Menuge Wins Seat 14C Contest

“Didos Lament” by Aidan J.S. Menuge is the winner of XPRIZE’s Seat 14C writing contest. The theme was:

An airliner unexpectedly comes in for a landing 20 years in the passengers’ future. What is life like in the year 2037? What technologies and innovations are driving the changes that have happened?

In addition, leading sf authors including Gregory Benford, Madeleine Ashby and Margaret Atwood wrote point-of-view stories telling what the 22 passengers discovered when they deplaned in future San Francisco. The stories are online at the contest’s website.

Menuge will receive a $10,000 prize package, including a trip to Japan, and an Honorary Membership on the acclaimed Science Fiction Advisory Council.

X-Prize Seat 14C Story Contest

An airliner unexpectedly comes in for a landing 20 years in the passengers’ future. What is life like in the year 2037? What technologies and innovations are driving the changes that have happened?

Leading sf authors have written point-of-view stories telling what the 22 passengers discovered when they deplaned in future San Francisco. And the XPRIZE Foundation and Japan’s ANA airline are inviting the public to write the story of the passenger in seat 14C, with the winner receiving a $10,000 prize package, including a trip to Japan, and an Honorary Membership on the acclaimed Science Fiction Advisory Council.

Your short story is a first-person account of the passenger seated in 14C aboard ANA Flight #008. What does this person experience as they arrive in 2037 and explore a changed world? How has emerging (or not-yet-invented) technology altered society for the better, and how does your character discover and interact with this technology?

We are hopeful for our future, and we ask that your story creatively weaves technology and culture, envisioning an optimistic and exciting future for mankind.

Entries must be between 2,000 and 4,000 words. The deadline to enter is August 25 at 11:59pm Pacific Time. More information is available at the FAQ.

Gregory Benford’s story about the passenger in Seat 01A, “A Surprise Beginning,” is first in the sequence. I asked him how he got involved.

Kathryn Cramer called, pitched the idea. I found it fun. So wrote the story in two days, including some physics twists, with me as the protag.

Fun!–the main point of writing. Of course I intend to be here in 20 years, age 96, so I just filled in the blanks. (The chopper from SFO to Lafayette BTW existed when I was there in 1970 — very handy!) I folded in some general relativity to explain the premise too. Rilly terrif idea!

 

Art for Gregory Benford’s story

Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, and a member of the Council, told WIRED:

For speculative fiction writers, that’s the enterprise: to spend time in impossible worlds, and map those possibilities onto the real world. Because we don’t have the knowledge to know what can’t be done, that can lead into possibilities that you otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to.

Here is the orientation video and a list of the first 22 stories (all available online.)

PASSENGER MANIFEST

Technology, politics and the culture wars beset many of the passengers in 2037, such as the one who visits a bookstore in Mike Resnick’s “A New Reality,” while others get a serious dose of what used to be called “future shock,” as in Charlie Jane Anders “Trapped in the Bathroom!”, a thought-provoking story of a passenger’s encounter with near-future lavatory technology.

It’s an irresistible collection of tales, and the contest winner will need a powerful imagination to fly in the company of these authors.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Mike Kennedy, and Cat Eldridge for the story.]

Pixel Scroll 6/13/17 Will Nobody Rid Me Of These Crottled Greeps?

(1) 2017 MANNING AWARD NOMINEES. Four of the five Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award nominees for 2017 are women:

  • Rafael de Latorre, artist of Animosity and Superzero (AfterShock)
  • Riana Dorsey, artist of Cloud Riders (Hashtag Comics)
  • Mindy Lee, artist of Bounty (Dark Horse)
  • Leila Leiz, artist of Alters (AfterShock)
  • Anne Szabla, writer/artist of Bird-Boy (Dark Horse)

(2) LEGENDARY BOOKSTORE TO CLOSE. Dark Carnival, SF bookstore in Berkeley, will soon go out of business, and may take the owner’s nearby comics store with it: “After 41 years, Berkeley sci-fi bookstore Dark Carnival is closing”.

After 41 years serving an enthusiastic customer base of sci-fi geeks and proud comic-book nerds in Berkeley, Dark Carnival, at 3086 Claremont Ave., is closing up shop. Its sister store, The Escapist, which is two doors down on Claremont, may also shutter if sales don’t pick up.

Owner Jack Rems describes himself as heartbroken. Speaking to Berkeleyside Monday, he said he had made the decision due to declining sales. He expressed gratitude to all his long-term customers and encouraged people to come by the store where he is holding a “progressive sale.” All stock is currently being offered at a 20% discount.

Rems doesn’t yet know when he will close the doors to the treasure-trove of a shop for the final time. “I need to pay bills, so as long as by selling off stock we are generating more than it costs [we will stay open],” he said.

(3) ARC AND PSA. The release of Ann Leckie’s Provenance draws closer. The author just got her advance reading copies.

It’s a real book! Sort of.

Just as a reminder–readers of this blog likely already know, but still–Provenance is set in the Ancillaryverse but does not concern the same characters and is not set in Radch Space. No, and not in the Republic of Two Systems either. It will be out September 26, 2017, and I’m given to understand there will be an audiobook, out on the same date. I have no further details about audio, though.

(4) STRANGE TAXONOMY. “The idea that the X Prize Foundation is funding sf is big news,” says Martin Morse Wooster about the news story below, “BUT if you look at the Science Fiction Advisory Council press release you will see that Neil Gaiman and Andy Weir are ‘novelists’ while Charles Stross and Mike Resnick are ‘science fiction writers.’”

From Slate, “Prototyping a Better Tomorrow”:

The fact that so many people are turning toward these dire visions of the future may seem like cause for worry, but it is also a sign of hope. Great dystopian works like The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984, in the words of one defender of dystopian fiction, can serve as self-defeating prophecies helping us to recognize and prevent the dark worlds they depict. Put another way, The Handmaid’s Tale actually is an instruction manual, meant to teach us what we must fight to avoid. But hope can’t live on dystopia alone. It requires positive visions, too.

Thankfully, an ambitious new project launched this month aims to use the vision and expertise of the science fiction community–including Atwood herself–to move past dystopian visions. The newly announced Science Fiction Advisory Council, composed of a stellar selection of 64 bestselling sci-fi writers and visionary filmmakers, has tasked itself with imagining realistic, possible, positive futures that we might actually want to live in–and figuring out we can get from here to there. The council is sponsored by XPRIZE, the nonprofit foundation that uses competition to spur private development of things like a reusable suborbital spacecraft. The advisers on the council will “assist XPRIZE in the creation of digital ‘futures’ roadmaps across a variety of domains [and] identify the ideal catalysts, drivers and mechanisms–including potential XPRIZE competitions–to overcome grand challenges and achieve a preferred future state.”

(5) DIVERGING PATHS. For everyone who read these books and thought they should do this except it would take so much time, Tor.com brings you “The Secret Maps Buried Beneath the “Choose Your Own Adventure” Books”.

“Choose Your Own Adventure” was a groundbreaking book series that prepared many of our child minds for the internet…or for keeping track of all the endnotes in Infinite Jest if you’re into that sort of thing. But did you know that each twisty, unforgiving story in the CYOA series has a map? The good folks over at Atlas Obscura have dug into the books and the maps they’ve generated.

The series original ran from 1979 to 1998, but since 2004, Chooseco, the company founded by one of the CYOA author, R.A. Montgomery, has re-released classic volumes and included the maps that are created by all the possible choices in each book! The official maps keep things fairly clear-cut. Pages are shown by an arrow, circles represent the choices the book offers its readers, each possible ending is represented by a square, and the dotted lines show the links between choices.

(6) ELECTRONIC ENTERTAINMENT EXPO. Follow this link to a roundup of game news from E3 2017.

There is a long list of announcements and news items in Tuesday’s individual post alone.

(7) ORGAN CONCERT. Daniel P. Dern was fascinated by the New York Times article about “The Liver: A ‘Blob’ That Runs the Body”.

The underrated, unloved liver performs more than 300 vital functions. No wonder the ancients believed it to be the home of the human soul.

Dern points to “fascinating stuff” like –

Scientists have also discovered that hepatocytes, the metabolically active cells that constitute 80 percent of the liver, possess traits not seen in any other normal cells of the body. For example, whereas most cells have two sets of chromosomes — two sets of genetic instructions on how a cell should behave — hepatocytes can enfold and deftly manipulate up to eight sets of chromosomes, and all without falling apart or turning cancerous.

“Not to mention the amusing term, ‘liverati’,” he continues. “Wonder if this organ was originally an alien symbiote, etc?”

(8) BEOWULF’S NEW NEIGHBOR. A Python’s diaries go to the British Museum.

Michael Palin has made a significant donation of written archives to the British Library, which documents his literary and creative career, covering the years 1965-1987.

Not much text, but some interesting video with commentary. Chip Hitchcock adds, “Note especially that the original contract paid one person in pounds and the rest in guineas; how very antique.”

(9) PUFF, PUFF, PUFF. What happened to Robert the smoking robot? A briefly-notorious private project from the 1930’s.

Today, the story of Robert the Robot is little known, even in the Northamptonshire town where he was once a celebrity.

Yet in the 1930s, his fame reached as far as Czechoslovakia and the United States, where he even featured in Time magazine.

And the reason he came to be?

“Someone bet me £5 I could not make a robot in three weeks,” inventor Charles Lawson, who had a radio shop, told a newspaper at the time.

“I won.”

… “The robot relied on a combination of motors, photoelectric cells, telephone relays and a record player to perform 26 pre-programmed routines, each one initiated by voice commands from a human co-star.

“Smoking was done using automated bellows which were also a feature of 19th Century automatons.

“Remember that this type of robot did not have access to a computer and so talking was done using a triggering mechanism for a record player playing old 78 RPM bakelite records.”

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • June 13, 1953 The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms hit theaters.

  • June 13, 1981Clash of the Titans was released.

(11) FORGOTTEN TV. Echo Ishii holds forth on a rare Seventies series with Edward Woodward in “SF Obscure: 1990”.

1990, made in 1977, posits a future Britain run by the Public Control Department (PCD)- an all powerful bureaucracy in which government regulations turn into social control. A few lone journalists walk a fine line between criticizing the government and being shut down.

It starts with an attempt at a military overthrow in the mid 1980’s in which the state took over. Emigration, not immigration, is Britain’s biggest problem as those with skilled jobs and higher education seek a life abroad.

(12) TRUE SCI-FI. John King Tarpinian says, “I’ve not heard of this artist but I love his work: “El Gato Gomez Painting Retro Mid Century Modern Atomic Ranch House Robot Sci -Fi” for sale on eBay.

(13) TALKING OVER. Rose Eveleth’s “What I Learned About Interruption From Talk Radio”, on her blog Last Word on Nothing, comes recommended by Martin Morse Wooster: “I think has a lot of good practical advice which panelists at conventions can use.”

On June 3rd, writer and philosopher Jim Holt was moderating a panel at the World Science Festival called “Pondering the Imponderables: The Biggest Questions of Cosmology.” …One of the panelists was a woman named Veronika Hubeny, a theoretical physicist. She was the only woman on the panel. Holt asked Hubeny a question about string theory. And then, without letting Hubby [sic] answer his question, Holt began to hold forth on string theory.

The exchange was caught on camera, so you can watch it here. Hubeny is clearly trying to answer Holt’s question, but he simply won’t stop talking to let her. At one point, a woman in the audience named Marilee Talkington, actually shouted “LET HER SPEAK” to stop Holt from interrupting (you can read her entire account of the panel here). After a pause that I’m sure felt like ages to Talkington, the audience burst into applause. Hubeny then finally got to speak.

I’m not here to adjudicate this exchange, and I’m sure if you want to read heated debates about it you can find those using your trusty search engine of choice. Or the YouTube comments, if you enjoy true pain.

But this, this thing where a man simply doesn’t let you get a word in edgewise, this doesn’t happen to me much. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of mansplainers (my favorite being a clone of Solnit’s book-explainer, the man who explained my own podcast to me). But I don’t generally have trouble getting a word in. And I think it’s because I learned how to handle men who talk over me by listening to all that talk radio.

So here are my tips for anybody who might find themselves in a situation like Hubeny, where someone simply isn’t letting you get a word in, as learned from many, many hours of talk radio.

Let’s start with some general rules. First, when you are dealing with a chronic over-talker, do not try to be subtle. This is not a situation in which you should “go high.” Politeness does not work here, nor does trying to “take the high road.” You will wait forever for them to notice that they are doing this. You will die or fall asleep or the universe will end in a white-hot explosion before they will stop and think “hm I have been talking a lot I wonder if I’m talking over this person.”

Second, there are no pauses in talk radio, no long moments of thinking, no silences while you try to formulate a thoughtful response. Think of this conversation like a rock climbing wall. Each breath and micro-pause is a foothold. Your interlocutor will grab every single one and climb to the top, and you will be left at the bottom staring up at his backside. And it is not a nice view, let me assure you. …

(14) THE CANDY MAN. Atlas Obscura argues that “C.S. Lewis’s Greatest Fiction Was Convincing American Kids That They Would Like Turkish Delight”. And American adults — as a Narnia fan it seemed de rigeur to try some why I was on a tour of Turkey in 2004.

Turkish Delight, or lokum, is a popular dessert sweet throughout Europe, especially in Greece, the Balkans, and, of course, Turkey. But most Americans, if they have any association with the treat at all, know it only as the food for which Edmund Pevensie sells out his family in the classic children’s fantasy novel The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Until I first tried real Turkish Delight in my 20s, I had always imagined it as a cross between crisp toffee and halvah, flaky and melting in the mouth.

Here’s what it really is: a starch and sugar gel often containing fruit or nuts and flavored with rosewater, citrus, resin, or mint. The texture is gummy and sticky, some of the flavors are unfamiliar to American palates, and the whole thing is very, very sweet. (In addition to the sugar in the mixture, it’s often dusted with icing sugar to keep the pieces from sticking together.) While some Turkish Delight newbies may find they enjoy it, it’s not likely to be the first thing we imagine when we picture an irresistible candy treat.

What I had matches the author’s description. And it was okay, but far from addictive.

(15) HOPS HORROR. “Don’t drink and dive,” says Andrew Porter after seeing this ad for The Temple from Narragansett Beer.

The Story

There was nothing we could do. It was just after 2pm on June 28th when we heard the explosion from the engine room. We were across enemy lines and we could do nothing but sink quietly to the ocean floor. Helpless and incapacitated, our submarine drifted for days — weeks. That’s when we found it aboard the ship — a very odd and seemingly ancient ivory medallion. As the men started to pass it around the ship for inspection, their minds began to fill with darkness and visions of those lost to the deep floating by the portholes of the ill-fated vessel in which we were trapped.

League by league, we fell into black nothingness, and with every league another member of my crew was stripped of his sanity. “MERCY!” they would begin to cry. Over and over. One by one they would turn. There was nothing else we could do… what else could we do? It needed to stop!

Today is August 9th. I have been resting on the ocean floor for nearly 3 weeks now alone and in complete darkness… except for… My mind has been tainted by hallucination. I swear it. Outside of the porthole lies a temple with a lone light shining over it’s door. The voices of my men have been chanting, pushing me to explore the impossible structure. I fell to their temptations, put my diving suit on, and stepped out onto the pitch black ocean floor and headed for the inconceivable glow. Once I arrived on the steps a voice hissed, “What do you seek?”

(16) CARTOON OF THE DAY/. In Martin, Sholto Crow reveals what happens if you use a metal detector on the beach and you dig up something that has a green flashing warning light!

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

Pixel Scroll 11/30/16 It Ain’t Necessarily Scroll

(1) OUTRUNNING CANCER. Pat Cadigan decided – why wait to party? “The Hormones Laughed At Me, Saying, ‘Sleep? B!tch, Please – You Can Sleep When You’re Dead! Mwahahahahahaha!’”

Truth to tell, I suspected I was going to have some sleepless nights coming up anyway. This December was my original estimated time of departure. I didn’t believe for a moment that it would be (I’ve probably said that about a thousand times, here and elsewhere). But when a doctor gives you an expiration date, it kinda sticks in your mind even if it doesn’t come true. And though I didn’t believe it, I tried to imagine what it would be like but as I never got within spitting distance of Death’s Door, it didn’t seem like a productive use of my time so I stopped.

Anyway, starting tomorrow, 1 December, every day is a party. They won’t all be noisy and lively parties; some will be too sedate to really be worthy of the term. But I’m calling them parties anyway. From 1 December till…well, who knows? Whatever I’m doing, I’ll be partying. If I’m writing, I’m partying. If I’m in the bathtub, I’m partying. If I’m reading, I’m partying. You get the idea.

(2) IT ONLY TAKES MONEY. Martin Morse Wooster knows how you can get into the Hollywood sci-fi event of the season:

Now I know you’d like nothing better than to go to the Star Wars premiere in LA and chill with Forest Whitaker afterward.  Well, guess what:  this experience is yours for ONLY $35,000!  But you get TWO tickets.

This offer is made on a website called ifonly.com, which offers “unique experiences.”  I wish I could tell you more but they demand you sign up for their newsletter before they show you what they have so that’s what I’m able to tell you.

You know, the Washington Nationals only charged me $40, and I got to see two Cy Young winners AND get a Coveted Star Wars Thingie.  Five digits for a STAR WARS experience is a little much…

Details

  • 2 tickets to the premiere of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” in Los Angeles on December 10
  • 2 passes to the after-party
  • Does not include a meet & greet with any cast members
  • Must be 16 or older
  • Travel and accommodations not included
  • Background check may be required and guests must provide names within 24 hours of the auction’s close

Auction ends December 5.

(3) END OF TORONTO FAN INSTITUTION. In her latest newsletter for the group, Yvonne Penney announced Toronto’s First Thursday gatherings will end next week.

December will be the final First Thursday as founded by Tommy Ferguson in 1997. This decision has not been an easy one because of its longevity in the SF community in Toronto and region.

Here is why this is happening:

  1. I am retiring in 2017 and I have a long list of things that I want to accomplish and hopefully will have the time and continued health to do it in.
  2. Arthritis is slowly making its presence felt. For a number of years I have had difficulty in walking because of arthritis in my right ankle, my shoulders are in constant pain and my hips give me grief at times.
  3. Because of an unfortunate atmosphere that has arisen because one member decided he didn’t like the pub we were using. When the Foxes Den suddenly closed its doors (It’s now a Firkin), a new venue needed to be found, and rather than work with the group, he decided to start his own. He and his group cannot lay claim to the original pubnite as they were not around when the First Thursday Pubnite was created, which by the way was not created solely for the 2003 Worldcon bid – it predates that. Also, attendance has been low for the past several years; we no longer had the numbers, even at the Foxes Den, we once had many years ago.

This sort of split is not new; it occurs all the time anywhere in the world for any community or interest. I find it stressful….

(4) TREASURE HOUSE FOR READERS. Literary Hub reveres the memory of James Lackington — “The Man Who Invented Bookselling As We Know It”.

Today, few people are likely to remember James Lackington (1746-1815) and his once-famous London bookshop, The Temple of the Muses, but if, as a customer, you’ve ever bought a remaindered book at deep discount, or wandered thoughtfully through the over-stocked shelves of a cavernous bookstore, or spent an afternoon lounging in the reading area of a bookshop (without buying anything!) then you’ve already experienced some of the ways that Lackington revolutionized bookselling in the late 18th century. And if you’re a bookseller, then the chances are that you’ve encountered marketing strategies and competitive pressures that trace their origins to Lackington’s shop. In the 21st-century marketplace, there is sometimes a longing for an earlier, simpler age, but the uneasy tension between giant and small retailers seems to have been a constant since the beginning. The Temple of the Muses, which was one of the first modern bookstores, was a mammoth enterprise, by far the largest bookstore in England, boasting an inventory of over 500,000 volumes, annual sales of 100,000 books, and yearly revenues of £5,000 (roughly $700,000 today). All of this made Lackington a very wealthy man—admired by some and despised by others—but London’s greatest bookseller began his career inauspiciously as an illiterate shoemaker.

(5) HINES AUCTION #5. In the fifth of Jim C. Hines’ 24 Transgender Michigan Fundraiser auctions, up for bid are two autographed books (one trade paperback, one hardcover) by author Stephen Leigh.

Today’s auction is for a signed trade paperback of the Spectrum Award-winning DARK WATER’S EMBRACE and a signed hardcover of CROW OF CONNEMARA, both by Stephen Leigh.

The Crow of Connemara is a contemporary Celtic fantasy set primarily in Ireland.  Picking up threads from ancient Irish mythology and folktales, this story is fantasy, drama, and tragic romance all at once, a tale caught in the dark places where the world of ancient myth intersects our own, where old ways and old beliefs struggle not to be overwhelmed by the modern world.

Often compared to Ursula Le Guin’s ground-breaking The Left Hand of Darkness, Dark Water’s Embrace is a fascinating look at issues of human (and alien) sexuality. Stephen Leigh creates a rich world with elaborate care and uses this alien backdrop to delve into issues of survival, sexuality and the meaning of life itself.

(6) STRAHAN’S FAVORITES FROM THIS YEAR’S SHORT NOVELS. Spotted via Black Gate, Jonathan Strahan posted his imaginary ToC of Best Short Novels 2016

  • The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson (Tor)
  • The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle (Tor)
  • Every Heart A Doorway, Seanan McGuire (Tor)
  • This Census-taker, China Mieville (Del Rey)
  • The Charge and the Storm, An Owomoyela (Asimov’s)
  • The Devil You Know, K.J. Parker (Tor)
  • The Iron Tactician, Alastair Reynolds (Newcon)
  • The Best Story I Can Manage, Robert Shearman (Five Storeys High)
  • The Vanishing Kind, Lavie Tidhar (F&SF)
  • A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor)

(7) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • November 30, 2011 — A pristine copy of Action Comics #1, famed for the first appearance of Superman, sold for $2,161,000. It was the first comic book to break the $2 million mark.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • Born November 30, 1937 – Ridley Scott

(9) QUARK FOR REALZ? Daniel Dern drew a connection between this New York Times news item and a Seventies TV show — “Space Trash Collector? A Japanese Entrepreneur Wants the Job”.

Sitting in a drab industrial neighborhood surrounded by warehouses and factories, Astroscale’s Tokyo office seems appropriately located for a company seeking to enter the waste management business.

Only inside do visitors see signs that its founder, Mitsunobu Okada, aspires to be more than an ordinary garbageman. Schoolroom pictures of the planets decorate the door to the meeting room. Satellite mock-ups occupy a corner. Mr. Okada greets guests in a dark blue T-shirt emblazoned with his company’s slogan: Space Sweepers.

Mr. Okada is an entrepreneur with a vision of creating the first trash collection company dedicated to cleaning up some of humanity’s hardest-to-reach rubbish: the spent rocket stages, inert satellites and other debris that have been collecting above Earth since Sputnik ushered in the space age. He launched Astroscale three years ago in the belief that national space agencies were dragging their feet in facing the problem, which could be tackled more quickly by a small private company motivated by profit.

Dern remembers Quark was a 1977-1978 TV show. Per Wikipedia:

Quark was created by Buck Henry, co-creator of the spy spoof Get Smart.

The show was set on a United Galaxy Sanitation Patrol Cruiser, an interstellar garbage scow operating out of United Galaxies Space Station Perma One in the year 2226. Adam Quark, the main character, works to clean up trash in space by collecting “space baggies” with his trusted and highly unusual crew.

In its short run, Quark satirized such science fiction as Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Flash Gordon. Three of the episodes were direct parodies of Star Trek episodes.

(10) MIND MELD RETURNS. At Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Shana DuBois curated “Mind Meld: Some of Our Favorite Characters”.

Kate Wilhelm wrote, “Great fiction reveals that there is no such thing as a common, everyday uninteresting person. They are all interesting if you learn enough about them to discover who lives behind the facade.”

So we asked members of the genre community:

What is one of your favorite novels in which the characters sucked you into the story? What about these characters sets them apart?

The panelists answering the question are: Michael Damian Thomas, Cheryl Morgan, Jana Nyman, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Arianne “Tex” Thompson, Rachel S. Cordasco, and Beth Cato.

(11) FIGHTING ALZHEIMERS. Bill Gates tells about the research he saw on a visit to CalTech in “Why I’d Love To Be A College Student Again”.

People often think that the U.S. spends a huge amount of money—perhaps too much—on R&D. In fact, all U.S. R&D spending accounts for less than 1 percent of national income.

I’ve written before about the importance of government investment to jumpstart innovation. Government-backed research in universities and labs leads to new ideas and technology that build new businesses, create jobs, and strengthen our overall economy.

But those big, life-changing discoveries and innovations—from the cancer cures to moonshots to solar cells– often get their start as an experiment in a university lab, an equation sketched on a professor’s blackboard, or a student asking, “What if?”

A new idea is a fragile thing. It needs allies to nurture it. Government R&D investments provide that important support. Without it, we would have fewer scientific breakthroughs.

Let me give a couple examples of why this is so important.

Some of the most exciting research I learned about during my visit was from Caltech scientists working on identifying possible treatments for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. All of the researchers received government R&D funding.

(12) VISION QUEST. Diane Duane told Facebook readers she developed an eye problem last Sunday. She feared it was a torn retina. It wasn’t – though the real problem is also a concern.

So here’s the tl:dr; version of today’s episode of the Adventure of the Dexter Eye.

Part 1: What happened to me was (thank all Gods in the neighborhood) NOT any kind of retinal detachment, vitreous detachment, or similar traumatic damage to the retina. So today’s teaching moment is: even if you are a health care professional (or former one) and expert at Googling For Symptoms, don’t be so sure you know what’s going on.

This means that I’ve dodged this bullet, only to find I’m standing in front of a bigger, slower one.*

Part 2: What seems to have happened to me is a small transient circulatory blockage in the retina….

And that could be symptomatic of any number of other problems.

This is a herald of other things that may be going on elsewhere. So over the next couple of weeks I get to go to my GP here and have a full workup of bloods and various diagnostic procedures to be determined as we go along, with an eye to ruling in/out a complex of possibilities: circulatory system problems, heart problems, incipient dIabetes, plaque, sunspots, you name it. (There are way too many possible causes for this event…) (OKAY, maybe not sunspots.)

(13) MARTIAN HOPS. The Space Review posted the first part of a discussion of two new productions with Martian roots. “Love and a Red Planet: popular entertainment and the settlement of Mars (part 1)” at The Space Review.

It takes Hollywood about two years to produce a movie or a television show. It can happen faster, and it certainly can be done slower—a situation often referred to as “development hell” in the industry—but two years is about average. Thus, it is unlikely that any of the Mars-themed shows and movies appearing today are a direct result of the success of last year’s movie The Martian. More likely, National Geographic’s Mars series and the weepy teen romance The Space Between Us got started as a result of the success of Andy Weir’s 2014 book that inspired the hit movie, as well as the increased attention that human exploration of Mars gained starting around 2013 or so with Mars One and Elon Musk. The success of the movie, which starred Matt Damon and premiered in fall 2015, probably only reassured any nervous financiers that movies and television shows that used Mars as a backdrop could find an audience.

Mars premiered on The National Geographic Channel on November 14. The Space Between Us was to open in theaters in mid-December (it has recently been delayed to early February), but had a special advance showing in Washington, DC, a couple of weeks ago. Both have at their core fictionalized stories about the first humans on Mars, and in both cases they depict plans for settlement involving public-private partnerships, as opposed to the more common theme of human exploration of Mars. Because of these similarities they serve as useful indicators of how the subject of human settlement of Mars—not simply exploration—is being depicted in popular entertainment. Has Mars-themed entertainment been liberated of some of its prior constraints and is it evolving in new ways, or is it still beholden to many of the standard tropes we’ve seen in numerous other movies? This article will address The Space Between Us, and the second part will address the National Geographic series Mars.

Has Mars-themed entertainment been liberated of some of its prior constraints and is it evolving in new ways, or is it still beholden to many of the standard tropes we’ve seen in numerous other movies?

…Part 2 will address National Geographic Channel’s Mars miniseries.

(14) DEEP SPACE NEIN. With fake news getting so much attention right now, can a new Moon mission succeed in convincing people Neil Armstrong really went there in 1969? “German Mission to the Moon Will Prove the Apollo Landings Weren’t a Hoax”. Gizmodo has the story.

A German Lunar X-Prize team has announced its intentions to send two mobile probes to the Moon to inspect the lunar rover left behind by the Apollo 17 mission. Finally, something that’ll get the Moon landing conspiracy nutters to shut the hell up.

The group, known as PT Scientists, is one of 16 teams currently vying for the $30 million Google Lunar X-Prize, a competition requiring a private group to land an autonomous vehicle on the Moon, travel more than 500 meters (1,640 feet), and transmit high-definition photographs back to Earth. The group is currently working with German automobile manufacturer Audi to develop the rover, and it has signed a deal with broker Spaceflight Industries to secure a ride on a commercial launch vehicle (which rocket company is yet to be determined).

[Thanks to Murray Moore, JJ, Daniel Dern, Mark-kitteh, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]