Pixel Scroll 3/31/18 It’s An Honor Just To Be Pixelated

(1) FAREWELL, PORNOKITSCH. Yesterday Anne Perry and Jared Shurin signed off their long-running sff blog: “Pornokitsch: The Exit Interview”. The existing content will remain online for some time to come.

Anne: …As you say above, Pornokitsch is what we wanted it to be: a home for thoughtful, fun (and funny) essays about… whatever. Back when it was just the two of us writing for the site, that’s what we did. And it’s been a pleasure to watch the site bloom with much, much more of that…

By and large, I’m happy to say that I think I wrote more or less exactly what I wanted to write for the site. There are a few reviews I would do differently now, if I could go back in time. But we  founded Pornokitsch as a way of talking about the pop culture we love with the humour and intelligence we wished to see in those conversations, and at the end of the day, I think we – and our many brilliant contributors over the years – have done just that.

Jared: On that note… We’ve mentioned our amazing contributors: words and art, regular and guest, past and present. We owe them a huge, huge thanks for all of their hard work and help and patience. Thank you all.

Anne: We owe you a huge debt of gratitude. Thanks also to all the publishers – editors, marketers and publicists – who offered us books to review and put quotes from us on the actual books, zomg. And, finally, thanks also to our tolerant and very supportive families, enthusiastic friends and – most of all – our readers over the years.

For those arriving too late, they created a kind of postmortem FAQ on their “Bye!” page.

How can I check if you verbally flensed my favourite piece of pop culture? I need know whether or not I should hate you forever.

An index of features and reviews can be found here.

Is there some Pornokitsch memorabilia that I could cherish forever?

Nope. Buy one of our contributor’s books instead.

(2) PUPPY FREE. I like how this was the fifth point in John Scalzi’s “Thoughts On This Year’s Hugo Finalist Ballot” at Whatever.

  1. To get ahead of a question I know someone will ask, no, there’s not any “puppy” nonsense this year. It appears the changes in nominating finalists to reduce slating had their intended effect, and also, the various puppies appear to have lost interest slamming their heads into this particular wall. This makes sense as it provided no benefit to any of them, damaged the reputations and careers of several, and succeeded only in making their rank and file waste a lot of time and effort (and money). They’ve gone off to make their own awards and/or to bother other media, which is probably a better use of their time. There was an attempt by a cadre of second-wave wannabe types to replicate slating this year, but that unsurprisingly came to naught.

In its stead are excellent stories and people, all of which and whom got on to the ballot on the strength of their work. Which is as it should be.

(3) IT’S BEEN AWHILE. Piet Nel said on Facebook about Sarah Pinsker’s “Wind Will Rove” (from Asimov’s, September/October 2017), a Best Novelette Hugo finalist —

This is the first time since 2013 that a story from Asimov’s has made the final ballot of the Hugos.

(4) NOT A NATIVE SPEAKER. J.R.R. Tolkien on Elvish:

(5) GRIMOIRES. In the Horror Writers Association Newsletter, Lawrence Berry discusses a source of “Forbidden Words (And When to Use Them)”.

Do genuinely forbidden, occult treatises exist in the modern world?

Yes, definitely.

Who has them and how do I get a look?

The great libraries of the world, private antiquarian collectors, and the Vatican’s Secret Archives all house works on satanism and witchcraft. An interested party would need to earn scholar’s credentials or have someone very good at creating false identities counterfeit them. A wide and nimble knowledge of Olde English, Middle English, Latin, Arabic, ancient German and Italian, along with gifted insight into the science of cryptography would help—a person could be burned at the stake for the sin of heresy in more centuries than not and grimoires were often written in code. It would also be wise to attain a master’s knowledge of very old books themselves—the paper they were penned on, the material used to construct the covers, the ink used in the illuminated borders and illustrations, the quality and flow of period quills and brushes. Authentic editions, with provenance, sell for a great price, and forgeries are rampant. An equally lavish fee is charged for a single reading of the rarest, genuine, and powerful spell-books.

(6) SFF AUTHORS ON GENDER PANEL IN HONG KONG. In conjunction with the Melon Conference 2, the University of Hong Kong recently held a seminar on Gender in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing. Mlex interviewed an attendee about what the panelists had to say in “Hong Kong Science Fiction Scene – Gender in SFF” for Yunchtime.

To find out more about the Hong Kong Science Fiction and Fantasy scene, Yunchtime reached out to Dr. Christine Yi Lai Luk, at the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences of the Univeristy of Hong Kong, who attended the panel discussion….

YUNCHTIME: How did the seminar and panel discussion live up to the proposed topic?

LUK: There is plenty of room for improvement, I’d say. It is a panel of three women SF writers, but they did not explore “the world of women in SF” as advertised in the above description. It is more appropriate to call the seminar “women/gender and SF” because it is just three women talking about their SF work.

YUNCHTIME: How about the panelists, can you describe briefly some of their thoughts or comments?

LUK: I think Becky Chambers‘ views were the most relevant to the proposed topic. Chambers revealed how she was drawn into the world of SF from an early age onward. Raised in a space science-heavy family (her father is a rocket engineer and her mother an astrobiologist), she was introduced to SF and space fantasy movies as early as she could remember.

Her favorite SF novel of all time is “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula LeGuin (a lot of nods from the audience as the name was dropped). She said writing SF gives her confidence as she is an introvert.

I think her experience reflects a certain gender norm in the SF realm: Unlike the blondy sorority type of girls, girls who are into SF are perceived as shy and nerdy, and incapable of drawing the attention from the opposite sex (except maybe from Wookie-dressed superfans).

Tang Fei does not write in English, only in Chinese. Her Chinese works are translated into English and they draw attention in the English-speaking world partly because her works are banned in China. Actually, Tang Fei is a pen name.

Because the conference was being held entirely in English and due to the language barrier, Tang Fei’s sharing was not effective as we could have hoped. She only managed to say a few sentences in English (with a very soft voice). Then, during the Q&A, she was relying on the organizer, Nicole Huang, to act as her interpreter.

The main thing I caught from Tang Fei is that in the future, human beings will exist in disembodied form and thus the only “gender” issue for SF writers to engage in will be purely on the psychological aspect.

Zen Cho talked about her upbringing in Malaysia and her identity as an English-speaking Hokkien among mainstream Malays. She did not identify herself as a SF writer, but as a fantasy writer. I don’t think she has said anything remotely relevant to gender.

(7) STEELE AND SF IN HONG KONG. Mlex also covered “Hong Kong Science Fiction Scene – Allen Steele on the Melon Conference 2018” for Yunchtime.

YUNCHTIME: What is your impression of Fritz Demoupolis? Is he a big SFF fan? Demoupolis is a successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist, do you think he sees a business opportunity for the SFF genre in Hong Kong and China?

STEELE: Fritz Demopoulos is an interesting fellow … a California-born ex-pat who came to Hong Kong about 20 years ago and has stayed to make his fortune. My brother-in-law did much the same thing, so I’m familiar with this sort of entrepreneurship. He’s most definitely a SF fan. He discovered the genre through finding his father’s beat-up copy of Asimov’s Foundation and has been reading SF ever since. He knows the field, is familiar with major authors both old and new, loves the same movies and TV shows the rest of us do, and overall is an example of a highly-successful businessman who also happens to be something of a geek.

Melon is Fritz’s brainchild — he’d have to explain to you why he gave it that name — and it’s unique among SF gatherings. As I said, it’s not a con in the conventional sense — yes, that’s a deliberate pun; stop groaning — but rather a symposium that’s sort of academic without being stuffy or pretentious. The people Fritz invited to be speakers were SF writers — a few Americans like myself, but mainly young Asian authors— scientists from the U.S., Europe, and Asia, and a number of Hong Kong-based entrepreneurs working in both emerging technologies like AI and also mass media

(8) HAWKING OBSEQUIES. Henry Nicholls, in the Reuters story “Friends, Family, Public Flock To Funeral of Physicist Stephen Hawking,” says that Hawking’s coffin had white “Universe” lilies and white “Polar Star” roses and a “space music” composition called “Beyond The Night Sky” was played.

The 76-year-old scientist was mourned by his children Robert, Lucy and Timothy, joined by guests including playwright Alan Bennett, businessman Elon Musk and model Lily Cole.

Eddie Redmayne, the actor who played Professor Hawking in the 2014 film “The Theory of Everything” was one of the readers in the ceremony and Felicity Jones, who played his wife, Jane Hawking in the film also attended the service.

(9) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • March 31, 1840 — President Van Buren issued executive order establishing 10-hour workday for federal employees.
  • March 31, 1987 Max Headroom aired on TV.
  • March 31, 1995 Tank Girl debuted in theaters.
  • March 31, 1999 The Matrix premiered.

(10) COMICS SECTION.

(11) WHICH COMES FIRST? THE PRESS RELEASE. In “The Silicon Valley elite’s latest status symbol: Chickens” the Washington Post says, “Their pampered birds wear diapers and have personal chefs — but lay the finest eggs tech money can buy.”

…In true Silicon Valley fashion, chicken owners approach their birds as any savvy venture capitalist might: By throwing lots of money at a promising flock (spending as much as $20,000 for high-tech coops). By charting their productivity (number and color of eggs). And by finding new ways to optimize their birds’ happiness — as well as their own.

Like any successful start-up, broods aren’t built so much as reverse engineered. Decisions about breed selection are resolved by using engineering matrices and spreadsheets that capture “YoY growth.” Some chicken owners talk about their increasingly extravagant birds like software updates, referring to them as “Gen 1,” “Gen 2,” “Gen 3” and so on. They keep the chicken brokers of the region busy finding ever more novel birds.

“At Amazon, whenever we build anything we write the press release first and decide what we want the end to be and I bring the same mentality to the backyard chickens,” said Ken Price, the director of Amazon Go, who spent a decade in San Francisco before moving to Seattle. Price, 49, has had six chickens over the past eight years and is already “succession planning” for his next “refresh.”

(12) ENERGIES IMAGINED. In “Fuelling the Future” on Aeon, Aberstywyth University historian Iwan Rhys Morus analyzes Robert A. Heinlein’s 1940 story “Let There Be Light” in an analysis of how sf writers created stories about new power sources.

Heinlein needed the sunscreens to make his future work; that is, to answer the problem of how technological culture might flourish in a world of diminishing resources. This was not a new problem, even in 1940, and it is an increasingly pressing one now. The question of what is going to fuel the future has never been more urgent. Is it going to be wind or wave power? Will fuel cells, solar panels or even the holy grail of fusion be the answer to our problems? Or are we going to frack ourselves into oblivion? If we want to better understand how we speculate about future energy now, then we need to appreciate the extent to which those speculations have a history, and that their history (from the early Victorian period on) contains such fictions as Heinlein’s story as often as, and frequently mixed in with, highly technical debates about the characteristics and requirements of different modes of energy production and consumption.

(13) RUSS’ INFLUENCE. The Baffler’s Jessa Crispin, in “No Mothers, No Daughters”, an excerpt from her introduction to a new edition of Joanna Russ’s How to Supress Women’s Writing, says “I came at Russ sideways…seeing her name-checked by the punk rock chicks who created their own culture through zines an mix tapes when they failed to see themselves through thee wider culture.”

Reading Joanna Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing, I wondered, what the hell is it going to take? For decades we have had these types of critiques. We have had books and lectures and personal essays and statistics and scientific studies about unconscious bias. And yet still we have critics like Jonathan Franzen speculating on whether Edith Wharton’s physical beauty (or lack of it, as is his assessment of her face and body) affected her writing, we have a literary culture that is still dominated by one small segment of the population, we have a sense that every significant contribution to the world of letters was made by the heterosexual white man—and that sense is reinforced in the education system, in the history books, and in the visible world.

This complaint wasn’t even exactly fresh territory when Russ wrote her book, which I do not say to diminish her accomplishment. It is always an act of bravery to stand up to say these things, to risk being thought of as ungrateful. Your small pile of crumbs can always get smaller.

But what is it going to take to break apart these rigidities? Russ’s book is a formidable attempt. It is angry without being self-righteous, it is thorough without being exhausting, and it is serious without being devoid of a sense of humor. But it was published over thirty years ago, in 1983, and there’s not an enormous difference between the world she describes and the one we currently inhabit.

(14) THE MARCHING GENIUSES: At Featured Futures, Jason’s prepared another list of bright literary lights in the Summation: March 2018

The fifteen noted stories (nine recommended) come from the 112 (of about 560,000 words) that I’ve read with a publication date between February 26 and March 31. The printzines were decent, with Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF and Interzone (the latter reviewed for Tangent) being represented by more than one story from their bi-monthly issues. On the web, Lightspeed has two from just this month while Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Flash
Fiction Online
, and Nature also make appearances.

(15) JDA SIGHTING. Kilroy was there.

Or as JDA put it in his press release (!) –

Today was a step forward for the cviil rights of conservative-libertarians in SF/F, as I attended the Hugo Award Nomination ceremony without harassment from the Worldcon 2018 staff. It proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am 1. not disruptive at Worldcon events — or any convention, as FogCon proved and 2. that the discrimination I face from them was for reasons other than my being a danger to any guests (since I am clearly not, and they clearly didn’t think I was here).

The Worldcon Staff was uninviting — a nearly all white group I might add — not seeming to want to have a Hispanic author in their presence. It is something we will have to overcome in fandom together in time.

(16) GRAND THEFT LUNCH. SFF cannot keep up with stories like this from the real world!!!! Begin here —

(17) IN CHARACTER. Jeff Goldblum in his Thor: Ragnarok character in a short film “Grandmaster Moves To Earth.” From 2017, but it’s news to me!

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

Pixel Scroll 3/27/18 Godstalk It, Jake, It’s Pixel Scroll

(1) READ THE GAME. The Read it Forward site is celebrating Ready Player One’s theatrical debut this week with an interactive 8-bit-inspired excerpt that “gamifies” the prologue from Ernest Cline’s novel. [Click on the GIF to view.]

Read your way to the top of the Scoreboard as you earn points for discovering Easter eggs that bring the content to life. As readers learn of Parzival’s hunt for the keys to OASIS, they’ll maneuver their way around a maze, attend an ‘80s dance party, unlock footnotes, and more. Upon completion, readers can add their name to a Scoreboard and share their score with a link to the excerpt on social media. All of the excerpt’s hidden extras are unlocked once a reader earns the maximum score of 10,000 points.

(2) TV INTEREST IN THREE-BODY PROBLEM. From io9: “Report: Amazon May Pay $1 Billion to Adapt the Hugo-Winning Chinese Novel The Three-Body Problem”.

The Hugo-winning Chinese novel The Three-Body Problem could become Amazon’s Game of Thrones. A new report from Financial Times suggests Amazon is pursuing a deal to make a three-season television show based on the trilogy from Liu Cixin, and it may be willing to pay up to $1 billion to do so.

According to the Financial Times report, international investors say Amazon is negotiating for the rights to produce three seasons based on Remembrance of Earth’s Past, the scifi trilogy more commonly known by the title of its first book, The Three-Body Problem.

In a statement reported by Chinese news outlets, YooZoo Pictures stated that it remains the sole owners for the film and TV rights for The Three-Body Problem, though it didn’t comment on whether Amazon had approached the company or were in talks with them to collaborate on this reported streaming project. Cixin was also asked about this development by Chinese news outlet MTime.com, where he revealed he knew nothing about the project and doesn’t know if he’d be invited to work on it.

(3) DISSENTING VOICE. In contrast to those looking forward to the movie, Vox says “The Ready Player One book used to be considered a fun romp. Then Gamergate happened,” in “The Ready Player One backlash, explained”.

A time traveler from 2011 could be forgiven for being deeply confused by this response. In 2011, Ready Player One was beloved. It was “a guaranteed pleasure.” It was “witty.” It was not only “a simple bit of fun” but also “a rich and plausible picture of future friendships in a world not too distant from our own.”

What gives? How did the consensus on a single book go from “exuberant and meaningful fun!” to “everything that is wrong with the internet!” over the span of seven years?

… But the main thing Ready Player One is doing is telling those ’80s-boy-culture-obsessed gamers that they matter, that in fact they are the most important people in the universe. That knowing every single goddamn word of Monty Python and the Holy Grail can have life-or-death stakes, because why shouldn’t it? (Yes, that is a crucial step in Wade’s battle to save the OASIS.)

For readers in Cline’s target demographic in 2011, that message felt empowering. For readers who weren’t, it felt like a harmless piece of affirmation meant for someone else. Everyone deserves a silly escapist fantasy, right? And since Cline’s silly escapist fantasy wasn’t specifically meant for girls — unlike, say, Twilight, which was getting savaged in popular culture at the timeReady Player One was largely left alone by the people it wasn’t built for…

(4) ASHBY STORY. This month’s entry in the Future Tense Fiction series, “Domestic Violence” by Madeline Ashby, is a free read at Slate.

A partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University, Future Tense explores how emerging technologies will change the way we live. The latest consumer gadgets are intriguing, but we focus on the longer-term transformative power of robotics, information and communication technologies, synthetic biology, augmented reality, space exploration, and other technologies. Future Tense seeks to understand the latest technological and scientific breakthroughs, and what they mean for our environment, how we relate to one another, and what it means to be human. Future Tense also examines whether technology and its development can be governed democratically and ethically.

And there’s also a response essay from Ian Harris, who works on technology issues with the National Network to End Domestic Violence: “The Complicated Relationship Between Abuse and Tech”.

Violence against women is having something of a moment right now. Which is to say, portrayals of domestic violence in film and TV are gaining critical acclaim. Through shows like Big Little Lies and movies like I, Tonya, popular culture is grappling with more nuanced representations of domestic violence and the humanity of survivors of abuse. These are important conversations, and I hope that this is the start of a profound societal transformation, though time will tell. For me, the most disturbing part of these portrayals is not the brutality of the assaults, but how frequently physical violence is prioritized over other types of abusive behavior. It is what we don’t see that worries me.

We see this distorted prioritization in real life, too. I’ve been a domestic violence attorney for more than a decade. Despite the long list of clients who have struggled to get the justice system to live up to its name, I have found that survivors are much more likely to get help for physical assaults than for other kinds of abusive behavior such as stalking, surveillance, harassment, and intimate image disclosures, which frequently feel more harmful to the survivor.

(5) AVENGERS PLUG. A new TV spot for Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Infinity War.

The end is near. One month until Avengers: Infinity War.

 

(6) SEARCH FOR DIVERSE FICTION. Rocket Stack Rank has another new feature. Greg Hullender explains:

In response to readers who wanted a way to find good stories by diverse authors, we did an analysis of the most-recommended short speculative fiction stories written by people of color in 2015 and 2016 — “Best People of Color SF/F of 2015-2016”.

This only looks at stories that got some sort of recognition (e.g. solid recommendation from a prolific reviewer, inclusion in a years-best anthology, finalist for a major award), so just 481 stories across those two years. Of those, 112 were written by people of color.

The credit for this work goes to Eric Wong, who did the hard work of looking up information on all the authors as well as customizing the software to let readers group the data different ways.

(7) BLOWN UP, SIR. In “This teacher aims to get kids fired up about chemistry”, the Washington Post’s Kitson Jazynka profiles University of Texas chemistry instructor Kate Biberdorf, who “breathes fire and makes explosions that blast the eyes out of jack-o-lanterns.”

Or what about one who, with a quick pour of potassium iodide into a mix of hydrogen peroxide, dish soap and food coloring, makes bubbly foam that shoots toward the ceiling? Kate Biberdorf is no imaginary teacher. She’s real, and she’s coming to Washington next month, bringing along her blowtorch and cornstarch, her supplies of liquid nitrogen and dry ice, and a lot of enthusiasm for chemistry.

Bibersdorf’s website is http://katethechemist.com/.  How could Filers NOT be interested in a woman who says her goal in life is “to have an explosive science show in Vegas?”

(8) HELP BILL SPENCER. Paul Di Filippo urges readers to support a GoFundMe that will “Give Back to Bill Spencer”.

We all need a little help sometimes. This is one of those times for Bill. He has several different health issues going on right now and the medical expenses he is incurring that are not covered through Medicare are mounting and could get much worse.   As well, he’s facing some unforeseeable out of pocket expenses that could potentially end up being a serious problem.   Right now, Bill simply doesn’t have enough for monthly bills, day to day living expenses and numerous co-pays that keep coming his way for various medical necessities.

Many readers know Bill as the award-winning writer William Browning Spencer, author of novels like Zod Wallop, Resume with Monsters and short-story collections like his latest, The Unorthodox Dr. Draper and Other Stories.

But Bill has contributed to others in a very different way as well.  By freely and graciously donating endless amounts of his time over the years to sponsoring and supporting people who are facing their own daunting problems related to alcohol, drugs and living life.  It’s time to give back to Bill what he has so freely given.

This is something Bill would never ask for himself, but he is one of my best friends and I know he is important to folks like yourself, who may wish to help in his time of need.  Bill is truly one of the most amazing, caring and hilarious human beings I know and if you’re reading this you most likely feel the same.  I think we’d all love for Bill to have the peace of mind of knowing that, whatever happens, he need not be stressed out and worried each day about how he’s going to pay for medication or a test or procedure he needs on top of his modest monthly and day to day expenses.

(9) BISCHOFF OBIT. Writer David Bischoff, 66, of Eugene, OR died March 19. He was a contributor to Doug Fratz’ 1970s fanzine Thrust. His first professional successes included The Seeker, a novel published in 1976, and the Nebula-nominated story “Tin Woodman,” co-authored with Dnnis Bailey, later adapted into both a novel and TV episode for Star Trek: The Next Generation. He also wrote the Star Trek tie-in novel Grounded, which spent time on the bestseller list. His other TV work included Dinosaucers (with Ted Pedersen). Bischoff wrote 75 original novels, and tie-in novels for movies and TV series.

David Bischoff. Photo by and copyright Andrew Porter.

(10) A POLICEMAN’S LOT. Camestros Felapton reacted to Richard Paolinelli’s minor league prank of complaining to the Aussie cops about Felapton’s blog.

(11) MOUNTAINTOP EXPERIENCE. “The hidden history of the UK’s highest peak”: A tourist hiking trail once led to an early weather station whose records are now being used to trace climate change.

Back in Victorian Britain, science was still largely an amateur pastime conducted by bands of self-financed enthusiasts who formed scientific societies. One was the Scottish Meteorological Society, which set up and maintained a network of weather stations across Scotland between 1855 and 1920.

(12) WAVE GOODBYE. “Stephen Hawking’s final interview: A beautiful Universe” starts from LIGO discovery of grav waves.

Tell us how important is the detection of two colliding neutron stars?

It is a genuine milestone. It is the first ever detection of a gravitational wave source with an electromagnetic counterpart. It confirms that short gamma-ray bursts occur with neutron star mergers. It gives a new way of determining distances in cosmology. And it teaches us about the behaviour of matter with incredibly high density.

(13) MAY THE ODDS BE ALWAYS IN YOUR FAVOR. Don’t look up — “Tiangong-1: China space station may fall to Earth ‘in days'”.

Should I be worried?

No. Most of the 8.5-tonne station will disintegrate as it passes through the atmosphere.

Some very dense parts such as the fuel tanks or rocket engines might not burn up completely. However, even if parts do survive to the Earth’s surface, the chances of them hitting a person are incredibly slim.

“Our experience is that for such large objects typically between 20% and 40% of the original mass will survive re-entry and then could be found on the ground, theoretically,” the head of Esa’s space debris office, Holger Krag, told reporters at a recent briefing.

“However, to be injured by one of these fragments is extremely unlikely. My estimate is that the probability of being injured by one of these fragments is similar to the probability of being hit by lightning twice in the same year.”

(14) WEDDING BELLS. Page Six headline: “‘Star Trek’ star marries Leonard Nimoy’s son”:

Live long and prosper, you two.

Adam Nimoy, son of the late “Star Trek” icon Leonard Nimoy, and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” actress Terry Farrell married on Monday, on what would’ve been Leonard Nimoy’s 87th birthday.

The couple tied the knot in a civil ceremony at City Hall in San Francisco, according to film critic Scott Mantz, who tweeted a photo of the couple on their wedding day. Farrell retweeted Mantz’s photo and wrote, “Freakin AWESOME day!!!!!!! Love ya all! Aka: Mrs. Adam Nimoy.”

She also changed her Twitter bio to include “Mrs. Adam Nimoy.”

(15) COMPLAINTS ABOUT DATE OF HUGO ANNOUNCEMENT. The announcement of the 2018 Hugo finalists wouldn’t be on March 31/Passover/Easter weekend/a Saturday if it was up to these folks:

(16) VERTLIEB CANVASSES. Rondo Awards voting closes April 8 at midnight and Steve Vertlieb hopes people will consider his nominated article “Robert Bloch: The Clown at Midnight” for Best Article of the Year.

My published work about the author of “Psycho” … “Robert Bloch: The Clown At Midnight” … has been nominated for a Rondo Award for “Best Article of the Year.” Anyone can vote.  This year’s competition ends Sunday night, April 8th, at midnight. To vote for my remembrance of Robert, simply send your choice, along with your name, to taraco@aol.com

This is the story of my twenty five year friendship with acclaimed writer Robert Bloch, the author of Psycho. It is the newly published remembrance of a complex, remarkable man, and our affectionate relationship over a quarter century.

Robert Bloch was one of the founding fathers of classic horror, fantasy, and science fiction whose prolific prose thrilled and influenced the popular genre, its writers, and readers, for much of the twentieth century. An early member of “The Lovecraft Circle,” a group of both aspiring and established writers of “Weird Fiction” assembled by Howard Phillips Lovecraft during the early 1930’s, Bloch became one of the most celebrated authors of that popular literary genre during the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s, culminating in the publication of his controversial novel concerning a boy, his mother, and a particularly seedy motel. When Alfred Hitchcock purchased his novel and released “Psycho” with Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh in 1960, Bloch became one of the most sought after authors and screen writers in Hollywood. His numerous contributions to the acclaimed television anthology series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” are among the best of the director’s classic suspense series, while his legendary scripts, adaptations and teleplays for Boris Karloff’s “Thriller” series for NBC are among the most bone chilling, frightening, and horrifying screen presentations in television history. He also famously penned several classic episodes of NBC’s original “Star Trek” series for producer Gene Roddenberry. Writers Stephen King, Richard Matheson, and Harlan Ellison have written lovingly and profusely of their own literary debt to Robert Bloch. Bob was, for me, even more significantly, a profoundly singular mentor and cherished personal friend for a quarter century. This is the story of that unforgettable relationship.

(17) NUMBER PLEASE. A strange post at George R.R. Martin’s Not a Blog caught Greg Hullender’s eye: “I wonder if this is a coded announcement that Winds of Winter is coming?” “Yowza” consists of a series of pictures of hands with finger extended as though counting. But does the number 4534 really mean anything?

[Thanks to Andrew Porter, Joey Eschrich, Cat Eldridge, John King Tarpinian, Ghostbird, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, Carl Slaughter, Chip Hitchcock, Mike Kennedy, Greg Hullender, Paul DiFilippo, and Mark Hepworth for some of these stories, Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Kurt Busiek.]

Pixel Scroll 3/21/18 Where In The Scroll Is Pixel Sandiego?

(1) WHAT FILERS LOVE. Rocket Stack Rank’s Eric Wong put together a page summarizing the Filers’ Hugo nominations for the three short-fiction categories: “Annotated 2017 File 770 List for Short Fiction”. Here are some highlights:

In the Annotated 2017 File 770 List for Short Fiction, there were 34 stories with a tally of three or more nominations. Here are a few interesting findings from the 14 novellas, 10 novelettes, and 10 short stories:

  • 21 stories are free online(62%), including all novelettes and short stories. [Highlight free stories]
  • 4 stories are by Campbell-eligible writers. [Group by Campbell Year]
  • None are translated stories.
  • 14 publications are represented (including standalone novellas) with the top three being Tor novellas (9), Tor.com (5) and Uncanny (6). [Group by Publication]
  • RSR recommended 18, recommended against 4, and did not review 2. [Group by RSR Rating]
  • 25 of the 33 stories had a score > 1, meaning many were highly recommended by prolific reviewers, inclusion in “year’s best” anthologies, and award finalists. [Group by Score]

Greg Hullender adds, “Note how well we predicted the actual results last year” —

Last year, the top 55 novellas, novelettes and short stories nominated by Filers resulted in the following matches:

(2) DUBLIN 2019 FAMILY SAVINGS. The Irish Worldcon has a plan: “If you are bringing your family, a family plan might save you a bit of money”.

Dublin 2019: An Irish Worldcon has announced a new family plan for those members who are attending with members of their family. If you sign up for a family plan you will receive 10% off the total costs for the included memberships. This new plan can be used in conjunction with the recently announced Instalment Plan as long as the Family Plan is set up first.

The Dublin 2019 Family Plan enables fans to bring their whole family with them and save 10% on the total costs of memberships. A family plan will consist of  2 “Major” and at least 2 “Minor” Individuals.  A “Major” membership is an individual born on or before 15 August 2001 (18+ on the first day of the convention).  “Minor” memberships are individuals born between 16 August 2001 and 15 August 2013 (ages 6-17 on the first day of the convention). There is also a single parent variation. Details can be found on the website.

Under the Plan, you first buy a Supporting Membership and then fill in the Dublin 2019 Family Plan Request form. The registration team will then be in touch with your membership invoice. The charge for your family plan will be frozen at the time your application is received, accepted, and calculated.  If you have not chosen to apply for the instalment plan we will issue an invoice for the balance which you will have 30 days to pay. If that lapses without payment, then you will need to start the process over again, and costs will be calculated from the date of new application.

With the Attending Membership rates rising at 00:01 hours Dublin time on April 3, 2018, this is an ideal time to consider a Family Membership Plan and ensure that you and your family can attend Dublin 2019 at the current cost.

Full terms and conditions for the Dublin 2019 Family Plan can be found at www.dublin2019.com/family-plan/.

(3) JEOPARDY STRIKES AGAIN. Andrew Porter watched the first Jeopardy! contestant make a miss-take.

Wrong question: “What is Mars?”

Rich Lynch says a second contestant got it right.

(Thanks to Rich for the image.)

(4) AND ANOTHER GAME SHOW REFERENCES SF. Did I mention, The Chase is my mother’s favorite TV show?

(5) DON’T BITE WIZARDS. Middle-Earth Reflections continues its series with “Reading Roverandom /// Chapter 1”.

Rover’s adventures begin one day when he plays with his yellow ball outside and bites a wizard for taking the ball, which is not to the dog’s liking. The animal’s misfortune is that he has not got the slightest idea that the man is a wizard because “if Rover had not been so busy barking at the ball, he might have noticed the blue feather stuck in the back of the green hat, and then he would have suspected that the man was a wizard, as any other sensible little dog would; but he never saw the feather at all” (Roverandom, p. 41-42). Being really annoyed, the wizard turns Rover into a toy dog and his life turns upside down.

It is because of such poor control of emotions that Rover is bound to embark on an adventure of some kind in a rather uncomfortable form. There also seems to be a lack of knowledge on his behalf. It is not the only time when Tolkien uses the “if they knew something, they would understand a situation better” pattern in Roverandom, as well as in some other of his stories. These references can be either to existing in our world myths, legends and folktales, or to Tolkien’s own stories. In his mythology the character wearing a hat with a blue feather is none other than Tom Bombadil, who is a very powerful being indeed, so a blue feather seems to be a very telling sign to those in the know.

(6) ACCESSIBILITY ADVICE. Kate Heartfield tells “What I’ve Learned about Convention Accessibility” at the SFWA Blog.

Can*Con is in Ottawa, Canada in October. My job is pretty minor: I wrote our accessibility policy and revise it every year, and I advise the committee about how to implement it when we have particular problems or concerns. Most importantly, I’m there as the dedicated person to field questions or concerns.

Here are a few of the things I’ve learned…

The whole convention committee has to be on board. Programming policies affect accessibility. So do registration procedures, party plans, restaurant guides. If anyone involved shrugs it off, accessibility will suffer. From the beginning, every person on the committee of Can-Con, and every volunteer, has been entirely supportive of me and the policy. When I bring a concern to the committee, the response is always constructive and never defensive. There are limits to what we can do, as a small but growing convention, and so much depends on the physical accessibility of the venue itself. But I’m learning that the limits are actually a lot farther away than they might appear, and with good people working together, a lot is possible….

Accessibility is about inclusion, and it’s a broader topic than you might think. Mobility barriers are probably the first thing that comes to mind, and they’re hugely important, but they’re not the whole picture. Accessibility is also about making sure that everyone is called by the correct pronouns and has access to a washroom where they’ll be safe and comfortable. It’s about trying not to trigger allergies and sensitivities. It’s about making sure that people have the supports they need. One of the most frequent requests we’ve had is simply for quiet recovery space.

(7) IN THE BEGINNING. Sarah A. Hoyt, having finished her Mad Genius Club series defining various genres and subgenres thoroughly and accurately, has embarked on a specialized tour of different ways to start a story. Today it’s “The Atmospheric”. Very interesting, and besides, there’s a Bradbury quote!

…“In the year A.D. 400, the Emperor Yuan held his throne by the Great Wall of China, and the land was green with rain, readying itself towards the harvest, at peace, the people in his dominion neither too happy nor too sad.” – Ray Bradbury, The Flying Machine.

Look at those openings above. They’re obviously not “these people” because except for the first — and it’s not exactly people — there are no people to be “these”.

Is there action?  Well, sort of.  I mean things are happening.  But if those are the main characters of your novel they’re kind of weird, consisting of a hole in the ground, a light in the sky, noise and apparently the Emperor Yuan.

Of course these are atmospheric beginnings.

Atmospheric beginnings are hard to do.  It’s easy to get lost in writing about things in general, but will they capture the reader?  And while you — well, okay, I — can go on forever about the beautiful landscape, the wretched times, the strange events in the neighborhood, what good is that if your reader yawns and gently closes the book and goes to sleep?

To carry off an atmospheric beginning, too, you need impeccable wording, coherent, clear, and well… intriguing.  If that’s what your book calls for, a touch of the poetic doesn’t hurt either….

(8) THE BIT AND THE BATTEN. So much for security: “Teenager hacks crypto-currency wallet”.

A hardware wallet designed to store crypto-currencies, and touted by its manufacturer as tamper-proof, has been hacked by a British 15-year-old.

Writing on his blog, Saleem Rashid said he had written code that gave him a back door into the Ledger Nano S, a $100 (£70) device that has sold millions around the world.

It would allow a malicious attacker to drain the wallet of funds, he said.

The firm behind the wallet said that it had issued a security fix.

It is believed the flaw also affects another model – the Nano Blue – and a fix for that will not be available “for several weeks”, the firm’s chief security officer, Charles Guillemet told Quartz magazine.

(9) FINAL HONOR. BBC reports “Stephen Hawking’s ashes to be interred near Sir Isaac Newton’s grave”.

The ashes of Professor Stephen Hawking will be interred next to the grave of Sir Isaac Newton at Westminster Abbey, it has been revealed.

The renowned theoretical physicist’s final resting place will also be near that of Charles Darwin, who was buried there in 1882.

(10) SKY CEILING. In the Netherlands, “The world’s oldest working planetarium”, over two centuries old.

There was a beat of silence as the room’s atmosphere shifted from inward reflection to jittery disbelief. “How is that even possible?” said one visitor, waving a pointed finger at the living-room ceiling. “Is it still accurate?” asked another. “Why have I never heard of this before?” came the outburst from her companion. Craning my neck, I too could hardly believe it.

On the timber roof above our heads was a scale model of the universe, painted in sparkling gold and shimmering royal blue. There was the Earth, a golden orb dangling by a near-invisible, hand-wound wire. Next to it, the sun, presented as a flaming star, glinting like a Christmas bauble. Then Mercury, Venus, Mars, and their moons in succession, hung from a series of elliptical curves sawn into the ceiling. All were gilded on one side to represent the sun’s illumination, while beyond, on the outer rim, were the most-outlying of the planets, Jupiter and Saturn. Lunar dials, used to derive the position of the zodiac, completed the equation.

The medieval science behind the Royal Eise Eisinga Planetarium is staggering, no matter how one views it….

(11) NIGHTLIGHT. The Independent tells readers: “Mysterious purple aurora dubbed ‘Steve’ by amateur stargazers spotted in Scotland”.

Stargazers were treated to a rare and mysterious sight named “Steve” as it lit up the night skies.

The unusual purple aurora was first discovered by a group of amateur scientists and astrophotographers who gave it the nickname, Nasa said.

Its striking purple colour and appearance closer than normal to the equator sparked interest in Scotland where it was visible from the isles of Lewis and Skye this week,

(12) NIGHTFLYERS. Here’s a teaser from the Syfy adaptation: “‘Nightflyers’: Syfy Unveils First Footage of George R.R. Martin Space Drama”.

A day after replacing showrunners, Syfy has unveiled the first look at its upcoming George R.R. Martin space drama Nightflyers.

Nightflyers is, without question, a big swing for Syfy. The drama, based on Game of Thrones creator Martin’s 1980 novella and the 1987 film of the same name, follows eight maverick scientists and a powerful telepath who embark on an expedition to the edge of the solar system aboard The Nightflyer — a ship with a small, tight-knit crew and a reclusive captain — in hopes of making contact with alien life. But when terrifying and violent events begin to take place, they start to question each other, and surviving the journey proves harder than anyone thought.

 

(13) JOB APPLICATION. A video of Shatner and Nimoy at Dragon Con is touted as “the funniest Star Trek convention of all time” by the poster.

William Shatner repeatedly asked Leonard Nimoy, “Why am I not in the movie?!”

 

(14) IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY: Jason sends word that Featured Futures has added a couple of items regarding markets receiving accolades and magazines receiving coverage by prolific review sites.

Noted Short SF Markets: 2017 is the first variation on a theme:

The following is a list of short fiction markets which had 2017 short stories, novelettes, or novellas selected for a Clarke, Dozois, Horton, or Strahan annual or which appeared on the final ballot of the Hugos or Nebulas. They are sorted by number of selections (not individual stories, which sometimes have multiple selections).

This is a variant of “The Splintered Mind: Top Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazines 2017.” This only tabulates six factors over one year rather than the many factors over many years of the original. That version helps flatten out fluky peaks and valleys but this provides an instant snapshot of major accolades. (This version also includes whatever venue the stories come from while that version focuses on magazines.) I’d thought about doing this before but stumbling over that finally got me to do it.

The second variation on a theme is Magazines and Their Reviewers

This page presents a table of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror magazines covered by five “prolific review sites.” Its primary purposes are to help people find the coverage of the zines they want to read about and/or to help them see which zines are covered from multiple viewpoints.

This is a variant of Rocket Stack Rank‘s “Magazine Coverage by Reviewers.” There are two significant differences and a minor one. First, this lists all the magazines regularly covered by the reviewers. Second, the list of reviewers includes Tangent Online but not the editors of annuals who presumably read most everything but don’t maintain review sites (though Dozois, Horton and others do review recommended stories for Locus). The minor difference is just that there’s no number column because this isn’t being done for “stack ranking” purposes.

(15) UP TO SNUFF? Zhaoyun covers a feature available on Netflix in “Microreview [film]: Mute, directed by Duncan Jones” at Nerds of a Feather.

The name ‘Duncan Jones’ will immediately evoke, in the minds of the small but powerful(ly voiced) group of cine-nerds, the masterful 2009 film Moon, and/or the respectable cerebral (get it?!) thriller Source Code of 2011. Garden-variety meathead non-nerds, on the other hand, might recall him as the director of the 2016 video game-to-film adaptation of Warcraft—you know, the movie that absolutely no one was eagerly awaiting. No matter your nerd credentials, then, you probably associate Duncan Jones with a certain cinematographic pizzazz, and like me, your expectations were probably quite high for his latest brainchild, the only-on-Netflix 2018 futuristic neo-noir Mute. The question is, were those expectations met?

Nah. But before we get to the bad news, I’ll give the good news. The film is breathtakingly beautiful, leaving no rock of the delectably dirty futuristic Berlin unturned, and what’s more, it is full of quirky little visual predictions of what the world will be like in twenty years (you know, mini-drones delivering food through the drone-only doggy door on windows, etc.). Plus, Paul Rudd was, in my opinion, an excellent casting choice, as his snarky-but-harmless star persona helps mask the darkness lurking deep within his character here.

(16) PASSING THROUGH. Renay praises a book: “Let’s Get Literate! In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan” at Lady Business.

Portal fantasies feel like a staple of childhood. I missed most of the literary ones. I loved In Other Lands, but as much as it is a portal fantasy it’s also a critique of them, a loving celebration and deconstruction of their tropes and politics, and I probably missed 95% of everything this book does. Does it do what it set out to do well? Yes, says the portal fantasy newbie, whose experience with portal fantasy as a Youngster comes in the form of the following:

  • Through the Ice by Piers Anthony and Robert Kornwise
  • Labyrinth, starring David Bowie
  • The Neverending Story; too bad about those racial politics
  • Cool World starring Brad Pitt, which I watched when too young
  • Space Jam, the best sports movie after Cool Runnings

(17) X FOR EXCELLENT. Also at Lady Business, Charles Payseur returns with a new installment of “X Marks the Story: March 2018”, which includes a review of —

“The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington”, Phenderson Djèlí Clark (published at Fireside Magazine, February 2018)

What It Is: As the title of this short story implies, it is a history of sorts of the people behind the teeth that George Washington bought to use for his dentures. Structured into nine sections, the story builds up a wonderfully imagined alternate past full of magic, monsters, and war—even as it uncovers the exploitation and abuse lurking at the heart of the very real history of the United States of America. Each story explores a different aspect of the past through a fantasy lens, and yet the truth of what is explored—the pain and atrocities that people faced under the rule of early America—rings with a power that echoes forward through time, reminding us of the origins, and continued injustices, of this country….

(18) RUSS TO JUDGMENT. Ian Sales takes a close look at “The Two of Them, Joanna Russ” (1978) at SF Mistressworks.

…The depiction of Islam in The Two of Them would only play today on Fox News. It is ignorant and Islamophobic. Russ may have been writing a feminist sf novel about the role of women, but she has cherrypicked common misconceptions about women in Islamic societies as part of her argument, and ignored everything else. This is not an Islamic society, it’s a made-up society based on anti-Islamic myths and clichés….

There’s a good story in The Two of Them, and the prose shows Russ at her best. Toward the end, Russ even begins breaking the fourth wall and directly addressing the reader. The narrative also discusses alternative outcomes of Irene’s story, probabilistic worlds and events that would naturally arise out of the premise of the Trans-Temporal Authority. Her depiction of Irene, contrasting both her lack of agency in 1950s USA and her agency in the Trans-Temporal Authority, makes an effective argument. But the attempt to contrast it with Islam is a definite mis-step….

(19) AUDIENCES LOVE NEXT DEADPOOL. The Hollywood Reporter learned “‘Deadpool 2’ Outscores Original in Test Screenings”.

The Ryan Reynolds-fronted sequel has been tested three times, with the scores for the first two screenings coming in at 91 and 97. The final test, which occurred in Dallas, tested two separate cuts simultaneously, which scored a 98 and a 94. The 98-scoring cut is the version the team is using, a source with direct knowledge told THR.

The crew attended the final screenings in Dallas, and a source in the audience of the 98 screening describing the environment to THR as being electric and akin to watching the Super Bowl.

It’s worth noting the highest test screening the original Deadpool received was a 91, according to insiders. The film went on to gross $783 million worldwide and stands as the highest-grossing X-Men movie of all time.

(20) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Isle of Dogs: Making of: The Animators” is a look at how 27 animators and ten assistants used state-of-the-art animation to make – you guessed it — Isle of Dogs..

[Thanks  to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Rich Lynch, Chip Hitchcock, Carl Slaughter, Cat Eldridge, Andrew Porter, Greg Hullender, Jason, and Martin Morse Wooster for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor Peer.]

Pixel Scroll 3/20/18 If You Are Stuck In A Kerfuffle, Pixel A Trench And Scroll Your Way To Freedom

(1) #METOO. Pat Cadigan opened up about her #metoo experiences in a public post on Facebook.

Heard Germaine Greer on BBC Radio 4 this morning, disparaging #metoo

Germaine should also talk about welding, engineering, astrophysics, and brain surgery, because she knows as much about them as #metoo

And just for the record: #metoo

I’ve talked about the first job I ever had after I graduated from high school. I lasted a week cold-calling people, trying to sell the photographic packages for a photography company. My supervisor was a woman struggling to be a single parent after her divorce. Her supervisor, who was onsite almost all the time literally chased me around the office, trying to get his hands on me.

When I complained to my supervisor, she said, “You better keep running, because if he catches you, it will be your fault.”…

(2) THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENED. National Air and Space Museum will mark the 50th Anniversary of 2001: A Space Odyssey with an immersive art exhibit celebrating the film’s impact on culture and technology.

This spring, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum will host a special temporary exhibition of the immersive art installation “The Barmecide Feast,” a fully realized, full-scale reflection of the iconic, neo-classical hotel room from the penultimate scene of Stanley Kubrick’s and Arthur C. Clarke’s landmark film, 2001: A Space OdysseyOpen to the public April 8 – May 28, the installation will be the centerpiece of the Museum’s celebration of the film’s 50th anniversary. Museum visitors will be able to enter the re-created room in small groups for short periods to experience the surreal environment depicted in the film. The public will get its first chance to see the installation as part of the Museum’s Yuri’s Night celebration, a ticketed, 21-and-over evening event presented with Brightest Young Things Saturday, April 7

National Air and Space Society members will get a special sneak peak of the exhibition on April 5. There is no charge for this members-only event, but advance reservations are required.

(3) SIAM SOUVENIRS. A Filer’s relative actually attended the Siam Sinfonetta concert!

She said, “It was a great concert – ran about 3 hours. During the various pieces they had different characters wandering through the concert hall and sometimes lightsaber fighting. They all came out at the end (except the little ones who had probably already left to go home to bed).”

(4) STEM, STEP BY STEP. BBC reports a study: “Children drawing more women in science”, from 1% in 1960’s and 70’s to 28% today.

Children in the US are drawing more women scientists than in previous decades, according to a new study.

The “Draw A Scientist” test has been administered by sociologists in various studies since the 1960s.

Researchers at Northwestern University, US, analysed five decades of the test.

When asked to draw a scientist, less than one per cent of children in the 1960s and 1970s drew a woman. This rose to 28% between the 1980s and present day.

However, children are still far more likely to draw a traditionally male figure when asked to depict a scientist.

…Yet, the study highlights, by 2013 women were 49% of biological scientists, 35% of chemists, and 11% of physicists and astronomers in the United States.

(5) IN THE MIX. Camestros Felapton gives us a “Review: Black Lightning”.

I’m up to episode 8 of a 13 episode season and I think I can pull apart what I like and don’t like about it.

I’ll start negative. I don’t think it has yet managed to find the right mix of humour, gritty crime drama, family drama, superhero-antics. That’s not a surprise, as all superhero shows and movies struggle to find that sweet spot (and the right spot is going to vary among viewers). At times the show is quite violent (or suggestive of extreme violence) but within a show that feels more like it has been written for a more general audience. Like the Marvel Netflix shows, the central character regularly beats up criminals to get information but unlike those shows, the behaviour feels at odds with Black Lightning’s non-superhero persona.

However, there is also a lot to like about this show. The central character, Jefferson Pierce, is unusual for a superhero. He is an older man with a successful career as a high school principal. He has a family and responsibilities and ‘Black Lightning’ is something from his past. By having him as a superhero who is coming out of retirement (due to gang violence initially) is a clever way of avoiding a protracted origin story, while giving viewers an introduction to the character. We have not, as yet, been given an explanation for the source of his electrical powers – although there are hints in a subplot around the death of his journalist father some years ago.

(6) SENSITIVITY. The Washington Post’s Everdeen Mason looks at how Keira Drake changed her forthcoming Harlequin Teen novel The Continent in response to sensitivity readers, which included changing the name of one clan from “Topi” to “Xoe”  to remove any comparisons to the Hopi, making another clan less Asian-looking, and eliminating “savage,” “primitive,” and “native” from the text. The article includes many examples contrasting the original and revised text.

Drake and Wilson maintain that the book was never supposed to be about race. “The main theme of ‘The Continent’ is how privilege allows us to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others,” Drake said in a phone interview in February.

Wilson explained that when she originally edited the novel, she was looking for potential problems with pacing, plot and dialogue. “I was simply not thinking about things like racial stereotypes,” she said. “It’s almost mortifying to say that because it was so blatantly obvious when it was pointed out.”

The Washington Post compared the old advance copy with a newly revised copy received in 2018 and spoke with Drake about changes she made.

(7) BLOCK AROUND THE CLOCK. The Paris Review quotes Ray Bradbury: “On Writer’s Block: Advice from Twelve Writers”.

“I have three rules to live by. One, get your work done. If that doesn’t work, shut up and drink your gin. And when all else fails, run like hell!” —Ray Bradbury

(8) PARTY MAVEN. The website Gastro Obscura records Stephen Hawking’s champagne-laden effort to prove whether time travel exists or not:

It was a little unusual that when he threw a party in 2009, not a single guest attended.

A film of the event depicts a dismal cocktail party. Three trays of canapes sit uneaten, and flutes filled with Krug champagne go untouched. Balloons decorate the walls, and a giant banner displays the words “Welcome, Time Travellers.”

…By publishing the party invitation in his mini-series Into the Universe With Stephen Hawking, Hawking hoped to lure futuristic time travelers. You are cordially invited to a reception for Time Travellers, the invitation read, along with the the date, time, and coordinates for the event. The theory, Hawking explained, was that only someone from the future would be able to attend.

(9) COOLEY OBIT. Texas fan Earl Cooley III died March 20, his sister announced on Facebook:

Earl Cooley III

I am Earl’s sister, Dot Cooley. Earl left this world early this morning. He moved back to the San Antonio area 3 years ago when his health started getting worse and because of that Earl got to spend so much more time with me and our brother, Paul. Mom recently discovered Skype, so she got to visit with him more. We would love for you to share any thoughts or stories with us. Rock on ArmadilloCon!

(10) COMICS SECTION.

  • John King Tarpinian encountered a Biblical joke in Shoe.

(11) MARVEL AT MOPOP. The Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle unveiled the official poster artwork for its upcoming exhibition Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes.

Designed by Marvel artist Nick Bradshaw, the illustration depicts some of the most iconic characters created during Marvel’s nearly 80 year history including Spider-Man, Thor, Black Panther, Ms. Marvel, Hulk, Iron Man, Black Widow, Captain America, and others. Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes is the first and most extensive exhibition celebrating the visual and cultural impact of Marvel Entertainment. The exhibition will debut at MoPOP on April 21, 2018. Tickets are on sale now at MoPOP.org.

Organized by the Museum of Pop Culture, SC Exhibitions and Marvel Entertainment, Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes will feature more than 300 original artifacts, including some of Marvel’s most iconic and sought-after pages, costumes and props, many of which have never-before been seen by the public. The exhibition will tell the Marvel story through comics, film and other media, taking place as it celebrates 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and ahead of the 80th anniversary in 2019.  The exhibition will trace the story of the company and its influence on visual culture – including how it’s responded to historical events and addressed wider issues such as gender, race and mental illness – as well as uncovering the narratives of individual characters such as Captain America, Spider-Man, Black Panther and Doctor Strange. Immersive set pieces will bring the comic book world to life, and the exhibition will be accompanied by an immersive soundscape created by acclaimed composers Lorne Balfe and Hans Zimmer.

(12) DO-IT-YOURSELF. Lucy A. Snyder’s satirical “Installing Linux on a Dead Badger: User’s Notes” appeared on Strange Horizons in 2004, but it’s news to me. Very funny!

Reanimation puts most creatures in a foul mood, and the test badger woke up murderously angry, requiring a hasty launch of FleshGolem to get the beast under control. It is highly recommended to have the computer close at hand during the incantation.

(13) VACUUMING UP THE BITS. Via today’s Boston Globe: “Data storage beyond the clouds: Wasabi promises a super-secure system in space”. “…Which sure sounds like the start of a ‘what where they thinking/yeah sure’ techno-heist thriller,” says Daniel Dern.

In space, no one can steal your data.

Well, that’s the theory, anyway — one that the Boston data storage company Wasabi Technologies Inc. hopes to help prove.

Wasabi is partnering with a California company to create a database from outer space. The system, called SpaceBelt, will feature orbiting data centers capable of storing thousands of terabytes of information. SpaceBelt will be marketed to businesses and corporations that need instant access to their most valuable data, but who are also desperate to keep that data from being stolen or corrupted.

(14) ALL STROSS CONSIDERED. Joe Sherry describes a mixed bag in “Microreview [book]: Dark State, by Charles Stross” at Nerds of a Feather.

My experience of reading Charles Stross is a persistent struggle between the quality of his ideas and my perception of the quality of his writing, which is to say that I seldom find that the writing lives up to the promise of the ideas.

When I wrote about Empire Games (my review), I noted “the level of Stross’s writing is actually beginning to rise to the level of his ideas” and that once Stross got the story rolling, nothing distracted from the cool ideas of the world walking between the worlds we’ve already known and the opening up of new worlds and the drama of the how the United States interacts with the world walkers from a parallel universe.

Dark State picks up almost immediately after the conclusion of Empire Games, and despite the increasingly breakneck pace of the second half of that novel, Dark State suffers from some of the same issues that Empire Games did. Stross spends at least a third of Dark State resetting the playing field and planting the seeds for where the rest of the novel and trilogy will go. That’s fine, as far as narrative conventions go, but Stross is not at his best as a writer when working with a more deliberate pace.

(15) CHARACTER IN CRISIS. Adrienne Martini reviews The Genius Plague by David Walton at Locus Online.

In Walton’s hands, what could be a straight­forward “we must save humanity with science” thriller (not that there’s anything wrong with that), becomes, at times, a meditation on what makes us human and why that alone is a survival advan­tage. Those moments offer a chance to catch your breath before the next calamity, some of which our hero brings on himself. Walton makes Neil into a layered character, one who is frequently torn between family bonds and saving the world – and, frequently, making the situation worse because he is still working out that other people are also torn by their own layers. He’s also still learning that NSA security is never f-ing around.

(16) JEOPARDY! Andrew Porter was gazing at the tube during Jeopardy! and spotted this stfnal clue:

Answer: “Kardashians are reality TV stars; Cardassians are an alien culture in this sci-fi universe.”

No one got the question, “What is Star Trek”?

(17) YOU CAN GET THERE FROM HERE. You can now get to Gotham City, the Emerald City, Neverland, Middle Earth, and other places via roundabouts on the A4130 in Didcot, Oxfordshire reports the BBC.

A county council statement read, in part:

“We will investigate as soon as the weather improves. While on the surface amusing, it is vandalism and a potential distraction for drivers.”

The story also mentions:

Local resident Charlotte Westgate said she saw a hooded man in his 20s adding “Gotham City” to a sign on Friday afternoon.

She said: “He was on his own, and didn’t seem worried that anyone might be looking at him, but no one driving past did anything to stop him.”

(18) BARRAYAR BOY. Miles Vorkosigan posted the lyrics to “Dendarii’s Privateers” on Facebook. The first verse is —

Oh the year was 2978
(How I wish I’d stayed on Barrayar!)
When I flunked my military test
By breaking my legs, as I do best

(19) HOW IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN PLAYED FOR LAUGHS. From the folks at HISHE, “A Comedy Recap / Review of Pacific Rim voiced by How It Should Have Ended.”

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

 

Pixel Scroll 3/19/18 Scroll Miner’s Data

(1) READ FOR LIFE. Inc. tells “Why Reading Books Should be Your Priority, According to Science”.

People who read books live longer

That’s according to Yale researchers who studied 3,635 people older than 50 and found that those who read books for 30 minutes daily lived an average of 23 months longer than nonreaders or magazine readers. Apparently, the practice of reading books creates cognitive engagement that improves lots of things, including vocabulary, thinking skills, and concentration. It also can affect empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, the sum of which helps people stay on the planet longer.

(2) SOMTOW. The Thailand Tatler covers Somtow Sucharitkul’s fundraising concern for a U.S. orchestral tour: “Siam Sinfonietta Takes To The States”.

As the local music scene continues to thrive and as Thai musicians of all ages and styles gain increasing recognition both at home and abroad, the talented youths of Siam Sinfonietta are getting ready to play at Carnegie Hall in the Big Apple for the third time this April as part of the New York International Music Festival.

Siam Sinfonietta is a scholarship orchestra that aims to provide local prodigies with the great opportunities to perform professionally, regardless of background or income. In order to ensure that all 70 musicians and orchestral staff can have a smooth tour of the States in April, Opera Siam is holding a series of fundraising events, such as a recent Star Wars-themed concert on March 15. Find out how you can still support them here.

Listen to the opening of their Star Wars marathon concert – and see his lightsaber conductor’s baton!

(3) SOCIETY PAGE. Congratulations to Catherynne Valente!

(In case it’s a bit obscure, the ultrasound pic is a clue.)

(4) ANOTHER CLUELESS ATTENDANT. Author Fran Wilde was lectured on a plane that her cane could be a weapon.

(5) BLUE MAN GROUP. Expedition 55 sets new standards in space fashion. Or as David Klaus ad libs, “Are we not Astromen? We are DEVO! Also, if you tailor those uniform coveralls to fit, you have the uniforms of the Starfleet of the NX-01 Starship Enterprise.”

(6) BRIAN ALDISS, CURMUDGEON. Kim Huett had to take a short hiatus from Doctor Strangemind which he is determined to make up with a new 3,400 word article “about a story that Brian Aldiss assures me is only 3300 words long. Still, is 3400 words too many for what Brian also assures me is the WORST SCIENCE FICTION STORY EVER!!!”

You’ll have to read the article and decide for yourselves: “Brian Aldiss & the Worst Story Ever!!!”

It is my impression that Brian Wilson Aldiss was generally considered to be a stern but fair elder statesman until he passed away in 2017. I, on the other hand, considered him to be far more curmudgeonly than that (he would never have made a passable member of the Beach Boys for example). It also my opinion that Brian Aldiss adopted his curmudgeonly persona relatively early in his career. Oh, but Doctor Strangemind I hear you all cry, Brian Aldiss was never a curmudgeon, at least not until he was old enough to carry the title with a suitable level of gravitas! Ah ha, my poor innocent audience! You have fallen into my cunningly constructed audience trap and now while you lay squirming in the metaphorical mud at the bottom of the pit of unwarranted assumption I’ll just sit here on the lip above and tell you all about how in Australian Science Fiction Review #15 (published by John Bangsund in April 1968) that young curmudgeon, Brian Aldiss, did go so far as to accuse two fellow British authors of writing as he put it the, ‘WORST SCIENCE FICTION STORY EVER!!!’ To quote from Aldiss himself:

There was one story in particular in Authentic which, ever since I read it on its first appearance in 1954, had impressed me as reaching a really impressive level of badness. To my great delight, I found on reading it again that it has grown even worse over the intervening fourteen years. I therefore would like to nominate as the worst sf story ever published:

The Lava Seas Tunnel, by F.G. Rayer and E.R. James, (Authentic SF, edited by H.J. Campbell, Vol.1, no.43, March 1954.)

(7) BUJOLD AT RIVENDELL. The Rivendell Discussion Group of the Mythopoeic Society will host Lois McMaster Bujold at its April 7 meeting in Minneapolis.

(8) NEED SHARPER HEARING? Cnet says “Spock’s ‘Star Trek III’ ear tips can be yours”.

An iconic set of pointy ears worn by Leonard Nimoy in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” are up for auction through Lelands.com and they look pretty funky when you see them up close. You’ll notice pits and wrinkles in the flesh-colored appliances. On film, they were artfully blended with make-up to match Nimoy’s own ears.

(9) CLARKE CENTER. A bonus podcast by the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination’s associate director sharing his personal reminiscence on Stephen Hawking, who passed away on March 14, 2018. Viirre was the medical director for Hawking’s trip into weightlessness on a zero gravity flight in 2007.

Only last December, he accepted the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Lifetime Achievement (his citation and acceptance speech can be seen here), during which he said, “It is no small task to be judged as having met with what would have been Arthur’s expectations for intellectual rigor powered by imagination, insatiable curiosity, and concern for our planet and its inhabitants.”

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • March 19, 1999 Farscape premiered on Syfy.

(11) COMICS SECTION.

  • Cat Eldridge sent along xkcd’s suggestion for multiplying internet outrage.
  • Mike Kennedy sent Non Sequitur’s not exactly funny theory about a trend in closing bookstores.

(12) PRISONER COMICS. First shown on Canadian and UK TV screens in 1967, The Prisoner was co-created, written, directed and starred Patrick McGoohan (Scanners, Braveheart). Titan’s new comic series is released for the 50th Anniversary of the first US broadcast in 1968.

Titan Comics are excited to announce that they are partnering with print and poster house Vice Press to create a Diamond UK exclusive cover for The Prisoner Issue #1. This first-ever Vice Press exclusive cover for The Prisoner Issue #1 – designed by Star Wars movie concept artist, Chris Weston – is based on his original silk-screen poster created for Vice Press to mark the 50th Anniversary of The Prisoner hitting US TV screens.

Titan’s new The Prisoner comic series, licensed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment, is set in the world of The Prisoner – based on the celebrated cult TV series – from writer Peter Milligan (X-Statix, The Mummy) and artist Colin Lorimer (The Hunt, Harvest)…

“I’ve made no secret about how The Prisoner is my favourite television show of all time,” said Vice Press cover artist Chris Weston, “I have always wanted to create my own artistic tribute to The Prisoner. Fortuitously, my friends at Vice Press offered me the chance to fulfil my lifelong ambition to create a loving artistic homage, timed to coincide with the show’s 50th anniversary.”

(13) OSCAR’S LOVECHILD C3PO. Joal Ryan, in “Let’s revisit the spacy ‘Star Wars’ Oscars from 40 years ago” at Yahoo! Entertainment, has several clips from the 1978 Oscars, in which Star Wars was the only film of this series to be nominated for Best Picture and when Bob Hope, in his last time as Oscars MC, made some groaning Star Wars jokes.

Bob Hope, as he had done 17 times before, hosted the ’78 Oscars. The icon was 74, and this would be his last show as emcee. But he was as quick as ever with the lecherous gag, and the rat-tat-tat monologue that had been punched up with current events. (“1977 will be known as the year of Star Wars, which has grossed over $200 million,” one Hope line began. “That’s more than even some baseball players make.”)

(14) PLATYPUS NEWS. If you thought milking a cow was dangerous…. “Platypus milk: How it could combat superbugs”

Platypus milk could help combat one of humanity’s looming problems, antibiotic resistance, scientists say.

The weird creatures have a duck’s beak, venomous feet and are one of only two mammals able to lay eggs.

Australian scientists discovered in 2010 that the semi-aquatic animal’s milk contains a potent protein able to fight superbugs.

They’ve now identified why, and say it could lead to the creation of a new type of antibiotic.

(15) ALEXA BASHING. Paris Martineau at The Outline says “Hey Alexa, shut up”. My question is: would Paris say that if it was a man’s voice?

Why do voice assistants need to talk so much? If you’ve ever used one of Amazon’s ridiculous, yet rather addictive (I have two) Echo products, you know what I’m talking about: Whether you’re setting a timer, or asking her to play a podcast, Alexa just won’t shut the fuck up. Even when you give it a relatively simple command (like, “Alexa, set an alarm for 6 a.m.,” or “Alexa, set timer for five minutes”) it always responds with either a partial or total repetition of your phrase (“Okay, alarm set for 6 a.m. tomorrow,” or “Timer set for five minutes”), which can be more than a little annoying when it’s two in the morning and you don’t exactly want a booming robot voice waking your roommates up a wall over.

(16) DRIVING WHILE BETAZOID. From Marina Sirtis’ appearance at Dublin Comic Con last year.

Marina Sirtis (Counselor Deanna Troi) tells the hilarious story about driving the Enterprise as well as burning the bridge.

 

[Thanks to David K.M. Klaus, Mark Hepworth, John King Tarpinian, Danny Sichel, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Andrew Porter, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, rcade, Brian Z., and Carl Slaughter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

Pixel Scroll 3/14/18 Scroll Longa, Pixel Brevis

(1) HERSTORY. James Davis Nicoll, in “Fighting Erasure: Women SF Writers of the 1970s, Part III”, continues his series for Tor.com.

…Clarion graduate P. C. Hodgell has been active since the late 1970s. She is the author of the long-running Chronicles of the Kencyrath (nine volumes since 1982). Readers of a certain vintage may have vivid memories of the twelve-year desert between the third book in the series, Seeker’s Mask, and the fourth, To Ride a Rathorn. Currently she has the active support of a publisher whose name escapes me. Since the series is continuity-heavy, you will want to start with the first volume, 1982’s God Stalk, in which an amnesiac woman of a race of staunch monotheists finds herself in a city of a thousand gods—none of whom seem to be particularly helpful gods…

(2) CROWDFUNDING AMAZING: AN UPDATE. The Amazing Stories Kickstarter has accumulated $7,811 of its $30,000 goal, with 23 days remaining. Steve Davidson has begun revealing the authors who will be in the first print issue:

We are pleased to announce the following writers have contributed stories; Kameron Hurley, Paul Levinson, Dave Creek, Shirley Meier, Drew Hayden Taylor, and Allen Steele.

While we’re excited about all our authors, let us tell you a little bit about Kameron Hurley and her story…

(3) ANALOG BLOG. From a Featured Futures’ links post I learned about The Astounding/Analog Companion, “the Official Analog Science Fiction and Fact blog.” Last month they published Gregory Benford’s background notes about a piece he wrote for the magazine: “Thinking About Physics a Century Hence”.

I’ve published over 200 short stories and over 200 scientific papers, reflecting a symmetry of sorts.

My career as a professor of physics at UC Irvine has taken most of my working life, with writing as a hobby that has surprised me by success. So I see SF through a scientific lens, focused on plausible futures. But sometimes I just wing it, and speculating on physics a century hence is a grand leap, indeed.

The mock future news report in the current Analog issue [“Physics Tomorrow: A News Item of the Year 2116,” March/April 2018 Analog, on sale now] came from a contest the journal Physics Today ran in 2016: to devise an entry for that journal in a century. I took the challenge, and produced this “story” because the physics intrigued me.

Physics Today did not select my essay, from 230 others. They published much more pedestrian stuff. Since then, I’ve worked with an old friend and general relativity physicist Al Jackson, to calculate in detail how to in fact make a “gravwave transmitter.”

Then I thought, why not try Analog? As a physicist and SF writer, both avenues are natural. Indeed, maybe writing future news items is a new way to think of SF….

(4) ASIMOV’S TOO. There’s also an Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine Author & Editor Blog called From the Earth to the Stars. They recently conducted a “Q&A with Mary Robinette Kowal” about her Asimov’s story “Artisanal Trucking, LLC.”

Asimov’s Editors: What is the story behind this piece?

Mary Robinette Kowal: I was at a conference in a round table discussion talking about automation and privilege. At some point, we were talking about how knitting, which used to be a necessary thing, became automated with knitting machines and now it is a luxury art. It’s expensive to buy wool. It takes time and leisure to make a garment. I said, “I imagine the hipsters of the future will totally do artisanal trucking.” I had more of a point but stopped talking as Story stampeded through my brain.

(5) USING SOCIAL MEDIA. Dawn Witzke begins a series of posts with  “On Professionalism: Part 1” at Superversive SF. No writer can go wrong following this piece of advice:

Social Media

Writers must be on social media, which means that everything, personal and professional is up for examination. How you present yourself online can affect what impression other authors, editors and publishers make of you.

Stick to arguing ideas, not making personal attacks. Most likely this will not be reciprocated. That’s okay. Let them look like the jerk.

Trolling is a whole other ball game. While it’s not seen as professional, some writers use it as a marketing tool (Milo Yiannopolus), which is all well and good if you publish in hotly debated subjects like politics. But in general, it creates as many enemies online as friends. Use with caution.

(6) HAWKING ON THE AIR. Watch Mojo has assembled the “Top 10 Unforgettable Stephen Hawking Cameos in Pop Culture.”

Renowned scientist Stephen Hawking passed away March 14, 2018. But before Stephen Hawking died, he not only made some incredible scientific breakthroughs; there are also many hilarious Stephen Hawking cameos to remember him by. Whether he was supporting Monty Python, speaking to John Oliver or playing poker on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Stephen Hawking was a fabulous ambassador for science.

  • #10: “Monty Python Live (Mostly)” (2014)
  • #9: “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” (1993-2009)
  • #8: Pink Floyd’s “Keep Talking” (1994) & “Talkin’ Hawkin’” (2014)
  • #7: “Stephen Hawking’s New Voice” (2017)
  • #6: “Anyone Can Quantum” (2016)
  • #5: “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” (2014-)
  • #4: “Futurama” (1999-2013)
  • #3, #2 & #1???

(7) A BBC/HAWKING ROUNDUP.

The downside of my celebrity is that I can’t go anywhere in the world without being recognized. It is not enough for me to wear dark sunglasses and a wig. The wheelchair gives me away.

As the world mourns Prof Stephen Hawking, who has died aged 76, there has been a particular outpouring of emotion in China, where the visionary physicist was revered by scientists, students, the state and even boy band stars.

In 1982, I had responsibility for his third academic book for the Press, Superspace And Supergravity.

This was a messy collection of papers from a technical workshop on how to devise a new theory of gravity.

While that book was in production, I suggested he try something easier: a popular book about the nature of the Universe, suitable for the general market.

Stephen mulled over my suggestion.

(8) FLEISHER OBIT. Michael Fleisher (1942-2018): US comics writer and novelist; died February 2, aged 75. Titles he worked on include The Spectre, Jonah Hex, Shade the Changing Man (created and drawn by Steve Ditko). Famously sued The Comics Journal, publisher Gary Groth and Harlan Ellison over a 1979 interview in which the latter described Fleisher (tongue in cheek, Ellison later claimed) as a “certifiable (..) bugfuck (..) lunatic”; the court found for the defendants. [By Steve Green.]

(9) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • March 14, 1994 Robocop: The Series premiered on television.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY RELATIVIST

  • Born March 14, 1879 – Albert Einstein

(11) COMICS SECTION.

  • John King Tarpinian isn’t the only one who remembered this is Pi Day – The Argyle Sweater.
  • Off the Mark also has a subtle play on the day.
  • As a commenter says after reading today’s Lio, “Before buying a book, always check to see if the title is a typo or not.”

(12) THANKS AND PRANKS. CBR.com answers its own question about the Harlan Ellison references in Hulk comics of the Seventies: “Comic Legends: Did A Hulk Classic Pay Hidden Tribute to a Sci-Fi Great?”

Anyhow, amusingly enough, Thomas was so pumped about having Ellison work on these issues that he actually decided to go a step further and, since the issue came out on April 1st, he would do an April Fool’s prank of sorts by working the name of over 20 Ellison stories into the story!

I won’t list all of them here, but I’ll do a few (the great poster, ruckus24, has all of them here).

Most notably is the title of the story, which is an adaptation of one of Ellison’s most famous story collections…

(13) MAD, YOU SAY. At Galactic Journey, Rosemary Benton reviews the newly released (55 years ago) Vincent Price film Diary of a Madman: “[March 14, 1963] Rising Stars and Unseen Enemies (Reginald Le Borg’s Diary of a Madman)”.

It feels as though, no sooner had the curtain fell and the lights came up on February’s horror/fantasy gem, The Raven, that the film reel snapped to life with another genre-crossing macabre film. While last month’s movie was a light, dry and sardonic comedy with a vaguely medieval setting and a cast of horror movie icons, Diary of a Madman, steps forward with a much more sobering aesthetic.

(14) SEMIPRO AND FAN CATEGORIES. Abigail Nussbaum continues a discussion of her Hugo nominating ballot in “The 2018 Hugo Awards: My Hugo Ballot, Publishing and Fan Categories”. Here’s Nussbaum’s picks to succeed her in a category she won last year.

Best Fan Writer:

(A brief reminder here that I have announced that I would decline a nomination in this category if I received enough votes to qualify this year.)

  • Nina Allan – Nina had a great 2017, with her second novel The Rift gaining wide acclaim and attention.  She also continued to do good work as a critic and reviewer, on her personal blog, at Strange Horizons, and in the Shadow Clarke project.
  • Vajra Chandrasekera – We didn’t see as much of Vajra’s nonfiction writing in 2017 as I would have liked–his focus these days seems to be on his own fiction and on being a fiction editor at Strange Horizons.  But his writing at the Shadow Clarke site was some of the most insightful writing that project offered up, in particular this review of Aliya Whitely’s The Arrival of Missives.
  • Erin Horáková – After nominating Erin’s magnum opus for Best Related Work, you’re probably not surprised to find me nominating her in this category.  As well as that magnificent essay, Erin did other writing for Strange Horizons in 2017, covering movies, plays, and board games.
  • Samira Nadkarni – A lot of Samira’s best work is happening on twitter, where in 2017 she made some incisive comments about works like Star Trek: Discovery or Thor: Ragnarok (she had some equally interesting things to say last month about Black Panther).  In longer writing, some standouts include her review of Deserts of Fire, an anthology about “modern war” whose project Samira argues with vociferously, and of the Netflix show Crazyhead, in which she discusses the genre trope of conflating mental health problems and superpowers.

(15) NEWS TO ME. Those who wish to enhance their terminological education can start the thread here –

Just remember – once you know, there’s no going back!

(16) INFOGALATIC. Did you forget about Vox Day’s intended Wikipedia replacement, Infogalactic? Camestros Felapton hasn’t. He gives a status report in “Revisiting Voxopedia”.

Actor Robert Guillaume is alive and well on Voxopedia despite dying in October 2017 in Wikipedia: https://infogalactic.com/info/Robert_Guillaume as is (for all you Swap Shop fans out there) Keith Chegwin https://infogalactic.com/info/Keith_Chegwin who on Wikipedia died in Decemeber 2017. More famous people are more likely to have their deaths recorded but it is hit and miss.

The majority of pages remain as out-of-date Wikipedia pages from 2016 and the basic issue with Voxopedia remains the same: not enough editors and the editors it does have are mainly working on fringe projects. These are supplemented by one-off vanity pages (e.g. https://infogalactic.com/info/Richard_Paolinelli )

In comments, Camestros says Paolinelli wrote most of his own entry for Infogalactic. I’m fine with that. Never depend on others to make you famous, as Elst Weinstein and I concluded 40 years ago. (You probably wondered why there’s a copy of Weinstein & Glyer’s Discount Hoaxarama in every hotel room.)

(17) UP IN THE AIR. From the BBC: “Archaeopteryx flew like a pheasant, say scientists”. A synchrotron scan shows that the bones were hollow enough to allow short bursts of flight.

The famous winged dinosaur Archaeopteryx was capable of flying, according to a new study.

An international research team used powerful X-ray beams to peer inside its bones, showing they were almost hollow, as in modern birds.

The creature flew like a pheasant, using short bursts of active flight, say scientists.

Archaeopteryx has been a source of fascination since the first fossils were found in the 1860s.

(18) OFF THE SHELF. Our hero: “‘Boaty McBoatface’ sub survives ice mission”. The popular-choice name was passed on to autonomous submersible operating from the officially-named RSS David Attenborough. Boaty is just back from 48 hours exploring under an ice shelf.

The nation’s favourite yellow submarine swam under a near-600m thick ice shelf in the Antarctic, returning safely to its launch ship after 48 hours away.

It was an important test for the novel autonomous vehicle, which was developed at the UK’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC).

Boaty’s handlers now plan even more arduous expeditions for the sub in the years ahead.

This includes a traverse under the sea-ice that caps the Arctic Ocean.

(19) FANTASTIC DESTINATION. David Doering declares, “This Miyazki-inspired ad for Oregon travel is stupeyfyingly gorgeous!” — “Only Slightly Exaggerated | Travel Oregon”.

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

A Cambridge Evening

[Introduction: Stephen Hawking, one of the world’s best-known scientific figures, passed away on March 14. Gregory Benford knew him, and wrote two memoirs of their meetings which he has given permission to post here on File 770. “A Cambridge Evening” is the second, written in 2012.]

By Gregory Benford: The invitation was on heavy bond in a delicious oyster color. I opened the Trinity College envelope noting it bore no stamp, apparently placed in my Institute of Astronomy mailbox by hand. Flowing script invited my wife Joan and me to evening meal with Professor Martin Rees.

Very good; the full High Table college show, then. In 1976 I was on sabbatical as a visiting fellow in Cambridge, England. I went there to study pulsars where they’d been discovered, but quickly became more interested in the luminous jet just seen in radio frequency maps of M87, the nearest active galaxy.

Martin Rees was then the Plumian Professor of physics and the director of the Institute of Astronomy, appointed just after the departure of Fred Hoyle.  He had agreed to host my sabbatical, a stay that began my astrophysics career; I’ve spent the decades hence mostly on pulsars and galactic jets. In Cambridge I learned much more than I anticipated.

Precisely on time Joan and I walked through the Great Gate, the main entrance to the college, leading to the yawning Great Court. In the centre of the court stood an ornate fountain, traditionally fed by a pipe from Conduit Head in west Cambridge, not the unreliable Cam River nearby. A solemn porter in a black bowler hat welcomed us, remarking gruffly on the chilly air, and nodding at the invitation as I presented it. “Ah, the Rees room.”

Trinity College undergraduates passed in gowns of dark blue. A statue of the college founder, Henry VIII, greeted us from a shadowy niche above the doorway. Martin Rees stood beside it, a slight man with a hawk nose and incisive gaze, bowing to Joan with a broad smile. I imagined we’d eat at the high table, as I had before for lunch, but instead Martin took us into a private dining room. I walked in with Joan and saw at the table two men and their wives: Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac and Stephen Hawking. Martin had said nothing to alert us.

Newton, Nehru and Maxwell were alumni of Trinity, and Dirac stood in such company; soon, so would Hawking and Rees.

The dining room was small, with room for six at the table. Soft lighting cast glows on the dark wood walls amid the scene of 700 years of academic elitism. The leadened plates stamped with the famed Trinity monogram framed a small salad. The flatware was heavy, dark silver and tall stemmed glasses ranked to the side. The servers wore formal tuxedo styled clothes and professionally disinterested faces. The headwaiter handled all dishes with white gloves and led the two solemn under-waiters.

I said very little through the salad, letting Joan carry our side. She entertained them with stories to adapting to English home appliances and their hieroglyphic instructions, her tinkling laughter softening the atmosphere. I reflected. Dirac had won a Nobel in 1933 for the first relativistic theory of particles, the Dirac equation. “The great papers of the other quantum pioneers were more ragged, less perfectly formed than Dirac’s,” my friend Freeman Dyson had said to me when I was in graduate school. Freeman had taken Dirac’s Cambridge quantum mechanics course as a precocious 19-year-old. Of Dirac’s discoveries, Freeman said, “His papers were like exquisitely carved marble statues falling out of the sky, one after another. He seemed to be able to conjure laws of nature from pure thought.”

This is an evening to keep your mouth shut, I thought, sitting at the centuries-old table and sipping a light Chardonnay (French, of course) served with the salad. Next, a tasty soup arrived, attended in strict silence by the stiff waiters. I noted that the French red wine was older than I was, a 1938 from the Fellows’ Cellar. A Haute Medoc, it was deep and rich with a surprising plum aftertaste.

Famously, Dirac’s wife Manci spoke little, and he even less. His colleagues in Cambridge jokingly defined a conversational unit of a dirac — one word per hour. Dirac was a slight man and autistic, widely known as hard to draw out. He said this concentration proved crucial to his success as a theoretical physicist, for he could remain focused on a problem for a long time. He also could order information about mathematics and physics in a systematic way, employing his visual imagination and determination. (Decades later, I saw medical practice focus on this supposed disorder, “fixing” it with drugs and therapy. How many geniuses have we lost this way?)

I asked him how he concentrated solely on his research. “Don’t talk,” he said with admirable brevity and a smile. He also said he only stopped work on Sunday, when he took long strolls alone. He had struggled to find the Dirac equation for months, getting nowhere, then took his usual Sunday walk—and the entire solution came to him when he was crossing a small bridge. He hurried to a nearby pub, asked for lunch and wrote the equation on the back of the menu so he would not forget. He seldom looked directly at anyone, but this time he stared me in the eye. “There it was, out of nowhere.”

“Do you still have the menu?” I asked, eyes wide. When I said it would be a charming historical momento, he dismissively waved his hand. He had used it to start a fire in his chilly college rooms.

The Navy bean soup done, talk moved on. Some mention of English politics arose, at a time when Maggie Thatcher was moving to the fore, Martin squelched with, “I’m entirely infra-red,” which meant something like Trotsky. He had no wife then. Hawking’s wife rolled her eyes at this statement, saying nothing.

As the waiters smoothly placed plates of veal ala brochard before us, Hawking changed the tone of the conversation with his halting words. He wanted to talk about science fiction. Martin had told him I wrote it now and then. I’d had the impression that at Cambridge science fiction was something serious scientists never would do, and seldom discuss — especially at a table where Newton changed the world over bowls of steaming lentil soup–and said so. Hawking gave a slanted grin. “Fred Hoyle has left us, but he is not forgotten.”

Hawking talked in slurred tones about what we now call his “chronology protection conjecture”. Why does nature apparently abhor a time machine? He said, as he puts it today, “It seems that there is a Chronology Protection Agency which prevents the appearance of closed timelike curves and so makes the universe safe for historians.”

Martin pointed out that there was strong experimental evidence in favor of the conjecture — from the fact that we have not been invaded by hordes of tourists from the future. All this discussion Hawking eventually included in a book in the 2000s, along with his fears that our TV broadcasts, would bring ravening aliens to our door. He thought about such speculations in the 1970s, but apparently kept them largely to himself during his climb to fame.

Dirac spoke about the walks he took around Cambridge, relating favorite routes in great detail, but otherwise had no small talk. Slowly Hawking turned the conversation around to what books we read, asking each of us. He then announced that since he was thirteen he had never bothered with the assignments in Literature classes, preferring science fiction. Dirac remarked, “In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before.  But in poetry, and I suppose in fiction, it’s the exact opposite.”

To my surprise Rees assented. “But science fiction leads to science,” he said. Dirac was silent and looked puzzled.

Stephen spent a long while relating memories of sf short stories he’d read. Like many fans, Hawking could recall ideas but not authors or titles. He was a big Robert Sheckley fan, I deduced, from what his remembered plots. Rees said he thought science fiction was like a literary dialect. It had its own vernacular and insider terms, its unusual pronunciation patterns and rhythms. A native sf “speaker” uses the argot of an audience, one that knows what Delany later called the sf reader protocols – signals of broader meaning. A good example is, “The door dilated,” implying a changed world. Nods all round, though Dirac said he had read little sf beyond Wells and Brave New World. “Perhaps I should.”

We all agreed that aliens in fiction serve as a distorting mirror to show what humankind is not. Hawking spoke with jerky gestures, fighting the erosions from his Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, which I knew as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His speech was slurred, brief and almost unintelligible, his conciseness a skill that later worked well in A Brief History of Time. Hawking’s fame was rising on his striking research ideas–that empty space wasn’t empty after all, and black holes aren’t black.

His wife, with her tight, focused look, scoffed at ideas like aliens, likening them to imaginary beings. Stephen retorted tartly that so were angels. A sudden silence around the table. I sipped the wine, which was excellent and still blossoming with rich new tones. This incident prefigured the issue of her Baptist faith versus his firm atheism, which eventually split them up.

I recalled this evening lately, looking over notes I made that very evening. My wife Joan died of cancer in 2002. In 2005 Rees was elevated to a life peerage, sitting as a crossbencher in the House of Lords as Baron Rees of Ludlow, a seat in the County of Shropshire. By then Astronomer Royal, he told the British Interplanetary Society, ‘”It is better to read first-rate science fiction than second-rate science; it’s no more likely to be wrong and is far more stimulating than second-rate science. And I think it’s good to read the great classics of science fiction.”

Martin Rees and Gregory Benford in 2013.

After a five course meal we had the finishing treat: an English, less sweet, version of crème brûlée, known as “Trinity burnt cream.”

Now Martin is master of Trinity College and the best known astronomer in the world. Recently, in Our Final Hour, he predicted that one of the two following outcomes is inevitable for humanity:

*Extinction from runaway effects of new technology (nanotechnology, robotics) or else from uncontrolled scientific research; terrorist or fundamentalist violence; or destruction of the biosphere; or else

* Our expansion into space, survival through colonization. He now advocates free markets and believes that the wealthy will push back the frontiers of space.

Not infra-red any longer.

I never saw Dirac again, but have kept up with Hawking and Rees through the decades, visiting Cambridge often. They both use science fiction in their popular writing, whereas in the 1970s that was not the sort of thing you mentioned at High Table. Our world has changed, partly because of those men.

What distinguished them the most, I think, was their quiet verve, their wish to grapple with life. They were eager to deal with whatever came at them. Dirac probed our fundamental understanding of the world in his monk-like solitude. Hawking persevered against his crippling disease to become a major cosmologist. Rees cannily wove his way into great power, urging the Institute for Astronomy to the forefront of the field, becoming Astronomer Royal, and a major figure bringing science to the public as well.

The evening left a deep impression on me. On the walk home, I remarked to my wife that I would probably never have a better evening–at least, with my clothes on. She took that as a challenge and made the evening even more so.

From my time there I gathered background that eventually appeared in my 1980 novel Timescape, which explores how scientists confront the unknown. Cambridge is steeped in tradition, but its scientific culture is radical.

© 2012 by Gregory Benford

Leaping the Abyss

[Introduction: Stephen Hawking, one of the world’s best-known scientific figures, passed away on March 14. Gregory Benford knew him, and wrote two memoirs of their meetings which he has given permission to post here on File 770. He wrote the first, “Leaping the Abyss,” in 2001; it was published in Reason, updated in 2005 for Robert Lichtman’s Trapdoor, and is now posted at Benford’s website.]

By Gregory Benford: Stephen Hawking seemed slightly worse, as always. It is a miracle that he has clung to life for over 20 years with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Each time I see him I feel that this will be the last, that he cannot hold on to such a thin thread for much longer.

Hawking turned 63 in January 2005. Over the course of his brilliant career, he has worked out many of the basics of black hole physics, including, most strikingly, his prediction that black holes aren’t entirely black. Instead, if they have masses equivalent to a mountain’s, they radiate particles of all kinds. Smaller holes would disappear in a fizz of radiation—a signature that astronomers have searched for but so far not found.

The enormous success of Hawking’s 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, has made him a curious kind of cultural icon. He wonders how many of the starlets and rock stars who mentioned the book on talk shows actually read it.

With his latest book, The Universe in a Nutshell (Bantam), he aims to remedy the situation with a plethora of friendly illustrations to help readers decipher such complex topics as superstring theory and the nature of time. The trick is translating equations into sentences, no mean feat. The pictures help enormously, though purists deplore them as oversimplified. I feel that any device is justified to span such an abyss of incomprehension.

When I entered Stephen’s office at the University of Cambridge, his staff was wary of me, plainly suspecting I was a “civilian” harboring a crank theory of the universe. But I’d called beforehand, and then his secretary recognized me from years past. (I am an astrophysicist and have known Stephen since the 1970s.) When I entered the familiar office his shrunken form lolled in his motorized chair as he stared out, rendered goggle-eyed by his thick glasses—but a strong spirit animated all he said.

Hawking lost his vocal cords years ago, to an emergency tracheotomy. His gnarled, feeble hands could not hold a pen. For a while after the operation he was completely cut off from the world, an unsettling parallel to those mathematical observers who plunge into black holes, their signals to the outside red-shifted and slowed by gravity’s grip to dim, whispering oblivion.

A Silicon Valley firm came to the rescue. Engineers devised tailored, user-friendly software and a special keyboard for Hawking. Now his frail hand moved across it with crablike speed. The software is deft, and he could build sentences quickly. I watched him flit through the menu of often-used words on his liquid crystal display, which hung before him in his wheelchair. The invention has been such a success that the Silicon Valley folk now supply units to similarly afflicted people worldwide.

“Please excuse my American accent,” the speaker mounted behind the wheelchair said with a California inflection. He coded this entire remark with two keystrokes.

Although I had been here before, I was again struck that a man who had suffered such an agonizing physical decline had on his walls several large posters of a person very nearly his opposite: Marilyn Monroe. I mentioned her, and Stephen responded instantly, tapping one-handed on his keyboard, so that soon his transduced voice replied, “Yes, she’s wonderful. Cosmological. I wanted to put a picture of her in my latest book, as a celestial object.” I remarked that to me the book was like a French Impressionist painting of a cow, meant to give a glancing essence, not the real, smelly animal. Few would care to savor the details. Stephen took off from this to discuss some ideas currently booting around the physics community about the origin of the universe, the moment just after the Big Bang.

Stephen’s great politeness paradoxically made me ill at ease; I was acutely aware of the many demands on his time, and, after all, I had just stopped by to talk shop.

“For years my early work with Roger Penrose seemed to be a disaster for science,” Stephen said. “It showed that the universe must have begun with a singularity, if Einstein’s general theory of relativity is correct. That appeared to indicate that science could not predict how the universe would begin. The laws would break down at the point of singularity, of infinite density.” Mathematics cannot handle physical quantities like density that literally go to infinity. Indeed, the history of 20th century physics was in large measure about how to avoid the infinities that crop up in particle theory and cosmology. The idea of point particles is convenient but leads to profound, puzzling troubles.

I recalled that I had spoken to Stephen about mathematical methods of getting around this problem one evening at a party in King’s College. There were analogies to methods in elementary quantum mechanics, methods he was trying to carry over into this surrealistic terrain.

“It now appears that the way the universe began can indeed be determined, using imaginary time,” Stephen said. We discussed this a bit. Stephen had been using a mathematical device in which time is replaced, as a notational convenience, by something called imaginary time. This changes the nature of the equations, so he could use some ideas from the tiny quantum world. In the new equations, a kind of tunneling occurs in which the universe, before the Big Bang, has many different ways to pass through the singularity. With imaginary time, one can calculate the chances for a given tunneling path into our early universe after the beginning of time as we know it.

“Sure, the equations can be interpreted that way,” I argued, “but it’s really a trick, isn’t it?”

Stephen said, “Yes, but perhaps an insightful trick.”

“We don’t have a truly deep understanding of time,” I replied, “so replacing real time with imaginary time doesn’t mean much to us.”

“Imaginary time is a new dimension, at right angles to ordinary, real time,” Stephen explained. “Along this axis, if the universe satisfies the ‘no boundary’ condition, we can do our calculations. This condition says that the universe has no singularities or boundaries in the imaginary direction of time. With the ‘no boundary’ condition, there will be no beginning or end to imaginary time, just as there is no beginning or end to a path on the surface of the Earth.”

“If the path goes all the way around the Earth,” I said. “But of course, we don’t know that in imaginary time there won’t be a boundary.”

“My intuition says there will be no blocking in that special coordinate, so our calculations make sense.”

“Sense is just the problem, isn’t it? Imaginary time is just a mathematical convenience.” I shrugged in exasperation at the span between cool mathematical spaces and the immediacy of the raw world; this is a common tension in doing physics. “It’s unrelated to how we feel time. The seconds sliding by. Birth and death.”

“True. Our minds work in real time, which begins at the Big Bang and will end, if there is a Big Crunch—which seems unlikely, now, from the latest data showing accelerating expansion. Consciousness would come to an end at a singularity.”

“Not a great consolation,” I said.

He grinned. “No, but I like the ‘no boundary’ condition. It seems to imply that the universe will be in a state of high order at one end of real time but will be disordered at the other end of time, so that disorder increases in one direction of time. We define this to be the direction of increasing time. When we record something in our memory, the disorder of the universe will increase. This explains why we remember events only in what we call the past, and not in the future.”

“Remember what you predicted in 1980 about final theories like this?” I chided him.

“I suggested we might find a complete unified theory by the end of the century.” Stephen made the transponder laugh dryly. “OK, I was wrong. At that time, the best candidate seemed to be N=8 supergravity. Now it appears that this theory may be an approximation to a more fundamental theory, of superstrings. I was a bit optimistic to hope that we would have solved the problem by the end of the century. But I still think there’s a 50-50 chance that we will find a complete unified theory in the next 20 years.”

“I’ve always suspected that the structure never ends as we look to smaller and smaller scales—and neither will the theories,” I offered.

“It is possible that there is no ultimate theory of physics at all. Instead, we will keep on discovering new layers of structure. But it seems that physics gets simpler, and more unified, the smaller the scale on which we look. There is an ultimate length scale, the Planck length, below which space-time may just not be defined. So I think there will be a limit to the number of layers of structure, and there will be some ultimate theory, which we will discover if we are smart enough.”

“Does it seem likely that we are smart enough?” I asked.

Another grin. “You will have to get your faith elsewhere.”

“I can’t keep up with the torrent of work on superstrings.” Mathematical physics is like music, which a young and zesty spirit can best seize and use, as did Mozart.

“I try,” he said modestly.

We began discussing recent work on “baby universes”—bubbles in space-time. To us large creatures, space-time is like the sea seen from an ocean liner, smooth and serene. Up close, though, on tiny scales, it’s waves and bubbles. At extremely fine scales, pockets and bubbles of space-time can form at random, sputtering into being, then dissolving. Arcane details of particle physics suggest that sometimes—rarely, but inevitably—these bubbles could grow into a full-fledged universe.

This might have happened a lot at the instant just immediately after the Big Bang. Indeed, some properties of our universe may have been created by the space-time foam that roiled through those infinitesimally split seconds. Studying this possibility uses the “wormhole calculus,” which samples the myriad possible frothing bubbles (and their connections, called wormholes).

Averaging over this foam in a mathematical sense, smoothing its properties a bit, Hawking and others have tried to find out whether a final, rather benign universe like ours was an inevitable outcome of that early turbulence. The jury isn’t in on this point, and it may be out forever—the calculations are tough, guided by intuition rather than facts. Deciding whether they meaningfully predict anything is a matter of taste. This recalls Oscar Wilde’s aphorism that in matters of great import, style is always more important than substance.

If this picture of the first split second is remotely right, much depends on the energy content of the foam. The energy to blow up these bubbles would be countered by an opposite, negative energy, which comes from the gravitational attraction of all the matter in the bubble. If the outward pressure just balances the inward attraction (a pressure, really) of the mass, then you could get a universe much like ours: rather mild, with space-time not suffering any severe curvature—what astronomers call “flat.” This seems to be so on such relatively tiny scales as our solar system, and flatness prevails even on the size range of our galaxy. Indeed, flatness holds on immense scales, as far as we can yet see.

It turns out that such bubbles could even form right now. An entirely separate space-time could pop into existence in your living room, say. It would start unimaginably small, then balloon to the size of a cantaloupe—but not before your very eyes, because, for quite fundamental reasons, you couldn’t see it.

“They don’t form in space, of course,” Stephen said. “It doesn’t mean anything to ask where in space these things occur.” They don’t take up room in our universe but rather are their own universes, expanding into spaces that did not exist before.

“They’re cut off from us after we make them,” I said. “No relics, no fossil?”

“I do not think there could be.”

“Like an ungrateful child who doesn’t write home.” When talking about immensities, I sometimes grasp for something human.

“It would not form in our space, but rather as another space-time.”

We discussed for a while some speculations about this that I had put into two novels, Cosm and Timescape. I had used Cambridge and the British scientific style in Timescape, published in 1980, before these ideas became current. I had arrived at them in part from some wide-ranging talks I had enjoyed with Stephen—all suitably disguised in the books, of course. Such enclosed space-times I had termed “onion universes,” since in principle they could have further locked-away space-times inside them, and so on. It is an odd sensation when a guess turns out to have some substance—as much as anything as gossamer as these ideas can be said to be substantial.

“So they form and go,” I mused. “Vanish. Between us and these other universes lies absolute nothingness, in the exact sense—no space or time, no matter, no energy.”

“There can be no way to reach them,” his flat voice said. “The gulf between us and them is unbridgeable. It is beyond physics because it is truly nothing, not physical at all.”

The mechanical laugh resounded. Stephen likes the tug of the philosophical, and he seemed amused by the notion that universes are simply one of those things that happen from time to time.

His nurse appeared for a bit of physical cleanup, and I left him. Inert confinement to a wheelchair exacts a demeaning toll on one’s dignity, but he showed no reaction to the daily round of being cared for by another in the most intimate way. Perhaps for him, it even helps the mind to slip free of the world’s rub.

I sat in the common room outside his office, having tea and talking to some of his post-doctoral students. They were working on similarly wild ideas and were quick, witty, and keenly observant as they sipped their strong, dark Ceylonese tea. A sharp crew, perhaps a bit jealous of Stephen’s time. They were no doubt wondering who this guy was, nobody they had ever heard of, a Californian with an accent tainted by Southern nuances, somebody who worked in astrophysics and plasma physics—which, in our age of remorseless specialization, is a province quite remote from theirs. I didn’t explain; after all, I really had no formal reason to be there, except that Stephen and I were friends.

Stephen’s secretary quietly came out and asked if I would join Stephen for dinner at Caius College. I had intended to eat in my favorite Indian restaurant, where the chicken vindaloo is a purging experience, and then simply rove the walks of Cambridge alone, because I love the atmosphere—but I instantly assented. Dinner at college high table is one of the legendary experiences of England. I could remember keenly each one I had attended; the repartee is sharper than the cutlery.

We made our way through the cool, atmospheric turns of the colleges, the worn wood and gray stones reflecting the piping of voices and squeaks of rusty bicycles. In misty twilight, student shouts echoing, Stephen’s wheelchair jouncing over cobbled streets. He insisted on steering it himself, though his nurse hovered rather nervously. It had never occurred to me just how much of a strain on everyone there can be in round-the-clock care. A few people drifted along behind us, just watching him. “Take no notice,” his mechanical voice said. “Many of them come here just to stare at me.”

We wound among the ancient stone and manicured gardens, into Caius College. Students entering the dining hall made an eager rumpus. Stephen took the elevator, and I ascended the creaking stairs. The faculty entered after the students, me following with the nurse.

The high table is literally so. They carefully placed Stephen with his back to the long, broad tables of undergraduates. I soon realized that this is because watching him eat, with virtually no lip control, is not appetizing. He follows a set diet that requires no chewing. His nurse must chop up his food and spoon-feed him.

The dinner was noisy, with the year’s new undergraduates staring at the famous Hawking’s back. Stephen carried on a matter-of-fact, steady flow of conversation through his keyboard.

He had concerns about the physicists’ Holy Grail, a unified theory of everything. Even if we could thrash our way through a thicket of mathematics to glimpse its outlines, it might not be specific enough—that is, we would still have a range of choices. Physics could end up dithering over arcane points, undecided, perhaps far from our particular primate experience. Here is where aesthetics might enter.

“If such a theory is not unique,” he said, “one would have to appeal to some outside principle, which one might call God.”

I frowned. “Not as the Creator, but as a referee?”

“He would decide which theory was more than just a set of equations, but described a universe that actually exists.”

“This one.”

“Or maybe all possible theories describe universes that exist!” he said with glee. “It is unclear what it means to say that something exists. In questions like, ‘Does there exist a man with two left feet in Cambridge?,’ one can answer this by examining every man in Cambridge. But there is no way that one can decide if a universe exists, if one is not inside it.”

“The space-time Catch-22.”

“So it is not easy to see what meaning can be given to the question, ‘Why does the universe exist?’ But it is a question that one can’t help asking.”

As usual, the ability to pose a question simply and clearly in no way implied a similar answer—or that an answer even existed.

After the dining hall, high table moved to the senior common room upstairs. We relaxed along a long, polished table in comfortable padded chairs, enjoying the traditional crisp walnuts and ancient aromatic port, Cuban cigars, and arch conversation, occasionally skewered by a witty interjection from Stephen.

Someone mentioned American physicist Stephen Weinberg’s statement, in The First Three Minutes, that the more we comprehend the universe, the more meaningless it seems. Stephen doesn’t agree, and neither do I, but he has a better reason. “I think it is not meaningful in the first place to say that the universe is pointless, or that it is designed for some purpose.”

I asked, “No meaning, then, to the pursuit of meaning?”

“To do that would require one to stand outside the universe, which is not possible.”

Again the image of the gulf between the observer and the object of study. “Still,” I persisted, “there is amazing structure we can see from inside.”

“The overwhelming impression is of order. The more we discover about the universe, the more we find that it is governed by rational laws. If one liked, one could say that this order was the work of God. Einstein thought so.”

One of the college fellows asked, “Rational faith?”

Stephen tapped quickly. “We shouldn’t be surprised that conditions in the universe are suitable for life, but this is not evidence that the universe was designed to allow for life. We could call order by the name of God, but it would be an impersonal God. There’s not much personal about the laws of physics.”

Walnuts eaten, port drunk, cigars smoked, it was time to go. When we left, Stephen guided his wheelchair through the shadowy reaches of the college, indulging my curiosity about a time-honored undergraduate sport: climbing Cambridge.

At night, young men sometimes scramble among the upper reaches of the steepled old buildings, scaling the most difficult points. They risk their necks for the glory of it. Quite out of bounds, of course. Part of the thrill is eluding the proctors who scan the rooftops late at night, listening for the scrape of heels. There is even a booklet about roof climbing, describing its triumphs and centuries-long history.

Stephen took me to a passageway I had been through many times, a shortcut to the Cam River between high, peaked buildings of undergraduate rooms. He said that it was one of the tough events, jumping across that and then scaling a steep, often slick roof beyond.

The passage looked to be about three meters across. I couldn’t imagine leaping that gap from the slate-dark roofs. And at night, too. “All that distance?” I asked. My voice echoed in the fog.

“Yes,” he said.

“Anybody ever miss?”

“Yes.”

“Injured?”

“Yes.”

“Killed?”

His eyes twinkled and he gave us a broad smile. “Yes.” These Cambridge sorts have the real stuff, all right.

In the cool night Stephen recalled some of his favorite science fiction stories. He rarely read any fiction other than science fiction past the age of 12, he said. “It’s really the only fiction that is realistic about our true position in the universe as a whole.”

And how much stranger the universe was turning out than even those writers had imagined. Even when they discussed the next billion years, they could not guess the odd theories that would spring up within the next generation of physicists. Now there are speculations that our universe might have 11 dimensions, all told, all but three of space and one of time rolled up to tiny sizes. Will this change cosmology? So far, nobody knows. But the ideas are fun in and of themselves.

A week after my evening at Cambridge, I got from Stephen’s secretary a transcript of all his remarks. I have used it here to reproduce his style of conversation. Printed out on his wheelchair computer, his sole link with us, the lines seem to come from a great distance. Across an abyss.

Portraying the flinty faces of science—daunting complexity twinned with numbing wonder—demands both craft and art. Some of us paint with fiction. Stephen paints with his impressionistic views of vast, cool mathematical landscapes. To knit together our fraying times, to span the cultural abyss, demands all these approaches—and more, if we can but invent them.

Stephen has faced daunting physical constrictions with a renewed attack on the large issues, on great sweeps of space and time. Daily he struggles without much fuss against the narrowing that is perhaps the worst element of infirmity. I recalled him rapt with Marilyn, still deeply engaged with life, holding firmly against tides of entropy.

I had learned a good deal from those few days, I realized, and most of it was not at all about cosmology.

Copyright © 2005 by Gregory Benford

Pixel Scroll 3/13/18 “Use The Porgs, Luke!”

(1) DON’T PAY TO PLAY. Jason Sanford has a twitter thread about another dodgy publisher – start here:

(2) TERMS AND CONDITIONS. Amanda S. Green has a very sensible take about the disappearing Amazon review kerfuffle: “On Reviews” at Mad Genius Club.

But, before you start all this take a step back and then take a deep breath and ask yourself if you or the reader who left the review might have fallen afoul of the rules. I know how easy it is to tell your other writer friends that you’ll review their work if they review yours. You might not even do it in so many words. The problem is, in this day and age of technology, Amazon’s computers will start seeing patterns and will pull reviews that fit those patterns. Is it fair? Waggles hands. It is, however, in the rules and we agree to those rules when we open our Amazon accounts and when we then open our KDP accounts. This is why you need to be sure you read those ToS agreements before completing your account setup.

Reviews are the best advertising we have for our books. They are a way of telling potential readers we’ve put something out that is worth not only their time but their money as well. Amazon recognizes that. It also recognizes the fact the system is easily gamed and that is what these rules are designed to prevent. The rules aren’t perfect but they are the best we have right now. None of us want to return to the days of rampant sock puppet reviews — or at least we shouldn’t. After all, most readers will look askance at a book by an indie author with hundreds of reviews and not a one under 4-star. You need those lower level reviews to give legitimacy to your work.

So, if you are one of those authors who found reviews suddenly missing, contact Amazon and ask what happened. Review the ToS about reviews and move forward. Yes, it’s hard losing reviews but you’ll do yourself more good writing your next book than spending hours on the internet whinging about how evil Amazon is.

(3) DEMISE OF STEAMPUNK WORLD’S FAIR. Airship Ambassador reports “Steampunk World’s Fair – Cancelled”.  The former management was deposed after sexual abuse allegations, but the group trying to pull off  rescue has decided the task is impossible

After several weeks of discussions, and publicized business changes, following posts in late January revealing sexual abuse allegations,

Sexual abuse allegations crawling out of steampunk community (TW)

Time to Name Drop and Protect Newbies

the Silver Phoenix Society announced On February 20,2018, it was taking over the production of Steampunk World’s Fair.

…However, it was announced tonight, March 13, 2018, on the Steampunk World’s Fair Facebook page that Silver Phoenix Society’s involvement in the event was ending, effectively cancelling the May 2018 festival.

Screencaps of relevant Facebook posts and links to background articles can be found at Airship Ambassador.

(4) THOR FX. A BBC video about “The visual effects behind Thor 3” relates the fun of having to be able to redo everything at the last minute, and the skinny on mixes of CGI and live action — sometimes keeping just the face so the body could interact with (e.g.) lightning.

Al Moloney talks to Alexis Wajsbrot, the visual effects supervisor for Thor: Ragnarok. He explains how characters like the Hulk and Korg were brought to life.

(5) HAWKING OBIT. Dr. Stephen Hawking died March 14. The New York Times reports: “Stephen Hawking, Who Examined the Universe and Explained Black Holes, Dies at 76”.

…“Not since Albert Einstein has a scientist so captured the public imagination and endeared himself to tens of millions of people around the world,” Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York, said in an interview.

Dr. Hawking did that largely through his book “A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes,” published in 1988. It has sold more than 10 million copies and inspired a documentary film by Errol Morris. The 2014 film about his life, “The Theory of Everything,” was nominated for several Academy Awards and Eddie Redmayne, who played Dr. Hawking, won the best-actor Oscar.

Scientifically, Dr. Hawking will be best remembered for a discovery so strange that it might be expressed in the form of a Zen koan: When is a black hole not black? When it explodes.

What is equally amazing is that he had a career at all. As a graduate student in 1963, he learned he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neuromuscular wasting disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was given only a few years to live.

The disease reduced his bodily control to the flexing of a finger and voluntary eye movements but left his mental faculties untouched.

(6) DOWN TO THE WIRE. With the Hugo nominating deadline upon us, Doctor Science shares a longlist: “Brainstorming my Hugo nominations: Best Novel and Best Series”.

Hugo nominations have to be in by Friday, so I’m going to put up my longlist and hope the process of writing helps me make up my mind. I’m resurrecting my goodreads account to better keep track of what I’ve read (and what I started but did not finish, and why).

I thought I had already written and posted reviews of most of these, but apparently I wrote many only in my head….

(7) ISHER AND TRANTOR. Meanwhile, Edmonton’s Hugo Award Book Club tackles “Retro Hugos 1943 — Short Stories” and tries to put the contenders in the context of the time.

If there had never been another story published in the Foundation universe, The Encyclopedists would

have stood on its own – it encapsulates essentially all of the big ideas of the series: the mathematics of history, the decline and fall of an empire, and the ennobling positivist view of the ability of humanity to alter its destiny. While later stories built on this foundational story, everything that makes the Foundation series great was right there in this initial blueprint.

In this story, Asimov offers us the series’ most unforgettable – and quotable – protagonist Salvor Hardin, the mayor of Trantor. In the context of when this story was published, just five months after Pearl Harbor, his famous quote “violence is the last refuge of the incompetent,” might be seen as an surprising anti-war exhortation.

(8) WHEN NO MAN PURSUETH. Just to make sure there’d be some drama, before he went to FOGcon, Jon Del Arroz ran this twitter poll:

Broadcasting what, you might ask? You weren’t the only one. Jon gives his version in: “Someone Tried To Get Me Kicked Out Of A Sci-Fi Convention… And You’ll Never Believe What Happened Next!” [Internet Archive]

…The man proceeded to grill me, rattling off questions in a challenging manner. “What are you doing here? Why? Are you intending on broadcasting here? Are you going to be bothering anyone?” They came in rapid succession, challenging…. I finally told him “this tone is getting pretty hostile,” as I wasn’t sure what he was getting at at all.

This is where things changed. His eyes widened a little and he said, “Oh!” The man dropped to his knees and smiled. “I’m 6’8? I guess that can be a little intimidating. Is this better?” His tone changed to something a little more humorous. Almost expertly, this man diffused the situation and the tension that had been escalating evaporated.

We started talking at length, and I learned this man was from the convention security, and that someone had complained about my presence there…

JDA was allowed to stay, and even buy a membership the next day after being vetted by the chair:

I showed up the next morning, migrated down stairs and asked to buy a ticket for the day. …I was just about to wrap up paying, when convention chairman Steven Schwartz asked me to step aside and chat with him.

It was frightening again. What was going to happen? Was this the “you need to vacate the premises” I was afraid of?

Just like the security fellow from the night before, Schwartz asked a couple of questions, his tone was pleasant, he had genuine concern — not only for the safety of others, but what blew me away was he was concerned for my safety as well. He asked some questions based on the absurd rumors propagated by Worldcon that I was some boogeyman, I let him know I never intended anything of the sort at any con nor even implied it — for FOGCon or Worldcon, and Schwartz took me as a man of my word (which I am), and told me if anyone tried to attack or harm me, he would defend me as surely as anyone else.

(9) WHEN REALITY MOVES FASTER THAN FICTION. Justina Ireland tweeted —

(10) VIDEO OF THE DAY. In “Bug Gaits for Animators” on Vimeo, Stephen Cunnane provides tips animators need to make sure bugs crawl properly.

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

Clarke Foundation Names 2017 Arthur C. Clarke Award Winners

The Arthur C. Clarke Foundation will present its annual awards at the “Unleash The Imagination” conference on December 9 at George Washington University.

The 2017 winners are:

Lifetime Achievement Award

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking
(by video), PhD, Theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and Cambridge professor

Innovator Award            

John Hendricks

John Hendricks
Founder and former Chairman of Discovery Communications, Founder and Chairman of CuriosityStream

Award for Imagination in Service to Society

Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson
Author of science fiction, including the Mars trilogy

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster for the story.]