Pullman and the Grenfell Tower Fundraiser

Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, offered to let readers bid for a chance to name one of the characters in his next book to benefit the victims of the recent Grenfell Tower disaster. A teacher is bidding for the name of one of his students, a resident of the tower who did not survive the fire — “Teacher’s bid to name Philip Pullman character after Grenfell Tower pupil gets £16,000 backing”.

Authors and well-wishers raising money for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire are augmenting a bid by a teacher to name a character in His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman’s new book after one of his former pupils, who lost her life.

Nur Huda, 16, died in the fire along with her parents Abdul Aziz and Fouzia, and her siblings Yasin, 21, and Mehdi, 8.

The teacher’s £1500 bid has been augmented by others’ donations, both small and large (one for £5000).

Many in the publishing industry are joining the Authors for Grenfell Tower online auction, offering items to help raise money for British Red Cross’s relief fund for Grenfell Tower residents and neighbors.

In addition to Pullman, sff donors include:

[Thanks to Nigel for the story.]

Pixel Scroll 5/10/17 Second Cinco De Mayo

(1) THE PRIZE. Mark Lawrence came up with something incredibly logical and hilarious at the same time —  “The SPFBO now has an award!”

The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off now comes with its own award. The fabulous and coveted Selfie Stick!

There are several illustrative photos with highly amusing captions at the link.

(2) SFWA HUMBLE BUNDLE. It’s a brand name, otherwise you’d probably wonder why it’s given to what might be the least humble bundle ever – Super Nebula Author Showcase – with 40 books and 31 short stories. And the works in the bundle generally are either Nebula winners or nominees, or by the authors of other Nebula-nominated work.

  • Pay $1 or more and get:

Doorways by George R.R. Martin, Venus Prime by Arthur C. Clarke, Reading the Bones by Sheila Finch, Howard Who? by Howard Waldrop (includes winner, “The Ugly Chickens”), The Healer’s War by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link (includes winner, “Louise’s Ghost”), Phoenix Without Ashes by Harlan Ellison (winning author), and Ad Astra: The 50th Anniversary SFWA Cookbook edited by Cat Rambo.

  • Pay $8 or more and also unlock:

Word Puppets by Mary Robinette Kowal, Shadow Show: Stories In Celebration of Ray Bradbury, Her Husband’s Hands and Other Stories by Adam-Troy Castro, Robot Dreams by Isaac Asimov, Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress, The Last Temptation by Neil Gaiman, Inside Job by Connie Willis, The Baum Plan for Financial Independence by John Kessel (includes winner, “Pride and Prometheus”), Sister Emily’s Lightship by Jane Yolen, The Jagged Orbit by John Brunner, The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells, and 2013 Nebula Awards Showcase.

  • Pay $15 or more and unlock

Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee, The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth by Roger Zelazny, The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction Vol. II, Frank Herbert Unpublished Stories by Frank Herbert, Everything But the Squeal by John Scalzi, Fountain of Age by Nancy Kress, Moving Mars by Greg Bear, The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson, Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison, and Archangel #1 – #4 (4 issues included) by William Gibson.

  • Pay $20 or more to unlock

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine, Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor, The Computer Connection by Alfred Bester, Burn by James Patrick Kelly, First Person Peculiar by Mike Resnick, At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson, Report to the Men’s Club by Carol Emshwiller (includes winner, “Creature”), What I Didn’t See by Karen Joy Fowler, Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany, and Bloodchild by Octavia E. Butler.

And wait, there’s more!

  • FREE: Read 31 short stories by the 2016 Nebula Nominees!

Love short stories? Bonus stories for Humble Bundle buyers: 31 short stories by the 2016 Nebula Nominees on the Great Jones Street app.

(3) UP A LAZY RIVER. Are we supposed to be shocked that Amazon has added a strategy for selling gently-used books? Publishers Weekly has learned some are scandalized by this one — “New Amazon Buy Button Program Draws Ire of Publishers, Authors”.

A new program from Amazon is drawing a range of reactions from those across the publishing industry, from fear to downright anger. The e-tailer has started allowing third-party book re-sellers to “win” buy buttons on book pages. The program, publishers, agents, and authors allege, is discouraging customers from buying new books, negatively affecting sales and revenue.

Up until now, the buy button on book pages automatically directed customers to new copies of titles Amazon stocked from the publishers. Now, re-sellers can win a buy button by meeting various criteria outline by Amazon which includes the price, availability, and delivery time. The program is also only open to books in new condition.

Those objecting to this policy say it is allowing Amazon to deprive publishers of sales and authors of royalties. (Because re-sellers are not buying their copies from publishers, these sales will not be counted as sales, and money derived from them will not go to publishers or authors.)

(4) DEFENDING AMAZON. New Republic also carried the ball for those with a negative viewpoint about Amazon’s policy, “Amazon Steps Up Its Battle With the Book Industry”, which inspired the wrath of Max Florschutz. He thought it was so outrageous he borrowed a page from Larry Correia’s playbook and set about “Fisking an Anti-Amazon Article From the New Republic” .

After the news that Amazon had begun allowing third-party sellers to “win” the buy button, it strongly condemned the company. “Without a fair and open publishing marketplace, publishers will soon lose the ability to invest in the books that advance our knowledge and culture,” it said in a statement.

Hogwash and claptrap. This is how a “fair and open” market works. Companies are allowed to sell a product on their shelves at as low a price as they want. If they bought a book from the publisher but sell it at a lower mark-up than the publisher does, that’s their right. To insist that the opposite, which would be establishing a fixed price that all books had to be sold at would be “fair and open” is lunacy. That’d be the opposite: It’d be price fixing, which the big publishers were already found guilty of once befo—Oh.

Many publishers believe they’re being cheated by sellers in the third-party marketplace, which don’t acquire their books from official channels—instead they sell remaindered copies (books that did not sell in stores and were returned to the publisher) or “hurts” (books with minor blemishes), often for rock-bottom prices. If these books are “remainders” or “hurts” or pirated, as some publishers have claimed they are, then publishers and authors won’t see a dime.

Okay, hang on a second here. This doesn’t make sense. So the publishers are complaining that the numbers of remained or damaged books being sold are damaging their sales margin? What?

Let’s look at this reasonably. Yes, damaged copies of books exist. But if they exist in such large numbers that your own book sales are declining because of that … then you already have a problem whether they are sold or not. Because your production process is generating that many damaged copies in the first place. Which means you’re already burning a fair margin of your money on bad prints. Which means something about your printing process probably needs to be looked at. Especially if you’re generating so many damaged books that they can outsell a portion of your normal sales.

The “remainder” excuse is even worse, and yes, an excuse. Because if there were enough books not selling that remaindering copies existed … why are you printing even more and trying to sell them? You should be leaving them on shelves. If they’re “competing” with sales already existing, that means someone went and printed up new copies of a book that didn’t sell well in the first place … which is the bigger problem. If you only sold 200 copies of a 1000-print run, don’t garbage the remaining 800 and print up another 1000. Sell the 800. I’m sorry, but if “remainder” sales are damaging “new” sales, something is wrong with your business plans, not with the market.

And in either of these cases, why isn’t the author seeing any money? That sounds like a poor contract written heavily in the publishers favor, not the fault of the booksellers.

Lastly, I love how the article just casually throws “piracy” out there as if it’s part of the problem. It shouldn’t be. Amazon clamps down on pirates pretty quickly, because pirates are bad for business, and Amazon gets this. If there is piracy going on, the publishers should be working with Amazon to cut it off … not slyly insinuating that Amazon is supporting it somehow.

(5) BEAUTIFUL STORIES. Natalie Luhrs has Murderbot sounding like a companionable character, in a review of Martha Wells’ All Systems Red.

Murderbot isn’t your usual SecUnit though: they’re independent, having hacked their governor module which is supposed to keep them operating within a narrow set of parameters. Murderbot’s also really into online dramas and would much rather watch them all day than actually do their job—Murderbot, I feel you, I really, really do. They’re alternatively apathetic, annoyed, and  awkward and I found the expression of traits to be endearing.

(6) ON THE ROAD AGAIN. Jim C. Hines has an excellent post about “Traveling with Depression”.

This is such an odd post to try to write. I had a wonderful time in Buenos Aires. I’m so happy and honored that I got to go. I was also depressed about the trip, especially that first day or two. Both of these things are true.

I’m going to France next week for Les Imaginales. I’m feeling anxious. I suspect the depression will hit me in much the same way, especially that first day when I’m exhausted and have nothing scheduled. I’m mentally berating myself about feeling stressed instead of excited. I know, intellectually, that this will be another wonderful experience.

But brain weasels don’t give a shit.

  • “Now you’re depressed about going to France? You are such a disappointment.”

It’s just over five years since I got my diagnosis. Since I started taking antidepressants and talking to a therapist. It’s frustrating to be reminded that, like the diabetes, this isn’t something we’ve been able to “cure.” Instead, it’s something I try to manage. Like the diabetes, some days I do better than others, and some situations make it harder to manage.

(7) SF IN EGYPT. Black Gate’s Sean McLachlan interviews Egyptian sf author Mohammad Rabie about his novel Otared, a grim dystopian tale of Cairo in 2025.

One of the things that struck me when reading the novel was the almost total absence of religion. Since it’s such a cornerstone of so many Egyptians’ lives, this must have been deliberate on your part. Why did you make this creative decision?

I believe religion is the major reason for our current situation. We look at the president as the equivalent of God on earth, he cannot be criticized or opposed, and if one did so he must be sued and punished. So beside praying, fasting, and other religious rituals, there is a deep and strong feeling of surrender to the ruler of the country, as if we surrender to God. In Otared, and according to the logic of the novel, you will find most of the characters willing to die, and the main reason is to be transferred to a better place – in the case, heaven — it is nearly the same situation now in Egypt, people give up their own freedom just to have a better afterlife. It may be hard to understand this idea for a Westerner, to put it simply, we tend to stay under injustice, to be rewarded by God at the end. There may be no religious rituals in Otared, but the core of religion is one of motives of the characters.

(8) DOCTOROW STUDIES. Crooked Timber is running a Cory Doctorow seminar, inspired by his new book, Walkaway, “a novel, an argument and a utopia, all bound up into one.” Eleven related posts are online – click the link to see the list.

(9) TRIVIAL TRIVIA

In the 1979 movie Alien, the blue laser lights that were used to light the alien ship’s egg chamber were borrowed from The Who.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • Born May 10, 1969 – John Scalzi

(11) SHADOW CLARKE JURY APPEALS THE VERDICT. We’d have been disappointed if they loved the official Clarke Award shortlist, don’t you think?

Our immediate reaction to the list was decidedly mixed. Although two of our shadow shortlist were in the mix (The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and Central Station by Lavie Tidhar), some of the other choices proved less palatable.  Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee and Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan had some advocates amongst us, but Becky Chambers’s A Closed and Common Orbit and Emma Newman’s After Atlas were not favourites with those who had already read them.  The gulf in ambition, thematic reach and literary quality between the six shortlistees seemed significant. Paul thought the list came across ‘as two completely different shortlists stuck together. How can the Tidhar and Whitehead belong in the same universe as Chambers and Newman? Chambers, Lee and Newman have been popular successes, but hardly critical successes. This is another safe and populist list.’

Jonathan agreed, adding that he suspected ‘a tension between those who want the Clarke to be like the Hugo and those who want to retain that connection to the more literary tradition. The Clarke’s slide into hyper-commerciality continues.’  Megan shared Jonathan’s perspective. ‘What we’re getting from this list is a commercially-packaged view of science fiction. And I feel the Colson Whitehead this year is last year’s Iain Pears, just a literary toss-in to shut up people like us.’

Nina also felt the list represented ‘a split in the values of criticism’, while Vajra agreed with Megan that the Whitehead was the anomaly on this list rather than vice-versa. ‘This is a “we included Whitehead because everybody would shout at us if we didn’t” kind of shortlist’.  Maureen summarised this set of opinions most succinctly: ‘This really is a cut-and-shut shortlist. Something to offend everyone. The more I look at the shortlist the more it looks like something assembled to nod at various constituencies without satisfying any.’

And there are a few more reviews to catch up:

I entered 2016 with my affection for science fiction at a low ebb. My levels of engagement with the genre have varied quite considerably with the passage of time but I was suddenly aware that I had been writing about science fiction for over a decade and that said decade had left my tastes almost completely estranged from those catered to by the larger genre imprints.

hate all that plot description that comes with a review – read the blurb I say – but if you need some clues Tricia Sullivan’s Occupy Me has an angel, dinosaurs, a suitcase – think Pulp Fiction, think Wile E Coyote, think The Rockford Files (!) – plus a vet and a doctor. It has higher dimensions and quantum foam, trees of all kinds though especially trees of knowledge that might just be libraries spanning time and space AND it has bird gods, though actually our avian overlords may just be artistic scavengers or better, refuse ‘artistes’. It’s a novel that is helter-skelter and overabundant; in some ways it’s like (a very glorious) extended episode of Doctor Who…and I’m sure that some readers may even think, a little on the twee side. Though of course, they would be wrong. Those same readers may wonder if the parts add up to an organic whole. And to be fair I wonder myself but it really doesn’t matter. There are many, many riches here – this is a marvellous novel – full of love, kindness, empathy and extraordinary ambition – the only one that can give Central Station a run for its money in 2016’s SF best of. But that is to get ahead of myself.

(12) POLLS WITHOUT POLES. Rich Horton continues with “Hugo Ballot Reviews: Novelette”, in which Stix Hiscock did not earn a place.

My ballot, then, will look like this, tentatively, though the first three stories — actually, the first four — are real close in my mind:

1) “The Art of Space Travel”, by Nina Allan

I wrote this in my Locus review: “”The Art of Space Travel”, by Nina Allan, [is] a fine meditative story about Emily, who works at the hotel where the Martian astronauts are staying before they head out to space. The story isn’t about the astronauts, though, but about Emily, and about her mother, a scientist who has a sort of Alzheimer’s-like disease, perhaps because of contamination she encountered while investigating a plane crash, and about her mother’s involvement in preparation for a failed earlier Martian mission, and about Emily’s desire to learn who her father was. A good example of the effective — not just decorative — use of an SFnal background to tell a mundane story.” Allan actually had three very strong longer stories this year: also “Ten Days” from the NewCon Press anthology Now We Are Ten, and “Maggots”, a very long novella (perhaps indeed novel length) from the horror anthology Five Stories High.

(13) HOME TOWN BOY. When Spider-Man comes back to New York, comic dealers will be throwing parties in his honor.

Spider-Man returns to his friendly neighborhood in the new ongoing series PETER PARKER: THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN! From superstar writer Chip Zdarsky (Star-Lord) and legendary artist Adam Kubert (Avengers, X-Men) comes a companion to the best-selling Amazing Spider-Man series. This can’t-miss series takes Peter Parker back-to-basics and is bursting at the seams with heart, humor, and over-the-top action!

To kickoff this incredible new series, Marvel has partnered with participating retail stores to host PETER PARKER: THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN LAUNCH PARTIES. In addition to exclusive variant covers, participating retail stores will receive exciting promotional items – including Spider-Man masks!

The issue goes on sale June 21.

(14) OLD TIME IN THE HOT TOWN. Ancient Australian rocks suggest where to search for life on Mars.

Old rocks found in the Australian Outback have some weighty implications, scientists say: They hint at the environment in which life on Earth originated and suggest a location to search for life on Mars.

Scientists in Australia say they have found biological signatures of life in rocks that also show the presence of a hot spring, lending weight to a theory that the earliest life on Earth might have originated in freshwater hot springs on land rather than in deep-sea hydrothermal vents….

The fossil finding predates the previous oldest evidence for life on land by almost 600 million years, the scientists say. They described their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

NASA is currently considering where to land the rover on its 2020 Mars Exploration Mission, and one of the sites is a “hot spring-type setting,” about the same age as the early Earth, Djokic says.

“If you’re going to look for life on Mars, we know it was preserved on hot springs here on the ancient earth,” she says. “So there’s a good chance if it ever developed on Mars, then it would probably be preserved in hot springs there, too.”

(15) CLUTCH PLAY. Huge “baby dragon” oviraptor fossil found in China: “‘Baby Dragon’ Found In China Is The Newest Species Of Dinosaur”

In the 1990s, all of the known species of oviraptorosaur were small creatures. “There’s no way they were laying a 4- to 5-kilogram egg,” Zelenitsky says.

Then, in 2007, scientists in China discovered the first species of giant oviraptorosaur. “So finally, after 12 years, there is a species of oviraptorosaur that could have laid these giant oviraptorosaurlike eggs,” Zelenitsky says.

If Beibeilong nested like its smaller oviraptorosaur cousins did, it would be the largest known dinosaur to have sat protectively on its eggs.

(16) A DINOSAUR NAMED ZUUL. Long before Ghostbusters, there was Shinbuster.

In a paper for the Royal Society Open Science, Royal Ontario Museum paleontologists Victoria Arbour and David Evans describe the 75 million-year-old creature, a new species they dubbed Zuul crurivastator. Yes, its name is a reference to the demon Zuul from the original Ghostbusters movie. “Crurivastator” means “crusher of shins,” which is exactly what this creature could do with its spiked, hammer-tipped tail….

Weighing 2.5 tonnes and spanning 20 feet from its horned face to its spiny tail, Zuul was a living tank. In previous work, Arbour demonstrated using computer models that a beast like Zuul could use its tail club to break leg bones in its foes. This would have been especially effective against predator T. rex, which walked on two legs. Take out one leg, and the animal won’t survive long in the dinosaur-infested jungles of the Cretaceous.

 

(17) BRINGING THE HEAT. There’s a roundup about China’s successful sf writers at the English-language site Hot in China — “Chinese Sci-Fi Once Again Venturing Overseas”

When we look at the origin of sci-fi in China, famous scholars Liang Qichao and a young Lu Xun both translated Jules Verne’s sci-fi writing. By now, sci-fi in China has developed for half a century. While sci-fi creativity was curbed from 1902 to 1979, its progress has not stopped. Today’s Chinese sci-fi is growing rapidly after a subjective change: There is the founding of the magazine Sci-fi World, and its growth to a sci-fi magazine with the world’s largest circulation by the 1990s, and the emergence of many excellent Chinese sci-fi writers.

(Apparently File 770’s John Hertz is “Hot in China”, too – he’s part of a group photo at the end of the article featuring Hugo-winner Hao Jingfang taken at MACII.)

[Thanks to Alan Baumler, Mark-kitteh, Cat Eldridge, Cat Rambo, Nick Eden, John King Tarpinian, and Chip Hitchcock for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day OGH.]

Martha Wells Talks About Murderbot Diaries

By Carl Slaughter: Martha Wells offers insight into the main character of her new Murderbot Diaries series.

Carl Slaughter:  Why the switch from elaborately world built alien fantasy to space opera?

Martha Wells:  I don’t really consider it a switch.  I finished the Books of the Raksura series, though I feel like there’s plenty of room for more stories set in the Three Worlds.  I had an idea for an SF short story, and as I was working on it, I realized it was going to be a 30,000 word novella and it became All Systems Red, the first Murderbot novella. I’ve always read a lot of SF along with fantasy, and the three media tie-ins I’ve written (in Stargate: Atlantis and Star Wars) have been space opera.

CS:  Why an AI story?

MW:  That was the best viewpoint for the story I wanted to tell.

CS:  Why the emphasis on internal dialog instead of character interaction dialog?

Martha Wells. Photo by Igor Kraguljac.

MW:  The character’s entire life is internal, and preserving that life depends on not letting the other characters know about it.  The character also has to hide just how much control it has over its situation.  And most importantly, it doesn’t want to interact with humans.  It prefers the imaginary people in entertainment media to the real humans it’s forced to work for.

CS:  Murderbot seems to have an attitude.  Nothing, not even danger, seems to hold his/hers/its fascination, except the future equivalent Netflix and MTV.  Why is Murderbot so bored, apathetic, snarky and cynical?

MW:  I think it’s a natural byproduct of a character who has been designed to do a job and to be expert at that job, but is also considered a tool rather than a person.  Murderbot has all the responsibility but virtually no authority, and cynicism is the natural response to that.  Also, the fact that Murderbot has to constantly observe its human clients doesn’t leave room for any illusions or optimism about human behavior.

CS:  What’s the inspiration for this kind of dry humor?

CS:  What kind of relationships does Murderbot have with the various team members?

MW:  I think that’s something that people need to read the novella to find out.  I don’t want to spoil the story.

CS:  Does Murderbot have friends?  Does  Murderbot want friends?

MW:  No.  Because of its situation, it can’t trust anyone.

CS:  There’s a detective element to the story.  Is there going to be a story arc unfolding as the series progresses?

MW:  Right now the series is only two novellas, but if I do end up doing more, there will be a story arc.

CS:  Will Murderbot ever visit Earth?  Will Murderbot ever meet its creator?

MW:  No.  Murderbot wouldn’t care about Earth, and would be deeply uninterested in meeting its creator, and would want to avoid anyone involved with developing SecUnits.

CS:  How long will the series continue and how often will the sequels come out?

MW:  At this point I don’t know.  Tor.com has bought a second 30,000 word novella in this series which is due to come out next year.

CS:  Will there be room for other series during the Murderbot series?

MW:  Since these are short novellas, I think I’ll have plenty of time to write other things.  I don’t know if it will be another series, though.

All Systems Red, the first novel in the new Murderbot  Diaries series, comes out from Tor on May 2, 2017.  The sequel, Artificial Condition, is set for 2018.

MARTHA WELLS ONLINE

Pixel Scroll 4/17/17 The Godstalk Dis-Scrolls the Pixels

(1) ASK AGAIN LATER. While quizzing CBS Interactive president Marc DeBevoise, Vulture asked when we’ll see Star Trek: Discovery.

I have to ask you about Star Trek: Discovery. It’s been delayed a bit, and you parted ways with Bryan Fuller. You still haven’t announced a premiere date, or even a launch window. Where is that right now? And how big of deal is that going to be?

It’s going great, I’ve actually been up there [to the set]. It is, you know, phenomenal. It is huge. And we’re very excited about the content, the creators, the actors, all coming together. As you said, we’re not tied to any specific release date. It’ll be there when we’re ready to do it, and when we feel it’s in a great place. We’re not worried about anything here. We’re excited, and we’ll have more specifics as we get closer to what will likely be the release dates.

Is it likely going to be the fall?

We’re not stating.

Which prompted ScienceFiction.com to give its post about this news the title “To Boldy Delay: CBS Still Non-Committal About When ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Will Actually Premiere”.

(2) WORST-CASE SCENARIO. Chuck Tingle has a backup plan if CBS keeps postponing the series:

(3) WHO’S WHO? So, have they picked the next Doctor Who? Bookies are taking no chances.

Now there has been no official announcement but the finger has so strongly been pointing in the direction of Kris Marshall, that Ladbrokes bookies have suspended all bets on the actor getting the gig.

(4) INTO THE FRAY. Kristine Smith is another sff writer who’s become more active in politics since November, as she explains to Book View Café readers:

Like so many other folks, I was driven by the results of the last election to become more involved in the political side of things. I joined/rejoined organizations, donated money, read blogs, subscribed to magazines. But then I thought about it some more, and for the first time decided I wanted to take it one step further. I had followed so many discussions in which it was stated that work at the state and local levels had become even more important, and tried to think of what I could contribute.

One of the organizations that I had rejoined was the Sierra Club. I had always loved the outdoors in general, but in addition I had come to care about the region of northeast Illinois in which I lived — the local state and city parks and open spaces had come to mean a lot to me, and the area as a whole was faced with a number of environmental issues. So I read the Club newsletters, combed through the websites, and decided that I would apply to join the local state lobbying team.

… I was told that it takes three years to build the skills and knowledge necessary to be a good lobbyist. We have to hold our own against the people who do this for a living, who’ve been doing it for years. While I felt good about what I had experienced to that point, the proof is in the legislation that passes, and that process can take years and is at the mercy of the push and pull that occurs with any negotiation. At this point, I think I want to try and stick it out. It’s how things get done.

(5) ONLY A MOTHER. Laura Miller, a reviewer for The New Yorker, loves Jeff VanderMeer’s novel Borne:

…The postapocalyptic imagination is shot through with unacknowledged wish fulfillment.

Not in VanderMeer’s hands, though. VanderMeer belongs to a loose group of literary writers, the New Weird, who bend the old devices of genre fiction to unaccustomed ends. His best—and best-known—work is the Southern Reach Trilogy, three novels published in succession, in 2014. The saga recounts the experiences of several people charged with investigating a stretch of coastal land where something uncanny has occurred. Within the borders of Area X, all human inhabitants have vanished, and the natural world has returned to its pristine state, without a trace of man-made pollutants. Much to the alarm of the authorities, the border of Area X is expanding. In a startling reversal, the world shaped by humanity—what one character describes as “dirty, tired, imperfect, winding down, at war with itself”—has been contaminated and invaded by purity.

Rachel’s city is the opposite of Area X. The river that rings it is a “stew of heavy metals and oil and waste that generated a toxic mist.” Not long ago, a shadowy operation known as the Company set up a biotechnology facility that cranked out freakish new organisms, then set them loose on the city’s streets to see what happened. Mord is the result of one such experiment, a creature manufactured to protect the Company from the increasingly restive locals. Now Mord runs amok, like the dragon in Spenser’s “Faerie Queene.” Many of the survivors have begun worshipping him as a god.

A bear the size of a department store given the power of flight: VanderMeer couldn’t care less about technological plausibility, and “Borne” isn’t, at heart, science fiction. With the toppling of the old forms of order, Rachel, Wick, and the other residents of the city have been plunged into a primordial realm of myth, fable, and fairy tale. Their world is a version of the lost and longed-for territory of fantasy and romance, genres that hark back to an elemental, folkloric past roamed by monsters and infested with ghastly wonders.…

(6) PLANS FOR THIRD GUARDIANS MOVIE. James Gunn will direct and write Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3.

James Gunn is officially set to return to the Guardians Of The Galaxy universe to write and direct the third installment in the Marvel franchise. The director made the announcement today via his Facebook page, ahead of the start of the Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 U.S. press junkets.

Beginning by answering a couple of questions that he knew he was going to get asked during the press tour, Gunn went straight to “the question that comes up perhaps the most is, ‘What’s the deal with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and are you going to direct?’”

“So, after many months of ruminations and discussions, I know the answer. I could save this answer for the first, random interviewer to ask me during the press junket but instead I thought I’d share it with the most important people in the Guardiansverse – you, the fans, who have been so incredibly supportive and enthusiastic over the past five years, it has moved me to tears on a regular basis,” Gunn explained. “So, yes, I’m returning to write and direct Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.”

(7) WHY PUPPIES CAN’T COUNT. Well, I really don’t know why. Especially a doctor!

Dr. Mauser in “Where’s the Beef?” notes the dropoff in Hugo nominating votes since last year.

This, by the way, is not good financial news for WorldCon. 2-3,000 memberships is $100-$150,000 they won’t have in their coffers, and that kind of money buys a LOT of Wooden Asterisks. The Sad Puppies might have been the best thing to happen to WorldCon in a long time, but now that they’ve “Gone and started their own award” (which really, they didn’t) some WorldCon treasurer is probably wishing they were still around.

A supporting membership is 35 Euros, about $37 US. The rest is left as an exercise for the reader.

(8) CAN’T FIND HIM. Meanwhile, on Chuck Tingle’s timeline….

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY MEDIA FIGURES

  • Born April 17, 1997Locus Online premiered. Congratulations and happy anniversary to Mark R. Kelly.

(10) IT’S A MYSTERY. At Galactic Journey, The Traveler is experiencing premieres of the kind of movies that people in the year 3000 will find hard to understand. Heck, The Traveler is right there in 1962 and he doesn’t understand…how some of them got made in the first place….

Those of you deeply in the know are aware that Sid Pink made the Scandinavian answer to Godzilla last year, Reptilicus, and Ib Melchior brought it to the states (where it has had a limited release).  It was, to all accounts, pretty awful.

The unlikely Danish-American team of Sid Pink and Ib Melchior is back, gracing our drive-ins with the latest American International Pictures extravaganza, Journey to the Seventh Planet.  It is a space exploration flick, as one might guess, and (praising damned faintly) it’s not as bad as it could have been.

(11) FLY UNTIED. A matter of “great” concern: “Untangling The Mystery Of Why Shoelaces Come Untied”.

Chris Daily-Diamond, the third co-author, shot the video and did a lot of the legwork (pun intended) on the experiments.

Based on the video, and the other tests they did on shoelace knots, the team says two things happen when a lace comes untied. First, the impact of the shoe on the ground loosens the knot. With the knot loosened, the whipping of the free ends of the laces — as the leg swings back and forth — makes the laces slip.

As the foot hits the ground and the laces swing repeatedly, the knot loses integrity until, in a matter of seconds, it fails altogether.

The researchers also have some advice to keep shoes from coming untied. It’s all in how you tie the knot.

Chip Hitchcock opines, “This is just the sort of work Proxmire would have had a field day with — ignoring that the researchers think that learning about macro knots will help with the study of molecular knots.”

(12) BACK INTO THE TREES. Why is everybody trying to make robots walk? A crop-monitoring robot will swing like Tarzan: see the video here.

The prototype robot, called Tarzan, will gather information about the plants and send it to the farmer.

The team plan to test Tarzan on a soybean farm later this year and believe it will be ready for release in three years.

(13) RED PENCIL. An NPR editor is ready to surgically remove a hackneyed phrase from the news writing lexicon – “It Sounds Like Science Fiction But… It’s A Cliché”.

In the 1994 film Timecop, Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a police officer who uses a time machine to catch criminals. Time-traveling law enforcement may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but if one researcher has her way, it will soon become science fact.

See what I did there? That paragraph encapsulates the most tired cliché of science writing: “It sounds like science fiction but it’s true. ”

Sounds like Sci-Fi gets used everywhere, from CNN, to The New York Times, to yes … here on NPR. And once you see it, you can’t unsee it. The best examples usually include a reference to a mid-1990s sci-fi film, just to make crystal-clear what science fiction this particular science fact refers to.

In 15 years of reporting, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve run into “Sounds like Sci-Fi.” And last year, I became a science editor here at NPR. NPR’s Ethics Handbook carries a warning on cliches:

“Reporters and news writers are under deadline pressure, and these are the phrases that spring to mind. The editor’s job is not to let them get away with it.”

(14) ROBOT CENSUS. Rise of the robots: a summary.

The world’s robot population is expanding quickly – sales of industrial robots are growing by around 13 per cent a year, meaning the robot “birth rate” is almost doubling every five years.

There has long been a trend to “offshore” manufacturing to cheaper workers in emerging markets. Now, robots are part of the “reshoring” trend that is returning production to established centres.

They do more and more things – they’re lettuce-pickers, bartenders, hospital porters.

But they’re still not doing as much as we’d once expected.

In 1962 – a year after the Unimate was introduced – the American cartoon The Jetsons imagined Rosie, a robot maid doing all the household chores. That prospect still seems remote.

(16) WHAT IS THE LAW? Eleanor Arnason introduces us to “The Law of Jante”.

From The Guardian:

The Dano-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose wrote about it more than 80 years ago, setting down the regulating mechanisms that operate on Scandinavians from below, in what he called the Law of Jante. According to Sandemose, the 10 commandments that regulate our social behavior are:

1. You mustn’t think you’re special.

2. You mustn’t think you’re as good as we are.

3. You mustn’t think you’re smarter than us.

4. You mustn’t imagine you’re any better than us.

5. You mustn’t think you know more than we do.

6. You mustn’t think you’re more important than us.

7. You mustn’t think you’re good at anything.

8. You mustn’t laugh at us.

9. You mustn’t think anyone cares about you.

10. You mustn’t think you can teach us anything.

I think these ten commandments are a bit harsh. But a lot of them sound familiar to me as a Minnesotan.

(17) DOCTOR HUMOR. While visiting Martha Wells’ Tumblr, I found she had a series of GIFs with a really amusing anecdote about a Doctor Who actor.

(18) DELANY. Andrew Porter sends along a link to the livestreamed video of Samuel R. Delany’s 75th birthday celebration at the NYRSF Readings with a note, “In wide shots, you can see Moshe Feder sitting at upper center; I am in yellow shirt, upper right.”

(19) SELF-IMPROVEMENT BESTSELLER WRITES MANGA. Time to clean up my act!

Yesterday, the folks at Ten Speed Press took to Instagram to announce that Marie Kondo will be releasing her next book at the end of June. Her 2011 book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, has gained near-biblical significance for those of us whose domestic interiors (and resultant psychological states) resembles natural disaster sites. “I believe this must be the first time that a book from Japan has sold so well except manga and fiction,” the editor-in-chief of Unmark Publishing, Kondo’s original Japanese publishing house, once commented of that original book’s stratosphere-shattering success. Well, looks like Kondo’s trying to capitalize on that territory, too. Her next book is a manga.

Marie Kondo’s new book comes out June 27, 2017. It’s available for preorder here.

(20) FREE SAMPLES. Todd Allen’s Kickstarter appeal to publish his collection Legal Termination of a Warlock and Other Tales needs another $424 to fund with 23 days to go.

Mister Lewis calls himself a “physics consultant,” but what he really consultants on are problems that defy the laws of physics.  Problems like whether there’s a supernatural reason all those musicians are dying or how to build an ironclad legal case for firing a warlock from your company.  And like any consultant, he frequently finds himself doing unpleasant work for unpleasant people.

It’s a genre bender filtering urban fantasy, horror and detective fiction through a sardonic worldview.  The influences are The Night Stalker by way of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Art Buchwald.

I’ve already written a couple stories about Mister Lewis and I’d like to try something a little different as I move forward with the series.  I’d like to write a story each month – a novelette or longish short story.  I’m calling it novelettes, but if you wanted to call a monthly e-zine, I wouldn’t argue with you.  The idea is to have a new story show up each month like an issue of Batman… except without the serials and annoying crossover events.

What will these read like?  Lucky you, I’ve already written two adventures and they’re online for free, so you can make an informed decision:

(21) CELEBRITY EASTER EGGS. A lot of sff and other amusing references here:

On this episode, see how we took the faces from your favorite TV show characters and superstars and turned them into an Easter Egg!

 

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Andrew Porter, Cat Eldridge, and Jeff VanderMeer for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Andrew.]

Martha Wells’ New Series

By Carl Slaughter: All Systems Red, the first novel in the new Murderbot  Diaries series by Martha Wells, comes out from Tor on May 2, 2017.  The sequel, Artificial Condition, is set for 2018.

A murderous android discovers itself in All Systems Red, a tense science fiction adventure by Martha Wells that interrogates the roots of consciousness through Artificial Intelligence.

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid ? a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

Read an excerpt from All Systems Red.