Pixel Scroll 12/20/17 God Stalk Ye Merry Pixel Scrolls

(1) IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR. Somebody reading this needs a ThinkGeek Steampunk Styled Tesla Analog Watch.

Tesla came up with all sorts of inventions and has sort of become the poster scientist for awesomeness now. Sure he wasn’t perfect. Sure he was a bit crazy. But he was always on time for his appointments. (Ed. note: We made that up.) And now you can be, too, with the new Tesla Watch.

The Tesla Watch goes with your steampunk aesthetic. With a weathered-brass look on all the metal parts, this analog watch features a leather strap. The highlights of this design, however, are the two faux vacuum tubes with red LEDs inside that you can turn on and off with the flick of a switch. Everybody will want to ask you what time it is so they can see your watch. Just remember to follow the answer with, “… 1875.”

(2) ACADEMY MUSEUM. The opening of The Academy Museum in 2019 is more than a year away, however, they have a website to satisfy your curiosity about what’s coming:

The Academy Museum will be the world’s premier institution dedicated to the art and science of movies. Located on Wilshire and Fairfax in Los Angeles, the Museum, will be simultaneously immersive, experimental, educational, and entertaining. More than a museum, this dynamic film center will offer unparalleled experiences and insights into movies and moviemaking.

The Museum will have huge resources to draw its exhibits from:

The Academy’s unparalleled permanent collection contains more than 10 million photographs, 190,000 film and video assets, 80,000 screenplays, 50,000 posters, 20,000 production and costume design drawings, and 1,400 special collections.

Their Rick Baker page illustrates the range of their offerings, in photos, videos, and documents.

A record-holding winner of seven Academy Awards for Makeup out of eleven nominations, Rick Baker is a lifelong “monster kid” who won the first competitive Oscar awarded in that category for his innovative work on An American Werewolf in London (1981), one of several collaborations with director John Landis. His apprenticeship under one of the industry’s greatest makeup artists, Dick Smith (including working as his assistant on The Exorcist), prepared him for a career providing cutting-edge makeup effects in many genres ranging from comedy to science fiction to horror, with titles including Ed Wood (1994), The Nutty Professor (1996) and Men in Black (1998).

(3) ONE MAGAZINE, ONE YEAR. Standback has Storified his “Favorite Stories From F&SF Magazine, 2017”:

F&SF is a magazine that always fills me with joy, wonder, and feels. A quick rundown of my favorite stories of 2017.

(4) THE REASON FOR THE FIFTH SEASON. N.K. Jemisin’s Twitter stream is filled with holiday song mashups today.

(5) SURPRISES. John Scalzi did a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” today. You never know what you’re going to learn.

Q: Do you often set out to write a book to be a series? Or do some of them just insist that you write more in that universe?

SCALZI: Only once: The Collapsing Empire, which we knew was the first installment of a series. Everything else was written standalone, and became series in when they sold well and the publisher asked for more.

(6) NEW SPECULATIVE FICTION AWARDS. Darthmouth College’s Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth College has created two new literary awards, the Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award for Speculative Fiction and the Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award for Debut Speculative Fiction, For A First Book. Each award comes with an honorarium of $5,000. The deadline for entry is December 31, 2017. Complete information about eligibility and submission guidelines is at the linked sites.

(7) TOYS, FIGURATIVE AND LITERAL. While Rian Johnson reasonably says — “You Have To Take The Toys Out Of The Box.” Rian Johnson Talks Creative Risks In “The Last Jedi” (at Fast Company), not as many people are doing that literally this year — “Star Wars ‘Last Jedi’ Toy Shipments Down Sharply From ‘Force Awakens'” (from The Hollywood Reporter.)

(8) WFC PROGRAMMING SURVEY. World Fantasy Con 2018 co-chair Bill Lawhorn announces they have put up a programming survey on their website — http://www.wfc2018.org/programsuggest.php

Lawhorn says, “You do not need to be a member to suggest ideas. There are no guarantees that any individual suggestion will be used.”

One of the things they’re looking for are items that carry out the WFC 2018 themes “Ports in a Storm” and “Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of Frankenstein.”

(9) U.F.O. 6. Laura Resnick has a story in Unidentified Funny Objects 6 called “Lost & Found”. That story has a backstory.

I used to work part-time at a community newspaper. It should have been a great job. The hours, the location, the work, the community, and the rest of the staff were all pleasant, and the pay was okay.

Unfortunately, though, the boss (who was the editor, publisher, and owner of the paper) was an incredibly toxic person, which made working there miserable and stressful, despite all the positive attributes the place otherwise had….

Well, at one point, the boss wanted to print some “joke” stories in the newspaper. He presented staffers with a few real news stories that he wanted us to riff on. I selected one about NASA, wrote my story as directed, and turned it in. After reading it, the boss informed me that this story was not at all what he had wanted. In fact, it was what he had asked for, but now he was asking for something else. So I wrote another draft. He sent this one back to me with some notes. I revised the material in accordance with the notes and turned it in. Now he gave me all-new feedback, stuff he had not said on any previous iteration, and had me revise it again. I did so. And then he did the same thing again.

Next, he told me to start all over from scratch. He couldn’t articulate why, he just knew he wanted something else. I pointed out that I had already done 5 versions. He said I would probably have to do 10 or 12 versions before we were done….

The sad part, so to speak, was that the pieces he kept spiking were funny, and none of them ever saw the light of day.

So when Alex Shvartsman asked me to participate in UFO6, I decided to turn my ideas  for that article into a short story. The result is “Lost & Found,” in which some surprising visitors emerge from a UFO orbiting Earth.

And apparently someone thinks I can write humor, since Imagine A Book SF gave my story 5 stars and said, “So many different layers of humor. Wonderful.”

Yep, getting published is still the best revenge.

(10) HELP WANTED. Roger Silverstein is trying to identify a story —

Tim Pratt posted this on Facebook a little while back, he is hunting for a half-remembered fantasy story.  I actually remember reading this story, but I cannot remember the dang title.  This is bugging me almost as much as it bugs him.  Would you be willing to post this?  (I emailed Tim Pratt for permission to copy and paste and he said “Sure, feel free” He has posted this in various places, but never File 770.

I’ve been trying to track down a half-remembered story for the past 25 years or so. Maybe one of you will recognize it. Google always fails me, either because it’s an obscure story with no digital footprint, or because I’m misremembering salient details. I was reading some rooming house stories by Theodore Sturgeon today, and it reminded me.

The story is set in a boarding house, full of peculiar characters, many of whom have supernatural powers. There’s one man who travels the world and fixes tears in reality; I think he’s described as having “lightning in his hands.” There’s an old woman who sees angels, or maybe just one angel, I think named Toby. There’s a man with magical mechanical aptitude; I think he fixes up an old car, and takes a left turn, and the car disappears, taking him with it. There’s someone who can make things you desire appear, maybe — they make the angel the old woman sees visible to everyone, at one point; that’s one of the hazier details. I don’t remember the plot at all. I probably read it in an anthology or SF magazine that was available at the Wayne Country library in Goldsboro North Carolina in the early ’90s, but it could be from any year before that.

Ring any bells? It’s entirely possible I’m misremembering or even conflating. It was a long time ago, but the story made a big impression on my fledgling writer brain, and I’d love to find it again.

(11) SPEAR CARRIER. “Remember That Guy Who Speared a Drone At a Ren Faire?” (Reference is to this video.) They made a runestone of his feat.

(12) TRIVIAL TRIVIA

Rudyard, Montana is the only populated place in the US where if you drill through the earth you wind up on land — the Kerguelan Island in the South Indian Ocean.

(13) TODAY IN HISTORY

The remarkable Ed Wynn makes his second and final appearance in The Twilight Zone as Sam Forstmann, a septuagenarian obsessed with maintaining the family grandfather clock. Sam is convinced that if the clock stops, he will die… a belief that baffles his family and the psychiatrist he visits (William Sargent).

  • December 20, 1974 — Walt Disney’s The Island At The Top Of The World debuted.
  • December 20, 1978The Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake opened.
  • December 20, 1985  — Enemy Mine was released

(14) COMICS SECTION.

  • If this link works, it will take you to Matthew Gallman’s incredible 360-degree cartoon spoofing The Last Jedi.
  • Mike Kennedy says, “You haven’t seen that? Quelle horror!” – two Game of Thrones jokes, one in Pearls Before Swine, the other in Foxtrot.
  • John King Tarpinian knew we wouldn’t want to miss this moderately horrible superhero-inspired pun — Brevity.

(15) MYTHBOOSTER. In the unlikely event somebody thinks Game of Thrones is science fiction rather than fantasy, Live Science’s Charles Q. Choi, in “Is the Ice Wall from ‘Game of Thrones’ Physically Possible?”, summarizes a paper by University of Alaska (Fairbanks) glaciologist Martin Truffer about whether “The Wall” in Game of Thrones could exist.  He notes that ice flows over time and the only way to preserve a giant ice wall is to keep it at -40 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the wall from cracking or deforming.

(16) FOR THE BIRDS. BBC covered the annual Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards:

An owl dangling precariously from a branch has scooped the overall prize of this year’s Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

Out of the 3,500 entries, Tibor Kercz won the overall prize with his series of images showing an owl losing its footing and trying to claw its way back on to a branch.

Other entrants included a yawning dormouse, a photobombing sea turtle and a rather shocked seal.

(17) GORMENGHAST. John C. Wright griped about Gormenghast being published as fantasy, and prompted in response this terrific essay on the subject by Tom Simon, “Gormenghast and the Great Tradition”. (Hat tip to Niall McAuley.) At the end of his tour-de-force, Simon says –

In Britain, where genre labels count for less, the books found a permanent following years before anybody troubled to ask whether they were fantasies or not. In America, they were flung on the ash-heap by the strict rules of Modernism as practised by New York publishers, only to be rescued by Lin Carter. They are the very opposite of fairy tales; but they belong to Faërie nonetheless, for no less spacious realm will claim them. What the critics call ‘Realism’ is a small and besieged principality, entirely surrounded by the empire of Fantasy. On one side, the map says ‘Here Be Dragons’; the other side could plausibly be labelled ‘Gormenghast’. But both are provinces of the same boundless country.

That, my dear Mr. Wright, is why Titus Groan and Gormenghast count as fantasy.

(18) SMITHSONIAN CATS. SJW credentials for everything: “No Kitten Around: Museum Exhibit Celebrates ‘Divine Felines'”.

Independent, graceful, agile, adorable when they’re small — if cats are where it’s at for you, the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery of Asian Art has you covered. Their new exhibition is called Divine Felines, and it features images of cats both big and small from the land that honored them as holy: Egypt.

Ever feel fearful? Or brave? Protective? Aggressive? They had a cat for that in ancient Egypt….

(19) THE INSIDE GAME. The BBC asks — “Video games: How big is industry’s racial diversity problem?”.

When Uncharted: The Lost Legacy was released this year, it gained a lot of attention – not because it is the latest instalment for a popular franchise, it stood out for another reason.

The game was set in India, had two lead women, and one of them, Nadine Ross, is a black South African.

Other big releases this year include Assassins Creed Origins, which is set in Egypt with an African protagonist, while Star Wars Battlefront II used the likeness and voice of Janina Gavankar, an actress with part-Indian heritage.

But speaking to BBC Asian Network, Jo Twist, chief executive for Ukie, the trading body for the UK’s games industry, said there was still a long way to go before video games could be truly representative of the gaming audience.

(20) ABOUT FINN. Steven Barnes weighs in on “’The Last Jedi’ (2017)” – beware spoilers. (I thought this one mild enough to excerpt.)

I’m also still not happy with the amount of “Jar Jar” DNA in Finn. It is noticeable on a couple of levels, although they did allow his character to expand and grow some. When the very first thing we see with him is him falling out of bed, the first “buffoon laugh” of the film, you have a hill to climb, and they didn’t quite climb it. Finn’s treatment was an “othering” I didn’t appreciate. And if you defend it, you are, frankly, the reason I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized Marvel was seeking a black director for T’Challa’s saga.

(21) SFWA’S NEXT MEMBER? Jon Del Arroz publicly applied for SFWA membership today.

To SFWA’s leadership: You can check with all these people listed to verify payment, they are all members of your club. If you try some funky stuff to disqualify me, 10,000+ people who read this blog see it, that’s 5x the amount of members you have. I know you’ll play fair.

I guess we’re all interested to see what happens with that. My sympathy to whoever has to make the decision. I’d say it matters less whether his act is better or worse than other SFWA members’ than if there’s even more damage he could do once he’s inside the tent.

Maybe this is the answer.

(22) DRINK UP. The Daily Beast’s Max Watman hasn’t been killed by doing it, and he sets out to convince others “Why You Should Be Drinking Month-Old Eggnog”.

My friends Ford and Lisa invited me to their “Nog Salon” this year, and I was thrilled to attend. For you see, Ford and Lisa are practitioners of the mysterious art of aging Eggnog. Yes, aging Eggnog is actually a thing. No, I don’t have a death wish. I was actually very excited to taste their mature Nog side by side with a fresh batch we were going to whip up together.

…But I’ve learned that aging Eggnog—contrary to anyone’s first gut instinct—actually can make it safer. To be clear, I’m not talking about the non-alcoholic cartons you buy in the supermarket but the boozy old-fashioned treat that’s made from scratch. In fact, it’s very important that your recipe contains a sufficient amount of liquor, generally recommended at around 20 percent, since the alcohol is key to killing bacteria.

(23) NOT THE GREATEST MOVIE. The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney tries to convince people to stay home: “‘The Greatest Showman’: Film Review”.

The sawdust and sequins are laid on thick, the period flashbulbs pop and the champagne flows in The Greatest Showman, yet this ersatz portrait of American big-top tent impresario P.T. Barnum is all smoke and mirrors, no substance. It hammers pedestrian themes of family, friendship and inclusivity while neglecting the fundaments of character and story. First-time director Michael Gracey exposes his roots in commercials and music videos by shaping a movie musical whose references go no further back than Baz Luhrmann. And despite a cast of proven vocalists led with his customary gusto by Hugh Jackman, the interchangeably generic pop songs are so numbingly overproduced they all sound like they’re being performed off-camera.

(24) STARGATE TEASER. The Verge reports —

After releasing a pair of behind-the-scenes clips from Stargate: Origins, MGM has unveiled its first teaser for the upcoming digital-only show. While the franchise is known for its interstellar adventures, this prequel looks as though it’s remaining firmly grounded, and taking a bit of inspiration from the likes of Indiana Jones.

 

[Thanks to JJ, John King Tarpinian, Martin Morse Wooster, IanP, Chip Hitchcock, Andrew Porter, Cat Eldridge, Niall McAuley, Roger Silverstein, Daniel Dern, and Carl Slaughter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Mr Dalliard.]

Pixel Scroll 12/19/17 Good King Pixel Scroll Looked Out On The Feast of File

(1) VISUAL SCIENCE. Nature brings us “2017 in pictures: The best science images of the year”.

The spectacular total solar eclipse that swept the United States dominated headlines as it delighted scientists and the public alike in August 2017 (the composite image above shows the event’s progression as seen from Perryville, Missouri). The year also brought innovations in spaceflight and surprising insights into species past. Here are the striking shots from science and the natural world that caught the eyes of Nature’s editors.

Here’s one —

BACK-SEAT OCTOPUS: This interspecies piggyback ride was caught by photographer Michael Hardie in the waters off Hawaii. The image was a finalist in the annual Smithsonian.com photo contest.

(2) SCIENCE HEADINLINES. Nature also posted this roundup — “2017 in news: The science events that shaped the year”.

From political chaos to cases of sexual harassment, scientists have had a tough year. But there were also bright spots, including approval of a new type of cancer treatment and the detection of gravitational waves from a neutron-star collision….

On 12 July, an iceberg twice the size of Luxembourg broke free from the Antarctic Peninsula. It carried away roughly 12% of the surface area of Larsen C — Antarctica’s fourth-largest ice shelf. The shelf’s fate remains unclear but, if it collapsed, Larsen C could unleash glaciers containing enough water to boost global sea levels by a centimetre.

(3) VISIT FROM THE GRINCH. Gavin J. Grant and Kelly Link’s Small Beer Press, which has published work by such authors as Ursula K. Le Guin and Sofia Samatar, and Sarah Rees Brennan, received its “Worst Business Holiday Present Ever”.

Our distributor Consortium/Ingram just finished negotiations with Am*zon for the next year and forwarded the results. Ouch. After the distro’s fee, we will now receive less than 1/3 of the retail price on each book sold on Am*zon. (The details are confidential and not be shared — which is fine, it’s all fine.)

It is hard to pay printing, royalties, artists, advertising and marketing, rent, etc. with less than 1/3 of retail.

I know not everyone has a good local bookstore, a local branch of a chain, or a decent library, but if you have, *please* consider buying/borrowing books there. Am*zon still want to crush all competition (Bezos’s first name for the business was Relentless dot com) in all markets that they enter. They are fantastic at customer service, especially compared to some local businesses, but they are terrible for everyone else, suppliers, intermediaries, etc.

The discount creeps up a little more every year — something has to give. I suppose it won’t be Am*zon. Guess it will be us Small Gazelle Presses who want to publish interesting books, work with a wide range of people and artists, and see if we can send these weird things out into the world and find readers.

(4) EAVESDROPPING. Luckily they loved her part — “Kelly Marie Tran surprises fans discussing ‘Star Wars’ at the next table”.

At long last, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has hit theaters, and those of us who were hyped for our girl Kelly Marie Tran as Rose finally got to see her get her Resistance on and join the fight in a galaxy far, far away.

So what’s the verdict on The Last Jedi? What are people saying? Sure, you can go read some critics’ reviews, log on to some message boards or jump in on a discussion thread on your Facebook wall. Or you can listen in on people talking about it at the next table. That’s what Kelly Marie Tran did.

 

(5) PRESCRPTION. Jason Sanford considers “Why the red pill doesn’t wake people to our world’s true reality”.

“If you are not one of us, you are one of them.” That’s a hell of a political statement. That’s the type of statement embraced by history’s worst political movements, movements which have killed millions in pursuits of their goals.

The Matrix is a great SF film, one of the best of the last few decades. But as political theory the film is extremely simplistic. After all, there’s a word for people who go through life with such an extreme “us or them” attitude: psychopaths.

While simplistic “us or them” arguments resonate with many people, our greatest achievements come when we put this attitude aside. When we stand with those we have disagreements with but with whom we can still find common ground.

And it’s this human determination to reach for common ground which makes me stay optimistic about the future. Because I believe in people. I believe most people try to do good and try build a better world….

(6) THE AXE. The Hollywood Reporter says “‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’ Canceled at BBC America”.

Never a ratings breakout, viewership was down year-over-year compared with season one. Season two averaged slightly less than 250,000 total viewers. The decision to cancel Dirk comes after BBC America bid farewell to critical darling Orphan Black in August.

(7) TV HOPES. Guy Gavriel Kay reports his The Fionavar Tapestry will get a shot at television:

Short version: I’ve entered a development agreement with the really impressive production company that did “Orphan Black” – to produce The Fionavar Tapestry as a television series.

There are many stages to any project as big as this one will be, but I’m genuinely happy – these are really good people, several of them with a personal passion for the trilogy (including Kris Holden-Ried, who was all-in some time ago, as it worked its way through the ‘process’).

He posted a full press release which includes this description of the work:

The Tapestry tells the tale of five young men and women who are brought to Fionavar – the first of all worlds. Told they are simply to be guests for the 50th anniversary celebration of a king’s ascension to the throne, each of the five discovers they have a greater, dangerous role to play as they’re thrust into a war between the forces of good and evil, whose outcome will affect all worlds, including our own.

Kay draws upon a variety of creatures and mythologies, predominantly Celtic and Norse, to create the world of Fionavar, and the saga also features the legendary story of King Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere, heroes of medieval literature.

(8) CEBULSKI STORY GOES MAINSTREAM. Marvel Comics editor C. B. Cebulski’s previous life as a Japanese comics writer, mentioned in recent Scrolls is a story that now has been picked up by the Washington Post: “The curious tale of the Marvel comics editor who pretended to be a Japanese writer”.

Although it was long-rumored in the comic book world that Yoshida was, indeed, Cebulski, no one investigated deeply. Since he retired the pseudonym fairly quickly, the rumors might have died.

But in November, Cebulski was named the editor in chief of Marvel Comics, arguably the most prominent job in his industry, and the rumors resurfaced. Since the comic book industry is often criticized for its lack of creators of color, the fact that its new figurehead was a white man who had pretended to be an Asian writer drew outcry.

(9) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • December 19, 1871  — Mark Twain received a patent for suspenders. (We’ll file this under “Things writers do when they should be writing.”)
  • December 19, 1958 — The first known radio broadcast from outer space was transmitted when President Eisenhower’s recorded voice issued a holiday greeting for the whole world from the Atlas satellite which was launched the previous day.
  • December 19, 1972 — Apollo lunar-landing program ends when the last three astronauts to travel to the moon splash down.
  • December 19, 1986 Little Shop of Horrors, the movie, was seen for the first time.

(10) COMICS SECTION.

  • John King Tarpinian learned that Yoda has day job – from today’s Brevity.

(11) GOLDEN AGE COMIC STRIPS. Garry Trudeau reviews Cullen Murphy’s My Father and His Friends in the Golden Age of Make-Believe in the New York Times Book Review:

With harlots in fish-net stockings hanging on each arm, a self-satisfied grandee, shades and ascot in place, struts down a city sidewalk. A policeman clears the way, and as he kicks a blind beggar into traffic, he bellows, “Out of the way, you swine! A cartoonist is coming!”

To the few hundred American oddballs who draw funny pictures for a living, there’s never been a more hilariously inapt portrait of a cartoon professional than the one described above, inked by the great B. Kliban late in his career. Many of us have a copy pinned to our walls, not to keep us humble (we have no choice), but to celebrate our forced distance from the more conventional metrics of success. As Cullen Murphy admits in his warm and graceful memoir, “Cartoon County,” comics creators have long been among the most dimly perceived of celebrities, and when they venture out into society, they are usually sized up as dentists or insurance adjusters long before the awful truth comes tumbling out.

(12) TOP MOVIES. Three critics caucus to produce “NPR’s Favorite Movies Of 2017”. Genre callouts: Blade Runner 2049, Coco, Get Out, The LEGO Batman Movie, Logan, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Thor: Ragnarok, Wonder Woman, Your Name. Also of interest: Ex Libris (Wiseman documentary about the NYC public library).

(13) STRAIGHT TO FANS. Blockchaining as a way to connect artists directly to fans: “How did music producer Gramatik raise $2m in 24 hours?”

Gramatik – real name Denis Jasarevic – is a Slovenian electronic music producer and DJ with a worldwide fan base.

He’s become the first music artist to “tokenise” himself using the Ethereum application, Tokit. It allows users to embed their intellectual property rights, revenue and royalties into a programmable digital token.

Fans and investors who “buy” the token using the Ether cryptocurrency can then – potentially – share in the revenue from an artist’s work.

… When his GRMTK token was launched in November it raised $2.25m (£1.65m) in Ether digital currency in just 24 hours.

“I’m cool with being the guinea pig,” Gramatik explains. “This tech has the potential to change the industry.”

(14) HIDDEN TREASURE. Not just a cigar: “Interstellar object may hold ‘alien’ water”

The body showed no signs of “outgassing” as it approached the Sun, strengthening the idea that it held little if any water-ice.

But the latest findings suggest water might be trapped under a thick, carbon-rich coating on its surface.

(15) MAKING BOOK. Congratulations to John Scalzi for winning DecNoWriMo –

(16) HAVE YOU NO DECENCY? Andrew Husband, in “Porg Recipes For The ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Fans In Your Life” on Uproxx, says that porgs are not only cuddly, they’re also tasty as he shares recipes for Porg in Green Milk Sauce and Fire-Roasted Porg.

Yes, you read that right. Despite being protected by several national and international conservation organizations, puffins are considered a rare delicacy in Nordic countries. And seeing as how The Last Jedi‘s porgs are based on the puffins writer/director Rian Johnson saw while filming at Skellig, it makes sense their preparation would be similar. Like “Porg in Green Milk Sauce” (as opposed to blue milk), a slight variation on an Icelandic dish in which the arctic birds are cooked with a buttery sauce rich in creamy dairy and some sweet additions.

(17) OMG! The horror! Atlas Obscura investigates “Why Chuck E. Cheese’s Has a Corporate Policy About Destroying Its Mascot’s Head”.

Several weeks ago, a local Patch report in Illinois revealed a seemingly disturbing underpinning of the Chuck E. Cheese universe: A former employee told the paper that a company policy required them to demolish branded items, among them the cartoon character’s head, which is part of the costume. A Patch video captured two former employees of the recently-shuttered Oak Lawn location bashing Chuck’s brains in with a sledgehammer.

Why did executives at CEC Entertainment, Inc. establish a policy mandating the destruction of their business’s beloved namesake?

(18) JEDI. Love the title: “Rian Johnson Murders the Prequels – A Spoiler Soaked Review of the Last Jedi” by Camestros Felapton. It’s a spoiler post, but here’s a non-spoilery excerpt:

Luke does not bring balance to the force (yet). By implication Anakin did not bring balance to the force. Kylo Ren can barely bring balance to his emotional state for hour-long stretches. Maybe Rey will but who knows? Putting the prequels and the original trilogy together, it was always unclear how Anakin, even by killing the Emperor, brings balance to the force. If he did somehow do it, it clearly wasn’t worth the price of firstly a galactic war and then a galactic Empire

(19) LE GUIN. NPR’s Jason Heller reviews Ursula K. Le Guin’s No Time To Spare — “Ursula K. Le Guin’s Voice Rings Out In New Nonfiction Collection”.

Le Guin’s clinical, theoretical way of framing complicated social and literary ideas makes sense. Her parents were the noted anthropologists Alfred Louis Kroeber and Theodora Kracaw — a fact that doesn’t usually come up in her nonfiction. She makes an except in “Indian Uncles,” one of The Wave in the Mind‘s most heartfelt essays. She originally delivered it as a lecture in 1991 at the University of California at Berkeley, where her father taught and her mother studied. Le Guin recounts, from her point of a view, part of the events surrounding the famous case of Ishi, a member of the Native American Yahi people who became the subject of Kracaw’s 1961 book Ishi in Two Worlds.

Ishi died in 1916, thirteen years before Le Guin was born, but in “Indian Uncles” she writes eloquently and intimately about the how Ishi’s time with her parents inspired and haunted them throughout their lives, and how her own life was shaped by this invisible “uncle.”

(20) EVERYBODY INTO THE POOL. The Shape of Water “Making of” featurette.

(21) VIDEO OF THE DAY. “Man” is a cartoon by Steve Cutts on YouTube giving a very nasty history of the last 500,000 years.

[Thanks to JJ, Martin Morse Wooster, Bill, David K.M. Klaus, Cat Eldridge, Carl Slaughter, Andrew Porter, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories, Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Jack Lint.]

Pixel Scroll 12/18/17 Scrolls For Industry! Scrolls For The Undead!

(1) CADIGAN NEWS. Congratulations to Pat Cadigan who told her Facebook followers today:

I am now allowed to say that I am writing both the novelisation for the forthcoming movie Alita: Battle Angel as well as the prequel novel, Iron City.

And this is why I’m in Deadline Hell.

That is all.

(2) STAR PEACE CORPS. In  “Star Wars Without the Empire”, Camestros Felapton conducts an awesome thought experiment inspired by Paul Weimer’s tweet.

In post-war Germany, a version of Casablanca was produced, re-edited and with a new script for the dubbing, that had no Nazis in it. As you can imagine, given the role Nazis play in the plot, they had to do a lot of work.

I was wondering if you could do the same to Star Wars Episode 4 – remove the Empire…

Star Not Wars Because They Aren’t Having a War With Anybody: A New Hope

A spaceship has broken down. Princess Leia finds a robot on the ship and gives it something. The robot (R2D2) finds an escape pod with its friend (C3PO). They leave the ship. We don’t see the ship again. It probably had engine trouble or something. Maybe the robots have gone off to get some fuel from a service station.

The robots land in a desert. After an argument, they split up. Later they each get caught by tiny people.

Meanwhile, young Luke Skywalker is unhappy being a farmer and living with his uncle. He’d rather be…doing something else I suppose.

(3) MARK YOUR CALENDAR. The Vintage Paperback Show returns to Glendale, CA on March 18.

(4) ROBOT ON PATROL. Tech Crunch reports “Security robots are being used to ward off San Francisco’s homeless population”:

Is it worse if a robot instead of a human is used to deter the homeless from setting up camp outside places of business?

One such bot cop recently took over the outside of the San Francisco SPCA, an animal advocacy and pet adoption clinic in the city’s Mission district, to deter homeless people from hanging out there — causing some people to get very upset.

The article quotes this tweet from Brianna Wu:

The SPCA deployed a robot from security startup Knightscope to deter crime and vandalism on their campus.

And, according to both the S.F. SPCA and Knightscope, crime dropped after deploying the bot.

However, the K9 unit was patrolling several areas around the shop, including the sidewalk where humans walk, drawing the ire of pedestrians and advocacy group Walk SF, which previously introduced a bill to ban food delivery robots throughout the city.

“We’re seeing more types of robots on sidewalks and want to see the city getting ahead of this,” said Cathy DeLuca, Walk SF policy and program director, who also mentioned S.F. district 7 supervisor Norman Yee would be introducing legislation around sidewalk use permits for robots in the beginning of 2018.

Last week the city ordered the S.F. SPCA to stop using these security robots altogether or face a fine of $1,000 per day for operating in a public right of way without a permit.

The S.F. SPCA says it has since removed the robot and is working through a permitting process. It has already seen “two acts of vandalism” since the robot’s removal.

(5) THE DIAGNOSIS. Ted Chiang says “The Real Danger To Civilization Isn’t AI. It’s Runaway Capitalism” in an article for Buzzfeed.

Speaking to Maureen Dowd for a Vanity Fair article published in April, Musk gave an example of an artificial intelligence that’s given the task of picking strawberries. It seems harmless enough, but as the AI redesigns itself to be more effective, it might decide that the best way to maximize its output would be to destroy civilization and convert the entire surface of the Earth into strawberry fields. Thus, in its pursuit of a seemingly innocuous goal, an AI could bring about the extinction of humanity purely as an unintended side effect.

This scenario sounds absurd to most people, yet there are a surprising number of technologists who think it illustrates a real danger. Why? Perhaps it’s because they’re already accustomed to entities that operate this way: Silicon Valley tech companies.

(6) CHEERS AND BOOS. Fanac.org has posted a 36-minute video of Robert A. Heinlein’s guest of honor speech at the 1976 Worldcon.

MidAmeriCon, the 34th World Science Fiction Convention, was held in Kansas City in 1976, with Robert A. Heinlein as Guest of Honor. With a warm introduction by Bob Tucker, this sometimes uncomfortable speech touches on Heinlein’s belief in the inevitability of atomic war and his belief that mankind will go to the stars. There are comments on Russia and China, the role of men, and more than a few very bad jokes. You will hear applause and you can hear disapproving boos. If you are one of “Heinlein’s Children”, or simply a reader of classic SF, this video is a rare opportunity to hear that legendary figure.

(More background about the booing is here.)

(7) UNCANNY DINOSAUR ISSUE. The submission window opens in March – read the pitch and complete details here: “Uncanny Magazine Dinosaur Special Issue Guidelines”.

As you may know if you followed the Uncanny Magazine Year 4 Kickstarter, Uncanny Magazine Issue 23 will be a Special Shared-Universe Dinosaur Issue! The planned solicited contributors are:

Do you want to join them? One of the stretch goals was adding two extra unsolicited stories to the issue! We will be open to submissions from March 1- March 15, 2018.

(8) CAPITOL TBR. Former congressman Steve Israel profiles members of Congress in the Washington Post about their favorite books of the year and found Rep. Ted Lieu of California enjoying the Nebula Awards anthology and Rep.Adam Schiff of California reading Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series — “A former congressman asked his old colleagues for book suggestions. Here’s their list.”

(9) TROLLING FOR CLICKS. At NBC News, Noah Berlatsky asks “Is Star Wars’ ‘The Last Jedi’ science fiction? It’s time to settle this age-old argument”. Will anybody take my bet that the argument will not be settled by his op-ed? Or maybe it will, by a kind of cinematic force majeure.

To figure out whether Star Wars is science fiction, you first need to figure out how to define the term — which is harder than you might think. Genres are notoriously difficult to pin down, which is why they spark so many arguments. Some country fans protested loudly when Beyoncé appeared at the Country Music Awards because she (supposedly) was not a country artist. Some critics similarly argued that Bob Dylan’s lyrics are not literature, though the Nobel committee disagreed.

Genre is a marker of quality and belonging, of seriousness and community. Science fiction in particular is often seen as more important or serious than fantasy, so it’s no wonder that there’s been some struggle over how to place the films. George Lucas himself declared that “Star Wars isn’t a science-fiction film, it’s a fantasy film and a space opera” in 2015. Others have also waded in over the years; Annalee Newitz included Star Wars in a list of 10 science-fiction works that are really fantasy at io9, while author Brian Clegg says Star Wars is only “low-grade science-fiction” — it’s not quite real science-fiction, so it’s not high quality.

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • December 18, 1957 The Monolith Monsters premiered.
  • December 18, 1968 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opens in New York City.
  • December 18, 1985 — Terry Gilliam’s Brazil! was released.
  • December 18, 1996 — Wes Craven’s Scream hits theaters, and a Halloween mask was born.
  • December 18, 2009 – Director James Cameron’s Avatar premiered.
  • December 18, 2013Forbidden Planet (1956) is selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry.

(11) TODAY’S  BIRTHDAYS

  • Born December 18, 1939 – Michael Moorcock
  • Born December 18, 1941 – Jack Haldeman
  • Born December 18, 1946  — Steven Spielberg
  • Born December 18 — Steve Davidson

(12) COMICS SECTION.

  • Mike Kennedy overheard Dilbert talking about a zombie apocalypse.

(13) I HAVE A LITTLE LIST. SyFy Wire’s Swapna Krishna names these as “The 10 best sci-fi and fantasy books of 2017”. People get upset if I say I haven’t heard of all the books on a “best” list, so let me say I have heard of many of these.

(14) THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS 2014. Everyone has their own way of celebrating the holidays. John King Tarpinian’s traditions include rewatching Thug Notes’ analysis of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

(15) THE BIG BUCKS. Speaking of stacks of cheddar — “Star Wars: The Last Jedi takes $450m on opening weekend”.

The movie dwarfed its nearest rival – the computer-animated comedy Ferdinand, which took $13m (£10m).

The total for The Last Jedi includes $220m (£165m) from box offices in the US and Canada, placing the film second in the all-time list for North America.

It trails behind the 2015 release Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which opened with a record-breaking $248m (£185m).

(16) BREATHLESS TAKE. Chuck Wendig launches his review with a long stretch of onomatopoeia: “The Last Jedi: A Mirror, Slowly Cracking”. And how often do you get a chance to use that word?

This will be less a review of The Last Jedi (Episode VIII) than it will be… my thoughts? An analysis? Me opening my head like a flip-top Pac-Men and seeing what globs of brain-goo I can grab and hastily smack into the screen?

Spoilers follow the noises, Wendig warns.

(17) WHAT’S BREWING IN SHORT FICTION. Nerds of a Feather’s Charles Payseur serves “THE MONTHLY ROUND – A Taster’s Guide to Speculative Short Fiction, 11/2017”.

So please, take seat. The flavors on tap this month are perfect for those looking to unwind by the fire, to shed a tear for those who have not made it this far, and to reaffirm a commitment to pushing forward, into a future that is not mired by the same harms and dangers as the past. Each pint today comes with a special side of memories and a tendril of shadow creeping just out of view. The only remedy is to drink deep, and share the moment with those you care about, and look for ways to escape the familiar cycles of hate, loss, and fear—together….

Tasting Flight – November 2017

“An Unexpected Boon” by S.B. Divya (Apex)

Notes: Pouring a dark brown rimmed with gold, the first sip is deep, subtle and smoky like dreams burning, only to reveal newer, sweeter tones underneath, a future still bright despite loss and danger.

Pairs with: Honey Bock

Review: Kalyani is a young (probably autistic) girl who experiences the world quite differently from the rest of her family. It’s something that Aruni, her older brother, finds quite difficult to handle, especially when his parents have left him in charge while they are away. For Kalyani, though, it’s the rest of the world that doesn’t make as much sense, that overflows with threats and dangers…

(18) ON STAGE. It’s live! “The Twilight Zone returns to spook theatergoers”.

In 1959, a groundbreaking TV series began in the USA. The Twilight Zone came to be regarded as a classic of science fiction for the small screen. Now the Almeida Theatre in London is taking eight episodes to make a Twilight Zone for the stage.

(19) YA. A dystopia? Why, that’s just another day in a teenaged life: “Why Teens Find The End Of The World So Appealing”.

“The hallmark of moving from childhood to adulthood is that you start to recognize that things aren’t black and white,” says Ostenson “and there’s a whole bunch of ethical grey area out there.”

Which makes dystopian fiction perfect for the developing adolescent brain, says Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University.

“Their brains are very responsive to emotionally arousing stimuli,” he explains. During this time, there are so many new emotions and they are much stronger than those kids experienced when they were younger.

“When teenagers feel sad, what they often do it put themselves in situations where they feel even sadder,” Steinberg says. They listen to sad music — think emo! — they watch melodramatic TV shows. So dystopian novels fit right in, they have all that sadness plus big, emotional ideas: justice, fairness, loyalty and mortality.

This time in a kid’s life is often defined by acting out, but, Steinberg says, that’s a misguided interpretation of what’s happening. “It isn’t so much rebellion, but it is questioning.”

(20) BAD AIR. I remember breathing this stuff at the 2015 Worldcon: “California fires: Sentinel satellite tracks wildfire smoke plume”.

Europe’s new Sentinel-5P satellite has captured a dramatic image of the smoke billowing away from the devastating California wildfires.

It is a powerful demonstration of 5P’s ability to sense the atmosphere.

The plume is seen to sweep westwards out over the Pacific Ocean near Los Angeles and then turn north towards the State of Oregon.

(21) JDA. Jon Del Arroz shares his vision of the controversies he’s engaged in this year with BayCon, Scalzi, Cat Rambo, Chuck Wendig, and some guy who scrolls pixels in “It’s Better To Be My Friend #JDAYourFriend”.

…Where they all screwed up, is that I’m a competent writer who works hard. I’m a competent businessman who markets hard. I don’t take my ball and go home and I’m not deterred from speaking the truth by some threats or someone’s bully pulpit.

And now I’ve got a platform. It’s one a lot of people read on a daily basis. It’s only going to grow bigger in 2018. I’m a well-respected journalist, I’m a multiple-award nominated author with an avid readership. I’m winning. Readers and audiences like winners. Yet not one of these people has come forward and said “you know what, Jon, I shouldn’t have attacked you, let’s be friends.”

(22) TO SMELL THE TRUTH. Hugo-winning editor Gordon Van Gelder had a famous father, Dr. Richard Van Gelder, who tried to stump the panelists on the episode of game show To Tell The Truth aired March 13, 1961. The chairman of the Department of Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History, Van Gelder pere was specially touted as an expert on skunks. The real Van Gelder and two impostors appear at 17:00, and the truth is told right after the 23:00 mark.

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

Pixel Scroll 12/17/17 Scroll Your Pixel Wings And Fly Away

(1) OLD CHESTNUTS ROASTING. John Scalzi’s “8 Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know About Your Favorite Holiday Music” might make you suspect he gets his inside pop music history the same place Lucy Van Pelt finds her little-known facts about nature. But his facts are much funnier!

“Little Drummer Boy”

…Most of these drafts were only fragments, although Davis completed “Little Didgeridoo Boy” and had it performed for Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies during a 1964 trip to the United States. Menzies was reported to ask Davis how a didgeridoo happened to be anywhere near Bethlehem in biblical times. Davis would later write disparagingly of Menzies’ “Philistine musical nature” and shoved that version of the song into a box. In 2001, musical artist Madonna was reported to have considered recording the didgeridoo version with herself playing the instrument, but the idea was shelved to avoid offending Australian aboriginal sensibilities. Madonna went on to make the film Swept Away instead.

(2) COLLECTING COLLECTIBLES. Amy B. Wang of the Washington Post profiles Star Wars autograph collectors, who will happily pay $200 for Felicity Jones’s signature and $295 (in cash) for Mark Hamill’s and who make sure they have Vis-a-Vis blue permanent markers, which are no longer made and sell for $415 a box on eBay — “Want an autograph by ‘Star Wars’ Mark Hamill? Bring the right marker and $295 in cash.”

Welcome to the modern world of autograph collecting, a passion that has evolved into a highly choreographed commercial endeavor. It’s rare these days to write to a PO box and receive an autographed headshot or to bump into a famous figure on the street and ask him to sign a napkin. Increasingly, getting an autograph requires a fan’s time and money.

Despite this, autograph seeking has reached a fever pitch for the Star Wars fandom, a reflection of the series’s hold on popular culture.

(3) YOUNG ARTHUR. Kim Huett says. “Since the centenary of Arthur C. Clarke’s birth has been celebrated by all and sundry it seems only appropriate that I come in late with the story nobody else knows to tell” — “The Young Arthur Clarke”. (Here follows the lead-in – the principal story is at the link.)

Believe it or not but there was a time when Arthur C. Clarke was not yet a famous science fiction author. Way back in the late thirties he was merely known as an aspiring author and genius who had been nicknamed ‘Ego Clarke’ by his good friend William F. Temple. Why ‘Ego’? Something to do with Arthur C. Clarke being very sure of himself I believe. I’m reminded of a an exchange between Bill Temple and Arthur’s brother that occurred during Clarke’s first visit to the USA. While out on a late evening stroll Arthur’s brother exclaimed in horror that Arthur had forgotten to take the Moon with him. Bill Temple assured him that everything was fine, that Arthur had a US edition over there. You simply don’t make that sort of joke about an unassuming friend. (For more about the Temple/Clarke relationship please read Temple of the Sphinx.)

(4) SMOFCON MEMBERSHIPS. Next year, SMOFCon 36 will be held in Santa Rosa, California. Chair Bruce Farr announced:

Membership rates are presently $50 for full, or $25 for Con Suite Only memberships. After December 31, 2017 full memberships will go up to $60. The link to our online Registration page is here.

We’ve added some space for Thursday pre-convention meetings just down from the Hospitality Suite. There is also a meeting room close by the Hospitality Suite throughout the convention for socializing so that the Hospitality parlors won’t be overcrowded.

If you have any questions or comments, the below links are active from the Committee page on our website.

(5) JUMANJI. The December 16 Parade has an interview with Jack Black by Mara Reinstein, where Black recalls his friendship with Robin Williams and explains why he is barely on social media: “Jack Black Dives into Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”.

Black filmed Jumanji with its original star at the forefront of his mind.“He had a profound influence on the industry,” he says of the legendary comic. Black recalls being an 8-year-old kid in Southern California and seeing the rising star as alien Mork from the planet Ork in a 1978 episode of Happy Days (which would lead to Williams’ own breakout sitcom, Mork & Mindy).

“It was a big moment for me,” he says. “He came on like a hurricane. I remember being like ‘Who is that? That guy is amazing! I believe he’s an alien!’ Throw any other actor in there and it’s ridiculous. But Robin Williams took you on this fantastic journey with this absurd premise because he committed so completely.”

(6) GIVENS OBIT. In “Robert Givens, R.I.P.”, Mark Evanier pays tribute to a former Disney animator who died December 14.

Bob Givens got out of high school in 1936. In 1937, he went to work for the Walt Disney Studio, mostly as animation checker on Donald Duck cartoons and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In 1940, he moved over to the Warner Brothers cartoon studio where one of his first jobs was doing the redesign of a rabbit character who would henceforth be known as Bugs Bunny.

(7) POPVICH OBIT. Marina L. Popovich, a test pilot who broke more than 100 flying records and who was the first Soviet woman to break the sound barrier, died November 30 reports the New York Times:

Despite their initial skepticism, most male instructors and pilots came to be in awe of her.

“She learned strikingly fast,” Nikolai A. Bondarenko, a test pilot, wrote in his memoirs, adding that she had piloted an L-29 fighter jet “as confidently as she walked the ground.”

In “The First Soviet Cosmonaut Team: Their Lives and Legacies” (2009), the space historians Colin Burgess and Rex Hall wrote that most of Ms. Popovich’s success “would lead to later speculation that she was about to become the first Soviet woman to travel into space.”

At one point the Soviet space program did train female cosmonauts, and Ms. Popovich was admitted for testing. But ultimately only one, Valentina Tereshkova, was sent into space. Ms. Popovich said that she was advised to focus on her family, and that she was forced out of the program.

(8) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • December 17, 1843 — Charles Dickens’ classic story “A Christmas Carol” is published.
  • December 17, 1969 – Project Blue Book, a program dedicated to the investigation of UFOs, was terminated. For more than 20 years, the U.S. Air Force had examined 12,618 sightings. Most of these were found to be caused by man-made objects such as balloons, satellites, and aircraft; natural or astronomical phenomena; weather; and hoaxes. Today, 701 remain unexplained
  • December 17, 2003 — The third and final Lord of the Rings movie opens.

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • Born December 17, 1973 — Rian Johnson, director of some outer space movie.

(10) COMICS SECTION.

  • Mike Kennedy asks if this is unfair competition at the Olympics – In the Bleachers.
  • John King Tarpinian says he would have one of these if he still had an aquarium – Close To Home.

(11) OPENING WEEKEND THREATS. Sure sounds scary, but shouldn’t a real Jedi be able to do some kind of mind trick on himself to avoid seeing spoilers?

(12) AVOIDING SPOILERS. And if you haven’t seen the movie, don’t watch this video. Well, actually, do what you like, I’m not your mother!

(13) PORG$. The Washington Post’s Hau Chu looks at the porgs by telling readers about the Ewoks, because George Lucas, thinking about his daughter, “wanted her–and all children–to have a STAR WARS character that would appeal specifically to them” — “Porgs are the latest Star Wars creature aimed at hearts and wallets”.

 Porgs appeared for only a split second in the trailer, but one glimpse of the creatures was enough to stir up a frenzy. A Google search produces more than 3 million results for porgs, many of them revolving around one question: What are they?

The birdlike creature was inspired by puffins on Skellig Michael, an island off the southwest coast of Ireland. That island was the filming location for Ahch-To, the planet where Luke Skywalker appears at the end of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

“You fall into those deep, soulful eyes. I think a lot of people are going to want a porg as a pet,” said Pablo Hidalgo, creative executive for Lucasfilm, the company that has produced the Star Wars movies.

(14) HEAD CANON. “No, Lord Helmet, I didn’t see you playing with your dolls!” “For ‘Last Jedi’ Director, The Journey To ‘Star Wars’ Began With Action Figures”.

Johnson has been a Star Wars fan since he was a little boy in Denver, playing with his action figures.

“My mom surprised me and got me a Jawa,” he recalls. “I wanted a Jawa, and she got it for me. But then you always end up losing the main characters, and you’re left with like Hammerhead and like the walrus man; with the weird droid whose name you don’t know, who’s missing a leg. Those were the first movies I was making in my head.”

(15) REIMAGINED. A different take on the iconic headgear.

(16) ALSO PLAYING. NPR loved SW VIII and hated Ferdinand, but says the obscure Spanish Birdboy is “A Dark, Beautiful, Boundary-Pushing Animated Film”.

Just how dark is Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, a trippy animated folktale from Spain about a bunch of talking animal adolescents searching for a better life? Well, even the tottering alarm clock seemingly there for comic relief wails to its owner, “Why do you always have to hurt me?” In fact, the bulk of the movie consists of adorable, anthropomorphic objects and critters getting hurt, often in some grisly fashion: an inflatable PVC duck who screams when he’s deflated; a chirping bird who gets shot to death, leaving behind starving chicks; a baby Jesus doll who cries an alarming amount of blood when his owner squeezes him. Yessir, the Happy Meal toys are sure to go flying off the shelves for this one.

(17) ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION. Abigail Nussbaum is back from the theater with her take on “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”. This is a full review, so BEWARE SPOILERS.

Whatever else can be said about this film, it is so much its own thing that I half-wonder whether general audiences won’t reject it for being neither the fun romp they associate with Star Wars, nor the grim but still conventionally-structured deviation from the norm that was The Empire Strikes Back.  It is the first Star Wars film to actually try to be about something[1], and what it’s about is, well, Star Wars.  It’s a film that is in direct conversation with the previous works in this series, most especially Return of the Jedi and the prequels.  It spends slightly more than half its running time fooling you into thinking that it’s merely going to recapitulate these movies, only to pull the rug out from under you, along the way asking some pointed questions about the Star Wars‘s universe’s core assumptions.  This doesn’t entirely work, but the mere existence of the attempt, in a film universe as little given to self-reflection as this one, is shocking.  It’s a Star Wars movie that is interesting.

(18) THE UPSIDE DOWN. The BBC tells how “Rocket rumbles give volcanic insights”.

What do volcanoes and rockets have in common?

“Volcanoes have a nozzle aimed at the sky, and rockets have a nozzle aimed at the ground,” explains Steve McNutt, a geosciences professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

It explains why he and colleague Dr Glenn Thompson have installed the tools normally used to study eruptions at the famous Kennedy Space Center.

Comparing the different types of rumblings could yield new insights.

(19) DROPPING CHUNKY. There’s a madness to this method: “Biologists With Drones And Peanut Butter Pellets Are On A Mission To Help Ferrets”.

She said there are only about 300 black-footed ferrets left in the wild, and they depend almost entirely on prairie dogs to survive. And protecting the prairie dog population is beneficial to species beyond the ferrets.

“Prairie dogs are Chicken McNuggets of the prairie, where so many species eat them,” Bly said.

But in recent years, prairie dog towns across the American West have been exposed to a deadly disease called sylvatic plague. While it’s treatable in humans, sylvatic plague can wipe out entire prairie dog towns in less than a month. And that means no more food for endangered black-footed ferrets.

So Bly, Matchett and a team of scientists and engineers have spent this year vaccinating prairie dogs in central Montana against the plague using drones.

Drone pilots fly the machines across the prairie, dropping blueberry-sized pellets about every 30 feet. They are flavored to taste like peanut butter, and prairie dogs love peanut butter. The kicker is that they’re laced with a live vaccine that protects them from the plague.

(20) YOUR NEXT SIDEWISE AWARD WINNER. Sounds legit.

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

Pixel Scroll 12/16/17 The Hoboken Pixel Emergency

(1) #MAPPINGFANTASY. Alex Acks and Paul Weimer taught their “Mapping Fantasy” online class today. Cat Rambo tweeted the highlights – jump onto the thread here:

(2) PURINA ALIEN CHOW. Food & Wine investigates “How Hollywood’s Sci-Fi Food Stylists Create Futuristic Meals”.

For Janice Poon, one of TV’s most popular food stylists and a frequent collaborator with Bryan Fuller (American Gods, Hannibal, Pushing Daisies), food styling for the future is as much about taking cues from the script or the world around you as it is about pushing your imaginary limits—within production capability, of course.

Poon refers to the script, pulling the tone and character motivations from a food scene, before brainstorming alongside her showrunner (and sometimes even a cinematographer) on how a spread will look. However, Poon says that “because it is sci-fi, you can do just about anything really.” To do just about anything, Poon uses conventional tools like wet wipes and syringes, but also “an ability to problem solve” and a four and a half inch white ceramic santoku knife that enables Poon to work in the darkness of a set

(3) STRAHAN CALLING. Even as Jonathan Strahan’s 2017 best of the year collection is being readied for publication, he’s looking ahead to 2018 — Call for stories: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Vol. 13.

I edit The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year anthology series for Solaris Books. The twelfth volume in the series will be published in April 2018, and the thirteenth volume will appear in March 2019.

I am currently reading for the 2018 volume, and am looking for stories from all branches of science fiction and fantasy: space opera to cyberpunk, fairy tales to the slipstream, or anything else that might qualify. If in doubt, please send it.

Eligibility

This is a reprint anthology. Stories must have been published for the first time between 1 January and 31 December 2018 to be considered.

Deadline

The submission deadline for this year’s book is:

1 November 2018

Anything sent after this deadline will reach me too late, as I  deliver the final book to the publisher in late December. If a magazine, anthology, or collection you are in or you edit is coming out before 31 December 2018 please send galleys or manuscripts so that I can consider the stories in time.

(4) GALACTIC STARS. Meanwhile, The Traveler recognizes the best sff of 1962 in See the Stars at Galactic Journey.

Best Novelette

The Ballad of Lost C’Mell, Cordwainer Smith (Galaxy)

The second time an Instrumentality tale has gotten a Star… and this one is better.

(5) CENTENARY PROJECT. The Clarke Award’s’ Kickstarter to fund “2001: An Odyssey in Words” has started. In this original anthology honoring Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s centenary year every story is precisely two thousand and one words long.

The Arthur C. Clarke Award is famous for its annual redefinition of that elusive term ‘science fiction,’ and Sir Arthur was always adamant that while the award may be named for him, it shouldn’t be styled on his work.

We wanted to make sure that the scope of the anthology was as broad as the fluid definition of science fiction for which the Clarke Award is renowned, while still retaining a direct acknowledgement of Sir Arthur’s own work.

The solution? A collection where every story has all the scope and freedom to imagine that an author might possibly want, but where the word count had to be precisely 2001 words (and we had rules about authors playing clever games with super-long story titles, just to make sure).

(5) CLARKE CENTENARY IN SOCIAL MEDIA. Here are tweets from some of the groups celebrating the day.

  • And I applaud Gideon Marcus for staying in character –

(6) RIVALRY. From 2015, Adam Rowe at the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog fondly remembers “The Decades-Long Flame War Between Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov”.

While introducing his Asimov at an event in London, Clarke had plenty of time to prepare his choicest insults.

“Well, Isaac, I’ve lost my bet. There are more than five people here,” he opened. “I’m not going to waste any time introducing Isaac Asimov. That would be as pointless as introducing the equator, which indeed, he’s coming to resemble more and more closely.”

(7) SUPERBOOTS ON THE GROUND. Andrew Liptak combed through all sci-fi media and came up with a list of “18 suits of power armor from science fiction you don’t want to meet on the battlefield” in The Verge. Here’s one of them:

Goliath Mk ? Powersuit, James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse

In The Expanse, Mars possesses the most advanced military force in the solar system, and its elite Marines are trained to operate in deep space, onboard spaceships, and planetary surfaces. They come decked out in a powerful suit of armor called the Goliath Powersuit. This armor completely protects its wearer, providing life support and armor, as well as a heads up display to help soldiers with targeting. They also come equipped with guns mounted directly into their arms, and carry a small rack of missiles on their backs.

These suits will resist small arms fire, and are small enough that they can be used inside the narrow corridors of a spaceship. But they’re not invincible, as Bobbie Draper’s Marines discovered on Ganymede during the television show’s second season.

(8) TRIVIAL TRIVIA

Lillian Disney (wife of Walt) came up with the name Mickey Mouse.

(9) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • December 16, 1901 — Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit was first published
  • December 16, 1981 Beach Babes from Beyond premiered.
  • December 16, 2016Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was released.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS

  • Born December 16, 1775 — Jane Austen
  • Born December 16, 1917 — Arthur C. Clarke
  • Born December 16, 1927 — Randall Garrett
  • Born December 16, 1927 — Peter Dickinson
  • Born December 16, 1928 — Philip K. Dick
  • Born December 16, 1957 — Lenore Jean Jones
  • Born December 16, 1981 — Krysten Ritter (aka Jessica Jones)

(11) SWORD OF LIGHT. In honor of the release of The Last Jedi, Doctor Strangemind’s Kim Huett sent along this quote from Kaldar, World of Antares written by Edmond Hamilton and originally published in 1933:

With the tunic went a belt in which were a sword and a tube such as he had noticed. Merrick examined these weapons of the Corlans carefully. The sword seemed at first glance a simple long rapier of metal. But he found that when his grip tightened on the hilt it pressed a catch which released a terrific force stored in the hilt into the blade, making it shine with light. When anything was touched by this shining blade, he found, the force of the blade annihilated it instantly. He learned that the weapon was called a light-sword, due to the shining of the blade when charged, and saw that it was truly a deadly weapon, its touch alone meaning annihilation to any living thing.

(12) BELIEVE IT OR NOT. The price is unbelievable! “Check out an original ‘Star Wars’ lightsaber valued at $450,000”.

Starting Saturday, and just in time for the release of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” visitors to Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum in Hollywood, California, will be able to see the iconic prop in person.

Ripley’s purchased the saber hilt for a whopping $450,000 at an auction last June held by Profiles in History. The auction house specializes in Hollywood memorabilia and acquired the prop from the collection of Gary Kurtz, a producer on “Star Wars: A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back.” It’s the first time the prop has been put on public display.

(13) LYRICAL MIRACLE. This thread started in 2013 but gets rediscovered every time a new Star Wars movie comes out – begins here:

(14) HURLEY. BEWARE SPOILERS in Kameron Hurley’s review “The Last Jedi: Promises, Pitfalls, and What Sticks With You”. (No spoilers in this excerpt.)

I came out of watching The Last Jedi, and was like, “Well, that was good, but I’m not blown away.” It had a lot of threads; it felt like three movies in one, and cramming all that story into one movie made it feel a little bloated. The story beats weren’t that clockwork structure that The Force Awakens and the original trilogy stuck to. There were a couple of massive emotional moments that needed to be paid off more than we got.

And yet.

And yet this morning I find that I can’t stop thinking about it. Stories are, at their heart, about characters. If I’m invested in the characters and their struggles, you can fall down on plot and no one cares….

(15) I DON’T KNOW IF THIS IS A SPOILER. If it is, don’t read it.

(16) MODERATE PRAISE. The Hugo Award Book Club concluded “The Stone Sky is the echo of a great book”, but they’d still like to give it an award:

The first book in the series, The Fifth Season, was innovative and unique. It offered a refreshing take on science fiction and fantasy that unquestionably deserved the Hugo Award. But The Stone Sky does not stand on its own. It is good, but mostly because it is an echo of a truly great book.

It might be more appropriate to honour N.K. Jemisin with a Best Series Hugo this year, rather than another Best Novel, because that would recognize how The Stone Sky works as part of a larger whole.

(17) SUMMATION. John Crowley’s Ka is a book-length historical fantasy about a crow. The author has been profiled by an area paper: “Conway author’s handwritten ode to birdwatching”.

The book was written while “looking out at Baptist Hill and watching people mow their lawns, and watching crows fly around.” Crowley explained in a recent interview about what went into the makings of “Ka” and how his living in Conway for nearly the last 35 years influenced his work.

The narrator of the novel, “feels like he is living in a country different from where he grew up,” after moving back home, he explained.

Crowley himself grew up in Brattleboro, Vt., moved to Indiana for college, and then New York City for some professional years, where he wrote his critically acclaimed, “Little, Big.” He eventually returned to New England.

Crowley said the narrator of the novel “says to himself that he is surprised by seeing kinds of birds that he doesn’t remember seeing when he was a child … the Canada geese use to fly overhead and still do, but they’re not going south anymore.”

Things like climate change, but also other elements that just sometimes change with generations, have thrown off this narrator.

“Things like that have changed his feelings about the world and saddened him … If I’m going to leave the world, it’s not the world I began in,” Crowley said about the protagonist.

(18) UNIDENTIFIED FLYING TRAILER. Avengers: Infinity War Reality Stone Trailer (2018). Is this a fan trailer or official?

[Thanks to Michael J. Walsh, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Martin Morse Wooster, Andrew Porter, Carl Slaughter, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Brian Z.]

Pixel Scroll 12/15/17 You’ve Got The Wrong Android, I Scroll My Name Danger

(1) HE DOOD IT. How could he not? “Wil Wheaton Wears ‘Star Trek’ Uniform To ‘Star Wars’ FOR REAL”.

Life gloriously imitated art Thursday when actor Wil Wheaton wore a “Star Trek” costume to a screening of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

Wheaton portrayed Wesley Crusher on TV’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1987-1994), and has been playing himself on “The Big Bang Theory.” In a 2015 episode of the hit sitcom, he watched a “Star Wars” movie in “Star Trek” garb, attracting boos from the audience and an insult from one moviegoer. “Live long and suck it!” he yelled back in a memorable line.

(2) A DISTURBANCE IN THE THEATER. Fans weren’t prepared to accept the first silent Star Wars movie: “Uprising at Burbank AMC after ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ starts without sound”.

According to Twitter user, Isaias Rodriguez, theater management attempted to appease the angry fans by either moving them to another screening at the same theater — albeit not in the IMAX format — or to attend a screening of the much-anticipated film at another AMC theatre Friday.

Police reportedly were called to the Southern California venue.

(3) ICE CREAM AND COOKIES. Scott Edelman invites you to lunch at the Society of Illustrators with Irene Gallo in Episode 55 of his Eating the Fantastic podcast.

Irene Gallo

Gallo has worked as an art director at Tor Books for more than two decades, where she currently holds the title of Creative Director. She’s also the Associate Publisher of Tor.com, and is ultimately the one responsible for the look of the publishing company’s book covers, as well as its online output. She’s been nominated for a Chesley Award for her art direction an astounding 19 times, the first back in 1999, and has won 13, as early as 2001, and as recently as 2017.

We discussed what it was like the first time she realized she wasn’t the only one in the world who cared so strongly about art, how she felt the day she discovered Harlan Ellison as well as the title of his that made her go “whoa,” why seeing book covers as thumbnails started long before the trend of Internet bookselling, how a manuscript moves from cover concept through to final cover, whether the cliche that an author is the worst possible designer of their own book cover is true, how self-published authors who create their own books can get the best possible covers, and much more.

(4) WHO PREVIEW. If you want to read some “minor spoilers” for the Doctor Who Christmas Special, “Twice Upon A Time,” ScienceFiction.com is ready to oblige: “15 Things To Watch For In ‘Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time’”. If not – DON’T CLICK!

With just 11 days to go until to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and the Steven Moffat say their final farewells, some fans are finding it hard to wait! Some sites have been granted early access to ‘Twice Upon a Time,’ so to hold us over until December 25, we have a list of hints and teasers from the episode!

(5) SJW CREDENTIALS ARE GO. Corey J. White has identified “5 of the Coolest Cats in Space” for readers of Tor.com.

The cat is on the floor, looking up at me and yelling as I type this. My original plan was for a piece on ‘Pets In Space’, but she’s threatened to vomit on my bed, under the covers, if I don’t focus solely on cats. Why? Because cats are better than dogs. I am typing this of my own free will. Please send salmon.

In all seriousness though, even dog lovers have to admit that cats would make better pets aboard a space craft: they don’t require as much food as any but the smallest dogs, unlike many dog breeds they don’t need a lot of space to run around, and they’re great at catching the rodents chewing on the cables of the life-support system.

(6) SECOND FIFTH. John Scalzi shares his “Spoiler-Free Observations on The Last Jedi”.

  1. The Last Jedi is the longest Star Wars film, and director Rian Johnson packs it full of story, so you’re unlikely to be bored, and even the laggy parts move along. With that said, there’s so much going on in the story and we’re keeping track of so many characters (Luke and Leia and Rey and Kylo and Poe and Finn and Chewie and BB-8 and R2D2 and C-3PO and Hux and Snoke and Phasma and oh look there are new characters too and what the hell are these porg things anyway?) that it can feel thin, and some bits are clearly contrived simply to give beloved characters things to do and/or give us new merchandising yes Porgs I am looking at you (I bought a porg stuffed animal at the show last night so, uh, I fell for it). I think I would have been happier with a sharper focus on fewer characters, and also I’m worried that Episode IX will be three and a half hours long and have five different endings, a la The Return of the King.

(7) PLAY BALL. Cut4.com, a Major League Baseball site, tried to attract a few clicks by assembling a baseball team out of Star Wars characters in celebration of The Last Jedi — “This is the team you’re looking for”. This one you need to follow baseball to fully appreciate:

Starting Pitchers: Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jamie Moyer

The wise old wizard, utilizing a psychological advantage to best his enemies and thrive, despite all odds. And, as a solid No. 2, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

(8) BATTLESTAR GALACTICA VET BACK ON TV. Deadline reports — “Apple Orders Ronald D. Moore Space Drama Series”.

Ronald D. Moore is heading back to space. Apple has given a straight-to-series order to a space drama from the Battlestar Galactica developer. The untitled project hails from Sony Pictures Television and Moore’s studio-based Tall Ship Productions.

(9) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • December 15, 1958 Frankenstein’s Daughter came out.
  • December 15, 1961 The Twilight Zone aired “Once Upon A Time,” starring Buster Keaton.
  • December 15, 1974 Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein premieres.
  • December 15, 1978 Superman – The Movie premiered in U.S. theaters.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • Born December 15, 1949 — Don Johnson, who starred with his canine companion in A Boy and His Dog.

(11) MATH PROJECT. Do we know anyone attending Emmanuel College in Boston?

(12) DUBIOUS FAN. Camestros Felapton is restraining his enthusiasm about new mix-and-match possibilities after the Disney/Fox merger for several reasons. Here’s one of them: “Disney, Fox and MCU”.

A comic book universe relies on somehow making superheroes whose basic premise is quite different work together. Marvel has juggled this by having elements that work together and elements that work as given character’s own domain. Thor can be a god-like alien being on Earth and exist side-by-side with Iron Man a human with fancy gadgets but their separate adventures put the characters in quite different characters. Some suspension of disbelief is required to accept that these characters can have their own stories without every film requiring all the Avengers to turn up to help but the settings help and each character can have separate stories.

Now add the X-men. The X-Men aren’t the X-Men without the key premise that they live in a world in which:

  • Some people get random mutant superpowers.
  • That the wider population knows this.
  • That the mutant population is feared and persecuted and suppressed.

Captain America has to be cool with this. I mean, obviously, he isn’t but for the X-Men to have their stories, basically The Avengers have to not do anything when the US government starts hunting people with giant killer robots. Also, the wider public has to be relatively OK with one bunch of super powered people and raging bigots about a different bunch. It has to be OK to get superpowers from a spider bite but not from a genetic mutation AND people have to believe that story (i.e. people don’t think Spiderman is a dangerous mutant).

(13) CHRISTMAS GOAT. Hampus Eckerman says, “Sometimes you have to go to the foreign press to understand why the Gävle goat is burned down every year. The Guardian has its own theory, totally new for me.” — “Killing Gävle – a Swedish city divided by a giant straw Christmas goat”.

Welcome to the small northern Swedish city of Gävle where there’s an annual battle over a 12-metre-high straw effigy of a goat. Local custodians try to protect a giant straw goat from mischievous pagans in a fight for the spirit of Christmas.

Every year since 1966, in the dark days of winter, the business owners pay for a goat to be built in the central square on the first day of advent. For 37 of those 51 years, the goat has been burnt down or damaged by shadowy outsiders, sometimes within a few hours of going up.

In the latest Guardian documentary, Killing Gävle, residents and those who might want to burn the goat explain their hopes and motivations as Christmas approaches and the battle over the goat is fired up once more.

The goat, which pulls Santa’s sleigh, has come to symbolise Christmas in Sweden, drawing people in from the surrounding country. Families bring their children to look in wonder and, the businesses hope, do a bit of shopping while they are there.

But there are other people in the dark forests that surround the city who hold an entirely different view of the goat. They believe in a time before Christianity appeared in Sweden, when people worshipped Norse gods including the goat goddess Heidrun (goddess of enlightenment) and the god of thunder, Thor, who rode around on two goats. Each night he would burn and then eat them, only to wake up the following morning to them having been reborn and able to pull his chariot again….

 

(14) DOPPELGANGER. When they get it right and find one that has nine planets, then we can talk: “NASA’s Kepler finds solar system like ours with eight planets” in USA Today.

Researchers used data from NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope to discover an eighth planet orbiting a star known as Kepler-90.

The planet, dubbed Kepler-90i, is a hot, rocky planet that orbits its star every 14.4 days, and was found with the help of artificial intelligence, NASA said Thursday. The discovery marks the first solar system to tie with our solar system in the number of planets orbiting one star.

(15) STAY FROSTY. Timothy Cama, in a December 12 article in The Hill called “Emails: Disney annoyed by Obama push to use ‘Frozen’ brand” said that recently unearthed emails showed a 2015 negotiation between the Obama administration and Disney about using Frozen characters to promote warnings about climate change broke down because, according to one Disney executive, “it’s in our culture to tell stories that project optimism and have happy endings.”

Papp’s outreach generated extensive media coverage at the time and attracted mockery and criticism from conservatives who already thought then-President Obama’s climate agenda had gone too far.

The effort to use “Frozen” for climate messaging was part of an extensive plan by the Obama administration to convince Americans and the world that climate change is a major issue with enormous consequences.

(16) OCEANS, NOT CANALS. The BBC considers “Pacific ‘baby island’ is natural lab to study Mars”.

It is one of Earth’s newest landforms and it could just tell us where to look for evidence of life on Mars.

The tongue-twisting volcanic island of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai exploded out of the Pacific Ocean in 2015, and its shape has been evolving ever since as it has been lashed and bashed by waves.

Scientists are watching this slow erosion very closely.

They think they see the remnants of many such water-birthed islands on the Red Planet.

(17) FORERUNNER. The 60th anniversary of this project recently passed — “Skylark: The unsung hero of British space”.

It wasn’t a big vehicle, and it didn’t go to orbit. But the anniversary of that first flight from Woomera, Australia, should be celebrated because much of what we do in space today has its roots in this particular piece of technology.

“Skylark is an unsung British hero really,” says Doug Millard, space curator at London’s Science Museum.

“The first one was launched during the International Geophysical Year of 1957, and almost 450 were launched over the better part of half a century. It was the Skylark space rocket that really laid the foundations for everything the UK does in space.”

(18) VIDEO OF THE DAY. “Slaughterbots” on YouTube is a near-future film warning about the problems of miniature drones trained to kill.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Hampus Eckerman, Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, Andrew Porter, and Carl Slaughter for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #21

Review: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

By Chris M. Barkley:  

Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (****, 2017) with Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew and Joonas Suotamo, Oscar Isaac, Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern, Gwendolyn Christie, Billie Lourd, Donhall Gleeson and Lupita N’yongo.  Written and Directed by Rian Johnson.

December 13th, Wednesday Morning, 3:15 AM.

I am wide wake in bed, on my back.

One of our cats, Luna, is lying quietly on my tummy, looking at me expectantly.

She peers at me, I look back at her.

I don’t have to be a Jedi to know what she’s is thinking; she’s thinking if stays there long enough, her six pound weight on my bladder will induce me to go to the toilet and her ensuing mewing will lead me to turn on the bathtub tap, where she will happily lap up something resembling mineral water from the faucet.

Luna, the 3 AM rambler.

Me? I’m thinking about The Last Jedi.

I’m thinking about the tickets for the advanced screening that I purchased a month ago and cleverly hid in our townhouse, JUST IN CASE OF A HOME INVASION, don’t cha know.

Eventually, Luna admits defeat and leaves. I roll over and happily dive back into dreamland.

Avoiding spoilers, specifically involving Star Wars films, has been a tradition with me since The Phantom Menace (1999). For the past year and a half, I have been dodging rumors, possible storylines, memes, photos and especially those dreaded trailers, popping up unexpectedly during my favorite shows and sporting events. My partner, Juli, became very amused at my efforts to mute the tv and cover my eyes to avoid spoilers.

I admit that these feeble attempts to recapture the stunned feeling of being enraptured in the sights, sounds and fury of my first viewing of Star Wars in the Uptown Theater on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington DC on Memorial Day weekend in 1977.

But, deep down, I know I am being naïve about this; I have stumbled across some little bits of information about The Last Jedi by accident or happenstance so there is really no real way to recapture that initial thrill of discovery.

I know that some of my close friends and acquaintances have openly declared they are not bothering to see The Last Jedi because they are tired of the relentless hype, the good vs. evil plotlines or of the odious nature of Walt Disney Company (who purchased Lucasfilm Ltd in 2012 for four billion dollars).

The Last Jedi premiered in Los Angeles this past weekend and in London yesterday, December 13th. And this evening, I, along with several dozen moviegoers, saw it for the first time, in 3-D, no less…

“THIS isn’t going the way you THINK is it!”
Luke Skywalker

As foreshadowing goes, the quote above perfectly sums up The Last Jedi. Needless to say, NOTHING goes according to plan for anyone concerned and deeper you go into the film, the more uncertain the outcome becomes.

None of the Star Wars previous films, even the worst of them, has been about holding back emotions or having a restraining story narrative. But this difference with this film is that characters matter here and their motivations and actions match the roller coaster plot.

Episode Eight’s writer/director, Rian Johnson starts out with a few simple plots that quickly branch out into several different directions: Rey (Daisy Ridley) has come seeking Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) for guidance with her newly found powers and has some trouble convincing him to help her. General Leia’s (the late Carrie Fisher) challenge is to lead her remaining Resistance forces to safety after being discovered by the forces of the First Order.

The situation proves to be so desperate that Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and a new-found friend, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) undertake a dangerous (and unauthorized) side mission to save the rebel fleet.

Meanwhile, Ben Solo (Adam Driver) is trying to find a way out of the First Order doghouse after his previous failures enrage Snoke (Andy Serkis), much to the amusement and disdain of General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson).

There are some thrilling moments of revelations that are balanced out with battles sequences, cliffhangers and, surprisingly enough, some of the best character developments since the first set of films.

Also worth noting are performances by Laura Dern as a loyal Resistance Admiral and Benicio del Toro as a shady underworld thief.

The Last Jedi is a big, long, heartwarming and heartbreaking epic that will take your breath away too many times to count. At 152 minutes it is the longest film in the series and, dare I say it, one of the best.

It is memorable in every way possible. I have a feeling you’ll be seeing it several times. I know I will be!

Pixel Scroll 12/13/17 It’s Crackers To Scroll A Rozzer The Pixel In Snide

(1) RECOMMENDED BY NINE OUT OF TEN. The BBC scanned the media and concluded: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi has critics in raptures”. (Except for Variety and The Verge.)

“Rousing.” “Thrilling.” “Addictively bold.” Just a few of the superlatives the critics are using to describe the latest film in the Star Wars saga.

The Last Jedi, writes the Telegraph, is “enormous fun” and “will leave fans beaming with surprise”.

The Guardian calls it “an explosive sugar rush of spectacle” possessing “a tidal wave of energy and emotion”.

Variety, though, swims against the tide, describing it as “the longest and least essential chapter in the series”.

Rian Johnson’s film, says Peter Debruge, is “ultimately a disappointment” that “gives in to the same winking self-parody that is poisoning other franchises of late.”

Writing in The Verge, Tasha Robinson tends to agree: “Audiences will likely come away from The Last Jedi with a lot of complaints and questions.”

(3) SPACE BALONEY. A history of fake Star Wars news — “Inside the ‘Star Wars’ Fake News Con That Tortured Fans for 20 Years” from Thrillist.

There was little legitimate movie news on the internet in early 1997, most tidbits trickling down from Hollywood’s print trade magazines, but the pioneering gossips and rumormongers of today’s post-and-verify-later model of online journalism hustled to find scoops and stake a claim with the eager readership. In its infancy, Ain’t It Cool News dished out flashy updates from its network of film industry spies; Corona’s Coming Attractions was a meticulous clearinghouse of rumors on just about every movie in development; for those that required all Star Wars, all the time, there were laser-focused sites like TheForce.net and RebelScum.com, which aggregated the latest Star Wars news (while occasionally dropping scoops of their own).

There was an embarrassment of rumor riches, and though a high percentage of the Star Wars scoops were bunk, people dove right in, elated that the most beloved film franchise of their youth had blasted back to the fore of pop culture. There was no reliable editorial oversight, only a treasure hunt, and the burden of bullshit detection fell on the reader. Which is how ludicrous stories — like the howler that nearly half the footage shot for The Phantom Menace came back from the lab out of focus — gained real traction in 1998.

(3) LICENSE TO SHILL. Techdirt’s Timothy Geigner began his coverage of last week’s SDCC v SLCC jury trial with some brutal criticism for Rose City Comic Con, who accepted a free license from SDCC to use the “comic con” name: “Opening Statements In The Trademark Battle Of The Comic Cons, While Other Regional Cons Go Full Judas”.

Of course, the problem with this study is that no matter what the public in the SDCC’s sample indicated, the simple fact is that comic conventions throughout the country have been using the term “comic con” with wild abandon. As they did so, it seems that the SDCC was in some sort of trademark hibernation for years, with no action against all of these national comic cons that I can find. SLCC made the same point in its opening argument, their defense seemingly settling on the notion that the term “comic con” had become generic….

It seems that the SDCC fully anticipated this defense and decided to attempt to undermine it by finding a comic con out there, any comic con, to enter into a laughably cheap licensing agreement. That SDCC is doing this only at the same time it is bringing this suit to trial makes its motive plain and naked. It’s a shameless attempt to give its long-abandoned trademark the imprimatur of now having an actual licensee. As disappointing as the SDCC’s actions are, those of the sellout cons are all the more so. Just read the press release from Rose City Comic Con in Portland about how it licensed the “comic con” mark and you’ll get an idea of just how likely it is that the SDCC basically scripted this thing for them.

“Rose City Comic Con, Portland, Oregon’s largest comics and pop-culture convention, is proud to announce its association with San Diego Comic Convention for its three-day event taking place September 7-9, 2018 at the Oregon Convention Center. Rose City Comic Con received the license at no additional cost to the show, and acknowledges the trademark owned by San Diego Comic Convention and is excited to affiliate itself with the prestigious event.”

“Comic-Con, the San Diego convention, is without question the biggest and most important event in the comics and popular arts industry every year. To have the respected event recognize the hard work of Rose City Comic Con by providing a license agreement is really remarkable for the city of Portland and the incredible community of creators we’re lucky to have here,” said Rose City Comic Con founder Ron Brister.

So moist does Rose City seem to be over its free license that it must have failed to understand the motive for this free gift by the SDCC and the damage it might do to all of the other comic cons out there that are now or might in the future be under threat by SDCC. Now, I don’t believe that SDCC managing to squeeze a few licensees from this national barrel of turnips suddenly means that it didn’t long ago abandon the “comic con” mark, but it seems obvious that these sorts of free licenses aren’t for everyone. I expect the SLCC, for instance, would have jumped at a free license early on in this process. Perhaps it would instead have stood its ground on principle, but given the enormous cost in time and money, not to mention that this thing has dragged out now for several years, I doubt it.

So nice job, Rose City. While one con fights not just for its life, but for the common sense notion that “comic con” should no longer be considered a legit trademark, you went full Judas. Hope those 30 pieces of silver are worth it.

(4) DEAD ON ARRIVAL. The train left Helsinki on December 13 on its way to Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland. One of the passengers won’t make it alive. Adweek reveals how “TBWA Is Turning a Speeding Train Into an Escape Room for Murder on the Orient Express”.

The “Escape Train” will travel 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) over 13 hours. The plot follows thus: A mysterious death has occurred aboard the train. Which player can identify the killer among them?

…The game was designed and built by InsideOut Escape Games, an escape room game pioneer in Finland. Challenges and puzzles will be movie-inspired, with two train carriages reserved exclusively for execution, but over a dozen cabins will be available for players to explore over its 13-hour run.

Online, people will also be able to watch the action as it happens.

“This is a rare opportunity to build a whole new type of game—it taking place on an actual train, with other passengers on board, adds a lot to the dynamics of an escape room experience,” says InsideOut’s Ágnes Kaszás. “To my knowledge, it is the longest-running game ever made, and we are very excited to be able to design it in the spirit of the new hit movie. It’s a dream come true, both for us and the players!”

 

(5) HELPS TO MAKE THE SEASON BRIGHT. Kim Huett asks, “What about a bonus full-colour Doctor Strangemind post given we’re heading into Christmas? Sure, why not.” So in “Virgil Finlay & Fungi! In Colour!”, Huett gives one of sf’s great artist a little help:

Hopefully this seasonal fungi will help to brighten up the lives of those of you currently trudging through winter. I like to think a dead fir festooned with such colourful parasites would look every bit as festive as the traditional sort.

(6) JUSTICE LEAGUE NEEDS A DOG. In “(Super)man’s Best Friend”, Claremont McKenna College fellow Steven J. Lenzner tells Weekly Standard readers that recent movie and TV versions of Superman have neglected Krypto, who is a good dog who wants to protect Superman.

We readers are shown Krypto’s thoughts—and those thoughts, both in form and content, show him to be a model dog. Krypto thinks only in the present tense, employing—to the extent possible—one-syllable words with concision; that is to say, he thinks as one would imagine a dog thinking. Moreover, the content of his thoughts goes far toward explaining the old adage that dog is a Kryptonian’s best friend. Krypto is, as befits a good American dog, deeply concerned with his happiness—and what makes him happy, above all, is his master’s praise: “Good boy.” The first word of the story is Krypto’s (“Man”), as is the last word (“Happy”). And in between Krypto displays the cardinal canine virtues: loyalty, courage, and affection. Krypto loves his friends and hates his enemies. And his circle of friends has a limited radius. He has none of that easy and indiscriminate affection that diminishes the charm of a dog’s love for its master.

(7) IT’S BULL. In “Hitler banned it; Gandhi loved it: ‘The Story of Ferdinand,’ the book and, now, film”, the Washington Post’s Karen McPherson discusses the classic children’s book written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, which has just been remade as Ferdinand.  She discusses how the previous animated version of the film, Disney’s 1938 Ferdinand the Bull, won an Academy Award and how Leaf and Lawson’s book was praised by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and denounced by Adolf Hitler, who called the book “dangerous democratic propaganda.”

Leaf wrote “The Story of Ferdinand” in less than an hour one rainy fall afternoon as a gift to his good friend Lawson. Contending that “dogs, rabbits, mice and goats had all been done a thousand times,” Leaf focused his story on a Spanish bull named Ferdinand who eschews fighting for flower-sniffing, refusing to fight even when forced to face the matador in the ring. Instead, Ferdinand sits down to enjoy the fragrance of the flowers adorning the hair of women spectators.

(8) PEDAL TO THE MEDAL. Pretty soon it’s the robots that will be citius, altius, fortius: “A humanoid robot carried the Olympic torch in South Korea”.

One of the traditions of the Olympics is the torch relay, in which people carry the flame from Olympia, Greece to the location of the Games. In 2018, the Olympic Games will be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and the torch relay is currently underway. Earlier this week, the HUBO, the humanoid robot, carried the flame for part of its journey.

HUBO only covered 150 meters (about 500 feet) with the torch, but its presence was largely symbolic. As part of its torch duties, HUBO performed an example of a disaster rescue operation in which it cut a hole in a brick wall (while still holding the torch). It was intended as a “display of innovation and creativity,” according to PyeongChang 2018 Organizing Committee President LEE Hee-beom.

(9) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • December 13, 1951 The Day The Earth Stood Still received its theatrical premiere in the UK.
  • December 13, 1996 — Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! came out on this day.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY CHIMNEY SWEEP

  • Born December 13, 1925 – Dick Van Dyke

(11) COMICS SECTION.

  • Usually you look in the Bible for what happened “In the beginning…” but Chip Hitchcock found the answer at Mr. Boffo.

(12) BIG BIRD. When they had happy feet, you got out of their way: “Giant Prehistoric Penguins Once Swam Off The Coast Of New Zealand”.

An international team of scientists have announced the discovery of a previously unknown species of prehistoric penguin.

The bird waddled around off the east coast of New Zealand between 55 and 60 million years ago. And it was a giant as far as penguins go. The researchers estimate that it probably weighed about 220 pounds and was around 5 feet 10 inches tall.

“That’s about as tall as a medium-sized man,” says Gerald Mayr, a paleontologist at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Franfurt, Germany, and the lead author of the new study published today in Nature Communications. “This particular specimen is one of the largest known fossil penguins.”

The largest living penguin, on the other hand, the Emperor penguin, is a good bit shorter — around 4 feet.

The scientists have named the new species Kumimanu biceae, which means ‘monster bird’ in the Maori language. (Kumi is the name of a monster in Maori mythology and manu means bird.)

The new finding is really cool, says Julia Clarke, a paleontologist at the University of Texas, Austin, who wasn’t involved in the study. “I mean, what’s not cool about a human-sized penguin?” she says.

(13) THANKS FOR YOUR TECH. Despite their service being blocked, Google will open an artificial intelligence centre in China.

Google is deepening its push into artificial intelligence (AI) by opening a research centre in China, even though its search services remain blocked in the country.

Google said the facility would be the first its kind in Asia and would aim to employ local talent.

Silicon Valley is focusing heavily on the future applications for AI.

China has also indicated strong support for AI development and for catching up with the US.

(14) DOZOIS REVIEWS. The title of his December 13 entry is “Gardner Dozois Reviews Short Fiction” but most of it is brief descriptions of stories recently on Tor.com or in F&SF. Should that be what you’re looking for, you’ll find it at Locus Online.

(15) GLOBAL SWARMING. The BBC expects “Robot swarms to map the seafloor”.

It’s one of those truisms that we know the shape of the surface of Mars and the Moon far better than we know our own planet.

The reason for this is Earth’s oceans: they cover 71% of the globe and are impenetrable to the satellite mapping techniques we use so capably on those other worlds.

The scientific community has set itself the ambitious goal of correcting this anomaly.

The aim is to have no feature on the ocean floor larger than 100m unmapped by 2030.

It’s a huge task when you consider at the moment the vast majority of the water-covered parts of Earth are known to a resolution no better than about a kilometre.

Some big technological shifts will be required in the next 10 years to correct the picture. And that is really the raison d’être behind the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE.

A $7m pot has been offered to find the systems and strategies that will bring about a step change in bathymetric (depth) mapping.

(16) PIPE DOWN. Kameron Hurley talks back to that Bitter Midlister Voice in her head, in “What Comes Next? Everything”.

… We have all met or heard from bitter midlisters. These are the people who publicly rant about how the success of their bestselling peers has nothing to do with quality, but with luck, or favoritism, and how the game is rigged against them. They bloviate on forums and social platforms about how they didn’t get the sort of success they were owed. This is often how you can differentiate the bitter midlister from those simply exhausted by the –isms inherent in publishing. Bitter midlisters feel that they are owed success by virtue of their existence, instead of simply that they understand they need to work harder in a system rigged to favor certain types of books and authors….

It used to be that when I wrote, I’d be railing against all the outside voices, the supposed gatekeepers, the editors and agents who rejected my work. As I’ve become more skilled, I realize that my greatest enemy isn’t them at all, and never was. My greatest enemy these days is just myself, and the BMV™.

I have a great deal to achieve in this, the second half of my life. The last year of horror had led me to double down on my worst tendencies, to withdraw, to simply endure. But I want the next thirty years of my life to be more than mere endurance. I want to truly thrive. I want to come into my own as a skilled artist, as a novelist. It’s always been my goal to be an exceptionally skilled novelist, the best, and I won’t get there by hiding in my house in Ohio with a pillow over my head and nursing the BMV™

(17) COULD HOLD A THOUSAND ROSETTAS. “Nasa’s New Horizons probe strikes distant gold” — the target past Pluto is at least two objects.

The American space agency’s New Horizons mission has struck gold again.

After its astonishing flyby of Pluto in 2015, scientists have just discovered that the probe’s next target is not one object but very likely two.

Earth-based observations suggest the small icy world, referred to simply as MU69, has a moonlet.

It seems New Horizons will now be making a two-for-the price-of-one flyby when it has its encounter on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, 2019….

(18) TICKETY BOO. “Dracula ticks in amber tell ancient blood-sucking tale”. The BBC report reminded Chip Hitchcock of Brian Aldiss’s “Poor Little Warrior,” which describes human-size parasites (possibly ticks?) on a Brontosaurus; these are more typical in size.

Scientists say the discovery, which has echoes of Jurassic Park, is the first direct fossil evidence that ticks fed on the blood of dinosaurs.

The research is published in the journal, Nature Communications.

”Ticks parasitised feathered dinosaurs; now we have direct evidence of it,” co-researcher Dr Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History told BBC News.

…Together, these findings suggest that ticks have been sucking the blood of dinosaurs for almost 100 million years.

(19) RENDEZVOUS WITH…? Is the weird shape unnatural? Stand by, while “Interstellar asteroid checked for alien technology”.

A project searching for intelligent life in the cosmos is going to check the first known interstellar asteroid for signs of alien technology.

The odd-shaped object was detected as it sped towards the Sun on 19 October.

Its properties suggested it originated around another star, making it the first such body to be spotted in our cosmic neighbourhood.

An initiative backed by billionaire Yuri Milner will use a radio telescope to listen for signals from it.

The team’s efforts will begin on Wednesday, with astronomers observing the asteroid, which is currently speeding away from our Solar System, across four different radio frequency bands.

(20) BATTLE OF THE SJW CREDENTIALS. It’s a Conestoga catastrophe.

(21) THE SHAPE OF WATER. The Shape of Water director Guillermo del Toro appeared with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show. He begins by saying his manager’s call about the Golden Globe nominations woke him up “it took me four nominations to find the glasses.”

(22) LEGO ANNIHLATION. Mark Hepworth sent the link with a note: “Either genius, or a tragic waste of Lego. The main event starts at about 2:50.”

David, Henrik and Sylvia plays with Lego. This time it’s the giant 1.2 meter, 3152 piece, 3.5 kg heavy Star Wars – Super Star Destroyer. This episode has a twist to it. We mount the Super Star Destroyer on the rocket sled and accelerate it up to 108km/h. Very rapid disassembly follows.

 

[Thanks to Mark Hepworth, JJ, Cat Eldridge, John King Tarpinian, Chip Hitchcock, David Doering, Martin Morse Wooster, Carl Slaughter, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Kip W.]

Pixel Scroll 12/10/17 The Greatest Scroll On Earth

(1) LAST JEDI REVEW. Craig Miller attended the official world premiere of Star Wars: The Last Jedi:

No Spoilers Review: A pretty amazing achievement. More emotion than most Star Wars films. And more humor (though not a gag fest like, Thor Ragnarok). Some surprises. Including a “surprise” I thought was likely yet still surprised me when it happened by the way they did it. I haven’t quite processed where I think it should go in my pantheon of Best Star Wars Movies but it’s certainly up near the top of the list. Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back still hold the top honors but this is getting near it.

His post includes a couple of sweet photos of Kelly Marie Tran (who plays Rose) seeing a fan dressed as her character for the first time.

(2) FIRST IMPRESSIONS. Mashable collected a bunch of tweets sent by people who saw the movie: “‘The Last Jedi’ first premiere reactions are here and – you guessed it – the Force is strong”.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi held its star-studded world premiere at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Saturday night, and the credits had barely finished rolling before attendees hit Twitter to share their first reactions to Rian Johnson’s take on the Skywalker saga.

While spoilers and plot details are under strict embargo until Dec. 12 at 9 a.m. PT, that didn’t stop fans from weighing in on the tone of the movie…

(3) IMPEDIMENT TO FAKE REVIEWS. Mad Genius Club’s Amanda S. Green brings news of “Amazon Review Policy Change & More”.

Since Amazon first opened its virtual doors, there have been concerns about reviews. Not just for books but for all the products sold through its site. It is no secret that authors have paid for reviews — and some still do. Or that there have been fake accounts set up to give sock puppet reviews. There have been stories about sellers and manufacturers planting fake reviews as well, all in the hopes of bolstering their product rankings and ratings. From time to time, Amazon has taken steps to combat this trend. One of the last times they did it, they brought in a weighted review system. This one differentiates between “verified purchasers” and those who did not buy the product viz Amazon. Now there is a new policy in place, once that should help — at least until a new way around it is found.

Simply put, Amazon now requires you to purchase a minimum of $50 worth of books or other products before you can leave a review or answer questions about a product. These purchases, and it looks like it is a cumulative amount, must be purchased via credit card or debit card — gift cards won’t count. This means someone can’t set up a fake account, buy themselves a gift card and use it to get around the policy….

(4) AND HEEERE’S PHILIP! Kim Huett asks, “Do you ever have those moments when you discover a different side to an author? Well of course you do. We all do. I did just the other day in regards to Philip K. Dick:” See “Straight Talking With Philip K. Dick” at Doctor Strangemind.

It’s in Lighthouse #14 (October 1966) that Carr published a Philip K. Dick article called Will the Atomic Bomb Ever Be Perfected, and If So, What Becomes of Robert Heinlein? This piece doesn’t read like a fully formed article in my opinion. It’s a series of unconnected paragraphs that feels more like a transcript of Dick’s responses to a series of questions that had been posed by a talk show host (Conan O’Brien most probably, I can’t imagine who else would enjoy interviewing Phil Dick). Take this line:

‘I have written and sold twenty-three novels, and all are terrible except one. But I am not sure which one.

That so feels like the sort of thing a talk show guest might say to set the tone of the interview. Watch out audience, I’m quirky and don’t take anything too seriously.

Mostly though Dick expresses the sort of blunt and sweeping opinions I never thought he was likely to come out with….

(5) MAKE IT SNOW. Let SyFy Wire help with your holiday shopping — “2017 Gift Guide: Beam up these great Star Trek gifts”. My favorite —

U.S.S. Enterprise Sushi Set

If you love Star Trek AND sushi then this awesome sushi set will hit the sweet spot. The set includes a shiny Enterprise NCC-1701 in mid-warp and propped on a wooden base, which is actually… a sushi plate. If you remove the top of the saucer section, you even get a small dish for soy sauce. Slide out the warp effects of the nacelles and voila, you have your own pair of chopsticks.

Get it for $34.99 at Star Trek Shop

(6) NO PRIZE. In the Paris Review, Ursula K. Le Guin makes a meta suggestion: “The Literary Prize for the Refusal of Literary Prizes”.

I refused a prize once. My reasons were mingier than Sartre’s, though not entirely unrelated. It was in the coldest, insanest days of the Cold War, when even the little planet Esseff was politically divided against itself. My novelette The Diary of the Rose was awarded the Nebula Award by the Science Fiction Writers of America. At about the same time, the same organization deprived the Polish novelist Stanislaw Lem of his honorary membership. There was a sizable contingent of Cold Warrior members who felt that a man who lived behind the iron curtain and was rude about American science fiction must be a Commie rat who had no business in the SFWA. They invoked a technicality to deprive him of his membership and insisted on applying it. Lem was a difficult, arrogant, sometimes insufferable man, but a courageous one and a first-rate author, writing with more independence of mind than would seem possible in Poland under the Soviet regime. I was very angry at the injustice of the crass and petty insult offered him by the SFWA. I dropped my membership and, feeling it would be shameless to accept an award for a story about political intolerance from a group that had just displayed political intolerance, took my entry out of the Nebula competition shortly before the winners were to be announced. The SFWA called me to plead with me not to withdraw it, since it had, in fact, won. I couldn’t do that. So—with the perfect irony that awaits anybody who strikes a noble pose on high moral ground—my award went to the runner-up: Isaac Asimov, the old chieftain of the Cold Warriors.

(7) TOLKIEN CANONIZATON CONFERENCE CANCELLED. The hosts of a December 18 conference in Rome to popularize the idea of canonizing J.R.R. Tolkien, an initiative of the SUPR (Student Association of Roman pontifical universities) and sponsored by the CRUPR (conference of rectors of Roman pontifical universities), say they have had to cancel the event in the face of unspecified opposition. You can see they didn’t go quietly.

(8) IMAGINING A PAST, AND A BETTER PRESENT. French novelist Jean d’Ormesson died December 6 at the age of 92 reports the New York Times.

It was only in 1971 that “La Gloire de l’Empire” — translated into English as “A Novel. A History” — secured a lasting place for him in 20th-century French literature.

The book, a fictional compendium of imagined history, won the academy’s coveted Grand Prix.

“This has to be one of the most engrossing histories ever written — yet not a word of it is true,” William Beauchamp, a French literature scholar, wrote in The New York Times Book Review when the book was published in English in the United States in 1975.

He added: “Jean d’Ormesson’s empire is pure invention; his book, fictional history. If numerous details suggest the real empires of Rome, Persia, Byzantium, of Alexander or Charlemagne, they are devices designed to achieve verisimilitude — the illusion of reality.”

When Mr. d’Ormesson entered the academy in 1973, at the age of 48, he was the youngest of its 40 members, all of them committed to maintaining the purity of the French language and to promoting French literary merit.

All were also men; the body had barred women since its founding in 1635. But that changed in 1981, when Mr. d’Ormesson sponsored Marguerite Yourcenar, a writer and classical scholar, to join the academy. Though he incurred much criticism and not a few misogynistic jibes for his championing her, she was accepted….

(9) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • December 10, 2009 Avatar makes its world premiere.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY LIBRARIAN

  • Born December 10, 1851 – Melvil Dewey, inventor of the Dewey Decimal System. As a young adult he advocated spelling reform; he changed his name from the usual “Melville” to “Melvil”, without redundant letters, and for a time changed his surname to “Dui”.

(11) DOWNSIZING. Parade’s Amy Spencer, in “Sunday With…Matt Damon”, asks the star of Downsizing such novel softball questions as “What’s a situation where, in real life, you felt really small?” and “What is something small that means a great deal to you?” At least he didn’t have to answer any questions about potatoes.

(12) BEARLY THERE. Framestore animation director Pablo Grillo goes into Paddington 2: “Paddington 2: The challenges of making the film”. (Video at the link.)

(13) BEATING THE BUSHES. Botanical exploits: “How British plant hunters served science”.

Reginald Farrer (1880-1920) was one of four 20th Century botanists who made expeditions to then remote parts of China to discover and bring back plants.

He and his contemporaries – George Forrest (1873-1932), William Purdom (1880-1921) and Frank Kingdon-Ward (1885-1958) – are remembered in a new exhibition at the RHS Lindley library in London.

…Frank Kingdon-Ward, son of a botany professor, was perhaps the most prolific of the four plant collectors.

“He carried out over 20 expeditions in total – not all in China; he travelled all over, in India as well and Assam Himalayas, and really his first love was exploration,” says Sarah McDonald.

Kingdon-Ward frequently cheated death on his travels. Once, lost in the jungle, he survived by sucking the nectar from flowers. Another time, a tree fell on his tent during a storm, but he crawled out unscathed. And he survived falling over a precipice only by gripping a tree long enough to be pulled to safety.

In a letter to his sister, he wrote: “If I survive another month without going dotty or white-haired it will be a miracle; if my firm get any seeds at all this year it will be another.”

(14) MARTIAN BOG. If only Heinlein could make The Traveler happy – a magazine review at Galactic Journey. “[December 9, 1962] (January 1963, IF Science Fiction)”.

Podkayne of Mars (Part 2 of 3), by Robert A. Heinlein

Part II of Heinlein’s new juvenile(?) about Miss Poddy Fries and her space jaunt from Mars is a bit more readable than the last one, but it’s still overwritten and gets bogged in detail.  This is the spiritual successor to The Menace from Earth I’d hoped to share with my daughter, but I don’t think it’s quite good enough.  Three stars for this installment.

(15) CASTING FOR PIKACHU. Trae Dorn of Nerd & Tie reports “Ryan Reynolds Has Been Cast as ‘Detective Pikachu’ Because Why the Hell Not”.

So one of the weirdest projects out there for a while has been Legendary’s live action/cgi hybrid Detective Pikachu movie. I mean, it’s a live action/cgi hybrid Detective Pikachu movie. No one was really expecting it to happen, and now the latest news is that it has a rather unexpected star: Ryan Reynolds.

That’s right, Ryan Reynolds is going to play Detective Pikachu in the Detective Pikachu movie. I mean, it’s not bad casting – Reynolds is a talented actor – but it’s definitely weird casting. I mean, he’s a funny guy (remember, unlike most Pokemon, Detective Pikachu can talk), but it’s not a direction most people thought casting would go.

(16) DIAGNOSIS. Definitely sorry for his health problems, but how many cold sufferers inspire such a colorful description?

(17) VIRTUAL BEST OF YEAR. Jason, at Featured Futures, has posted his picks for the Web’s Best Science Fiction #1 (2017 Stories). His “virtual anthology” is a table of contents of selected links to 70,000 words of the best science fiction published online in 2017.

Web’s Best Fantasy will cover the fantasy stories. The stories for both “volumes” were chosen from fifteen markets: Apex Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld Magazine, Compelling Science Fiction, Diabolical Plots, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Flash Fiction Online, Grievous Angel, Lightspeed, Nature, Nightmare, Strange Horizons, Terraform, Tor.com, and Uncanny.

(18) EDGED WEAPONS. Gary K. Wolfe reviews Quillifer by Walter Jon Williams at Locus Online.

In one of Donald Barthelme’s funnier stories, a hapless would-be writer finds that one of the questions on the National Writer’s Examination (“a five-hour fifty-minute examination, for his certificate”) involves recognizing at least four archaic words for sword. On the basis of his new novel Quillifer, Walter Jon Williams would get that certificate with flying colors. His vocabulary of antique weaponry is formidable, as well as his command of archaic military and naval terminol­ogy: the tale is packed with enough chebeks, dirks, calivers, pollaxes, and demiculverins to win a dozen Scrabble or trivia games, not to mention such neologisms as “gastrologist,” “logomania,” “poetastical,” “credent,” and others which, as Quillifer and others proudly announce, they “just made up.” As should be evident, there’s a good deal of infectious playfulness involved here, and the question that quickly arises is whether this is going to be infectious enough, or Quillifer himself ingratiating enough, to power us through what promises to be at least three hefty volumes of episodic adventures.

(19) CAT TALES AND OTHERS. In the LA Times’ Jacket Copy section, “Michelle Dean loves Ursula K. Le Guin’s cat stories. Which is a good start”:

Here we get some thoughts on publishing too, or rather, as the book calls it, “The Lit Biz.” Posts on this theme include a lament about how often people ask her “why” she writes — she calls this question “highly metaphysical.” It also includes Le Guin’s frustration with the notion that someone, somewhere has written the Great American Novel. But that argument gradually morphs into a paean to John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” the novel Le Guin evidently feels might be closest to a Great American novel. And then also segues, in a pleasingly bloggy way, into an anecdote about how Le Guin actually knew Steinbeck in her youth and hid with him in the bushes at a terrible wedding with racist guests. “We need to get away from boring people and drink in peace,” she records Steinbeck saying on this occasion. Amen, Great American Writer.

(20) LETTERS TO SANTA. The Guardian found the North Pole in an unexpected place: “Santa Claus, Indiana gets 20,000 letters a year – and ‘elves’ reply to all of them”.

The letters, sometimes addressed to Santa Claus, Indiana, sometimes to just “Santa Claus”, come from all over the US, and even from outside the country. They’re processed by a team of 300 “elves” who write personal replies – penning up to 2,000 notes a day.

“It’s an amazing thing making children happy,” said Pat Koch, the town’s Chief Elf. Koch, 86, is in charge of the mammoth effort. She’s been handling Santa’s correspondence since she was 11 years old.

“We just sit in there and laugh and cry,” Koch said.

“We get letters from children that say: ‘We learned to use the potty’ – well, their mother writes for them – ‘So we hope Santa will come’.

“Or they stopped sucking their thumb. Or some children write very sad letters: ‘I’m living with my grandma and I want to be with my daddy.’”

The elves also receive mail from older people who are lonely and want a letter from Santa, Koch said. Sometimes inmates write to Santa Claus, asking him to send a letter to their children. Post arrives from as far away as Japan, China and Malaysia. Each is read and responded to.

(21) WRATH OF KHAN REVISITED. Orange Band gives old movies the trailers they deserve.

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