“King Charles III”: A Review

Poster for the London production in 2014.

By Martin Morse Wooster: Those of us who read Gregory Benford’s 1980 novel Timescape will recall that he foresaw a world in 1998 that largely didn’t happen.  Oxygen-sucking algae did not nearly destroy the Atlantic. The British didn’t randomly die from bangers made with dubious meat.  Prince Charles did not become king.

As an American, I don’t get a vote on whether or not the monarchy is a good idea.  But I like sf, and I watch more monarchy shows on public television than is probably good for me.  So when I saw that the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington was showing King Charles III, a play by Mike Bartlett that premiered in London in 2014, I knew I had to see it.  I was very glad that I did.

I was somewhat surprised a couple of days before I went to get an email in my box from Shakespeare Theatre director Michael Kahn about the play.  He quoted David Muse, the head of the Studio Theatre here and the play’s director.  He praised Bartlett for writing plays that dealt with climate change, Edward Snowden, and “the fluidity of sexuality.”  But in this paragraph Muse nailed why King Charles III is quite good:

“This is not a play that takes sides or tires to satirize the quaintness of the monarchy of the foibles of the royal family.  Far from being a fool, Charles is a protagonist with complexity that Bartlett invests with tragic stature.”

Having been warned about Bartlett’s other plays, I can attest the following things do not happen in King Charles III:

King Charles does not punch out any polar bears fleeing melting icebergs.

The king does not get busted for downloading data dumps to Wikileaks.

Charles does not tell tourists, “I’m the king, dagrabbit.  Get off my royal lawn!”

The Shakespeare Theatre published in their program this interview originally done for the American Conservatory Theatre by Simon Hodgson.  Bartlett explains in the interview how he tried to make his play like Shakespeare’s:  it “has five acts” (although of course it really only had two).  There are two plots, of which the minor story is comic.  Above all, all the royals speak in iambic pentameter,

The premise is that in the near future (around 2022) Charles finally becomes king.  But a prime minister proposes a bill imposing severe restrictions on the press.  Charles refuses to give his assent to the bill.  Will this decision doom the monarchy?

The comic subplot is very familiar to people who have seen Henry IV.  There’s no Falstaff, but Prince Harry goes clubbing and falls in with dubious people.  He plays with the paper crowns Burger King gives out and at one point consumes a late-night kebab on stage to soak up the booze.

Charles comes across as more like Richard II than any of Shakespeare’s other kings.  There’s also a ghost, and if you think about the history of the Windsors you’ll know whose ghost it is.

As Muse notes, it would be very easy to portray Charles as yesterday’s man, a hangover from the past that a modern country doesn’t need.  But this is a move Bartlett doesn’t make.  Charles is portrayed as someone trying to do the right thing and make the monarchy a force in improving British life.  As Bartlett portrays him, he is neither a ninny nor a fool but someone who is admirable in many ways.

As I’d expect from the Shakespeare Theatre, the cast, including Jeanne Paulsen as the Duchess of Cornwall, Christopher McLinden as Prince William, and Allison Jean White as the Duchess of Cambridge, were all quite good.  Robert Joy looks nothing like the real Prince Charles, but portrays Charles with tragic grandeur.

Special thanks to the Shakespeare Theatre gift shop for introducing me to Walkers’ Nonsuch Toffee, a delicious treat made with healthful ingredients like sugar, whole milk, and butter, no doubt provided by contented cows.  It enhanced my evening.

Pixel Scroll 2/27/17 That’s it! Scroll Over Man, Scroll Over!

(1) ACADEMY INVITES LE GUIN. Ursula K. LeGuin has been voted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters reports SFGate. The 87-year-old Le Guin is one of 14 new core members of the Academy.

The arts academy, an honorary society with a core membership of 250 writers, artists, composers and architects, once shunned “genre” writers such as Le Guin. Even such giants as science fiction writer Ray Bradbury and crime novelist Elmore Leonard never got in.

Academy member Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, advocated for Le Guin.

“As a deviser of worlds, as a literary stylist, as a social critic and as a storyteller, Le Guin has no peer,” he wrote in his recommendation, shared with the AP, that she be admitted. “From the time of her first published work in the mid-1960s, she began to push against the confines of science fiction, bringing to bear an anthropologist’s acute eye for large social textures and mythic structures, a fierce egalitarianism and a remarkable gift of language, without ever renouncing the sense of wonder and the spirit of play inherent in her genre of origin.”

(2) 2017 RHYSLING ANTHOLOGY COVER REVEAL. Hat tip to F.J. Bergmann.

(3) NEW FICTION WEBZINE. Science fiction and fantasy book imprint Strange Fictions Press will officially launch Strange Fictions SciFi & Fantasy Zine on February 28 with “This Chicken Outfit,” by Pushcart nominated author, A.L. Sirois. Siriois’ short stories have appeared in ThemaAmazing Stories, and Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. He has also contributed comic art for DC, Marvel, and Charlton.

Strange Fictions will focus “on publishing speculative short fiction, nonfiction, art, and poetry twice a week for genre fans worldwide.”  New stories, poems, and essays will appear every Tuesday and Friday. Subscribers can sign up for email notifications whenever a new story is posted.

Strange Fictions SF&F Zine is open to submissions from both new and experienced genre writers, and details can be found at the website.

Authors of acquired pieces for Strange Fictions SF&F ‘Zine will receive a flat fee payment of $5 for stories, essays, poetry, and book reviews of 4,999 words and under and $10 for stories, essays, poetry, and book reviews of 5,000-10,000.

(4) ALOFT. Martin Morse Wooster recommends Miyazaki Dreams of Flying as “a lovely compilation of flying scenes from Miyazaki films, including an interview where the great animator expresses his love of airplanes.”

(5) DEFYING THE LAW…OF GRAVITY. In “Mars Needs Lawyers” on FiveThirtyEight, Maggie Koerth-Baker looks at the many problems of international law that have to be solved in we’re ever going to have successful Mars missions.  For example:  if you have astronauts from five countries flying in a spacecraft that’s registered in Liberia, how do you figure out which country’s law applies?

For instance, a limited number of satellites can orbit the Earth simultaneously. Put up too many, and you end up with an expensive game of celestial bumper cars. But some countries — Russia and the United States, in particular — had a big head start on gobbling up those slots. What do you do if you’re Nigeria? Today, Gabrynowicz said, the international community has settled on a regulatory system that attempts to balance the needs of nations that can put an object into geostationary orbit first with the needs of those that aren’t there yet but could be later. And even this compromise is still extremely controversial.

The same basic disagreement behind them will apply to Mars, too. And it’s at issue right now in the U.S., as lawmakers try to figure out how best to implement the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act — a bill signed by President Obama in November 2015. That law states that U.S. companies can own and sell space resources — including minerals and water. But the details of what this means in practice haven’t been worked out yet, Gabrynowicz said. Legal experts say that those details will make the difference in terms of whether the law puts the U.S. in violation of the Outer Space Treaty.

This question of whether space should be an Old West-style gold rush or an equitably distributed public commons could have been settled decades ago, with the 1979 Moon Agreement (aka the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies), which would have established space as part of the “common heritage of mankind.” What this would have meant in practice is not totally clear. But at the time, opponents saw it as having the potential to ban all private enterprise and effectively turn the heavens into a United Nations dictatorship. It ended up being signed by a handful of countries, most of which have no space program. But it is international law, and if humans go to Mars, though, we’ll likely end up debating this issue again.

(6) GAME WRITING. Monica Valentinelli gives an “Overview of Game Production and the Role of Writers” at the SFWA Blog.

One of the things I enjoy doing as a game developer is hiring new writers. In almost every case, writers are shocked to learn how many levers and pulleys there are in game production. This tends to hold true regardless of what kind of game a writer is contributing to; in part, this has to do with the process of transitioning from a consumer’s mindset (e.g. fan, critic, reviewer) to that of a creator’s. Sometimes, however, the process is confusing because there are aspects physical development that writers aren’t always involved with. A good example of this is that developers often regard word processing documents with an eye for production when they redline and provide comments. What’s laid out vertically on a page in text isn’t how it will be rendered in the final product, and that has a huge impact on what the writers are hired to write, edit, and make changes on. Sometimes, the number of words that fit on a page or a screen can also shape a writer’s assignment, too.

Other, lesser-known aspects of production might include:

  • Canon or Setting Bible creation
  • Systems/rules documentation
  • Marketing copy and sell sheets
  • Outlining and project management
  • Mock-ups and proofs for manufacturing
  • Playtest or beta editions

(7) DISNEY’S DUDEFRÉRES. Another clip from the live-action Beauty and the Beast shows LeFou singing “My, what a guy, that Gaston!” With Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as LeFou.

(8) VOIR DIRE STRAITS. Shadow Clarke juror Jonathan McCalmont followed his introductory post with an entry on his ownblog, Ruthless Culture “Genre Origin Stories”.

A couple of things that occurred to me upon re-reading the piece:

Firstly, I think it does a pretty good job of capturing how I currently feel about the institutions of genre culture. To be blunt, I don’t think that genre fandom survived the culture wars of 2015 and I think genre culture has now entered a post-apocalyptic phase in which a few institutional citadels manage to keep the lights on while the rest of the field is little more than a blasted wasteland full of isolated, lonely people. One reason why I agreed to get involved with shadowing the Clarke Award is that I see the Shadow Clarke as an opportunity to build something new that re-introduces the idea that engaging with literary science fiction can be about more than denouncing your former friends and providing under-supported writers with free PR….

McCalmont’s post includes a high overview of the past 40 years of fanhistory. I was surprised to find many points of agreement, such as his takes about things that frustrated me at the time they were happening, or that I witnessed affecting my friends among the LA locals who founded anime fandom.

Regardless of whether they are conventional, idiosyncratic, or simply products of distracted parenting, our paths into science fiction cannot help but shape our understanding and expectations of the field. Unfortunately, where there is difference there is bound to be misunderstanding and where there is misunderstanding there must inevitably be conflict.

The problem is that while the walls of science fiction may be infinitely porous and allow for inspiration from different cultures and artistic forms, the cultural institutions surrounding science fiction have shown themselves to be remarkably inflexible when it comes to making allowances for other people’s genre origin stories.

The roots of the problem are as old as genre fandom itself. In fact, the very first Worldcon saw the members of one science fiction club deny entry to the membership of another on the grounds that the interlopers were socialists whose politicised understanding of speculative fiction posed an existential threat to the genre’s continued existence. A similar conflict erupted when the unexpected success of Star Wars turned a niche literary genre into a mass market phenomenon. Faced with the prospect of making allowances for legions of new fans with radically different ideas as to what constituted good science fiction, the institutions of genre fandom responded with sluggishness indistinguishable from hostility. Media fandom was born when traditional fandom refused to expand its horizons and the same thing happened again in the early 1990s when fans of anime decided that it was better to build their own institutions than to fight street-by-street for the right to be hidden away in the smallest and hottest rooms that science fiction conventions had to offer.

The institutions of genre culture may pride themselves on their inclusiveness and forward-thinking but this is largely a product of the excluded not sticking around long enough to give their own sides of the story. Time and again, the institutions of genre culture have been offered the chance to get in on the ground floor when science-fictional ideas began to manifest themselves in different ways. Time and again, the institutions of genre culture have chosen to protect the primacy of the familiar over the vibrancy of the new and the different….

Cultural commentators may choose to characterise 2015 as the year in which genre culture rejected the misogynistic white supremacy of the American right but the real message is far more nuanced. Though the institutions of genre culture have undoubtedly improved when it comes to reflecting the diversity not only of the field but also of society at large, this movement towards ethnic and sexual diversity has coincided with a broader movement of aesthetic conservatism as voices young and old find themselves corralled into a narrowing range of hyper-commercial forms.

I thought that was well said. Unfortunately, I also read the comments.

(9) BELATED BIRTHDAY BOYS

  • February 24, 1909 – August Derleth
  • February 26, 1918 – Theodore Sturgeon

(10) THE STRAIGHT POOP. “Do Cats Cause Schizophrenia? Believe the Science, Not the Hype” advises WIRED.

The link between schizophrenia and cats goes back to the 1970s, when psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey learned that viruses from dogs might trigger multiple sclerosis—a neurological condition—in humans. “That got me thinking about which animals host which infectious agents,” he says. Soon, he learned that cats host the most successful infectious bacteria in the world: Toxoplasma gondii. Looking into previously published research, he found plenty of studies showing that schizophrenics often had higher levels of toxoplasma antibodies in their blood than people without the mental illness.

Then he started surveying schizophrenics about their life history, and found that many had indeed lived with cats. But what’s important isn’t just if, it’s when. See, Torrey’s theory isn’t merely that T. gondii causes mental illness, it’s that it somehow alters the development of a person’s brain during crucial periods of brain development—and probably only if that person is genetically predisposed to schizophrenia. It’s a complicated hypothesis, and even after four decades of study, Torrey says he’s still not totally convinced it’s fact. Hence, his continued research on the subject.

Still, every study he publishes—his most recent, dropped in July of 2015—attracts the media like nip. Same with refutations, like the one published this week. The authors analyzed a dataset of 5,000 UK children, looking for a correlation between cat ownership during critical ages of brain development and behavioral indicators of later psychosis (like dark thoughts) at the ages of 13 and 18. Their statistical analysis of the results showed no correlation. Most (but not all) news websites ran with some variation of “Relax, Cats Don’t Cause Schizophrenia.”

But that’s not what the study said.

(11) GUESS WHO. From 2015. David Tennant’s NTA Special Recognition – his reaction: “Actor Sees A Tribute Video On Screen. The Realizes It’s For Him And He Can’t Believe It”

(12) TELL YOUR FRIENDS. Carl Slaughter says, “This documentary convincingly demonstrates how the Batman movies/trilogies reflect the cultural era in which they were produced.”

  • 60s Batman  –  prosperity
  • 70s  –  disillusionment  –  no Batman movies
  • Batman  –  escapism
  • Batman Returns  –  anti rich
  • Batman Forever, Batman & Robin  –  safety
  • Batman Begins, Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises  –  fear
  • Batman versus Superman  –  extremism

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster, Carl Slaughter, Cat Eldridge, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Peer Sylvester.]

Pixel Scroll 2/2/17 If You Give A Kzin A Kazoo…

(1) LOOKING FOR SHADOWS. Leah Schnelbach’s “Groundhog Day Breaks the Rules of Every Genre” is a masterpiece about one of my favorite movies. (It first appeared on Tor.com in 2014.)

Groundhog Day succeeds as a film because of the way it plays with, subverts, and outright mocks the tropes of each of the genres it flirts with. While some people would call it a time travel movie, or a movie about small town America, or the most spiritual film of all time, or a rom-com, it is by breaking the rules of each of those types of films that it ultimately transcends genre entirely.

(2) SHARKNADO 5. Not sure why Syfy and studio The Asylum picked Groundhog Day to announce there will be a fifth Sharknado movie, unless it’s to wink at the fact they’re doing the same thing over and over again:

The original 2013 “Sharknado” introduced the concept of a shark-laden twister via one bearing down on Los Angeles. In “Sharknado 2: The Second One,” New York City was the target of the disaster, and in “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!” a mega-sharknado made its way down the East Coast from Washington, D.C. to Florida. In the most recent installment, the very-close-to-copyright-infringement-titled “Sharknado: The 4th Awakens,” the shark-infested storms went national. The film ended with the Eiffel Tower ripping away from Paris and crashing down on Niagara Falls, setting the stage for the fifth edition of America’s answer to the sprawling sagas of the ancient world.

In “Sharknado 5,” with much of North America lying in ruins, the rest of the world braces for a global sharknado. Fin Shepard (Ziering) and his family must put a stop to this disaster before Earth is obliterated.

(3) TODAY’S SCROLL TITLE. On the other hand, Daniel Dern hopes you will add iterations of your own to his faux children’s book for Filers.

If You Give A Kzin A Kazoo…

whose text perhaps goes…

… he’ll <blatt> and leap.

If a Kzin <blatt>s and leaps,
he’ll rip you from gehenna to duodenum. [1]

If a Kzin rips you from gehenna to duodenum,
well, that’s the end of the story as far as you’re concerned,
unless you’ve got either an autodoc [2] nearby, or have Wolverine-class mutant healing factor.

[1] per Don Marquis, Archie & Mehitabel — Mehitabel on Marriage, IIRC.

[2] and health care insurance that will cover you 🙁

Probably if you put all that in, Filers will contribute a few dozen more verses.

(4) BOMBS AWAY. Before telling the “Five Things I Learned Writing Exo”, Fonda Lee confesses that Exo began life as a failed NanNoWriMo novel. (A guest post at Terrible Minds.)

This is how it went: I wrote 35,000 words by November 20th or so, and stalled out. It wasn’t working. At all. I read the manuscript from the beginning and hated all of it with the nauseous loathing that writers feel when looking at their own disgusting word messes. I had a shiny story idea in my head but it was emerging as dog vomit. So I quit. I failed NaNoWriMo hard.

I trashed everything I’d written and started again. I wrote a new draft over several months, and then rewrote 50% of that one. And did it again. After the book sold, I did another major revision with my editor. I was relieved and excited by how it was getter better and better, but part of me was also surprised and disheartened. I mean, Zeroboxer was picking up accolades and awards, and whoa, I got to go to the Nebula Awards as a finalist and dance on stage, so why the hell was it so hard to write another book?! This whole writing thing ought to be easier now, right?

Wrong. In talking (griping, whining, crying) to wiser authors, I learned there was wide agreement that the second book is often a complete bitch to write. A very loud voice in your head is telling you that because you’re now a Published Author, you should be writing better and faster, plus doing author promotion stuff with an effortless grin.

(5) REMEMBERING PAN. J. M. Barrie was one of several authors who put science-related observation into fantasies. The BBC tells you about it: “What Peter Pan teaches us about memory and consciousness”.

In this way, the stories appear to follow a tradition of great cross-pollination between the arts and the sciences – particularly in children’s literature. Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies was written, in part, as a response to Darwin’s theory of evolution, while Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland were a playful exploration of mathematics and logic. Even some of Hans Christian Andersen’s tales were inspired by new scientific and technological developments – such as the invention of the home microscope.

(6) A LARGER-THAN-EXPECTED COLLISION. The Large Hadron Collider didn’t end the world, as some cranks feared, but it did end this creature: “World’s Most Destructive Stone Marten Goes On Display In The Netherlands”

On Nov. 20, 2016, the animal hopped over a fence at the $7 billion Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, touched a transformer and was electrocuted by 18,000 volts.

The marten died instantly. The collider, which accelerates particles to near the speed of light to study the fiery origins of the universe, lost power and shut down.

“There must have been a big flame,” said Kees Moeliker, the director of the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam and the man behind its Dead Animal Tales exhibit, where the preserved marten is now displayed.

“It was scorched. When you’re not really careful with candles and your hair, like that,” he explained. “Every hair of this creature was kind of burned and the whiskers, they were burned to the bare minimum and especially the feet, the legs, they were cooked. They were darker, like roasted.”

“It really had a bad, bad encounter with this electricity.”

Chip Hitchcock adds, “Marten furs were once sufficiently tradable that Croatia’s currency, the kuna, takes its name from the Croatian word for the beast.“

(7) YOUNG PEOPLE READ OLD SFF. James Davis Nicoll turns the panel loose on Roger Zelazny’s “A Rose for Ecclesiastes”.

I selected 1963’s A Rose for Ecclesiastes for a few reasons. The least important is because I only recently read it myself (the story kept coming up in the context of a grand review project of mine and I got tired of admitting over and over again that I had not read it.). Another is its historical significance: this is one of the last SF stories written before space probes showed us what Mars was really like. The final reason is this story was nominated for a Hugo and I am hopeful that the virtues the readers saw a half century ago are still there.

Let’s find out!

(8) THE FOUNDER. Selected writings by Hugo Gernsback have been compiled in The Perversity of Things: Hugo Gernsback on Media, Tinkering, and Scientifiction, edited by Grant Wythoff. The book was published in November by the University of Minnesota Press.

In 1905, a young Jewish immigrant from Luxembourg founded an electrical supply shop in New York. This inventor, writer, and publisher Hugo Gernsback would later become famous for launching the first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1926. But while science fiction’s annual Hugo Awards were named in his honor, there has been surprisingly little understanding of how the genre began among a community of tinkerers all drawn to Gernsback’s vision of comprehending the future of media through making. In The Perversity of Things, Grant Wythoff makes available texts by Hugo Gernsback that were foundational both for science fiction and the emergence of media studies.

…The Perversity of Things aims to reverse the widespread misunderstanding of Gernsback within the history of science fiction criticism. Through painstaking research and extensive annotations and commentary, Wythoff reintroduces us to Gernsback and the origins of science fiction.

Bruce Sterling gives the book a powerful endorsement:

Grant Wythoff’s splendid work of scholarship dispels the dank, historic mists of a literary subculture with starkly factual archival research. An amazing vista of electronic media struggle is revealed here, every bit as colorful and cranky as Hugo Gernsback’s pulp magazines—even the illustrations and footnotes are fascinating. I’m truly grateful for this work and will never think of American science fiction in the same way again.

(9) SARAH PRINCE. The family obituary for Sarah Prince, who died last month, appeared in the Plattsburgh (NY) Press-Republican.

Sarah Symonds Prince (born July 11, 1954) died unexpectedly of congestive heart failure in late January in her Keene Valley home. A long time resident and well-loved community member, she was active in the Keene Valley Congregational Church choir and hand bell choir, the town community garden program; she was a former member of the Keene Valley Volunteer Fire Department.

Sarah was an avid photographer and a ceramic artist, and a freelance graphic designer. She was an influential member of the science fiction fan community and publisher (in the 1980s/90s) of her own fanzine. Sarah enjoyed going to interesting places whether around the corner or halfway around the world. She loved the many dogs and cats that were constant companions in her life.

Born in Salem, Mass., Sarah was the third child of David Chandler Prince Jr. and Augusta Alger Prince. She grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she graduated from Walnut Hills High School. Sarah’s love of Keene Valley, N.Y., follows family ties that date back four generations as regular summer visitors.

Sarah graduated from the Ohio State University with a BFA degree. She trained in print layout and typesetting and worked in typesetting, layout and graphic arts for several publications, including Adirondack Life from 1990-93, a job which brought her to live full-time in Keene Valley. A deep curiosity about technology and a sustainable world led Sarah to Clinton Community College to study computer technology and earn an Environmental Science AA degree in May 2016.

Sarah lived with disability from mental illness and substance abuse for many years. She worked to raise awareness and understanding of the challenges faced by herself and others. She positively touched many who were also struggling.

Sarah is survived by her mother, Augusta Prince of Hanover, N.H.; four siblings, Timothy Prince, Catharine Roth, Charlotte Hitchcock, and Virginia Prince; seven nieces and nephews; and six grand nieces and nephews.

Donations in her memory can be made to North Country SPCA or the Keene Valley Library. Arrangements have been entrusted to Heald Funeral Home, 7521 Court Street, Plattsburgh, N.Y. To light a memorial candle or leave an online condolence please visit http://www.healdfuneralhomeinc.com

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • February 2, 1882 – James Joyce is born .

And that reminds John King Tarpinian of a story:

Sylvia Beach, owner of the bookstore Shakespeare and Co. in Paris, published the novel herself in 1922, but it was banned in the United Kingdom and in the United States until 1933.  Every July Ray Bradbury and his family would vacation in France.  Ray would always visit Shakespeare and Company.  The bookshop would make sure they had a book that Ray wanted, such as first editions of Jules Verne.

(11) CREEPTASTIC. Dread Central reports “Zak Bagan’s Haunted Museum to feature ‘one of the most dangerous paranormal possessions in the world’” — Peggy the Doll.

Excited about visiting Zak Bagans’ Haunted Museum when it opens? Of course you are! This latest story though… this latest addition to Zak’s house of madness? Well, it’s going to be up to you whether or not you take your chances and take a look.

Zak has just informed us exclusively that he’s now in possession of the infamous “Peggy the Doll,” which he obtained from its previous owner, Jayne Harris from England. Featured on an episode of his series “Deadly Possessions,” Peggy is not for the faint of heart. It’s said you can be affected by Peggy by just looking at her… in person or in photos. As a result “Deadly Possessions” aired the episode with a disclaimer for viewers: a first for both the show and the paranormal in general.

(12) BUNK. Jason Sanford muses about “An alternate history of alternative histories”:

Ironically, the last book my grandfather read was edited by Poul Anderson, one of our genre’s early authors of alternate histories. Anderson’s Time Patrol stories, where valiant time travelers ensure history stays on its “correct” timeline, are an integral and fun part of SF’s long tradition of time travel fiction focused on keeping history pure. He also wrote a famous series of alternate history fantasies called Operation Chaos, originally published by The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the 1950s. In these stories World War II was fought between completely different countries with magical creatures such as werewolves and witches.

Of course, Anderson’s stories of time travelers keeping the timeline pure and correct seem a little simplistic today, just as historical narratives today are far more complex than they were decades ago. I think this is partly because most historians now recognize how imprecisely history is recorded. History as it is written can even be called the original version of the alternate history genre, where the story we’re told deviates from what really happened.

After all, history is written by the victors, as the cliche states. Which means much of what happened in the past is left out or altered before history is recorded. And even the victors don’t name all the victors and don’t celebrate all their victories and deeds.

Theodore Sturgeon famously said that “ninety percent of everything is crap.” This applies equally to history as we know it — including the history of the alternate history genre.

(13) WHITE FLIGHT. Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel, in “Whitey on Mars”, ask if Elon Musk’s Martian proposals are part of a dream by rich and powerful people to further isolate themselves from the masses. (The title references Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 “Whitey on the Moon.”)

Musk insists that humans in fact ‘need’ to go to Mars. The Mars mission, he argues, is the best way for humanity to become what he calls a ‘space-faring civilisation and a multi-planetary species’. This otherworldly venture, he says, is necessary to mitigate the ‘existential threat’ from artificial intelligence (AI) that might wipe out human life on Earth. Musk’s existential concerns, and his look to other worlds for solutions, are not unique among the elite of the technology world. Others have expressed what might best be understood as a quasi-philosophical paranoia that our Universe is really just a simulation inside a giant computer.

Musk himself has fallen under the sway of the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom, who put forward the simulation theory in 2003. Bostrom has also argued that addressing ‘existential risks’ such as AI should be a global priority. The idea that Google’s CEO Larry Page might create artificially intelligent robots that will destroy humanity reportedly keeps Musk up at night. ‘I’m really worried about this,’ Musk told his biographer. ‘He could produce something evil by accident.’

These subjects could provide some teachable moments in certain kinds of philosophy classes. They are, obviously, compelling plot devices for Hollywood movies. They do not, however, bear any relationship to the kinds of existential risks that humans face now, or have ever faced, at least so far in history. But Musk has no connection to ordinary people and ordinary lives. For his 30th birthday, Musk rented an English castle, where he and 20 guests played hide-and-seek until 6am the following day. Compare this situation with the stories recounted in Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted (2016), where an entire housing industry has arisen in the US to profit from the poverty of some families, who often move from home to home with little hope of ever catching up, let alone getting ahead.

(14) COMIC SECTION. Martin Morse Wooster says, “I think today’s Prickly City expresses the dreams of many Filers.”

(15) ANOTHER COUNTRY HEARD FROM. When the next Doctor Who is chosen, one party thinks someone besides a human deserves consideration: “New Doctor Who should be a Dalek, say Daleks”, at The Daily Mash.

The Skaro natives have petitioned the BBC for ‘better representation’ from a show which has historically ‘erased and demonised’ their proud race.

The Supreme Dalek said: “It’s not the 1960s anymore. These narratives about heroic Gallifreyans saving humanoids from extermination are outdated and offensive.

“My son is an eight-year-old New Paradigm Dalek and his eyestalk droops whenever he turns on his favourite show to see that yet again, the Daleks are the baddies.…

(16) WHEN ROBOTS LAY DOWN ON THE JOB. Fynbospress told Mad Genius Club readers about running into a wall while using Word:

Interesting quirk I learned recently on MS Word. Say you have a MilSF novel, and you haven’t added the last names, planets, etc. to the customized dictionary (So they all show as a spelling error). As you’re reading through, it pops up a window saying “there are too many spelling errors in this document to show.” And promptly cuts out the red spelling and blue grammar lines.

(17) INFERNO. JJ says, quite rightly, this photo of the West Kamokuna Skylight in Hawaii resembles sculpture of bodies being sucked into hell.

If lava has the right viscosity, it can travel across a landscape via channels. The lava either forms the channels itself or uses a preexisting one. Along the same vein, lava tubes are essentially channels that reside underground and also allow lava to move quickly. Tubes form one of two ways. A lava channel can form an arc above it that chills and crystallizes, or an insulated pahoehoe flow can have lava still running through it while outer layers freeze. Lava tubes, by their nature, are buried. However, skylights form when the lava tube collapses in a specific area and allow one to see the flow inside the tube. Tubes can collapse completely and become channels, drain out, or get blocked up.

(18) FROM BC TO DC. CinemaBlend thinks the critical success of the DC Extended Universe hinges on the forthcoming Wonder Woman movie.

While Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice struggled to please critics, most agreed that Gal Gadot’s performance as Wonder Woman was one of its few shining lights. It’s hoped that the opportunity to explore the character even more, as well as take a peak at her origin story, will help to propel the DC Extended Universe forward, especially considering all of its recent troubles regarding both its releases and the films it has in development.

 

💛 💛 💛 #wonderwoman @WonderWomanFilm

A post shared by Gal Gadot (@gal_gadot) on

(19) I’M OUT. It may look like a chocolate chip thumbscrew, but it’s Dunking Buddy!

why_cookie_tray_medium

What if there was an easier, cleaner, more enjoyable way to enjoy dunking cookies in milk. Well the world is finally in luck, and based on the response so far, it couldn’t have come sooner! Two cookie dunking lovers, like so many others out there, took it upon themselves and created a cookie dunking device that does just that!

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Martin Morse Wooster, Andrew Porter, Chip Hitchcock, Moshe Feder, and JJ for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

 

Pixel Scroll 1/8/17 There Is No Joy In Pixelville – Mighty Casey Has Scrolled Out

(1) MOORCOCK REMEMBERS CLARKE, In New Statesman Michael Moorcock writes a wide-ranging memoir of Arthur C. Clarke which the publication rather myopically captions “’Close to tears, he left at the intermission’: how Stanley Kubrick upset Arthur C Clarke” – although, of course, that is one of Moorcock’s anecdotes.

Based primarily on his short story “The Sentinel”, together with other published fact and fiction, the film was very much a joint effort, although Arthur was overly modest about his contribution. For his part, Kubrick seemed unable to come up with an ending that suited him. When I visited the set, the film was already about two years behind schedule and well over budget. I saw several alternative finale scenes constructed that were later abandoned. In one version, the monolith turned out to be some kind of alien spaceship. I also knew something that I don’t think Arthur ever did: Kubrick was at some point dissatisfied with the collaboration, approaching other writers (including J G Ballard and myself) to work on the film. He knew neither Ballard nor me personally. We refused for several reasons. I felt it would be disloyal to accept.

I guessed the problem was a difference in personality….

Without consulting or confronting his co-creator, Kubrick cut a huge amount of Arthur’s voice-over explanation during the final edit. This decision probably contributed significantly to the film’s success but Arthur was unprepared for it. When he addressed MGM executives at a dinner in his honour before the premiere, he spoke warmly of Kubrick, declaring that there had been no serious disagreements between them in all the years they had worked together, but he had yet to see the final cut.

My own guess at the time was that Kubrick wasn’t at ease with any proposed resolution but had nothing better to offer in place of his co-writer’s “Star Child” ending. We know now that the long final sequence, offered without explanation, was probably what helped turn the film into the success it became, but the rather unresponsive expressions on the faces of the MGM executives whom Arthur had addressed in his speech showed that they were by no means convinced they had a winner….

As it turned out, Arthur did not get to see the completed film until the US private premiere. He was shocked by the transformation. Almost every element of explanation had been removed. Reams of voice-over narration had been cut. Far from being a pseudo-documentary, the film was now elusive, ambiguous and thoroughly unclear.

Close to tears, he left at the intermission, having watched an 11-minute sequence in which an astronaut did nothing but jog around the centrifuge in a scene intended to show the boredom of space travel. This scene was considerably cut in the version put out on general release

(2) CONGRATULATIONS! Pat Cadigan marks her ”Two-year Chemo-versary”.

Last year at this time, I was so…moved by the fact that I was going to live that it was a few weeks before I could think straight enough to get any work done. I think I was more affected by the news that I was going to live than I was by the news that I had terminal cancer. Even now––I mean, I’m getting things done but every so often I still have a sudden moment of clarity, of being surprised by joy.

(3) AWARD PICKERS. Horror Writers Association President Lisa Morton has named the members of HWA’s 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award Committee:

Ramsey Campbell

Erinn Kemper

Monica Kuebler

John Little (chair)

Joseph Nassise

The Committee will immediately begin discussions to determine 2016’s recipient(s).

(4) OLDER VISITS THE BAY AREA. Daniel Jose Older will do a reading and signing at the main San Francisco Public Library on January 24.

Author, Daniel Jose Older, will read from his second book, entitled Shadowshaper, about a young Afro-Latina girl named Sierra who discovers her family’s history of supernatural powers and her ability to interact with the spirit world.

(5) FINAL RESTING PLACE. I might not do it. You might not do it. All that matters is – WWCD? “Carrie Fisher’s ashes carried in Prozac-shaped urn”.

Carrie Fisher has been laid to rest alongside her mother Debbie Reynolds at a private service where her ashes were carried in an urn in the form of an outsize Prozac pill.

The US actress, best known for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars films, was frequently open about her experience of mental health issues.

“I felt it was where she would want to be,” her brother Todd Fisher said.

Following the joint funeral service at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, Todd Fisher said the giant pill in the shape of the anti-depressant drug was chosen as the urn for his sister’s ashes because it was one of Carrie’s “favourite possessions”.

(6) IN TIMES TO COME. Entertainment Weekly writer Rachel DeSantis says these are the most anticipated movies of 2017:

Star Wars: Episode VIII, Blade Runner 2049, and Alien: Covenant topped Rotten Tomatoes’ survey of the most anticipated movies of the year.

Star Wars fans got an extra dose of the galaxy far, far away in 2016’s most anticipated movie, Rogue One, which has brought in more than $800 million at the worldwide box office following its Dec. 16 release. Episode VIII will serve as the follow-up to 2015’s smash hit Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That film will pick up where The Force Awakens left off and features Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, and the late Carrie Fisher, who completed filming before she died last month.

(7) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • January 8, 1958 — Teenage Monster, aka Meteor Monster, opens in theaters.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOYS

  • January 8, 1935 – Elvis Presley
  • January 8, 1942 – Stephen Hawking. A thought for the day: “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. ” — Stephen Hawking

(9) HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU’VE MADE IT? W.E.B. Griffin gave a tagline to characters in his series The Corps: “The true test of another man’s intelligence is how much he agrees with you.”  When I read Brad R. Torgersen’s “What is ‘legitimate’ in the 21st century publishing environment?” I thought his answers were very intelligent…. Everyone would like Scalzi-size or even Milo-size book contracts, but that’s not a requirement of success.

My suggestion is to wholly ignore outside factors, and consider your specific situation alone. How much income — directly from prose writing — would it take to pay a single bill? How about several bills? The monthly rent, lease, or mortgage? Pay off the car loan? Wipe out college debt? Pay for a home remodel? Buy a new home entirely? These are scalable, individual goals which are within your individual grasp to quantify, and they don’t place you in competition with your peers. You are never keeping up with the Joneses, to use an old phrase. Your success is not determined by matching or “beating” anyone else in the business. It’s wholly dependent on how much progress you can make, and in what form, according to financial circumstances which are uniquely your own.

For example, I live in fly-over country. The cost of living, for my specific area of Utah, is rather modest. Especially compared to where I used to live in Seattle, Washington. It won’t take millions of dollars to pay off my home, or my auto loan, or to add a second floor onto my rambler, or to accomplish any other dozen things which I’d like to accomplish with my writing income. Better yet, these things can be accomplished without having to look at either Larry Correia to my northeast, or Brandon Sanderson to the south. I don’t have to “catch up” to feel like I am winning at the game of life. I am alone, on my own chess board, and I define my own conditions for victory. They can be reasonable. More importantly, they can be reachable. And I know for a fact that Larry, or Brandon, or any four dozen other successful Utah authors — we’ve got a lot of them out here — will understand completely. Because they’re all doing the same thing, too.

And so can you.

Once more, for emphasis: production, followed by readership, followed by income….

(10) SUCCESS BY ANYONE’S MEASURE. Adam Poots has a load of money he can to make the next edition of his game: “Board game raises over $10 million, becomes one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever”.

The crowdfunding campaign for Kingdom Death: Monster 1.5 launched strong on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. It set Kickstarter records by raising its first million in only 19 minutes , faster than any project ever before on the popular crowdfunding platform.

Currently, with more than $10 million raised and a bit over a day left in the campaign, the game is thefifth most funded project ever to run on Kickstarter. The other top ten highest earning products include Pebble smartwatches, the “coolest cooler,” a deluxe travel jacket and a tiny desk toy called a Fidget Cube.

New York City-based game designer and founder of Kingdom Death Adam Poots is, unsurprisingly, excited. …

Just don’t plan on playing it very soon. “Poots expects to be able to deliver all elements of the game by December 2020.”

(11) TRIBUTE ANTHOLOGY. If, on the other hand, you don’t need to get paid for your writing…. Zoetic Press is seeking fiction and nonfiction submissions for an anthology memorializing dead cultural icons.

We invite writers to eulogize the fallen icons who have profoundly shaped your relationship to yourself and your place in the world. We are more interested pieces which memorialize public figures who have recently passed, but all in memoriams submitted will be given equal attention.

We regret that we cannot consider In Memoriam pieces for Dearly Beloved which are not about public figures. We cannot consider pieces about family members, pets, friends, or figures that are not public for Dearly Beloved– this anthology is a memorial for the artists and public personalities that shape each of us differently.

(12) WE’RE A LITTLE LATE. From October, Alison Flood of The Guardian reports: “Stephen King pens children’s picture book about train that comes alive”.

Charlie the Choo-Choo, written under the pseudonym Beryl Evans, steams out out of the pages of King’s Dark Tower fantasy series and into bookshops – with a warning for Thomas fans

“As he looked down at the cover, Jake found that he did not trust the smile on Charlie the Choo-Choo’s face. You look happy, but I think that’s just the mask you wear, he thought. I don’t think you’re happy at all. And I don’t think Charlie’s your real name, either.”

Now, King has written a real-life version of Charlie the Choo-Choo: out on 22 November from Simon & Schuster, under the pseudonym Beryl Evans, and illustrated by Ned Dameron.

(13) THE COMIC SECTION. John King Tarpinian notes that online comic Brevity has a very amusing Star Trek reference today.

Meanwhile, Martin Morse Wooster points out that the latest installment of Pearls Before Swine might be seen as complementary to John Scalzi’s 10-point advice post linked in yesterdays Scroll.

(14) ANIMAL CINEMATOGRAPHY. In the Washington Post, Michael Cavna looks at how Illumination Entertainment’s fomula of talking animals and many, many jokes has proven highly profitable, leading to the green-lighting of Despicable Me 3, The Secret Life of Pets 2, and Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch.

Before 2016, Illumination had scored a modest hit with 2011’s “Hop” and, a year later, did well with “Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax.” But the studio had a single go-to franchise: 2010’s “Despicable Me” grossed $543 million globally — just about equal to Illumination’s total reported production budget to date — and spawned the monster hits “Despicable Me 2? in 2013 ($970.8 million worldwide) and 2015’s “Minions” ($1.159 billion). Add in the sales of all cute yellow Minion merchandising, and Illumination had one property it could bank on. (“Despicable Me 3? is set to land this June.)

But “Despicable Me” writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul then brought their deft skills with spinning family-friendly adventures to “The Secret Life of Pets,” which grossed more than $875 million worldwide last year — making it the highest-grossing non-Disney film in 2016 (no small feat).

(15) GRANDMASTER INTERVIEWS PAST MASTER. A rare interview with Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery) at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, conducted by James Gunn in 1970.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Martin Morse Wooster, Michael J. Walsh, and Chip Hitchcock for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Peer Sylvester.]

Review of “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas – The Musical”

grinch-logo

By Martin Morse Wooster: I saw Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas!—The Musical last night at the National Theatre in Washington.  From the musical’s website and Wikipedia, I learned that this musical has been around since 1994 and has played in 41 other cities in the U.S. before it showed up in Washington.  The production I saw played in Cleveland last week.

The book is by Timothy Mason and the music by Mel Marvin.  I never heard of either of them but they’re both pretty experienced and Marvin did the score for a version of Elmer Gantry a few years ago.  But both Mason and Marvin realize the two songs from the ‘60s TV special in this production, with music by Albert Hague and lyrics by Dr. Seuss, are better than anything they came up with, so we heard “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” twice, the second time in a sing-along version.

You know the plot.  The citizens of Whoville are looking forward to Christmas when they can get lots of stuff and eat many sugary treats.  Then that mean Grinch shows up and steals all their stuff.  But why?  Deprived childhood? Acid reflux? The answer here is that the Grinch is tired of all the noise the Whovians make.  At that point I started cheering the Grinch on.

I especially cheered on the Grinch when Cindy-Lou Who showed up to play the perky pre-teen who should have been in Annie, but ended up here.  “Oh no,” says the Grinch.

“Here comes a ballad!” Cindy-Lou Who then gets to sing two more songs, and we could feel her perkiness in the balcony.

The costumes and set design were excellent, and Philip Bryan was suitably malevolent as the Grinch.  Bob Lauder was almost as good as Thurl Ravenscroft in singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” but I never understood why he played a dog.  Danielle Guilbot played Cindy-Lou Who, and no doubt her agent is looking for touring productions of Annie that need tykes.  There were a dozen other Whovians but I can’t remember anything about them except their Pepto Bismol-pink costumes.

Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas!—The Musical was all right and more entertaining than the movie with Jim Carrey.  But I don’t need to see it again.

Pixel Scroll 12/28/16 Scrolling By Words On A Snowy Evening

(1) THEY LOOK ALIKE, THEY CAW ALIKE. …You could lose your mind! In “A Tale of Two Covers: Alan Baxter’s Crow Shine and Sarah Remy’s The Bone Cave”, Black Gate’s John O’Neill comments on the remarkably similar cover art on two disparate novels published within a month of each other.

(2) SOMETIMES A CIGAR IS NOT A CIGAR. Maya Kaathryn Bonhoff deconstructs another cover trend at Book View Café: “There’s a Bimbo on the Cover Verse 4: Rocket Power”.

This is the fourth verse of the song “There’s a Bimbo on the Cover of the Book.” If you’re collecting the lyric and singing along, it’s sung to the tune of (TTTO) “She’ll Be Comin’ Around the Mountain When She Comes.”

There’s a rocket on the cover of the book.
There’s a rocket on the cover of the book.
It’s a phallic and a stout one, but my novel was without one.
There’s a rocket on the cover of my book.

In this case, the lyric really doesn’t do justice to the …er… attributes of the rocket in question, which is from the cover of BVC author Deborah Ross’ print novel Jaydium (under her Deborah Wheeler nom de plume).

As it happens, I’ve read Jaydium and, while there is a rocket involved briefly in the story (my recollection is that it is part of a flashback), the scene shown on the cover does not actually appear as such in the novel.

(3) SOCIAL MEDIA MOURNING. Ann Leckie shares some wisdom in her post “On Mourning”.

It gets weird, with public figures. These are people that might be very, very important to us, might have formed our childhoods, given us inspiration, been constant companions in one way or another, and yet we’ve never met them, and they never had any idea that we existed. It’s not the same as a close loved one dying. But it’s not nothing. And what do you do, when someone not exactly family dies, but you had some sort of relationship with them? Well, if you were in the same town you’d put on nice clothes and comb your hair and go to the funeral parlor and tell the family how sorry you were, how important the deceased was to you, maybe tell them about some time they really helped you out. And then you move aside for the next person, maybe talk with some folks, and go home. Maybe you send flowers, that will sit there in the funeral home and in the church as a conspicuously visible token of your tie to the deceased, or their family, or a particular member of that family.

We aren’t any of us going to Carrie Fisher’s wake. Her family doesn’t want to slog through thousands of cards or letters, and there’s no mortuary large enough to hold the flowers we might all send. But we can blog or tweet. And yes, it’s performative. Like all funeral customs and public mourning it’s performative. It’s meant to send a message. “I am a member of this community, and this person was important to us. This community recognizes their loss. This community wants the deceased’s family to know how important this person was to us, and how sorry we are to hear they’ve left us.” And maybe her family doesn’t see most of it, but they likely know it’s there. I suspect that, like “I’m sorry” at the funeral home, it helps.

(4) LIFE IMITATES ART. John King Tarpinian saw this cartoon and admitted, “I do this all the time. I have the CD set, the DVD set, and the Blu-ray set of Twilight Zone, yet I watch the marathon on the Syfy channel.”

(5) GROSS NEWS. Natalie Rohamed, in a piece called “Scarlett Johansson is the highest-grossing actor of 2016” on Forbes.com, says that Scarlett Johansson with $1.2 billion in film grosses this year edged out Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr., each of which had $1.15 billion. All of the top ten actors starred in superhero movies.

Scarlett Johansson has had a good year at the box office. Between a top role as the Black Widow in blockbuster hit Captain America: Civil War, which grossed over $1.15 billion worldwide, plus an ensemble part in the much less commercial Hail, Caesar!, Johansson is 2016’s top-grossing actor, bringing in $1.2 billion at global ticketing booths.

Martin Morse Wooster, who sent the link, comments: “I once read a profile of Robert Downey Jr. in Esquire where I learned that if you really want to irritate the guy, asking him, ‘You’ve created two billion-dollar franchises in Sherlock Holmes and Iron Man.  How does it feel?’ will do it.”

(6) THE ROBOTIC HORROR. BBC mix of blue-skying, looking-with-alarm, and data on “The rise of the robots?”

“Your bones will turn to sand. And upon that sand a new God will walk.” Dolores in the latest sci-fi TV blockbuster, Westworld.

It may not quite be that bad. But a wall won’t keep them out, a new work permit scheme won’t stop their freedom of movement.

The rise of the robots could be next year’s big story. Ever since the Luddites smashed their first loom, mechanisation has been putting people out of work. But the process is speeding up, accelerating all the time and the next wave could be crashing down, near you, soon.

(7) UPDATE: DEBBIE REYNOLDS OBIT. The mother of Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, passed away today.

Her death was reported shortly after the Scroll was posted with news that she had been hospitalized —

Debbie Reynolds, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the 1950s and 1960s, was taken to a Los Angeles hospital on Wednesday, one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher died, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Reynolds, 84, complained of breathing problems, an unidentified source told The Times.

This might fall within the sphere of science fiction news not only because of the Fisher connection, but because Reynolds’ signature film Singin’ in the Rain was regarded as science fiction by at least one authority. Patton Oswalt told the story to io9 —

And I love the part about what happens to human beings. Ray Bradbury pointed out that Star Wars is not science fiction, it’s an adventure story set in space. Singing in the Rain is a science fiction film, because you have the world as it is, then sound is introduced. What happens to people now that this new thing is there? That’s all science fiction is.

(8) TWO WASHINGTON POST TRIBUTES. Michael Cavna, in “As iconic Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher was a life force to be reckoned with”, looks at how Carrie Fisher “long had a love/hate role with the Princess Leia role,” and how her “joy and swagger” at the part was combined with a fear that if she screwed up she would be replaced by Jodie Foster or the many other women George Lucas rejected in favor of her.

When first casting his “Star Wars” films, creator-director Lucas seriously considered such other budding teenage talents as Jodie Foster and Terri Nunn. Yet Carrie Fisher, still barely an adult at the time, had a silly, fun-loving presence that melded well with future co-stars Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford during auditions. She also had a precocious sense of self — a quick mind and a feisty steeliness of spine. In short, Fisher reminded Lucas of his own younger sister.

Alexandra Petri, in “Carrie Fisher: So long, Princess, and thanks”, says that “Until Carrie Fisher, ‘princesses’ was a dirty word” and how “a lot of what I learned about how to be a person in the world came from Princess Leia.”

(9) SURVIVED BY. CinemaBlend reports “Carrie Fisher’s Dog Gary Has Already Found A New Home”.

Carrie Fisher’s adorable French Bulldog Gary could often be seen at his owner’s side during interviews and other events. So it’s no surprise that fans of the Star Wars star were concerned about Gary’s wellbeing in the aftermath of Fisher’s death. Rest assured, Gary has already secured a new home.

TMZ reports that the 4-year-old Gary will be in the care of Carrie Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd….

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • December 28, 1865 — French film pioneers Auguste and Louis Lumiere showed the first commercial motion pictures at a Paris cafe.

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY GIRL

  • Born December 28, 1932 – Nichelle Nichols

nichelle-nichols

(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • Born December 28, 1922 – Stan Lee

(13) THE SECOND IS NO. Thomas Vinciguerra confides to readers of the Columbia Journalism Review, “Want me to write for free? I’ve got two one-syllable words for you”.

An ostensibly professional journalist this spring told me he was on the prowl for freelance editors for his new investigative website. Intrigued, I eventually broached the question of payment.

He responded by rattling on about the great people who worked for him, how they came from all walks of life, that inevitably his site would grow, and that at some point he might possibly—no promises, I had to understand—be able to toss me a few coins.

After silently fuming for a few days, I politely told him that this was simply not viable. In retrospect, I should have responded with two one-syllable words.

The long-chronicled decline of print has gored many a writer and editor. It’s hardly a secret that magazines and newspapers are now leaning mercilessly on their dwindling staffs, unable to pay outsiders as much as they once did or take them on at all. Fair enough; as Hyman Roth stammered in The Godfather, Part II, “This is the business we’ve chosen.”

But there is something fundamentally obscene about expecting anyone to work gratis. And that applies even to us ink-stained wretches.

The fiction writer Harlan Ellison—a master of what our mutual friend (and science-fiction writer) David Gerrold calls “the literature of amazement”—once tore into the idea of giving away your words for nothing. “I get so angry about this because you’re undercut by all the amateurs,” he explodes. “It’s the amateurs who make it tough for the professionals.”

(14) DEITIES IN SF. Leah Schnelbach’s fine post for Tor.com – “19 SFF Stories That Take a Positive View of Religion” — rounds up an uncommon set of stories.

Of all the genres, science fiction and fantasy are the ones where humans can tackle their deepest societal problems and thought experiments. Because of this, it’s a natural place for people to explore ideas about religion, faith, and the meaning of life…

Religion can also be an emotional and contentious topic for people. For people who choose to leave a religious tradition, science and science fiction can become the home they didn’t find in a church or temple, and can also provide a way to critique the life they left. For others, the flexibility of the genre allows them to express their faith, or their questions about their faith, in deeper ways than any other medium would allow.

I thought it would be interesting to look at some examples of books and short stories that have tackled religious questions in respectful and positive ways. While these stories sometimes go to uncomfortable places, they each take faith seriously, and would be worthy additions to the TBR stacks of believers and non-believers alike…..

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light is set in the far future, where colonists from “vanished Urath,” or Earth, have set up shop on a planet full of understandably hostile indigenous people. In order to survive, they use their ships tech to mutate themselves and eventually to MacGyver a type of reincarnation by repeatedly transferring their souls into new bodies. They use this tech against the planet’s native population, setting themselves up as a pantheon of “Hindu” gods, and instituting an ironclad caste system. Obviously, they have to keep the tech out of the wrong hands in order to stay at the top of society… which is where Sam comes in. Originally named Mahasamatman, he prefers to go by just Sam, but before that he was Siddhartha. The Buddha. And now he’s decided to ally with the pantheon of the native people, reincarnate repeatedly, and generally go full trickster god to make sure everyone has access to technology, and end the tyranny of the caste system once and for all.

(15) BOX SCORE. John Scalzi draws back the curtain on “2016 Top 10 Whatever Posts + Social Media Stats”.

Time for my annual nerdery about the most visited posts here, and the state of my social media presence. Ready? Sure you are, that’s why you’re here! This and cat pictures.

First, here are the top ten posts on Whatever f0r 2016, ranked by visits. Posts with asterisks were originally posted in years other than 2016….

Atop the charts is “The Cinemax Theory of Racism”.

(16) CLOUDS OF WITNESS. History’s post  “Human Computers: The Women of NASA” includes a group photo from 1953.

Graduating in 1953 with a degree in chemical engineering from University of California, Los Angeles, Janez Lawson had the grades, degree and intelligence to get any job she wanted. The problem? Her race and gender. She responded to a JPL job ad for “Computers Wanted” that specified “no degree necessary,” which she recognized as code for “women can apply.” While it would not be an engineering position, it would put her in a lab. Macie Roberts and Helen Ling were already working at JPL, actively recruiting young women to compute data and Lawson fit the bill. Lawson was the first African American to work in a technical position in the JPL lab. Taking advantage of the IBM computers at their disposal, and her supervisor’s encouragement to continue her education, Lawson was one of two people sent to a special IBM training school to learn how to operate and program the computers.

(17) REWARDING DIVERSITY. Slate says the British Academy of Film and Television Arts is adding a diversity requirement to its award rules. Note that this only applies to the BAFTAs for Outstanding British Film, and Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director, or Producer — “Starting in 2019, if Your Film Isn’t Diverse, It Won’t Be Eligible for a BAFTA Award”.

In an incredibly bold move, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts announced last week that, beginning in 2019, works that do not demonstrate inclusivity in their production practices will no longer be eligible for the Outstanding British Film or Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director, or Producer awards at the annual BAFTAs, often considered the U.K. equivalent of the Oscars.* Eligible projects must showcase this in two of the following ways, as the BBC reported: On-screen characters and themes, senior roles and crew, industry training and career progression, and audience access and appeal to underrepresented audiences. BAFTA will also remove the requirement that newly admitted voters be recommended by two existing members.

(18) EYES YES, CHICKEN FEET, NO. Another BBC story —  “Why I want my home to watch me”.

As I step into the hallway in Simon Daykin’s New Forest home, his smartwatch goes into overdrive.

He is receiving messages from the house itself, warning him there is somebody inside it doesn’t recognise.

“As you come in, you’ve already been spotted by some of our tech,” he says.

“There are cameras in the burglar alarm sensors, and a facial recognition system in the house.

“If it’s someone it ‘knows’, it will tell me. If it’s someone it doesn’t know, it will tell me.”

He selects one of the CCTV images he has received and adds my name to it. That seems to satisfy the house – for now.

(19) TZ ON METV. Get a list of “8 books any fan of ‘The Twilight Zone’ should read” from MeTV.

3. Richard Matheson – ‘Nightmare At 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories By Richard Matheson’

In his introduction, Stephen King describes Matheson’s influence on the horror genre in the 1950s as “a bolt of pure ozone lightning.” The master also confesses that without Matheson, he “wouldn’t be around.” This modern collection largely draws from the 1950s, with some 1960s shorts thrown in as well, keeping it contemporary with Twilight Zone. Matheson was the mind behind other classic episodes like “Third from the Sun,” “Nick of Time,” “The Invaders,” “Night Call” and more.

John King Tarpinian says, “They left out Fancies and Goodnights by John Collier, which is the book that Ray Bradbury gave to Rod Serling as TZ was being formulated.”

(20) BEHIND THE IMAGINARY SCENES. ScienceFiction.com recommends — “Unleashing The Power: Check Out Video From ‘Science Of The MCU’ Event!’”

Recently, the Science and Entertainment Exchange, along with Marvel Studios and The Great Company put on a truly amazing event called the ‘The Science of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’ which highlighted how some of the more fantastic elements of the MCU could actually work. At the events, real scientists discussed how some of the pseudoscience and superpowers of the MCU could potentially work, and how close we are to accomplishing some of the scientific discoveries fictional characters in the MCU have made…

 

[Thanks to JJ, Andrew Porter, Martin Morse Wooster, Chip Hitchcock, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day RedWombat.]

Pixel Scroll 11/30/16 It Ain’t Necessarily Scroll

(1) OUTRUNNING CANCER. Pat Cadigan decided – why wait to party? “The Hormones Laughed At Me, Saying, ‘Sleep? B!tch, Please – You Can Sleep When You’re Dead! Mwahahahahahaha!’”

Truth to tell, I suspected I was going to have some sleepless nights coming up anyway. This December was my original estimated time of departure. I didn’t believe for a moment that it would be (I’ve probably said that about a thousand times, here and elsewhere). But when a doctor gives you an expiration date, it kinda sticks in your mind even if it doesn’t come true. And though I didn’t believe it, I tried to imagine what it would be like but as I never got within spitting distance of Death’s Door, it didn’t seem like a productive use of my time so I stopped.

Anyway, starting tomorrow, 1 December, every day is a party. They won’t all be noisy and lively parties; some will be too sedate to really be worthy of the term. But I’m calling them parties anyway. From 1 December till…well, who knows? Whatever I’m doing, I’ll be partying. If I’m writing, I’m partying. If I’m in the bathtub, I’m partying. If I’m reading, I’m partying. You get the idea.

(2) IT ONLY TAKES MONEY. Martin Morse Wooster knows how you can get into the Hollywood sci-fi event of the season:

Now I know you’d like nothing better than to go to the Star Wars premiere in LA and chill with Forest Whitaker afterward.  Well, guess what:  this experience is yours for ONLY $35,000!  But you get TWO tickets.

This offer is made on a website called ifonly.com, which offers “unique experiences.”  I wish I could tell you more but they demand you sign up for their newsletter before they show you what they have so that’s what I’m able to tell you.

You know, the Washington Nationals only charged me $40, and I got to see two Cy Young winners AND get a Coveted Star Wars Thingie.  Five digits for a STAR WARS experience is a little much…

Details

  • 2 tickets to the premiere of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” in Los Angeles on December 10
  • 2 passes to the after-party
  • Does not include a meet & greet with any cast members
  • Must be 16 or older
  • Travel and accommodations not included
  • Background check may be required and guests must provide names within 24 hours of the auction’s close

Auction ends December 5.

(3) END OF TORONTO FAN INSTITUTION. In her latest newsletter for the group, Yvonne Penney announced Toronto’s First Thursday gatherings will end next week.

December will be the final First Thursday as founded by Tommy Ferguson in 1997. This decision has not been an easy one because of its longevity in the SF community in Toronto and region.

Here is why this is happening:

  1. I am retiring in 2017 and I have a long list of things that I want to accomplish and hopefully will have the time and continued health to do it in.
  2. Arthritis is slowly making its presence felt. For a number of years I have had difficulty in walking because of arthritis in my right ankle, my shoulders are in constant pain and my hips give me grief at times.
  3. Because of an unfortunate atmosphere that has arisen because one member decided he didn’t like the pub we were using. When the Foxes Den suddenly closed its doors (It’s now a Firkin), a new venue needed to be found, and rather than work with the group, he decided to start his own. He and his group cannot lay claim to the original pubnite as they were not around when the First Thursday Pubnite was created, which by the way was not created solely for the 2003 Worldcon bid – it predates that. Also, attendance has been low for the past several years; we no longer had the numbers, even at the Foxes Den, we once had many years ago.

This sort of split is not new; it occurs all the time anywhere in the world for any community or interest. I find it stressful….

(4) TREASURE HOUSE FOR READERS. Literary Hub reveres the memory of James Lackington — “The Man Who Invented Bookselling As We Know It”.

Today, few people are likely to remember James Lackington (1746-1815) and his once-famous London bookshop, The Temple of the Muses, but if, as a customer, you’ve ever bought a remaindered book at deep discount, or wandered thoughtfully through the over-stocked shelves of a cavernous bookstore, or spent an afternoon lounging in the reading area of a bookshop (without buying anything!) then you’ve already experienced some of the ways that Lackington revolutionized bookselling in the late 18th century. And if you’re a bookseller, then the chances are that you’ve encountered marketing strategies and competitive pressures that trace their origins to Lackington’s shop. In the 21st-century marketplace, there is sometimes a longing for an earlier, simpler age, but the uneasy tension between giant and small retailers seems to have been a constant since the beginning. The Temple of the Muses, which was one of the first modern bookstores, was a mammoth enterprise, by far the largest bookstore in England, boasting an inventory of over 500,000 volumes, annual sales of 100,000 books, and yearly revenues of £5,000 (roughly $700,000 today). All of this made Lackington a very wealthy man—admired by some and despised by others—but London’s greatest bookseller began his career inauspiciously as an illiterate shoemaker.

(5) HINES AUCTION #5. In the fifth of Jim C. Hines’ 24 Transgender Michigan Fundraiser auctions, up for bid are two autographed books (one trade paperback, one hardcover) by author Stephen Leigh.

Today’s auction is for a signed trade paperback of the Spectrum Award-winning DARK WATER’S EMBRACE and a signed hardcover of CROW OF CONNEMARA, both by Stephen Leigh.

The Crow of Connemara is a contemporary Celtic fantasy set primarily in Ireland.  Picking up threads from ancient Irish mythology and folktales, this story is fantasy, drama, and tragic romance all at once, a tale caught in the dark places where the world of ancient myth intersects our own, where old ways and old beliefs struggle not to be overwhelmed by the modern world.

Often compared to Ursula Le Guin’s ground-breaking The Left Hand of Darkness, Dark Water’s Embrace is a fascinating look at issues of human (and alien) sexuality. Stephen Leigh creates a rich world with elaborate care and uses this alien backdrop to delve into issues of survival, sexuality and the meaning of life itself.

(6) STRAHAN’S FAVORITES FROM THIS YEAR’S SHORT NOVELS. Spotted via Black Gate, Jonathan Strahan posted his imaginary ToC of Best Short Novels 2016

  • The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson (Tor)
  • The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle (Tor)
  • Every Heart A Doorway, Seanan McGuire (Tor)
  • This Census-taker, China Mieville (Del Rey)
  • The Charge and the Storm, An Owomoyela (Asimov’s)
  • The Devil You Know, K.J. Parker (Tor)
  • The Iron Tactician, Alastair Reynolds (Newcon)
  • The Best Story I Can Manage, Robert Shearman (Five Storeys High)
  • The Vanishing Kind, Lavie Tidhar (F&SF)
  • A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor)

(7) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • November 30, 2011 — A pristine copy of Action Comics #1, famed for the first appearance of Superman, sold for $2,161,000. It was the first comic book to break the $2 million mark.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • Born November 30, 1937 – Ridley Scott

(9) QUARK FOR REALZ? Daniel Dern drew a connection between this New York Times news item and a Seventies TV show — “Space Trash Collector? A Japanese Entrepreneur Wants the Job”.

Sitting in a drab industrial neighborhood surrounded by warehouses and factories, Astroscale’s Tokyo office seems appropriately located for a company seeking to enter the waste management business.

Only inside do visitors see signs that its founder, Mitsunobu Okada, aspires to be more than an ordinary garbageman. Schoolroom pictures of the planets decorate the door to the meeting room. Satellite mock-ups occupy a corner. Mr. Okada greets guests in a dark blue T-shirt emblazoned with his company’s slogan: Space Sweepers.

Mr. Okada is an entrepreneur with a vision of creating the first trash collection company dedicated to cleaning up some of humanity’s hardest-to-reach rubbish: the spent rocket stages, inert satellites and other debris that have been collecting above Earth since Sputnik ushered in the space age. He launched Astroscale three years ago in the belief that national space agencies were dragging their feet in facing the problem, which could be tackled more quickly by a small private company motivated by profit.

Dern remembers Quark was a 1977-1978 TV show. Per Wikipedia:

Quark was created by Buck Henry, co-creator of the spy spoof Get Smart.

The show was set on a United Galaxy Sanitation Patrol Cruiser, an interstellar garbage scow operating out of United Galaxies Space Station Perma One in the year 2226. Adam Quark, the main character, works to clean up trash in space by collecting “space baggies” with his trusted and highly unusual crew.

In its short run, Quark satirized such science fiction as Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Flash Gordon. Three of the episodes were direct parodies of Star Trek episodes.

(10) MIND MELD RETURNS. At Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Shana DuBois curated “Mind Meld: Some of Our Favorite Characters”.

Kate Wilhelm wrote, “Great fiction reveals that there is no such thing as a common, everyday uninteresting person. They are all interesting if you learn enough about them to discover who lives behind the facade.”

So we asked members of the genre community:

What is one of your favorite novels in which the characters sucked you into the story? What about these characters sets them apart?

The panelists answering the question are: Michael Damian Thomas, Cheryl Morgan, Jana Nyman, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Arianne “Tex” Thompson, Rachel S. Cordasco, and Beth Cato.

(11) FIGHTING ALZHEIMERS. Bill Gates tells about the research he saw on a visit to CalTech in “Why I’d Love To Be A College Student Again”.

People often think that the U.S. spends a huge amount of money—perhaps too much—on R&D. In fact, all U.S. R&D spending accounts for less than 1 percent of national income.

I’ve written before about the importance of government investment to jumpstart innovation. Government-backed research in universities and labs leads to new ideas and technology that build new businesses, create jobs, and strengthen our overall economy.

But those big, life-changing discoveries and innovations—from the cancer cures to moonshots to solar cells– often get their start as an experiment in a university lab, an equation sketched on a professor’s blackboard, or a student asking, “What if?”

A new idea is a fragile thing. It needs allies to nurture it. Government R&D investments provide that important support. Without it, we would have fewer scientific breakthroughs.

Let me give a couple examples of why this is so important.

Some of the most exciting research I learned about during my visit was from Caltech scientists working on identifying possible treatments for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. All of the researchers received government R&D funding.

(12) VISION QUEST. Diane Duane told Facebook readers she developed an eye problem last Sunday. She feared it was a torn retina. It wasn’t – though the real problem is also a concern.

So here’s the tl:dr; version of today’s episode of the Adventure of the Dexter Eye.

Part 1: What happened to me was (thank all Gods in the neighborhood) NOT any kind of retinal detachment, vitreous detachment, or similar traumatic damage to the retina. So today’s teaching moment is: even if you are a health care professional (or former one) and expert at Googling For Symptoms, don’t be so sure you know what’s going on.

This means that I’ve dodged this bullet, only to find I’m standing in front of a bigger, slower one.*

Part 2: What seems to have happened to me is a small transient circulatory blockage in the retina….

And that could be symptomatic of any number of other problems.

This is a herald of other things that may be going on elsewhere. So over the next couple of weeks I get to go to my GP here and have a full workup of bloods and various diagnostic procedures to be determined as we go along, with an eye to ruling in/out a complex of possibilities: circulatory system problems, heart problems, incipient dIabetes, plaque, sunspots, you name it. (There are way too many possible causes for this event…) (OKAY, maybe not sunspots.)

(13) MARTIAN HOPS. The Space Review posted the first part of a discussion of two new productions with Martian roots. “Love and a Red Planet: popular entertainment and the settlement of Mars (part 1)” at The Space Review.

It takes Hollywood about two years to produce a movie or a television show. It can happen faster, and it certainly can be done slower—a situation often referred to as “development hell” in the industry—but two years is about average. Thus, it is unlikely that any of the Mars-themed shows and movies appearing today are a direct result of the success of last year’s movie The Martian. More likely, National Geographic’s Mars series and the weepy teen romance The Space Between Us got started as a result of the success of Andy Weir’s 2014 book that inspired the hit movie, as well as the increased attention that human exploration of Mars gained starting around 2013 or so with Mars One and Elon Musk. The success of the movie, which starred Matt Damon and premiered in fall 2015, probably only reassured any nervous financiers that movies and television shows that used Mars as a backdrop could find an audience.

Mars premiered on The National Geographic Channel on November 14. The Space Between Us was to open in theaters in mid-December (it has recently been delayed to early February), but had a special advance showing in Washington, DC, a couple of weeks ago. Both have at their core fictionalized stories about the first humans on Mars, and in both cases they depict plans for settlement involving public-private partnerships, as opposed to the more common theme of human exploration of Mars. Because of these similarities they serve as useful indicators of how the subject of human settlement of Mars—not simply exploration—is being depicted in popular entertainment. Has Mars-themed entertainment been liberated of some of its prior constraints and is it evolving in new ways, or is it still beholden to many of the standard tropes we’ve seen in numerous other movies? This article will address The Space Between Us, and the second part will address the National Geographic series Mars.

Has Mars-themed entertainment been liberated of some of its prior constraints and is it evolving in new ways, or is it still beholden to many of the standard tropes we’ve seen in numerous other movies?

…Part 2 will address National Geographic Channel’s Mars miniseries.

(14) DEEP SPACE NEIN. With fake news getting so much attention right now, can a new Moon mission succeed in convincing people Neil Armstrong really went there in 1969? “German Mission to the Moon Will Prove the Apollo Landings Weren’t a Hoax”. Gizmodo has the story.

A German Lunar X-Prize team has announced its intentions to send two mobile probes to the Moon to inspect the lunar rover left behind by the Apollo 17 mission. Finally, something that’ll get the Moon landing conspiracy nutters to shut the hell up.

The group, known as PT Scientists, is one of 16 teams currently vying for the $30 million Google Lunar X-Prize, a competition requiring a private group to land an autonomous vehicle on the Moon, travel more than 500 meters (1,640 feet), and transmit high-definition photographs back to Earth. The group is currently working with German automobile manufacturer Audi to develop the rover, and it has signed a deal with broker Spaceflight Industries to secure a ride on a commercial launch vehicle (which rocket company is yet to be determined).

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

Pixel Scroll 11/14/16 The Fen From S.C.R.O.L.L. And P.I.X.E.L.

(1) TRUTH IS STRANGER. Norman Spinrad has posted on Facebook the original English version of the afterward commissioned by the French publisher for the special 40th anniversary edition of the first French edition of Bug Jack Barron. That anniversary is now far enough in the past that Spinrad finally lost patience with the book appearing and gave the piece its freedom. Heinlein features in this afterward.

JACK BARRON & ME

by Norman Spinrad

It must have been 1969 because I had returned from London to Los Angeles and was writing for The Los Angeles Free Press, and the Charlie Manson trial was going on. We were covering it locally, it was a big national story and it came out that Robert Heinlein’s novel STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND was one of Charlie’s fave raves.

In this novel, the sympathetic lead character “discorporates” people who piss him off, always for a righteous reason of course, and Charlie Manson believed that Heinlein’s fictional justification for this likewise justified his own self-given license to do likewise.

I chanced to run into Bob Heinlein at some science fiction convention, and I just had to ask him how he felt about the widely accepted notion of his novel having inspired the Sharon Tate Murders or at least served as Charlie’s moral template for giving the marching order to his murderous posse.

He looked at me deadpan straight in the eye and hit me with a punchline that has stood me in good stead from then until. now.

“The manufacturer,” said Robert Heinlein, “takes no responsibility for the misuse of the product.”

Thus as the author of BUG JACK BARRON I thereby absolve myself of responsibility for the successful political campaign for Congress of Robert K. Dornan, the unsuccessful campaign of Pat Buchanan for the Republic Nomination for President, the march to the far reaches of the far right by the Republican Party, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation….

(2) ANCIENT BRITFANDOM. Martin Morse Wooster is enjoying Rob Hansen’s history of British fandom, THEN (recently published in book form by the redoubtable Ansible Press). Here’s his latest favorite anecdote:

This is from the memoirs of British fan Jim Linwood.  LXI con was the 1961 British national sf convention, where Kingsley Amis was GoH.

“The other famous author who made his debut at LXICon–Martin Amis.  He was 10 years old and spent most of his time running screaming throughout the corridors to the annoyance of the attendees.  A few years later, Kingdon Road fans cheered when we saw him fall to his death from the rigging of Anthony Quinn’s pirate ship in A High Wind in Jamaica — his only film performance.”

(3) DON’T TRIP ON TROPES. At Tor.com, “Charlie Jane Anders, Alyssa Cole, and Rumaan Alam on Avoiding Blind Spots When Writing Outside Your Experience”.

All agreed that tropes are an important tool for playing with genre expectations, as you can set up a particular familiar trope and then change them in a way that’s fresh and exciting for readers. Tropes “can help, can hurt,” Anders said, as they can be “a way of focusing your intentions in the story” but might also lead a writer astray by binding them to the often outdated, cliché, or downright offensive depictions of certain characters that genre. These blind spots occur when writers fall back on their knowledge of a movie for a certain character’s background rather than doing independent research into the personal histories and experiences of people other than the writer. “You should stop and educate yourself,” she said; if instead you think, in this kind of story, this always happens, “that’s death—that’s death of storytelling.”

When asked how to recognize when you’re in a blind spot, the panelists all shared their experiences and key pieces of advice:

  • Get beta readers and sensitivity readers who are familiar with the backgrounds of the characters you’re trying to write. “If you know you have a blind spot, you can even think that you’ve overcome a lot of the blind spot, but you haven’t,” Cole said. “The bottom line is, always have beta readers, but especially make sure you have beta readers from the particular group you’re writing about—if it’s not aliens or something.”
  • Have more than one sensitivity reader if possible. Cole found that in writing a suffragette novella set in 1917, with a main character from India, that two of her readers were from different regions of India and had different experiences; not necessarily contradictory, but enough that it provided more nuance to her work. And compensate them for their time!
  • “You also have to do a gut check 100 times,” Anders said—put the piece aside for a month, then return to it with a fresh perspective.
  • “It’s OK to get it wrong,” Alam said. Sometimes you can work the lack of understanding into the book by putting that perspective into the mouths of your characters; that can be just as valuable.

(4) THE POWER OF SFF. Jim C. Hines and Mary Anne Mohanraj will partner in the creation of Invisible 3, a third volume of collected stories shared by authors and fans “about the importance of representation in science fiction/fantasy.”

These stories help to create understanding and connection. They expose the power of our genre both to help and to harm….

We’re looking for personal, first-hand stories between 400 and 1000 words talking about the impact of SF/F stories and what it’s like to see yourself misrepresented or erased, or relegated to the backgrounds. We’re also interested in the ways underrepresented and marginalized writers have worked to reclaim space in the genre.

Accepted works will first be published online, and then collected and published in an anthology. Contributors will receive a $10 payment.

Once author and artist payments have been covered, all additional proceeds will go to the Con or Bust program, helping people of color to attend SFF conventions.

(5) CALL FOR PAPERS. The annual Literary London conference, will be held July 13-14, 2017. Their theme is “Fantastic London: Dream, Speculation and Nightmare.” They are taking proposals for papers until February 1.

Proposals are invited for papers, comprised panels, and roundtable sessions, which consider any period or genre of literature about, set in, inspired by, or alluding to central and suburban London and its environs, from the city’s roots in pre-Roman times to its imagined futures. While the main focus of the conference will be on literary texts, we actively encourage interdisciplinary contributions relating to film, architecture, visual arts, topography and theories of urban space. Papers from postgraduate students are particularly welcome for consideration. Indicative topics and writers who might be addressed:

  • Gaslight romance, the urban gothic, London noir, steampunk & speculative poetry
  • Future catastrophes, technological dystopias, nightmares of policing & surveillance
  • Forms of fictional flight into alternate ontologies of nationhood and urban belonging
  • Architectural caprice, replication and ruin in the development of the built environment
  • Stories of financial catastrophe, uncertain inheritance and precarious fortune
  • The search for ontological wholeness in a divided, doubled or allotropic city
  • The uncanny, arabesque and magical excrescences of the urban everyday
  • Dramatizing the life of hidden underworlds, anti-worlds & allegorical environments
  • The Weird: H. P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, Lord Dusany, M. John Harrison
  • ‘Elsewheres’: Doris Lessing, William Morris, J. G. Ballard, Jean Rhys, Anthony Burgess
  • Urban Gothic: Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, Thomas De Quincey, Charles Dickens
  • Underworlds: Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, Michael Moorcock, Michèle Roberts
  • Make-believe: J. M. Barrie, Cassandra Clare, Philip Reeve, Christina Rossetti, John Clute

Please submit all proposals using the links under ‘Conference’ above. If you have any queries, please contact the conference organiser Dr Peter Jones at conference at literarylondon dot org

(6) STAGE PRAISE. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child won a London theater award.

(7) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • November 14, 1851 Moby Dick, by Herman Melville, was first published in the U.S. And one hundred years later, Ray Bradbury wrote the script for the movie.

(8) THE DOCTOR IS OUT. Both Peter Capaldi and new companion Pearl Mackie will leave with Moffat — “Expect ‘Doctor Who’ In 2018 To Be A “Clean Slate… A Brand New Show” says ScienceFiction.com.

Expect a lot of loose ends to be tied up in the upcoming 2017 season of ‘Doctor Who’.  After this, showrunner Steven Moffat and star Peter Capaldi will depart the hit series, which unfortunately has seen waning ratings in the past few years.  They’ve never come right out and said it, but this is possibly because of the switch-over coming at the end of the new season, but it sounds like the changes will be sweeping!

Insiders are saying that when new showrunner Chris Chibnall takes over for the 2018 season, he will be left with a “clean slate” in order to build his own “brand new show.”  Reportedly this “brand new show” won’t be 100% fresh, however.  Instead, it is reported that the BBC, which has not only been unhappy with the weaker ratings of the Capaldi era, but the sharp dip in sales of “dolls, books, DVDs and toys” are looking to return to a winning formula….

Perhaps the most startling change is that Pearl Mackie, who has yet to even debut as new Companion Bill, is also expected to depart the series along with Moffat and Capaldi.  Often, Companions are used to help transition between Doctors and in a sense serve as guides until the new Doctor gains his bearings, as was the case with Clara Oswald, who bridged the gap between Matt Smith’s version and Capaldi’s.

But reportedly Mackie only signed on for a one-year contract.  She, Capaldi and Moffat are expected to make the 2017 Christmas Special their swan song.

(9) IT’S ABOUT NOT MUCH TIME. Did you know Time Tunnel only ran one season? That’s one of MeTV’s “8  time-defying tidbits about The Time Tunnel. ABC network programmers then screwed the pooch picking the successor —

The replacement didn’t fare much better.

The Legend of Custer went on to replace The Time Tunnel on Friday nights, but the new series only lasted 17 episodes. Ironically, an episode of the sci-fi series took place during the Battle of Little Bighorn, a.k.a. Custer’s Last Stand.

custer

“Let’s make a series about a young guy with long blonde hair who doesn’t surf or play in a rock’n roll band,” said the executive, who hadn’t noticed it was the middle of the Sixties.

(10) MORE VINTAGE SF TELEVISION. Echo Ishii continues her SF Obscure series.

So for this week’s post I decided to cover the half hour, SF/action show CLEOPATRA 2525.

The year is, uh, 2525. Humanity has been driven underground because the surface is controlled by giant floating robot armchairs (That’s what it looks like anyway) called Baileys.  Two fighters Hel(Gina Torres) and Sarge (Victoria Pratt) are resistance fighters who battle the robot overlords. helped by a mysterious voice called ‘Voice’ that taps into Hel’s brain. Anyway, Sarge gets hurt and needs a kidney so they go and get one at the local buy-a-body-part depot. Thus, the meet Cleo (Jennifer Sky), a women cryo-frozen in 2001 when her breast augmentation surgery went awry and she was stored until humanity had the tools to save her life. I am not making this up.

(11) BELLS AREN’T RINGING. A Wyoming bookstore banned the use of electronic devices on the premises.

A Wyoming bookstore is aiming to remind customers that its “a place for books” by refusing to offer WiFi and banning use of electronic devices.

A sign posted at the entrance to Wind City Books in Casper informs customers that there is no public WiFi available and calls on them to keep their laptops and cellphones out of sight inside the shop.

wyoming-bookstore-bans-wifi-electronics-from-place-for-books

(12) ANALOG MONSTER.

(13) GRIND ZERO. I don’t know if it’s a good column about writing, but Dave Freer sure has a lot of insights about “Making Sausage”.

There are myriad sausage recipes. Sausage made of everything from bear to squirrel, pork to beef, turkey to fish. Even vegan. Sausages with everything from cranberries to chardonnay in them. But oddly they have two essential ingredients, in essential proportions. Stray too far from either and your sausage doesn’t work. And those are fat and salt. Not the obvious – people say it’s a bear or boar or chicken sausage. They don’t say ‘it’s a fat sausage’. “Yuck!” would be the response. And indeed yuck is appropriate if you don’t get that proportion (around 20%) right. Too much and it becomes a greasy horrible thing. By the time it cooks out the sausage meat and other ingredients taste greasy and overcooked. And too little and it is dry and tasteless. Vegan is particularly difficult because of the whole ‘fat’ thing. I gather it’s considered bad to suggest using plump ones. But I gather one can buy vegan suet.

For me, in writing, that’s the story, the action, the adventure. In some shape or form it has to be in every worthwhile read. Yes, actually you can have too much. Or too little, and vast focus on the other ingredients – be they the setting or the social justice outrage of the week – they tend to dry and un-appealing. And the salt… well those are the characters. And yes, once again there is such a thing as too much – or too bland when it is merely count the pre-expected tokens. I wait with amusement for the first orange haired villain s to appear…

(14) THE BULLET BOX. Larry Correia provides “A Handy Guide For Liberals Who Are Suddenly Interested In Gun Ownership” at Monster Hunter Nation.

That title isn’t joking. This post is aimed at my liberal readers. I’m a libertarian leaning Republican and gun expert, who thinks you are wrong about a lot of stuff, but I’m not writing this to gloat about your loss. For the record, I disliked all the presidential candidates.

Judging by your social media over the last few days many liberals have been utterly terrified that your government might turn tyrannical or that evil people will now be emboldened to hurt you. I’m going to let you in on a little thing the other half of the country is familiar with to keep those unlikely, yet catastrophic, events from happening.

And that my lefty friends, is 2nd Amendment.

Having just gone through a war against a tyrannical government, the Founders understood that governments can go bad, so they made sure to note our God given right (or we’ll say naturally occurring right, since a bunch of you are atheists) to keep and bear arms in order to defend ourselves. The 2nd Amendment isn’t about hunting or “sporting purposes”, it’s about having weapons that you can fight with. As an added bonus, being able to protect yourself from a tyrannical government means that you’re a lot better equipped to deal with any common criminal who decides to hurt you. Before I get into the details about how to enjoy your newly discovered 2nd Amendment rights, let me just say that I get you’re sad, angry, bitter, and fearful. But just like my people over the last few elections, you’ll get over it. The really hyperbolic freak outs about Literally Hitler make you sound just like the Alex Jones crowd worried that Obama was going to herd Christians into FEMA camps last time. So take a deep breath and relax. Your friends and neighbors are the same as they were last week. The vast majority weren’t voting because racism, they voted against the status quo and a really unlikable Democrat. And no, they aren’t going to round you up into cattle cars….

(15) CROTTLED PEEPS.  Daniel Dern advises, “Be sure to watch to the very end. Even better than when a character on The Good Wife said ‘A Lannister always pays his debts.’” Shared at io9 by James Whitbrook: “A Breakdown Of My Scattered, Confused Thoughts While Watching This Game of Thrones Sodastream Ad”.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Jim C. Hines, Martin Morse Wooster, and Daniel Dern for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Cadbury Moose.]

Pixel Scroll 10/25/16 Bears Discover File 770

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(1) ARRIVAL PREMIERE BENEFIT FOR CLARION. The Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination will host the San Diego premiere of the film Arrival, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker. After the film, there will be a conversation and Q&A with Ted Chiang, whose novella “Story of Your Life” provided the basis of the screenplay.

All proceeds from the screening benefit the Clarion Foundation, which supports the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop at UC San Diego. Click on the link to buy tickets.

Arrival is the the story of what happens when mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe. An elite team, led by expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), is brought together to investigate. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers-and to find them, she will take a chance that could threaten her life, and, quite possibly, humanity.

Ted Chiang is a graduate and, later, instructor in the renowned Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, organized at UCSD by the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination. Known for his exacting craftsmanship in writing profound and psychologically rich science fiction, Chiang this year alone has the honor of having a story (“The Great Silence”) in both the Best American Short Stories 2016 and Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016, after it was originally written for a collaboration with the visual artists Allora & Calzadilla.

(2) NEW CLARKE CENTER PODCAST. Into the Impossible: A Clarke Center Podcast launches November 1.

clarke-podcast-logoInto the Impossible is a podcast of stories, ideas, and speculations from the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination. Early episodes will take listeners through exciting, ranging conversations with and between scientists, artists, writers, and thinkers of different stripes, on the nature of imagination and how, through speculative culture, we create our future. The first episode includes Freeman Dyson (physicist and writer), David Kaiser (physicist, MIT), Rae Armantrout (Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, UCSD professor emeritus), and Brian Keating (astrophysicist, UCSD).

Later episodes will feature actors like Herbert Siguenza (Culture Clash), futurists like Bruce Sterling (writer, design theorist, WIRED columnist), and science fiction authors like Vernor Vinge (novelist, mathematician, computer scientist), as well as looks into Clarke Center activities like Dr. Allyson Muotri’s lab growing Neanderthal brain neurons and the new Speculative Design major. We will also premiere an audio performance created in collaboration between artist Marina Abramovic and science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson, created in workshop here at the Clarke Center with Adam Tinkle and local and student volunteers.

(3) LEARNING AND RELEARNING. Cat Rambo’s speech is now online — “Into the Abyss: Surrey International Writers Conference, Morning Keynote for October 23, 2016”.

I try to write, every day, 2000 words, because that’s what Stephen King does and I think he’s a pretty good role model. Note that I say try, because I don’t always hit it. But you must write. Every day you write is a victory.

Figure out your personal writing process and what works for you. And then do it, lots. I realized that my most productive time is the mornings. So if my mother calls in the mornings, she knows I will answer “Is this an emergency?” and if she says no, I will hang up. (I did warn her before implementing this policy.) Find the times and places you are productive and defend them from the world. You will have gotten a lot of writing advice here and the thing about writing advice is this. All of it is both right and wrong, because people’s process differs and moreover, it can and will differ over the course of time. Find what works for you and do it.

Be kind to yourself. We are delicate, complex machines both physically and mentally. Writers are so good at beating themselves up, at feeling guilty, at imagining terrible futures. You are the person with the most to gain from being kind to yourself; do it. Don’t punish yourself for not hitting a writing goal; reward yourself when you do.

(4) ZOMBIE PROM REVIEW. Martin Morse Wooster personally eyeballed the production and returned with a verdict:

I saw Zombie Prom on Friday, and I think Nelson Pressley’s review was unfair.  Unexpected Stage Company, which did the production, is a minor-league company.  I doubt any member of the cast was over 25 and no one was a member of Equity.  That being said, everyone hit their marks and remembered their lines and most of the cast had pretty good voices.  I thought the production was pleasant.

The title of the musical is misleading, because there’s only one zombie in the cast. (I guess they couldn’t call it One Zombie at a Prom.) It’s the 1950s, and we’re at Enrico Fermi High.  Jonny Warner gets jilted by his girlfriend and leaps into a vat of nuclear waste, which turns him into a zombie.  Will anyone accept him–including his former girlfriend?

I have never heard of Dean P. Rowe, who did the music, and John Dempsey, author of the book and lyrics, but they have talent and my guess is in five years we will hear a lot from them.  There are some mildly deep references to ’50s pop culture, including what I thought was a reference to The Milton Berle Show.  The two best performers were Dallas Milholland, who for some reason decided to play semi-villainous Principal Delilah Strict in a pseudo-British accent, and Will Hawkins, who played Jonny Warner with a great deal of gusto.

Their website is Unexpected Stage Company.

(5) LONG LISTENER ANTHOLOGY. David Steffen says there will be an audiobook of the Long List Anthology Volume 2 after all, using a modified table of contents.

I have been talking with Skyboat Media and we have decided to go ahead with the audiobook, with some alterations to the table of contents from the original stretch goal to get it to just the right length for the resources available.  So there will be an audiobook again this year, this time with 6 stories.

The table of contents is:

  • Our Lady of the Open Road by Sarah Pinsker
  • Today I Am Paul by Martin L. Shoemaker
  • Madeleine by Amal El-Mohtar
  • Pocosin by Ursula Vernon
  • Damage by David D. Levine
  • Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds by Rose Lemberg

The title will also be different to reflect the different table of contents from the book/ebook:

OUR LADY OF THE OPEN ROAD & OTHER STORIES FROM THE LONG LIST ANTHOLOGY, volume 2

(6) TEPPER OBIT. The SFWA Blog posted an obituary for Sheri S. Tepper.

Cat Rambo says, “If I had to name one series by her I adore more than any other of the many excellent choices, it’s the Marianne series, and I highly recommend them to the File 770 readers.”

(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOYS

  • Born October 25, 1892 — Leo G. Carroll in 1892  (played Topper, and Alexander Waverly in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.)
  • Born October 25, 1924 — Billy Barty. His sf/f resume includes the animated The Lord of the Rings (1978, rotoscope footage) Snow White (1987), Masters of the Universe (1987) and Lobster Man from Mars (1989).

(8) CHAT WITH THREE-BODY AUTHOR. An excellent interview at SF Crowsnest: “Cixin Liu: interviewed by Gareth D Jones”.

GDJ: My favourite character in the books is Da Shi, especially in the second volume, ‘The Dark Forest’. Do you have a favourite character out of the ones you wrote about?

CL: In terms of Da Shi, he’s one of the most liked characters amongst Europeans and American readers. I think it’s because he’s like a caricature of a Chinese person of Beijing police, real well-connected, good with people. But this kind of people are actually really common in China, so we all know someone like that. But for non-Chinese readers, he immediately captures the attention. In terms of favourite character, I don’t think I have a favourite character really because they’re just there to propel the story forward. So it’s where the story is taking them that affects them, so I don’t have a favourite.

(9) ET, PHONE US. “Either the stars are strange, or there are 234 aliens trying to contact us” says Phys.org news. Obviously, these guys haven’t read the Three-Body Trilogy.

What we’re talking about here is a new study from E.F. Borra and E. Trottier, two astronomers at Laval University in Canada. Their study, titled “Discovery of peculiar periodic spectral modulations in a small fraction of solar type stars” was just published at arXiv.org. ArXiv.org is a pre-print website, so the paper itself hasn’t been peer reviewed yet. But it is generating interest.

The two astronomers used data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and analyzed the spectra of 2.5 million stars. Of all those stars, they found 234 stars that are producing a puzzling signal. That’s only a tiny percentage. And, they say, these signals “have exactly the shape of an ETI signal” that was predicted in a previous study by Borra.

Prediction is a key part of the scientific method. If you develop a theory, your theory looks better and better the more you can use it to correctly predict some future events based on it. Look how many times Einstein’s predictions based on Relativity have been proven correct.

The 234 stars in Borra and Trottier’s study aren’t random. They’re “overwhelmingly in the F2 to K1 spectral range” according to the abstract. That’s significant because this is a small range centred around the spectrum of our own Sun. And our own Sun is the only one we know of that has an intelligent species living near it. If ours does, maybe others do too?

(10) THE HULK V. THE THING. CinemaBlend reports Stan Lee’s definitive answer to America’s most asked question. (And no, it’s not “Does your chewing gum lose its flavor in the bedpost overnight?”)

It’s a question that has dogged comic book fans for decades: who would win in a fight between The Hulk and The Thing? Of course, there’s only one man who has the definitive answer to this quandary: Marvel icon Stan Lee himself. So when it was finally posed to the comic book legend, the world waited with bated breath to hear the answer, which, as it turns out, is The Hulk.

Stan Lee made this admission during his chat with The Tomorrow Show. But there were a few caveats to Stan Lee’s answer, who predicted that The Thing/Ben Grimm would definitely give The Hulk/Bruce Banner a run for his money, as he’s a little smarter than his counterpart. But that didn’t stop Stan Lee from picking The Hulk as the winner, as he explained:

“Oh, The Hulk would win. The Thing is faster and smarter, so he would probably find a way to turn it into a draw or save himself. He’d trap or trick the Hulk. But, in a fair fight, there’s no way the Hulk [would lose]. He’d win.”

(11) FIFTH OF INDIANA. ScreenRant says a fifth Indiana Jones movie will be out in 2019, starring Harrison Ford and directed by Steven Spielberg. But what about George Lucas? “Indiana Jones 5: George Lucas Is Not Involved With Story”.

In an interview with Collider, the screenwriter mentioned that Lucas does not have a hand in crafting the Indiana Jones 5 story, saying, “I haven’t had any contact with him.” Spielberg’s earlier claims that Lucas would be an executive producer could still be true, but it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Lucas is attached to an Indiana Jones film and isn’t helping design the narrative. It would appear that Lucas would rather enjoy his retirement than jump into the Hollywood machine again, which isn’t all that surprising considering his comments about Disney in the lead-up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. For many fans, this is a bittersweet revelation; like Star Wars, Lucas is an integral part of the Indiana Jones property, but he was responsible for some of the more unfavorable elements in Crystal Skull, such as his insistence aliens be in the film. Some viewers would prefer Lucas stay away.

(12) SFWA MARKET REPORT. SFWA President Cat Rambo says, “The latest market report went out a little late this month and I wanted to make sure people were aware of it. Dave Steffen is doing a terrific job assembling it.” Find it here: http://www.sfwa.org/2016/10/sfwa-market-report-october/.

(13) OPENINGS IN RAMBO/SWIRSKY CLASS. There are still slots open in “Re-Telling and Re-Taleing: Old Stories Into New”, the Cat Rambo/Rachel Swirsky live online class happening Saturday, October 29.

Authors constantly draw on the stories that have preceded them, particularly folklore, mythology, and fables. What are the best methods for approaching such material and what are the possible pitfall? How does one achieve originality when working with such familiar stories? Lecture, in-class exercise, and discussion will build your proficiency when working with such stories. Co-taught with Nebula-award winning writer Rachel Swirsky.

(14) ARCHEOTELEVISION. Echo Ishii has a new post about another antique sff TV show – “SF Obscure: Children of the Stones”.

Children of the Stones is a 1977 television drama for children produced by ITV network. I know of this show mainly because of the late Gareth Thomas. So, I decided to watch it because I had heard good things about it.

Astrophysicist Adam Brake and his son Matthew go to a village called Millbury which has a megalithic circle of stones in the middle of it. (It’s filmed on the prehistoric monument of Avebury) Things get strange as soon as they arrive. First of all, the housekeeper and neighbors all seem abnormally happy. Matthew has strange feelings of evil and is immediately hostile towards the new neighbor. His father chides him, but Matthew can’t help but feel something is wrong. We later learn that Matthew has some psychic abilities and this is why he reacts the way he does….

(15) DISSECTING THE FALL TV PREMIERES. Asking the Wrong Questions’ Abigail Nussbaum continues “Thoughts on the New TV Season, 2016 Edition, Part 2”.

Westworld – Easily the most-anticipated new series of the fall, the consensus that has already formed around HBO’s latest foray into genre is that it represents the channel’s attempts to grapple with its own reputation for prurient violence, particularly violence against women (see Emily Nussbaum in The New Yorker, and Aaron Bady in The Los Angeles Review of Books).  You can see how that consensus has formed–Westworld builds on the 1973 movie to imagine a lush and impeccably-detailed theme park in which customers pay lavishly to indulge their every fantasy, which almost inevitably seem to involve murder, mayhem, and of course rape.  The metaphor for how HBO’s pretensions to highbrow entertainment ultimately rest on the sumptuously-filmed and -costumed violence of Game of Thrones, True Detective, and The Night Of pretty much writes itself.  For myself, I’d like to believe that there’s more to Westworld than this glib reading, first because I simply do not believe that anyone at HBO possesses this level of self-awareness–this is, after all, the channel whose executives were genuinely taken aback, in the year 2016, by the idea that their shows had become synonymous with violence against women–and second because it’s by far the least interesting avenue of story the show could take.

(16) WOMEN INVISIBLE AGAIN. Juliet McKenna takes to task “Andrew Marr’s Paperback Heroes – a masculine view of epic fantasy entrenching bias”.

Two things happened on Monday 24th October. News of Sheri S Tepper’s death spread – and a lot of people on social media wondered why isn’t her brilliant, innovative and challenging science fiction and fantasy writing better known?

Then the BBC broadcast the second episode of Andrew Marr’s series on popular fiction, looking at epic fantasy.

The programme featured discussion of the work of seven, perhaps eight, major writers – six men and one, perhaps two women if you include the very passing reference to J K Rowling .

Four male writers were interviewed and one woman. Please note that the woman was interviewed solely in the context of fantasy written for children.

If you total up all the writers included, adding in cover shots or single-sentence name checks, eleven men get a look-in, compared to six women. Of those women, three got no more than a name check and one got no more than a screenshot of a single book.

It was an interesting programme, if simplistic in its view, to my mind. There’s a lot of fantasy written nowadays that goes beyond the old Hero’s Journey template. There’s a great deal to the genre today that isn’t the male-dominated grimdarkery which this programme implied is currently the be-all and end-all of the genre….

(17) MASQUERADE VIDEOS. The International Costumers Guild has posted the final version of the “MidAmeriCon 1 masquerade Look Back”.

This episode features highlights from the MidAmeriCon 1 masquerade held in Kansas City, MO. Having discovered another version of this masquerade after the initial upload, we’ve replaced it with this one because the color is more vivid. There is also one additional costume entry that has been added to the video. Note: This video, while not the sharpest in detail, could still be considered slightly NSFW.

 

They have also just released a quick memorial to author and costumer Adrienne Martine-Barnes.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Cat Rambo, Nora and Bruce Mai, JJ, and Martin Morse Wooster for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

My “Immersive Transmedia” Experience with Edgar Allan Poe

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By Martin Morse Wooster: I’ve been in many strange places in my lifetime.  But I spent the night of September 12 in an insane asylum!

Well, it wasn’t really an insane asylum.  It was the Torpedo Factory Arts Center in Alexandria, which was transformed into an asylum for “A Dream Within a Dream: Madness” which is being held there through October 31.

I would say that this was a play about Edgar Allan Poe, except that I learned from the website of the company that produced it, Through the 4th Wall, that what they do is produce “immersive transmedia” which is at “the avant-garde branding intersection of advertising, P.R., and immersive performance.”

(Gosh wow!)

The premise of this story is that Edgar Allan Poe, mourning the death of his child bride Virginia (but is she really dead?) has checked in to the Maison de Sante, which I think is French for “House of Creepy.” There he wanders the grounds, and when we don’t see Poe, we see his stories come to life.

The mostly female cast were dressed in costumes similar what I would imagine are those at the World Horror Convention costume contest.  Or maybe they were looking forward to the World Crinoline Convention.  Or perhaps they were extras in the PBS Civil War drama “Mercy Street,” set in Alexandria.

One woman, who didn’t have a speaking part, was dressed in a black leotard, with a scary black wig, owl eyes, and a lot of white pancake makeup.  I nearly asked her, “say, have you dated the Joker?”  But I restrained myself.

The arts center was quite dark.  Dirges by Beethoven played in the background, with the soundtrack of an occasional burst of thunder.  We divided into eight groups and duly climbed up and down three flights while listening to the music and stopping at various sections of the arts center to see various skits depicting Poe stories.

One of the skits featured Poe, who railed about the loss of Virginia (if she was dead!), and asked us to write the names of our deathless loves on a wall.  Virginia Poe was in another section and talked about how she mourned Edgar.

Other sections had skits depicting various Poe stories.  Some of them were pretty obscure.  I’ve never read “The Imp of the Perverse” or “William Wilson”, but they were retold here.  One sketch was about a painter who had to work on a portrait of his girlfriend forever because he could never fully capture her ethereal beauty.  Still another had twins (if they were twins!) where one twin endlessly repeated what the other one was saying.

While we were escorted from one station to another, the escorts talked to us.  “Have you ever had an immortal love, one you would remember for your entire life?” one woman said.  But I remembered we were immersed in the nineteenth century, an age that did not know the meaning of “oversharing” and “too much information.”

Another woman played the part of Rosalie Poe, Edgar Allen Poe’s sister.  “Have you heard of my brother, Edgar?  He’s a writer.”

“Ummm….graphic novels?” I said.

“No, anime,” said someone else in my group.

We were given programs afterward, so I know the production was created by Jennifer Schwed and Doug Bradshaw, and starred Ian Blackwell Rogers as Edgar Allen Poe and Bette Cassatt as Virginia Poe.  Both were acceptable, although Rogers would have been more persuasive if he used half as much eyeliner.

As for “immersive transmedia,” what this really was was a play with LARP-like elements.  I went with a Groupon and got my money’s worth.

What this reminded me of was the World Fantasy Convention in 1980, when we went to Edgar Allan Poe’s grave.  Fritz Leiber recited Poe poems with his excellent voice.  We learned that the founders of Baltimore were Rosicrucians and Masons who liked being buried in mass graves, including a giant pyramid.  We were allowed to look inside these tombs and saw dozens of cobweb-covered skulls falling out of centuries-old coffins.

Now that was creepy.