The Skin of Our Teeth: A Review

By Martin Morse Wooster: Name this play:  It’s probably one of the greatest fantasy plays ever written.  It’s one of the few outright fantasies to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  The likelihood you’ve seen this play is vanishingly small.

The answer is Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, which won the Pulitzer in 1943.  As far as I can tell from IMDB, the last time anyone tried to film it was an Australian Broadcasting production in 1959.  But it’s a play that is undoubtedly fantasy.  It isn’t staged much, in part because plays from the 1940s don’t get revived very often, but more likely because the play has about 35 speaking parts, and few theaters these days can pay such a large cast.  However, it was revived on Broadway last year, and the Constellation Theatre Company has revived it with a cast of thirteen and a lot of doubling.  I was very happy to have seen it.

Wilder (1897-1975) wrote that he decided to write The Skin of Our Teeth in part as a reaction to the “well-made” plays of the previous generation. “Towards the end of the ‘twenties, I felt far less pleasure in going to the theater,” Wilder wrote in 1956.  “I ceased to believe in the stories I saw presented there.”  He said that in the plays he saw he couldn’t feel “overwhelmed by an artistic creation.”

So The Skin of Our Teeth has a lot of what used to be called “breaking the fourth wall” and we call “snark.”  There’s one seduction scene, for example, where the actress who is supposed to play it suddenly announces she can’t because it would upset a friend in the audience who has undergone trauma.  A second scene in the third act isn’t performed because we are told that seven members of the cast have all gotten ptomaine poisoning from bad lemon meringue pie.

I thought these were ironic commentaries by today’s theatres on an antique text, but I dutifully read the script and these interruptions are in it.  In fact, I thought Mary Hall Surface’s direction was reasonably straightforward with minimal updating, although of course The Skin of Our Teeth is now a historical play set in the 1940s.

It’s also, like T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, very much an apocalyptic fantasy that is the product of when it was written—just before World War II.  Wilder said The Skin of Our Teeth “was written on the eve of our entrance into the war and under strong emotion and I think it mostly comes alive under conditions of crisis.”  He added that he was moved seeing productions in Germany in the late 1940s, “in the shattered churches and beerhalls that were serving as theaters,” where people would choose to skip meals to buy theatre tickets.

As for the plot:  We begin in the comfy home of Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus at 216 Cedar Street, Excelsior, New Jersey.  It seems like we’re in one of those dramas where characters take the 5:56 to Chappaqua every evening except that the Antrobus family is really five thousand years old, and a giant ice sheet is coming down from Canada.  Oh, and the refugees pounding their door asking for food are really Moses, the Muses, and other mythical characters.  And the Antrobus’s have a mammoth they milk and a pet dinosaur named Frederick.

It turns out there are more environmental disasters in this play than in three Kim Stanley Robinson novels.  The second act has the characters in Atlantic City, where Mr. Antrobus is about to win an award for being a superior human.  But then he has to face a titanic flood.  The third act has the Antrobuses surviving a major war in the U.S. that pits Mr. Antrobus’s son (who could be the Biblical Cain) against his father.

I’m not sure that this play works today.  It’s a different flavor than the sort of plays I enjoy.  But I respect Wilder’s intelligence and imagination, and I was very glad to have seen this play.  The Skin of Our Teeth is a classic that fantasy lovers need to have seen.

I thought the cast was fine, with Steven Carpenter as Mr. Antrobus and Tonya Beckman as Sabina giving the best performances.  But the standout to me were the costumes of Frank Labovitz, who both provided some ridiculous dresses for Atlantic City patrons and also created the dinosaur and mammoth costumes.  The mammoth looked like a walking throw rug, and was charming.

The Constellation Theatre Company deserves credit for reviving an important—and neglected—fantasy.

Jonathan Coulton Musical Revue

By Martin Morse Wooster: Flying V Theatre is a Washington-based company that specializes in productions with sf-related themes.  I’ve seen four or five of their productions, and they all have sf elements in them.  What I remember is one about the Mario Bros. video game that was fun if weird and one about pirates that would have been a rollicking two-hour show except that it was three hours.  I think they pride themselves on being Millennials but this Baby Boomer has enjoyed what they’ve done in the past.

I haven’t heard from Flying V in a while, but they are now at the Black Box Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland for the month of February, with “It’s The Rest Of The World That Looks So Small:  A Theatrical Revue of Jonathan Coulton”, which was conceived and directed by Jason Schlafstein and Vaughn Irving, with music by Steve Przybyski and Jon Jon Johnson.

You know about “theatrical revues,” those evenings where singers belt out 20 songs by Sondheim or Kander and Ebb? Well, Flying V’s production was like that—except it was for geeks!

I confess I had not heard of Jonathan Coulton or “JoCo” until now.  But I now know from his website http://www.jonathancoulton.com that he was born in 1970, was graduated from Yale in 1993, and was a member of the Whiffenpoofs (you know, like Cole Porter!).  He worked in software until 2005 when he quit to become a full time songwriter/performer.  In 2013 one of his songs was swiped by Glee and his battle with the TV show was dramatized on The Good Wife.

Where he intersects with fandom is the annual JoCo Cruise, which is scheduled to be held later this month on a Royal Caribbean ship.  A brochure on the cruise’s website for an earlier version promised customers “absolute dominion over an entire cruise ship filled with free food, fruity drinks, and swimming pools.”  Who wouldn’t want that?  They say they’re a cross between a music festival and a con, but what this reminds me of was the failed 1988 Worldcon bid for the cruise ship.  They’ve held this cruise five times, and the guests this year whose names I recognize include N.K. Jemisin, Patrick Rothfuss, John Scalzi, John Hodgman, Mark Frauenfelder, and Wil Wheaton.

Coulton says he writes “geek rock,” and he has geeky fans:  one video I saw on YouTube had some heckler, after he said he was going to perform his last song, responded, “There’s always the null set!”  Flying V performed his songs with an orchestra of four and a cast of about six, of whom four were on stage at any time.

Songwriting is theatre for the mind, and mundane theatrical revues work because the music works for talented singers who don’t need stage tricks to convey the point of the song.  What Flying V did was try to turn the songs into actual theatre.  This was a mistake.

For example, one of Coulton’s more famous songs is “Code Monkey,” which is his tribute to his days coding.  The song was not improved by having one actor wearing a rubber gorilla head while singing. “I’m Your Moon” is Charon’s consolation to Pluto after Pluto couldn’t be a planet any more.  Having a cardboard moon confused the point of the song, which I didn’t fully get until I went to YouTube. “Skullcrusher Mountain” was not enhanced by having two singers in trench coats.

As for the guy singing “Mr. Fancy Pants,” his pants were certainly fancy.  Yes, they were.  That’s all I’ll say.

Jonathan Coulton is a talented guy.  I’m sure I’d enjoy his concert, particularly with fruity drinks.  I’m sure other people could sing his songs, just as I’m sure he sings works by other songwriters.  I bet the JoCo Cruise is a lot of fun.

But all the props and choreography drowned Coulton’s songs in treacle. Flying V should realize that the point of a theatrical revue is to showcase the songs.  Minimalism should be the order of the day and the cast should work to show the audience how special the songs are.  This means resisting the temptation to run up and down a two-story stage, and having far too many costume changes.  And I’m sorry to spoil Flying V’s fun, but for this production they should have left their zap guns at home.

I’m grateful to Flying V for introducing me to Jonathan Coulton’s songs, but It’s The Rest Of The World That Looks So Small doesn’t work.

Review of “The Dog Must Die”

By Martin Morse Wooster: How do you judge an sf play by an 18-year-old?

That’s the problem I had when I saw The Dog Must Die, a play by Madison Middleton, a high school senior from Washington, DC.  Her play was produced by The Highwood Theatre, a semi-professional troupe.  The theatre is located in a nondescript office building in Silver Spring, Maryland with sf roots; one floor below, the office directory told me, was the Planet of Accounting.

When I was in high school Scott Edelstein (not Scott Edelman, but someone else) was famous for, at age 16, selling a short story to Swank, a magazine he could not legally buy.  The equivalent transgression today is that in Middleton’s play, there are many adult beverages being consumed.

The Dog Must Die is set in 2033.  The planet is ravaged by ecological disaster.  Savage fires and floods have pulverized the earth, and the government has selected a few people to live in a bunker for a year to survive the environmental apocalypse. Produce has largely vanished, and Thanksgiving turkeys have been replaced by mystery meat.

Good times!

The five people all have different skills.  We meet a doctor, an architect, a high school philosophy teacher, an agricultural specialist, and a guy who spends most of his time on a couch moaning for reasons that are not quite clear.  Backstory scenes show the philosophy teacher in a park playing chess and (less convincingly) the doctor stressed after a patient dies in her office.

But the agricultural specialist has a dog, who has muck on her feet.  She explains that the government has given her protective gear and a dog, so she can plant seeds and the dog can smell where the best soil might be located.  But why does she get to go out when everyone else has to stay in the bunker?  With all the cast members racked with cabin fever, anything could happen….

The problem with The Dog Must Die is one of world building.  We know that enough of the world’s infrastructure has survived that the head of “the International Union of World Governments” can broadcast globally.  Why can’t the characters access the Internet?  Why can’t they spend their days watching Khan Academy videos or binging on TV? Why don’t they have any books?

Moreover, what I saw in the play didn’t convince me that people had to stay in the bunker for all that time.  Middleton told me after the show that the world she created had been nuked, but that information came from the scene where the global leader broadcast, and I could hear very little of the speech, even from the front row.  I told her she should study John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up, that magnificently gloomy novel of ecological disaster, and study how he shows how his world is collapsing.

I can’t judge The Dog Must Die the way I would analyze a play by a professional.  But if I were a college admissions counselor at a highly competitive school, I would be very impressed by Middleton’s talent.  I hope she ends up at a school with an excellent drama department that has professors that make her write a lot.  If that happens, she could be someone that, in 2030, is recognized as a rising talent in the theatre.

Pixel Scroll 1/21/18 Right Here In File City, Trouble With A Capital T, That Rhymes With P, And Stands For Pixel

(1) COMPOSING SPACE OPERA. In this Twitter thread Cat Rambo captured the highlights of the Ann Leckie Space Opera class.

(2) WORLDCON 76 ACADEMIC TRACK ADDS PRIZE. The Heinlein Society’s Board of Directors has authorized a $250 cash prize to be awarded to the “Best Paper Presented at the 2018 World Science Fiction Convention’s Academic Track.”  President Keith Kato says “The final evaluation process is under discussion, but will likely involve a judging panel.”

The concom has extended the deadline for Academic Track papers to March 1 as a result.  This prize is not the William H. Patterson, Jr., Prize which is evaluated annually by the Society for the best Heinlein-related academic paper in a particular calendar year.

In addition, The Heinlein Society will be teaming with the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies and The Arthur C. Clarke Foundation for Academic Track papers, and possibly other con activities.

(3) HOW CAN THEY EVER RESPECT US AGAIN? She blabs a trade secret to The Guardian: “Margaret Atwood: ‘I am not a prophet. Science fiction is really about now’”.

“I’m not a prophet,” she says. “Let’s get rid of that idea right now. Prophecies are really about now. In science fiction it’s always about now. What else could it be about? There is no future. There are many possibilities, but we do not know which one we are going to have.” She is, however, “sorry to have been so right”. But, with her high forehead and electric halo of curls, there is something otherworldly about Atwood. Dressed in one of her trademark jewel-coloured scarfs and a necklace of tiny skulls, she cuts a striking figure outside the cafe in Piccadilly where we are huddled.

(4) OUTSIDE SFWA. Vox Day’s post “SFWA rejects Jon Del Arroz” [at the Internet Archive], in which the expelled member condemns and reviles the organization’s decision to refuse admittance to JDA, publishes what is represented to be the text of SFWA’s notification to JDA.

(5) DILLMAN OBIT. Actor Bradford Dillman died January 16 at the age of 87. Some of his better-known roles included Robert Redford’s best friend in 1973’s The Way We Were, and two appearances in Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry movies.

His genre work included TV shows like The Wild, Wild West; Mission: Impossible; Thriller; Wonder Woman; The Incredible Hulk; and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. In the movie Escape From The Planet Of The Apes he was the kind Dr. Dixon who helps Cornelius and Zira evade capture. He also starred in Bug, and appeared in Swarm, and Pirhana.

(6) COMICS SECTION.

  • John King Tarpinian didn’t look to see if this was really in the Old Testament, he just laughed: Bizarro.
  • Chip Hitchcock has his eye on the same cartoon series. He noted that this Bizarro shows new job opportunities, and another Bizarro tells us that even ~gods apprentice:

(7) DREAM HOME. In a hole in the ground there stayed a tourist — “Calling all ‘Lord of the Rings’ fans! You can spend the night in a real-life hobbit hole”.

Wolfe relied on the construction know-how she’d picked up from her parents — her mother remodeled houses when Wolfe was a child — and brought in a backhoe to clear the land. Wolfe needed to ensure the hobbit hole could hold the foot of dirt she planned to place on the roof, so she used marine-grade, pressure-treated wood.

“Any time you put dirt on top of a house, when that dirt gets wet, it’s basically having a swimming pool on top of your house,” she added. “It’s a lot of weight.”

Up next: an entrance fit for a hobbit. Wolfe wanted a signature round entryway, which she created using an industrial-sized cable spool. She enlisted a local designer to craft the hinges and the opening to the 288-square-foot space. He repurposed a trailer hitch to build the door handle.

When guests enter through the circular portal, they immediately stand in the bedroom. To the right is a fireplace, which helps heat the home in the winter, along with a woodworker’s bench. To the left is the bathroom, complete with a large wooden tub…

 

(8) WHO OWNS WHAT? THIRD BASE! At Plagiarism Today, they take on “The Strange Copyright of Doctor Who”.

Exterminate… Exterminate the copyright!

….It’s a bizarre show, even for science fiction. However, a recent news story highlighted an even stranger part of the series.

Shortly after the airing of the 2017 Christmas Special, which marked the end of Peter Capaldi’s run as The Doctor and introduced Jodie Whittaker, the series first female Doctor, a copyright controversy arose.

According to The Mirror, the estate of Marvyn Haisman, the creator of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, took issue with the episode introducing a new character that turned out to be Lethbridge-Stewart’s grandfather. Lethbridge-Stewart is popular character from the series that they hold the rights to.

Though later reports have downplayed the dispute, the story raised an interesting question: Why was one of the series’ most popular characters not controlled by the BBC, which produces the show?

It turns out though that Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is far from alone in his bizarre copyright status. Many of the show’s iconic characters are controlled, at least in part, by outside entities. The list includes both the robotic dog K9 and even The Daleks themselves.

How did this happen? The answer is both complicated and simple at the same time but it all centers around how the series was written during its early years.

(9) WE INTERRUPT THIS MAELSTROM. Here is the kind of thing people discuss on days when the news cycle isn’t spinning like mad. Or if they need a break on a day when it is.

(10) MOONDUST AND SAND. Andy Weir was the subject of a podcast with Tyler Cowen (“Conversations With Tyler.”) Martin Morse Wooster says, “I’m sure it’s good because Cowen is a good interviewer.”

Martin adds: I learned about this by listening to Cowen’s podcast with New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, which has quite a lot of sf content.  Douthat explained that he wanted to be a fantasy novelist, but settled for being an opinion journalist.  He talks about how Watership Down is his favorite fantasy novel, and about ten minutes of the hour and a half podcast is devoted to a discussion of Dune with an emphasis on the Butlerian Jihad.  The interview revealed that, along with Paul Krugman, there are two New York Times columnists who know a great deal about sf.” — Ross Douthat on Narrative and Religion (Ep. 32).

[Thanks to JJ, Keith Kato, Cat Rambo, Cat Eldridge, John King Tarpinian, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, Carl Slaughter, Will R., and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Steve Davidson.]

Pixel Scroll 10/10/17 Eric And The Dread Pixel Scroll

(0) TRAINING COMPLETED. Thanks to you who wished me a good trip to New Mexico for my mother’s 91st birthday celebration. I’d say your wishes were effective, not only because we had a fine reception and dinner, but because my Amtrak experience was far superior to that of the folks who left Los Angeles aboard the previous day’s Southwest Chief. The Santa Fe New Mexican has the story

Passengers and crew aboard a Chicago-bound Amtrak train spent the night stopped in Northern New Mexico hill country after the lead engine struck a boulder and partially derailed.

No serious injuries were reported, but the two engineers in the lead engine were taken to a hospital for evaluation, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said Friday from Chicago.

The incident occurred Thursday evening on Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks in a rural area near Watrous about 105 miles northeast of Albuquerque.

…The train’s second engine and all the cars remained on the tracks and the train still had power, heating and toilet service while it remained at the derailment site, the Amtrak spokesman said.

Not to overstate things — I would have missed the excitement anyway, since my destination was one of the last stops before they hit the rock, however, it still felt like a narrow escape.

(1) RUH ROH! Last month Amazing Stories’ Steve Davidson shared the long history behind “Why Amazing Stories Isn’t Back on NBC”. However, over the weekend the media reported “Steven Spielberg will revive ’80s NBC series ‘Amazing Stories’ for Apple”.

Apple is making a major statement on its television ambitions as it nears an acquisition of an original series from filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

The tech giant is close to a deal to buy a new version of Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories,” the Emmy-winning sci-fi anthology series that ran on NBC from 1985 to 1987.

NBCUniversal, which co-owns the rights to the property, confirmed that an agreement is imminent. Apple declined to comment. The Wall Street Journal first reported the deal Tuesday.

A scripted series with the imprimatur of Spielberg, one of Hollywood’s most-heralded producer-directors thanks to “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Schindler’s List” and the “Jurassic Park” franchise, and his company Amblin Television, will be a demonstration of the tech giant’s clout as it enters the television business…

More as the story develops.

(2) PUPPY LOVE. Yahoo! says get your Kleenex ready — “Carrie Fisher’s dog watching the new ‘Star Wars’ trailer will destroy you”.

Millions of Star Wars fans watched the new trailer for The Last Jedi on Monday night — including one very good boy.

A photo of Gary, Carrie Fisher’s beloved French bulldog, was posted to his official Instagram account on Monday, and, guys, we’re warning you — it’s going to make you whimper….

(3) WHO ARE YOU? Jim C. Hines, in “A Plea to Conventions About Name Badges”, asks conventions to fix a problem that people have been complaining about the entire time I’m been in fandom.

I have a favor to ask of conventions: please design your badges so that names can be easily and clearly read.

I’ve never been good with names. It’s frustrating as hell, and it’s become a bigger problem as I travel to more conventions. I get introduced to so many people, and within 24 hours, a lot of those names escape my brain like Batman villains from Arkham Asylum.

Jim provides illustrations of what works for him, and what doesn’t.

(4) A NEW YORK COMIC CON STATE OF MIND. The Washington Post’s Aaron Gregg, in “Marvel cancels comic book deal with Northrop Grumman after Twitter backlash”, says that Marvel cancelled a proposed partnership with Northrop Grumman (whose “Northrop Grumman Elite Nexus” superheroes were supposed to team up with The Avengers) after lots of fans objected, noting, among other things, that Tony Stark gave up his defense contracts.

Marvel teased the partnership Friday morning in a tweet that promised more details in a presentation the following day at the New York Comic-Con festival. A retro-style comic book cover temporarily posted on Marvel’s website featured a team of “Northrop Grumman Elite Nexus” super heroes fighting alongside Marvel’s popular Avengers superheroes. The cover was quickly scrubbed from the company’s website, but not before it went viral on Twitter.

Twitter users ridiculed Marvel, accusing it of partnering with “death merchants.” Some pointed out that the Marvel character Iron Man, alias Tony Stark, had been the billionaire CEO of a company that built advanced weaponry but had turned his back on the weapons business after seeing its effects. Angry fans called out specific Marvel executives, and at least one suggested publicly protesting the issue at Marvel’s Comic-Con booth.….

(5) SZECHUAN LETDOWN. Meanwhile, another corporation was breaking hearts in the culinary arena. Michael Cavna and Maura Judkis, in “McDonald’s botched its ‘Rick and Morty’ Szechuan sauce stunt, and fans are not happy”, report that McDonald’s has disappointed thousands of viewers of the Cartoon Network show Rick and Morty. After 45,000 people signed a Change.org petition inspired by the show calling on the company to bring back Szechuan Sauce (originally created to promote Mulan in 1998), McDonalds promised select locations would have the sauce, but only a few did.

One Washington Post reporter was among those “Rick and Morty” fans who went questing Saturday for the fabled sauce, driving to three Maryland locations — one of them listed as an official “participating” outlet — and none had received a Szechuan shipment. One restaurant tried to pawn off Sriracha sauce. Another tried to sell the tangy Signature sauce. And a third outlet’s shift manager came to the drive-thru window to apologize profusely — clearly this wasn’t her first “Rick and Morty”-related apology of the day.

(6) REMEMBER WHEN? The Atlantic bills this article as “Revisiting Star Trek’s Most Political Episode” – which is saying something about a series that often delivered messages.

“It’s not that they don’t care. It’s that they’ve given up.” This was how Commanding Officer Benjamin Sisko, played by Avery Brooks, described early 21st-century Americans in an episode from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. When it aired in 1995, “Past Tense” spoke to contemporary concerns about homelessness by telling a story set in 2024—the near future for viewers, but the distant past for characters. In the two-part episode, Sisko and two of his companions from the U.S.S. Defiant find themselves stranded in San Francisco, where they’re reminded that the federal government had once set up a series of so-called “Sanctuary Districts” in a nationwide effort to seal off homeless Americans from the general population. Stuck in 2024, Sisko, who is black—along with his North African crewmate Dr. Julian Bashir and the fair-skinned operations officer Jadzia Dax—must contend with unfamiliar racism, classism, violence, and Americans’ apparent apathy toward human suffering.

(7) TRIVIAL TRIVIA

Tiaan Jerjerrod was the project manager of the second Death Star, which was destroyed at the end of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi. Supervising Jerjerrod was Emperor Palpatine’s right-hand man, Darth Vader. (Source: Death Star II: A Project Management Case Study.)

(8) TODAY’S DAY

Ada Lovelace Day

Ada Lovelace Day, whose goal is to “… raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering, and maths.” (Wikipedia)

(9) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • October 10, 1965 — The Red Baron first appeared in  Peanuts comic strip.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY EXPLORER

  • Born October 10, 1861 — Fridjtof Nansen, whose arctic navigation inspired fellow Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl. His ship, Fram, shares a museum with Kon Tiki and Ra.

(11) COMIC SECTION.

Martin Morse Wooster approves this “old school groaner” in today’s Frank and Ernest.

(12) SCI-FI SWINGS LIKE A PENDULUM DO. In “‘Blade Runner 2049’: Why some science fiction writers are tired of dystopias”, a recent article by the Christian Science Monitor, several sff authors suggest that they are tired of the wave of grim visions of humanity’s future. Is it time to create more works around an optimistic future based on expanding technology and human understanding?

In “Blade Runner 2049,” which opens Friday, post eco-disaster Los Angeles has built a massive coastline wall to fend off rising ocean levels. Few of the overpopulated city’s human or android occupants have ever seen a tree or a real animal. The incessant rain is as dour as Harrison Ford’s facial expressions. Worst of all? One character bemoans the fact that there’s no more cheese in the world.

Recent dystopian blockbusters seem to be jostling in a grim race to be the first to reach the seventh circle of hell in Dante’s “Inferno.” But some science-fiction writers are tired of the sorts of pessimistic futures depicted in movies and TV shows such as “The Hunger Games,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Black Mirror,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

In response, influential authors Neal Stephenson, Cory Doctorow, David Brin, and Kim Stanley Robinson argue that futuristic fiction should, instead, offer an inspiring outlook about mankind’s ability to shape its destiny. But do the kinds of stories we tell ourselves have a cultural impact on shaping a better tomorrow?

“I want to nod at something that Jill Lepore wrote in The New Yorker about the dangers of drowning ourselves in dystopian stories,” says Christopher Robichaud, who teaches a class at Harvard Extension School on Utopia and Dystopia in fiction and philosophy. “The utility dystopian fiction used to serve was to bring problems to our attention and seek solutions. But the danger is that these stories can become a collective act of despair in response to current events.”

(13) SPACE TUTOR. In “Astronaut encourages kids to flip for STEM”, the Washington Post’s Marylou Tousignant says that the Air and Space Museum recently hosted a webcast with astronaut Randy Bresnik on the International Space Station where he had floating candy and showed kids an official NASA barf Bag.

If you could ask an astronaut orbiting in space any question, what would it be?

Students from several Washington-area schools got to do that recently at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum as part of its “STEM in 30” program.

Among other things, they wanted to know: Is it hard to move around up there? Can you watch TV? How do you know when it’s time for bed? What if you get sick?

(14) GRIM TIDINGS PODCAST SEEKS SUPPORT. The hosts of the Grim Tidings Podcast have invited fans to support them via Patreon.  Rob Matheny and Philip Overby focus on interviewing authors, editors, and agents working within the Grimdark sub-genre.  They have recorded over 100 episodes including luminaries from the field such as Joe Abercrombie, C.T. Phipps, Anna Smith Spark, Brian Stavely, Michael R. Fletcher, Sebastien De Castell, Laura M. Hughes, and Deborah A. Wolf.

(15) HAIR APPARENT. Is singing songs like this the real reason John Scalzi constantly needs to think up new names for his band?

(Just kidding – I laughed….)

(16) A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. Alex Acks finds more to criticize about fantasy maps in a post for Tor.com — “Tolkien’s Map and the Perplexing River Systems of Middle-earth”.

…So what is it about the mighty Anduin that makes me tilt my head like a dog hearing a high-pitched noise? There are four main factors, in ascending order based on how easily I’m able to mentally excuse each point.

It cuts across two mountain ranges.

There is one fact you really need to understand to grasp the basics of how rivers work. Ready? Water flows downhill. That’s it. That’s the secret. Water flows downhill, and as it flows it tends to erode sediment and transport it downstream, and over long enough periods of time, that gets us our classic V-shaped river valleys and a ton of other morphological features. Which is why, when a river is on a collision course with mountains—normally places where the elevation goes up—you have to stare at it for a minute.

This is the easiest oddity for me to find an excuse for—because it is actually something that happens in reality! For example, the Colorado River cuts pretty much perpendicularly through the entire Basin and Range Province of North America. And the reason this works is because the Colorado was here before all that extensional tectonic silliness happened and the basins started dropping down from the ranges—and that process of down-drop was slow enough, relative to the ability of the Colorado to cut its own channel, that the river didn’t get permanently trapped in one of the basins.

So if we make the assumption that the Anduin existed before the mountains—and assume that the mountains uplifted in a natural way, thank you—it’s very possible for it to have cut down fast enough to maintain its course despite uplift. (Keep this in mind, we’ll be coming back to it later…)

(17) KEEP ON SWIMMING. And over the weekend Camestros Felapton gave us “Even More Plot Elements of Fantasy Maps”.

Big Islands

In Earthsea islands are large and numerous, in Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, islands barely appear and are small. In both cases they are locations and destinations and themselves contain terrain.

In Tolkien’s wider work, Númenor is the most notable island – a version of Atlantis, which itself gives us a classic inspiration for islands in Western literature. Oceanic islands can be countries with their own terrain but cut off from surroundings. Le Guin depicts the islands of Earthsea more like medieval era city-states with a wider common culture but no central authority.

It is interesting to me that Tolkien, who draws on many aspects of Britain and Britishness in building Middle Earth, avoids the island quality of Britain. This despite a tendency to mythologize the insular quality of Britain in English propaganda-history both in high-culture (Shakespeare’s ‘sceptered isle’) and low-culture (‘fog in the channel, continent cut off’). George R.R. Martin’s Westeros does this by having it be an eratz England circa the War of the Roses (with Scotland being another place full of ice zombies). Westeros’s scale seems flexible but it’s primary plot role as an island is to be a container. Events are within Westeros (up to the Wall) or beyond (either over the wall or on another continent).

The point being – oceanic islands are treated as political units rather than as terrain.

(18) JUXTAPOSITION. The title of Max Florschutz’ latest post halted me in my tracks — “Being a Better Writer Delayed” — until I remembered “Being a Better Writer” is a recurring topic at his Unusual Things blog.

(19) HOLY BLEEP. Camestros Felapton subjected his precious bodily fluids to a famous corporation’s bizarre new offering, “Coca-cola with coffee”.

…There is also a weird slimy quality to it. It’s like drinking coke but a bit more unpleasant.

The coffee is “real” and from Brazil. If I was Brazil I might object to the free advertising.

(20) X-FILES SEASON 11 TRAILER. The truth etc. etc.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Christian Brunschen, Chip Hitchcock, Dann, Carl Slaughter, Cat Eldridge, and Martin Morse Wooster for some of these stories, Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day ULTRAGOTHA.]

Pixel Scroll 9/28/17 The Night They Scrolled Old Pixel Down

(1) A HATCHLING. The Book Smugglers conduct “A Chat With Ann Leckie” about Provenance.

The Book Smugglers: Yeah, and there’s scope for that, there’s so many different worlds and so many different things and the set-up is already there, so…

Ann Leckie: I put in the glass bridges in Nilt, which you may have noticed. And this is not a spoiler per se but an easter egg – There’s a moment in Ancillary Justice when Breq says the tourists come to Nilt and they buy these rugs that they think are handmade by the nomads, but in fact they’re made in a factory and they’re overpriced in the giftshops. So there’s a moment in Provenance, where Ingray meets Zat, and Zat says that she went to Nilt, and she saved up extra to buy this wonderful handmade rug, that was in beautiful colors, that was made by the nomads on Nilt, and that’s a couple of people who got advanced copies. I got a direct message from one person like “Ohh she got cheated!” [laughs] I’m like that’s – that’s just a little tiny easter egg!

(2) CATCH THE NEXT WAVE. The evidence is piling up: “Scientists record a fourth set of gravitational waves”.

Last year, researchers confirmed the existence of gravitational waves with two Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors. Shortly thereafter, they detected twoadditional gravitational wave-causing events that sent ripples through the universe. Well, we can now add a fourth to that list, as astronomers announced another set of waves. And for the first time, they observed the waves with a third detector — the Italy-based Virgo.

(3) CODICIL. Good luck to Delilah S. Dawson on her surgery:

(4) CROWDSOURCED SUCCESS. The Unbounders has announced that Farah Mendelsohn’s Heinlein book has funded.

(5) KEEP ON PITCHING. Francis Hamit reminds everyone about this appeal for books for s North Carolina school.

Here is a worthy cause: Hoke County High School has put out an online appeal for books; almost any books, for their school library. Hoke County, North Carolina, is a poor rural community where times have been hard and there has been no money for school library books since 2009. The appeal was specific, for writers to donate copies of their own books but we all have a pile of review or other books that have been consumed and can now be repurposed. (Time to attack the clutter people!). We put together three boxes of these yesterday. If you look at the Facebook page for Hoke County High School you will see that they encourage enlistments in the US military, so that’s another reason to donate books. Can’t stand to part with your hoard? Send money so they can buy books they really need.

Here is the address:

Hoke County High School
c/o Rebecca Sasala
505 Bethal Road
Raeford, NC 28376.

(6) NOWHERE NEAR REMULAC. ScreenAnarchy shares a French import: “MISSIONS: Watch This Exclusive Clip For French Sci-fi Series Coming to Shudder”.

Shudder, AMC Networks’ premium thriller, suspense and horror streaming service, will launch the first season of Missions, France’s critically praised OCS Signature sci-fi series, on September 28, 2017 across its territories. Shudder will also co-produce the second season, slated to air in 2018.

With the funding of an eccentric billionaire, the crew of a manned craft aims to be the first to land on Mars. Much to the dismay of all on board however, just before the culmination of their 10-month journey to the Red Planet, they are made aware of a video sent by a rival ship that has overtaken them and already landed on the planet thanks to a revolutionary engine. The bad news doesn’t end there however, as the tape contains a cryptic warning from the Americans pleading with the crew not to land as something far too dangerous is happening on the surface. After a chaotic landing on Mars, the crew finds a survivor — but he’s not from their rival mission. His name is Vladimir Komarov. He is Russian. And he is the first man who died in space…in 1967.

 

(7) THIRTY-EIGHT STORIES HATH SEPTEMBER: Jason, of Featured Futures, is back with the “Summation of Online Fiction: September 2017” with its list of recommended stories and honorable mentions.

With Compelling off, Apex doing a lot of reprints, and Tor.com worryingly publishing a single story, September would have been an extremely light month, but a double issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies and the return of a lost zine helped compensate, resulting in thirty-seven stories of 149K words (plus one I skipped). Regardless, it was a very light month in terms of the proportion of the good stuff (though there was plenty of readable stuff). I’m not sure what happened beyond it being one of those freaky streaky webzine things. Speaking of, the returning lost zine is Terraform.

Ralan.com declared it defunct a few months ago and, after waiting awhile to “make sure,” I declared it dead on April 27th and stopped looking at it. Recently, I happened to take another look and, naturally, they’d published another story on April 29th. But, other than excerpts, interviews, graphic stuff, etc., they did quit producing anything after that until August 24th. Since then, they have managed to publish a story coupled with an article every seven or eight days (two in August and three in September though, to keep the irony ironing, they don’t seem to be doing anything but another excerpt this week). So perhaps they’re back. Only one story was at all noteworthy but, since I gave Terraform‘s death an explicit notice, I feel like I ought to do the same for its rebirth. Now, on with the very short (or “little”) list…

(8) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • September 28, 1951 — The original The Day The Earth Stood Still was released on this day.

(9) STAND-UP COMIC. As Vox Day prepares to launch his Alt*Hero comics line, he’s running the customary anti-SJW setups to fire up his customers. His mockery of Jack Kirby predictably upset people in the comics field.

I’ve been a little taken aback by the sheer vituperation of the SJWs triggered by the mere existence of the Alt*Hero concept, at least at this very early stage. And, I confess, I have been more than a little surprised by their apparent confusion between the late Marvel/DC artist Jack Kirby and the superheroes that he drew.>

Some responses — I think a bunch of comics type only just found out that he exists. They are not especially impressed…

(10) RETRENCHMENT. Nerd & Tie’s Trae Dorn reports some shrinkage in the convention calendar.

Dayton, OH based Time Lord Expo has officially been called off just two weeks before the con’s scheduled date. Convention organizer Patrick Baumgardner took to the con’s official Facebook page and announced the cancellation earlier today…

In a press release yesterday, Wizard World announced that they were “postponing” five of their remaining seven 2017 shows. While their Austin and Oklahoma City shows will still take place as scheduled, their events in Biloxi, Peoria, Springfield, Montgomery, and Winston-Salem won’t be taking place this year.

Now a normal person would refer to these events as “cancelled,” but I guess saying they’re “postponed” reads better from a PR perspective.

Considering the financial difficulties Wizard World has had over the last few years, it’s hard to be all that surprised…

(11) GHOST WRITER. Twain’s long gone, so NPR talked to his self-appointed co-authors: “A Modern Collaboration With Mark Twain In ‘Prince Oleomargarine'”.

This week Mark Twain has a new book out.

Yes, we know. He’s been dead for more than a century, but that hasn’t stopped him — or more accurately, his collaborators — from publishing a children’s book, called The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine. It’s based on 16 pages of notes, handwritten by Twain and discovered in an archive, in Berkeley, Calif.

Philip and Erin Stead took it from there; the Caldecott Award-winning author-illustrator duo picked up Twain’s trail and finished the story.

“It was never entirely clear to us if there was never an ending, or if Twain just never got around to writing it down,” Philip Stead says. “That said, we had to make a book, so we had to provide an ending to the story.”

(12) NOT BINDING. Margaret H. Willison of NPR discusses “In ‘Dear Fahrenheit 451,’ Loving Books Both Wisely And Well”

The truest testament to the quality of Dear Fahrenheit 451, Annie Spence’s ingratiating collection of love letters and breakup notes to the books in her life, is that my enjoyment of it was, in the end, great enough to outweigh my fury that someone other than me had written it.

It’s lucky that she manages this feat, as anyone who loves books well enough to enjoy reading Spence’s letters is likely to relate so closely to her thoughts that they’ll struggle with that same sense of resentful ownership — particularly librarians. “What are you doing,” they will think, “writing out my life like it’s your own, Annie Spence? Who do you think you are? What makes you special?” Thankfully, Spence’s voice is ultimately so warm, funny, and specific that it answers the question handily — she’s special because she has a unique ability to capture the thoughts and feelings of book lovers, both professional and otherwise, on the page.

(13) THESE ARE THE JOKES, FOLKS. Martin Morse Wooster tells me: “I know Filers spend too much time staring at screens and need to go outside and soak up some crisp fall air.  Why not go to a corn maze?  In The Plains, Virginia, you can go to Pirates of the Corn-ibbean.’”

The website is http://cornmazeintheplains.com. Here’s a review of this year’s theme:

The giant 5 Acre maze with the theme “Pirates of the Corn-ibbean”, has a pirate’s flag, parrot, and a chest full of treasure.  The cornfield comes alive when it is filled with maze goers who enter the 2.5 miles of “cornfusing” pathways. They soon find themselves facing countless choices, while attempting to answer the trivia clues en route to the elusive victory bridge. Whether it is during the night or day, each maze wanderer is armed with a survival guide and flag on a mission to collect puzzle pieces of the maze design and test their trivia skills to help them find their way out.  If one gets “udderly cornfused”, they can always wave their teams flag frantically, to signal the “corn cop” to come to their rescue.

Last’s year’s maze looked like this:

Martin adds, “I know in the UK the word for ‘corn’ is maize.  So do they have maize mazes over there?

[Thanks to JJ, Martin Morse Wooster, Chip Hitchcock, Cat Eldridge, John King Tarpinian, Carl Slaughter, Nigel, Jason, and NickPheas for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Xtifr.]

Review of Noah: Apocalypse


By Martin Morse Wooster: I’ve seen plays in a lot of odd places.  But on September 11 I saw a dystopian play in a bar!

The play was Noah: Apocalypse by Amanda Quain, which was held by Live Art DC at the DC Reynolds bar in Washington.  I sat on a cramped barstool, fortified by happy hour beer and occasional rounds of free beer and watched the play, which was performed by a cast of seven to an audience of 15.  All 22 of us fit into the entire space of a smallish bar.

The premise is that Washington has been nuked, and after the atomic attack and “150 days of acid rain” a group of survivors headed by Noah (Raven Wilkes) is in the bar.  Mutants that kill and eat humans have surrounded Washington.  But one survivor from another group (Jasmine Jones) shows up and says she can get the survivors to a larger group of survivors that have far more food and some medical supplies.  Should the group try to escape?

The author says she was inspired to write the play after spending “most of my high school and college years reading about teens saving the world from corrupted government, when there was a government left at all.”  One character, Sarah (Nerissa Hart) gets to dress like Katniss Everdeen and make geek jokes, including one to a questionable cocktail that is apparently a reference to a potion in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

This is Quain’s first full-length play, and she needs an editor.  The ending, where we learn why Washington has been nuked, doesn’t work.  But Noah: Apocalypse has a lot more energy than many more expensive productions I’ve seen on real stages.  I spent two hours on my uncomfortable barstool watching this play, and I enjoyed all but the last ten minutes.

Amanda Quain isn’t there yet as a writer, but she has potential and should be encouraged.

Noah: Apocalypse runs through September 18.

Pixel Scroll 8/15/17 She Said She’d Always Been A Filer, She Worked At Fifteen Blogs A Day

(1) OUT TO LAUNCH. The Planetary Society is trying to raise $100,000 for its LightSail project. They have raised $22,000+ so far.

LightSail: Help Us Get to the Launchpad

The Planetary Society’s LightSail spacecraft is getting ready to make space exploration history as the first to demonstrate controlled solar sail flight of a CubeSat.

Known as the people’s spacecraft, together we’re ushering in a new era—the democratization of space—but there’s still so much to be done and we need your support to do it.

“We have lingered for too long on the shores of the cosmic ocean; it’s time to set sail for the stars.” — Carl Sagan

We’re kicking off the final phase of preparations for the upcoming launch of LightSail 2 into space aboard the SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket. We need your help to get there.

When you make a gift today, your contribution —and your impact on the LightSail mission—will be boosted by a $50,000 matching gift challenge issued by a generous Planetary Society member!

 

(2) TOUCHING SPACE. Some of the remains of the late Hugh Daniel, known to fans as “Doctor Destructo,” are scheduled to fly to the edge of space on the next Celestis mission.

Starseeker, the eighth Celestis Earth Rise service, is scheduled to launch from Spaceport America, New Mexico on November 15, 2017. Your loved one’s flight capsule – containing a symbolic portion of cremated remains or DNA sample and engraved with a memorial message – will launch into space, experience the elegant dance of weightlessness, and return to Earth for recovery and return to you as a flown keepsake.

The Celestis flight capsules will be flown aboard an UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL rocket, on a mission sponsored by the NASA Spaceflight Opportunities Program to conduct microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations for NASA and affiliated researchers.

You can read about Hugh Daniel at the link.

It seemed Hugh’s love of space and all things science began at birth, helped by regular dinner conversations, open houses at the University of Michigan (UofM) telescopes, Star Trek, Larry Niven, dozens of SciFi Conventions, endless conversations with amateur and professional astronomers, and many nights at the Lick Observatory. He assisted with a friend’s meteor work on Antarctica, attended private rocket launches, and even did some contract work for NASA. He always dreamed of the opportunity to make it into space himself, but he wasn’t counting on being reduced to 1 gram for the trip! Hugh didn’t believe in any form of “afterlife,” but in tribute to a warm and generous friend and beloved family member, we send a piece of him Ad Astra!

(3) IT’S THE VERSE. SPECPO brings us the “Armadillocon Poetry Thunderdome 2017”.

But what is a Poetry Thunderdome? First crafted at Comicpalooza, Thunderdome brings together a group of speculative poets to duke it out in front of an audience in a LIVE writing exercise. Audience members participate by yelling out prompts and poets are given a short period of time to write a poem in response. Hilarity ensues….

By the second round, the audience was feeling feisty. It chose “AitheistJackalope,” “Egypt,” and “Third Eye,” as the topics for our poets writing delight.

In response, Michelle Muenzler gave us this gem:

it’s not the third eye that gets you
that one has all the knowledge after all
it’s that fourth eye
the one that sees the jackalope in the corner of the bar
drinking whiskey and whining about his in-laws
just flown in from Egypt
and maybe it’s the drink talking now
but as far as you knew
there were no jackalopes in Egypt
…then again, somebody had to build the pyramids

(4) PUTTING OUT A CONTRACT. On Facebook, Heikki Sørum has photos of Eemeli Aro signing a solemn agreement to give Finnish fandom a 90 day respite before be gets them involved in his next fannish scheme. Aro was the first one to appear at a Fannish Inquisition and talk about holding a Helsinki Worldcon.

(5) LONG LIST ANTHOLOGY. David Steffen’s latest Diabolical Plots newsletter says he will produce a third Long List Anthology.

On Friday was the Hugo Award Ceremony announcing the winners of this year’s Hugo Awards, and with the nomination numbers posted after the ceremony, starts the planning of the Long List Anthology Volume Three.  If you’re not familiar with the previous two anthologies, it’s an anthology of short fiction from the longer Hugo Award nomination list–more stories that the Hugo voters loved.  Queries have been sent out and there is enough author interest to go forward, and I’m sure I’ll get more responses over the next week or so, (especially with international WorldCon travel).  I am aiming to launch the Kickstarter in early September, so the next newsletter might get sent out a bit early to coincide with it.  The anthology will have stories by the following authors and more included in the base goal or stretch goals:

  • Joseph Allen Hill
  • Yoon Ha Lee
  • Seanan McGuire
  • Ian R. MacLeod
  • Sam J. Miller
  • Sarah Pinsker
  • Cat Rambo
  • Jason Sanford
  • Caroline M. Yoachim

(6) THE SURVIVOR. The upcoming sci-fi indie short film The Survivor: A Tale From The Nearscape, which centers on a young boy as he does whatever it takes to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.

In a post-apocalyptic world where the air is toxic to breathe and oxygen is a precious resource, a young boy embarks on a perilous supply run to obtain water and medicine for his ailing mother. With just his toy robot as a companion on his journey, he faces many obstacles, but the real danger is waiting for him back home.

 

(7) TRIVIAL TRIVIA

Polyphemus was the name of the cyclops Odysseus and his crew encountered in The Odyssey.

(8) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • August 15, 1977 — On duty at the Big Ear Radio Observatory at The Ohio State University, Dr. Jerry Ehman heard radio noise that lasted 37 seconds and came from the direction of a star nearly 220 light-years away. The signal traveled at a frequency whose use is prohibited by international agreement and that is unlike those of most natural radio sources. It is known as the Wow signal and hasn’t been heard since.
  • August 15, 1984The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension first screened in theatres on this day.

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY GIRLS

  • August 15, — Bjo Trimble
  • August 15, 1990 – Jennifer Lawrence

(10) COMIC SECTION.

(11) CAVNA. The Washington Post’s Michael Cavna interviews Ian Jones-Quartey, creator of the new Cartoon Network show O.K. K.O! Let’s Be Heroes because the show is a fictionalized version of Jones-Quartey’s home town of Columbia, Maryland — “A new Cartoon Network show finds inspiration in Columbia, Md., the animator’s home town”.

“OK K.O.!” centers on a boy’s adventures at friendly Lakewood Plaza, where his kick-butt mother runs a dojo and fitness center, and where he helps out at a bodega that supplies equipment to heroes — all across Route 175 from where villainous Lord Boxman runs his big-box retail monstrosity, which sells weapons to baddies.

(12) THE GOOD OMENS SCOREBOARD. Carl Slaughter, after reading that Neil Gaiman is showrunning a screen adaptation of his and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens, found more reasons to be proud of the collaborators:

“Good Omens” is #68 in the BBC’s survey of 750,000 readers.  The 67 books preceding it on the list include “Pride and Prejudice,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “1984,” “Jane Eyre,” “Wuthering Heights,” “Great Expectations,” “Little Women,” “War and Peace,” “Gone with the Wind,” “Grapes of Wrath,” “Emma,” “Animal Farm,” “The Count of Monte Cristo,” “Of Mice and Men,” “Crime and Punishment,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” “A Christmas Carol,” and a slew of B list classics.

Plus “Lord of the Rings,” “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” “Dune,” “Watership Down,” “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” “Harry Potter,” “Alice in Wonderland,” etc.

#69-200 includes, “Vanity Fair,” “The Old Man and the Sea,” etc.

Pretty impressive list of competition for a comedy sci fi writer!

(12) BEWARE SPOILERS. Business Insider interviews Conleth Hill: “The actor who plays Varys on ‘Game of Thrones’ explains how he’s making ‘a better world for everybody else'”

Kim Renfro: On the second episode, “Stormborn,” Varys had a confrontation with Daenerys over his loyalties. What was it like filming a conversation with Emilia Clarke?

Conleth Hill: That was very exciting. Had you not done that scene people would have gone ‘well why did she take him on her team so easily?’ And we couldn’t do it in Meereen because she was off with the Dothraki and I was off, according to some people ‘mermaiding around’ with Olenna and the rest, so it was nice that we had it as soon as we got there — where she was born.

Renfro: You brought up ‘mermaiding around’ — are you sick of people asking you if Varys is a merman?

Hill: Yes. I don’t get it. I really don’t get it. I mean I’m not annoyed or anything, I think it’s funny, but I really don’t know where it comes from. I think someone got too stoned one night and came up with it.

(13) DIY. And just to make sure no customer is left behind, IKEA has published diagrams showing how to turn their rugs into Game of Thrones capes – Bored Panda has them: “IKEA Releases Instructions How To Make ‘Game Of Thrones’ Cape After Costumer Reveals Actors Wore IKEA Rugs”.

Being a member of the Night’s Watch in Game of Thrones doesn’t sound like much fun. Constant threat of danger and death at the hands of Wildlings and White Walkers. Vows of celibacy. Freezing your ass off constantly. There really is very little about their job that you’d actually want. They do however have some pretty cool capes, and you don’t need to be a Brother to get one. All you need is a $79 SKOLD IKEA rug, because believe it or not, that’s what the tough guys of the Night’s Watch have actually been wearing on their backs this whole time.

(14) PLAY PASSWORD. The NIST also approves of less-painful passwording: “Forget Tough Passwords: New Guidelines Make It Simple”.

The organization suggests keeping passwords simple, long and memorable. Phrases, lowercase letters and typical English words work well, Grassi tells NPR’s Audie Cornish. Experts no longer suggest special characters and a mix of lower and uppercase letters. And passwords never need to expire.

“We focus on the cognitive side of this, which is what tools can users use to remember these things?” Grassi says. “So if you can picture it in your head, and no one else could, that’s a good password.”

While these rules may seem suspiciously easy, Grassi says these guidelines help users create longer passwords that are harder for hackers to break. And he says the computer security industry in both the public and private sectors has received these new rules positively.

Chip Hitchcock adds, “I suspect this is a readable version of guidelines issued in June and linked to in the previous story; anybody want to dig through the bureaucratese to find out?”

(15) GAZING. London’s Great Fire monument was also intended to be a telescope: “The secret lab hidden inside a famous monument”.

Robert Hooke was a man of many passions, who applied his enquiring mind to subjects as diverse as chemistry and map making, at the sober end of the scale, and folk beliefs about toads and his own bowel movements at the other. In his day, he had a reputation as lofty as the pillar itself, variously described as “England’s Leonardo” and “certainly the greatest mechanick [sic] this day in the world”.

Today his name has largely been forgotten, but his contributions have endured. Among other things, he coined the word “cell” to describe the basic unit of life (they reminded him of Monks’ rooms, or “cells”), devised Hooke’s law of elasticity – arguably not particularly exciting, but useful – and invented mechanisms still used in clocks and cameras to this day.

After the fire, Hooke tried his hand at architecture too, designing hospitals, civic buildings and churches across the city. He didn’t get a lot of credit, partly because most of his achievements were signed off by, and mistakenly attributed to, Wren – and partly because some of them weren’t very good.

(16) DINO NEWS. Martin Morse Wooster advises: “In the Washington Post, Travis M. Andrews writes about how Britain’s Natural History Museum discovered a fossil they thought was a crocodile was actually a new creature, which they named Lemmysuchus obstusidiens after the late heavy metal rocker Lemmy Kilmister.  This critter partied all night and fought all day, specializing in crushing turtle shells with its mighty teeth. The painting by Mark Witton is very cool.” — “Meet the brutally violent prehistoric crocodile named for Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister”.

They had a new species on their hands, and it needed a name. The creature’s brash, aggressive nature brought to mind the hell-raising British heavy metal band Motorhead, known for songs such as “Killed By Death,” “Born to Raise Hell,” “God Was Never On Your Side” and “I Ain’t No Nice Guy.”

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Karl-Johan Norén, JJ, Carl Slaughter, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, and David K.M. Klaus for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Steve Davidson.]

One Fan’s Take on Salvation’s First Episode

By Martin Morse Wooster: Here is what I learned from last night’s premiere episode of Salvation.

(1) The science fiction writer’s profession was revealed because she carries around a notebook with an inspiring quote by Isaac Asimov on the cover. She falls in love with the brilliant astrophysics graduate student, and reveals that she has sold a short story to “a publisher.”

“What’s it about?”  the grad student asks.

“The…future!”

(2) If you are a brilliant tech billionaire and a Defense Department contractor you can eliminate all security protocols and admit anyone you want into the Pentagon by handwaving. This includes access to the really secret underground bunker in the basement of the Pentagon whose existence is only known to 40 people.

(3) The showrunners for Salvation realized that naming the asteroid that will crash into the earth in 186 days “XJ42” is not scary. So the asteroid is code-named “Samson.”

(4) The brilliant tech billionaire has a spaceship ready to be tested that has room for 180 people, because some theory—I think it’s called “Maximum Plot Stupidity”—says that you can repopulate the earth is you save 180 people.

(5) Should I be delighted or terrified that Neil deGrasse Tyson is a recurring character on Salvation?

Review of “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” Musical

By Martin Morse Wooster: The studios are busily trying to turn their films into musicals these days.  Every studio is trying to do this; I once paid good coin to see Elf:  The Musical (which had its moments).  But Disney has probably put the most effort into turning its films into theatrical productions.

Go to Disney Theatrical Productions’ website and you’ll find they’ll happily sell you tickets to the Broadway productions of The Lion King, Aladdin, and Newsies. But the idea that Disney is an unstoppable theatrical juggernaut, in my view, rests solely on The Lion King, which was bold and innovative.  My impressions of The Lion King are second-hand because the production has visited Washington twice, but both times the production went to the Kennedy Center, which never discounts. When I saw that the sell-through for The Lion King was north of 95 percent and the few available tickets were available on StubHub for three figures, I realized this show was too expensive for me.

There are lots of attempts by Disney to turn their films into musicals that have gone nowhere.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of the greatest Disney musicals, but Wikipedia tells me the theatrical version has only played in San Diego.  Many other Disney musicals haven’t toured.  But Disney’s The Little Mermaid was on tour, for five performances at Wolf Trap, which is our outdoor theatre that people go to in the summer.  (Neil Gaiman will perform there on July 9.)  The tickets were on Groupon, which is understandable because the performance I went to on a Thursday was half-full.  So I wallowed in my discounted ticket.

The production I saw was, I think, the second national tour for The Little Mermaid, which was developed by Pittsburgh CLO and Kansas City Starlight, theatres in those cities that specialize in musicals.  It played in Pittsburgh and Kansas City before coming in Washington.

You know the story.  Ariel is the youngest daughter of King Triton, and she finds human boys attractive.  So she steals the keys to the car…, oh, sorry.  She floats around on the surface, where she attracts the eye of Prince Erik.  She also collects a lot of human stuff, including a giant statue of a Roman emperor.

King Triton is outraged!  So he throws out Ariel’s comic books…, oops.  Sorry.  He smashes her collection of human stuff and the giant statue falls and turns into rubble.  “You worship rubbish!” the king thunders, and I made a note, “I must not let King Triton see my CD collection.”

So naturally Ariel wants to become a human. She goes to the king’s evil sister Ursula.  Ursula has Ariel sign a contract where she gets to be a human for three days but she has no voice.  She has to get Prince Erik to kiss her or her soul is Ursula’s.  We learn Ursula is a squid, because she says one clause of her contract is a “squid pro quo.”  “I’m a squid,” she explains, in case we didn’t get the joke.

So will Ariel convince Prince Erik to kiss her?  Well, this is a happy musical.  That’s all I say.

The Little Mermaid was the second feature of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, who wrote The Little Shop of Horrors and were turned into megastars.  They could have been one of the great teams in musical history, except that Ashman died in 1991 at age 41, having written the lyrics for Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and three songs for Aladdin.  Menken is still with us, and was happy to write more music.[1]     But there are 20 songs in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and only seven of them have lyrics by Ashman.  The remaining 11 songs are by Glenn Slater, who is competent but second-tier.  (Two songs are credited to both Slater and Ashman.)

The problem with Disney’s The Little Mermaid is that it’s like lots of other Disney films, but like Ariel, never really develops its own voice.  Do you like sailors roistering in the sea like the ones in Peter Pan?  Well, they’re here.  How about evil stepsisters picking on Cinderella?  Well, Ariel has seven sisters, all of whose names begin with A, and there’s a scene like the one with Cinderella’s glass slipper.  How about an evil woman like Cruella DeVil? That is Ursula the squid.

The cast was, of course, competent.  Diana Huey played Ariel.  She is Asian American, and told the Kansas City Star that she thought she could be a role model for actors of color.  Other standouts included Melvin Abston as Sebastian the crab (you know, the guy who sings “Under the Sea”) and Jennifer Allen as Ursula, who got to wear a purple gown with seven tentacles.

I thought Disney’s The Little Mermaid was a line extension of the Disney brand that wasn’t that original, but it was pleasant.  Still, I saw a lot of 10-year-old girls having a happy evening with their mothers, and at least two Millennial women wearing mouse-ear dealy boppers. So I won’t grumble too much.

But if any other Disney musicals show up in Washington, well, I’m there!


[1] Menken’s work for Disney includes the remake to The Shaggy Dog, which lets me ask this trivia question.  What’s the connection between The Shaggy Dog and Bambi?  They’re both based on novels by Hungarian fantasy writer Felix Salten.