separate physical setting glimpsed early in Ringworld.) Larry wrote three sequels about how discovery of the physical Ringworld and the wondrous technologies it embodies affected various Known Space intelligent species.

The Fleet of World series, my five collaborations with Larry, is likewise set in Known Space, opening two hundred years before Ringworld. In our fifth book, Fate of Worlds—subtitled “Return from the Ringworld”—we wrap up both series. Explosively, I might add …

For a more complete discussion, including a recommended reading order(s), File 770 visitors might check out my blog post “Of fleet Fleets and Known Space” (http://blog.edwardmlerner.com/2011/02/of-fleet-fleets-and-known-space.html).

CS: Any plans to return to the Fleet universe?

I won’t say never—working in Known Space, and with Larry, was a blast—but we don’t have any plans to do so. For now I’m too into my own universes.

CS: What exactly are the Drake Equation and the Fermi Paradox?

EML: Together, the intellectual framework behind many discussions of the possibility of alien intelligent life.

In 1961, Frank Drake created an elegant equation to facilitate a conversation about the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). The equation provides a way to estimate the number of technological civilizations currently in our galaxy—civilizations for which radio astronomers (like Drake) might listen. The equation relies upon a long list of input parameters, the values for many of which (such as the fraction of planets on which life emerges) are unknown. With different guesses at such values, the equation has been used to suggest both that intelligent and technologically capable life must be common in the galaxy and that humanity is surely alone.

The Fermi Paradox is a rebuttal—actually, a prebuttal, dating to the early Fifties—of the more optimistic versions of the Drake Equation. Suppose that the vast number of stars (and optimistic estimates of other relevant parameters) argues for intelligence arising elsewhere in the galaxy. If any alien civilization has technology only slightly in advance of humanity’s, then in an eye blink (by astronomical standards) those aliens could spread across the galaxy. So, nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi challenged, where are they? Why have we seen no evidence of them?

(For more about the Drake Equation, the Fermi Paradox, and SETI in general, see my nonfiction Analog article “Alien AWOLs: The Great Silence,” in the October 2014 issue.)

All that said, let’s turn to explorations of these topics in my InterstellarNet novels.

Much popular SF, like Star Trek, rests on two conveniences: faster-than-light travel and nearby alien neighbors. Apart from authorial convenience, there’s no justification. The known universe seems to insist upon a light-speed limit, and we have yet to find an alien bacterium, much less alien intelligences. But for plot purposes, we authors want not only alien intelligence, but alien neighbors. And not only must the aliens be nearby, and intelligent, they need to have technology so similar to human level—no matter that our respective solar systems may differ in age by billions of years—that conflicts between us and them are suspenseful.

In my novels InterstellarNet: Origins and InterstellarNet: New Order, I stuck with slower-than-light travel and radio-based communications. But for an interstellar communications network to function, my aliens had to live nearby, within radio range, and be advanced enough to have radios. I got to wondering: could I find a justification beyond “It’s my universe, and I’ll construct it for my convenience?” I found out that I could—but that justification was a doozy. As constraints so often do, this led to a multilayered, and (if I can toot my own horn) interesting story. That’s my second-most recent novel, InterstellarNet: Enigma.

CS: How does in-person alien interaction affect each species differently than interstellar radio contact?

EML: With contacts limited to communications, initial impacts are “merely” cultural and technological. Early parts of InterstellarNet: Origins explore the dangers—as when, for example, an interstellar message makes fuel-cell cars practical overnight (and in the process destroys the economies of many petroleum-producing countries). Later in the novel, the interspecies contacts become more sophisticated, reliant upon AIs exchanged between civilizations. (See, I had a reason earlier to mention extraterrestrial AIs.) After AIs have been transferred across the stars, the opportunities for interspecies interaction—and mischief—greatly expand. How? Anything a human hacker might attempt via the Internet, so might an alien AI. And an alien AI might try things no mere human hacker would imagine ….

When aliens come calling (as in InterstellarNet: New Order), physical interactions—up to, and including mass mayhem—become possible.

CS: Any plans to return to the InterstellarNet universe?

EML: A return isn’t on my to-do list, but I suspect I’ll eventually succumb. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing in that universe.

CS: What is SIGMA, what does it do, and what’s your involvement?

EML: From all those upper-case letters, you’d think SIGMA (http://www.sigmaforum.org/) is an acronym, but it’s not. SIGMA (aka, “The Science Fiction think tank”) is a group of hard SF authors with professional science or technology backgrounds. We consult, often pro bono, mostly with government agencies. Why would anyone want our input? Because we’re pretty good at thinking “outside the box.”

And me, personally? Through SIGMA, I’ve taken part in a colloquium on asteroid deflection (which turned out to provide handy source material for Energized, in which a captured asteroid becomes raw material for building solar power satellites), guest lectured at the U.S. Naval Academy, and been a panelist at an academic conference on nanotech.

CS: What’s on the horizon for Edward M. Lerner?

EML: Thanks for asking. A bunch of short fiction is queued up in 2017, at Analog, Galaxy’s Edge, and the Grantville Gazette—and I have a couple more magazine-length stories in me yearning to be set free. I recently finished updating, expanding, and integrating my various “the science behind the fiction” magazine articles, a couple of which I’ve mentioned, into a nonfiction book. I look forward to placing that. And I’ll be finishing (I’m at about the halfway mark) Déjà Doomed, a near-future adventure novel mainly set on the Moon.

And thanks for inviting me to File 770.

2017 LA Vintage Paperback Show

2016 Vintage Paperback Show, panoramic view. Photo by John King Tarpinian.

Over 400 people came out to the 38th Los Angeles Vintage Paperback Show on March 19 at the Glendale Civic Auditorium.

John King Tarpinian and the rest of the event staff did a really fine job, always aware of what was going on and nice to everyone. John spoiled me with a reserved parking space that helped make everything more accessible.

As I went around the tables, many collectible items caught my eye – none more so than a Duke Snider action figure (he was a big Dodgers star when I was a kid). I find at this point in life I don’t need to personally own things like that, I’m just happy they still exist.

I wasn’t even expecting to buy any books, which must sound blasphemous considering where I was, until I visited Marty and Alice Massoglia’s table. On top of a pile was a Christopher Anvil novel The Steel, The Mist, and the Blazing Sun. I didn’t remember seeing that title before, although I read literally dozens of the guy’s stories in Analog. It was an Ace book edited by Ben Bova. The description on the jacket didn’t ring a bell either, so I paid the $2 and started reading – indeed, despite being published in 1980 it’s new to me.

I had volunteered to help at the Loscon fan table. After Michelle Pincus set up, I had a chance to talk to Marc Schirmeister and hear the latest about Taral’s health and recovery. Craig Miller, co-chair of this year’s Loscon, arrived and we table-sat for awhile, discussing his guests and publicity plans. Michael Toman came by and introduced himself, saying he reads File 770 often.

The Civic Auditorium has a stage at one end, and that’s where the Loscon and Horror Writers Association had tables. With an elevated view of the whole event, during the 11 a.m. hour I could see throngs of collectors carrying small piles of books for Jason Brock, William F. Nolan, Mel Gilden, Barbara Hambly, Joe Lansdale, Tim Powers, John Shirley and others to sign. At noon the sf/f writers included Dick Lupoff, Michael Kurland, and David J. Schow.

Larry Niven, Mike Glyer, and Jerry Pournelle. Photo by John King Tarpinian.

After lunch I got to have a long talk with Jerry Pournelle about his recollections of working in defense and on the space program in the early Sixties. He and I also compared notes about getting around on walkers. Larry Niven joined us, and when Steven Barnes came to say hello they had an impromptu 30-second story conference about the book the three are writing. I also had a chance to greet Harry Turtledove and Gregory Benford.

The Paperback Show is a terrific one-day event with a great spirit that reminds everyone why they’re glad they found the sf/f community. If you’re local, be sure to come out when it’s held again next year.

Pixel Scroll 2/8/17 With Many Alternative Facts About The Square Of The Hypotenuse

(1) TOUGHER THAN IT LOOKS. Sue Duff thought it would be easy to destroy the Earth, but noooo! She explains the difficulties in a guest post for SFFWorld.

When I plotted out my five-book series a couple years ago, I knew that by book four, it would be time to give my characters a break and began to torture my worlds. I needed to increase the stakes across both dimensions for the big finale in book five. It took quite a bit of research, in spite of my amateur earth and space science interests, and found that it’s not easy to make reality align with your imagination! The challenge was to have my antagonist destroy Thrae, Earth’s mirror dimension, while salvaging enough of the planet to support life. Luckily, I sat on a panel with two NASA scientists at Denver Comic Con and cornered them afterwards to verify my research. I was thrilled, and more than a little relieved, to discover that the details were accurate!

(2) LOCUS AWARD POLL IS OPEN. John Scalzi has beaten me to a pair of headlines today – I’m lucky he spends most of his time on books. John was first with the Audie Awards, and now this —

(3) SHADOW CLARKE. Paul Kincaid tells how he thinks the shadow Clarke jury will operate.

I have never been involved with a shadow jury before, so I’m probably going to be making it up as we go along. But my take on it is that the Clarke Award has become central to the way we see science fiction in Britain, so the shadow jury will use it as a jumping off point from which to expand the discussion of science fiction.

We’ll be starting with the submissions list, which is due to be published shortly and which is probably the best and most convenient way to discover what science fiction has been published in Britain during any particular year. From this we will each, individually, draw up our own preferred shortlists, based on what we’ve read and what we want to read. (No plan survives an encounter with the enemy, so I assume that as we read through our chosen books our views about what should or should not be on the shortlist will change. In many ways, I suspect that will be the most interesting part of the exercise.) We will also, of course, be reading the actual shortlist when that is announced, so the whole exercise will be a scaled-up version of Maureen Kincaid Speller’s wonderful Shortlist Project from a few years back.

(4) THE RIGHTS. Read “SFWA Statements on Register of Copyright and Copyright Reform” at the SFWA Blog.

On January 31, SFWA submitted two sets of copyright-related commentary (authored by SFWA’s Legal Affairs Committee) — one to the Librarian of Congress offering recommendations for choosing the new Register of Copyrights, and one to the House Judiciary Committee regarding its first proposal for copyright reform. SFWA also signed onto a submission from the National Writers Union to the US Copyright Office concerning Group Registration of Contributions to Periodicals.

(5) HEAR THIS ONE BEFORE? From the “Traveler” essay in Larry Niven’s Stars and Gods collection:

Lost luggage? Air France lost a passenger in the Soviet Union, because he annoyed them. They dropped Tom Doherty in Moscow when he only had an internal passport for Leningrad.

(6) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY PUPPETEER

  • Born February 8, 1969 – Mary Robinette Kowal

(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY GARÇON

  • February 8, 1828 — Jules Verne

(8) SQUEE. Walter Jon Williams has signed the contract for three more books in the Praxis series. He discusses the deal in “Unto the Breach”.

And so (I hear you ask) why seek publication by the Big Five after all?  Because (1) they offered me money, and (2) I don’t want to put all my career eggs into a single basket.   Ebook sales are volatile, many sales are generated by gimmicks that quickly grow obsolete, and I’m in competition with a couple million self-published authors who can’t write their way out of a paper bag, but who get just as much shelf space as I do.  If you’re published by a traditional publisher, it demonstrates that someone cared enough for your work to pay more than taxi-fare money for it.

And if the books fail, I’ll get them back, and then I’ll market them myself.  Win/win.

The headline was JJ’s reaction to the news.

(9) CONGRATULATIONS. Jason Sanford’s short story collection Never Never Stories has been translated and released in China by Douban Reads.

The collection is being released as two separate books with similar but different covers. Here’s the link to Never Never Stories Book 1 and here’s Book 2.

(10) MAKE YOUR OWN KESSEL RUN. Graeme McMillan at The Hollywood Reporter says Disney has announced that Star Wars Land will open in Disney World’s Hollywood Studios section in 2019, with a smaller one in Anaheim. They’re mum about what will be in it, but it’s 14 acres!

It’s like ‘La La Land,’ but with less dancing and more Jedi.

Disney is planning something big to mark the conclusion of the current Star Wars trilogy. How big? The size of a theme park.

On a call with investors, Disney CEO Bob Iger on Tuesday revealed that the 14-acre Star Wars Land attraction at Walt Disney World in Orlando will open in 2019, the same year as Star Wars Episode IX, the final chapter in the current “Skywalker Saga” arc of the beloved space opera.

Construction started on the Hollywood Studios attraction last April, following its August 2015 announcement. Until Iger’s statement on Tuesday, Disney had remained quiet about the attraction — which will be paired with a similar one in Disneyland Anaheim — beyond the release of concept artwork last summer. While it’s still unconfirmed just what the attraction will include, a Disney Parks blog post promised “guests will get the opportunity to pilot the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy” after climbing on board a full-size replica of the Millennium Falcon.

(11) THE BOX SCORE. These are the authors who wrote the most short fiction in 2016 that was published in any of the eleven publications or eleven anthologies Rocket Stack Rank reviewed last year. — “2016 Prolific SF/F Short Fiction Authors”

Here are Rocket Stack Rank’s 35 most prolific science fiction & fantasy short fiction authors of 2016. Click on their names in the two tables below to see their stories, and use the Score and AvgScore columns to try some authors you might not have read before. They were selected from the 818 original stories reviewed by RSR in 2016, which include 568 authors who wrote 5.8 million words published in 11 SF/F magazines and 11 SF/F anthologies. (RSR does not read horror magazines or horror anthologies.)

Greg Hullender adds, “Not a surprise to see Rick Larson and Robert Reed at the top in terms of number of stories. The counts by number of words are strongly affected by novella writers, but still interesting.  Could be a useful resource to people looking for a new author to try out.”

(12) THE BOOKS YOU LOVE. Biblio.com has tips on “Storing A Book Collection”.

We routinely hear from customers who want to know the best way to store collectible books. Sadly, even more commonly, we hear from customers who have inadvertently stored their books improperly, eroding the value of their beloved book collection.

We thought we’d take an opportunity to share with you some tips for proper storage of books, gleaned from not only our own personal experience, but that of seasoned professional booksellers. But before we dive right in to the stacks, let’s preface the whole thing by reminding you that:

CONDITION IS EVERYTHING!

Even the most scarce of titles is rarely worth much when it is in poor condition or beyond repair. Mildew, broken spines, torn or faded dust jackets, cocked bindings and similar issues can conspire to move a desirable book from the display case to the bargain bin.

Ok, that said, let’s learn how we can keep your book collection from ruin when you need to put it in storage for a period of time…

(13) OB SF. The Washington Post’s Michael E. Ruane, in “An American filmed the German army in WWI — until they became the enemy”, has an interesting article about the Library of Congress’s restoration of On the Firing Line with the Germans, a documentary Wilbur H. Durborough did on the Eastern Front in Germany in 1915.

The sf connection is that Durborough’s cameraman, Irving G. Ries, had a long, distinguished career in Hollywood capped by an Oscar nomination for his work on the special effects in Forbidden Planet in 1956.

(14) THE MATRYOSHKA TWEETS. It began when Cat Rambo reminded SFWA members to make their Nebula nominations.

(15) DISBELIEF SUSPENDERS. College Humor poses the question — Which Is Nerdier: Star Wars or Star Trek?

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

Pixel Scroll 1/26/17 What Is The Pixel Capacity Of A European Scroll? Laden or Unladen? Aaargh!

(1) END OF PERIOD. As John Hertz said in his report on the dedication of Forrest J Ackerman Square, the city promised to replace the original sign with the erroneous period after the initial “J” – erroneous, because Forry spelled his name without one. And as you can see in this photo by Robert Kerr, the city has installed the corrected sign above the intersection.

Ackerman Square corrected sign

(2) BIG ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION. Greg Ketter’s Minneapolis bookstore is featured in “Wi12: Busman’s Holiday Possibilities” at Shelf Awareness.

DreamHaven Books & Comics

Since opening on April 1, 1977, DreamHaven Books & Comics has moved 10 times and even had multiple locations open at once. Today it’s located in an approximately 3,300-square-foot storefront at 2301 East 38th street, the store’s home for the last eight and a half years, in a neighborhood around five miles southeast of downtown Minneapolis. According to owner Greg Ketter, despite various changes over the years, DreamHaven’s specialization in science fiction, fantasy, horror and comic books has remained constant. The book inventory is a mix of used and new, with a higher proportion of used, rare and collectible books than in years past; Ketter also carries a great deal of movie and comic memorabilia. One of the store’s centerpieces is a towering model of Robby the Robot from the film Forbidden Planet. Throughout the store other models and statues abound.

DreamHaven is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a party on April 1. Ketter has author appearances and a sale planned for the day, and is working in concert with Once Upon a Crime, a mystery bookstore in Minneapolis celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

(3) BROUGHT TEARS TO MY EYES. Randy Byers, co-editor of Chunga, has promising news about the progress of his cancer treatment.

Again, the discussion is too technical for me to follow, but it all sounds pretty hopeful, which I assume is why Dr. Taylor was willing to be so optimistic right to my face. I feel torn between wild optimism on my own part and cautious skepticism. No doubt I’ll need to read and discuss it further, but damn if I didn’t immediately start thinking, “Maybe I *will* get to see Celine grow up!”

(4) INCONSTANT MOON.little birdie told us that Larry Niven’s award-winning story may be filmed — “’Arrival’ Producer Developing ‘Inconstant Moon’ Sci-Fi Movie for Fox”.

Fox 2000 is launching development on a movie based on Larry Niven’s science-fiction story “Inconstant Moon” with Oscar-nominated “Arrival” producer Shawn Levy and his 21 Laps company on board.

“The Specatcular Now” director James Ponsoldt is attached from a script by Daniel Casey. Levy and 21 Laps’ Dan Cohen will produce along with Ponsoldt through his 1978 Pictures company and Vince Gerardis through his Created By company.

“Inconstant Moon,” which first appeared in the 1971 short story collection “All the Myriad Ways,” begins with the moon glowing much brighter than ever before, leading the narrator to presume that the sun has gone nova and that this is the last night of his life. He spends the night with his girlfriend but then discovers that the reality is that the Earth has been hit by massive solar flare that kills most the inhabitants of the Eastern Hemisphere.

Levy received an Oscar nomination Tuesday for producing “Arrival” along with Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder and David Linde. “Arrival” was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Denis Villeneuve.

(5) A REALLY BAD MAN. Atlas Obscura reminds us about a forgotten fictional character who had a major influence on genre fiction over the years: “The Criminal History of Fant?mas, France’s Favorite Fictional Villain”.

As villains go, Fantômas is a nasty one. Created in 1911, he is a gentleman criminal who perpetrates gruesome, elaborate crimes with no clear motivation. He hangs a victim inside a church bell so that when it rings blood rains on the congregation below. He attempts to kill Juve, the detective on his trail, by trapping the man in a room that slowly fills with sand. He skins a victim and makes gloves from the dead man’s hands in order to leave the corpse’s fingerprints all over the scene of a new crime.

His creators called him the “Genius of Evil” and the “Lord of Terror,” but he remained a cipher with so many identities that often only Jove would recognize him. The book that first introduces him begins with a voice asking: Who is Fantômas?

(6) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • January 26, 1934 — One of America’s best-loved movie projects gets underway as producer Samuel Goldwyn buys the film rights to The Wizard of Oz.

(7) FAUX FACTS FOR SALE. Chuck Tingle’s Buttbart has opened an Alternative Fact Warehouse where you can purchase such alternative facts as “JOM HAMM IS YOUR HANDSOME ONLINE BUD WHO LIKES TO SKYPE” for a few dollars, with the proceeds going to Planned Parenthood.

(8) HE SAID ILK. Milo is scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley on February 1. He was prevented by protestors from speaking at another UC campus a few weeks ago. UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks has issued a statement reminding the university community that theirs is the home of the Free Speech Movement.

Mr. Yiannopoulos is not the first of his ilk to speak at Berkeley and he will not be the last. In our view, Mr. Yiannopoulos is a troll and provocateur who uses odious behavior in part to “entertain,” but also to deflect any serious engagement with ideas. He has been widely and rightly condemned for engaging in hate speech directed at a wide range of groups and individuals, as well as for disparaging and ridiculing individual audience members, particularly members of the LGBTQ community….

Berkeley is the home of the Free Speech Movement, and the commitment to free expression is embedded in our Principles of Community as the commitment “to ensur(e) freedom of expression and dialogue that elicits the full spectrum of views held by our varied communities.” As a campus administration, we have honored this principle by defending the right of community members who abide by our campus rules to express a wide range of often-conflicting points of view. We have gone so far as to defend in court the constitutional rights of students of all political persuasions to engage in unpopular expression on campus. Moreover, we are defending the right to free expression at an historic moment for our nation, when this right is once again of paramount importance. In this context, we cannot afford to undermine those rights, and feel a need to make a spirited defense of the principle of tolerance, even when it means we tolerate that which may appear to us as intolerant.

As part of the defense of this crucial right, we have treated the [Berkeley College Republicans’] efforts to hold the Yiannopoulos event exactly as we would that of any other student group. Since the event was announced, staff from our Student Affairs office, as well as officers from the University of California Police Department (UCPD), have worked, as per policy and standard practice, with the BCR to ensure the event goes as planned, and to provide for the safety and security of those who attend, as well as those who will choose to protest Yiannopoulos’s appearance in a lawful manner.

(9) EARLY WARNING. Declan Finn, in “Live and Let Bite, Best Horror at the Dragon Awards”, shows a photo of a Dragon Award trophy and declares —

In 2017, I’m going to be getting one of these.

Nice, huh? They look nifty, right? Here, let’s pull back a bit.

Yeah, I’m pretty much going to lay my cards on the table and say this is going to win the second annual Dragon Awards in 2017. This is not actually a boast. It’s just logical. No, seriously. Follow me around the windmills of my mind. Live and Let Bite is everything you loved in Honor at Stake and Murphy’s Law of Vampires, and then doubles down.

(10) THE MAGIC NUMBER. Dan Koboldt gives “5 Reasons to Vote for the Hugo Awards”.

2. Expose Yourself to Other Forms of SF/F

Most of us read enough novels to know how we want to vote in that category. Novels and series are the bread-and-butter of the SF/F genre. Furthermore, after the commercial success of Game of Thrones, Westworld, and other franchises, there are arguably more people reading SF/F novels than ever before. Thousand of people vote for the “best novel” Hugo Award.

I wish we could say the same about short stories, novelettes, and novellas.

Short fiction is a critical form of SF/F literature, and indeed is how many of us learned how to write. There are some wonderful markets that publish it — Clarkesworld, Galaxy’s Edge, and Nature, just to name a few — but the readership is much, much smaller. The Hugo Awards are a great opportunity to discover, read, and reward outstanding works in these briefer formats.

(11) AN ICE TOUR. Val and Ron Ontell are organizing pre- and post-Worldcon tours designed for those heading to Helsinki. Before the con there is a tour of Scandinavia, Talinn and St. Petersburg, and afterwards a tour of Iceland. Itineraries for both are at the site.

(12) FISHING WITH BAIT. John Joseph Adams has posted Hugo-eligible items and from Lightspeed, Nightmare and anthologies, and is offering to e-mail additional material to Hugo nominators with proof of voting eligibility.

If you are planning and eligible to vote for the Hugos this year, if you email me proof of your Worldcon membership (i.e., your name is listed on the Worldcon website as an attending member, or the email confirmation or receipt you received when you purchased your membership, etc.) I would be happy to make some additional 2016 material I edited available to you in digital format.

(13) ANOTHER FISHERMAN. Jameson Quinn wrote in a comment here today —

The paper on E Pluribus Hugo by Bruce Schneier and I had made it through peer review when the journal that had accepted it (Voting Matters) suddenly lost its funding and retroactively folded. We were trying to pressure the editor who had accepted it to help us find another place for it, but it looks as if that’s not happening. We’re still planning to publish it in another journal, but sadly we’ll probably have to repeat the whole peer review process. However, it is our belief that the paper is still eligible to be nominated for Best Related Work.

(14) TICKY. The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists make it out to be two-and-a-half minutes til Midnight — “Doomsday Click Moves Closer to Midnight, Signaling Concern Among Scientists” in the New York Times.

Ms. Bronson, in a post-announcement interview, explained why the board had included the 30-second mark in the measurement. She said that it was an attention-catching signal that was meant to acknowledge “what a dangerous moment we’re in, and how important it is for people to take note.”

“We’re so concerned about the rhetoric, and the lack of respect for expertise, that we moved it 30 seconds,” she said. “Rather than create panic, we’re hoping that this drives action.”

In an op-ed for The New York Times, Dr. Titley and Dr. Krauss elaborated on their concerns, citing the increasing threats of nuclear weapons and climate change, as well as President Trump’s pledges to impede what they see as progress on both fronts, as reasons for moving the clock closer to midnight.

“Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person,” they wrote. “But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter.”

[Thanks to JJ, Cat Eldridge, Howard Osler, Van Ontell, David K.M.Klaus, Michael J. Walsh, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Kip W and Yours Truly.]

Pixel Scroll 11/25/16 Pixel, Pixel Every Where, Nor Any Scroll To Tick

(1) PRO TIP. Jason Sanford, upon reading editor Sean Wallace’s Facebook comments about getting negative replies to fast submission responses, says “Authors shouldn’t whine about fast rejection times”.

The Dark is a online magazine of horror and dark fantasy which, in the last three years, has received a number of accolades and reprints in “year’s best” anthologies. Edited by Sean Wallace and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, the magazine is open to more experimental stories and new authors, which results in issues of The Dark often pushing the boundaries of both the genre and literary fiction.

The Dark is also known for fast response times on most submissions, often within 24 hours. Sean and assistant editor Jack Fisher divide up the slush pile and give each story a first read.

You’d think authors would be happy with fast response times because it means they can submit their stories somewhere else. But it turns out some authors hate a quick no. They’d rather the band-aid be pulled off bit by bit over months and years instead of a quick yank…..

(2) OH, THOSE SLUSH CRUSHERS. Gardner Dozois, commenting on Sean Wallace’s public Facebook post, told how he dealt with the flood of unsolicited manuscripts in his days at Asimov’s.

In fact, one of the greatest challenges in training a slush reader–and I’ve trained several–is to teach them not to spend time reading all or even more of a manuscript that is obviously hopeless, and train them out of reading all of it to “give it a chance.” We used to get a thousand manuscripts a month at ASIMOV’S; no time for that.

I had a few [slush readers] at the beginning of my tenure at ASIMOV’S, but after a year or so I decided that nobody could do the job as good or as fast as I did myself, so from that point on I read all the slush at ASIMOV’S myself. Part of the challenge of reading slush, and mostly why I took it over myself, is that your job is not only to plow through the bad stories and get rid of them as fast as possible, but ALSO to spot the good or potentially good stories that are also going to show up in the slush. I found I could get people who could plow through the bad stuff, but nobody who was as good as I was myself in spotting the good and potentially good stuff. Used right, a slush pile can be a valuable resource for a magazine, and several writers who later became reliable regulars started there.

(3) ART THAT GRABS YOUR ATTENTION. Dangerous Minds takes a tour of “The Fabulously Surreal Sci-Fi Book Covers of Davis Meltzer”

That delightful ’60s/‘70s intersection of pop-psychedelic surrealism and space-age futurism produced some of the most awesome book covers the world has ever seen, with illustrations that often far exceeded in greatness the pulpy sci-fi genre novels they’d adorned. While some of those artists achieved renown, too often, those covers were the works of obscure toilers about whom little is known.

Davis Meltzer, alas, fits deep into the latter category. My best search-fu yielded so little biographical data that I’m not even able to determine if he’s currently alive.

meltzer02_465_777_int

(4) OPEN THE POD BAY DOOR. At Reverse Shot, Damon Smith has a deep analysis of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which he says is “the first modern sci-fi movie:  mature, intelligent, technically precise, and ambiguously metaphysical.”

Science, art, and the spiritual have been linked for centuries across pictorial traditions, but they achieve a unique synthesis in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, an audaciously cerebral epic that, whenever seen or contemplated in its original 70mm format, never feels like anything less than a miracle of human imagination. The relevance of 2001 has kept pace with the times, too, as it coolly examines our relationship with technology and the grand mystery of cosmic reality, which grows richer and stranger the more we learn about the physics of massive phenomena we cannot directly observe (dark matter, black holes) and the even spookier action of quantum-scale particles. Grappling seriously with our place in the universe as individuals and as a species, 2001 was the first modern sci-fi movie; mature, intelligent, technically precise, and ambiguously metaphysical, the film mostly dispenses with conventional narrative in order to represent, for much of its 160-minute duration, the physical and psychological experience of “being in space.” More importantly, by coding his unusually realistic visual journey with mythic totems and baffling set pieces, Kubrick heightens the subjective experience of viewers, leaving the logic of the whole intentionally fuzzy and open to innumerable readings. Forty-seven years after its debut, 2001: A Space Odyssey continues to fascinate audiences, influencing filmmakers as artistically dissimilar as George Lucas, Alfonso Cuarón, and Christopher Nolan, and casting a long, monolithic shadow over any filmic depiction of interstellar space, all without losing its seemingly timeless mystique.

(5) EXPANSE PERK. Orbit Books UK has a message for Expanse fans

For a limited time, we’re giving away free signed bookplates with proof of pre-order of Babylon’s Ashes. Visit the website to submit…

(6) FANTASTIC CHOW. Tired of turkey yet? Scott Edelman invites you to listen to another round of barbecue in the latest Eating the Fantastic podcast — “Grab Kansas City BBQ with the incredibly prolific Robert Reed in Episode 23 of Eating the Fantastic”.

robertreedeatingthefantasticq39-768x768

My final Eating the Fantastic episode recorded during the Kansas City Worldcon was also my final taste of Kansas City BBQ. I chose Q39 for my brisket farewell, as Bonjwing Lee, a foodie I trust, had written that the place offered “some of the most tender and well-smoked meat” he’d eaten recently according to his Eater survey on Kansas City burnt ends.

My guest this episode is the incredible prolific Robert Reed, who’s been writing award-winning science fiction for decades—and I do mean decades—starting in 1986, when he was the first Writers of the Future Grand Prize Winner for his story “Mudpuppies,” all the way to 2007, when he won the Best Novella Hugo Award for “A Billion Eves” (which I was honored to accept on his behalf at the 2007 Worldcon in Yokohama).

(7) RE-READING. Juliet E. McKenna adds another book to her life raft: “Desert Island Books – Larry Niven – Tales of Known Space”.

Why this particular collection, of all Niven’s books? It has some of my favourite stories in it, such as Eye of an Octopus for a start. It’s also an interesting collection for a writer since it charts the evolution of his Known Space writing and includes a timeline as well as some author’s notes reflecting on the haphazard creation of a milieu through a varied body of work, written over many years. Unsurprisingly, this is of particular interest to me, as I continue exploring the River Kingdom world which I’m developing. I also want to take a new and closer look at Niven’s skills and techniques, in the peace and quiet that I hope to find on this notional Desert Island. The advent of ebooks is seeing a resurgence in shorter form fiction and I reckon we can all learn a lot from looking back to the previous heyday of SF as published in weekly and monthly magazines.

What? I’m calling for a return to the past? Advocating a reactionary, old-fashioned view of SF? Not at all. Don’t be daft. I’m talking about craft, not content here. Mind you, if you want to argue with the content, you’ll need to come prepared. Niven is an eloquent and persuasive advocate for his particular world view. Do I always agree with him? No. But that’s something else I’ve always valued about reading science fiction: getting insights into attitudes that might challenge me to justify my own. All the more so in our current world, now that it’s fatally easy to end up in our own personal echo chambers, thanks to Twitter and Facebook. Reading stories from people who in operate in different spheres can definitely broaden our perspective.

(8) AND IT WASN’T A SNICKERS. Business Insider reports “Astronomers just discovered one of the most massive objects in the universe hiding behind the Milky Way”.

To peer through it, Kraan-Korteweg and her colleagues combined the observations of several telescopes: the newly refurbished South African Large Telescope near Cape Town, the Anglo-Australian Telescope near Sydney, and X-ray surveys of the galactic plane.

Using that data, they calculated how fast each galaxy they saw above and below the galactic plane was moving away from Earth. Their number-crunching soon revealed that they all seemed to be moving together — indicating a lot of galaxies couldn’t be seen.

“It became obvious we were uncovering a massive network of galaxies, extending much further than we had ever expected,” Michelle Cluver, an astrophysicist at the University of the Western Cape, said in a release.

The researchers estimate that Vela supercluster is about the same mass of the Shapley supercluster of roughly 8,600 galaxies, which is located about 650 million light-years away. Given that the typical galaxy has about 100 billion stars, researchers estimate that Vela could contain somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000 trillion stars.

(9) GODZILLA EFFECTS. “Shirogumi X Stealthworks Shin Godzilla Destruction Reel” gives some examples of the FX used in Shin Godzilla, while carefully NOT explaining why the filmmakers decided to make 90 percent of the film a foreign policy seminar about Japan’s role in world affairs

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • November 25, 1915: Albert Einstein formulated his general theory of relativity.
  • November 23, 1951 DC Comics has its first feature film with Superman and the Mole Men.

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS

  • Born November 25, 1920 — Noel Neill
  • Born November 25, 1920 — Ricardo Montalban

Lois Lane and Khan….

(12) @MIDNIGHT PROFILES TINGLE. Chris Hardwick enlists Willam Belli, Justin Martindale and Bridget Everett to help him uncover the identity of mysterious erotic novelist Chuck Tingle.

(13) IT’S ABOUT TIME. This New York Times op-ed writer doesn’t just want to get rid of the changes between daylight savings and standard time, but wants to dump time zones too.

Most people would be happy to dispense with this oddity of timekeeping, first imposed in Germany 100 years ago. But we can do better. We need to deep-six not just daylight saving time, but the whole jerry-rigged scheme of time zones that has ruled the world’s clocks for the last century and a half.

The time-zone map is a hodgepodge — a jigsaw puzzle by Dalí. Logically you might assume there are 24, one per hour. You would be wrong. There are 39, crossing and overlapping, defying the sun, some offset by 30 minutes or even 45, and fluctuating on the whims of local satraps.

Let us all — wherever and whenever — live on what the world’s timekeepers call Coordinated Universal Time, or U.T.C. (though “earth time” might be less presumptuous). When it’s noon in Greenwich, Britain, let it be 12 everywhere. No more resetting the clocks. No more wondering what time it is in Peoria or Petropavlovsk. Our biological clocks can stay with the sun, as they have from the dawn of history. Only the numerals will change, and they have always been arbitrary.

Some mental adjustment will be necessary at first. Every place will learn a new relationship with the hours. New York (with its longitudinal companions) will be the place where people breakfast at noon, where the sun reaches its zenith around 4 p.m., and where people start dinner close to midnight. (“Midnight” will come to seem a quaint word for the zero hour, where the sun still shines.) In Sydney, the sun will set around 7 a.m., but the Australians can handle it; after all, their winter comes in June.

(14) ONE PICTURE, JJ recommends this Tom Gauld cartoon on adapting books for film and TV.

After Zadie Smith’s 300-page novel NW was made into a film by the BBC, Tom Gauld thinks up a hypothetical conversation between an author and a producer

(15) FOR THE EPICUREAN. Who ‘n’ Ales (@who_n_ales) is a Twitter account “dedicated to finding you the perfect pairing between real ale and classic Dr Who.”

A couple of example tweets —

(16) BONUS: DEEP TURKEY PSYCHOLOGY: The Gallery of Dangerous Women has something to say about wild turkeys.

Why are kayaks Incredibly Rude to swans? I’m asking because we have a lot of wild turkeys on my college campus and they HATE cars. They will block you from opening car doors, circle you in your car like a shark, jump on top of cars and snap at tires.

…2/2 so I was wondering if large birds just hate human transportation or something haha. Thanks for your post, very interesting.            

(In reference to a comment I made about kayaks being incredibly rude in Swan Culture)…

I’ve been looking at my inbox like “I am not some kind of ECCENTRIC BIRD WHISPERER,” but I actually know the answer to this one, and it’s hilarious.

Large birds don’t have a particular hateboner for human transportation, but wild turkeys have two unique properties that make them behave ridiculously when they collide with human populations….

The First Unique Turkey Property: Now, wild turkeys are a little bit like betta fish, in that they perceive any shiny/reflective surface that shows them a reflection as actually containing Another Turkey, and they react accordingly. When they react to the Other Turkey – usually by posturing aggressively and flaring their fins feathers majestically – the Other Turkey ESCALATES THE SITUATION by posturing as well. At some point the real turkey loses its temper and attacks, pecking and scratching and trying to take the fucker apart, only to find that the Other Turkey has protected itself with some kind of force field.

So to a wild turkey that has encountered enough autumnal car-related psychic battles, the completely logical conclusion to take away from them is that cars contain demonic spirits that must be subdued. Other examples of things that wild turkeys are compelled to vanquish include… well, other reflective things.

To address this, cover reflective things (you can rub soap on your car to make it less reflective) and frighten off the turkey if it’s keeping you from leaving your car….

[Thanks to Todd Dashoff, JJ, Mark-kitteh, Cat Eldridge, Martin Morse Wooster, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Stoic Cynic.]

Pixel Scroll 10/27/16 Take a Pixel, Maria, Scroll It Up My Screen

(1) HARASSMENT CLAIMS ANOTHER CREATOR. Comics Beat’s Heidi MacDonald reports another woman comics creator abandoned Twitter because of abuse — “Bestselling author Chelsea Cain driven off Twitter by harassment from comcs ‘fans’”.

Mockingbird writer Chelsea Cain, the bestselling author of Heartsick and other thrillers, deleted her Twitter account today after receiving abusive tweets yesterday….

In a now vanished series of tweets (one screencapped above)  Cain noted that she was getting harassing tweets, presumably over the above Mockingbird cover and her work there in general. It’s possible that she was targeted from 4chan or Reddit as well. After saying she was considering pulling the plug…she did just that.

This ignited a firestorm of support on Twitter as well….

And a #standwithchelseacain hashtag was trending for quite a while and is still gaining steam. I doubt this is going to calm down any time soon.

I guess everyone feels a little burnt on social media at the mo, but the harassment problem isn’t a woman’s problem, it’s a MAN’S problem. The good men of comics and everywhere need to make it clear they do not support or tolerate hate, abuse and misogyny. This isn’t a borderline case. It’s clear, indisputable harassment. And that should not be part of the “comics conversation.”

The abuse against women in comics is equally clear and indisputable, and the abuse against women of color is even worse. And so on down the line. It’s toxic and inexcusable.

(2) TAKE THE LONGER WAY. Scifinow has an interview with Becky Chambers.

[CHAMBERS] So when they asked me, “What would you like to do next?” I was like, “Well, I don’t have anything for this crew, but Pepper and Lovelace, those two are, they’ve got stuff that I’d like to explore.” So that was just the thread I picked up and went with.

They’re such a great pairing! So they were the starting point?

Yeah, it really did happen by accident. That was one of the last things that I figured out in The Long Way. A lot of the stuff that happened in the book I’d scribbled down and imagined well before I actually sat down and wrote the thing, but I was a long way through the first draft before I knew where Lovelace was going to go after the first book. Somehow Pepper just sort of naturally took that spot.

It was one of those wonderful moments where something happens when you’re writing that you didn’t intend and it’s just like, “Oh, that actually works really well!” I started thinking about how these two women have vastly different backgrounds and life experiences but they actually have quite a bit in common, and it was fun playing with that. It was fun finding the similarities between two characters who, at first blush, don’t look like they could have anything similar at all and yet are walking such similar paths.

(3) THE SCIENCE IN SCIENCE FICTION. Joshua Sky interviewed Larry Niven for Omni.

JS: One of your goals as a writer is to continuously publish science fiction that is at the cutting edge of science. Is that still the case?

NIVEN: Yes, Fred (editor of If and Galaxy magazines at the time) gave me that goal, because I was already doing it, without quite making it a goal. He in fact suggested me writing stories and he finding scientists to write articles alongside the stories on the same subject, and we never got that far. I think he must’ve found that to be too much work.

JS: Is your process that you check the news, read the latest discoveries in science, and then write a story based on your findings?

NIVEN: That was my goal. In fact, I never really managed it.

JS: Is it difficult to keep track of the latest developments in science?

NIVEN: That’s easy. That’s a hobby. Doing your research for fun, and hoping it generates stories. Sometimes it does.

(4) WHAT I REALLY MEANT TO SAY. Here’s a Los Angeles Times article that will refresh your memory about the new California law requiring autographed memorabilia come with a certificate of authenticity —  “The high cost of an autograph”.

The bill’s author, Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang, faced with a firestorm of protest from booksellers, issued this letter that argues her legal language should not be interpreted in the draconian way people assume.

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(5) VANISHING CULT. The LA Times’ Josh Rottenberg asks, “In an age of comic-book blockbusters and viral sensations, whatever happened to the cult movie?”

Those old video stores have virtually all disappeared now, of course, along with many of the independent movie theaters that, in decades past, drew steady crowds to such “midnight movies” – all of it swept away in the transition to a fully digital, on-demand world. And the cult movies themselves? It seems they’re in danger of going extinct as well.

In today’s fragmented, ever-churning pop culture ecosystem, the long tail of home video that once gave oddball movies a shot at a glorious cult afterlife has shortened to the point of vanishing. With even big-budget commercial films often struggling to break through the endless clutter of content, the challenge for smaller, quirkier fare is that much harder.

Even when a particular offbeat film – say, “The Babadook” or “It Follows” – manages to catch a viral wave, it is almost instantly overcome by the next fresh piece of “must-watch” entertainment that demands your already overtaxed attention. Instead of a long tail, we now have a collective case of incurable cultural ADHD.

(6) WRITER’S NOTEBOOK. In his latest post at This Way To Texas, Lou Antonelli shares an idea for a story – “The Revenge of the Internet” — inspired by this premise:

OK, the big problem with social media – which I think everyone recognizes – is that it allows you to attack or insult people with impunity. it unleashes our worst nature. We can get away with saying things to people we would never say to their face, or even on the phone, and we can do it across great distances….

(7) GENDER COUNTING. Juliet McKenna says this is what the numbers say about “Gender in Genre and the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2016”.

When the only thing that counts is what readers make of the writing, the story really is all that matters.

The second thing I’m seeing here? Out of three hundred SPFBO [Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off] submissions this year, the field was 49% male, 33% female and 18 unknown as they were using initials. Can we assume those initials all belong to women? I’d say that’s a risky assumption – and even if that were the case, that still means only a third of the books were written by women prepared to raise a hand to be identified as such. What does that tell us?

Once again, it confirms something I’ve seen time and again since I started writing about inequalities in visibility in SF&F. Something I’ve had confirmed as an endemic problem in fields such as medicine, science, computing, literary criticism, history and the law. Women are still culturally conditioned to put themselves forward much less and to hold their own work to a far higher standard before offering it for publication. It’s a problem that frustrates and infuriates editors, from those working on academic journals, through fiction anthologies in all genres, to the commissioning editors in publishing houses. With the best will in the world, the best initiatives to improve diversity and representation can only work if those who’ve been historically excluded now step forward.

(8) BEFORE THERE WAS DYSTOPIA. In his article “We should remember HG Wells for his social predictions, not just his scientific ones” at The Conversation, Victorian fiction professor Simon John James notes that it’s H.G. Wells’s sesquicentennial, and gives back ground on Wells’s political achievements, including how Wells’s ideas inspired the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights.

Today, given the role that national identity continues to play in human beings’ efforts for greater self-determination, the prospect of Wells’s world state seems even less likely. One surprising legacy remains, however, from Wells’s forecasts of a better future for humankind. Letters from Wells to The Times led to the Sankey Committee for Human Rights and Wells’s 1940 Penguin Special The Rights of Man; Or What Are We Fighting For? (recently reissued with a preface by novelist Ali Smith). Wells argued that the only meaningful outcome for the war would be the declaration of an agreed set of universal human rights and an international court to enforce them.

Wells’s aspiration was the guaranteeing of the right to life, education, work, trade and property for every man and woman on Earth. (Surprisingly, given his earlier flirtation with positive eugenics, Wells also insisted on “freedom from any sort of mutilation or sterilisation” and from torture.) The influence of Wells’s work is clear in the United Nations 1948 Declaration of Universal Human Rights. These rights now have legal force if not universal existence: so are perhaps Wells’s most significant prophetic aim.

(9) JABBA’S JAZZ BAND ON THE TITANIC. I was amused by a sportswriter’s use of a Star Wars metaphor here. (There’s no reason to go read the whole article unless you want to know why a pro basketball team – the Philadelpha 76ers – has been tanking for years.)

Maduabum is not at the center of this story, but as a part of The Process he is known to the community of people who believe in it, roughly in the same way that the name of the lead singer in the band playing on Jabba the Hutt’s barge is known to your harder core Star Wars weirdos. Maduabum is a component part of a bigger story, in other words, and a peripheral cast member in that story’s expanded universe.

It’s a story that, as so often happens with things like this, is now being told by people with significantly more emotional investment in it than the original credited author. The person who came up with all this was, however idiosyncratically, trying to tell a compelling story successfully through to its conclusion, which is a complicated but prosaic thing. That story didn’t really come to life, and so cannot really have been said to work in any meaningful way, until it changed hands, as generally happens to stories that work the best. The story becomes the shared property of people who really care about it, who have more invested in it, for one, but also pursue it with both a more robust and a more authentic imagination than the story’s creator brought to it. The Process is no longer in Hinkie’s hands. It belongs, now, to the community of believers that keep it alive, and who care about it for reasons that go well beyond the stated goal of building a winning basketball team or attending some cramped and beery victory parade down Broad Street. ChuChu Maduabum is a peripheral part of that story, but he’s part of it. He’s Sy Snootles, yes, but he’s also a real guy. The Philadelphia 76ers owned his rights for six months, and then they traded them.

(10) DON’T SKIP OVER THIS. Steven Lovely picked “The 30 Best Science Fiction Books in the Universe” for Early Bird Books. You may think it’s only been ten minutes since you saw a list of sf/f greats, but this one includes a bunch of present day greats, too, like Ancillary Justice and Three-Body Problem.

(11) ORIGINAL TOURIST TERROR TOWER. In the October 27 Washington Post, John Kelly interviews Itsi Atkins, who probably invented the haunted house attraction in St. Mary’s County in 1971.  Atkins talks about how he came up with the idea and how much he enjoyed scaring people at “Blood Manor” in the 1970s: “He dreamed of screams: Meet the man behind the modern haunted house”.

With Halloween bearing down on us like an ax-wielding maniac, now’s a good time to remember Edwin “Itsi” Atkins, pioneer of fright.

“In all my research, I can’t find anybody who has a live-action haunted house before 1971,” Itsi told me when I rang him up in Georgia, where he lives now. Yes, people had “yard haunts” — elaborate decorations in their front yards — and Disneyland had its Haunted Mansion. But that was an amusement-park ride, which took safely seat-belted riders through a gently scary attraction.

What Itsi claims to have invented is the interactive experience of walking through a haunted house while being assaulted by scary actors amid frightful tableaux.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, and Martin Morse Wooster for some off these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Mart.]