Pixel Scroll 10/2 The Roads Must Roll Over

(1) Shea Serrano at Grantland asks “Which Movie Astronauts Would You Want To Be Stranded With In Outer Space?”

And which ones would you definitely not want to be with in outer space?

This doesn’t necessarily presume that you and your astronaut friend will definitely face a life-or-death situation, but it does consider how that astronaut would navigate any life-or-death situation that might arise. Other things involved: How would he or she handle the mental punishment that being in space inflicts upon the brain? How would he or she deal with the possibility of having to spend the rest of his or her life in space? How would he or she react should aliens turn out to be real? And so on.

Normally, these sorts of conversations require rules to function efficiently, but really there’s only one that needs to be instituted here. It’s easy: We need to get rid of the astronauts from movies in which people live in space full time (or mostly full time), because those characters are already comfortable with the unnaturalness of Being In Space. So let’s consider only those who have traveled to space or been placed into space in a temporary context.

His article lists lots of obvious favorites, and others I’d never thought of in those terms.

(2) ”Skin Feeling” , Sofia Samatar’s beautifully-written essay on what it is like to be an African-American professor (she teaches at the University of California Channel Islands) covers a lot of ground, and one of her points is this:

In the logic of diversity work, bodies of color form a material that must accumulate until it reaches a certain mass. Once that’s done, everyone can stop talking about it. For now, we minimize talk by representing our work with charts that can be taken in instantly, at a glance. In her book On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life, Sara Ahmed writes of diversity workers of color: “We are ticks in the boxes; we tick their boxes.” The box is the predictable form, the tick the sign of how quickly you can get past it. Get past us.

Well, you ask, should we dissolve all the committees, then? Keep faculty of color off them? What’s your solution? Try to read the demand for solutions and your frustration for what they are: products of the logic of diversity work, which wants to get the debt paid, over with, done. Diversity work is slow and yet it’s always in a rush. It can’t relax. It can’t afford the informal gesture, the improvised note, the tangential question that moves off script, away from representation into some weird territory of you and me talking in this room right now. Diversity work can’t afford to entertain the thought that some debts can’t be paid, that they might just be past due. With agonizing slowness, this work grinds on toward payment—that is, toward the point where it will no longer exist. It’s a suicidal project.

(3) The sf magazine field is probably about to experience a contraction, says Neil Clarke in “Editor’s Desk: The Sad Truth About Short Fiction Magazines” at Clarkesworld.

  1. Quality

If the number of quality stories isn’t growing as fast as the number of stories publishers need to fill all their slots, then quality must dip to fill the void.

  1. Sustainability

If the number of readers willing to pay for short fiction isn’t growing as fast as the financial need of the publishers, the field begins to starve itself.

…But what can any of us do about it? Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Subscribe to or support any magazine that you’d be willing to bail out if they were to run aground. Just-in-time funding is not a sane or sustainable business model. If you want them to succeed, then be there before they need you.
  • If a magazine doesn’t offer subscriptions or have something like a Patreon page you can support them financially through, encourage them to do so.
  • Encourage SFWA to raise their qualifying rate for short fiction. Why? Given the small explosion in markets that are paying that rate, it’s clearly too easy for publishers to earn that badge. Yes, that rate is a badge of honor for publishers. Seriously though, the authors deserve better.
  • Don’t support new (or revival) projects until they clearly outline reasonable goals to sustain the publication after their initial funding runs out.
  • Introduce new readers to your favorite stories and magazines. This is particularly easy with so many online magazines being freely available at the moment. We need more short fiction readers if all this is to remain sustainable. This plays into my comments on short fiction reviews last month.

(4) Neal Stephenson has been named a Miller Distinguished Scholar at the Santa Fe Institute. He visited SFI this week and will return for periodic visits through the end of 2016.

The Miller Distinguished Scholarship is the most prestigious visiting position at SFI, awarded to highly accomplished, creative thinkers who make profound contributions to our understandings of society, science, and culture.

Stephenson will be the sixth SFI Miller Scholar since SFI Board Chair Emeritus Bill Miller conceived and underwrote the scholarship in 2010. Stephenson follows philosopher of science Daniel Dennett (2010), quantum physicist Seth Lloyd (2010-2011), actor/playwright Sam Shepard (2010-2011), philosopher/author Rebecca Goldstein (2011-2012), and author/narrative historian Hampton Sides (2015-2016).

(5) George R.R. Martin describes his fascination with the red planet for the Guardian in “Our long obsession with Mars”.

Once upon a time there was a planet called Mars, a world of red sands, canals and endless adventure. I remember it well, for I went there often as a child. I come from a blue-collar, working-class background. My family never had much money. We lived in a federal housing project in Bayonne, New Jersey, never owned a car, never saw much of anywhere. The projects were on First Street, my school was on Fifth Street, and for most of my childhood those five blocks were my world.

It never mattered, though, for I had other worlds. A voracious reader, first of comic books (superheroes, mostly, but some Classics Illustrated and Disney stuff as well), then of paperbacks (science fiction, horror and fantasy, with a seasoning of murder mysteries, adventure yarns, and historicals), I travelled far and wide while hunched down in my favourite chair, turning pages.

… Growing up, I think I went to Mars more often than I went to New York City, though Manhattan was only 45 minutes and 15 cents away by bus.

Mars, though … I knew Mars inside and out. A desert planet, dry and cold and red (of course), it had seen a thousand civilisations rise and fall. The Martians that remained were a dwindling race, old and wise and mysterious, sometimes malignant, sometimes benevolent, always unknowable. Mars was a land of strange and savage beasts (thoats! Tharks! sandmice!), whispering winds, towering mountains, vast seas of red sand crisscrossed by dry canals, and crumbling porcelain cities where mystery and adventure lurked around every corner.

(6) “Still not a reason to start drinking coffee,” says John King Tarpinian. Star Wars Spiced Latte.

Star Wars spiced latte

(7) Today in History:

October 2, 1950 —

  • The “Peanuts” comic strip by Charles M. Schulz was published for the first time.


October 2, 1959 —

Twilight zone earl holliman

  • Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone debuts on TV with the episode Where Is Everybody? in which a man finds himself alone in the small town and without any recollection of where or who he is.

(8) Today’s birthday boy –

(9) Kevin J. Anderson recommends the Superstars Writing Seminar, to be held February 4-6, 2016.

If you’re serious about taking your writing career to the next level, this business seminar is a must—three days and nights immersed in a heightened atmosphere of real-world wisdom and professional advice dispensed by best-selling authors Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, David Farland, Eric flint, and James A. Owen. Some of the guest speakers for the 2016 Seminar include Jody Lynn Nye, Penguin/Putnam editor Ann Sowards, and some urban fantasy author named…Bisher…Bonger…no, uhm…Butcher. Yeah, that’s it. Jim Butcher.

There are five scholarships available from the Don Hodge Memorial Scholarship Fund.

(10) Harrison Ford will be honored by BAFTA on October 30 at the Britannia Awards.

Ford will receive the Albert R. Broccoli Britannia Award for Worldwide Contribution to Entertainment at the ceremony to be held at the Beverly Hilton.

“It is impossible to imagine the past 40 years of Hollywood history without Harrison Ford, and his performances are as iconic as the films themselves,” BAFTA Los Angeles chairman Kieran Breen said in a statement.

The ceremony, hosted by actor-comedian Jack Whitehall, will air Nov. 6 on Pop. The Britannia Awards had aired on BBC America in recent years but were carried by TV Guide Network, the predecessor of Pop, in 2010 and 2011.

Other Britannia honorees this year include Orlando Bloom, who will receive the Britannia Humanitarian Award, and Meryl Streep, who will receive the Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film. Sam Mendes, James Corden, Amy Schumer and event production company Done + Dusted will also be recognized.

(11) Here’s a list of “The Best Haunted House for Adults in Los Angeles”.

Though there are nearly 5,000 professional haunted attractions operating nationwide every Halloween, there’s never a guarantee when it comes to true, bone-chilling quality. From haunted mansions and abandoned asylums to old prisons or open fields, you want the haunts that’ll scare you the most. They provide visitors with a horror experience that just makes you feel like you’re in your favorite horror movie. Given its close ties to the entertainment industry, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Los Angeles is home to some of the best haunted houses for adults. This Halloween, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to face your fears at the five best haunted houses for adults in Los Angeles.

(12) A new film clip from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 – “Star Squad”

[Thanks to Andrew Porter, Martin Morse Wooster, Will R., Mark sans surname, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

Pixel Scroll 9/4 The Scrolling Stones

(1) The Verge covers the University of Iowa’s progress digitizing the Hevelin fanzine collection – “10,000 zines and counting: a library’s quest to save the history of fandom”

The University of Iowa’s fanzine collection is going digital before it falls apart

In July, UI digital project librarian Laura Hampton officially began the long process of archiving the Hevelin Collection. The library is partnering with the fan-run Organization for Transformative Works to collect more zines for eventual digital archival, but Hampton is currently focused on material from the 1930s to 1950s, spanning the rise of zines and the Golden Age of science fiction. The vast majority of the images will stay offline, but an accompanying Tumblr has given outsiders a peek into the roughly 10,000 zines that Hevelin donated — and into the communities that helped create science fiction as we know it, from fandom clashes to fan fiction.


The SF Fan, May 1940

The SF Fan, May 1940

(2) Pop quiz at Clickhole “Obama Quote Or Description Of A Ray Bradbury Book Cover?” Unlike quizzes at File 770, not all the answers are Ray Bradbury.

(3) Time is running out to send your name to Mars. The last Day to register is September 8, 2015 (11:59 p.m. ET)

(4) Rachael Acks, on “FAQ: What is SFWA in charge of?***” , lists six things SFWA is in charge of and 35 it is not in charge of. How does she keep track?

(5) George R.R. Martin likes Kevin Standlee’s ideas for redoing some of the Hugo Award categories – “Hugo Reform”

I suspect that the chance of these changes being enacted are remote (every existing Hugo category has an entrenched constituency, so while adding categories is difficult, abolishing one is all but impossible) but nonetheless, I think these are eminently sensible changes and I would whole-heartedly support them. Let me tell you why.

For me, the most problematic Hugo categories are those that honor a person rather than a work. Look at Best Artist, for instant. I was just discussing that with my friend John Picacio this past weekend, as it’s a pet peeve of his. The award has been around for half a century, yet fewer than twenty people have ever won it. The same people win, year after year. Many voters have no idea what art they did the past year, if any; they just know, “oh, I like X’s art,” and they vote for him, again.

The Best Editor categories have shown every signs of working the same way. Originally the category WAS Best Magazine, which was easy to judge. Did ASTOUNDING or GALAXY have a better year? It was changed to Best Editor in the 70s, during the boom in original anthologies, sometimes called “book-a-zines”… and to allow book editors to compete. But few book editors were ever nominated, and none ever won, until the category was split in half. Problem is, and this complaint came up often during Puppygate and after, that most books do not credit their editors… and besides that, the reader has no real way to know what the editor did. Some novels are heavily edited, some much less. What is the criterion? The proof should be in the pudding. Which pudding tastes better. Reward the WORK, not the author or editor or artist. Go back to Best Magazine, and add Anthology/ Collection (both the Locus Awards and the World Fantasy Awards have such a category, and it works well). That more than covers the Short Form Editors.

(6) Daniel Lemire – “Revisiting Vernor Vinge’s ‘predictions’ for 2025”

Let me review some of his predictions:

  • In his novel, many people earn a small income through informal part-time work with affiliate networks, doing random work. Today you can earn a small income through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and there are many Uber-like services whereas individuals can earn small sums by doing various services. So this prediction is almost certainly coming true….

(7) Avedon Carol on The Sideshow – “Never mind the forecast, ’cause the sky has lost control”

Christopher Priest leaps to the defense of Terry Pratchett. I remember years ago reading an article in Time Out from a woman who had been assigned to write about Pratchett and proceeded to state that she had not read any so she just asked her male friends if it was just boy’s stuff and they said that it was, thus proving they hadn’t read it, either. She rattled on for several more paragraphs but… seriously? That’s how a “professional journalist” covers an assignment? So now we have some nitwit over on the Guardian‘s blog pontificating on the lack of quality of Pratchett’s work which he says he hasn’t got time to waste actually reading it. I don’t know where these people come from.

(8) Jaythenerdkid on The Rainbow Hub –  “An Interview with Benjanun Sridaungkaew” (Original link no longer works. Google cache file available for the time being here.)

In a situation like this, leaving often seems like the best option. Certainly, Bee has cut back on her involvement with the SF/F community at large. But she’s determined to keep on doing what she loves and is passionate about.

“I plan to keep writing,” she says. “I don’t think of SF/F as a community any more so much as a subculture that shares an interest or hobby rather than a sense of community.

“A community that awards a trophy to a racist hit piece on me is not a community I’d want to belong to, but I like to think those people are not ‘all’ of the field and fortunately my experiences have lined up with that: there are sub-communities who aren’t part of that at all.”

(9) William Underhill in a comment on Mad Genius Club.

I also think the fact that File770’s posts are moderated and need to be approved, and posts here and on Mr. Torgersen’s blog are not, is thought-provoking.

Yes, it is.

(10) Add K. Tempest Bradford’s name to the list of those who have volunteered to host a short fiction rating site that would be handy for Hugo voters – “io9 Newsstand Has One Last Thing To Say About The Hugo Awards”

I have long felt that there’s a real need for spaces where people can get together and passionately discuss the short fiction they read. That having such a space would make it easier for readers to find more short stories they’ll like. A place where anyone can rate and review stories and also easily find write-ups by pro reviewers.

A Goodreads-type site for short fiction.

And before you ask: no, Goodreads itself wouldn’t be a great space for this. The company isn’t interested in adding individual short stories, and the few that are on there now are either shorts that were issued with ISBN numbers or put there by community librarians. We need a site and service that is committed to creating a database of short fiction, with the ability for signed-in users to rate and/or review that also pulls in links or review text from pro reviewers where they exist.

Having such a site could also make it easier for people to nominate for the Hugo Awards when that time comes around. As everybody knows, you don’t need to have read everything in order to nominate faithfully and well. You only have to nominate the best of what you’ve read. However, if you want to see what other folks have read and loved, you could just go to the list of short fiction published during the year, sort by highest rating, and read the top 10 or 15 or 20.

I would love to spearhead such a project. But: money. Anyone know a venture capitalist?

(11) Hey, I just came across this photo today.

If you open the picture in large format, you can see John Scalzi is wearing the yellow “File 770, That Wretched Hive of Scum & Villainy” button he pinned on his lanyard just before the panel began.

[Thanks to Paul Weimer, Mark, David Doering, and John King Tarpinian for some of these links. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Jeff Warner.]

Vinge To Receive Libertarian Futurist Society Honor on 10/11

Vernor Vinge in 2006.

Vernor Vinge in 2006.

One of science fiction’s most lauded writers, Vernor Vinge, will be recognized with a Special Prometheus Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Libertarian Futurist Society this weekend. 

The LFS will make the presentation on Saturday, October 11 at noon during Conjecture 2014 in San Diego.

This is only the second Lifetime award given by the Society. Poul Anderson received the first in 2001.

A five-time Hugo winner, Vernor Vinge is also one of the writers most frequently recognized by the Libertarian Future Society. He won its Prometheus Award for Best Novel for Marooned in Realtime (1987) and A Deepness in the Sky (2000), and two of his stories have received LFS Hall of Fame Awards, “The Ungoverned” (2004) and “True Names” (2007).

His impact on the genre is outlined in the Society’s press release:

Vinge’s concept of a technological singularity, in which the future is radically  transformed by the attainment of superhuman intelligence, has been a major influence on science fiction, the transhumanist movement, and the high-tech community generally. His novella “True Names” explored many of the themes that soon after became central to the cyberpunk movement. Speculation about libertarian, anarchist, and free-market themes has been a recurring focus of his novels and stories.

Libertarian Futurist Society President William H. Stoddard will make the presentation at Saturday’s award ceremony. All members of the convention are welcome.

Vinge To Get LFS Lifetime Achievement Award

The Libertarian Futurist Society will present Vernor Vinge with a Special Prometheus Award for lifetime achievement in 2014.

Vinge is only the second author ever recognized with a LFS lifetime achievement award, the other being Poul Anderson (2001).

Vinge is a four-time Prometheus Award winner, twice in the Best Novel category, Marooned in Realtime (1987) and A Deepness in the Sky (2000), and for two works inducted into the Prometheus Hall of Fame,”The Ungoverned” (2004) and “True Names” (2007).

The LFS will announce the time and location of the award ceremony in the near future.

In 2015 Vinge will join F. Paul Wilson and L. Neil Smith as guests of honor at the 50th anniversary of Marcon — where the LFS’s second “LFScon” will take place as part of the program — over Mother’s Day weekend May 8-10, at the Hyatt Regency Columbus and Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.

The full press release follows the jump.

Continue reading

Clarke Center Lifts Off With Public Events

The Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination will launch this month with a series of free events on the UC San Diego campus. 

May 1 through 31, 2013

“Remembering Sir Arthur C. Clarke”
Remembering and celebrating the diverse genius and joie de vivre of Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Artifacts and items are from the collection of Wayne and Gloria Houser. During the May 21 reception only: Special display of original paintings of Clarke book cover art on loan from Naomi Fisher, and space science posters by Jon Lomberg. Curated by Carol Hobson, and co-sponsored by the UC San Diego Library.
Seuss Room Foyer, Geisel Library, UC San Diego

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

1-5 p.m., “Visions of the Future”
An afternoon of conversations and presentations featuring Clarke Center affiliates on their visions of science and culture 33 years into the future (in honor of Clarke’s imagining of 2001 in 1968).
Calit2 Auditorium, Atkinson Hall, Qualcomm Institute, UC San Diego

7 p.m., “The Literary Imagination”
A conversation between authors Jonathan Lethem and Kim Stanley Robinson presented by the Helen Edison Lecture Series, UC San Diego Extension and the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination
Price Center West Ballroom, UC San Diego

Tuesday and Wednesday, May 21 and 22, 2013

“Starship Century Symposium”
A two-day event devoted to an ongoing exploration of the development of a starship in the next 100 years. Scientists will address the challenges and opportunities for our long?term future in space, with possibilities envisioned by Freeman Dyson, Paul Davies, Peter Schwartz, John Cramer and Robert Zubrin. Science fiction authors Neal Stephenson, Allen Steele, Joe Haldeman, Gregory Benford, Geoffrey Landis and David Brin will discuss the implications that these trajectories of exploration might have upon our development as individuals and as a civilization.
Calit2 Auditorium, Atkinson Hall, Qualcomm Institute, UC San Diego
Note: Seating is limited, but the two-day event will be offered via live streaming video at http://imagination.ucsd.edu.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Reception 6-8 p.m., “Remembering Sir Arthur C. Clarke”
Remembering and celebrating the diverse genius and joie de vivre of Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Artifacts and items are from the collection of Wayne and Gloria Houser. During the May 21 reception only: Special display of original paintings of Clarke book cover art on loan from Naomi Fisher, and space science posters by Jon Lomberg. Also screening of documentary film, “Arthur C. Clarke: The Man Who Saw the Future,” a BBC/NVC ARTS Co-Production in association with RAI Thematic Channels, 1997. Curated by Carol Hobson, and co-sponsored by the UC San Diego Library.
Seuss Room Foyer, Geisel Library, UC San Diego

Created by UCSD and the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation, the Clarke Center “will honor the late author and innovator through activities that will focus on cultural, scientific and medical transformations that can occur as we increase our understanding of the phenomena of imagination and become more effective at harnessing and incorporating our imaginations in our research and daily lives.”

UCSD’s Sheldon Brown, professor of computing in the arts in the department of visual arts, is the director of the center. The center’s associate director is David Kirsh, professor and former chair of the department of cognitive science.

In addition to drawing upon a wide range of disciplines and collaborations, the Clarke Center will engage the creative worlds of media, the arts and literature to help with discovery. UC San Diego’s unique relationship with speculative fiction and science fiction authors, including Kim Stanley Robinson, David Brin, Nancy Holder, Greg Benford, Vernor Vinge, Greg Bear and Aimee Bender, will allow the center to dismantle traditional boundaries and forge new ways of thinking about the future.

Clarke Center Created at UCSD

The Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination is being created at UC San Diego (UCSD) by the University of California, San Diego and the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation.

The Clarke Center will develop, catalyze and be a global resource for innovative research and education “drawing upon the under-utilized resources of human imagination.” It will span a wide range of disciplines and fields such as technology, education, engineering, health, science, industry, environment, entertainment and the arts. 

The center will work with academia and industry and also draw upon the creative worlds of media and the arts. Contemporary science fiction authors such as UC San Diego alumni David Brin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Vernor Vinge, Greg Benford and Greg Bear are involved.

Sheldon Brown, named the center’s director, is a professor in the Department of Visual Arts at UCSD and the former director of the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts at UCSD’s California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technologies. 

Brown said:

As we harness more and more technology, we must also nurture our human resources – including our unique gifts of imagination to create, innovate and sustain constructive advances. By making human imagination itself the subject of study, we can develop ways to make more effective use of it.  We believe the center can become a unique global resource near term and long term.

The Clarke Foundation chose UCSD from among several universities that responded to its request for proposals to create the new center.

[Thanks to Gregory Benford for the story.]

Results of NPR Top 100 SF&F Survey

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien finished atop of NPR’s Top 100 Science-Fiction and Fantasy survey. Over 60,000 voters participated. Coming in second and third were Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.

The three highest-ranking works by women were Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, #20, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, #22, and Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey, #33.

Ray Bradbury had four books make the list, the most popular being Fahrenheit 451, #7. The leading Heinlein novel among his three on the list was Stranger in a Strange Land at #17.

And oh, yes, Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep, #93, ran ahead of Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book, #97. I’ll have to ask if Jo Walton is willing to go two falls out of three…

The Dog Days of SF

Children of the Sky , sequel to A Fire Upon the Deep, the Vernor Vinge novel debated here not long ago, will be released October 11 by Tor Books. Fans can click here to read an excerpt:

There were posters every few feet, but these were not the advertisements they had seen elsewhere. These were demands and announcements: WASH ALL PAWS BEFORE WORK, NO ADVANCE WAGES, EMPLOYMENT APPLICATIONS AHEAD. This last sign pointed toward a wide pair of doors at the end of the alley. It was all marvelously pompous and silly. And yet . . . as he walked along, Vendacious took a long look at the crenellations above him. Surely that was plaster over wood. But if it was real stone, then this was a fortified castle hidden right in the middle of East Home commercialism….

Expectations are running high because Vinge’s two other novels in the series won the Hugo. A Deepness in the Sky, a prequel set 20,000 years before A Fire Upon the Deep, was voted Best Novel in 2000.

[Via Locus Online.]

Ties for the Best Novel Hugo

That China Miéville’s The City and the City tied Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl for the 2010 Best Novel Hugo surprised me. Maybe, like many fans, I’m prone to underestimate fantasy novels as Hugo contenders.  

Bacigalupi’s SF novel had taken home every prize from the Nebula to the Compton Crook Award. It made Time magazine’s list of the Top 10 of Everything 2009. I expected it to win the Hugo by a landslide.

Now I’ve learned that hindsight is the only sight when it comes to Hugo handicapping. Other major awards may be poor predictors of Hugo success (see “The Unpredictable Best Novel Hugo”), still , they occasionally line up in the rear view mirror to make it seem as if picking against the favorite should have been the easiest thing in the world.

While The Windup Girl won the 2010 Locus Award for First Novel it finished far behind Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker in the SF Novel category. Meanwhile, Miéville’s The City and the City landed on top of the Fantasy Novel category. It was pretty clear that The Windup Girl would have serious competition for the Hugo.

The voters found these two novels indistinguishable in quality on Hugo night. Will they still seem so twenty years from now?

This is the third tie for the Best Novel Hugo in its history. Hindsight tells me it shouldn’t have happened the first two times.

In 1993 Doomsday Book by Connie Willis tied with A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge.

It’s Doomsday Book Diana and I have given to friends we wanted to interest in science fiction. Connie Willis’ time travel adventure builds to a transcendent ending in which the efforts of an individual make a great deal of difference – not measured by how many lives are saved (a typical yardstick of stfnal heroism) but by the compassion shown to characters we care about in their hour of death, proving we do not all die alone.

Credit A Fire Upon the Deep with impressive ingredients: a richly inventive collection of aliens with unique psychologies, a new cosmology, a freshly imagined doom hanging over sentient life everywhere in the galaxy, and a set of mysterious histories that must be unraveled if anyone is to survive.

Three critical shortcomings hold it back.  

First, Vinge never made me really care whether his characters won out, he merely made me curious about the final choices that he’d craft into the ending. When a story of children in jeopardy fails to jump-start a reader’s emotional connection to its characters, that’s a bad sign.

Second, Vinge initiated a romance between the two main adult human characters, then allowed it to fizzle for reasons that were valid in terms of their personalties and circumstances, facts that didn’t keep me from losing interest in their fates.

Third, the author uses a narrative scaffolding that turns this into SF’s only “e-mail punk” novel. Really, even in the early days of the internet when Vinge wrote this novel, were readers expected to believe the myriad alien races filling the galaxy in times to come would communicate with messages that look exactly as e-mail did in 1991? The small amount of intentional humor provided by strange sentient creatures writing like regulars on rec.arts.sf-lovers is swallowed by the vaster, unintentional humor of a future supposedly as limited as the primitive Internet.

At least in my view, history has broken the tie between Willis’s and Vinge’s novels.

Then, in 1966, Roger Zelazny was an author of one of the novels that tied for the Hugo, a story serialized as “…and Call Me Conrad” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1965. That it won an award under the circumstances is remarkable, having been substantially trimmed from the version later published in hardcover as This Immortal.

When Ted White was an assistant editor at F&SF it became his job to pare Zelazny’s manuscript to fit in the magazine. He spoke in his 1985 Worldcon guest of honor speech about his painstaking efforts, the guilt he felt every time he trimmed a word of Zelazny’s prose – and that after he turned in the manuscript editor Ed Ferman summarily cut another 5,000 words. 

Even the full-length This Immortal feels slight compared with the best of Zelazny’s other award-winning novels such as Lord of Light, Jack of Shadows, and Isle of the Dead. Though it’s a good read This Immortal can’t withstand comparison with the novel it tied for the Hugo – Frank Herbert’s Dune, a canonical great work of science fiction.  

Three times there has been a tie for the Best Novel Hugo. Hindsight tells me it shouldn’t have happened the first two times. What will the verdict be when another generation judges the Miéville and Bacigalupi novels?

The Humanitarian Arms Race

David Klaus spotted a fascinating video on the IEEE site, “A Manhattan Project for the Prosthetic Arms Race,” and sent this note with the link:

Dean Kamen’s company demonstrates what he calls ‘the Luke Arm,’ an artificial arm modeled after the prosthetic given to Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back. It’s a shame Martin Caidin isn’t still alive to see this — shades of Steve Austin, too.

A whole range of techniques are being worked on, from the non-invasive, like electrodes placed on the surface of the skin, to gaggingly invasive ideas, like something resembling a miniature fakir’s bed of nails, meant to be connected to the brain.

While checking out David’s link I also found IEEE’s series of videos about the Singularity, which I may be possibly the last person in the blogosphere to notice (seeing as they were posted in June.) Leading off is Vernor Vinge speaking “on the run-up to the singularity and what technologists can do to engineer the best outcome for humans.” In the series’ other videos:

Christof Koch explains how we can use visual illusions and scenes to explore the difference between our conscious and unconscious perception, Rodney Brooks on why the evolution of superhuman intelligence will be a slow process, and Neuroscientist Paul Sajda, of Columbia University, uses the human vision system for computerized image sorting.

[Thanks to David Klaus for the story.]