Pixel Scroll 5/14/18 They Took Some Pixels, And Plenty Of Scrolls, Wrapped Up In A Five Pound Note

(1) SUDDENLY THERE CAME A TAPPING. Seattle Times headline: “Ripples in space-time or 3-pound bird? Ravens at Hanford foul test of Einstein’s theory”. Ravens are interfering with measurements at LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) which helped find the first confirmed gravitational waves.

For the LIGO observatory on Washington’s Hanford site, noise is a real buzz killer.

Any earthly sound — a truck rumbling past, the humming of a refrigerator in a nearby building, or the distant flutter of a plane’s propellers — can drown out the faint whispers from the cosmos that the Nobel Prize-winning project was designed to detect.

So when strange blips in the data started cropping up on summer afternoons, researchers were anxious to find the source and eliminate it.

“Any other noise makes it harder to hear the thing you’re listening for,” said University of Oregon physicist Robert Schofield, whose job is to ferret out racket from the environment and reduce its impact on some of the most sensitive instruments ever built.

…The glitches at Hanford corresponded to sounds recorded by a microphone installed by Schofield and his colleagues as part of their endless quest to detect and stamp out noise.

…It didn’t take long for Schofield to identify the prime suspect once he listened to the recordings. “It sounded like pecks to me,” he said. “I immediately thought it must be ravens.”

(2) DOCTOR NEW. What she told Radio Times: “Jodie Whittaker on filming Doctor Who: ‘I smile every single morning going to work’”.

“It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before, it’s absolutely incredible,” she said. “I must smile every single morning knowing I’m going to work to do it, I’m very lucky – it’s brilliant.”

We’re still in the dark as to what form the new series will take following Chris Chibnall taking over from Steven Moffat as showrunner, but the star assures us that it’s likely to be even bigger and bolder than what has come before it. Whittaker and Walsh will also be joined by new stars Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill. The ten-episode series is expected to air this autumn on the BBC.

“It feels incredibly epic,” Whittaker said. “The ambition is wonderful, and something we’re fighting every day to have the energy to back it up with.”

(3) FUTURE IS ON THE WAY. Alex Shvartsman will launch a new sf magazine tomorrow: “Announcing Future Science Fiction Digest”. It will be free to read online.

This bit of news has been six months in the making, but I can finally announce that I will be editing a science fiction magazine, to be published in collaboration by UFO Publishing and the Future Affairs Administration. The magazine will focus on various science fiction sub-genres (hard SF, space opera, cli-fi) but will not include fantasy or horror. There will be a strong focus on international fiction. I’ll be looking to fill about half of each issue with translations and stories written by authors from non-anglophone countries.

Although the magazine will feature original (to anglophone readers, anyway) fiction, I’ve put together a sample “issue zero,” to be released in time for the Nebulas and the Asia Pacific SF Con organized by the FAA. This issue features all-reprint stories with different takes/visions of the future, which also happen to be representative of the sort of material I hope to acquire and publish in the future.

The magazine’s website goes live Tuesday, May 15 at www.future-sf.com.

(4) MEET HENRY LIEN. Juliette Wade hosted a video hangout with Henry Lien about his new fantasy novel: “Henry Lien and Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword. You can read a summary on her blog, and/or watch the conversation on YouTube. (I was excited to hear more about his writing, having already become a fan through his composition “Radio SFWA.”)

…Henry explained that he loves rules. School is an environment girdled all around with rules to keep people from misbehaving, so it’s a setting he loves to work in. Students at the wu liu school are not allowed to do any moves outside of class, or they will forfeit their next examination. This is a key element of the plot of Peasprout Chen.

In particular, he says he wanted a fantasy world with no magic. George R. R. Martin consulted with him on aspects of it. Everything is grounded in real world experience, including the constant threat of injury that has grave consequences for the students. Even a bad wrist can knock you out. Henry himself got injured at one point during his training because he had become frustrated when another student did a kick the first time. Henry tried the same jump and tore his hamstring; he said it looked like someone had cut him.

Danger creates good stories. Ambition is a characteristic required by the sport.

Henry quoted a line from Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell: “Don’t talk to me about magic. It’s like everything else: full of setbacks and disappointments.” If this is the way your work seems, then whenever you achieve something, it feels like a huge accomplishment! Peasprout Chen’s life is full of cultural landmines and danger, but when she does something cool, we cheer….

(5) BEYOND BECHDEL. IndieWire covered this story in December: “Lena Waithe, Kimberly Peirce, and More Women Introduce 12 New Bechdel Tests to Measure Gender Imbalance”.

FiveThirtyEight recently asked 12 women to come up with new gender imbalance tests, including actress and Emmy-winning writer Lena Waithe, filmmaker Kimberly Peirce, cinematographer Jen White, and actress Naomi Ko. The new tests demand more gender equality from film and television, both in front the camera and behind the scenes.

In order to pass the Waithe Test, for instance, a movie or show must feature a black woman who’s in a position of power and is in a healthy relationship with her partner. Only five of the top 50 films of 2016 pass the Waithe Test: “Bad Moms,” “Central Intelligence,” “Hidden Figures,” “Boo! A Madea Halloween,” and “Independence Day: Resurgence.”

Here’s more direct from FiveThirtyEight: “The Next Bechdel Test” – “We pitted 50 movies against 12 new ways of measuring Hollywood’s gender imbalance.”

Another example: The Feldman Test

Rachel Feldman: director; former chair of the Directors Guild of America’s Women’s Steering Committee

A movie passes with a score of five or higher:

  • 2 points for a female writer or director
  • 1 point for a female composer or director of photography
  • 1 point for three female producers or three female department heads
  • 1 point for a crew that’s 50 percent women
  • 2 points if there’s a female protagonist who determines story outcomes
  • 2 points if no female characters were victimized, stereotyped or sexualized
  • And 1 point if a sex scene shows foreplay before consummation, or if the female characters initiate or reciprocate sexual advances

(6) NICHELLE NICHOLS. A TMZ story about Nichelle Nichols reports “Judge Grants Conservatorship After Dementia Claims”

‘Star Trek’ actress Nichelle Nichols will have a new team handling her financial affairs in response to her son’s claims she’s battling dementia … TMZ has learned.

According to court docs, an L.A. County judge signed off on Kyle Johnson’s request to have 4 fiduciaries be his mom’s conservators until mid-August, when there will be a court hearing. The hope is Nichelle will be able to attend that hearing.

As we first reported … Kyle says his mother, who famously played Lt. Uhura, suffers from severe short-term memory loss, and needs court-ordered protection to block people from taking advantage of her.

In the docs, obtained by TMZ, the judge said Nichelle consents to the appointment of her conservators. The judge also noted Nichelle is currently out of state.

(7) KIDDER OBIT. CNN reports “Margot Kidder, ‘Superman’ actress, dead at 69”:

Kidder starred opposite Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent and his alter ego Superman in the original [1978] film as well as the three sequels: “Superman II” in 1980, “Superman III” in 1983 and “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” in 1987.

She also starred in “The Amityville Horror” in 1979 and worked steadily in television and on stage.

After three marriages and thousands of dollars in medical bills, Kidder found herself homeless in 1996 as she struggled with bipolar disorder.

Her story grabbed the hearts of fans and Hollywood with many reaching out to help Kidder, who eventually got back on her feet and went on to become a mental health advocate.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY MOGULS

  • Born May 14, 1944 – George Lucas
  • Born May 14, 1951 – Robert Zemeckis

(9) REMEDIAL CLASSWORK. Alexandra Erin is refreshing the recollection of some Twitter users who proved unfamiliar with the Sad Puppies events as they really occurred in this timeline. Jump on the thread here:

(10) SPACE SPRITZ. Analysts are catching up with the data collected by space probe Galileo: “Icy Moon Of Jupiter Spews Water Plumes Into Space”.

Scientists have new evidence that there are plumes of water erupting from the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa — plumes that could, maybe, possibly contain signs of life.

The evidence comes from data collected by the now-defunct Galileo spacecraft. Although the data has been available since it was collected in 1997, it’s only now that an analysis confirms the existence of water plumes.

For more than two decades, scientists have been convinced Europa has a liquid water ocean sloshing around beneath its icy outer crust. In the past six years, two teams of researchers using the Hubble Space Telescope reported the possible existence of plumes. But as powerful as Hubble is, seeing something as small as a plume on a moon more than 380-million miles away is difficult.

(11) DROP BY ANYTIME. NPR has the story: “Tardis Optional: Time Travelers Invited To Stephen Hawking Service” — repeat of an old Hawking test/gag?

Stephen Hawking’s ashes will be interred at Westminster Abbey this June. He’ll take his place among giants — between Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. Applications to attend a Service of Thanksgiving are open to the public, and anyone — including people born in 2038, can apply. A thousand spaces are available.

…The time warp in the memorial service application was first spotted by London blogger IanVisits. He writes on his blog that Hawking had once thrown a party for time travelers, sending out invitations after the fete, to see if anyone would show up. Spoiler: no one did, yet.

CATCHING UP WITH SOME EXCELLENT BLACK PANTHER THEMED LINKS COURTESY OF ROBIN A. REID:

(12) AWESOME TECHNOLOGY. In May 2016, Popular Science did an “Entertainment” feature on the technology of Black Panther. Xavier Harding interviewed artist Brian Stelfreeze in “‘Black Panther’ Has The Coolest Tech In The Marvel Universe”.

Popular Science: There’s a lot of great tech in the world of Wakanda. Where does your inspiration for it come from?

Brian Stelfreeze: I think when you’re being creative, you still attach it to reality somehow. I grew up in a small town in coastal South Carolina. Where I’m from, the people are known as Gullah people. They’re some of the first freed slaves that lived on their own, without being attached to the rest of the U.S.

They kind of developed their own culture, so they do things a little bit different. Growing up in that area and going to the rest of the world, I noticed things were just slightly different. Seeing my first pile driver in real life I thought, “Oh, that’s like what my uncle built out of tree stumps to dig wells.” So I thought, “what if that happened over thousands of years? How could technology evolve?”

Popular Science: So how does that compare to T’Challa and the people of Wakanda?

Brian Stelfreeze: I think of Wakandan technology as organic technology. Most of their tech mimics nature because it comes from nature. Wakanda was a tremendously warring nation, with a very feudal time early on. But after a while proper borders were established, which ushered in a time of peace. Peace time shifted concerns from war to agriculture, from agriculture to early days of knife and spear-building to developing exotic materials. Rather than coming from industry, Wakandan tech came from agricultural needs—using organic tech to build machines.

But a lot of this stuff is in the background. Like the flying vehicles you see in Wakanda designed like a flying animal. And even when readers may not directly see it, I want them to feel it.

(13) SIX GOOD REASONS Cherokee Washington explains “Why The Black Panther is So Important To The Black Community”  for Odyssey in June 2016.

In 2002, Marvel studios graced the world with the first superhero blockbuster film; “Spiderman.” Following suit with “Spiderman 2,” “Spiderman 3,” and two spin-offs of the series, Marvel went on to create one of the largest Hollywood franchises in the world, telling the stories of a hand full of the comic book company’s most popular heroes. Today, amongst the many Iron Man and Avenger films, one hero in particular has recently been added to the mix; the Black Panther. It may not sound that exciting or important to the general public, but the introduction of the Black Panther is a momentous event for the Black (and comic-lover) community. Not only is he a bad ass superhero, but he’s one of 10 or so major Marvel characters who identifies as Black, something that would’ve been unheard of back in the day. Making his first appearance in the 52nd issue of the Fantastic Four comic books, Black Panther has shifted back and forth in the limelight, falling behind other heroes such as Captain America and the X-Men. Fortunately, Marvel has decided to push Black Panther more into the centerfold with the rest of his comrades by giving him a cameo in the newest “Avengers: Civil War” film and announcing the “Black Panther” film’s release in 2018. With that said, I thought it appropriate to list a few reasons as to why the Black Panther character is so important not only to me, but to my community. He’s a symbol of more than justice; he’s a symbol of pride, hope, and so much more. Here it goes…

(14) BREAKDOWN! You’ve seen the trailers, but have you seen the trailer breakdown by Jacob Hall: “Black Panther Trailer Breakdown: Welcome to Wakanda”. Posted in June 2017 on Slashfilm.

The Black Panther trailer feels like a breath of fresh air in an environment crowded with superhero movies – no comic book adaptation has ever looked like this. Heck, no movie has ever looked like this. Even with a few familiar Marvel Studios trappings on display, Ryan Coogler’s movie looks to blend superheroes and afrofuturism and all kinds of intrigue into something…well, new.

And if you’re new to this corner of the Marvel universe (or just want to take a closer look), we went through the trailer frame-by-frame for an extended breakdown. Join us, won’t you?

Frame by lovely frame!

And, if you want to look at the trailer again after the breakdown, here you go:

(15) CRYING EYES. Alan Jenkins gets geeky and weepy and happy about Wonder Woman and Black Panther in this piece published in Ebony in July 2017: “Black Panther, Wonder Woman and the Power of Representation”.

My theory is that audiences are being moved by the overwhelming power of symbolism.  We are not used to seeing people of color and women on the big screen who are powerful, triumphant, and heroes of their own story.  The most emotionally powerful moments in each film are those that use the power of symbols to break away from social stereotypes.

As in the Black Panther comic book, the film’s characters are everything that a century of cinematic Black and African characters have not been.  They are regal.  They are brilliant.  They are gorgeous.  They are the future as well as the past.

(16)  REVOLUTIONARY!  “Black Superheroes Matter: Why a ‘Black Panther’ Movie Is Revolutionary”, by Tre Johnson, in Rolling Stone, October 2017, puts the upcoming film in the historical context of American film and comics representations of heroes.

The novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about “the danger of a single story” – about Africa, about black brilliance, our humanity and the black experience for too long. There would never be a time when this movie’s creation wouldn’t mean something to black people in particular, and the inevitable backlash that this movie will receive for its celebration, existence and confidence in blackness will be a reminder that there are no new conversations, merely new opportunities to remind us of who we collectively are. Yet that won’t matter because the people this movie will speak most deeply to – a rainbow-coalition cross-section of black comic book readers, African-American movie audiences, Boseman/ Jordan/ Bassett/ Nyong’o fans, black-culture connoisseurs and pop-culture nerds – will see something of themselves in this movie. They will also likely be both familiar and resistant to the disdain it will receive for merely existing. Like anything black in America, Black Panther will be politicized for being black, which is to say for being and for announcing itself as a having a right to be here and to be heard.

(17) AFROFUTURISM. Mic, a digital news media site, discussed the revolutionary Afrofuturistic elements of Black Panther in December 2017 in  “‘Black Panther’ isn’t just another Marvel movie–it’s a vision of a future led by blackness”.

Wakanda is more than just a fun spectacle; it represents something much more magnificent and powerful — a version of Africa unaffected by the external world, one that was allowed to pursue its own march toward spectacular progress.

When the most recent trailer for the movie was released in October, people weren’t just excited, they were jubilant. Now, it’s an event pretty much every time there’s a new Marvel movie but — no disrespect to Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, etc. — those blockbusters don’t normally have an entire culture of people impatiently awaiting their release. So what makes Black Panther especially noteworthy?

The secret sauce of Marvel’s Black Panther is Afrofuturism — an arts form that combines science fiction with black culture to create a future informed by blackness. On its face, Black Panther masquerades as Marvel’s latest superhero flick. Dig deeper and you’ll find the movie’s true identity: an Africa-set, Afrofuturist film — made for black people, by black people — powered by a Disney budget.

(18)  WRIGHT AND NYONG’O INTERVIEW. TeenVogue‘s Lynette Nylander interviewed Letitia Wright and Lupita Nyong’o on film diversity and superheroes in December 2017: “Letitia Wright and Lupita Nyong’o on “Black Panther” Film and Diversity in Hollywood”.

When he debuted in 1966 as the first black superhero in mainstream American comics, Black Panther broke boundaries. Naturally, next year’s silver-screen rendition of his story, featuring a nearly all-black cast, isn’t going to be just a box-office blockbuster — it’s going to be history in the making. The film is set in the fictional African country of Wakanda, where Black Panther (also known as T’Challa) serves as a leader at a time when the nation’s safety is under threat. And at the core of the story: Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and ingénue Letitia Wright as Nakia and Shuri, who play two of the strongest women in Wakanda. Their characters do away with the usual damsel-in-distress narrative associated with many classic superhero movies and create a new normal. Here, they discuss what making Black Panther meant to them and what the movie will hopefully mean for others.

(19) THE WOMEN OF WAKANDA. Cameron Glover looks at the women heroes in “Here’s What Black Panther Is Doing Differently For Its Female Heroes” posted in January 2018 at Refinery29.

The expansion of what a woman’s role in film looks like speaks directly to how the female action heroes of Black Panther are able to balance their fight scenes with embodying these expansive personal themes. Giving women, especially Black women, such public roles in the film not only speaks volumes to how women are regarded within Wakanda, but also shows the shifting attitudes of women’s roles in action films. The way that female action stars are celebrated and centered within the film is just another reason to snag a ticket to see Black Panther once it’s released next month.

[Thanks to Carl Slaughter, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Martin Morse Wooster, Robin A. Reid, John King Tarpinian, Jonathan Cowie, Mike Kennedy, Chip Hitchcock, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Vicki Rosenzweig.]

Mythcon 49 Guests of Honor

Conference theme: On the Shoulders of Giants

Mythcon 49 will be held in Atlanta, Georgia, July 20-23. Congratulations to Filer Dr. Reid for being named one of the headliners —

Our Scholar Guest of Honor for 2018 is Dr. Robin Anne Reid. She is a Professor in the Department of Literature and Languages at Texas A&M University-Commerce. Her teaching areas are creative writing, critical theory, and marginalized literatures. Please see her full bio on the Mythcon 49 site for publishing credits. Perhaps most notably for Mythies, she wrote an outstanding bibliographic essay on the history of scholarship surrounding female characters in Tolkien’s legendarium in Perilous and Fair, published by the Mythopoeic Press.

Our Artist Guest of Honor is Donato Giancola. He balances modern concepts with realism in his paintings to bridge the worlds of contemporary and historical figurative arts. He also teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, the Illustration Master Class in Amherst, Massachusetts and online through the SmArt School, and appears at various institutions, seminars, and conventions, from San Diego to Rome to Moscow, where he performs demonstrations in oil paint and lectures on his aesthetics. Please see his full bio on his donatoart.com for influences, awards, and credits.

Visit www.mythcon.org for more information and to register for the con.

[Thanks to Lynn Maudlin for the story.]

Pixel Scroll 2/20/18 Not All Pixels Scroll Up In Value. Some May Scroll Down

(1) NEW DOCTOR WHO LOGO. Merchandise with the Thirteenth Doctor’s new logo is on sale starting today.

(2) MEDICAL MARVEL. Pat Cadigan reports some good news in her latest update: “I Have Cancer But Cancer Doesn’t Have Me”.

The level of cancer in my body has fallen again. The hormones I’m taking are still killing off cancer cells.

Today I saw a new members of my oncologist’s team. It was all I could do not to start dancing around her office. Although who knows—she might have danced with me. She looked amazed when she checked the results of my blood test.

On our way out, Chris and I ran into a few fellow-travellers who said they liked my lucky short—i.e., the one that says, I’m Making Cancer My Bitch. I love my lucky shirt.

(3) HEDGEHOG DAY. Daniel P. Dern has been keeping an eye on superhero TV and provided this update for the Scroll:

In last night’s Legends of Tomorrow (B-lister superheroes travelling through time and space to fix history hiccups usually using the Dr “House” method of first making things much much worse…) Season 3 Episode 11, ”Here I Go Again” — “Zari [not from our time period] finds her place on the team when she gets caught in a time loop that results in the Waverider blowing up over and over again.”

The fun part is that when she realizes what’s happening, she tries describing it, one of the from-our-time heroes says “OK, on the next cycle, find me and say, ‘Groundhog Day.'” (which, of course, on the first try, she instead says ‘Hedgehog Day.’)

(And another of the from-our-time heroes counters with a Star Trek time loop citation…)

Fun episode, marred only IMHO by (SPOILER ROT13ed) znxvat vg ghea bhg gb or n pbzchgre-vaqhprq plorefcnpr rkcrevrapr engure guna npghny Tebhaqubt Qnl ybbcvat. Cuhv.

(Just like bar bs gur yngre Beivyyr rcvfbqrf univat ~3/4 bs gur rcvfbqr erirnyrq gb or orra n “Jr’ir unq lbh va n ubybqrpx fpranevb sbe cflpubgurencl” znthssva, sru.)

Like one of the recent episodes of The Magicians (scrolled recently), it’s gratifying to see characters from our time period exhibit familiarity with sf pop culture enough to use them as information shortcuts.

(4) A TRUTH UNIVERSALLY ACKNOWLEDGED. Robin Reid says, “I just finished John Kessel’s latest, Pride and Prometheus (Mary Bennett from Pride and Prejudice meets Victor Frankenstein and his Creature)” and recommends Liz Bourke’s review “Literary Fusion: Pride and Prometheus by John Kessel” at Tor.com.

There are three main points of view in Pride and Prometheus. The most interesting, by my lights, is Mary Bennett, younger sister of Elizabeth Bennett. Several years have passed since the end of Pride and Prejudice, and Mary has passed thirty years of age and is entering into spinsterhood. She has an interest in natural philosophy, especially fossils, and feels as though she should find a man to marry, but does not feel as though there is a man who will marry her. When she encounters Victor Frankenstein, a young man haunted by some secret of his past, she finds herself oddly compelled by his presence. Mary’s part of the narrative is told in the third person, unlike the other two narrators, who recount their parts of the story in the first person. This matches the approach of the original narratives.

(5) KEEP ON TRUCKING. Time to celebrate: “NASA’s Opportunity rover sees its 5,000th day on Mars”.

This weekend, NASA’s Opportunity rover spent its 5,000th day on Mars. While that is a feat in and of itself, it’s even more impressive when you consider that it was only planned to last 90 Martian days, or sols. Both Opportunity and its companion rover Spirit were launched towards Mars in 2003, landing on two different parts of the planet in January 2004. Neither were expected to make it through Mars’ harsh winter though, which lasts about twice as long as ours and is severely lacking in light, but NASA’s team discovered that pointing the rovers towards the north and towards the sun was enough to keep them powered through the winter. Further, making sure the rovers were on north-facing slopes each winter helped to keep them going for years longer than they were ever intended to function.

(6) HEROIC EFFORT. The Nielsen Haydens’ Making Light suffered a server problem and at the moment the latest post displayed is dated 2008. I wish them the best of luck and a complete return to the internet of all their text and comments.

(7) MORE GENRE FROM THE TOY FAIRE. See photos of toys hyped at the NYC Toy Fair at the link.

With new installments of Star Wars, Jurassic Worldand the Avengers headed our way this summer, movie fans have plenty to cheer about. The same goes for toy lovers, who can look forward to action figures, play sets, board games, and other playthings based on 2018’s biggest blockbusters and hottest television shows. Yahoo Entertainment spent the past weekend at New York City’s annual festival for toys, Toy Fair, where we got to see both the new and retro movie- and TV-related toys that everyone will be talking about this year. Scroll through the gallery and start getting your holiday wish lists ready now.

They include —

Lego ‘Star Wars’ Kessel Run Millennium Falcon

It took Han Solo only 12 parsecs to make his famous run through the Kessel Mines. See if you can lap that record as you assemble this 1,414-piece Lego Millennium Falcon, which comes complete with laser turrets and a Dejarik board

Ultimate Co-Pilot Chewie

It’s the Star Wars answer to Teddy Ruxpin: an interactive Chewbacca doll who talks, uh, growls on command and can also be rocked to sleep or tickled into a laughing fit. Warning: Kids might have to compete with their parents for cuddle time with this adorable Wookiee.

(8) APES AT 50. Mark Kermode talks about the 50th anniversary of Planet of the Apes release and wonders if Star Wars will look as good at the same age.

“Of course,” says IanP, “Star Wars isn’t growing old as gracefully with all its repeated facelifts …”

(9) ALMOST ERASED. Vulture interviews “The Man Who Made Black Panther Cool”:

Christopher Priest broke the color barrier at Marvel and reinvented a classic character. Why was he nearly written out of comics history?

“I’m an asshole. I’m abrasive. I am so sure that I’m right about virtually everything. I can sing you an aria of reasons to not like me,” says comics writer Christopher Priest, his bass voice rising to the brink of anger but never quite tipping over. “Not liking me because I’m black is so juvenile and immature, because there’s many reasons to not like me.” He’s speaking, as he often does, about the racism — both overt and structural — that he’s faced in the comics industry over his 40-year career. But that set of attributes, seen from another angle, can apply to the reasons to like him, or at least admire him — he’s unwaveringly outspoken, endearingly opinionated, as well as a pioneer in the comics industry. He’s also likely the only comics writer to have taken breaks from his career at various times to toil as a musician, pastor, and bus driver.

(10) NEBULA TOOL. Now that the Nebula finalists are out, Rocket Stack Rank has prepared an annotated version with links to the stories (where possible), synopses, reviews, etc. — “2017 Annotated Nebula Award Finalists”

Greg Hullender explains, “By sorting the list according to how many different sources of recommendation each one got, we make it easier to see where the Nebulas are acknowledging broadly popular stories and where the SFWA members have a unique perspective.”

(11) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • February 20, 1962  — Astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth.

(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • Born February 20,  1926 Richard Matheson (links to SyFy Wire’s commemorative article.)

(13) COMICS SECTION.

  • Daniel P. Dern got the Amazon reference in Grimmy.
  • Chip Hitchcock noticed something super about Arlo and Janis.

(14) A LITTLE MISTAKE. If either of us had actually gone to a copyediting school, I’d wonder if RedWombat and I graduated from the same one:

(15) INTERNET VISUALIZED. Looking back: “The Father Of The Internet Sees His Invention Reflected Back Through A ‘Black Mirror'” contrasts idealistic inventor Vint Cerf with William Gibson’s what-will-really-happen.

While Cerf and his colleagues were busy inventing, the young aspiring science fiction writer William Gibson was looking for a place to set his first novel. Gibson was living in Seattle, and he had friends who worked in the budding tech industry. They told him about computers and the Internet, “and I was sitting with a yellow legal pad trying to come up with trippy names for a new arena in which science fiction could be staged.”

The name Gibson came up with: cyberspace. And for a guy who had never seen it, he did a great job describing it in that 1984 book, Neuromancer: “A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.”

(16) GOODLIFE. The scum of the Earth has been around longer than they thought: “Origins of land plants pushed back in time”.

A seminal event in the Earth’s history – when plants appeared on land – may have happened 100 million years earlier than previously thought.

Land plants evolved from “pond scum” about 500 million years ago, according to new research.

These early moss-like plants greened the continents, creating habitats for land animals.

The study, based on analysing the genes of living plants, overturns theories based purely on fossil plant evidence.

“Land plants emerged on land half a billion years ago, tens of millions of years older than the fossil record alone suggests,” said study author, Dr Philip Donoghue of the department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol.

(17) AFROFUTURISM. The Washington Post’s Sonia Rao, in the wake of Black Panther, gives an overview of Afrofuturism and discusses forthcoming Afrofuturist projects, including Janelle Monae’s new album Dirty Computer and a forthcoming TV production of Octavia Butler’s Dawn directed by Ava DuVernay.“The resurgence of Afrofuturism goes beyond ‘Black Panther,’ to Janelle Monáe, Jay-Z and more “.

Monáe released a trailer on Friday for “Dirty Computer,” a new album with an accompanying narrative film. The 30-second teaser, set to air ahead of some “Black Panther” showings, presents clips of a dystopian world set to guitar feedback and snapping fingers. Monáe’s co-star Tessa Thompson is abducted by a man dressed in military gear. We cut to the two embracing on a beach. Seconds later, Monáe lies on an examination table while someone strokes a mysterious tattoo on her arm.

“They drained us of our dirt, and all the things that made us special,” she narrates. “And then you were lost. Sleeping. And you didn’t remember anything at all.”

Monáe’s work has exhibited Afrofuturist influences for years — the Quietus, an online British magazine, proclaimed back in 2010 that she “brandishes the acetylene torch for radical Afrofuturism.” In her multi-album “Metropolis” saga, the singer’s alter ego, Cindi Mayweather, is a messianic android who was sent back in time to lead a protest movement against an oppressive regime.

 

(18) CORRECTING AN OMISSION. Yesterday’s Scroll quoted K. Tempest Bradford’s tweet contrasting her own fundraiser to JDA’s, but she didn’t get all the benefit from that she might have because the tweet didn’t link to her YouCaring page — “Send K. T. Bradford To Egypt! (For Research)”. She had reached $3,135 of her $5,000 goal, but earlier today a couple of large donations put her over the top. Congratulations!

(19) THE FRANCHISE. With six you get Sharknado Bloody Disguting has the details:

Not surprisingly, Sharknado 6 is coming this Summer, and the first plot details, along with an early piece of poster art, have come to us out of EFM today.

In the sixth installment…

“All is lost, or is it? Fin unlocks the time-traveling power of the SHARKNADOS in order to save the world and resurrect his family. In his quest, Fin fights Nazis, dinosaurs, knights, and even takes a ride on Noah’s Ark. This time, it’s not how to stop the sharknados, it’s when.”

Tara Reid, Ian Ziering and Cassie Scerbo return.

Sharknado 6 will premiere on July 25, 2018.

(20) BIG BANG’S BILLIONAIRE GUEST. Supposedly Sheldon has already met him: “Bill Gates to Guest Star on ‘The Big Bang Theory’ — But Remember When He Punched Sheldon in the Face?!”

Bill Gates is headed to The Big Bang Theory!

ET has learned that Gates will be guest starring as himself in an upcoming March episode of the hit CBS comedy. The famed Microsoft founder will be stopping by Penny’s work and when this news reaches Sheldon, Leonard and the rest of our geektastic gang, the guys do everything in their power for a chance to meet him.

But here’s a Big Bang fun fact for you: Sheldon has actually already met the infamous tech billionaire on the CBS comedy and let’s just say their first interaction did not go very well. In fact, Gates punched Sheldon in the face!

(21) SUGGESTION BOX. Here’s a fan video proposing the way to begin Jodie Whittaker’s first episode as Doctor Who.

There are many great stories, but none as great as this. This is the story of the girl who fell from the stars. And this is how it begins… Without the Tardis and without hope, the Doctor is sent plummeting towards the planet below. The Doctor must come to terms with her new body quickly and escape her incoming demise. Here is a concept scene I’ve created for the upcoming debut episode for the Thirteenth Doctor! Just a bit of fun really but actually turned relatively believable. I have this theory in my mind that the Tardis would materialise underneath the Doctor as she’s falling and catches her. I’ve tried to imagine this as best as possible in this video!

 

[Thanks to Dave Langford, John King Tarpinian, JJ, Chip Hitchcock, IanP, Martin Morse Wooster, Cat Eldridge, Carl Slaughter, Daniel P. Dern, Alan Baumler, Robin A. Reid, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Kip W.]

Pixel Scroll 7/24/17 Look Upon My Scrolls, Ye Mighty, And Despair

(1) BANNED IN SAN DIEGO. United Airlines told people leaving San Diego after Comic-Con that TSA had banned comic books from checked luggage, but was permitting them in carry-ons.

Le Chic Geek’s Jeanne Marie Hoffman spread the story: “TSA Bans Comic Books in Checked Luggage for Comic-Con”.

The TSA banned comic books from checked luggage for flights leaving San Diego after Comic-Con.

This is problematic in a few ways.  First, attendees tend to purchase rare comic books that they are trying to keep in pristine shape.  Yes, you can do with when you have a few comic books in your carry on–but remember, this is a convention.

People aren’t flying out to San Diego to purchase *one* comic book.

Second, while large vendors enter into freight shipping contracts, small vendors rely on their checked bags to get their wares to and from the convention.

TSA tweeted a denial saying no, they’re not banning comic books (so why did United?)

TSA also addressed it in a blog post, “Let’s Close the Book on Book Screening Rumors”, which confusing gives an “answer” talks about carry-ons, not checked bags. So the whole thing remains as clear as mud.

Do you have to remove books from your carry-on bags prior to sending your bag through the X-ray?

Short answer: No

Longer answer (but still pretty short): You know us… We’re always testing procedures to help stay ahead of our adversaries. We were testing the removal of books at two airport locations and the testing ran its course. We’re no longer testing and have no intentions of instituting those procedures.

So, with that out of the way, you might be wondering why we were interested in books. Well, our adversaries seem to know every trick in the book when it comes to concealing dangerous items, and books have been used in the past to conceal prohibited items. We weren’t judging your books by their covers, just making sure nothing dangerous was inside.

Occasionally, our officers may recommend passengers remove items such as heavy, glossy programs during a special event with a lot of travelers such as Super Bowl programs.

(2) ROOM FOR MORE. GoFundMe for Dwain Kaiser’s widow, Joanne, is now up to $17,979, far above $10,000 goal. You can still contribute.

(3) BEGINNING WHO. Nicholas Whyte suggests there are as many doors into the series as there are Doctors: “Doctor Who: advice for someone who hasn’t seen it yet”.

Dear Chris, You asked me:

Friend in US wants to start watching Dr Who now there is a female doctor. Which are the seminal episodes she should watch in advance? Is there one episode per season she should watch?

Unless your friend is already a big fan of sf shows from the last century, she should probably start with New Who, meaning the 2005 reboot with Christopher Eccleston. One sometimes needs to be forgiving of the production values of Old Who, and it may not be right to demand that tolerance of a newbie. For what it’s worth, I answered a similar question about the first eight Doctors here many years ago; and a couple of years later I polled my blog readers on their favourite stories from the first ten Doctors here (and also on their least favourite stories here). But for now, we’re looking at New Who.

(4) DESTROYING SF AGAIN. Thirty-one days remain in the Kickstarter “Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction / Uncanny Magazine” — seeking funding for an Uncanny Magazine special double issue: Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction and Uncanny Magazine Year Four. At this writing it’s achieved $8,402 of its $20,000 goal.

(5) BY COINCIDENCE. New York’s Museum of Modern Art is running an exhibit “Future Imperfect: The Uncanny in Science Fiction” from July 17–August 31.

Imagine a science-fiction film series with no space travel, no alien invasions or monsters, and no visions of the distant future. Imagine instead a dazzling array of science-fiction films that focus on alternate visions of Earth in the present or very near future. Science fiction, at least in the movies, essentially boils down to two questions: Are “they” coming to kill us or to save us? And, what does it mean to be human? Presented in association with the Berlinale and the Deutsche Kinemathek-Museum für Film und Fernsehen, this exhibition of more than 40 science-fiction films from all over the world — the United States, the Soviet Union, China, India, Cameroon, Mexico and beyond — explores the second question: our humanity in all its miraculous, uncanny, and perhaps ultimately unknowable aspects. Since the dawn of cinema, filmmakers as diverse as Kathryn Bigelow, Kinji Fukasaku, Rikwit Ghatak, Jean-Luc Godard, Georges Méliès, Michael Snow, Alexander Sokurov, and Steven Spielberg have explored ideas of memory and consciousness; thought, sensation, and desire; self and other; nature and nurture; time and space; and love and death. Their films, lying at the nexus of art, philosophy, and science, occupy a twilight zone bounded only by the imagination, where “humanness” remains an enchanting enigma. Guest presenters include John Sayles, Michael Almereyda, Larry Fessenden, Lynn Hershman Leeson, and more.

Organized by Joshua Siegel, Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art.

(6) TWEET BRAWL. Looks like Wilson Cruz is getting some pushback on his Star Trek: Discovery character, but he’s giving as good as he gets. Use this tweet to beam up to where the discussion is happening:

(7) TRIVIAL TRIVIA

Could you have named them? The founding members of Marvel Comics’ super-hero team the Avengers were: Iron Man, the Hulk, Ant-Man, The Wasp and Thor.

(8) STEINBERG OBIT. Marvel legend Florence Steinberg (1939-2017) died July 23. Heidi MacDonald paid tribute at ComicsBeat.

Florence “Fabulous Flo” Steinberg, an iconic member of the original Marvel Bullpen, has passed away, age unknown but truly ageless.

Flo was the sole Marvel staffer besides Stan Lee himself in the early Marvel Comics of the 60s. She can be heard on this immortal Merry Marvel Marching Society record starring Stan, Jack Kirby and Flo in her inimitable Boston/Queens accent.

 

At Marvel, Flo was the true Gal Friday, helping with every aspect of getting books out the door. She left in 1968 but didn’t leave publishing: in 1975 she published Big Apple Comix, an early indie comic that included “mainstream” comics creators doing more personal stories.  As great as Stan and Jack were, they never launched out entirely on their own as publishers, as Flo did.

(9) BENNETT OBIT. Tolkien fan Joanne Bennett died July 14. She started the Crickhollow branch of the Mythopoeic Society some 40 years ago, covering the Reno-Sparks- Carson City area. Here is an excerpt from the family obituary.

Many of the students who most enjoyed her classes and teaching also were members of Wooster’s Tolkien Society, which she founded in the late 1960s upon discovering and becoming captivated by the Middle Earth fantasy world that J.R.R. Tolkien created in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Many of those students became her lifelong dear friends as she and they continued their relationships and discussions even up until the last days of her life in a group called Crickhollow and through ongoing individual relationships with other former students.

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • July 24, 1948 — Debut of Marvin the Martian in Bugs Bunny’s Haredevil Hare

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY SUPERHERO

  • July 24, 1951 — Lynda Carter

(12) COMIC SECTION. Not recommended for the theologically sensitive, the webcomic Meanwhile In Heaven purports to show the Big Guy in all of his infinite wisdom.  There’s a recent arc where God has decided to redecorate using a Star Trek theme. We find out there are some things that Leonard Nimoy won’t do. And the story continues in “Captain’s Log”.

(13) PREDICTING MAGIC. Lois McMaster Bujold tells folks on Goodreads another Penric novella is on the way.

I am pleased to report that I have finished the first draft of a new Penric & Desdemona novella. (For that peculiar value of “finished” that means, “still dinking till it’s pulled from the writer’s twitchy hands.”) Title will be “Penric’s Fox” Length, at this moment, is around 37,400 words. It is more-or-less a sequel to “Penric and the Shaman”, taking place about eight or nine months after that story. Final editing and formatting, arranging for cover art to send it out into the world nicely dressed, etc., will take some unknown amount of time and eyeball-endurance, but e-pub will likely happen in August.

(14) RECOMMENDED BADNESS. Marshall Ryan Maresca tells about his love for “KRULL: A Bad Movie I’ve Watched Many, Many, MANY Times”

As I’ve said before, there’s something to admire about a movie that points to the fences and swings with everything that it has.  Because Krull is just that movie.  It really wants to be the epic fantasy movie– it wanted to be the movie that did for epic fantasy what Star Wars was for space opera.   And by god, it throws everything it can think of up on the screen to become that, and more.  I mean, it’s not just an epic fantasy movie.  It’s an epic fantasy movie that’s hiding inside a full-on sci-fi space-opera, like a Russian nesting doll.  On top of that, it’s got prologue and epilogue voice-over to let you know that this is just the tip of the iceberg of the total amount of story here.  Yes, it was laying the groundwork for sequels and prequels and all sorts of things that were never meant to be.

(15) NINE WORLDS. London’s Nine Worlds con (August 4-6) has posted its program schedule. There are a lot of good, thoughtful items, and at least three I can say I haven’t seen at any con I’ve attended:

(16) ART LESSON. Nikola at Thoughts on Fantasy teaches us “How to Make a Clichéd High Fantasy Cover”.

I’ve encountered a few covers that take it a bit far, but I thought it’d be amusing to go even further, and have a bit of fun with the tropes of my favourite genre… so here is my recipe for a no-holds-barred, all-boxes-ticked, epic high fantasy book cover (accompanied by examples from the most clichéd design I can muster). I’m no graphic designer, but I imagine that will add a nice level of unprofessional shine to my examples.

  1. Fantasy Landscape

It’s a good idea to start your cover with a moody fantasy setting. This can be any of the following:

  • medieval cityscape
  • castle or tower
  • craggy mountains
  • dark forest + looming trees
  • rough sea + sailing ship

If you want to go full-fantasy cliché, try to include as many of the above as possible, just to be sure you cover all your bases.

Her recipe has 12 ingredients altogether.

(17) SFF TREND ON JEOPARDY! Tom Galloway keeps a close eye on these things:

OK, some current Jeopardy! writer is definitely an sf fan and is having fun with categories. A few weeks ago we had the adjacent “Shaka” and “When the Walls Fell” categories in Double J!.

Last Tuesday, July 18th, the last two Double J! categories were “The Name of the Wind” and “The Wise Man’s Fear”, the titles of Patrick Rothfuss’ first two books in his trilogy. As with the Trek named categories, no clues related to Rothfuss, although the $2000 in Fear was about Dune.

(18) NO RELATION. We know some fans’ names are not so uncommon that there couldn’t be others running around with the same name. That doesn’t seem to make it any less surprising.

Steven H Silver writes:

On my recent trip to Europe, Elaine and I stopped in Bath.  While there, I spotted this ice cream shop, which, despite its name, is not owned by a Hugo Award winning fan artist.

And Paul DiFilippo recently posted a picture of a product called Malcolm Edwards Beer Shampoo.

(19) WHEN THE ‘W’ IN WTF STANDS FOR WHO. Here is a bit of a whoot about last week’s announcement of the new Doctor Who, which came at the end of the Wimbledon men’s singles finals.

Legions of Doctor Who fans caught several minutes of televised sport, many for the first time, this evening.

In their haste to learn who the new Doctor will be, tens of thousands of fans were confused by the spectacle of a man running when he wasn’t being chased by an Ice Warrior.

The BBC was inundated with complaints from viewers who saw David Tennant in the Wimbledon crowd and believed it to be some sort of spoiler, or who thought that shots of someone chasing a ball were footage of some kind of ground level Quidditch match and started cheering before they realised their error.

“The people dressed in white chasing about weren’t even the robots from Krikket, which was an unused Douglas Adams script,” avid Whovian Simon Williams told us.

(20) EYE OF THE STORM. Marcus Errico of Yahoo! Movies, in “First CAPTAIN MARVEL Concept Art Shows Brie Larson in Her Supersuit”, says at Comic-Con Brie Larson was busily promoting the Captain Marvel movie coming from Marvel Studios next year.  It’s set in the 1990s, has the Skrulls in it, and has Nick Fury with two eyes with a possible explanation as to how he ended up losing one eye.

(21) FROM THE ARCHIVES. Paul DiFilippo thinks he has found a never-reprinted Arthur C. Clarke short story, and Bonestell illustration in a 1962 issue of The Elks Magazine. He has scanned the pages and posted them at The Inferior 4 blog.

(22) COMMEMORATIVE DRINKS. Andrew Porter learned that the building where Gollancz published is now a trendy hotel.

Gollancz was located in London’s Covent Garden, at 14 Henrietta Street, from 1928 until the early 1990s. The new hotel, with only 18 bedrooms, is at 14 and 15. The drinks menu references Gollancz’s past, as publisher of Arthur C. Clarke, Kingsley Amis, George Orwell and others, with drinks named “Down and Out,” “Lucky Jim,” “Fall of Moondust,” “Sirens of Titan,” and “Cat’s Cradle.”

For a history of the company, see the Science Fiction Encyclopedia’s ”Gollancz” entry.

(23) DRINK UP. The Verge tells you where to find it — “The Moon has more water than we thought”.

The Moon has more water than previously thought, and it’s deep below the lunar surface. A new study suggests that water is widespread beyond the poles, where it was already known to exist, although scientists don’t know exactly how much water is there. The discovery has consequences for future missions to the Moon.

Scientists analyzed lunar rock samples that contain tiny, water-trapping beads of glass; these beads formed when magma erupted from the Moon’s interior billions of years ago, trapping water inside them. The scientists then looked at satellite data collected by an Indian lunar orbiter to check where these water-trapping glass beads are. The results, published today in Nature Geoscience, show that there are widespread “hot spots” of water-rich volcanic material beyond the Moon’s poles.

(24) WESTEROS IS COMING. George R.R. Martin updated fans through his Livejournal on the status of the unfinished Winds of Winter:

I am still working on it, I am still months away (how many? good question), I still have good days and bad days, and that’s all I care to say.

Another project, the first of a two-volume collection of fake histories of the Targaryen kings called Fire and Blood, is “likely” for publication in late 2018 or 2019.

Whether WINDS or the first volume of Fire and Blood will be the first to hit the bookstores is hard to say at this juncture, but I do think you will have a Westeros book from me in 2018… and who knows, maybe two.

Meantime Gardner Dozois’ new anthology, The Book of Swords, has been scheduled for release on October 10, and is now available for pre-order from Amazon. As Martin notes —

And of course it also includes “Sons of the Dragon,” a chronicle of the reigns of Aegon the Conquerer’s two sons, Aenys I Targaryen and Maegor the Cruel, for those who cannot get enough of my entirely fake histories of Westeros. That one has never been published before in any form, though I did read it at a couple of cons.

(25) FIFTH FIFTH. Not to be missed — these comments in File 770 today:

[Thanks to JJ, ULTRAGOTHA, John King Tarpinian, Martin Morse Wooster, Cat Eldridge, Dann Todd, Harold Osler, Alan Baumler, Tom Galloway, Moshe Feder, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Xtifr.]

Sheri S. Tepper

By Robin Anne Reid:

NOTE: Spoilers for a number of Tepper’s novels occur throughout the essay.

WARNING: For references to rape and abuse of young women as an element of Tepper’s novels.

The Fan

I found my first Tepper novel in the early 1980s. I remember standing in the University of Washington bookstore reading the opening pages of King’s Blood Four, the first of what would become the nine-novel triple trilogy The True Game. Had Tepper’s work continued in that vein, interesting world-building with a male protagonist, I am not sure I would have become such a fervent fan.

However, even this early novel had threads of the feminist themes Tepper would develop in more detail in her later work. Peter starts out as a typical fantasy orphan hero. He is a young man, a foundling, raised in an all-male environment, who almost immediately embarks on a quest. The setting is the world of the True Game where characters have fantastic powers echoing medievalist fantasy conventions. But the initiating event is an attack on King Mertyn in which Peter is used and injured by his male lover, and the outcome of Peter’s journey is learning about the Immutables (those outside the Game who lack any of the powers valued in the Game) and meeting his mother (not his father!). Those differences were different enough to keep me reading the trilogy and keeping an eye out for her other work.[1] I was lucky since she published so many novels so quickly: her entry in Wikipedia lists ten novels published in 1983-1985.

The later trilogies in the True Game series, Mavin’s and Jinian’s, turn away from the male bildungsroman to twist fantasy conventions on multiple levels. Suddenly, as with Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, I found myself in a science fiction narrative of sorts, a lost colony settled by humans. But even before I read the later trilogies in the True Game series, I found the Marianne Trilogy.

image-1

Reading the first in this series put Tepper’s name immediately on my “buy as soon as they appear” list of authors, and that response never changed although some of her later works appeal to me much less than the earlier ones. I tend to be completist when I love an author’s works even if I do not love all of them.[2]

The opening paragraph of Marianne, The Magus, and the Manticore remains one of my favorites:

During the night, Marianne was awakened by a steady drumming of rain, a muffled tattoo as from a thousand drumsticks on the flat porch roof, a splash and gurgle from the rainspout at the corner of the house outside Mrs. Winesap’s window, babbling its music in vain to ears which did not hear. “I hear,” whispered Marianne, speaking to the night, the rain, the corner of the living room she could see from her bed. When she lay just so, the blanket drawn across her lips, the pillow crunched into an exact shape, she could see the amber glow of a lamp in the living room left on to light one corner of the reupholstered couch, the sheen of the carefully carpentered shelves above it, the responsive glow of the refinished table below, all in a kindly shine and haze of belonging there. “Mine,” said Marianne to the room.  The lamplight fell on the first corner of the apartment to be fully finished, and she left the light on so that she could see it if she woke, a reminder of what was possible, a promise that all the rooms would be reclaimed from dust and dilapidation. Soon the kitchen would be finished. Two more weeks at the extra work she was doing for the library and she’d have enough money for the bright Mexican tiles she had set her heart upon. (1).

This scene is vital, so present in its appeal to the senses (the sounds of the rain—a sound I often lie awake listening to—the light reflecting off bookshelves, a “refinished table,”), that I become immersed in the world immediately. Marianne’s achievement differs greatly from that of most fantasy novels: she is remodeling an old house and refinishing furniture primarily through her own labor in order to reclaim the color and feel of her childhood home, lost with her parents’ death. The fantasy worlds in this trilogy seem unique (even in the context of Tepper’s work), and I fell in love.

I love Marianne and her momegs, Marjorie and her horses, Mavin’s refusal to compromise, Jinian and her animals, Jinian’s Seven, and the Seven–Carolyn, Agnes, Bettiann, Ophelia, Jessy, Faye, and Sova—in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall.

image-2

I love Tepper’s world-creation, the animism and ecological/environmentalist themes in her work, the creativity of her names for characters and animals, and, most of all, her descriptions of trees and forests. Tepper and Tolkien’s work seem so alike to me in their love for trees although I wonder how many readers would see any similarity.

I love the feminist elements (some of them!): my love for Grass is not only because of Marjorie and her horses but because of Marjorie’s quest to save her daughter. An additional feminist elements (which I had not thought of until the early drafts of this essay) are some of the male characters who do not fit the model of heroic (or toxic) masculinity: there are two of them in Grass (Rillibee Chime and Brother Mainoa).[3]

I also (and I’ve not seen many reviews talking about this element!) love the skewering of academia that Tepper does in some of her novels (notably in the True Game series and in Sideshow).

image-3

The opening paragraphs of Chapter 1 of Grass are also very high on my list of favorite openings:

Grass!

Millions of square miles of it; numberless wind-whipped tsunamis of grass, a thousand sun-lulled caribbeans of grass, a hundred rippling oceans, every ripple a gleam of scarlet or amber, emerald or turquoise, multicolored as rainbows, the colors shivering over the prairies in stripes and blotches, the grasses—some high, some low, some feathered, some straight—making their own geography as they grow. There are grass hills where the great plumes tower in masses the height of ten tall men; grass valleys where the turf is like moss, soft under the feet, where maidens pillow their heads thinking of their lovers, where husbands lie down and think of their mistresses; grass groves where old men and women sit quite at the end of the day, dreaming of things that might have been, perhaps once were. Commoners all, of course. No aristocrat would sit in the wild grass to dream. Aristocrats have gardens for that, if they dream at all.

Grass. Ruby ridges, blood-colored highlands, wine-shaded glades. Sapphire seas of grass with dark islands of grass bearing great plumy green trees which are grass again.  Interminable meadows of silver hay where the great grazing beasts move in slanted lines like mowing machines, leaving the stubble behind them to spring up again in trackless wildernesses of rippling argent (1-2).

Tepper’s books occupy a major part of my “favorites” bookshelves (the ones in my bedroom as opposed to the ones in the library or in my home office or in my office at school). I took this picture of her books stacked up on my bedroom chair the day after I heard of her death.

image-4

Complications

I wrote Mike to ask if he would be interested in a tribute essay when I learned Sheri Tepper died (October 22, 2016). I began scribbling notes and re-reading some of her books immediately. I got (immediately!) sidetracked (academic habits now ingrained), looking at the scholarship and some critical discussions of her work online. I kept writing, and cutting, and cutting, and writing, until I realized there was a huge amount I wanted to say that I did not have time for and could not yet develop at this point.

My original impulse was to write a fan tribute, but apparently, I am a different kind of fan in 2016 than I was in 1986.[4] I still love (some) of Tepper’s work passionately (and find I am immediately grabbed/immersed in my favorites the moment I open them and read the first paragraphs) even though I can see the validity of many of the criticisms I’ve read. It’s nothing as simple as the suck fairy visiting loved books from my early years (I’ve been reading Tepper, like my other favorite writers, more or less continuously since I found her work thirty-four years ago).

I haven’t yet figured out what has happened although I am beginning to think that the flaws in her work are representative (for me) of some of my own flaws, and some of the flaws in some feminist discourses, and even in the broader American culture. To figure that out, I have to write more, but that has to come later. It’s all connected to my life and experiences, and to the development of Anglo-American feminist speculative fiction and to the current political situation in the U.S.

I wrote the first draft of this piece Wednesday, November 9, nearly twelve hours after it became clear that Donald Trump would win the presidency. The weeks since then have featured events that I think go well beyond what Tepper in even her most “heavy-handed”[5] message fiction thought of writing even though her focus on the dangers of patriarchal authoritarianism, particularly that flavored by a certain flavor of American evangelical fundamentalism (similar to that of the Quiverfull Movement) seems prescient to me.

For some years, I have thought that Tepper, among all the sff writers whose work I know, was the most focused on detailing the threats to women’s rights, especially the right to reproductive choice, that have been the focus of the GOP/Tea Party/social conservative movement the past few decades and which are reading unprecedented heights.[6] These attacks are not the only threats from the social conservatives/GOP who are exulting in the chance to dismantle the legislation and overcome court rulings that addressed systemic sexism, racism, homophobia, and poverty in this country, but I do not see much contemporary sff addressing this particular issue.[7] Tepper’s work is informed by the feminist discourses that are labelled “Second Wave Feminism,” a focus I see as connected to the strengths of her work as well as its flaws.[8]

One of the quotes from her 2008 interview at Strange Horizons is very much reflective of what I’ve been feeling since the election:

SST: Post-apocalyptic, post- or mid-holocaust? You say that’s a grim place to go on a daily basis, yet we both do it every day, don’t we? We’re living in it, Neal. Did you think it was still in the future? Read the daily paper. How do I hold myself there? I read the daily paper. How do I recover? I don’t. Do you?

I discovered Tepper, as I found so many other women writers, after I left academia in 1982 because of sexism in a graduate theatre program where I was doing a Master’s in playwriting (some of my experiences in that graduate program, and others, are why I do not see Tepper’s male antagonists as “straw-men” or unrealistically flat). I spent several years working in low-level clerical jobs and adjunct teaching while reading nothing but feminist theory and women writers. I started by finding and reading all the writers discussed in Joanna Russ’ brilliant How to Supress Women’s Writing, but I also pursued a longtime strategy of mine that predated becoming a feminist: read the bookshelves at libraries and bookstores. If a title or a cover caught my attention, I’d read the first page and see what if it grabbed me.

That’s how I found Tepper.

At the time, I was happy to see the feminist ideas in her work and did not see some of the more problematic aspects relating to Second Wave feminism, particularly in regard to the whiteness of her characters and a view of sex / gender / sexual orientation that defaults to straightness and erases or condemns queerness, flaws that are typical in most cultural productions, of course, as the debates in sff fandom the past few years have highlighted.

I returned to academia in the late 1980s because I could do feminist work in a doctoral program; I did not realize how much intersectional feminist work had been done during the 1970s/1980s until I took my first theory course. That course, and the ones following, changed everything for me. Among other things, critical theory freed me from the limitations of the training I received in my undergraduate days (which excluded popular genres by fiat): Foucault was the one whose work gave me my first tools for writing about science fiction in an academic context (though I had to sort of sneak it into my dissertation­). The work by intersectional feminists gave me an entirely different perspective on the sff I loved.

The Academic

As a lifelong fan turned academic who got a Ph.D. in English in part so I could teach sff, I have always been aware of how literary canons are built to exclude. The exclusionary nature of canon-building did not disappear when the 1970s led to so many challenges to the Anglo-American canon of literature: what came about was more an “explosion” of canons.

Thus, there is a feminist sf canon that developed over time, with scholars focusing until recently on the relatively small body of text known as the “seventies feminist utopias” (or the lesbian separatist utopias). Feminist sf scholarship has grown and developed in recent years, and I think the early focus on utopias/dystopias was inevitable given that utopias/dystopias were the only “science fiction” allowed in literary studies at the time.[9] I love some of the novels (particularly those by Joanna Russ and Marge Piercy), but never felt that I had much of anything to say about them as opposed to work by other women sff writers.

My love for Tepper’s work was one of the main reasons that I became interested in the ways in which (some) women writers publishing in the 1980s integrated feminist ideas into their sff in ways that differed from the 1970s feminist utopias (a genre which has nearly disappeared, as Peter Fitting discusses in his excellent essay, “Reconsiderations of the Separatist Paradigm in Recent Feminist Science Fiction,” published in Science Fiction Studies in 1992).

The Marianne trilogy, along with Mavin’s and Jinian’s, and the Arbai Trilogy (Grass, Raising the Stones, and Sideshow are my favorite Teppers.[10] My first major academic presentation in 1991 was on Grass as feminist epic revision of Frank Herbert’s Dune. I have published one article on Tepper’s work in which I talk about the trilogies in the context of feminist utopias, arguing that Tepper’s work explores feminist themes through the concept of “momentary utopias” or “momutes.”[11] The paragraphs below echo some of what I discussed in that essay.

The early trilogies (Marianne’s, Mavin’s, and Jinian’s) are all stories about young women who resist the expectations of their male-dominated families and cultures in ways that differ from the 1970s feminist utopias (with the exception of Woman on the Edge of Time). Since more women began publishing in the 1980s, a greater range of feminist ideas began to appear along with a greater range in genres. Tepper did write one book that can arguably be considered a feminist utopia or dystopia (The Gate to Women’s Country) but I consider most of her work to be feminist speculative fiction with strong fantastic/fantasy elements.

The blend of fantastic worldbuilding and systems of magical powers existing with stories of male family members raping girls, restricting their education, and forcing them into marriages inform these novels. The protagonists resist/escape family pressures but focus on individual resistance for the most part. All the protagonists escape their families but only one is involved in an attempt to change the dominant culture.

Marianne changes her life by changing the time-line (with the help of the momentary gods which she learns how to use by watching her aunt, the villain of the narrative) rather than by changing social expectations or cultural systems. Her power comes from her birth as a Kavi, a member of the hereditary ruling class in Alpenlicht. This trilogy stands out as one of the few of Tepper’s stories in which heterosexual marriage is presented as a positive relationship. I loved it for its worldbuilding, the momegs, the beautiful descriptive prose of the natural world, and the secondary worlds.

Mavin is born into an oppressive extended family, a group of Shapeshifters in the Land of the True Game. Mavin escapes by leaving the Shifter compound, rescuing her younger brother, and, much later, her older sister, and others along the way. Not only does she face rape as she as she is deemed adult (is able to Shift), but the ongoing rape and abuse of her older sister is revealed. Mavin’s trilogy is very much a quest narrative covering twenty years of her life, but she never marries. She loves Himaggery, a wizard she meets in the first novel, but does not stay with him. One of her quests is to rescue him, and shows that they were happy only when shifted into magical beasts (singlehorns described as very similar to unicorns).  Mavin gives their son, Peter, to her brother to raise. Mavin does not change the cultures or communities she passes through, but she goes beyond what Marianne does by rescuing women and girls. The extent of the world beyond the Land of the True Game is shown in Mavin’s journeys—and the environmentalism/ecological elements are very strong.

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Jinian’s trilogy moves from the focus on the individual to that of the groups attempting to change the dominant culture before the world dies. On her quest, Jinian learns about the origin and history of human settlement on Lom. Humans colonized the planet, not realizing that Lom (embodying the Gaia hypothesis) was sentient and able to communicate with all its native creatures. Lom tries to bring humanity into the web, but humans resist; then, Lom grants humans magical Talents. But their increased power leads to more violence against each other and the destruction of the environment.  The groups working to try to change human society, the Wizards and Dervishes specifically, are mostly (but not exclusively) women.[12]

Jinian is raised in an abusive family (who turns out not to be her birth family), but is helped from the start by a group of older women, called a Seven, who are Wizards /Wize arts. She is a Wizard and a beast-talker, able to communicate with animals and the other sentient beings of Lom. She is the one who discovers that the spirit is trying to commit suicide. As a result of the efforts Jinian leads, Lom decides to live but takes away the humans’ Talents. Jinian becomes involved with and marries Peter during the course of her quest, but also has strong relationships with other women, not only with her Seven, but with Silkhands the Healer.

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Over time, as I read Tepper’s late work in the context of my graduate courses and first attempts to write feminist scholarship on science fiction, I became aware of the problematic aspects relating to race and heteronormativity. Those patterns are not unique in sff either at the time or today. Additionally, I saw the tendency in her narratives to construct sexism as institutionalized by authoritarian religions and regimes as a genetic component of humanity.[13]

Thus, her novels showed that only a change in the human genome could change human nature, leading to eugenics/breeding programs (explored in detail in The Gate to Women’s Country but also central to The Waters Rising and Fish Tails. Some novels show groups of humans running the breeding programs while others feature external agents causing the change, at times with the cooperation of some humans (the Goddess in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, the Arbai device in the Arbai trilogy, the Pistach in The Fresco).[14]

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The Question for the Future

I am ending this piece by noting the question that I keep coming to as I’ve been working on the drafts: the extent to which Tepper’s gender/genetic essentialism is representative of popular ideas in feminism specifically and more broadly in U.S. culture.

The entry on Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender shows that some feminist theories are essentialist (meaning the assumption that sex or gender differences are “natural,” or genetically created).

P. Z. Myers noted in a recent post in his blog, the idea that “male” and “female” DNA exists is so widespread that even a Young Earth creationist cites “science” (incorrectly, but still tying the claim to “scientific knowledge”) to support his claim of the essential differences between men and women: There’s no such things as male and female DNA by P. Z. Myers.

This genetic essentialism is heavily implicated in concepts of “race.” This conversation between two anthropologists, (which Myers linked to in another blog post) covers the widespread and common understanding that DNA is “race”: New Articulations of Biological Difference in the 21st Century: A Conversation, Agustin Fuentes and Carolyn Rouse, at Anthropology Now.

Agusti?n: The core problem here remains that biology courses in high school and college are taught by individuals who, at least subconsciously, buy into the “race as biology” and “genetics as deterministic” perspectives. There are very, very few high schools in the United States where accurate information on human biological diversity is offered. There are few courses even at the college level where such information is provided or where contemporary evolutionary theory and biology are the norm. Inside and outside the classroom, students are mired in implicit “race talk” related to issues of biology and an overemphasis on genetic control of behavior. Think about discussions of professional sports, testosterone, violence, sexuality.

The history of deterministic genetics is tied to the history of genetics, with the impact on popular understanding of sex, race, and sexual orientation being documented fairly extensively.[15] The tendency to assume a “natural” (aka genetic) cause for differences is widespread.

Tepper’s work definitely assumes a genetic component, but stories/novels are sneaky. They twine around and bite their own tails. As I was re-reading Tepper’s work for this essay, I kept thinking about how Fish Tails, unlike some of the earlier novels, seems to critique the common trope of breeding programs as solutions in the two plot lines: Lillis and Needly’s life in Hench Valley, one of Tepper’s most clearly delineated (and yes, heavy-handed!) portrayals of patriarchal authoritarianism, and Xulai’s story (which began in The Waters Rising. I agree with the various critical reviews I’ve seen that this trilogy has a number of problems in narrative technique, characterization, and themes, but it also contains some criticism of the attempt to improve the human race through breeding programs that did not exist in the earlier works.

So this piece seems to be the start of something longer trying to figure out what I see going on in Tepper’s work, and how people (including but not only me) have responded to it over the years. I don’t really need any more projects added to the mountain, but I don’t think this one is going to go away anytime soon.

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[1] One of my favorite parts of Raising the Stones is the way in which the narrative deconstructs the “father quest” in Samasnier (Sam) Girat’s arc. Sam, having been brought up on Hobbs Land after his mother Maire escaped from Ahabar, misses the legends and religion, or his idealization of them, and embodies those ideals in his father.

[2] My least favorite work is Beauty (so much so that I don’t think I have ever re-read it), and others that I rarely reread are The Awakeners duology North Shore and South Shore), The Companions, and Shadow’s End).

[3] The major male characters who are antagonists can be described as flat characters/stereotypical villains (and there are many of them) although I keep thinking of the behaviors Tepper must have observed over her years working at CARE and Planned Parenthood, and of behaviors I growing up in the 1950s/1960s. This reviewer’s comment struck me as revealing: criticizing the characterization of Rigo (especially the sections in which he is the point of view character) in Grass as stereotypical, they also say: Sadly, I’m sure this isn’t too far afield from some real battered spouse situations, but it’s not anything I wanted to read about. Real life may be like this, but if any author is going to put it into a book, I want the catharsis of Marjorie kicking his ass by the end of the novel. I’m left wondering what they would define as “kicking ass” because Marjorie saves her daughter, saves her horses, convinces the Foxen to intervene, helps solve the mystery of the plague, rejects the handsome younger male who is trying to restrict her to his romantic ideal, walks away from Rigo and her religion, and then leaves for her own quest (bits and pieces of which we get in the other novels in the trilogy) with First.

[4] In 1986, I was just starting my doctoral work which focused on which focused on gender, queer, and critical race theories and was years away from learning how to be a fan of problematic things.

[5] “Heavy-handed” is in quotes because I tend to think one person’s heavy-handed message fic can be another person’s incisive description of reality. Tepper is pretty up-front about preaching in her fiction (and rejecting “literary fiction” as she notes in this 2008 interview. And after two decades of reading (and enjoying but aware of) the “heavy-handed” message science fiction by men about men written for a (perceived to be) male audience, I was pretty happy to find a feminist message back then.

[6] Politics USA details various legislative attempts to restrict women’s rights to reproductive care, especially abortion services. It’s worth remembering that there’s a major push to define most contraceptive methods as “abortion.”

[7] I have been recommending Meg Ellison’s The Book of the Unnamed Midwife to everyone I talk to: it’s a brilliant post-apocalyptic dystopian evocation of the fundamental importance of reproductive rights: and one that speaks directly to current circumstances in the wake of the Zika virus.

[8] I’d imagine the majority of feminist readers can identify the Second Wave elements in her work; a very good review of Tepper’s dystopias by The Rejectionist can be found at Tor.com.

[9] Given the dominance of feminist utopias in the feminist sf canon, it’s not surprising the more articles have been written on The Gate to Women’s Country than on Tepper’s other novels.  When I checked the Modern Languages Association International Bibliography, I found 23 articles or book chapters listed: not all of them are peer-reviewed because the MLA currently includes popular criticism (such as reviews from the New York Review of Science Fiction) and dissertations. Nine of the articles are on Gate; six of those focus on the topic of feminist utopias. Beauty is the second most popular (three articles), and there are single articles on Raising the Stones and Six Moon Dance. I’m the only one who has written on her earlier novels, or the trilogies.

[10] My favorite stand-alone novels are Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, The Family Tree, The Fresco and, in other genres, her horror duology about Mahlia and Roger Ettison. I enjoy her two mystery series, published under the open pseudonyms of Orde and Oliphant, but they do not do the kind of work her sf does.

[11] “Momutes”: Momentary Utopias in Tepper’s Trilogies.” The Utopian Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Twentieth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. Edited by Martha Bartter. Praeger, 2004. 101-108.

Thesis paragraph:  First, to explain the origins of my invented word, “momutes.”  In Marianne, The Madame and The Momentary Gods, Tepper’s second novel of the Marianne trilogy, Tepper introduces creatures/creations called momentary gods, or “momegs.”  Momegs are “basically a wave form with particular aspects,” beings who “give material space its reality by giving time its duration” (53-4).  An infinite number of momegs exist, each with its own locus, and the momegs describe themselves as both a wave and a particle.  I argue that Tepper’s trilogies are feminist science fiction and include “momutes,” or momentary visions of utopian possibilities. However, a reading of the trilogies in order of publication reveals that the momutes change over the course of the novels and that the changes in the nature of these momutes correlates with the development of a more complicated narrative structure and with a decreasing trust in human beings’ ability to create feminist/utopian societies.  The correlation between the nature of the momutes and narrative structures reveal a change in emphasis from Tepper’s focus (perhaps also reflecting differences in feminist theory) upon the feminist empowerment of an individual woman within a patriarchal and oppressive culture, to the problem of how cultural change on a larger level occur.  Cultures are rarely if ever changed by the actions of single individuals who call for such change.  Instead, systemic changes beyond the agency of any single individual, involving demographics, technology, and economics, are what lead to cultural changes.  Considering the change in culture, the subject of feminist utopias, is a more complex task than the changes in a single individual.

[12] The Plague of Angels trilogy, completed in 2014 with Tepper’s last published work, Fish Tails, crosses over into the True Game World. As a fan of the earlier trilogies, I enjoyed this attempt which I consider equal to if not superior to the similar attempts by Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov to link up all their earlier works as well.

[13] Octavia Butler explores similar themes, notably in the Xenogenesis series in which the Oankali ‘diagnose’ human’s flaws as our intelligence and hierarchical natures and begin a breeding program, and in her Patternmaster series, from a very different perspective and with different results. The difference in their respective handling of this idea—and I think it’s a very important one—is that Butler complicates/explores the negative results of such attempts while Tepper does not (though I think there are some attempts at such complication in her later work).

[14] James Davis Nicoll noted Tepper’s tendency towards eugenics in one of his reviews, and Wendy Gay Pearson wrote an excellent critical analysis in “After the (Homo)sexual: Queer Readings of Anti-Sexuality in Sheri S. Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country,” <em>Science Fiction Studies</em>. Vol. 23 Iss. 2 (1996).  The Abstract for Pearson’s work is here; I am not able to find a version online, though SFS used to have it available.

[15] A Short History of Scientific Racism

 

Pixel Scroll 11/27 The Pixel Scrolled Back from Nothing at All

I’m off to Loscon for the day — so a very early Scroll.

(1) ARTISTS AND NEW WFA. Several tweets of interest about the call for submissions of World Fantasy Award designs.

The first three of nine tweets by John Picacio responding to discussion of his blog post “Artists Beware”.

(2) FAN CRITICS OF TOLKIEN. Robin Anne Reid’s “The question of Tolkien Criticism” answers Norbert Schürer’s “Tolkien Criticism Today” (LA Review of Books).

Fans can and do write critical commentary of Tolkien’s work, and not all critics/academics distance ourselves from being fans, a distancing stance that was perhaps once required to support the myth of academic objectivity. I suspect, given Schürer’s commentary on Tolkien’s work and style as well as his conclusion, that he would not identify as a fan. But his idea that the primary audience for Tolkien scholars is only fans (instead of other Tolkien scholars) strikes me as bizarre as does the idea that fan demands would affect what a critic would say:

Just as importantly, Tolkien should not be treated with kid gloves because he is a fan favorite with legions to be placated, but as the serious and major author he is (para.22).

Since the quote above is Schürer’s conclusion, he provides no evidence for this claim that critics treat Tolkien “with kid gloves” for fear of these legions of fans.

(3) REACHER. Andy Martin observed Lee Child writing the Jack Reacher novel Make Me from start to finish. Martin, a University of Cambridge lecturer, and the author have a dialog in about their experience in “The Professor on Lee Child’s Shoulder” at the New York  Times Sunday Review.

MARTIN I was sitting about two yards behind you while you tapped away. Trying to keep quiet. I could actually make out a few of the words. “Nothingness” I remember for some obscure reason. And “waterbed.” And then I kept asking questions. I couldn’t help myself. How? Why? What the…? Oh surely not! A lot of people thought I would destroy the book.

CHILD Here is the fundamental reality about the writing business. It’s lonely. You spend all your time writing and then wondering whether what you just wrote is any good. You gave me instant feedback. If I write a nicely balanced four-word sentence with good rhythm and cadence, most critics will skip right over it. You not only notice it, you go and write a couple of chapters about it. I liked the chance to discuss stuff that most people never think about. It’s weird and picayune, but obviously of burning interest to me.

MARTIN And the way you care about commas — almost Flaubertian! I tried to be a kind of white-coated detached observer. But every observer impinges on the thing he is observing. Which would be you in this case. And I noticed that everything around you gets into your texts. You are an opportunistic writer. For example, one day the maid was bumping around in the kitchen and in the next line you used the word “bucket.” Another time there was some construction work going on nearby and the next verb you used was “nail.” We go to a bookstore and suddenly there is Reacher, in a bookstore.

(4) ACCESSIBLE CONS. Rose Lemberg adopts a unified approach to “#accessiblecons and Geek Social Fallacies”.

“Geek Social Fallacies” are in themselves a fallacy. There are many people – not just the disabled -pushed away from fandom.

It’s not expensive to get a ramp in the US with pre-planning. Most hotels have them ready because they are ADA-compliant. If you invite a person in a wheelchair to speak at a con, and there is no ramp, you ostracized them. Own it.

It’s not because it’s too difficult, too expensive, it’s not because the fan did not ask nicely or loudly or politely enough. It’s because you did NOT accept them as they are. It’s because you ostracized them. Will you own it?

Year after year, I see defensiveness. I see the same arguments repeat. It’s too pricey. It’s the disabled person’s fault. Where are our Geek Social Fallacies when it comes to access? Can we as a community stop ostracizing disabled fans already?

(5) LON CHANEY. Not As A Stranger (1955) will air on Turner Classic Movies this Thursday December 3 at 10:00 a.m. Eastern; Lon Chaney cast as Job Marsh, father of Robert Mitchum, a moving portrayal that ranks among his very best.

(6) SF SCREENPLAYS. Nick Ransome, “Writing Science Fiction Screenplays” at Industrial Scripts.

Sci-Fi is the only genre, apart from the Western, still to resist the post-modern impulse. This could be due to the fact that Sci-Fi is not a genre at all, but the actual reason that Sci-Fi so completely resists the post-modern relativity of time and meaning is because that is what it was always about in the first place. There are no realities or meanings more relative than those revealed by Science Fiction.

In its purest form, the Sci-Fi narrative presents a polarity of moral choices and asks the most difficult of existential questions. This polarity is encapsulated by the utopian (ordered, no conflict, boring) and the dystopian (messy, intriguing, human).

LOGAN’S RUN is the best example in terms of story theory because although the action begins in a utopia, we soon realise that in fact we are in a dystopian nightmare (the Act One reversal). Films like BRAZIL, DARK CITY and THE MATRIX may start with a semblance of reality (the world as you just about know it) but then fairly swiftly make us aware that we are actually in a version of hell (or rather an allegory of the world as it really is).

(7) CIXIN LIU. A Cixin Liu interview about “The future of Chinese sci-fi” at Global Times was posted August 30, however, I believe this is the first time it’s been linked here.

GT: Some Chinese fans have said they want to band together to vote on the World Science Fiction website next year. What’s your opinion on this? Liu: That’s the best way to destroy The Three-Body Trilogy. And not just this sci-fi work, but also the reputation of Chinese sci-fi fans. The entire number of voters for the Hugo Awards is only around 5,000. That means it is easily influenced by malicious voting. Organizing 2,000 people to each spend $14 is not hard, but I am strongly against such misbehavior. If that really does happen, I will follow the example of Marko Kloos, who withdrew from the shortlist after discovering the “Rabid Puppies” had asked voters to support him.

GT: Many fans believe that even if The Three-Body Problem had benefited from the “puppies,” it still was deserving of a Hugo Award. Do you agree? Liu: Deserving is one thing, getting the award is another thing. Many votes went to The Three-Body Problem after Marko Kloos withdrew. That’s something I didn’t want to see. But The Three-Body Problem still would have had a chance to win by a slim margin of a few votes [without the “puppies”]. After the awards, some critics used this – the support right-wing organizations like the “puppies” gave The Three-Body Problem – as an excuse to criticize the win. That frustrated me. The “puppies” severely harmed the credibility of the Hugo Awards. I feel both happy and “unfortunate” to have won this year. The second volume was translated by an American translator, while the first and third were translated by Liu Yukun (Ken Liu). Most Chinese readers think the second and the third books are better than the first, but American readers won’t necessarily feel the same way. So I’m not sure about the Hugo Awards next year. I’m just going to take things in stride.

GT: It’s not easy for foreign literature to break into the English language market. What do you think of Liu Yukun’s translation? Liu: Although only my name is on the trophy, it actually belongs to both myself and Liu Yukun. He gets half the credit. He has a profound mastery of both Oriental and Western literature. He is important to me and Chinese sci-fi. He has also introduced books from other countries to the West. A Japanese author once told me that the quality of Japanese sci-fi is much better than China’s, but its influence in the US is much weaker. That’s because they lack a bridge like Liu Yukun.

(8) RETRO COLLECTION. Bradley W. Schenck is pleased with the latest use of his Pulp-O-Mizer.

I ran across a post at File770.com featuring the third volume of a collection of stories eligible for the 1941 Retro Hugo Awards at next year’s Worldcon. The collection is an ongoing project by File770 user von Dimpleheimer.

Since the third volume is a big batch of stories by Henry Kuttner and Ray Cummings I followed the link and grabbed a copy, only to discover that von Dimpleheimer had made the eBook cover with my very own Pulp-O-Mizer. This put a smile all over my face. Like, actually, all over my face.

So I went back and downloaded the first two volumes and, sure enough, they had also been Pulp-O-Mized. This may be my very favorite use of the Pulp-O-Mizer to date.

(9) TEASER. A new Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser was posted on Thanksgiving. I’m leery of viewing these TV spots because I’m already sold on the movie and don’t want to dilute the experience of watching it. YMMV.

The minute-long teaser, dubbed “All The Way,” debuted on Facebook, but will also appear as a TV spot. IT finds Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke character telling Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, “Even you have never faced such a test.”

[Thanks to Francis Hamit, Will R., and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Jonathan Edelstein.]

Praising or Burying Tolkien

Editor’s Introduction: These thoughts, left this morning as a comment, struck me as so substantial they ought to be shared in a guest post as well. (The author chose the byline, I made up the title.) Author Reid would like to note: “I did not realize on first writing it that it was a reprint of an earlier Le Guin piece.” Although Le Guin’s essay appeared online November 2, it was originally given as a talk in 2000.

By Robin Anne Reid:

Le Guin: American critics and academics have been trying for forty years to bury one of the great works of twentieth-century fiction, The Lord of the Rings. They ignore it, they condescend to it, they stand in large groups with their backs to it, because they’re afraid of it. They’re afraid of dragons. They know if they acknowledge Tolkien they’ll have to admit that fantasy can be literature, and that therefore they’ll have to redefine what literature is.

Do some “American critics and academics” try to bury Tolkien?

Sure!

I’m defining “critics” as a huge group of writers who publish reviews and commentary in a range of periodicals from the New York Times Review of Science Fiction (ahem started by Gerald Jonas who strikes me as an American critics to the sff magazines to internet commentary at blogs (Natalie Luhrs being one of my FAVORITE bloggers).

Note that forty years ago, “critics” would have been a much smaller, much maler, much straighter, much whiter, much more “professional” (in the sense of gatekeeping) group that now.

That is, “critics” means everybody who publishes commentary on Tolkien and sff (I’m extending my points to sff because I think that it’s all part of one major paradigm shift in U.S. culture and academia) who isn’t an academic publishing in a peer-reviewed journal or through a university press. Thus, academics are a sub-set of “critics.”

News flash: they failed.

Secondary news flash: critics and academics tried even harder in the United Kingdom to bury Tolkien but even there, they failed.

It didn’t matter how AWFUL Edmund Wilson found Tolkien’s Orcs.

They failed in every possible way.

Not only is Tolkien’s popularity greater than ever (and we’re talking a global popularity fueled by translations in numerous languages and by Peter Jackson’s live-action film adaptation (no matter how horrendous some critics and academics find the films — and a lot of their language ironically mirrors the anti-Tolkien criticism of the 1950s in dismissing them as “boys’ adventure/action stories”), the films have expanded Tolkien’s readership, led directly to Tolkien’s work being taught in more schools and universities, and to more scholarship being written on Tolkien by academics.

The numbers I’m going to give below are from the Modern Languages International Bibliography. The Modern Languages Association is the oldest and largest professional organization of literature and languages academics in the English-speaking world (I suspect world-wide, but I don’t know for sure!).

It is certainly a good example, overall, to support LeGuin’s claims about academic marginalizing of genre literature (science fiction, Tolkien, romance, westerns, mysteries, etc.). But the Bibliography is one of the most comprehensive of scholarship published in academic journals (and in recent years non-academic journals are included as well), so it’s a good place to mine for data showing changes.

So. “Tolkien” subject search done November 4, 2015.

Results: 2,419 (meaning books, anthology chapters, articles, and dissertations).

The first three articles published in 1952 and 1953 talk about his work on Beowulf. Tolkien’s essay “The Monsters and the Critics” was the foundation of entire literary sub-field of Beowulf studies, as opposed to it being solely a focus for philological scholarship on Anglo Saxon language issues. (And I would argue as well from a lot of years hanging out with medievalists, who were the majority of academics to write about Tolkien’s novels, his arguments about the poem as a LITERARY work are also strongly connected to the foundation of Tolkien studies).

But of course that was before LotR was published. Douglas Anderson’s The Annotated Hobbit covers a lot of the celebratory critical commentary and articles when the book was first published.

Arguably, TH was less controversial than LotR because it was presented as a “children’s story” which fit the cultural stereotypes of the time, i.e. “fantasy” was OK for children, because children. Tolkien tackled those stereotypes in his essay “On Fairy Stories” which has been much studies and used by (wait for it) academics writing on Tolkien’s work. The negative criticisms of LotR, exemplified by Wilson, seemed mostly incensed by the idea that actual adults, including people like C. S. Lewis and W. H. Auden were taking this “childish” story by this weird Oxford don *seriously* as adult literature. Le Guin isn’t wrong that a lot of critics and academics want to dismiss Tolkien: what leaves me frustrated by her comments is that she completely glosses over and ignores the forty or more years during which *some* academics and critics have been resisting that tendency.

The first article published on Tolkien’s work is not necessarily a positive one. thus it is part of the “let’s bury him” strategy.

Although I will note that publishing essays on an author is not exactly the best way to “bury” his work not in academia which has a lot of people who read an essay they disagree with and voila WRITE an essay arguing with it!

The text below is copied from the MLA Bibliography and is in the format they give (true for all the entries taken from that source):

Ethical Pattern in The Lord of the Rings By: Spacks, Patricia Meyer; Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, 1959; 3 (1): 30-42. (journal article)

The most recent publication indexed in the MLA Bibliography is: A Song for J. R. R. Tolkien Full Text Available By: Parman, Sue; Antioch Review, 2015 Winter; 73 (1): 34-44. (journal article) Subjects: letters; memoir

Let’s do a quick chronological breakdown, speaking of “40 years” of ignoring Tolkien.

If I limit the search for publications on Tolkien’s work to only those publications appearing during the years 1950-1975 (the final date being chosen because it was 40 years ago) on Tolkien, I get:

177 publications during those in 25 years

I’ve read quite a few of them, and there are some interesting patterns to discuss, including the fact that the earliest academic anthologies on Tolkien’s work tended to try to “dismiss the fans,” and explain how Tolkien’s work was really GOOD despite its popularity, and to hope that the popularity diminished so “real” scholarship could be done.

So clearly those early academics’ hopes that popularity would diminish have failed miserably!

A subject search on Tolkien criticism and scholarship from 1976-2015:

2,242 results (these include periodical articles, peer-reviewed articles, anthology chapters, books by single authors, and dissertations in the United States at least).

I’d say the last forty years shows a spirited attempt by scholars and critics in multiple disciplinary areas to *bring Tolkien into the canon of literary works.*

By canon, I mean those works that are discussed by academics and critics, in a variety of cultural spaces, including peer-reviewed journals, and those works that are taught in schools.

And my focus here excludes the immense amount of fan scholarship that exists on Tolkien, a fan scholarship that is still pretty much ignored by academic scholars.

However, since a number of the “second generation” of Tolkien scholars, including myself identify as fans, at least we’re not all still routinely dissing fans. I say “second generation” because the “first generation” consists of those academics that created Tolkien Studies by publishing, teaching, and organizing sessions at conferences.

The biggest names of the first generation are: Jane Chance, Verlyn Flieger, and Tom Shippey, all academics. All still alive (though all recently retired). And the fact that two of the three biggest academic names in the field are women is fairly unique (outside fields such as feminist studies and women’s literature!)

And collections of scholarship in honor of their work on Tolkien are published/being published.

And the teaching issue (often ignored by many who aren’t, well, teachers) is important as well. Tolkien’s work was first taught in U. S. colleges as part of the changes during the 1970s (not because of a great sea-change in which everyone realized that omg it’s LITERATURE, but because it attracted students into classes). The process of canonization includes teaching of the works, especialkly at the college and graduate level (and warning: the “canon” changes constantly).

[There was a huge drop-off of students majoring in humanities courses during the 1970s which has been debated for years. George Will and Harold Bloom and Allen Bloom and all their Puppy Ilk have attributed this drop-off to the fact that the hippies and marxists who failed during the 1960s to overthrow the white Amerikan Western Civilization took over the universities to indoctrinate the young by throwing out Shakespeare and teaching Alice Walker, aka THEORY and SJWs. In fact, recent intriguing research shows that one reason that the numbers changed was the impact of the feminist movement that opened up degrees in male-dominated programs to women in the United States: The changing majors of women. Certainly it’s true that the progressive and activist movements had an impact on academia during the 1970s, with the growth of women’s studies, Afro-American studies, multicultural and ethnic studies, etc., that continued to the present day. In any case, the first courses on Tolkien were taught during the 1970s, though some research I was doing in the Marquette Tolkien Archive indicates there were some earlier English faculty in the U.S. involved in a variety of Tolkien courses and publications that aren’t always known about today.]

Tolkien still won’t be found routinely in most “canonical” courses such as “British surveys” necessarily, or in “Modern British Literature” necessarily, and is still often taught under special topic rubrics (meaning not official courses), but even that is changing.

The Modern Languages Association itself has just published (about eight years in the making, sigh) a book on teaching Tolkien in its “Approaches to Teaching World Literature: edited by Leslie Donovan.

Leslie has also set up an online journal for teachers (at all grade levels and in all disciplines) to post about how they teach Tolkien.

Short message: there’s a whole lot of people teaching Tolkien all over the U. S. educational system from grade school to graduate school. And the more we teach it, the more it will be taught. (I teach Tolkien under the special topics number in my department, though I can occasionally sneak his work in, or Pratchett’s in a couple of memorable summer terms under a regular course titled “Major British Writers” that allows for a wide range of topics to be taught.)

And “Tolkien Studies” is growing as an academic sub-field: it’s still challenged by many, still controversial, but it’s growing.

I wish that Le Guin could acknowledge that because her points, while absolutely accurate when The Language of the Night was published in 1978, are part of the change I’m talking about here.

Doing subject searches on “Le Guin” in the MLA Bibliography shows 521 results (articles, peer-reviewed articles, books, anthologies, and dissertations).

The earliest one appeared in 1972:

‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ and the Charge of Escapism Detail Only Available By: Jago, Wendy; Children’s Literature in Education: An International Quarterly, 1972 July; 3 (2): 21-29. (journal article) Subjects: children; naming; choice; morality

Yes, it was in the children’s literature area (but let’s think a moment about how people still dismiss “children’s literature” — and nowadays “YA literature” as not real literature even though both these areas are ones that have been most welcoming to sff related works — probably because of their own marginal status — and it’s not completely coincidental that these academic fields are dominated by women and have been since the start — since women (primarily white because of institutional racism in the U. S. academy) don’t have any major cultural capital or status, what the hell, we can do all the weird stuff if we want), but it was there.

And the newest publications: the most recent three, all appearing in 2015, are dissertations. The fact that they’re dissertations is a major thing: one usually publishes from one’s dissertation in the first few years of academic employment, and if these topics are approved, it means that graduate academics are “approving” topics in the marginalized areas. Also note the topics related to the dissertations and the universities:

Spectacles of Faith: Technology, Religion, and Modern American Fictions Detail Only Available By: Hamner, Everett Lance; Dissertation Abstracts International, 2015 Nov; 76 (5). U of Iowa, 2008 (dissertation abstract) Subjects: Ellison, Ralph; Percy, Walker; Le Guin, Ursula K.; film; technology; religion

Let’s Just Steal the Rockets: 1970s Feminist Science Fiction as Radical Rhetorical Revisioning Detail Only Available By: Belk, Patrick Nolan; Dissertation Abstracts International, 2015 Aug; 76 (2). U of North Carolina, Greensboro, 2014 (dissertation abstract) Subjects: 1970-1979; utopia; social justice; feminism

Balancing Flux and Stability: Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed Detail Only Available By: Jones, Hillary A.; Dissertation Abstracts International, 2015 Feb; 75 (8). Pennsylvania State U, 2011 (dissertation abstract) Subjects: paradox; rhetoric; anarchism

Besides the work on Le Guin’s fiction, there are 30 articles by Le Guin herself as a critic and author and editor!

Just as Tolkien wrote fiction AND criticism AND theory, so too does Le Guin.

That’s why I say she’s part of the solution to the problem she is writing about!

And as I noted above, I also strongly associated the status of Tolkien’s work in criticism and the academy with “science fiction” (though arguably at the start, during the 1970s, there was a bit more credibility given to “hard” science fiction over fantasy — but of course the field of “science fiction,” or “speculative fiction” as I prefer has changed as well!). Certainly when I was in fandom during the 1970s, we didn’t distinguish that much between the genres.

(And when I was active in fandom, I was also an English major in a department where there was ONE “Science Fiction as Literature course,” and then going on to my graduate work, and eventually getting my doctorate with a dissertation that incorporated feminist theory and Foucault and science fiction — I was an SF fan before I became an English major, and I got a Ph.D. so I could bring sf — by women! — into the academy. A lot of us did. THINGS CHANGED.)

“Science fiction” subject search in MLA: 11,673 hits

Lunar Characters in Science and Fiction By: Parsons, Coleman O.; Notes and Queries, 1933; 164: 346-348. (journal article)

  1. *ahem*

Remembering and Restoring the Republic: Star Wars and Rome Full Text Available By: Charles, Michael B.; Classical World, 2015 Winter; 108 (2): 281-298. (journal article) Subjects: science fiction film; Star Wars film series; freedom; oppression; Roman Empire

What a lot of book fans/academics didn’t predict was the growth of “science fiction” as a mainstream cultural product through films and games (and having hung out at the International Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts where some of the founders of science fiction literary studies do, I’m say to say a lot of them are grumpy about it and complain about young people these days not reading the classics….)

It’s a bit harder to track “fantasy” scholarship because the term “fantasy” refers to a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with “genre fantasy” (darn psychology!). But a few searches of related terms:

Genre fantasy 605 Fantastic literature 261 Dystopias 1,016 Utopia 5,707

A lot of “fantasy” might get subsumed under “science fiction” tags in databases. There are entire academic journals dedicated entirely to science fiction and fantasy:

And, finally, TWO journals dedicated to Tolkien’s work alone:

And, finally, one of the reasons that Le Guin’s ongoing dismissal of “academics and critics” bugs me the most is because it wipes out all the work done by women sff fans, critics, and academics (of which she is one! And she knows about WisCon, and Broad Universe, and The Tiptree Award, who are all full of critics and academics working to build awareness of sff.

Laura Quilter has been doing amazing work on the internet for years, and there are so many others, writing criticism in many different internet publications and spaces.

There’s even an Encyclopedia of Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy!

And let’s not forget three major intellectual/cultural histories on women and sff that I have to recommend All. The. Time.

It’s good to keep calling out the sad dinosaurs that are resisting the changes of the past fifty plus years, but it would be nice if Le Guin, with the size of her audience, spent a little time focusing on all the critics and academics, especially the women, who are creating the changes she is calling for.

Her ongoing unawareness of the critical and academic efforts (if she has spent time writing about these efforts, I apologize for not having seen it and would love the links doing) is getting increasingly frustrating.