Pullman and the Grenfell Tower Fundraiser

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

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

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

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

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

In addition to Pullman, sff donors include:

[Thanks to Nigel for the story.]

Pixel Scroll 6/21/17 Pay No Attention To That Scroll Behind The Pixel

Commence appertainment in 5..4…3…2…

(1) BOMBS AWAY. Contrasting Giles Coren’s first novel experience with his own career, Ben Jeapes explains “Why everyone should be a science fiction fan” at Milford SF Writers.

…Ten years later he felt brave enough to make a documentary about it. Links have changed since I first saw it, but search “Giles Coren my failed novel” and you’ll find it. It’s really quite touching as you see the penny begin to drop. He speaks to the reviewers who had slated it. He listens in on a book club tearing it apart. He takes the first chapters to a creative writing course workshop. He tries rereading it himself and finds it unbearable. (He can’t get through the Bad Sex Award-winning passage without breaking down into laughter.) He listenes in awe to the likes of David Mitchell and Jeffrey Archer as they describe their highly disciplined writing habits, and admits to the latter that he had basically been lazy.

And he comes to the conclusion that this was the first novel everyone has – the one that should be written and then spend the rest of eternity in a trunk in the attic. Only, because he was Giles Coren, his got sold for a £30k advance. You sense that even he feels the injustice of this. No one likes being done a favour.

But here’s the thing. Coren was born in 1969. He’s in his late 40s, but I can’t imagine his discoveries and revelations being news to anyone past their late 20s or even late teens. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been spoiled by growing up in the science fiction community, where expertise and experience flow like milk and honey. I read Dave Langford’s columns in 8000 Plus. I went to Milford. I jostled with the large crowd trying to get through the narrow doorway of Interzone acceptance. I knew it took hard work. I knew that if you didn’t think this was your best yet then you didn’t send it in. How did anyone not know that?

Conclusion: everyone should be an sf fan….

(2) WHERE THE IDEAS COME FROM. The Red trilogy features in “The Big Idea: Linda Nagata” today at Whatever.

Next, it occurred to me that if I set the new book even closer to the present time, I might have a chance of pushing beyond the science fiction genre and making inroads into the military thriller market.

Hey, we can all dream.

The Red trilogy was written around a unit of US Army soldiers. Following that similar-but-different philosophy, I decided the new novel would involve a private military company, because that would allow for more freedom with the plot.

Even with the benefit of hindsight, this all still makes sense to me. But in selecting my protagonist, I embarked on a major gamble.

My version of brainstorming is to engage in swiftly typed stream-of-consciousness question-and-answer sessions. It’s the best way I know to develop ideas. I was brainstorming the possible identity of my main protagonist when I typed this:

Hey. Maybe she’s middle aged. (How to kill a novel in one bad move.)

Generally speaking, middle-aged women are not considered to be cool main characters of the sort that commonly inhabit techno-thrillers. So this was a perfect example of the creative and logical parts of my mind contending with one another. The logical part immediately recognized the risk, but the obstinate, defiant, creative part turned out to be in charge.

(3) A STATISTIC. Here’s Clarkesworld’s box score.

(4) OPIE TO DIRECT ‘HAN SOLO’? Let’s just drop his name here: “Ron Howard Top Choice To Take Over Han Solo Film?” Deadline has the story.

Deadline hears that Ron Howard has emerged as front-runner to replace Phil Lord & Christopher Miller on the untitled Han Solo Star Wars spinoff film. Disney dropped a shocker this afternoon with the announcement that the duo exited a picture that has been in production since February at London’s Pinewood Studios. This after an inability to recover from creative rifts with Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan. The latter has been mentioned as possible to step in, but I’m putting my money on Howard.

(5) ‘BOTS! IT HAD TO BE ‘BOTS! I suspect this review is more entertaining than the movie. Nick Schager at The Daily Beast says “‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ Is Two-and-a-Half Hours of Racist Robot Torture”.

Those fans will be thrilled to hear that the latest entry in the canon du Bay-hem, Transformers: The Last Knight, more or less picks up right where its predecessor left off—by which I mean, in an orgiastic stew of detonations, jingoism, and sequences in which CGI vehicles make that weird wrink-wronk-wrank-wank noise as they turn into CGI titans. The only thing missing is Wahlberg unsubtly lusting after his offspring. Luckily, though, he’s still playing a character named Cade Yeager—a moniker that would make Keanu Reeves’ Point Break hero Johnny Utah stand up and slow-clap in appreciation—and this time around, he at least has an amusingly floppy new haircut. Oh, and there’s a three-headed Transformers dragon who’s amassed from ancient Autobots who used to hang out with a drunken Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table. If you were worried that Bay had lost his touch for sublimely absurd, wantonly steroidal toy cinema, you can lay your fears to rest.

(6) PALEO-HEDGEHOG. Live long enough and you see strange things happen, like 1991 becoming “the good old days” — “Sega Forever makes Genesis classics free on mobile”.

We have no shortage of shiny, life-like HD games these days, but if you’d like to revisit older titles from a bygone era, Sega has got your back. The video game company has just officially launched the first wave of the Sega Forever collection with five titles meant to begin “a retro revolution that will transport players back through two decades of console gaming.” Starting today, the 1991 version of Sonic the Hedgehog, fan-favorite RPG Phantasy Star II, classic arcade-style beat ’em up Comix Zone, platformer Kid Chameleon and Greek mythology-themed beat ’em up Altered Beast will be available on Google Play and iTunes as free ad-supported games. If you have an iPhone or an iPad, your games will even come accompanied by iMessage sticker packs.

(7) ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED. After reporting the other day that he was too shy to try, Wil Wheaton got to meet David Tennant after all.

(8) ALIEN TRIPPER. Mark Kaedrin ranks the finalists in another category — “Hugo Awards: Novelettes”. There’s an alien in first place, and another in last place.

So we come to the short fiction categories of this year’s Hugo Awards. This year, I start with the Novelettes, that odd category that fits stories that are longer than a short story but shorter than a novella. If the past several years are any indication, these stories actually tend to be my favorite of the short fiction finalists. Short stories have been almost uniformly a disaster for the past few years (partly the doing of the Puppies, but it was an issue for me even before then). Novellas somehow seem to be bloated and overlong while still missing the depth you get from a novel (with the notable exception of Bujold’s Penric novellas, which I love). Novelettes hit the Goldilocks zone, providing enough space for a complete narrative, but not so much that the story drowns in hooptedoodle. Does the trend continue this year? Let’s find out:

  1. Touring with the Alien by Carolyn Ives Gilman – Mysterious alien ships arrive one night without warning. Translators (comprised of formerly abducted humans) emerge and claim the aliens come in peace and don’t want anything. A woman is hired by the government to drive around a translator so that he can see the sights. It turns out that the aliens are intelligent but unconscious, which has some interesting implications. This story works well, with a good exploration of consciousness with the occasional detour into other areas. The ending has a twist that’s pretty easy to see coming (though it does elicit some questions as to the premise of this whole road trip – aren’t there, like, security clearances or something? Is the trip even necessary?), but it works. Lots of open questions, but at least we’re getting something that’s engaging with an interesting idea and trying to hit that sense of wonder that makes SF so great. Short and sweet, this is certainly not perfect, but it’s got some solid ideas and it works well enough…

(9) NOMINATED NOVELLA. Elan Samuel praises “The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe – Kij Johnson”  at Warbler Books.

A strange and delightful congruity connects The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe with the last Hugo-nominated book I reviewed, The Ballad of Black Tom. Both reach back toward Lovecraft, grab hearty handfuls of story, and mold it into works that manage the requisite respect for the author of such incredible tales while openly challenging his prejudices. You can refresh your memory about how Victor LaValle elegantly reframes Lovecraft into a tale of loss and revenge in last month’s review. We’re here today to talk about Kij Johnson’s brilliant, expansive, and enthralling The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe.

(10) INSIDE THE VOTING BOOTH. Ariela Housman of Geek Calligraphy gives readers the lowdown about how she’s voting in three categories on her Hugo ballot – including a thorough discussion of Best Fanartist, which is something you rarely see. Here’s part of her take on the Best Novel finalists.

Best Novel

Novels are my favorite thing to read and what I read the most of. I had already read a number of the nominees before nominations opened, much less after they closed.

  1.  A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers I adored The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which was an utterly delightful reading experience. But it lacked the emotional punch that the sequel delivers here. I’m a sucker for “what does it mean to be a person?” books, and this one comes at it from both ends in a devastating way.
  2. Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee I will admit that I couldn’t finish this one, which I started before award season. I bounced off it in much the same way I bounced off Ancillary Justice my first time around. Serious culture shock, working too hard to absorb the world to be able to sit back and enjoy the story. Though I finished AJ on my first attempt, it took me until my third readthrough to just enjoy it. I suspect it will be the same here. As is, I recognize the technical accomplishment already.

(11) FB. After being away for a while Joe Vasicek put a set of fresh eyeballs on Facebook and here’s what he found:

First, the site is a mess. It’s like a weird cross between Goodreads and MySpace. I know there’s a lot of people who love Goodreads, but sorry, that site is almost impossible to navigate. Way too much clutter, with the option you’re looking for hidden in some tiny link that doesn’t actually look like a link. Unless you’re a frequent user, you constantly feel like you’re lost. That’s Facebook now. It’s very unfriendly for new users, which I know is like me and ten people living in Yurts in Mongolia, but still. In terms of user-friendliness, it’s going the way of MySpace.

Second, Facebook has become really slutty. Again, first impressions here. It’s really interesting when Facebook has nothing to base their algos off of. I assume from what I’m seeing that the recommendations default to its power users, which at a cursory glance are mostly chicks and dude bros. Also, some of the group recommendations I’m seeing are insanely over the top in terms of sheer raunchiness. Since when did Facebook turn into Potterville?

He’s also a critic of multiracial emojis.

But Joe, what’s the harm in an emoji that reflects your skin tone? Two things. First, social media divides us far more than it unites us. It walls us off into tribes, helping us build our own custom echo chambers full of people who only agree with us. It’s an incubator for much of the divisiveness in society right now. Second, there is a very real effort in the country today to divide us all by race.

(12) THE FRENCH HAVE AN EQUATION FOR IT. Of concern to Traveling Jiants everywhere: “Why suitcases rock and fall over”.

It’s a common experience when dashing for a train or plane while lugging a two-wheeled suitcase.

The bag rocks alarmingly from side-to-side and threatens to overturn.

Now, scientists have investigated this conundrum of everyday physics. Speeding up rather than slowing down can solve the problem, they say.

Alternatively, you can pivot the handle of the suitcase as close to the ground as possible.

French scientists studied a model suitcase on a treadmill to see what goes wrong when a suitcase rocks out of control at high speed. They developed equations to explain why two-wheeled trolleys have a tendency to rock from one wheel to the other.

(13) ON RELIGION. Annalee Newitz at Ars Technica reviews American Gods season 1: “American Gods may be the best show about religion on TV”

The first season of American Gods ends with an image that compacts the many themes of the series into one odd moment. It’s an aerial shot, slowly revealing a line of cars, buggies, and other vehicles crowding the tiny road to a neglected Wisconsin tourist trap called The House on the Rock. Without giving you any spoilers, I can say that this scene captures American Gods‘ perspective on religious faith in America.

And now, with a generous dose of spoilers, I will tell you what I mean by that….

(14) LOST LIGHT. The Wertzone is sarcastic about the need for a Watchmen TV series: “Damon Lindelof penning frankly unnecessary WATCHMEN adaptation for HBO”.

Scriptwriter Damon Lindelof will be helming the new project, as he continues to play Russian Roulette with his career. He charmed millions of fans with his TV series Lost, only to annoy them with a somewhat confused ending, and then really annoyed lots of people with his scripts for Star Trek (2009) and Prometheus (2012), which were both troubled. More recently, however, he has won plaudits for his work on HBO’s The Leftovers, which recently concluded a three-season run with a lot of critical acclaim and plaudits.

(15) NEW GAME OF THRONES TRAILER. Game of Thrones Season 7 premieres this July. “It may be the first day of summer, but #WinterisHere on 7.16.”

(16) PHILIP “TWO SHEDS” PULLMAN. House Beautiful reports “Author Philip Pullman’s old shed is Shed of the Year 2017 contender”.

This shed has an impressive literary history – it was once owned by renowned author Philip Pullman. He allegedly even wrote His Dark Materials trilogy within it. It was passed down to current owner Ted, who is an author himself. But this shed comes with one strict rule – it must be freely passed on to the next steward of creative endeavours.

(17) STRANGE MAN. There’s a common saying that “Inside every man, there’s X trying to get out.” How often does X = dragon? I Am Dragon (2017) Movie Trailer.

[Thanks to Mark-kitteh, John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, JJ, and Chip Hitchcock for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Bill.]

Pixel Scroll 3/2/17 Doing The Trilogy Backwards

(1) RECURSIVE NEWS. The Large Hadron Collider gets a pixel tracker.

Officials said the replacement of a key component inside the CMS experiment represented the first major upgrade to the LHC – the world’s biggest machine.

Engineers have been carefully installing the new “pixel tracker” in CMS in a complex and delicate procedure on Thursday 100m underground….

More than 1,200 “dipole” magnets steer the beam around a 27km-long circular tunnel under the French-Swiss border. At certain points around the ring, the beams cross, allowing collisions to take place. Large experiments like CMS and Atlas then record the outcomes of these encounters, generating more than 10 million gigabytes of data every year.

The CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) pixel tracker is designed to disentangle and reconstruct the paths of particles emerging from the collision wreckage.

“It’s like substituting a 66 megapixel camera with a 124 megapixel camera,” Austin Ball, technical co-ordinator for the CMS experiment, told BBC News.

In simple terms, the pixel detector takes images of particles which are superimposed on top of one another, and then need to be separated.

(2) COLLECTING THE CURE. A bidder paid top dollar for a moldy piece of history.

The mold in question — which actually outpaced early expectations to be sold for a whopping $14,617, according to The Associated Press — is a capsule of the original Penicillium chrysogenum Alexander Fleming was working with when he discovered the antibiotic penicillin. Encased in a glass disc, inscribed with the words “the mould that first made Penicillin,” and signed by Fleming himself, the little sample comes from the collection of Fleming’s niece, Mary Anne Johnston.

(3) GOLD RUSS. James Davis Nicoll has the panelists reading “When It Changed” by Joanna Russ at Young People Read Old SFF.

With this story we enter the 1970s, the last decade in the Young People project . I knew which story I wanted to begin the decade with: Joanna Russ’ 1972 Nebula-winner “When It Changed”. Noted author and critic Russ’s story is a reply to such classics as Poul Anderson’s Virgin Planet, stories in which planets populated entirely by women are granted that most precious of treasures, a man and his unsolicited advice. Russ was not always entirely pleased by the status quo. Subtle hints of her displeasure can be detected in this classic first contact tale.

Of course, we live in a modern era of complete equality between the sexes. Who knows if this story can speak to younger people? Let’s find out!

Here’s one participant’s verdict –

….I’d still be willing to suggest that “When It Changed” is the most relevant of all the stories we’ve read so far in this project. I’m sure this is a very hard to believe statement, especially when you compare the story to some of the others we’ve read (i.e. dolphin-people and doomsday don’t-let-the-sun-set cultists), but I’m willing to say it and stand by it, for a few reasons….

(4) DEALING WITH IT. Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “Business Musings: Writing with Chronic Health Problems” deals with something I’m sure many writers are doing after seeing people’s comments here.

It wasn’t until I got a Fitbit on a lark that exercise became do-not-miss for me. Why? Because I can hit my 10,000 steps even when I’m sick. I shuffle around the house like the walking dead, determined to hit that magic number, because I’m anal, and because finishing my steps every day before midnight is something I can control.

The knee injury got in the way. I made my doctor give me a schedule and benchmarks so that I wouldn’t start up again too soon, but also so that I would start as soon as I could. He thought I was nuts, but he did it. And I followed it, even though I didn’t want to. (I wanted to hobble around the house to hit that magic 10,000 steps.) Even with an injured knee, I got 3,000-4,000 steps per day (using crutches), because I really can’t sit down for very long.

It drives me crazy.

So why am I telling you all of this? This is a writing blog, right?

Because dozens of you have asked me, both privately and in comments, how I write with a chronic health condition.

There really is a trick to the writing while chronically ill. But the trick is personal, and it’s tailored to each individual person.

So, more personal stories—and then tips.

(5) MoPOP. Nominations for next year’s inductees to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame are being taken from the public through April 16.

We’ve opened up our Hall of Fame nominations to the public so that you can choose the creations (e.g. a movie, video game, book, comic/graphic novel, superhero, etc.) and creators (e.g. director, actor, writer, animator, composer, etc.) that have most inspired you!

MoPOP also says the public will be able to vote for the selected finalists later this year, although it’s unclear what impact that vote will have. The website says —

Founded in 1996, the Hall of Fame was relocated from the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas to its permanent home at MoPOP in 2004. Nominations are accepted from the public and the final inductees are chosen by a committee of industry experts.

A public was invited to vote was taken on last year’s nominees, too, but as it says above, selected experts chose the inductees.

(6) NEBULA NOMINEE. Brooke Bolander, who calls this “sputtering,” writes a pretty good thank-you: “Nebula Finalist Frenzy, or: IT HAPPENED AGAIN WTF BBQ”.

Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies,” my thousand-word rage bark published in Uncanny Magazine, is a finalist for the Best Short Story Nebula. Again, to everyone who put it on their ballot: holy shit, thank you so goddamned much. I was helping clean up after a family funeral when I got the call, so to say that I needed that good news is a grave and frankly insulting understatement to the gift you all handed me. I didn’t expect to get on the ballot last year. I figured it was probably the last time I’d be within six city blocks of a ballot for a long, long time, if ever. Is being a finalist again so soon intimidating? You’d better fuckin’ believe it, buster. Is trying to figure out how I am going to follow this up absolutely bowel-twistingly terrifying, the fear that I’ll never write anything else worthwhile once again lurking at the edges of my internal narrative like a shadow beneath a 1 AM streetlamp? DING DING DING.

(7) SURVIVOR. Pat Cadigan is deeply reflective in this installment of “Still Making Cancer My Bitch”.

…At the same time, however, it’s a little spooky to think that, had my cancer followed its standard course––had I not gotten so extremely lucky––I wouldn’t be here now. And the two friends I lost were supposed to be living their lives as usual. John Lennon once pointed out that life is what happens while you’re making other plans. Truer words were never spoken.

A few days ago, I had started writing a post about survivor guilt. There have been a few posts I found very difficult and uncomfortable to write but this one was impossible. I have seldom written nonfiction; it’s really not my metier. I did write two nonfiction books in the late 1990s, one about the making of Lost In Space and another a year later about the making of The Mummy; they were assignments I lucked into and I think they turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. But I digress.

Survivor guilt is one of those things easier felt than explained––easier done than said, if you will. You can’t write about it without sounding like you’re fishing for comfort: Please forgive me for still being alive. You know people are going to tell you that you have nothing to feel guilty about. Except for the few whom you secretly suspect don’t forgive you.

Personally, I’ve always thought of survivor guilt as something suffered by people who have been through terrible catastrophes––natural disasters, mass transit crashes, explosions, wars. These people have been through extreme trauma and injury themselves. So claiming I have survivor guilt sounds self-aggrandising. The truth is, I’ve never been in pain and thanks to my family and my ongoing support system of friends far and wide, I’ve never felt alone or like I had no one to talk to.

What I’m feeling is more like survivor embarrassment. It’s like this: you find out you’re terminal, and you make a big deal out of it, because what the hell, it is a big deal, to you anyway. Then, holy guacamole! Things take a completely unexpected swerve and it turns out you’re not as terminal as they thought. You’re not exactly well, not in remission, but you’re stable and you’re not leaving any time soon unless someone drops a house on you. (And even then, it would probably depend on the house.)

(8) BEAR NECESSITIES. Worldcon 75 has received a 5000 € grant from Art Promotion Centre Finland. If you read Finnish, you can find out the details in the organization’s press release.

(9) ROCK SOLID EVIDENCE. “Oldest fossil ever found on Earth shows organisms thrived 4.2bn years ago”. The Telegraph has the story.

Oldest fossil ever found on Earth shows organisms thrived 4.2bn years ago

It’s life, but not as we know it. The oldest fossil ever discovered on Earth shows that organisms were thriving 4.2 billion years ago, hundreds of millions of years earlier than previously thought.

The microscopic bacteria, which were smaller than the width of a human hair, were found in rock formations in Quebec, Canada, but would have lived in hot vents in the 140F (60C) oceans which covered the early planet.

The discovery is the strongest evidence yet that similar organisms could also have evolved on Mars, which at the time still had oceans and an atmosphere, and was being bombarded by comets which probably brought the building blocks of life to Earth.

….Space expert Dr Dan Brown of Nottingham Trent University added: “The discovery is exciting since it demonstrates how quickly life can form if the conditions are right on a planet or moon.

“This makes it clear to me that as soon as we find conditions on an exoplanet that would favour life as we know it, the probability of finding some form of life on that planet is very high. However, we are not talking about little green aliens but about microorganisms.

(10) ABSTRACT THINKING. Click here for the table of contents of the March issue of Science Fiction Studies which brings us, among other headscratchers, Thomas Strychacz’ “The Political Economy of Potato Farming in Andy Weir’s The Martian” —

Abstract. This essay examines the diverse political-economic registers of Andy Weir’s The Martian (2011) in terms of its symbolic response to the material and ideological crises of the Great Recession. The 2008 financial collapse in the US led to millions losing their homes and posed a serious challenge to the legitimacy of mainstream economic principles. Published at the height of the crisis, and concerning itself with the monumental challenge of bringing just one person home, the novel writes contested economic discourses into cultural fable. On Mars, Mark Watney’s potato farming evokes the paradigmatic neoclassical economic figure of homo economicus, the self-interested, maximizing agent who constantly prioritizes competing choices in order to allocate scarce resources rationally. NASA’s Earth, conversely, is a fantastic world of “unlimited funding” where, overturning two centuries of (neo)classical economic principle, “every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out” (Weir 368-69). The novel’s confused attempts to reconcile homo economicus with a workable concept of the common good can be historicized. Other prominent documents of the recessionary era—the US government’s official Report on the Financial Crisis and Occupy Wall Street’s Declaration among them—manifest the same yearning to restore a vanishing sense of commonwealth.

(11) REVENGE OF THE SON OF THE RETURN OF THE SHADOW CLARKE. Two more shortlists from Shadow Clarke jurors.

One of the things I wanted to do with my shortlist was to explore the idea of the Arthur C. Clarke Award as an institution that challenges the near-monopoly that genre publishing has over not only the field’s annual hype cycle but also over the construction of literary excellence. Traditionally, the Clarke Award has filled this role by smuggling a few choice mainstream titles over the ghetto walls but what if those disruptive tendencies were allowed to manifest themselves more fully? What if the Clarke Award came to represent genre publishing industry’s systematic failure to drive the genre forwards?

In order to come up with a deliberately counter-cultural shortlist, I made several passes through the submissions list in order to rule things out before making more positive choices about the things I wanted to read and write about:

…Second pass: Genre publishing has slowly developed a near-monopoly on the means through which individual works acquire a word-of-mouth buzz. This monopoly is partly a result of publishers and authors developing direct relationships with reviewers and partly a result of critics and reviewers losing influence in the age of Goodreads and Amazon reviews. With most of genre culture’s systems of recommendation skewed in favour of genre imprints and established genre authors, I chose to prioritise works that were either produced outside of conventional genre culture or which have been marginalised by genre publishing and forced towards smaller publishing venues….

…The task of compiling a shortlist is slightly different for the shadow Clarke juror, because there is more scope to set a personal agenda. What do I want my shortlist to be? This question came into sharp focus when I looked at the list of submissions, and realised that I wouldn’t want to shortlist any of the books that I’d already read.

So I have had to fall back on books that I would like to read. On that basis, I decided to orient my shortlist around the idea of discovery, focusing primarily on authors I hadn’t read much before, and taking note of a few strong recommendations from trusted sources….

Mark-kitteh sent the links along with these comments: “I did a spot of tallying up:

  • The Underground Railroad — Colson Whitehead 5
  • Central Station — Lavie Tidhar 4
  • A Field Guide to Reality?— Joanna Kavenna 4
  • The Many Selves of Katherine North?—?Emma Geen 3
  • The Power — Naomi Alderman 3
  • The Gradual?— Christopher Priest 3

“Which conveniently makes a potential shortlist of 6. It’s unlikely to be the final result, but the jurors seem to have more to agree on than to disagree.

“They are followed by another 7 chosen by two jurors, plus 10 singletons with a lone champion. Nick Hubble has the honour of being the only juror with at least one other agreeing with all his choices.”

(12) TRIVIAL TRIVIA

Monopoly Board Games produced after September 2008 come with $20,580 in play money. Standard editions produced before that came with $15,140.

(13) TODAY’S DAY

Today is Dr. Seuss Day, a full twenty-four hours to make a mess with the Cat in the Hat, dance around with the Fox in Sox, hear a Who with Horton, count the red and blue fish, help the Grinch see the error of his ways, and listen to Sam I Am’s friend complain about his dish of green eggs and ham, the ungrateful hairball!

(14) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

(15) EARLY BARR. At Galactic Journey, Victoria Silverwolf has an eye for talent — “[March 1,1962] Hearts and Flowers (April 1962 Fantastic)”:

Appropriately, The April 1962 issue of Fantastic is full of romance, along with the sense of wonder demanded by readers of speculative fiction.

Before we get to the mushy stuff, however, Judith Merril offers us a mysterious look at The Shrine of Temptation.  George Barr’s beautiful cover art appears to have inspired this ambiguous tale of good, evil, and strange rituals.  Barr’s work has appeared in a handful of fanzines for a few years, but I believe this is his first professional publication.  Based on the quality of this painting, I believe the young artist has a fine career ahead of him.

(16) IT’S MERVEILLEUX. At The New York Review of Science Fiction: “Brian Stableford: Madme De Villaneuve and the Origins of the Fantasy Novel”

The first concerted attempt to define and characterize a genre of fantasy fiction was made by Charles-Joseph Mayer between 1785 and 1789 when he published the 41 exemplary volumes of Le Cabinet des fées, ou Collection choisie des contes de fées et autres contes merveilleux [The Cabinet of the Fairies, or, Selected Collection of Fairy Tales and Other Marvelous Tales] in parallel with Charles Garnier’s Voyages imaginaires, songes, visions et romans cabalistiques [Imaginary Voyages, Dreams, Visions, and Cabalistic Fiction]. The latter is now regarded as most significant for the volumes containing imaginary voyages that can be affiliated in retrospect to the nascent genre of roman scientifique [scientific fiction] but, as the full title illustrates, it contains a good deal of material that would nowadays be considered to belong to the fantasy genre, and some of the items, such as Madame Roumier-Robert’s “Les Ondins, conte moral” (1768; tr. as “The Water-Sprites”) would have been perfectly at home in Mayer’s collection. It was, however, Mayer’s assembly that identified the two principal strands of the genre of the merveilleux as the mock folktales that became fashionable in the literary salons of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in association with the court of Louis XIV and tales written in imitation of Antoine Galland’s collection of Les Mille-et-une nuits (1707–19), which claimed to be translations of Arabian folklore, although many of the inclusions are drastically rewritten from the original manuscripts or wholly invented by Galland.

(17) PULLMAN. In “Paradise regained: ‘His Dark Materials’ is even better than I remembered”, the Financial Times’ Nilanjana Roy uses the forthcoming publication of The Book of Dust to discuss how she read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy ten years ago and how much she enjoyed these books. (The article is behind a paywall; the link is to a Google cache which can be read after taking a survey.)

The first in the trilogy is the most memorably dazzling, a classic quest story where the young Lyra travels to the north, befriending armoured bears and witch-queens. She has a daemon, Pantalaimon — most people in her world do, the daemon being an animal who is the external manifestation of a person’s inner spirit — and that is what I remembered most about the trilogy. When His Dark Materials came out, most of my friends abandoned their dignity and played games of Guess His Daemon? assigning slinking jackals or brown marmorated stink bug daemons to those they didn’t like.

(18) IT PAYS NOT TO BE IGNORANT. BoingBoing tells about the Norwegian news site that makes readers pass a test proving they read the post before commenting on it.

The team at NRKbeta attributes the civil tenor of its comments to a feature it introduced last month. On some stories, potential commenters are now required to answer three basic multiple-choice questions about the article before they’re allowed to post a comment. (For instance, in the digital surveillance story: “What does DGF stand for?”)

(19) THE CULTURE WARS.  Yes, it’s Buzzfeed – perhaps someday you’ll forgive me. “This Far-Right Tweet About ‘The Future That Liberals Want’ Backfired Into A Huge Meme”. A lot of tweets have been gathered in this post – here are three examples, the tweet that started everything, one of the pushback, and a third from the bizarre spinoffs.

(Buzzfeed says the photo was originally posted on @subwaycreatures, where it was used to “showcase the beauty of New York’s diversity.”)

Finally:

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, Cat Eldridge, JJ, and Mark-kitteh for some of these stories. Title inspiration credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Lis Carey.]

Pixel Scroll 1/19/16 That Wretched Hive of Scrolls and Pixelry

(1) LE GUIN’S PROTEST. Ursula K. Le Guin’s letter to the editor in The Oregonian concisely explains the injustice of allowing Ammon Bundy and company to continue occupying a federal wildlife refuge.

Federal land: The Oregonian’s A1 headline on Sunday, Jan. 17, “Effort to free federal lands,” is inaccurate and irresponsible. The article that follows it is a mere mouthpiece for the scofflaws illegally occupying public buildings and land, repeating their lies and distortions of history and law.

Ammon Bundy and his bullyboys aren’t trying to free federal lands, but to hold them hostage. I can’t go to the Malheur refuge now, though as a citizen of the United States, I own it and have the freedom of it. That’s what public land is: land that belongs to the public — me, you, every law-abiding American. The people it doesn’t belong to and who don’t belong there are those who grabbed it by force of arms, flaunting their contempt for the local citizens.

Those citizens of Harney County have carefully hammered out agreements to manage the refuge in the best interest of landowners, scientists, visitors, tourists, livestock and wildlife. They’re suffering more every day, economically and otherwise, from this invasion by outsiders.

Instead of parroting the meaningless rants of a flock of Right-Winged Loonybirds infesting the refuge, why doesn’t The Oregonian talk to the people who live there?

Ursula K. Le Guin

Northwest Portland

Think Progress has a story about the letter with more comments by Le Guin.

Le Guin told ThinkProgress that the letter was printed unchanged, and she “got a pleasant note informing me it was to be published,” but nothing more from the paper or the author. A request for comment to the Oregonian’s public editor went unanswered as of publication.

The science fiction author is not alone in wanting the ranchers to return Malhuer to the public. Most Western voters, according to a recent poll, disagree with Bundy and do not want the states to take over public lands.

“We have been going out to the Steens Mountain area, on and near the Wildlife Refuge, for 45 years — first to teach summer classes at the field station, later just to be there in the grand high desert country,” she said. “We spend a week every summer on a cattle ranch very close to Refuge lands. I am proud to consider the family who own the ranch and the local hotel as friends, and I have learned a great deal from them. The Refuge Headquarters is a quiet, fragile, beautiful little oasis that is particularly dear to us.”

(2) WHAT IF BOOK FESTIVALS PAY WRITERS? Claire Armitstead’s opinion piece in the Guardian argues the burden of paying writers to attend book festivals would have unintended side-effects: “Book festivals are worth far more than fees”.

Philip Pullman became cheerleader for a growing band of refuseniks last week when he resigned as president of the Oxford literary festival because it didn’t pay speakers. Thirty more writers immediately picked up the chant, with a letter to the trade journal the Bookseller calling for all authors and publishers to boycott festivals that expected writers to appear for free.

…Edinburgh is one of the biggest festivals and an honourable exception to the no-pay rule, offering the same flat rate to all its contributors. But it’s not unusual to hear writers grumbling that this is tokenism, and no recompense for the hours (and expense) of travelling. So what is a reasonable return? Should it be calibrated to audience size, or offset against book sales? Or should it be a flat rate – only bigger than it currently is?

There are now more than 350 literary festivals in the UK, which adds up to a whole heap of calls on writers’ time and energy – and one argument is that if they can’t afford to pay contributors they should simply shut down. But small festivals do more than simply put writers on stage; they support local bookshops and create a buzz around books. They circulate flyers publicising authors and their work. They are part of the great reading group boom that has bolstered book sales by turning reading into a social activity.

…So while I have every sympathy for hard-pressed authors, I feel they need to be careful what they wish for. The logic of the marketplace – in book festivals as in every other arena – is that, were fees to become obligatory, the haves will end up having more, while the have-nots will find themselves banished to outer darkness. It would mean the end of a golden era of access to books and the people who write them. And that would be impoverishing for all of us.

(3) OXFORD MAY PAY WRITERS. Philip Pullman and other protesting writers have made the Oxford Literary Festival consider paying authors.

In a statement issued on Tuesday morning, the Oxford literary festival said that it “recognises and understands the strength of feeling in the literary community regarding the payment of speaker fees to authors and writers and we are sympathetic to this cause”.

But, adding that it is a registered charity that receives no public funding, with no full-time staff, supported by a team of 40 unpaid volunteers, the festival said that “for every £12 ticket sold, a further £20 in support has to be raised from our generous sponsors, partners and donors in subsidy”. The festival’s current supporters include FT Weekend and HSBC.

“We have of course been aware of the debate regarding author payments for some time, but given the limitations of the tight budgets we run to (the festival’s last audited accounts show a loss of £18,000 in 2014) paying each speaker would require an additional 15% in costs or £75,000 for the 500 speakers across our 250 events planned for 2016,” said the festival.

Once this year’s event in April is over, organisers have nonetheless said that they “will meet with all interested parties to discuss how to achieve payment of fees for all speakers – while safeguarding the presence of our record levels of unknown writers for 2017 and beyond”.

(4) ONE LORD A’LEAPING. Middle-Earth political science student Austin Gilkeson lectures on “The Illegitimacy of Aragorn’s Claim to the Throne” at The Toast. (Traffic to the post is hyped by the GIF of a flaming Denethor hurling himself from the promontory of Minas Tirith.)

After the War of the Ring and Denethor’s death, Gondor did embrace Aragorn as its new king, partially because he’d arrived at the head of an army of the Dead. But while “commands a terrifying ghost army” is a fantastic qualification for fronting a Norwegian black metal band or a community Halloween parade, it’s less than ideal for ruling a vast and diverse country of the living.

Even worse, Aragorn’s supposed suitability to rule is directly tied to his pure Númenorean blood….

Given that the Númenoreans ruined their civilization to the point that it was personally destroyed by God Himself, the Gondorrim probably shouldn’t have been so quick to crown a long-lived, pure-blooded Númenorean like Aragorn. They’d probably have been better off elevating Pippin Took to the throne. Hobbits at least dally with the good things in life: hearty food, heady ales, fireworks, and weed.

(5) EVERYMAN HIS OWN NUMENOREAN. Stephen Hawking issued another warning that humanity may wipe itself out in years to come.

Cheery physicist Professor Stephen Hawking says that mankind could be wiped out by our own creations within the next 100 years.

Answering audience questions at this year’s BBC Reith Lectures, he said that our rush to understand and improve life through science and technology could be humanity’s undoing.

He has previously suggested that colonising other planets will be the only way that the human race can survive, but he warns that we may lose Earth to some kind of major disaster before we have a chance to properly do so.

“Although the chance of a disaster to planet Earth in a given year may be quite low,” he explained, “it adds up over time, and becomes a near certainty in the next thousand or ten thousand years.

(6) SFWA KICKS IN. Science Fiction Writers of America has begun donating to some non-members’ crowdfunded self-publishing efforts.

Beginning in January, SFWA will be making small, targeted pledges to worthy Kickstarter projects projects by non-members, designating them a “SFWA Star Project.” Projects will be selected by the Self Publishing Committee, coordinated by volunteer Rob Balder. Selections will be based on the project’s resonance with SFWA’s exempt purposes, and special preference will be given to book-publishing projects in the appropriate genres.

Funds for these pledges will come from the SFWA Givers Fund, from a $1000 pool approved by the Grants Committee in December. When a pledge results in receiving a donor reward such as a signed book, these items will be auctioned off at fundraising events, to help replenish the Givers Fund.

The first two Star Projects are:

SFWA President Cat Rambo also blogged about the initiative.

Over the past few years, I’ve been helping with the effort to open SFWA doors to professional writers publishing outside the traditional structure, to the point where we are the only writers organization (I believe) to accept crowdfunded publications as membership qualifying material. The Star Project effort ties in nicely with that and it’s gratifying to see SFWA continue to expand to match the changing needs of professional F&SF writers.

(7) BETTER THAN THE FILM. Rachael Acks has a completely entertaining and THOROUGHLY SPOILERY review of SyFy’s theatrical release 400 Days. You’ve been warned. And it’s safe to read the first paragraph, where nothing is given away  –

400 Days is the first theatrical release film from a company (SyFy) that’s been cranking mediocre to howlingly (we hope intentionally) funny terribad movies out onto its cable station for years. Getting in to movie theaters is a big deal, a major investment, but doesn’t necessarily guarantee a movie’s actually good, right? Let me tell you, I’d rather watch a SyFy offering any day than Transformers 4. But is this Syfy going legit, so to speak?

(8) RSR INDEXES ARTISTS. Rocket Stack Rank has now added exhibit and viewing tools for a wide number of creators eligible in the Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist categories. Gregory N. Hullender says, “The value we’ve added here is that we’ve gathered together hundreds of online images and set up a lightbox so people can riffle through them quickly.”

The drawback to the Best Fan Artist exhibit is that it features only semiprozine cover contributors at the site, and a link to eFanzines’ cover index where one can see some artwork in fanzines produced as PDFs. I will be the first to agree there are technical barriers and questions about permissions in the way of indexing art from PDFs (in contrast to semiprozine covers which are already available online) – however, RSR needs to figure out how to present fan art on a level playing field.

(9) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • January 19, 1990 — Natives of a small isolated town defend themselves against strange underground creatures in Tremors, seen for the first time on this day in 1990.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • Born January 19, 1809 – Edgar Allan Poe

(11) CONRUNNERS COULD USE MORE FANS LIKE THIS. Icelandic strongman Hafthor Bjornsson, known for his role as “The Mountain” on HBO’s Game of Thrones set a Guiness World Record for being the fastest person to carry two refrigerators 65 feet.

(12) CLEVELAND THANKS THE FANS. In response to a club’s charitable work, “Cleveland celebrates Star Trek’s roots with thank you to The Federation”.

Cleveland City Councilman Martin Keane will present a resolution of appreciation at 7 p.m. PJ McIntyre’s, on Lorain Avenue in Kamm’s Corners, is hosting a celebration from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

According to the resolution, the 60-member Cleveland chapter, named the USS Challenger — named to honor the crew of the ill-fated space shuttle Challenger — has raised $15,000 for local charities, and has conducted annual drives for food for local food banks; supplies for local animal shelters; Toys for Tots campaigns and supported March for Babies, Heartwalk and Laura’s Home.

Given that the reporter pointed to another Cleveland/Star Trek connection — did you know Majel Barrett was a native of suburban Shaker Heights? — it’s a pity no one told her that Roddenberry previewed the show for fans at the 1966 Worldcon in Cleveland.

(13) LOVECRAFT LETTERS. Heritage Auctions will take bids on a parcel of 10 handwritten letters by H. P. Lovecraft at its Rare Books Auction #6155 on April 6. The letters to aspiring author Frederic Jay Pabody are full of writing and publishing advice.

Lovecraft recounts recent visits with his “literary friends” R.H. Barlow and Adolphe de Castro, the suicide of Robert E. Howard, other “weird” fiction authors, the nature of good marriages and bad marriages, religion (or the lack thereof), Atlantis, some splendid passages about the nature of “seriously artistic” weird fiction, and his repeated inveterate hatred of typewriters.

One highlight from the letters includes a hand drawn map or, as Lovecraft calls it, a “rough Mercator’s Projection chart” of Kusha, a land associated with the myth of Atlantis.

Another letter, displaying Lovecraft’s somewhat morbid sense of humor, describes his short story “The Haunter in the Dark”, in which he kills off a character based on his friend and fellow writer Robert Bloch, as “a kind of revenge.”

In both ‘The Dark Demon’ and ‘The Shambler from the Stars’ Bloch has a figure modelled more or less after me come to a hideous end. Well- I’ve survived other fictional deaths – Long having left me as a charred cinder on the floor of my apartment over a decade ago in “The Space-Eaters.” In a recent unpublished mss. Kuttner kills off Bloch, himself, + myself under thin disguises… slaughter de-luxe! I am decapitated – but my head is later found with its teeth buried in his carotid artery. Nice, wholesome ideas the boys have!” (December 20, 1936).

(14) BUGS. Kudos to Black Gate’s John ONeill for turning today’s entomological headline into a beautiful genre blog post – “I Don’t Mean to Alarm Anyone, But We’ve Discovered Giant Insects on Monster Island”.

(15) PEOPLE OF EARTH. TBS has given a series order to People of Earth, a comedy starring Daily Show alum Wyatt Cenac as a skeptical journalist investigating a support group for alleged alien abductees.

In the series, from Conan O’Brien and Greg Daniels (The Office) and formerly known as The Group, Cenac’s Ozzie Graham slowly becomes sympathetic to the survivors’ stories and eventually comes to suspect that maybe he is an abductee, as well.

The cast includes Ana Gasteyer (Suburgatory), Oscar Nuñez (The Office), Michael Cassidy (Men at Work), Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Selfie), Brian Huskey (Veep) and Tracee Chimo (Orange Is the New Black).

 

[Thanks to Will R., Brian Z, Cat Rambo, Jim Reynolds, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Kurt Busiek.]

Pixel Scroll 1/14/16 I’m Not A Pixel, I’m A Free Scroll

(1) SPEAKING OF FREE SCROLLS. R. Graeme Cameron will start a “SciFi Fiction Magazine” for Canadian writers if his GoFundMe appeal generates $1,500. Issues will be a free read.

When I was a teenager I decided I wanted to be a Science Fiction Writer. Fifty years later I’m a curmudgeonly pensioner who never sold a darn thing, not one novel, not one story. Del Rey books rejected one of my novels with the comment “We don’t like your main character and we don’t think anyone else will either.”

As a life-long beginning writer I know your pain. Always dreaming of that first sale. That’s why I’m starting up POLAR BOREAL, a Canadian SF&F fiction magazine actively encouraging beginning Canadian writers to submit short stories (3,000 words or less) and/or poems. The magazine will be free to anyone who wants to download it, yet all contributors will be paid on acceptance (if I can get the money) at one cent a word for short stories and $10 per poem.

(2) THE CLASSICS. Alexander Dane makes it sound like every day is Black Friday…

(3) NOT EGGSACTLY SURE. TV Guide promises “The 15 Coolest Easter Eggs from Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. SPOILER WARNING, naturally, but my question is – how many of these are really Easter Eggs as opposed to simple casting reveals? Do I not understand what an Easter Egg is? Straighten me out here….

(4) WILD GUESS. Umm, maybe look at the MidAmeriCon II committee list and use the contact information?

(5) HOW AUTHORS DON’T GET PAID. Philip Pullman has resigned as Patron of the Oxford Literary Festival the organization has announced. The reason is very simple.

Our President, Philip Pullman, has resigned as a Patron of Oxford Literary Festival because they do not pay authors.

He explained his decision:

My position as President of the Society of Authors, which has been campaigning for fair payment for speakers at literary festivals, sat rather awkwardly with my position as Patron of the Oxford Literary Festival, because (despite urging from me and others over the years) it does not pay speakers. So I thought it was time I resigned as a Patron of the OLF.

The principle is very simple: a festival pays the people who supply the marquees, it pays the printers who print the brochure, it pays the rent for the lecture-halls and other places, it pays the people who run the administration and the publicity, it pays for the electricity it uses, it pays for the drinks and dinners it lays on: why is it that the authors, the very people at the centre of the whole thing, the only reason customers come along and buy their tickets in the first place, are the only ones who are expected to work for nothing?

(6) I SEE BY YOUR OUTFIT. Y-3 creates spacesuits for Virgin Galactic pilots on world’s first commercial space flights

(7) BUGS, MISTER RICO! The newly-christened “Las Vegas of ants” is visible on Google Earth.

Not far from the Grand Canyon, near a landmark called Vulcan’s Throne, the ground is dotted with strange, barren circles, visible from orbit.

Evidence of an alien encounter? Nope. The likely culprit is actually ants — a lot of them. So many that the scientists who discovered them are referring to the area as “the Las Vegas of ants.”

Physicist Amelia Carolina Sparavigna, a specialist in image processing and satellite imagery analysis at the Polytechnic University of Turin in Italy, noticed the bizarre polka- dot features while studying the dimensions of the Grand Canyon rim in Google Earth.

(8) VOX DAY COLLECTIBLES. Vox Day devoted a post to Camestros Felapton’s “Hugo”/Lego “Sad Larry” trading card.

While they, apparently, are occupied with making Lego figures of us. It seems that is what they do when they are not obsessing over what they think we are thinking. Even in light of how poorly they anticipated me last time, it’s mildly amusing to see that they still don’t understand my perspective at all.

The Dread Ilk commenters, however, were more concerned that Vox get a “Hugo” trading card of his own, so Felapton reassured them in “Vox links to the Larry pic”

Vox appeared in an earlier post and has a new figure in a couple of days – with a flaming sword no less!

So it looks like we won’t get to riff off Lucy’s “Was Beethoven ever on a bubblegum card?” after all.

(9) GRABTHAR’S HAMMER OF LOVING CORRECTION. Steve Davidson’s self-imposed moratorium on writing about Sad Puppies at Amazing Stories has ended in the only way it could. Here are a few salient paragraphs.

In moving forward, I believe it is important that the message sent last year be reinforced this year. We’ve already seen at least one author declaring that begging for votes is no longer a problem.  If we do not want that mindset to take hold, we will continue to repudiate slate voting this year.

Fans who discover a loophole in the voting rules don’t seek personal advantage – they bring it to the attention of other fans and make proposals at the business meeting and generally use their new found knowledge for the benefit of the whole.  (Or, if unhappy with the process, they go off and do their own thing, which is then rewarded or ignored based on the merit of the accomplishment, not a tally of internet one upsmanship points.)  Hugo voting actions this year should send that message.  Therefore –

I will be nominating and voting for the Hugo Awards this year in the same way I voted last year:  I’ll read and watch and listen to everything I can on the final ballot, will vote my conscience and will make sure that any work that appears on a slate (a voting list with a political agenda behind it) will be below No Award and off the ballot.

(10) RATINGS TIME. Gregory N. Hullender of Rocket Stack Rank says:

We analyzed all the RSR data to come up with a list for Best Editor (short form) Hugo nominations.

We construct several different lists, using different assumptions, and urge fans to use our data to make their own lists, so I don’t think this amounts to a slate.

This should be fun reading for anyone who’s really into short fiction, since I don’t believe anyone has ever done this kind of analysis before.

If anyone feels to the contrary — there are any slate-like tendencies in play here — please share your analysis.

(11) WE ALL DREAM IN GOLD. Since we always try to cover Guillermo del Toro’s doings on File 770 whenever we can, John King Tarpinian was disgustipated (I think that’s the technical term) that I overlooked this golden opportunity in my post about the 2016 Oscar nominations.

Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Guillermo del Toro, John Krasinski and Ang Lee will announce the 88th Academy Awards® nominations in all 24 Oscar® categories at a special two-part live news conference on Thursday…

(12) SHRUNKEN HEADS. Cass R. Sunstein at Bloomberg News breaks down “How Facebook Makes Us Dumber”.

Why does misinformation spread so quickly on the social media? Why doesn’t it get corrected? When the truth is so easy to find, why do people accept falsehoods?

A new study focusing on Facebook users provides strong evidence that the explanation is confirmation bias: people’s tendency to seek out information that confirms their beliefs, and to ignore contrary information.

I thought so. Or is it just confirmation bias at work if I agree that Facebook lowers my IQ?

(13) FOREVER DIFFERENT. Tobias Carroll checked with “28 Authors on the Books That Changed Their Lives”. The New York Magazine article has contributions from SF authors Elizabeth Hand, Ken Liu, Cathrynne M. Valente, Kelly Link, Jeff VanderMeer, and Jo Walton, among others.

Maria Dahvana Headley, author of Magonia and The Year of Yes “This question is both easy and difficult! I grew up a very rural and very gluttonous reader, in Idaho, about ten miles outside a town of 500 people. Essentially, I spent my reading childhood playing with other people’s imaginary friends, and I’ve grown into the kind of writer who does the same thing. So, in that regard, everything I’ve ever read has been life-changing. The first massive Rock My World book, though, was Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which I read when I was 17. Not only was I clueless about race in America at that point, coming from where I came from, I was also clueless about living female genius writers. I didn’t know there were any. Up to that point, I’d read almost entirely white men. KA-BAM. I got blasted out of the universe of dead white boys, and into something much more magnificent. Morrison’s way of flawlessly entwining her haunting with her history left me dazzled, sobbing, and bewildered. Morrison is obviously a genre-leaping master of style, and reading her not only made me aware of what was possible as a writer, it led me to all of the poets, songwriters, playwrights, and librettists who continue to influence my work today.”

(14) BOWIE AND SF. Jason Heller’s Pitchfork article “Anthems for the Moon: David Bowie’s Sci-Fi Explorations” is one more list of SF parallels and influences on Bowie’s work. Moorcock, Heinlein, Bradbury, Dick, Burgess, and others are mentioned.

In its celebration of androgyny, glam also lined up with Ursula K. Le Guin’s visionary 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness, which takes place on an alien planet where transitions between genders are as routine as any other biological process—a concept that certainly resonates with Bowie’s aesthetic. “Androgynous sexuality and extraterrestrial origin seemed to have provided two different points of identification for Bowie fans,” notes Philip Auslander in Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music. “Whereas some were taken with his womanliness, others were struck by his spaciness.”

(15) MARS MUSIC I. Matthew Johnson adds another number to that award-winning musical, The Martian.

(With apologies to David Bowie)

Hello, I feel I have to remind
You that you kind of left me behind
Is there life on Mars?

 

Four years alone could be a slog
I guess I ought to keep a log
Is there life on Mars?

 

On Mars a man dies by his wits
He even has to science his shit
Is there life on Mars?

 

The greatest scientist on the planet
I can plant it and grow it and can it
Is there life on Mars?

 

Disco hell is kind of groovy
Matt Damon plays me in the movie
Is there life on Mars?

 

Four years is a long time to be alone
There might be a new Game of Thrones when I’m done
Is there life on Mars?

(16) MARS MUSIC II. And Seth Gordon likewise swings and sways to a melody in his head

As I walk through the valley with the sand so red
I take a look at my suit and realize that I’m not dead
’Cause I’ve been science-ing this shit for so long that
Even Houston thinks that my ass is gone…

[Thanks to Bret Grandrath, Rob Thornton, John King Tarpinian, Will R., and Nick Mamatas for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Hampus Eckerman.]

Pixel Scroll 11/5 The Scrolls of His Face, The Pixels of His Mouth

Leia SW poster

(1) Star Wars: The Force Awakens character posters are out.

(2) The WTF Bad Science Fiction Covers took a detour to Canadian sci-fi and comics.

Batman and Robin fail to prevent yet another Mountie murder due to their fondness for midnight, off-piste jaunts.

(3) Speaking of the Dynamic Duo, Batmobile designer George Barris passed away this morning at the age of 89.

In the ’60s TV show “Batman,” the Batmobile was powered by atomic batteries, equipped with a radar scope and “bat beam,” and slowed by parachutes. The latter really worked — Barris was once pulled over on the Hollywood Freeway for using them.

For many years, Barris’ handiwork was all over the television screen. He created the Munsters Koach — a combination of three Ford Model T’s — for “The Munsters”; the surfboard-topped, flower-decaled Barris Boogaloo for “The Bugaloos”; and the convertible version of KITT from “Knight Rider,” among many.

(4) Kalimac researches a Worldcon tradition.

The San Jose Worldcon bid wants to crowdsource suggestions for Guests of Honor. It says that among “the traditional criteria for Worldcon Guest of Honor consideration” is “an established career, usually considered to be 30 years from entry into the field.”

And I wondered, how long has it been 30 years? In the early days, the SF field hadn’t been around very long, and because it was small, new names could easily make a big impact. I remembered that Robert Heinlein was GoH at the third Worldcon in 1941, only two years after he sold his first story. That would be highly unlikely to happen today, even for another Heinlein.

So I made a list of all the professional fiction writers who’ve been Worldcon GoH over the years. Just the authors, because the SF Encyclopedia is conscientious about listing first published stories, but it’s not so rigorous with the entry dates of artists or other categories of pros. Making a quick chart, I found that less than 30 years was the rule up until about 1970, and, that among authors, only Hugo Gernsback (1952, 41 years since his first published SF story, but he was really honored as an editor, and it was only 26 years since he’d founded Amazing), Murray Leinster (1963, 44 years), and Edmond Hamilton (1964, 38 years) exceeded it, though a few others came close.

Since 1970, under-30s have been less common, though for many years they still occurred frequently (Zelazny, 1974, 12 years; Le Guin, 1975, 13 years; Ellison, 1978, 22 years; Haldeman, 1990, 21 years; and some others). But since 2001, there have only been two authors with less than 25 years: Bujold in 2008 (23 years), and 2017’s Nalo Hopkinson (who will be 21 years at that point).

(4) Amy Sterling Casil’s engaging and substantial new post for Medium has a satirical title, but here’s what it’s really about —

This article is about 3 fantastic women artists whose work was sold or misidentified as painted by a man. This is only connected to Tim Burton in the sense his film Big Eyes about Margaret Keane (Medium readers may know the film as featuring Bond villain Christoph Waltz) introduced me to the concept that rather than my personal problem, I might just be one of the more recent members of a long line of women whose creative work had been literally misappropriated by men. As in “sold for profit under male names” like Frank Keane did to “Big Eyes” artist Margaret Keane until she fought back in court and won.

(5) Like anyone, Joe Vasicek sometimes bounces off books, and not necessarily the ones you’d predict (Brandon Sanderson!).

He discussed several examples in a post on One Thousand and One Parsecs“Books I haven’t been able to finish”.

The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman

On this I have to plead guilty of letting my own personal sentiments get in the way of enjoying the story. I read The Golden Compass and LOVED it… right up to the last five pages. I HATED the ending of that book—SO dissatisfying, as if the author had stuck out his tongue at me and said “neener neener neener! I’m not going to give you the ending you want—better read the next book!”

UGH. I hate that.

So I came at this book a little prejudiced. I read the first page with a judgmental eye, thinking “nope, no hook on the first page. Oh, and there’s an unnecessary adverb, and there’s a said bookism, and there’s a…” etc.

Still, I didn’t let that stop me from reading on, and after the first chapter, I was interested in the story. I just wasn’t… I don’t know, interested enough. The book stayed in my car, I got busy with other things, and eventually just dropped it.

(6) More people don’t bounce off Philip Pullman, whose epic fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials is going to be produced as a drama series for BBC One.

To be made in Wales, the series, which will be told across “many episodes and series” has been commissioned by Charlotte Moore, controller BBC One and Polly Hill, controller BBC Drama Commissioning, and will be produced by Bad Wolf and New Line Cinema.

Hill said: “It is an honour to be bringing Philip Pullman’s extraordinary novels to BBC One. His Dark Materials is a stunning trilogy, and a drama event for young and old – a real family treat, that shows our commitment to original and ambitious storytelling.”

His Dark Materials consists of the Northern Lights, first published in 1995, which introduces Lyra, an orphan, who lives in a parallel universe in which science, theology and magic are entwined. Lyra’s search for a kidnapped friend uncovers a sinister plot involving stolen children and turns into a quest to understand a mysterious phenomenon called Dust. In  second novel, The Subtle Knife, she is joined on her journey by Will, a boy who possesses a knife that can cut windows between worlds. As Lyra learns the truth about her parents and her prophesied destiny, the two young people are caught up in a war against celestial powers that ranges across many worlds and leads to a thrilling conclusion in the third novel, The Amber Spyglass.

(7) Mark Lawrence answers the question “Do author blogs matter? One million hits”

Very soon this blog of mine will pass 1,000,000 hits – it has 994,396 at the time of posting and averages around 1,400 hits a day.

I blog when I feel like it and generally don’t feel under pressure to come up with something to ‘fill the space’.

The high traffic author blogs tend to be political, championing the causes beloved of the more extreme left or right. I don’t go there. I’m more about curiosities of the genre, the business of writing, info graphics, and random shit.

I do get a lot of authors asking me whether blogging is ‘worth it’. Mostly they’re people who don’t want to blog, find it a chore to come up with regular posts, but worry that they’re somehow letting themselves down if they don’t – missing out on book sales that would otherwise be theirs.

So, is blogging ‘worth it’?

I tend to tell the authors who ask me this question that they can probably relax. If they enjoy blogging, go for it. It might help a little. But if they don’t enjoy it, just don’t. My feeling is that the difference between bestseller and getting pulped isn’t ever going to swing on whether you blogged.

(8) Kate Paulk ostentatiously pays no attention to Ancillary Felapton’s “An open letter to Kate Paulk” in “That Moment When” at Mad Genius Club.

Seriously, folks, when the best you can manage in so-called critique is to claim that something I wrote was poorly written (without evidence of my alleged poor writing – which means it’s probably a case of either “oooh, my feelz” or “I don’t get it, it must be horrible”) and then go on to repeat every single tactic I dissected with hardly any variations, you’re doing it wrong. You’re also kind of amusing, in a train-wreck kind of way.

I’m not going to bother dissecting this rather shallow bit of hurt feelings – I’d spend more time on it than it deserves and hand the so-called author more page views and it really isn’t worth that (yes, it. Since this particular author is using a handle that’s not obviously male or female, and is clearly so far in the non-binary-gender camp it’s through the other side or something, I can’t default to “he” or “she”. I’m writing in English, which leaves “it” as the sole option for the non-binary-gender sort.)

(9) Brad R. Torgersen wonders, could this be “The Year Without Politics?”

My Facebook friends have also noticed that I am dialed up extra-cranky about the cultural Chekist infestation that’s plaguing social media right now. I was prepared to launch into a lengthy tirade about the whole schizophrenic mess, but (irony of ironies) Bill Maher did it for me!

Now, nobody can accuse me of fondness for Maher; he’s far too much of a raging anti-theist. But I think he nailed it right between the eyes with his Halloween 2015 commentary. It really says something when a chap like Maher is going off on the Politically Correct. His point at the end is especially apt. It’s something I’ve been saying for awhile now: the cheap “virtue” of internet slacktivism, is no virtue at all. It’s just self-righteous no-effort self-huggies for people who don’t want to break a sweat, nor get their hands dirty. You want to make the world better? Get off the damned internet and go do something that takes work. Otherwise, you’re not helping anyone, or anything.

Which takes me to Sad Puppies — or, rather, the people who fought against Sad Puppies with every fiber of their being. Because when the Hugo awards went off-script, it was literally a catastrophe so terrible and great that the Puppy-kickers pulled out all the stops to challenge Lord Vox in the Ritual of Desecration.

(10) Kermit is in trouble with more than just Miss Piggy –  “’The Muppets’ Showrunner Exits ABC Series”.

Bob Kushell is exiting ABC’s “The Muppets” as showrunner, TheWrap has learned.

Kushell’s exit comes amid reports that the executive producer clashed with co-creator Bill Prady on the creative direction of the series. No official replacement showrunner has yet been named.

The news comes after the network gave the freshman comedy an additional three episode order last week, bringing the total number of episodes for the first season to 16. The show’s most recent outing scored a 1.4 rating among adults 18-49 and an average of 4.5 million viewers during its half-hour run.

(11) This Week In History

(12) In NASA news, “Researchers Catch Comet Lovejoy Giving Away Alcohol”.

Comet Lovejoy lived up to its name by releasing large amounts of alcohol as well as a type of sugar into space, according to new observations by an international team. The discovery marks the first time ethyl alcohol, the same type in alcoholic beverages, has been observed in a comet. The finding adds to the evidence that comets could have been a source of the complex organic molecules necessary for the emergence of life.

Poul Anderson would have enjoyed this discovery – and perhaps used it as an excuse for a sequel to his short story “A Bicycle Built For Brew”.

(13) Alastair Reynolds reviews ”Asimov’s April/May 2015 double issue” on Approaching Pavonis Mons by balloon.

Unfortunately – for me, anyway – the lead story in this issue, “The New Mother” by Eugene Fischer, was one of those pieces I couldn’t finish. I did try. It’s an extremely lengthy account of the emergence of a strange new sexually transmitted pandemic that gives rise to diploid eggs, allowing for “virgin” births. It’s competently told – there’s nothing clumsy about it on a line by line or even page by page level – but the net result is, to my eyes, dull, diagrammatic storytelling, propped up by lengthy infodumps in the form of article excerpts. If you’ve ever wondered how the American medical system would respond to the kind of pandemic outlined in the story, it’s probably accurate enough in its imagined details, but despite two goes I couldn’t get more than a few dozen pages into it. I wasn’t engaged by the journalist protagonist, her situation, her travels, the dull-but-credible dialogue. The stuff I want from short science fiction – colour, pace, weirdness, estrangement, invention, language, mood … it’s all absent here. Sorry.

(14) Lis Carey’s review of “The New Mother” was rather more enthusiastic, though she also identifies a serious flaw (not quoted here).

I was totally caught up in it. This is in many ways a very American story, with the issues surrounding HCP  very tied up with American culture wars issues. That’s not a weakness, but it is a reason this story may be less accessible to non-Americans.

(15) Today In History

  • November 5, 1605 – Guy Fawkes is caught guarding a cache of explosives beneath the House of Lords, foiling the Gunpowder Plot. The date is set aside by Parliament for thanksgiving. Guy Fawkes Day comes to be celebrated with bonfires and fireworks. (The photo comes from an old issue of Tops.)

Tops 2

(16) Tammy Oler’s review of Ancillary Mercy at Slate, “Oh, the humanity”. SPOILER WARNING.

Central to Leckie’s trilogy is how important it is to feel a sense of control over one’s identity and how being recognized is a precondition for having power. These themes are not exclusive to one particular time or place, of course, but Leckie taps acutely into the feelings (and fears) that drive current American politics and movements for change. One of the chief pleasures of the trilogy is just how many wrongs Breq tries to make right and how committed she is to making incremental progress even when problems become fraught and complicated. Breq’s actions are underscored by her profound grief, anger, and shame that give way, even if just a little bit, to the solace and hope she finds in her crew and her makeshift family of A.I.s. The end of Ancillary Mercy is satisfying because it is so very un-Radchaai: diverse, messy, and honest. “In the end,” Breq realizes, “it’s only ever been one step, and then the next.”

(17) Famous Monsters’ Caroline Stephenson reviews Tamashii Nations’ samurai-inspired Ashigaru Stormtrooper.

(18) Today’s Scroll closes with this 30 for 30-style documentary remembering the magical season chronicled by Angels in the Outfield….

No one will ever forget the incredible run the 1994 California Angels made on the back of Mel Clark. It was a team in disarray, managed by former cop Roger Murtagh, beloved by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and starring Rust Cohle in centerfield. Despite the early season disaster, somehow, the team turned things around and went on to win the pennant.

ESPN’s 30 for 30 didn’t remember this improbable run in baseball history, probably because it’s from a movie, but College Humor did. The result is a five-minute mockumentary of pure perfection.

 

[Thanks to Michael J. Walsh, Will R., Hampus Eckerman, Susan de Guardiola, John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day ULTRAGOTHA.]

Saving School Libraries

School libraries are down for the count. One well-publicized example in Britain has attracted celebrity attention:

Philip Pullman, the bestselling author, has warned a school that it will become a ‘byword for philistinism and ignorance’ if it goes ahead with the closure of its library.

The comprehensive in Chesterfield has become the focus of an authors’ campaign since it announced that its librarian will be surplus to requirements after Christmas, when the school is to become a ‘virtual learning environment’. Pupils will be encouraged to read at break times and at after-school clubs, but its traditional library will go.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the link.]