(1) SOUNDS LEGIT. Newsweek’s Hannah Osborn reports “Nasa Is Hiring a Planetary Protection Officer to Save Earth from Aliens”. If you want to protect earth from space aliens and have the qualifications, NASA is hiring, on a three-year contract with pay from $124,000 to $187,000.
The headline is a little grandiose – here’s what the job is really about:
The role involves stopping astronauts and robots from getting contaminated with any organic and biological material during space travel.
“NASA maintains policies for planetary protection applicable to all space flight missions that may intentionally or unintentionally carry Earth organisms and organic constituents to the planets or other solar system bodies, and any mission employing spacecraft, which are intended to return to Earth and its biosphere with samples from extraterrestrial targets of exploration” the job advert reads. “This policy is based on federal requirements and international treaties and agreements.”
Still want to apply? The USAJOBS listing is here.
(2) STATS. A snapshot of Worldcon 75 membership, with the convention a week away:
This morning, we had over 2000 First Worldcon members, of a total of 5 700 attending. ?
— Worldcon 75 (@worldcon75) August 2, 2017
(3) HARVEST OF STORIES. Cora Buhlert went into overdrive last month: “The July Short Story Challenge 2017 – 32 Short Stories in 31 Days” . And this is the third consecutive year she’s written a story a day in July!
So let’s talk about inspiration: Where on Earth do you get inspiration for 32 stories, one for every single day? As in previous years, I used writing prompts (Chuck Wendig’s are always good), random generators (particularly name generators are a godsend, because you’ll have to come up with a lot of names for 32 stories) and images – mainly SFF concept art, but also vintage magazine covers – to spark story ideas. By now I have a whole folder on my harddrive which contains inspirational images – basically my own catalogue of concept art writing prompts. Other sources for inspiration were a call for submissions for a themed anthology, a Pet Shop Boys song I heard on the radio, 1980s cartoons that were basically glorified toy commercials, an article about dead and deserted shopping malls in the US, a news report about a new system to prevent the theft of cargo from truckbeds, a trailer for a (pretty crappy by the looks of it) horror film, the abominably bad Latin used during a satanic ritual in an episode of a TV crime drama, a short mystery where I found the killer (the least likely person, of course) a lot more interesting than the investigation. In one case, googling a research question for one story, namely whether there it’s actually legal to shoot looters after a massive disaster (it’s not, though there have been cases where law enforcement personnel was given carte blanche, with predictably terrible results) led me to the story of a man who bragged that he had shot more than thirty alleged looters after Hurricane Katrina (thankfully, it seems he was lying or at least massively exaggerating) and who amazingly was not arrested as a serial killer. This made me actively angry, so I wrote a post-apocalyptic story where a shooter of looters gets his comeuppance.
(4) CRIME BLOTTER. Alison Flood and Sian Cain of The Guardian, in “Beatrix Potter-pinching and Žižekian swipes: the strange world of book thefts”, look at who is stealing books from British bookstores. The sf connection is that at Blackwell’s in Oxford, Tolkien, Pratchett, Jordan, and Martin are among the top authors stolen, Also, “an 80-year-old woman with a Zimmer frame” heisted Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind from Drake the Bookshop in Stockton-on-Tees.
Paul Sweetman of City Books in Hove believes shoplifters appear to have dumbed down over the years. “In the 1980s, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Sylvia Plath and Jack Kerouac were the most likely to go missing, The Bell Jar and On the Road competing for being the least profitable books in the shop. We are now forced to keep Asterix, Tintin, Beatrix Potter and Dr Seuss behind the counter.”
(5) ALEX, I’LL TAKE LA ARCHITECTURE FOR $100. The answer is: Ray Bradbury. The question is: “Why Does Los Angeles Have a Mall Based on the Babylon Set From the 1916 Film Intolerance?”.
If you’ve been to the Hollywood & Highland Center and have a working knowledge of silent film history, you may have noticed that the hulking mall’s design has been lifted with mixed success from the Babylon set in DW Griffith’s 1916 epic Intolerance. (An influential and ruinously expensive feat of filmmaking in which Griffith calls out critics of his previous film, The Birth of a Nation, as the real racists; it interweaves tales of intolerance from ancient Babylon, the life of Christ, Renaissance France, and then-modern America). That’s pretty weird, right? What kind of mind came up with that? In a posthumous essay just published at the Paris Review, late science fiction author Ray Bradbury says it was his idea….
Intolerance flopped. There was no money left to dismantle the set, and for a few years it became an actual ruin in the middle of Los Angeles. It was finally torn down in 1919….
In his essay at the Paris Review, Bradbury—who led a campaign in the early 1960s to build a monorail system in Los Angeles—writes about his career as an “accidental architect,” influencing designs for the 1964 World’s Fair, EPCOT, and, strangely enough, the Glendale Galleria…..
Eventually, a group came to him “looking at ways to rebuilt Hollywood”:
I told them that somewhere in the city, they had to build the set from the 1916 film Intolerance by D. W. Griffith. The set, with its massive, wonderful pillars and beautiful white elephants on top, now stands at the corner of Hollywood and Highland avenues. People from all over the world come to visit, all because I told them to build it. I hope at some time in the future, they will call it the Bradbury Pavilion.
The Hollywood & Highland Center opened in late 2001, at the beginning of what has become a wildly successful rebirth for Hollywood. EE&K designed the complex, with a grand stairway leading up to a “Babylon Court” with a replica Intolerance gate (which frames the Hollywood Sign in the distance) and, of course, a few elephants…
(6) TODAY IN HISTORY
- August 2, 1971 — Zombies in sunglasses: The Omega Man (Charlton Heston’s version) premiered.
(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY
- August 2, 1939 — Freddy Krueger creator Wes Craven born.
(8) POTTER CAST TRANSPLANTS. Variety’s Gordon Cox, in “Meet the Wizards of Broadway’s ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”, reports seven members of the London cast are going to be in the Broadway production, scheduled to open in April.
That trio and four other British actors will lead the cast of one of the most hotly anticipated productions of the Broadway season. The newest chapter in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” saga wowed both audiences and critics when it opened last summer, and went on to win a record nine Oliviers, including the trophies for Parker (as a grown-up Harry), Dumezwani (as Hermione) and Boyle, who plays Scorpius, the son of Harry’s old nemesis, Draco Malfoy.
On Broadway, Sam Clemmett will reprise his role as Harry and Ginny’s son, Albus, alongside Paul Thornley (Ron), Poppy Miller (Ginny), and Alex Price (Draco). Byron Jennings, Kathryn Meisle and David Abeles are among the new actors joining the hefty cast of 28.
(9) X NEXT. Yahoo! says “There’s A Reason You Should Care About The Next X-Men Movie, And That Reason Is Jessica Chastain”.
On her Instagram page, the actress shared an image of her and James McAvoy – who plays Professor Charles Xavier in the films – and writes that she’s off to join the cast in Montreal.
The actress also captioned the photo “I’m gonna make you cry so hard”, which could give us a hint as to who she’s playing.
Rumours have stated that the filmmakers were looking to cast Chastain as Princess Lilandra of the Shi’ar Empire, and while she hasn’t confirmed this, it’s looking likely.
In the comics (and nineties animated series) Charles and Lilandra are in love, but their duties and very long distance gets in the way of their relationship – hence her comment about making Charles cry.
(10) COMPILATION. Lela E. Buis announces her “Review Project: Greater Inclusion of SFF Worldviews”.
During a recent discussion here at the blog, I was asked to provide examples of underrepresented minority views. I’m now starting a project to review works like this from 2017. I have several candidates lined up, but I’d also be happy to have suggestions on likely candidates. I’m especially looking for Native American and LatinX worldviews, as this group has been pretty scarce in the recent SFF awards cycles, even though Native American and LatinX persons make up about 1/5 of the US population. I’m also interested in other underrepresented worldviews within the SFF community, and I may ask a few people to do guest reviews or articles as the project goes along.
I should probably define what I mean by “worldview.” I’m not looking for just diversity of race, religion, creed, gender, sexual orientation, disability status or national origin in the authors here; I’m looking for authors writing from within their own authentic worldview instead of just replaying Western stereotypes.
(11) ART CORNUCOPIA. Digital Arts Online tells where to find the motherlode: “The British Library offers over a million free vintage images for download”.
The British Library’s collection of images on Flickr are taken from books it has its collection from the 17th, 18th and 19th Century – so well out of copyright – and are vaguely arranged by theme: such as book covers, cycling, illustrated lettering, comic art, ships or children’s book illustration. There’s also a collection of ‘Highlights‘ that’s a good place to start if you just want a general browse.
(12) I’M MELTING! Riffing on a fannish enthusiasm: is vanilla ice cream on its way out? “Is time up for plain vanilla flavour ice creams?”
But for many years, flavours from the big international brands remained stubbornly conservative, dominated by chocolate, strawberry and vanilla.
Now though, thanks to migration, long-haul travel, and the internet, consumers are becoming more adventurous and manufacturers are taking note.
Parlours have sprung up across the US offering Persian-style saffron, orange blossom, and rosewater ice cream, sprinkled with nuts and drizzled with honey; and Indian-inspired flavours such as masala chai, pineapple, and kulfi.
(13) NOT EXACTLY WESTWORLD. Film fans recreated the final set of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (technically not sf-related, but this is a story of fan-level enthusiasm): “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly location reborn in Spain”.
But in 2014, a group of local people decided to restore the site to its former glory. They called themselves the Sad Hill Cultural Association and after locating the exact cemetery spot, with the help of photographs from the film’s final scene, in 2015 they set about the painstaking process of excavating the site.
“At the start it seemed like it was going to be impossible, but bit by bit people from other provinces of Spain, other towns, and even other countries, came to help us rebuild the cemetery and it snowballed,” says David Alba, the 35-year-old president of the association. Aficionados could help finance the project by paying €15 (£13; $18) to have their name painted onto one of the wooden crosses.
Mr Alba remembers a key moment early in the excavation.
“We were digging in the ground and we saw that underneath the earth were the original stones of the central circle of the site, the place where all the actors, the director and all the technicians had walked across during the filming,” he says. “It was like digging in the ground and finding treasure.”
(14) THE BUZZER. Fun for conspiracy theorists: “The ghostly radio station that no one claims to run” (and several other strange radio stations)
In the middle of a Russian swampland, not far from the city of St Petersburg, is a rectangular iron gate. Beyond its rusted bars is a collection of radio towers, abandoned buildings and power lines bordered by a dry-stone wall. This sinister location is the focus of a mystery which stretches back to the height of the Cold War.
It is thought to be the headquarters of a radio station, “MDZhB”, that no-one has ever claimed to run. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the last three-and-a-half decades, it’s been broadcasting a dull, monotonous tone. Every few seconds it’s joined by a second sound, like some ghostly ship sounding its foghorn. Then the drone continues.
Once or twice a week, a man or woman will read out some words in Russian, such as “dinghy” or “farming specialist”. And that’s it. Anyone, anywhere in the world can listen in, simply by tuning a radio to the frequency 4625 kHz.
It’s so enigmatic, it’s as if it was designed with conspiracy theorists in mind. Today the station has an online following numbering in the tens of thousands, who know it affectionately as “the Buzzer”. It joins two similar mystery stations, “the Pip” and the “Squeaky Wheel”. As their fans readily admit themselves, they have absolutely no idea what they are listening to.
(15) ANOTHER HACKING OPPORTUNITY. More on implantable microchips: one has already been used to infect the system that read it.
Hacking and security concerns, however, are less easily hand-waved away. RFID chips can only carry a minuscule 1 kilobyte or so of data, but one researcher at Reading University’s School of Systems Engineering, Mark Gasson, demonstrated that they are vulnerable to malware.
Gasson had an RFID tag implanted in his left hand in 2009, and tweaked it a year later so that it would pass on a computer virus. The experiment uploaded a web address to the computer connected to the reader, which would cause it to download some malware if it was online.
“It was actually a surprisingly violating experience,” says Gasson. “I became a danger to the building’s systems.”
(16) DEPT. OF WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? A “Chicago Library Seeks Help Transcribing Magical Manuscripts” —
The Newberry Library in Chicago is home to some 80,000 documents pertaining to religion during the early modern period, a time of sweeping social, political, and cultural change spanning the late Middle Ages to the start of the Industrial Revolution. Among the library’s collection of rare Bibles and Christian devotional texts are a series of manuscripts that would have scandalized the religious establishment. These texts deal with magic—from casting charms to conjuring spirits—and the Newberry is asking for help translating and transcribing them.
As Tatiana Walk-Morris reports for Atlas Obscura, digital scans of three magical manuscripts are accessible through Transcribing Faith, an online portal that functions much like Wikipedia. Anyone with a working knowledge of Latin or English is invited to peruse the documents and contribute translations, transcriptions, and corrections to other users’ work.
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Lex Berman, Chip Hitchcock, Lurkertype, and Martin Morse Wooster for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Xtifr.]