Prometheus Award Finalists Chosen For Best Novel

The Libertarian Futurist Society has announced five finalists for the Best Novel category of the 41st annual Prometheus Awards.

The Best Novel winner will receive a plaque with a one-ounce gold coin. An online awards ceremony is planned for later this year at a time and venue to be announced.

Here are the five Best Novel finalists, listed in alphabetical order by author:

• Who Can Own the Stars? by Mackey Chandler (Amazon Kindle):

Emancipation is the overall unifying theme in this story, part of a series about a human future in space. The multiple plotlines and large cast of interesting characters incorporate emancipation of children from their parents (many principal characters are minors emancipated formally, in space, or de facto, on Earth) and of space colonists from the governments of Earth – an analogy that helped inspire the American revolution. The central focus of this novel, the latest in Chandler’s April series, is the colonists’ efforts to limit American military presence in space, both as a proven threat to their own rights and as a risk of provoking war if they venture beyond the solar system.

• Storm between the Stars, by Karl K. Gallagher (Kelt Haven Press):

The first volume of Gallagher’s Fall of the Censor series explores a vast interstellar polity’s use of narrative control and memory-holing to cement power. Merchants in a ship from an isolated group of solar systems discover a new hyperspatial route to regain long-lost contact with the rest of humanity. They must deal with a centralized human empire founded on a fictitious history while establishing trade relations with businesses that operate through family ties and underground barter. Gallagher offers a timely cautionary tale about official truth, censorship, and the denial of history, while exploring strategies for economic survival and the pursuit of knowledge under a repressive government.

• The War Whisperer, Book 5: The Hook, by Barry B. Longyear (Enchanteds):

In one of the rare novels to imagine a fully libertarian society and attempt to do so realistically, Longyear imagines a near future in which the Mexican government’s bungled response to a devastating Category 5 hurricane prompts the people  of the border state of Tamaulipas to secede, declaring themselves an anarcho-libertarian freeland. The protagonist, Jerome Track, must first decide whether the freeland is worth his commitment, and then develop  an innovative strategy for its defense. In the fifth book of Track’s autobiography, Longyear grapples with how a society that refuses to use coercion against its people can defend itself against military aggression, developing an intriguing and plausible solution.


• Braintrust: Requiem, by Marc Stiegler (LMBPN Publishing):

A Great-Depression-scale crash of the world economy sparks an unholy alliance by socialist and fascist governments and their attack via three overwhelming fleets against a community of liberty-loving, tech-savvy seastead citizens in this adventurous, high-spirited, fast-paced and funny saga, the culminating fifth novel within the explicitly libertarian Braintrust Universe series. The struggle to preserve continued freedom and independence of the archipelago – with its highly innovative biotech, materials science, power generation and life-saving genetic engineering – is the central focus of the suspenseful and terrifying but also lighthearted finale, a fast-paced sequel to Stiegler’s previous Prometheus-nominated Braintrust novels  (Ode to Defiance, Crescendo of Fire and Rhapsody for the Tempest.)

• Heaven’s Riverby Dennis E. Taylor (Amazon):

Set in a future where the uploaded consciousness of a single programmer named Bob has changed, developed and drifted among 24 generations of replicants spreading through the galaxy as a non-coercive collective, Book 4 in the Bobiverse offers a new beginning beyond the original trilogy. The complex, far-flung and humorous saga alternates between an early Bob’s interstellar search for a long-lost replicant named Bender, sparking the discovery of an alien civilization and growing threats of civil war sparked by a younger generation of self-styled Starfleet fans who embrace a radical view of the Prime Directive. The novel raises questions about voluntarism, coercion, the freedom to disagree, and how cooperation can provide innovative and non-aggressive solutions to problems. 

LFS members also nominatedthese 2020 works for the Best Novel category: Assassin: High Ground, by Doug Casey and John Hunt (Highground Books); Ready Player Two, by Ernest Cline (Ballantine); Attack Surface,  by Cory Doctorow (TOR); The Pursuit of the Pankera: A Parallel Novel about Parallel Universes, by Robert Heinlein (Phoenix Pick, CAEZIK SF & Fantasy); Situation Normal,  by Leonard Richardson (Candlemark & Gleam); and Network Effect: A Murderbot Novel, by Martha Wells (TOR/MacMillan.) 

 All LFS members have the right to nominate eligible works for the Prometheus Awards. The Prometheus Award finalists for Best Novel are selected by a 12-person judging committee. Following the selection of finalists, all LFS upper-level members (Benefactors, Sponsors and Full members) read and vote on the Best Novel finalist slate to choose the annual winner. 

Membership in the Libertarian Futurist Society is open to any science fiction fan interested in how fiction can promote an appreciation of the value of liberty.

The Prometheus Award, sponsored by the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), was established and first presented in 1979, making it one of the most enduring awards after the Nebula and Hugo awards, and one of the oldest fan-based awards currently in sf. 

The LFS says these are the kinds of work recognized by the Prometheus Award –

For more than four decades, the Prometheus Awards have recognized outstanding works of science fiction and fantasy that dramatize the perennial conflict between Liberty and Power, favor voluntary cooperation over institutionalized coercion, expose the abuses and excesses of coercive government, critique or satirize authoritarian ideas, or champion individual rights and freedoms as the ethically proper and only practical foundation for peace, prosperity, progress, justice, mutual respect, and civilization itself.

A full list of past Prometheus Award winners in all categories is here. For reviews and commentary on these and other works of interest to the LFS, visit the Prometheus blog

[Based on a press release.]

In Happy Pursuit of Jeopardy!

Alex Trebek and Brendan DuBois

[Introduction: Brendan DuBois is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of more than 25 novels and 190 short stories, some of which have appeared in Playboy, Analog, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Asimov’s.  His 1999 novel, Resurrection Day, won the Sidewise Award for Best Long Form Alternate History.]

By Brendan DuBois: We few walked forward in awe in the dim light, looking agape at the huge display before us, acting like we were the hominids in 2001: A Space Odyssey, seeing the alien shape before us, seeing yet not comprehending.

But this object wasn’t a shiny black monolith.

It was real and large and well-lit, and it represented the dream place for so many millions of people.

It was the Jeopardy! gameshow display screen one saw all the time on television, in real life, just yards away, here inside the cool Sony studios.   Six rows across with the categories, columns of five numbers under each.  To the right of the large display was Alex Trebek’s podium, and nearby were the three contestant stations. 

There were sixteen of us here, and before the end of the day, all of us but one would have our thirty minutes of fame — or infamy — in this very special place.

But how did I get here?

It started in March 2012, when I registered for the on-line Jeopardy! test.  This would be my second try, which consisted of fifty questions with just several seconds to come up with an answer for each.  I took the test, thought I did okay, and promptly forgot about it.  I’ve been a fan of trivia for years, but never in any organized fashion or league

A month later, on April 24th, I got an email from Sony that started thus:  “Congratulations!  We were happy to confirm your appointment to participate in the full audition for Jeopardy!

To this day I was pretty sure my neighbors heard me yell out.

What next?

I went to Boston on May 9th to participate in another 50-question test, an interview, and a mock game against 20 other potential candidates.   I had dressed like a prep school professor prior to arriving.  I had on a blue Oxford shirt, red bowtie, blue blazer, khaki slacks and brown shoes.  I also made it a point to sit in the first row.

Before things got underway, we learned about the incredible odds it takes to get on Jeopardy!   At that time, about 100,000 people take the test.  Out of that amount, only 2,000 pass the test such that they’re invited to an audition like this one (ours was the third audition of the day, the first two having taken place earlier).  From those 2,000 invited to audition, only 400 to 500 were chosen for the contestant pool.

And I thought the odds against first-time authors was tough!

When the testing was over, the interview completed, and the mock game played — I remember not being particularly good — we were told about the odds facing us, and were told that “The Call” would start on June 1st, and other calls would continue for the next eighteen months.  But I made sure I stood out, especially at the end, when I was the only potential contestant to shake hands with the three people from the gameshow.

In other words, don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Of course, on June 1st, I got what’s known in Jeopardy! circle as The Call.

And from there, I entered into Gameshow Bizzaro World.

That summer seemed to fly by, until one warm July morning, I was waiting in the lobby of the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in Culver City, with a garment bag carrying three changes of clothing, waiting for the shuttle bus to take me and the other contestants to the Sony studio.

Why so many clothes?  Because Jeopardy! tapes five shows a day, three in the morning and two in the afternoon, and if one was lucky enough to become a champ, you had thirty minutes to change into a new outfit, and to be ready to hear Alex Trebek utter that lie, “Yesterday’s champ…”

The shuttle bus parked in the Sony lot, we surrendered our cellphones, went through a metal detector — in 2012, how sadly prophetic — and we were shepherded into a crowded room that was called the Green Room.  There, we were lectured, briefed, and had stacks of paperwork to sign.  Stacks and stacks.  We then introduced ourselves and we ran the gamut from high school teachers to stay-at-home moms to college students. 

Then, after the briefings and such, we were led out as a group — and another rule was that we were always under escort, always — and went past a trophy case filled with Emmy Awards, and a cardboard cut-out of Alex Trebek.

I gave Alex a pat on the head for luck, and those nearby gave me a good laugh.

Then, into the studio.

It was like being in some sacred place, for we all talked in whispers and low voices.  For me and others, this was when it struck that this was all real, that we were actually here, and that one way or another, by the end of the day, we would have played Jeopardy! for real.

To the left were rows of seats for the audience members (not yet there) and a separate, smaller section that we contestants would sit in as the show was taped.  Fun fact:  the next time you watch Jeopardy! and the camera pans to the audience, you can clearly see the smaller section set aside for the contestants.

Then we were all set up with microphones, and we did a test run, playing the game for a few minutes each, so we’d all have a feel of being there on the soundstage — still a surreal experience, trust me — and getting the feel of being there.

But it’s not real.  Not yet.  The lights were dim, there were a lot of technicians and other personnel wandering around, and the seats for the audience were empty.

Then it was my turn up at the podium, and I held the buzzer in my moist hands.  This was the key to Jeopardy!, and one can see it on every show.  No matter how smart one might be, the deal was to learn how to “buzz in” when Alex finished reading the clue.  Buzz in too quickly, and one was “frozen out”… that’s why you see contestants frantically punch the buzzers during the show.

Another thing you don’t see was that on either side of the huge clue board were rows of white lightbulbs, that light up when your buzzer goes “live” and you can signal without being locked out.  But there’s a rhythm to the game, where players judge the best time when Alex stopped talking.

Even doing the test run didn’t quite feel real.

The real feeling would come later, after we were in the green room for a while, and the contestant coordinator called out the two names that would go up against the returning champion.

I felt relief, because who wanted to go first?

We march out and whoah, now it was real.

The seats were filled and as we sat down, other contestant coordinators call out, “Don’t look to the left, don’t look to the left.”   Decades after the game show scandals of the 1950s, game producers were still paranoid after contestants having any contact with the audience or anyone else.

We few, we happy few, we band of Jeopardy! contestants huddled together and then Alex Trebek came out to thunderous applause, and now it felt real.  Johnny Gilbert, partially-hidden to the left, announced this show like so many hundreds of shows prior, and off we went.

I watched along, ballpoint pen in hand, as the previous two-time Jeopardy! winner stomped her two new opponents.  The time for final Jeopardy! came and I knew the answer, and felt a bit cocky.  Yeah, I got this.   Then we were hustled back to the Green Room and I felt some sympathy for the two contestants who were now heading home after their loss.  All this effort and time to play, and they were done before 11 a.m., ready to fly back home.

Then we were trooped back out, the second game got underway, and  the same thing happened at the end.  The “Final Jeopardy!” clue was read and bam, the answer came right away to me.

A little flicker of hope started to come forth.

Maybe it was all right.  Maybe I could win after all.

One more time, and once again — thankfully — I wasn’t chosen.  I got to see the third game get taped, and I played along, clicking my ballpoint pen, and then it came time for the third “Final Jeopardy!”

It was a blank to me.

Not a clue.

Hoo boy.

Now it was time for lunch, and we were brought over to the Sony cafeteria, and that’s when I had my first celebrity sighting.  I was standing in front of the deli portion of the large dining hall, deciding on my sandwich choices, and I glanced to my right there was Seth Rogen, doing the same.

I let him be, and went to sit with the remaining contestants.

A funny observation that I made, while eating and joking with the six other contestants.  As friendly as we were, it was like something out of the gladiator training school in Spartacus.  Once we were in the ring, all friendship would leave, and we would try to emerge the winner.  But here we were friends.

The fourth game was picked, and I was left behind again, so I knew the fifth game was going to be mine.

Back up into the audience with the other two survivors — one of whom was a “spare” from Los Angeles and who would go home today with the guarantee that he would return in a few weeks to tape his own show — and we watched the game unfold, me with pen in hand.

“Final Jeopardy!” comes up and… arrghh.

I didn’t know the answer.

So far, in four games, I’d only gotten two “Final Jeopardy!” answers correct.

Not a good win-loss ratio.

Back to the Green Room, and my make-up was refreshed.  Out to the studio, heart thumping, palms moist.

This was real, this was real, this was real.

A soundman put the microphone device on me, and I nodded and smiled at my two opponents:  Erica, the returning champ, and Stephanie,  a newbie like me.  I took the third podium and wiped my palms on my pants, and waited.

The music started, Johnny Gilbert said his usual phrase, but this time, my name was spoken, and God bless him, he said it right!  Then Alex strolled out and after a brief welcome, off we went.

I picked up the buzzer — or in official terms, the signaling device — and quickly decided, we’ve been here all day, let’s have some fun.

The categories were revealed, and the game began, and —

It’s fast.

It’s wicked fast.

It’s fast, fast, fast.

I joined in, getting some answers right, a few others wrong.

And before I knew it, the first round was over.

I had $2,200, Erica was ahead with $3,200, and Stephanie was third with $400.

Technicians swarmed over us to make sure everything was right, water was offered and greedily consumed, and then the floor manager said it was time, and Alex came out, and it was time for the contestant interviews.  This was when I got a bit tongue-tied, knowing millions would eventually see this bit of dialogue.   We talked about my writing career and then I noticed something:  despite being impeccably dressed and groomed, Alex’s fingernails were bruised.

How?

And it came to me, knowing that one of his cherished hobbies was home improvement and working around the house.

Now, the game resumed.

Fast, fast, fast.

Bing!

The category was “North Dakota” and I got the Daily Double.

Here’s another insight.  If you’re watching at home, look at the contestants when they hit a Daily Double.  They usually look up and to the right.  Why?  Because they can’t see each other’s scores listed on front of the podium.  Up in the rafters three scoreboards were present, showing the current score.  So when the contestants look up, they’re checking their own score and that of their competition.

Erica was in a commanding lead, with $5,800, and I had $4,000.  Stephanie was in third with $1,800.

But I didn’t have the guts to make it a True Daily Double.  I bet $1,500.

Alex read out the clue.  “This largest city in North Dakota was named for a pioneer in the shipment of goods by express.”

Argh!

My mind whirred along like a timepiece gone crazy.  I lowered my head, looked away from the board.  Think, think, think.  I let out a breath of air, audible on camera.  Names of cities floated through my head and I thought of trains and shipping and companies and Pinkerton and Union Pacific and Wells Fargo and –-

Yes!

I raised my head, look to Alex.  “What is Fargo?”

“Yes!” he called out.

The game resumed.

And just as quickly, this round ended, and the scores were thus:

The returning champion Erica, $5,800; me, $4,500, and the newly energized Stephanie, at $3,800.

During this pause, Alex came out once again, and we two new contestants had our photos taken with him, and then, it was “Double Jeopardy!”, and we were off to the races.

Not much time to think, just play, read, push the buzzer, answer when you could

I got another Daily Double correct because of my slight knowledge of Shakespeare, and the scores ran up and down — at one time I was in third place — but when the final buzzer rang out, ending this round, I looked up to the rafters.

Me:  $14,500.

Stephanie:  $11,400.

Erica:  $10,600.

I’m in the lead.

Holy moley, I’m in the lead.

Not much time to rejoice at that, for it was time for “Final Jeopardy!”

The category?

“Toys & Games.”

Toys?  Games? 

If it has anything to do with video games — which I don’t play — I’m doomed.

Since I have no kids, if it’s anything to do with current toys, I’m doomed.

What the heck.

I was in the lead.  I bet to win.

Some very confident Jeopardy! players in the past have bet so that if they do win, they win by a dollar.

I’m an English major.

I bet so if I do win, I’ll have a comfortable $200 margin.

And since I was in the lead, I was going to bet to win.

Some more hustle and bustle from the soundstage crew and technicians, and we were back in action.

At his podium Alex said, “It’s not fun and game, it’s toys and games, as the category for our final today.  And here is the clue” — bing! — “when Milton Bradley released this home game in 1966, competitors accused it of ‘selling sex in a box.’  Thirty seconds.  Good luck, players.”

The famous theme song kicked in — yes, we can hear it on the sound stage — and I thought games, sex, bodies —

Twister.

Of course.

I scrawled down “twister” and waited, breathing hard.

Could it be?  For real? 

Alex went to the third-place contestant, Erica — the returning champion — and she wrote down “twister.”

The correct answer.

I kept my face as bland as possible.

But a tiny voice inside of me said I won, I won, I won!

Next was the second-place contestant, Stephanie.  She also got the answer correct.

I won, I won, I won.

Now Alex came to me, my answer was displayed, and I muttered “unbelievable”, and Alex says, “Hey folks, we have a new champion on ‘Jeopardy!’, Brendan DuBois, with $23,000 he’ll get to take home.  He’ll enjoy the weekend and he’ll be back to play on Monday.  I hope you will too!  Till then, so long.”

Oh, what a day.

Probably one of the happiest of my life.

That night I did not sleep a wink.

And I went home to New Hampshire, and returned to Los Angeles for taping on Tuesday, and…

On my second game, I got my proverbial butt kicked, coming in third place.

But I took consolation in this:  that when my obituary is written, some decades in the future, it will note that for one glorious moment I was a Jeopardy! champion.

Some weeks after my show aired in September, I sent Alex an autographed copy of my latest novel as a gift.  Much to my surprise, a few weeks later, I got a typewritten letter in return, a note of thanks from Alex Trebek.

I took it out some months ago, upon his passing, and carefully put it away.

It, and the memories of being at the Sony soundstage, are among my most precious memories.

Baen’s Bar Returns

Baen Books publisher Toni Weisskopf turned the Baen’s Bar forum back on today, ending the hiatus that came in the aftermath of Jason Sanford’s February 15 article “Baen Books Forum Being Used to Advocate for Political Violence”, a public post on Patreon.  

Weisskopf explained the decision to restore the Bar and commented on its policies going forward in “What I Saw at the Bar 2021”.

I’ve now had time to review the recent allegations made about Baen’s Bar, both specific and general.

And I can say with confidence that not a one of them is justified. What I saw was a vibrant, international community of readers who enjoyed engaging with each other for civilized discourse about everything from slush to scampi, from swords to shamans. I’ve gone through hundreds of posts, though admittedly not all of the hundreds of thousands of posts that were made over the decades long history of the Bar.

Were there posts that I disagreed with? Yes, some quite strongly. But that’s point of free speech. Were there posts which taken out of the context of the discussion they were in could be misconstrued? Yes. I did not see illegal speech even in the most heated discussions. And I did see long-time users step in to calm discussions down—which is what happens in healthy forums….

Weisskopf lays down the rules of conduct – which are the same the Bar has subscribed to all along.

There are traditional rules of the Bar decreed by the God Emperor Himself, Jim Baen of Sainted Memory, the most important of which after “no illegal posts,” are “no hitting” and “don’t be a butthead.”

A later paragraph about what topics are likely to be discussed in the forums includes this line about Tom Kratman —

Kratman is going to be discussing the past, present, and future of war, everywhere, involving everyone—and he has to abide by these rules, too.

But these evidently are not limits on Kratman posting such things as his January 8 item coaching the next stage of the insurrection. It’s still there, the one that begins —

So where do Trump and the nation go from here?

He needs to do three things; start his own news channel, start his own party, and start his own well-armed militia as part of the party.

The militia – again, a _well_armed_ militia – is necessary to present a threat in being to the powers that be such that, should they use extra-, pseudo-, and quasi-legal means to try to suppress the party, the price presented will be far too high.  The militia will be heavily infiltrated; this is a given.  No matter; it will not be there for any purpose but to present a serious threat of major combat, and the shame of defeat, and the reality of death, to the tactical elements, police and military, that may be used against the party….

Weisskopf’s statement closes with this peroration:

But let me put this very clearly: if you are seeking to plan imminent violence, from whatever political direction or none at all, that won’t fly. Equally, if the mere existence of an opinion that differs from yours means that you want that opinion eradicated from the Bar: that won’t fly either.

Despite the warnings, that the kind of thing Kratman uses the Bar for remains within bounds tells readers that the real limits on conduct are set right where you’d predict – the same place they always were.

The only thing that would have come as a surprise is if the status quo had not been fully restored. And there are no surprises to report.

[Thanks to George Phillies and Michael J. Lowrey for the story. Art by Alexis Gilliland.]

Pixel Scroll 4/9/21 I Have Heard the Pixels Scrolling, Each to Each

(1) WHEN THE DOORS OPEN, WHO WILL COME IN? The Los Angeles Times interviewed people who rely on convention business to measure the distance between reopening and recovery. “California reopening: When will huge conventions come back?”

The San Diego Convention Center hosted about 135,000 visitors two years ago for Comic-Con, the four-day celebration of comic books and pop culture.

…But even when state restrictions lift, experts acknowledge, it may be a year or more before California convention centers host the kind of mega-crowds that flocked to Comic-Con, NAMM and E3 in past years.

“We anticipate that shows will be smaller starting off and getting back up to speed hopefully next year,” said Ellen Schwartz, general manager of the Los Angeles Convention Center. “As we get into the last quarter of this calendar year and start the new year, we’re hopeful that the business will come back to closer to where it was before the pandemic.”

Among the reasons for the smaller events: State officials say COVID-19 protocols for large-scale indoor events will still require testing or vaccination verifications, which could exclude some would-be attendees. The state has yet to release details of those requirements.

Also, surveys show that many business travelers still don’t feel safe meeting face to face indoors with thousands of strangers. Some elements of future events are likely to be conducted via streaming video, accommodating virus-cautious attendees who want to stay home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends against attending large indoor gatherings, saying they increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Rachel “Kiko” Guntermann, a professional costume maker who previously attended five or six conventions a year, including Comic-Con, said she would not feel safe returning to a large convention even though she has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Conventions were a center of my life for a while, and now the idea of being in a vendor hall with that many people makes me want to dry heave,” she said….

(2) FRANKENSTAMP AND FRIENDS. A set of Classic Science Fiction stamps will be issued by Great Britain’s Royal Mail on April 15. Preorders are being taken now.

A collection of six Special Stamps celebrating the imagination and artistic legacy of classic science fiction.

The issue coincides with the 75th anniversary of the death of HG Wells and the 70th anniversary of the publication of The Day of the Triffids.

Each stamp features a unique interpretation by a different artist illustrating a seminal work by a classic British science fiction author

Two First Class, two £1.70 and two £2.55 stamps presented as three horizontal se-tenant pairs.

Click for larger images.

(3) EATING THE FANTASTIC. Scott Edelman invites listeners to grab a slice of pizza with Nebula Award-winning writer A. T. Greenblatt in episode 142 of his Eating the Fantastic podcast.

A.T. Greenblatt

A. T. Greenblatt’s short fiction has appeared in Strange HorizonsUncannyBeneath Ceaseless SkiesClarkesworldFiresideLightspeed, and other magazines. She won the 2019 Nebula Award for Best Short Story for “Give the Family My Love,” and is also on the current Nebula Awards ballot for her novelette “Burn or The Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super.” She was also a Nebula finalist for 2018. She has also been a Theodore Sturgeon Award finalist as well as a Parsec Award finalist. She is a graduate of the Viable Paradise and Clarion West workshops, and has been an editorial assistant at the flash fiction magazines Every Day Fiction and Flash Fiction Online.

We discussed the writing workshop-induced panic which caused her to begin writing her latest Nebula Award-nominated story, how the Viable Paradise workshop helped kick her writing up a notch, why she prefers Batman to Superman, the importance of revisions, critique groups, and community, what’s to be learned from rereading one’s older work, why she’s a total pantser, her love of Roald Dahl, something she wishes she’d known earlier about the endings of stories, how much of writing is being able to keep secrets and not explode, and much more.

(4) 2021 SFPA POETRY CONTEST AND JUDGE ANNOUNCED. The 2021 Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA) Speculative Poetry Contest will be open for entries from June 1 through August 31, with Sheree Renée Thomas serving as guest judge of the contest. Full guidelines here.

Sheree Renée Thomas is an award-winning fiction writer, poet, and editor. Her work is inspired by myth and folklore, natural science and Mississippi Delta conjure. Nine Bar Blues: Stories from an Ancient Future (Third Man Books) is her first all prose collection. She is also the author of two multigenre/hybrid collections, Sleeping Under the Tree of LIfe and Shotgun Lullabies (Aqueduct Press) and edited the World Fantasy-winning groundbreaking black speculative fiction Dark Matter anthologies (Hachette/Grand Central). 

Sheree is the associate editor of the historic Black arts literary journal, Obsidian: Literature & the Arts in the African Diaspora and editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

The 2021 SFPA Speculative Poetry Contest is open to all poets, including non-SFPA-members. Prizes will be awarded for best unpublished poem in three categories: Dwarf (poems 1–10 lines [prose poems 0–100 words]); Short (11–49 lines [prose poems 101–499 words]); Long (50 lines and more [prose 500 words and up]). Line count does not include title or stanza breaks. All sub-genres of speculative poetry allowed in any form.

Prizes in each category (Dwarf, Short, Long) will be $150 First Prize, $75 Second Prize, $25 Third Prize. Publication on the SFPA website for first through third places. Winners will be announced and posted on the site October 1.

(5) IN EXTREMIS. The new This Is Horror podcast features Wrath James White talking about Extreme Horror, Uncomfortable Writing, and The Resurrectionist.

Wrath James White is a former World Class Heavyweight Kickboxer, a professional Kickboxing and Mixed Martial Arts trainer, distance runner, performance artist, and former street brawler, who is now known for creating some of the most disturbing works of fiction in print. His books include The ResurrectionistSucculent Prey, and The Teratologist with Edward Lee.

(6) PLUCKED OFF THE SLUSHPILE. [Item by rcade.] Though many novelists would tell the story of how they first became published as a heroic triumph of talent and perseverance over rejection and adversity, the science fiction author Stephen Palmer credits something else entirely in a new interview with SFFWorld: “Interview with Stephen Palmer”.

My route to publication was the one too few people talk about – pure chance. Random luck is a far larger player in getting published than most people realize, partly because writers don’t want to believe they have little or no agency in their own success, and partly because the odds against success are so huge nobody wants to face them. I was plucked off the slush pile because I sent in the right novel at the right time. Tim Holman remembered it when he and Colin Murray were seeking new British writers, and he contacted me. But it could have been so different. In December 1993 me and my then wife were about to move house, and for reasons too unpleasant to detail here we weren’t going to leave a forwarding address. A few days before we departed a letter popped through the letterbox. It was from Tim Holman, writing back to me a full year after I’d sent him an extract of Memory Seed, telling me he wanted to read more. If I’d moved a week earlier I might not be an author now…

 Palmer’s debut novel Memory Seed is being  republished by Infinity Plus. He got the rights back from Orbit for that book and Glass nine years ago but the original files were lost. He bought copies, removed the pages and did the OCR scanning himself.

(7) DO YOU REMEMBER LOVE? Maybe not, it’s been awhile! But now Forbes’ Ollie Barder reports:  “The Decades Long Rights Battle Over ‘Macross’ And ‘Robotech’ Has Finally Been Resolved”.

This has been one of the longest running legal battles in anime and I never thought I would see it resolved in my lifetime….

As to the details of what this agreement entails, this is what the official press statement has to say:

“Tokyo based BIGWEST CO.,LTD. and Los Angeles based Harmony Gold U.S.A. announced an agreement regarding the worldwide rights for the legendary Macross and Robotech franchises. This expansive agreement signed by both companies on March 1, 2021, ends two decades of disagreements and will allow Bigwest and Harmony Gold to chart a new path that will unlock the great potential of both the Macross and Robotech franchises worldwide. The landmark agreement immediately permits worldwide distribution of most of the Macross films and television sequels worldwide, and also confirms that Bigwest will not oppose the Japanese release of an anticipated upcoming live-action Robotech film. The agreement also recognizes Harmony Gold’s longstanding exclusive license with Tatsunoko for the use of the 41 Macross characters and mecha in the Robotech television series and related merchandise throughout the world excluding Japan. Moving forward, both parties will cooperate on distribution regarding future Macross and Robotech projects for the benefit of both franchises.”

(8) PUTTING THE EVIDENCE TOGETHER. “French police on trail of international gang of Lego looters”The Guardian has the story.

French police say they are building a case against an international gang of toy thieves specialising in stealing Lego – and they have warned specialist shops and even parents to be aware of a global trade in the bricks.

The alert comes after officers arrested three people – a woman and two men – in the process of stealing boxes of Lego from a toy shop in Yvelines, outside Paris, last June. Under questioning, the suspects, all from Poland, reportedly admitted they were part of a team specialising in stealing Lego sought by collectors.

“The Lego community isn’t just made up of children,” one investigator told Le Parisien newspaper. “There are numerous adults who play with it; there are swaps and sales on the internet. We’ve also had people complaining their homes have been broken into and Lego stolen.”

Van Ijken cited a Cafe Corner Lego set that cost €150 when it was released to shops in 2007 selling in its original box for €2,500 last year.

Lego looting appears to be a global business, according to reports in the US, Canada and Australia, where numerous thefts have been reported over the last five years. In 2005, San Diego police arrested a group of women found to have €200,000 worth of Lego.

(9) THE UNKINDEST CUT. [Item by rcade.] The acclaimed weird fiction author Jeff VanderMeer is sickened by the actions of one of his new neighbors in Tallahassee, Florida:

Someone bought a house a few streets down and just cut down 30 mature pine trees — in the spring. I wonder if they know there’s little they could do in their lives to make up for the wildlife they just slaughtered. I know we’ll be getting survivors in the yard for weeks to come.

I’m planting two sycamores and some river birch, mayhaw next week and then also seeking out some of the pine saplings to protect them. We have 8 mature pines in the yard and not a damn one is getting cut down. …

Developers are trying to eat this city alive and we have, purportedly 55% canopy, although I imagine it’s a lower percentage after the predation of the past few years.

A Florida law enacted in 2019 made it much harder for cities and counties to stop property owners from removing trees. Tallahassee and the surrounding county have 78 miles of roads shaded by oak, hickory, sweet gum and pine trees and the city’s tree canopy coverage is among the largest in the U.S.

Noted for elements of ecofiction in his works, VanderMeer has filled his Twitter feed with photos of area trees and wildlife.

(10) NEW BOOK: HUMMINGBIRD SALAMANDER. Carmen Maria Machado has done a Q&A with Jeff VanderMeer for Interview: “Can Author Jeff VanderMeer Save Us from Extinction?”

[From the Introduction] A scroll through Jeff VanderMeer’s Twitter account yields all manner of birds, flowers, trees, bird feeders, backyard wildlife, and the occasional portrait of his housecat, Neo. By and large, it seems such joyous, benevolent content that it’s surprising it comes from the same hands as one of the most subversive, experimental, apocalyptic, and politically daring fiction writers at work in America today. 

…Another of his passions involves his ongoing project of “rewilding” his half-acre yard on the edge of Tallahassee. In order to combat natural-habitat destruction, VanderMeer has reintroduced native plants and trees to encourage the return of local wildlife. The fruits of VanderMeer’s tweets spring directly from the myriad animals, insects, organisms, and flowering flora that have returned to his homegrown micro nature-preserve. (“Right now, during migration season,” he reports, “we have about 300 yellow-rumped warblers in the yard and another 400 pine siskins, along with ruby-crowned kinglets, Baltimore orioles, orange-crowned warblers, hermit thrushes, cedar waxwings, etc.”) Will VanderMeer save our planet? Can it even be saved at this point? These are the real mysteries of our era…. 

MACHADO: It’s a bit like watching this pandemic unfold. We’re botching it all up, and you can’t help but feel like it doesn’t have to be this way. Do you think you’re a cynic about wildlife and the climate crisis?

VANDERMEER: I think that fixing the climate crisis should be more ingrained in our discussions and it’s not. Even in fiction, I see a lot of green-tech solutions that are totally divorced from actually dealing with what’s going on in the landscape. The other day I saw that Elon Musk had gone from chastising the oil industry to being like, “We need to mine for our SpaceX platform so that we have energy for our rockets.” Those are the kinds of things that get to me. One reason I push so hard for wildlife and for habitat is that I just don’t think we can make it through without them. We can’t just green-tech our way into some kind of solution. We have to change how we actually interact. And I do think we can all make small changes in how we do things that can really help us. In that way, I’m not cynical. People ask about hope all the time, which in a very absurdist way cracks me up because there’s always this question of, “Is it too late?” And it’s like,

“Well, what are you going to do if it’s too late? You really have no choice but to try to do the best things possible to get out of this.” Next cheery question!

(11) ROSWELL AWARD. The Roswell Award and Women Hold Up Half the Sky – Virtual Celebrity Readings & Awards will happen on Saturday, May 22 at 11 a.m. Pacific.  The Roswell Award finalist judge is Wesley Chu.

We received some truly incredible stories from 60 different countries this season.

Make sure to save the date for May 22 if you want to experience exciting new sci-fi stories, chat with competition participants from around the world, and hear our celebrity guest readers!

(12) HUMMEL OBIT. The Washington Post has an obituary for Joye Hummel by Harrison Smith.  Hummel was hired by William Moulton Marston as a secretary and then went on to write Wonder Woman scripts until 1947.  Historians credit her as being the first woman to write scripts for Wonder Woman. She died April 5. “Joye Hummel, first woman hired to write Wonder Woman comics, dies at 97”.

In March 1944, shortly before Joye Hummel graduated from the Katharine Gibbs secretarial school in Manhattan, she was invited to meet with one of her instructors, a charismatic psychologist who had been impressed by her essays on a take-home test.

Over tea at the Harvard Club, professor William Moulton Marston offered her a job — not in the classroom or psych lab, but in the office of his 43rd Street art studio. He wanted Ms. Hummel to help him write scripts for Wonder Woman, the Amazonian superhero he had created three years earlier and endowed with a magic lasso, indestructible bracelets, an eye-catching red bustier and a feminist sensibility.Ms. Hummel, then 19, had never read Wonder Woman; she had never even read a comic book. But Marston needed an assistant. His character, brought to life on the page by artist H.G. Peter, was appearing in four comic books and was about to star in a syndicated newspaper strip. He was looking for someone young who could write slang and who, perhaps most importantly, shared his philosophy and vision for the character. “You understand that I want women to feel they have the right to go out, to study, to find something they love to do and get out in the world and do it,” Ms. Hummel recalled his saying. She was “astonished and delighted” by the job offer, according to historian Jill Lepore’s book, “The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” and soon began writing for the comic. “I always did have a big imagination,” she said.

Ms. Hummel worked as a Wonder Woman ghostwriter for the next three years, long before any woman was publicly credited as a writer for the series. As invisible to readers as Wonder Woman’s transparent jet plane, she was increasingly recognized after Lepore interviewed her in 2014. Four years later, she received the Bill Finger Award, given to overlooked or underappreciated comic book writers at the Eisner Awards….

(13) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

  • April 9, 1955 — On this date in 1955, Science Fiction Theatre first aired in syndication. It was produced by Ivan Tors and Maurice Ziv.  It ran for seventy eight episodes over two years and was hosted by Truman Bradley who was the announcer for Red Skelton’s program. The first episode “Beyond” had the story of a test pilot travelling at much faster than the speed of sound who bails out and tells his superiors that another craft was about to collide with his. It starred William Lundigan, Ellen Drew and Bruce Bennett. You can watch it here.

(14) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born April 9, 1906 – Victor Vasarely.  Grandfather of op art, like this, and this (Supernovae, 1961).  Here is The Space Merchants using some of VV’s Folklore Planetario for the cover.  (Died 1997) [JH]
  • Born April 9, 1911 George O. Smith. His early prolific writings on Astounding Science Fiction in the 1940s ended when Campbell’s wife left him for Smith whom she married. Later stories were on Thrilling Wonder StoriesGalaxySuper Science Stories and Fantastic to name but four such outlets. He was given First Fandom Hall of Fame Award just before he passed on. Interestingly his novels are available from the usual digital sources but his short stories are not. (Died 1981.) (CE) 
  • Born April 9, 1913 George F. Lowther. He was writer, producer, director in the earliest days of radio and television. He wrote scripts for both Captain Video and His Video Rangers and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.  You can see “The Birth of The Galaxy” which he scripted for the first show here as it is in the public domain. (Died 1975.) (CE) 
  • Born April 9, 1915 – Charles Burbee.  One of our best fanwriters, of the brilliant but biting type (if you like that, as well as admiring it, you can change but to and).  Fanzine, Burblings; co-edited Shangri L’Affaires awhile.  Fan Guest of Honor at Westercon 27.  You can see The Incompleat Burbee here (part 1) and here (part 2).  Burbeeisms still circulate, like AKICIF (All Knowledge Is Contained In Fanzines) – sometimes without his mocking tone, a neglect he would have mocked.  (Died 1996)  [JH]
  • Born April 9, 1937 – Barrington Bayley.  A dozen novels, fourscore shorter stories, some under other names (“Michael Barrington” for work with Michael Moorcock).  Two collections.  Interviewed in InterzoneVector; on the cover of V223 for a Mark Greener article.  (Died 2008) [JH]
  • Born April 9, 1937 Marty Krofft, 84. Along with Sid, his brother, are a Canadian sibling team of television creators and puppeteers. Through Sid & Marty Krofft Pictures, they have made numerous series including the superb H.R. Pufnstuf which I still remember fondly all these years later not to forget Sigmund and the Sea MonstersLand of the Lost and Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. (CE) 
  • Born April 9, 1949 Stephen Hickman, 72. Illustrator who has done over three hundred and fifty genre covers such as Manly Wade Wellman’s John the Balladeer and Nancy Springer’s Rowan Hood, Outlaw Girl of Sherwood Forest. His most widely known effort is his space fantasy postage stamps done for the U.S. Postal Service which won a Hugo for Best Original Art Work at ConAndian in 1994. (CE) 
  • Born April 9, 1954 Dennis Quaid, 67. I’m reasonably sure that he first genre role was in  Dreamscape as Alex Gardner followed immediately by the superb role of Willis Davidge in Enemy Mine followed by completing a trifecta with Innerspace and the character of Lt. Tuck Pendleton. And then there’s the sweet film of Dragonheart and him as Bowen. Anyone hear of The Day After Tomorrow in which he was Jack Hall? I hadn’t a clue about it. (CE) 
  • Born April 9, 1972 Neve McIntosh, 49. During time of the Eleventh Doctor, She plays Alaya and Restac, two  Silurian reptilian sisters who have been disturbed under the earth, one captured by humans and the other demanding vengeance. Her second appearance on Doctor Who is Madame Vastra in “A Good Man Goes to War”. Also a Silurian, she’s a Victorian crime fighter.  She’s back in the 2012 Christmas special, and in the episodes “The Crimson Horror” and “The Name of the Doctor”. She’s Madame Vastra, who along with her wife, Jenny Flint, and Strax, a former Sontaran warrior, who together form a private investigator team. Big Finish gave them their own line of audio adventures. (CE) 
  • Born April 9, 1980 – Jill Hathaway, age 41.  Two novels.  Teaches high-school English, bless her.  Has read Cat’s Cradle, Tender Is the NightNative Son.  [JH]
  • Born April 9, 1981 – Vincent Chong, age 40.  Two hundred twenty covers, sixty interiors.  Artbook Altered Visions.  Here is Shine.  Here is the Gollancz ed’n of Dangerous Visions.  Here is G’s Left Hand of Darkness.  Here is Ghost Story.  [JH]
  • Born April 9, 1990 – Megan Bannen, age 31.  Two novels, one just last year.  “An avid coffee drinker and mediocre ukulele player…. in her spare time, she collects graduate degrees from Kansas colleges and universities.”  Or so she says.  [JH]

(15) COMICS SECTION.

(16) PRINCE PHILIP RIP. The Cartoon Museum in London noted the passing of its Patron HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh has been Patron of The Cartoon Museum in London for over 20 years. In 1949 he and the young Princess Elizabeth attended the Royal Society of Arts and listened to a speech by the great British cartoonist H. M. Bateman, calling for a national museum of cartoons.

He has given the museum continuous support and with his great love of humour he admired the genre of British cartooning. In 1994 he opened the museum’s exhibition on Giles, who drew for the Daily and Sunday Express from 1943 – 1991. The Duke of Edinburgh owned several Giles cartoons in his private collection; Giles was his favourite cartoonist – he admired his social observations, gentle humour, and depictions of the Royal Family.

The monarchy have been a persistent (and easy) target of cartoonists and caricaturists for 300 years, from Gillray and Beerbohm to Scarfe, Bell, Rowson and Peter Brookes – but the Duke of Edinburgh could always see the funny side in any situation, and took humorous depictions of himself in his stride. In 2002 Prince Philip opened an exhibition of cartoons on the Kings and Queens (300 Years of Cartoons about the Monarchy), and in 2006 he opened London’s first museum of cartoons.

The Cartoon Museum, its Trustees, Staff, and the cartooning community are saddened to hear Prince Philip has passed away, and send their deepest condolences to H. M. The Queen and his family.

(17) TO BOLDLY GO…WHO KNOWS WHERE? SYFY Wire reports  “New ‘Star Trek’ film set for summer 2023, as studios shuffle several releases”. Just don’t ask what it will be about.

Star Trek is bolding coming back to the big screen… two years from now. Paramount Pictures confirmed Friday that a brand-new Trek film will hit theaters on June 8, 2023. While the project is currently untitled and plot details are non-existent, we suspect this is the movie currently being written by The Walking Dead alum, Kalinda Vasquez.

(18) SANDMAN CROSSOVER. There’s a Q&A with the authors in “Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez preview their Locke & Key Sandman crossover” at Entertainment Weekly.

…Written and illustrated by the Locke & Key creative team of writer Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez, with the blessing of The Sandman co-creator Neil GaimanHell and Gone is set in 1927, during the opening sequence of The Sandman in which Morpheus, the King of Dreams, is held captive by the human sorcerer Roderick Burgess. Mary Locke, an ancestor of the Locke children who populate the main Locke & Key story, reaches out to Burgess to see if his occult society can help her save her brother’s soul from hell…. 

GABRIEL RODRIGUEZ: I started buying Sandman from the newspaper stand near my house once they started selling the Spanish edition here in Chile. They started publishing from the eighth issue, in which they introduce Death, and from then on they did the entire run. I remember reading that very first issue and was immediately hooked by the storytelling. And then when we get into the Doll’s House story line, I immediately realized it was going to be something really big and cool, and I ended up collecting the entire series. At the time I was reading Sandman, I was just daydreaming about eventually making a comic book myself, but living in such a small country where we don’t have a huge publishing industry, especially back then, it felt impossible.

(19) UNSOUND EFFECTS. “2021 Oscar-Nominated Short: “Yes-People'” on YouTube is an Icelandic animated film, directed by Gisli Darri Hallsdottir, that is an nominee for best short animated film, and is presented by The New Yorker.

“Yes-People” follows several Icelanders as they navigate minor daily conflicts—on their way to work, or to school, or while grocery shopping.

(20) PETRIFIED DINO GIZZARDS. Megafauna swallowed bigger stones than their avian descendants: “These Rocks Made a 1,000-Mile Trek. Did Dinosaurs Carry Them?”

The gastroliths were found in Jurassic-aged mudstones in a rock formation called the Morisson. A rainbow of pinks and reds, the Morisson formation brims with dinosaur fossils, including those of sauropods, such as Barosaurus and Diplodocus, as well as meat-eaters such as Allosaurus.

But the rocks, which are similar to gastroliths dug up elsewhere, were found on their own without any dinosaur remnants. To get a clue as to how they had ended up in modern-day Wyoming, the team crushed the rocks to retrieve and date the zircon crystals contained inside, a bit like studying ancient fingerprints.

“What we found was that the zircon ages inside these gastroliths have distinct age spectra that matched what the ages were in the rocks in southern Wisconsin,” said Malone, now a doctoral student studying geology at the University of Texas at Austin. “We used that to hypothesize that these rocks were ingested somewhere in southern Wisconsin and then transported to Wyoming in the belly of a dinosaur.

“There hasn’t really been a study like this before that suggests long-distance dinosaur migration using this technique, so it was a really exciting moment for us.”

(21) FOSSILIZED STINK. Or maybe dinos were shying rocks at this creature to get rid of the smell? “Beast of five teeth: Chilean scientists unearth skunk that walked among dinosaurs” at Yahoo!

A fossil of a skunk-like mammal that lived during the age of dinosaurs has been discovered in Chilean Patagonia, adding further proof to recent evidence that mammals roamed that part of South America a lot earlier than previously thought.

A part of the creature’s fossilized jawbone with five teeth attached were discovered close to the famous Torres del Paine national park.

Christened Orretherium tzen, meaning ‘Beast of Five Teeth’ in an amalgam of Greek and a local indigenous language, the animal is thought to have lived between 72 and 74 million years ago during the Upper Cretaceous period, at the end of the Mesozoic era, and been a herbivore…

(22) JUST IN TIME. The sixth season of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow premieres Sunday, May 2.

The Legends continue their new mission to protect the timeline from temporal aberrations – unusual changes to history that spawn potentially catastrophic consequences. When Nate, the grandson of J.S.A. member Commander Steel, unexpectedly finds himself with powers, he must overcome his own insecurities and find the hero within himself. Ultimately, the Legends will clash with foes both past and present, to save the world from a mysterious new threat.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Michael J. Walsh, Frank Olynyk, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, rcade, Daniel Dern, Cat Eldridge, Michael Toman, John Hertz, Andrew Porter, James Bacon, Scott Edelman, and Mike Kennedy for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Greg Hullender, with an assist from rcade.]

ConFusion 2021 Eastercon Report

By Jo Van Ekeren:

This past weekend, ConFusion 2021 (Eastercon) was held as a virtual convention. Guests of Honour were author Dan Abnett, author and editor Nik Vincent-Abnett, and fan Dave Lally. The online environment was primarily in an application called Gather Town, with some aspects of the con also available through the ConFusion 2021 website.

I had volunteered to staff a Virtual Fan Table for the Memphis in 2023 Worldcon bid at ConFusion 2021. Prior to the con, the Dealers Room head Melissa Taylor gave me a demo of the Gather Town environment so I’d have an idea what to expect. Melissa was really responsive to my requests for customisation to the fan table setup, which I greatly appreciated. The Memphis Fan Table area had a link to the website at a little kiosk on either side, a pop-up of the Memphis Q&A PDF (in the vending machine), and a whiteboard where people could write questions or messages (“back in 1/2 hour”, etc.). [N.B.: I wasn’t planning on writing this report until someone (ahem!) twisted my arm, and I didn’t think to take screenshots of the various rooms, so some of the images below are mockups.]

Confusion 2021 Eastercon Member Badge, with the ConFusion logo, member name, and member number

Right before the con, I received an e-mail with a virtual con badge, which was cool, even though I didn’t do anything with it. Members had the option of printing their badge off and wearing it, putting it in their virtual background, and/or posting it on social media.

Before dropping you into the environment, Gather Town required you to select an avatar from a variety of avatar choices and attire choices (some of the “attire” choices were wheelchairs, which was great). You also had the ability to add a line of text to your Profile with pronouns and/or bio info. After selecting their avatar, each person appeared in their current location in Gather Town with a small version of their avatar labeled with their badge name and membership number.

I was able to be present for around 6 hours each day Fri-Sat-Sun-Mon (since I live Down Under, the UK was 12 hours off from me, which made a pretty skewed schedule for me, but the fact that we have a 4-day Easter holiday weekend down here really helped). I spoke with people who stopped by the table in the Dealers Room, but I also took the opportunity on several occasions to go out and explore the VR environment and chat with other members I encountered. I had nice conversations with Leife Shallcross who was “next door” with the Australia in 2025 bid, and with David Stokes from Guardbridge Books on my other side.

I don’t know what the con’s membership total was (my membership, bought right before the convention, was number 438), but there was a small “people online” counter down in the corner on the Gather Town screen, and the highest number I noticed was 169 – which may or may not be close to the actual max usage of that environment during the convention.

There was a user profile bar at the bottom of the screen, which you could click on to toggle your green/red Status, change your text line, access a map to the entire Gather Town layout, change your video and audio hardware settings, and add an emoji to your profile. Unfortunately, though I tried it periodically, I could never get the map to load; the “loading” indicator just sat there, grinding. However, the designer, Alex Storer, posted a copy of the “spaceship” map on Facebook, and it’s really a clever design.

I liked the Gather Town virtual-reality environment much better than that of some other virtual conventions I’ve attended in the past year. It was simpler, very much like walking around at a real con inside a video game. There were potted trees and plants and chairs and couches. There was a large “Hangar” room where the Registration and Information Desk was located, with a bunch of shuttle-sized space vehicles parked in it. There were Easter Eggs like a fountain in the Arboretum having an unmarked entrance at one specific point which led to an observation deck.

There was an “invisible maze” accessed via an unmarked doorway (which I messed with for a bit, but I could not figure out how to get through it without being continually kicked back to the start). They did a Scavenger Hunt in the Dealers Hall which involved having to visit each dealer’s area and get a single pop-up word which you had to collect to form sentences and win a prize. There was a Gaming room which had a bunch of little stations where you could play video games, but I tried one and it appeared that the functionality was poor because it made an already resource-intensive application even more resource-intensive.

There was a virtual Art Show, which was viewable either through Gather Town, or through the browser from their website in an app called “Kunstmatrix”. I thought this was really well done. It’s available to the public for a couple more days, and you should go see it!

There was a nice variety on the Programme Schedule, with panels, readings, kaffeeklatsches, virtual author “signing” sessions, and presentations by various Dealers. Programming ranged across the gamut of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, for both printed and visual media – with even some cuisine-related events!

SMOFcon 2021 (SMOFcon Europe in Lisboa) presented a panel on “Managing the Crisis”, with Elizabeth McCarty, Marguerite Smith, and Matt Calvert, moderated by Vincent Docherty. The speakers talked about how to manage con-related crises in an age of instantaneous, fast-moving social media, and discussed some real-life examples. This was a really useful panel, and I hope that it can be put up on YouTube, or otherwise made available to conrunners outside of this convention. (Elizabeth McCarty and Colin Harris have authored a great resource document entitled “Social Media Response Guide“, which is publicly available to conrunners and other interested parties.)

When you got close to someone in Gather Town, a little video window for them would pop open at the top of your screen, and you could see and talk to each other (your own video screen was on the lower right side). If that person’s video was turned off, you could click a “Ring” button on their little video window, and it would ring like a telephone on their side so they knew you wanted to talk. You could set the video screen of the person with whom you were speaking to full-screen mode and see a larger image of them during your conversation.

People walking by too closely, or walking up to you, would cause their little video window to pop up and they could jump in on your conversation, but there were also private spaces you could go into and talk, where random passersby wouldn’t trigger interruptions. You also had the ability to turn your green Status light to red to indicate that you were not around or were doing something privately; this also tightened your proximity bubble and prevented interruptions from random passersby.

ConFusion 2021 Gather Town Chat Bar, where the message log can be read, and messages can be sent

ConFusion 2021 Gather Town Member List of all members currently online, ability to search for a member, follow a member, or message a member

There was a left-side menu which included a pop-up list of all attendees, showing their green/red Status and their text (pronouns, bio, etc.). You could do a search by Badge Name to find a specific attendee, or browse the whole list. You could click on an attendee’s name and Message them, or Follow them (which would “physically” take you to wherever their avatar was located). The system also included a “Block” function which you could use if there was someone you didn’t want to be able to see you or talk to you; it made you invisible to the blocked person.

There was also a popup menu item for a Discord-type Chat message feed, which included all messages to Everyone, People Nearby (if they were in the same room as you), and your exchanges with individual members. But you had to scroll back through it to read messages; there was no Search or Filter function by keyword or member.

Now for an in-depth discussion of the drawbacks:

1) Gather Town required a desktop device; you could use it in a browser or in the desktop app, but there was no functionality for mobile devices.

2) Gather Town was a resource hog and I had to pretty much shut everything down on my computer to keep it from periodically losing connection and having to reconnect (and even that didn’t always prevent glitching). I actually have a pretty powerful desktop device; I suspect people with basic laptops and desktop devices would have had a really poor experience. I’m guessing that the Gather Town developers and testers all have hardcore gaming tech hardware setups; I don’t think Gather Town will ever make it as a successful virtual venue unless they can resolve these high CPU usage problems.

3) The environment was laid out like a real convention space, which meant you had to use your left/right and up/down arrow buttons to travel through long empty hallways to get somewhere. (When I refer to “travel” in this summary, I mean holding down the arrow keys and navigating around obstacles.) This seemed like the result of an inability to re-imagine a virtual con as anything other than being the same layout as a physical con. Getting from one place to another could often take at least minute or two of using your keyboard to navigate to get there (and that was assuming you had a good idea of the route to take to get where you wanted to go). I think it would have been an especially difficult adjustment for people who have never played video games.

4) The interface needed the ability to click a specific room on a list of rooms and immediately be taken there. There were teleportals in the larger areas which would take you to a central teleporter hall with all of the main area teleportals labeled, so there was a bit of a shortcut by that method. But a way to instantly get from one Programming Panel to the next was sorely needed. And a setup where new entrants were deposited into the central registration area hub, with many labeled doors each leading immediately to different sections and not requiring travel time and extensive keyboard manipulation, would have been much better (and would have still permitted the ability to have “fun” exploration rooms like the Arboretum and the Gaming Room).

5) I went to a reading early on in one of the programming rooms. There were a dozen or so attendees, and it was set up so that video windows showed only for the person/people up front. You could also “attend” sessions outside of Gather Town by going to a section of their website and clicking on the video feed you wanted to see. But a lot of people reported having so many issues trying to attend panels in Gather Town that they just chose instead to access the video streams via the website. However, there were lots of problems with that, too, with things getting started very late, or the streaming not working during the actual panel, and the panels were only viewable later on as a recording, which prevented in-session Q&A interaction with the audience.

6) Programming sessions were recorded, and were available for later viewing via the convention’s website. The quality of these recordings was pretty good, but I had to set the video playback quality to the lowest level to avoid “hiccupping”. And strangely, though I tried several things, I was never able to route the audio from these recordings through headphones, either through an audio jack connection or through a USB headphone connection (although both of these worked just fine for me in Gather Town). There was no automated captioning on anything, and no transcripts for the panels. (Members still have access to these recordings until midnight [GMT+1] on 12 April.)

7) I think that the environment design for the convention was done with a goal of cleverness, cuteness, and “real-world emulation in a video game” – and there’s something to be said for that, parts of it were rather fun. But I’m very vision, hearing, and hand-dexterity abled, so it was easy for me. I thought the environment showed a real lack of awareness of the accessibility issues which accompany such an interface for those with impaired vision, hearing, or hand/finger dexterity. Labels on person icons were quite small, and navigation was by keyboard keys. (The accessibility problems with Gather Town are well known; ACM’s Ubicomp had to apologise after using it for their convention in September 2020.)

8) I saw someone somewhere say that Gather Town costs $1 per person for 2 hours (which would be $24,000/£12,300 for 500 people for 4 days). This meant that it was so expensive that everything was set up only right before the convention started, and there was no ability to do a “shakedown cruise” and revise things based on user feedback in the days leading up to the convention. Aside from the expensive cost and the poor performance quality, the inability to do that shakedown cruise without any additional cost would seem to me to be a real deal-breaker for using Gather Town.

Based on all of these considerations, my recommendation for a virtual convention would be for the environment to be something that is mainly text and menu-based with a little bit of artistic embellishment, but with the primary emphasis on functionality and accessibility, rather than on impressive visuals or virtual-reality effects.

I “attended” the Eastercon Bid session which was done over Zoom and moderated by Vincent Docherty. There was one bid for 2022 by Phil Dyson, to be called “Reclamation“, which they expect to be in-person but with some virtual aspects for members who can’t attend. It was selected in a vote by 98% of the members at the session. They then announced their Guests of Honour: Authors Zen Cho and Mary Robinette Kowal, Artist Philip Reeve, and Fan Nicholas Whyte.

There were two bids for the 2023 Eastercon. One, for “Persistence”, was by the current chair, who is understandably wanting to put on a real convention in 2 years because their convention last year had been cancelled at the last minute due to the burgeoning pandemic, and they’d been forced to do this one (its replacement) virtually. The first bid presentation lasted about 3 minutes and amounted to “I want to put on an in-person convention, and I promise to do a good job, but I don’t have any specifics yet”.

The second presentation was a spur-of-the-moment “bid” by Alison Scott, who wanted to speak at length regarding the other bid, but was told that she was required to be an official bid to do so. Scott’s presentation was civil but quite impassioned regarding the lack of consideration shown in the planning of the current convention, saying that it called into question whether the other bid was really a good choice without first being forced to address the problems with the current convention as part of their bid planning presentation, and without being willing to commit to at least planning for a partially virtual convention, because she thinks that will be necessary. She said the convention was incredibly expensive for what it actually delivered, due to lack of planning, poor choices (some of which were strongly opposed by committee members who resigned after being overruled), and no testing or feedback.

Scott made the case that the Eastercon convention should not be a fancy show, but rather a community-building and sharing enterprise with much better communication than had been done this year, and that members should either vote for her bid (with the promise that she really would put together a well-run convention should she be selected) – or more preferably, vote to defer the awarding of the 2023 convention to next year, so that the bid(s) presented could make use of the feedback and lessons learned from this convention to really do an excellent job of planning (and that bid might very well be the bid of the current chair, if they showed a marked improvement in their planning a year from now). There was a vote of the members attending the session, and the result was 16% for the current chair’s bid, 10% for Alison Scott’s “bid”, and 69% to defer to next year the selection of the 2023 bidcom.

Farah Mendlesohn and Pat McMurray announced they would be presenting a bid for the 2024 Eastercon at next year’s convention, with team members David Cooper, Fiona Scarlett, Jude Roberts, and John Coxon. Their slideshow and the audio of their presentation are available on Dropbox.

Further information on ConFusion 2021

In spite of the issues, I really enjoyed getting the chance to interact with European fans at ConFusion 2021, and even though I won’t be able to attend in person, I’m hoping that Reclamation 2022 will have a virtual component in which I can participate.

2021 PEN America Literary Award Finalists

The 2021 PEN America Literary Awards have been announced. The complete list of finalists is here. The list of winners is here.

Sharks in the Time of Saviors: A Novel by Kawai Strong Washburn, nominated in two categories, received the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel ($10,000 prize) during the award ceremony on April 8. It was the only work of genre interest to win one of the awards. (The book was on PEN America Voice of Influence Awardee Barack Obama’s list of best books of 2020.)

The finalists of genre interest include:

PEN/JEAN STEIN BOOK AWARD

To a book-length work of any genre for its originality, merit, and impact, which has broken new ground by reshaping the boundaries of its form and signaling strong potential for lasting influence.

  • Sharks in the Time of Saviors: A Novel, Kawai Strong Washburn (MCD)

PEN OPEN BOOK AWARD

To an exceptional book-length work of any literary genre by an author of color.

  • A Treatise on Stars, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge (New Directions Publishing)

PEN/HEMINGWAY AWARD FOR DEBUT NOVEL

To a debut novel of exceptional literary merit by an American author.

  • Sharks in the Time of Saviors: A Novel, Kawai Strong Washburn (MCD)

PEN TRANSLATION PRIZE

For a book-length translation of prose from any language into English.

  • Ornamental, Juan Cárdenas (Coffee House Press); Translated from the Spanish by Lizzie Davis
  • Girls Lost, Jessica Schiefauer (Deep Vellum); Translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel

Robert Hood – “Rev. Bob” – Has Died

Editor, writer, webmaster and File 770 commenter Rev. Bob died April 7 at the age of 50. His mother made the announcement on Facebook:  

Many of you know him as Bob or Rev. Bob. He died peacefully at home last night.

The paramedics took him to the hospital in hopes of resuscitating him, but they couldn’t.

It was NOT covid-19.

When Rev. Bob began participating here in 2015 he was working as an ebook creator and as a proofreader/copyeditor doing business as Tittle & Jot.    

For the previous 20 years he had been an active fan of Steve Jackson Games, and by then was maintaining the company’s website.

He was a Tennessee fan and on the conrunning side, for a time, he ran LibertyCon’s board/card gaming. The Chattanooga con is noted as a magnet for Baen authors, and when he finally dropped out around 2015 he said, “I parted ways with the con when they got too overtly conservative for me to feel comfortable attending – not in the ‘I don’t want my money going there’ sense, but in the ‘if they knew how liberal my politics are, I believe I would be very unwelcome’ sense.”

Rev. Bob described himself as a voracious reader who owned thousands of books – many of them print books he had scanned and converted to ebooks, as he once explained:

Goodreads puts me at 4255, and that’s only (a) physical books I’ve scanned since August 2011 and (b) all books purchased since the same date that I’m willing to admit to owning. There are a few other exceptions, like books in storage by a handful of key authors (pre-2011, manually added rather than scanned) or pre-2011 ebooks that I’ve added as I find them (e.g. contents of Baen CDs), but I know I’ve got boxes of currently-inaccessible books that Goodreads doesn’t know about. I’ve even got a bundle of Angry Robot ebooks that I got in their “100 for £100” deal and haven’t completely processed yet. Yes, I’m way behind.

Heck, I’ve got over 1600 DVDs and Blu-rays…

Having once been a prolific writer, he was able to share “Rev. Bob’s Rules for Writers”:

1. Get the words out of your head and into the manuscript.
2. Never submit/publish an untouched first draft. At the very least, read it over one time and be sure there’s nothing you want to change.
3. Pay attention to spelling, grammar, and punctuation. If you’re going to break those rules, do it on purpose.

That’s about it, really.

However, as he discussed from time to time, “Depression and despair have positively slaughtered my creative output since 2016. The chronic pain doesn’t exactly help, either. It used to be nothing for me to bash away at a keyboard for several hours, writing thousands of words at a time. Now I struggle to get from one scene to the next before I have to stop.” 

Yet he was still one of the most incisive and analytical debaters here. And whenever fannish wordplay broke out he contributed to the fun. (Three of his parody filksongs follow the jump.) He will be sorely missed.

[Thanks to Laura Haywood-Cory for the story.]

Continue reading

Pixel Scroll 4/8/21 Illinois Pixels! I Hate Illinois Pixels.

(1) AMAZING STORIES ON HIATUS. Steve Davidson’s Amazing Stories issued a press release announcing that “A major licensing agreement using the Amazing Stories name has been terminated owing to non-payment.” As a result, the magazine won’t be coming out. (The website will remain active.)

… Due to the failure to pay and due to the many other costs directly related to this contract, Experimenter Publisher is currently no longer able to maintain the publishing schedule of Amazing Stories magazine, and that publication has been placed in hiatus pending the resolution of these issues…

The licensee is not named, although curiously the press release criticizes another company, Disney, by name. (Disney isn’t the licensee. And you don’t need to tell me in comments who you think it is – I know who it is. The point is this press release announces litigation yet refuses to speak the target’s name out loud.)  

The Amazing Stories’ Patreon page is slightly more forthcoming than the press release.

We licensed a major corporation several years ago and factored licensing fees into our budget.  Unfortunately, those fees have not been received, which places us behind the 8-ball.

Our licensee has been formally notified of numerous breeches of our contract and our intention to terminate that contract.  Service was sent to the contractually designated addresses and we have received no response, not even an acknowledgement of our notice to them.

This strongly suggests that they are planning on waiting to see what we are going to do and then will use their enormous budget and other assets to continue to ignore the fact that they no longer have the rights to use the name, or, perhaps even more problematic, sue us in order to remove us from the picture.

We can not afford to defend ourselves from such an unjustified action at this point in time.  Further, the current state of limbo discourages any other studio from working with the property, preventing us from developing other potential revenue sources.

Perhaps “encouraging” us to go away was the plan all along – but given the lack of communication, we doubt we’ll ever know the real reasons behind why they have chosen not to honor their contractual obligations.

What we DO know is, fighting this fight has put us in a deep hole and if the licensee decides to fight (likely), we’ll be in an even deeper hole.

We need your help to keep this dream alive.

(2) VANDERMEER’S LATEST. Paul Di Filippo reviews “’Hummingbird Salamander,’ by Jeff VanderMeer for the Washington Post.

… Now from this daring and ever-shifting author comes “Hummingbird Salamander,” a volume more naturalistic, more like a traditional thriller than its predecessors, but one that also features hooks into the literary novel of paranoid conspiracy, a genre best exemplified by Thomas Pynchon’s “The Crying of Lot 49.” In fact, our doughty and frankly terrifying heroine, “Jane Smith,” might be the Oedipa Maas the 21st century needs.

(3) THAT DIDN’T TAKE LONG. Joel Hodgson is running a Kickstarter — “Let’s Make More MST3K & Build THE GIZMOPLEX!” Did people think that was a good idea? Yes! In the first 24 hours they’ve raised $2,162,492 of their $2,000,000 goal. The reasons for returning to crowdfunding the series include —

In the not-too-distant past – about 6 years ago, November 2015 AD – we ran a Kickstarter to BRING BACK MST3K after 15 years in hibernation.

It was a little bit stressful, and a lot of work, but I’ve gotta tell you… the whole experience went better than we had ever hoped:

  • Thanks to you, our campaign broke a bunch of Kickstarter records.
  • Over 48,000 of you took up the cause… and together, we raised over $6 million.
  • With your help, we got picked up on Netflix and made 20 new episodes!

And you know, you can’t ever please everybody, but it seems like most of you were pretty happy with ’em…. and the critics were too: 

Also, having those new episodes on Netflix, along with a lot of our “classic” episodes, helped a lot of folks discover Mystery Science Theater for the first time. So, if you weren’t there to help #BringBackMST3K… Welcome! We’re glad you’re here to help  #MakeMoreMST3K.

Anyway: as you know, nothing good lasts forever.  Sometime in late 2019, during our third live tour, we got word: even though Netflix liked how our new episodes came out, they wouldn’t be renewing us for a third new season….

2. It’s time to try something new.

  • If enough of you want more MST3K, maybe we don’t need anyone to renew us.
  • From now on, we want you to decide how long MST3K keeps going.
  • We don’t need a network to “let us” make more MST3K. We can make it for you. 
  • When we do, you should be the first ones to see it.

(4) A LAND OF MARVELS. “Avengers Campus at Disneyland Resort Set to Open and Recruit Super Heroes June 4”Disney Parks Blog has a preview.

Super Heroes Assemble! As we’ve all been anticipating, I’m pleased to share that Avengers Campus – an entirely new land dedicated to discovering, recruiting and training the next generation of Super Heroes – will open June 4, 2021 at the Disneyland Resort!

…The first key area is the Worldwide Engineering Brigade – also known as WEB. It brings together bright innovators like Peter Parker who have been assembled by Tony Stark to invent new technologies and equip everyday people to become Super Heroes like the Avengers. WEB will house the new WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure, the first Disney ride-through attraction to feature the iconic friendly neighborhood Spider-Man!

We previously shared that Tom Holland will reprise his role as Spider-Man in the new family-friendly attraction, which invites you to put your web-slinging skills to the test and experience what it’s like to have powers alongside Spider-Man – a feat accomplished with innovative technology adapted specifically for this attraction, perfect for up-and-coming recruits of all ages.

The second anchor attraction looms high above the land, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!, a fan-favorite that opened in 2017….

(5) FEARS FOR WHAT AILS YOU. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In“Scary Times Call for Scary Reads” on CrimeReads, Jennifer MacMahon says that scary books are what you should be reading during the pandemic.

Recently, I was talking with a friend who was excited to hear I had a new book coming out soon. “But is it scary?” she asked apprehensively. I told her a little about it: a woman returns to her old family home after her sister drowns in the spring fed pool—oh, and the pool is rumored to be bottomless and her sister believed there was something lurking in the water. So yeah, it’s a little creepy. My friend apologized and said that she just couldn’t read unsettling books because of how unsettling the world is right now. I would argue (and did!) that that is exactly when we need these books the most; they take us to dark places and help us explore our fears from the relative safety of our favorite reading spot…

(6) DON’T ASK. “Yahoo Answers, a Haven for the Confused, Is Shutting Down” reports the New York Times.

At times on Yahoo Answers, the people asking questions of strangers lunged for the hallucinatory limits of human curiosity: What would a heaven for elephants be like? Should scientists give octopi bones?

It helped people identify their sense of self: Why do people with baguettes think they are better than me? Is being popular in high school a good skill I can use in a job interview?

It sought explanations for the unexplainable: Smoke coming from my belly button? Why is everything at my grandma’s house moist?

And it gave air to gaps in knowledge and admissions that perhaps had nowhere else to go: What does a hug feel like?

Yahoo, which is owned by Verizon Media, will be shutting down the question-and-answer service and deleting its archives on May 4, erasing a corner of the internet that will be widely remembered for its — to be charitable — less-than-enriching contributions to human knowledge since its arrival in 2005.

Less charitably, BuzzFeed News this week called it “one of the dumbest places on the internet.” Vulture said it was “populated entirely with Batman villains, aliens pretending to be human, and that one weird neighbor you’d rather climb down your fire escape in a blizzard than get caught in a conversation with.”

There is plenty of evidence for that position. People asked: Can you milk Gushers to make fruit juice? Can I cook raw chicken in the Michael wave? I forgot when my job interview is? What animal is Sonic the hedgehog? IS THIS YAHOO EMAIL SUPPORT?

Most famously, in a question that launched a meme, a confused soul who had learned little about reproductive science or spelling asked: How is babby formed?

It was never known how many of the questions were based in earnest ignorance and curiosity, and how much was intentional trolling. Answering required no expertise, and often displayed little of it.

But the site clearly was seen by some people, including children, as a comfortable space to ask the questions — sometimes important ones — they’d never dare to ask friends, families and teachers….

(7) ZOOMING INTO FANHISTORY. [Item by Joe Siclari.] The Fanac Fan History Project has three more Zoom Programs coming up over the next two months.

April 17, Saturday – 2pm EDT, 11AM PDT, 7PM London –  Early Star Trek Fandom, with Ruth Berman and Devra Langsam.  Stories and anecdotes from Ruth and Devra about their entry into fandom, about the origins of Star Trek fandom, and how they came to publish T-Negative and Spockanallia. For those of us that came into fandom later, here’s a chance to hear how Star Trek was received in general fandom, how Trek fandom got started, who the BNFs were and what they were they like.  How did the first Trek fanzines and Trek conventions affect fandom, and how did Trek fandom grow  and become its own thing. RSVP to fanac@fanac.org.

April 27, Tuesday – 4pm EDT, 1pm PDT,  9PM London. An Interview with Erle Korshak by Joe Siclari. Erle Korshak is one of our remaining FIrst Fans (inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame in 1996) and a Guest of Honor at Chicon 8 (2022 Worldcon). Erle was an organizer of the first Chicon,  the 1940 Worldcon, and was one of the Worldcon auctioneers for many years. He started Shasta Publishers, one of the first successful specialty SF publishers.  He was also involved with early SF movies. In this session, fan historian Joe Siclari  will interview Erle and his son Steve about early fandom, early conventions (including Worldcons), Shasta, and both Erle and Steve’s continuing interest in illustration art. Note: this is a midweek session. RSVP to fanac@fanac.org.

May 22, Saturday – 2pm EDT, 11AM PDT, 7PM London – An Interview with Bjo and John Trimble. Bjo and John Trimble have had an enormous impact on fandom from the 1950s onward. They’ve pubbed their ish, and some of the zines are available on FANAC.org. Bjo created the convention art show as we know it today (pre-pandemic) with Project Art Show, and published PAS-tell to share info with interested fans everywhere. In LASFS,  Bjo had a large role in reviving a flagging LASFS in the late 50s. Her most famous contribution was the successful Save Star Trek campaign which resulted in a 3rd year of the original series. Bjo was one of the organziers of Los Angeles fandom’s film making endeavors.  John is a co-founder of the LASFS clubzine, De Profundis and an editor of Shangri-L’Affaires. Bjo and John were Fan Guests of Honor at ConJose (2002), and were nominated twice for Best Fanzine Hugos. Bjo was nominated for the Best Fan Artist Hugo. In this interview, expect stories and anecdotes of Los Angeles fandom, how the art show came to be, Save Star Trek and much more.  RSVP to fanac@fanac.org.

(8) SPEAKING OF MATH. Although James Davis Nicoll is aTor.com blogging machine, after he ran the numbers he realized, “I still won’t hit 1000 tor essays until 2032 or 2033….” Whichever number this is, the title is: “Five SF Stories That Embrace the Scientifically Improbable Reactionless Drive”.

… The rocket equation is vexatious for SF authors for a couple of reasons: 1) It’s math. 2) It imposes enormous constraints on the sort of stories the sort of author who cares about math can tell.   Drives that produce thrust without emitting mass are therefore very attractive.  Small surprise that persons with an enthusiasm for space travel and a weakness for crank science leap on each iteration of the reactionless drive as it bubbles up in the zeitgeist.

One such crank was John W. Campbell, Jr., the notorious editor of Astounding/Analog (for whom a dwindling number of awards are named). Because of his position and because authors, forever addicted to luxuries like clothing, food, and shelter, wanted to sell stories to Campbell, Campbell’s love of reactionless drives like the Dean Drive created an environment in which stories featuring such drives could flourish, at Analog and elsewhere….

(9) BONANNO OBIT. Author Margaret Wander Bonanno (1950-2021) has died reports Keith R.A. DeCandido. She wrote seven Star Trek novels, several science fiction novels set in her own worlds, including The Others, a collaborative novel with Nichelle Nichols, a biography, and other works. Her novel Preternatural was a New York Times Notable Book for 1997.[

DeCandido’s tribute “Margaret Wander Bonanno, RIP” says in part:

…We remained friends over the years, and when she came back to writing Trek fiction in the 2000s, I got to work with her a few times: I served as the line editor on her Christopher Pike novel Burning Dreams, I was the continuity editor on her Lost Era novel Catalyst of Sorrows, and best of all, I commissioned her to write the conclusion to the Mere Anarchy eBook series that celebrated Trek‘s 40th anniversary in 2006. Margaret did a superb job with the conclusion of this miniseries, which was entitled Its Hour Come Round, and which included one of my favorite scenes in any work of Trek fiction, a conversation between Raya elMora (one of the recurring characters in Mere Anarchy) and Klingon Chancellor Azetbur (from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)….

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • April 8, 1887 Hope Mirrlees. She is best known for the 1926 Lud-in-the-Mist, a fantasy novel apparently beloved by many. (I’m not one of them.) In 1970, an American reprint was published without the author’s permission, as part of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. (Died 1978.) (CE) 
  • Born April 8, 1907 – Vincent Napoli.  Four covers, two hundred forty interiors for us; WPA (Works Progress Adm’n) muralist, e.g. this.  Here is an interior for “Time and Time Again” – H. Beam Piper, Apr 47 Astounding.  Here is one for “The Earth Men” – R. Bradbury, Aug 48 Thrilling Wonder Stories.  Here is one for ”Dark o’ the Moon” – S. Quinn, Jul 49 Weird Tales.  (Died 1981) [JH]
  • Born April 8, 1912 –Ted Carnell.  Fan Guest of Honor at Cinvention the 7th Worldcon, brought by the Big Pond Fund.  Chaired Loncon I the 15th Worldcon.  Guest of Honour at Eastercon 11.  Developed a pro career, editing New Worlds, Science FantasySF AdventuresNew Writing in SF; five dozen author profiles.  First Fandom Hall of Fame.  (Died 1972) [JH]
  • Born April 8, 1933 – Cele Goldsmith.  Edited Amazing and Fantastic – both at once – living up to those names.  Special Committee Award form Chicon III the 20th Worldcon.  Amazing memoir years later in the Mar 83 issue.  Andrew Porter’s appreciation here.  Mike Ashley’s here.  (Died 2002) [JH]
  • Born April 8, 1939 – Trina Hyman. Twoscore covers, a score of interiors for us; illustrated a hundred fifty books all told, e.g. A Room Made of Windows.  Here is Peter Pan.  Here is the Aug 88 F & SF.  Here is The Serpent Slayer.  Caldecott Medal, Boston Globe – Horn Book and Golden Kite Awards.  (Died 2004) [JH]
  • April 8, 1942 Douglas Trumbull, 79. Let’s call him a genius and leave it at that. He contributed to, or was fully responsible for, the special photographic effects of Close Encounters of the Third Kind2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Blade Runner, and directed the movies Silent Running and Brainstorm. And Trumbull was executive producer for Starlost. (CE) 
  • April 8, 1967 Cecilia Tan, 54. Editor, writer and founder of Circlet Press, which she says is the first press devoted to erotic genre fiction. It has published well over a hundred digital book to date with such titles as Telepaths Don’t Need Safewords and Other Stories from the Erotic Edge of SF/Fantasy (Wouldn’t Bester be surprised to learn that. I digress), Sex in the System: Stories of Erotic Futures, Technological Stimulation, and the Sensual Life of Machines and Genderflex: Sexy Stories on the Edge and In-Between. She has two series, Magic University and The Prince’s Boy. (CE) 
  • Born April 8, 1968 – Alex Toader, age 53.  (Romanian name, “toe-AH-derr”.)  Here is The Day Dreamer.  Here is the Predator drop ship (Predators, N. Antal dir. 2010).  Here is a Terra-to-Mars spaceport.  Here is Tractor Beams Engaged.  [JH]
  • April 8, 1974 Nnedi Okorafor, 47. Who Fears Death won a World Fantasy Award for Best Novel.  Lagoon which is an Africanfuturism or Africanjujuism novel (her terms) was followed by her amazing Binti trilogy. Binti which led it off that trilogy won both a Nebula Award and a Hugo Award for best novella. Several of her works have been adapted for video, both in Africa and in North America. (CE) 
  • Born April 8, 1978 – Natasha Rhodes, age 43.  Eight novels, one shorter story.  Motion pictures too, some of the novels are tie-ins.  Interview here; among much else she says “There were a lot of male sulky faces and pouty lips when women’s rights came in and became the norm rather than the exception.” [JH]
  • April 8, 1980 Katee Sackhoff, 41. Being noted here  for playing Lieutenant Kara “Starbuck” Thrace on the rebooted Battlestar Galactica though I must confess I’ve only seen in her excellent role as Deputy Sheriff Victoria “Vic” Moretti on Longmire. She also played Amunet Black, a recurring character who showed up on the fourth season of The Flash. To my pleasant surprise, I see her on Star Wars: The Clone Wars in a recurring role voicing Bo-Katan Kryze. (CE)
  • April 8, 1981 Taylor Kitsch, 40. You’ll possibly remember him  as the lead in John Carter which I swear was originally titled John Carter of Mars. He also played Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and was Lieutenant Commander Alex Hopper in Battleship which was based off the board game but had absolutely nothing to with that game. (CE)

(11) COMICS SECTION.

(12) ANSIBLE LINKS. David Langford, in the wake of hosting of Alison Scott’s Eastercon bid speech and Farah Mendlesohn’s ConFusion polemic, has added two more items of interest to the Ansible site:

Alison’s brief Doc Weir Award acceptance speech.

And, Jerry Kaufman’s presentation speech for the “FAAn Award for Lifetime Achievement”, virtually presented to Langford during the recent FAAn Awards ceremony.

… When I share the least fragment of this person’s extensive contributions to fanzines, science fiction, and fan culture, you’ll know immediately who I am talking about. But let’s pretend we don’t. He discovered science fiction at an early age in Wales (how green was his Soylent), and found fandom at the Oxford University SF Group…. 

(13) MARS WAVES HELO. Space.com’s opinion is “These selfies of NASA’s Mars helicopter with the Perseverance rover are just amazing”.

Seán Doran created this mosaic of Perseverance and the Ingenuity helicopter together using 62 images captured by the rover on its 46th Martian sol.

And also – “Perseverance snaps headshots on Mars in latest pics”.

Perseverance’s SHERLOC WATSON camera captured imagery of the Mast ‘head’ of the rover on April 6, 2021 (Sol 45). The imagery is combined with Martian wind audio captured by Perseverance on Sol 4.

(14) AN UNUSED SCROLL TITLE. [Item by Daniel Dern.] As someone who didn’t watch TNG as it happened, only random in returns over the decades since, and who finds Q annoying at best, my thought is, potential title-wise:

Q? Feh

(15) SACRE BLEU! Andrew Porter was tuned into tonight’s episode of Jeopardy! and witnessed this:

Category: Books by the number

Answer: Jules Verne’s first novel was “Cinq Semaines en Ballon”, or this long “In a Balloon”

Wrong question: What is 80 days?

Right question: What is five weeks?

John King Tarpinian, meanwhile, was pleased the show had a Bradbury reference, and sent this screenshot.

(16) HERE’S A CLUE. In “The 100 Best, Worst, and Strangest Sherlock Holmes Portrayals of All-Time, Ranked” on CrimeReads, Olivia Rutligiano ranks 100 actors (99 humans and one dog) who have portrayed Sherlock Holmes.  She includes characters who think they’re Sherlock Holmes, so Data and Stewie from Family Guy are here.  The actors include two who played Doctor Who and three from various versions of Star Trek.

…What are the criteria we’re using to rank these portrayals? Fidelity to the source text? Creativeness of the interpretations? Resemblance to Sidney Paget’s illustrations? Quality of acting? Kind of. Simply put, portrayals are ranked in their ability to present a Holmes who makes sense as a derivation of the original character while exploring, interrogating, and expanding the character’s qualities in a thoughtful and meaningful way. And of course, yes, the quality of the performance itself matters.

The dog ranks ahead of Data! And the new number two is —

2. Basil Rathbone, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939), etc.

The consummate actor Basil Rathbone, besides having my favorite name ever, is often considered to be the gold-standard for Holmes portrayals, having played Holmes in fourteen films in the 1930s and 40s. For many out there, he is *the* Holmes, and this is more than fair. Rathbone’s Holmes is an interesting take… very logical, though not wry, but also very vigorous. While he’s certainly very affable, there is little whimsy, nothing too nonconformist about him. It’s truly marvelous to behold (though more marvelous is how he never once turns around to flick Nigel Bruce’s idiot Watson on the head).

(17) VIDEOS OF THE DAY. “Leonard Nimoy As Sherlock Holmes:  The Interior Motive (1976) Full Version” on YouTube is a 1976 episode of the PBS show “The Universe and I” in which Leonard Nimoy, as Sherlock Holmes, provides a science lesson about the nature of the earth’s core.

And here’s a clip featuring Peter Capaldi’s performance as Holmes — because you can never have enough Peter Capaldi.

[Thanks to Mike Kennedy, Daniel Dern, Michael Toman, John King Tarpinian, Joe Siclari, James Davis Nicoll, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Ben Bird Person, John Hertz, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Matthew Johnson.]

Adler Blog Tour Visits File 770

File 770 today hosts a Titan-Comics blog tour for Adler, written by Lavie Tidhar and with art by Paul McCaffrey. Here’s James Bacon’s review of the issue, plus a six-page excerpt from the comic:


Review by James Bacon

  • Adler by Lavie Tidhar and Paul McCaffrey

This is a light and fun romp into a strange steampunkesque world, where our protagonists are delightfully drawn from literature, Irene Adler, the cunning and brilliant equal of Sherlock Holmes, taking primary role, and calling on an interesting selection of characters, an orphan called Annie, Jane Eyre and Lady Haversham. 

Tidhar, set out where this alternative history sits: 

“1902:Queen Victoria still rules, sustained by some terrible science; the forces of colonial resistance gather to fight the British Empire; and Irene Adler and her friends must stop a deadly plot…”   

I have to admit that I am well-impressed by the depth to which Tidhar has gone to, the various villains, from a handsome Jack based on David Warner’s portrayal and Le Fanu’s Carmilla, there is a cleverness to how he weaves in the various characters, and of course, the main villain is Ayesha, based I assume, on Henry Rider Haggard’s protagonist from She. 

The blurb lets us know that it is time to “meet the League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen” and that is indeed fair.

I was a little underwhelmed by the actual story, I perhaps was not all that keen on seeing the Queen of a country that was crushed by the British Empire into being a colony being portrayed as the villain, instead of a righteous rebel fighting for her nationhood. I suspect that a lot of the fun aspects, from the clothing to the lighter style of art, was not what I was looking for, at this time. I had hoped for a darker and grittier story, and the look and artistic style of this comic which flows well, is prettily drawn and tells a fun story, was not what I was hoping for, and part of that is down to me, a shelf of Lavie Tidhar and even his bibliography on Michael Marshall Smith sits proudly on my bookcase, so I maybe brought to much expectation to this easier going, fun comic. 

It isn’t exactly like there is too much whimsy, it just felt slightly out of kilter for me. It might be aimed and presented for a younger market, other readers perhaps, and I am certain that it will be enjoyed, which is great. I love that there are comics that are just not for me, as it now means they are for someone else, and that is a good thing. 

I wanted something that was a little more nuanced, perhaps a heavier twist with these same well thought of characters, and heavier, darker, much more reflective of our now, where societal structures and imperialism is more the enemy than to be defended.  


Six pages of interior art follow the jump.

Continue reading

Pixel Scroll 4/7/21 Pixels Who Need Pixels Are The Luckiest Pixels In The Scroll

(1) AN APPEAL. [Item by rcade.] In a series of tweets Tuesday, Astounding Award winner Jeannette Ng asks for more nuanced takes on problematic elements of literary works and less pat conclusions about what they reveal about the author. Thread starts here.

One of the commenters references the literary critic F. R. Leavis.

Leavis was an influential British critic who took the position that a great work must be a demonstration of the author’s intense moral seriousness and that by reading it “the reader would acquire moral sensibility — a sense of what was true and good — which transcended social differences,” according to the Cambridge History of Literary Criticism.

(2) HE HAS THE ANSWER – DO THEY HAVE THE RIGHT QUESTION? “Fans campaign for LeVar Burton to host ‘Jeopardy!’” reports the New York Post.

… “Leaving this here in the event that the powers that be are listening,” Burton, 64, tweeted Monday alongside a petition started by a fan of the beloved “Star Trek” actor. The document boasted over 130,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning.

The petition comes amid a feverish push on Twitter for the wholesome television icon to host the gameshow.

(3) NEXT ON NETFLIX. Yahoo! assures fans Jupiter’s Legacy Trailer Packs Superpowered Family Drama”.

…We also get brief snippets about the origin of Sheldon (a.k.a. The Utopian) and his cohort’s powers; the trailer ominously teases the long-ago events “on the island” that turned a group of mere mortals into superhuman beings. (This group would then bear the name The Union). More will reveal as the series approaches, and we’re looking forward to unwrapping some of these mysteries once it hits Netflix on May 7.

(4) BUSTED. In “Cracking the Case of London’s Elusive, Acrobatic Rare-Book Thieves”, Marc Wortman tells Vanity Fair readers

Impossible,” said David Ward. The London Metropolitan Police constable looked up. Some 50 feet above him, he saw that someone had carved a gaping hole through a skylight. Standing in the Frontier Forwarding warehouse in Feltham, West London, he could hear the howl of jets from neighboring Heathrow Airport as they roared overhead.

At Ward’s feet lay three open trunks, heavy-duty steel cases. They were empty. A few books lay strewn about. Those trunks had previously been full of books. Not just any books. The missing ones, 240 in all, included early versions of some of the most significant printed works of European history.

Gone was Albert Einstein’s own 1621 copy of astronomer Johannes Kepler’s The Cosmic Mystery, in which he lays out his theory of planetary motion. Also missing was an important 1777 edition of Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, his book describing gravity and the laws of physics. Among other rarities stolen: a 1497 update of the first book written about women, Concerning Famous Women; a 1569 version of Dante’s Divine Comedy; and a sheath with 80 celebrated prints by Goya. The most valuable book in the haul was a 1566 Latin edition of On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, by Copernicus, in which he posits his world-changing theory that Earth and the other planets revolve around the sun. That copy alone had a price tag of $293,000. All together, the missing books—stolen on the night of January 29, 2017, into early the next day—were valued at more than $3.4 million. Given their unique historical significance and the fact that many contained handwritten notes by past owners, most were irreplaceable.

Scotland Yard’s Ward was stunned. He couldn’t recall a burglary like this anywhere. The thieves, as if undertaking a special-ops raid, had climbed up the sheer face of the building. From there, they scaled its pitched metal roof on a cold, wet night, cut open a fiberglass skylight, and descended inside—without tripping alarms or getting picked up by cameras.…

(5) BOOKS FOR PRISONERS ASKED. [Item by rcade.] The shelves of the Appalachian Prison Book Project are running low on science fiction and fantasy, the charity revealed recently in a tweet:

The project sends free books to people imprisoned in Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

They seek new and used paperbacks only and have more detailed donation guidelines on their website.

“We receive about 200 letters every week from people incarcerated in our region,” a project coordinator told File 770 in email. “It’s a wide range of requests. Generally, people choose a few genres they are interested in to ask about in their letter. We have sci-fi and fantasy as two separate categories on our genre list, and we don’t include subgenres, so people choose whatever genres they want to read.”

Asked if there are particular preferences within SFF, the coordinator replied, “We occasionally get requests for specific authors, but unless they have a specific title in mind, most people list themes and topics. For example, thay may want to read books about time travel or vampires or wizards or interstellar exploration. It’s our volunteers who search through our donated books to find the best fit for them.”

The charity’s Voices from the Inside page shares testimonials from grateful prisoners about the books they’ve received.

A prisoner in Whiteville, Tennessee, praised a 2002 vampire novel by Simon Clark: “Thank you so much for my copy of Vampyrrhic! I loved it! As I have said before not many people want to fool with us old convicts.”

Donations of books should fill no more than two medium-sized boxes and be sent using the U.S. Postal Service to this address:

Appalachian Prison Book Project
PO Box 601
Morgantown, WV 26507

(6) CALLING 1984. Not that 1984. I mean the year that gave us Ghostbusters and the line “I tried to think of the most harmless thing. Something I loved from my childhood. Something that could never ever possibly destroy us. Mr. Stay Puft!” “Ghostbusters: Afterlife unleashes a mini Stay Puft army in first clip”SYFY Wire sets the scene.

The iconic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is coming back in Ghostbusters: Afterlife, but he’s a lot smaller and more numerous than you remember. In the first official clip from director Jason Reitman’s long-delayed film, seismologist Mr. Grooberson (Ant-Man‘s Paul Rudd) comes across a army of mini Stay Puft men while shopping for ice cream.

They’re wreaking absolute havoc in the store, riding around on Roombas and roasting each other on BBQs (their chaotic antics bringing to mind Joe Dante’s Gremlins and composer Rob Simonsen subtly pays homage to Elmer Bernstein’s eerie score from 1984). Don’t be fooled by their cuteness, though — Grooberson attempts to poke one of the Stay Puft men in the stomach — à la the Pillsbury Doughboy — with painful results.

(7) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

  • April 7, 1933 — On this day in 1933, King Kong premiered. It was directed and produced by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. The screenplay was written by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose from an idea by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace. It stars Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot and Robert Armstrong. Critics mostly loved it, the box office was quite amazing and the audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes currently give it an astonishing ninety eighty percent approval rating. It has been ranked by Rotten Tomatoes as the fourth greatest horror film of all time.  You can watch it here as it’s very much in the public domain. 

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born April 7, 1882 – Ogawa Mimei.  (Personal name last, Japanese style.)  Called the founder of Japanese fairy tales.  The 2018 collection under that name has “The Mermaid and the Red Candles”, five more.  See another story here – I mean that, do see it.  (Died 1961) [JH]
  • Born April 7, 1915 Stanley Adams. He’s best known for playing Cyrano Jones in “The Trouble with Tribbles” Trek episode. He reprised his role in the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode “More Tribbles, More Troubles” and archival footage of him was later featured in the Deep Space Nine “Trials and Tribble-ations” episode. He also appeared in two episodes of the Batman series (“Catwoman Goes to College” and “Batman Displays his Knowledge”) as Captain Courageous. (Died 1977.) (CE)
  • Born April 7, 1915 Henry Kuttner. While he was working for the d’Orsay agency, he found Leigh Brackett’s early manuscripts in the slush pile; it was under his guidance that she sold her first story to Campbell at Astounding Stories.  His own work was done in close collaboration with C. L. Moore, his wife, and much of what they would publish was under pseudonyms.  During the Forties, he also contributed numerous scripts to the Green Lantern series. He’s won two Retro Hugos, the first at Worldcon 76 for “The Twonky” short story, the second at Dublin 2019 for “Mimsy Were the Borogoves”. (Died 1958.) (CE) 
  • Born April 7, 1928 James White. Certainly the Sector General series which ran to twelve books and ran over thirty years of publication was his best known work. I’ve no idea how many I read but I’m certain that it was quite a few. I’m not sure what else by him I’ve read but I’m equally sure there was other novels down the years. It appears that only a handful of the novels are available from the usual suspects. (Died 1999.) (CE) 
  • Born April 7, 1930 – Ronald Mackelworth.  Five novels “usually involving complex but rarely jumbled plotting” (John Clute), a score of shorter stories.  Here is a Barbara Walton cover for Firemantle.  (Died 2000) [JH]
  • Born April 7, 1935 – Marty Cantor, age 86.  Long-time fanziner; self-knowledge entitled his Hugo-finalist (as we must now say) fanzine Holier Than Thou; with another, No Award, I could tell him “You are worthy of No Award, and No Award is worthy of you.”  While he & Robbie Bourget were married they were elected DUFF (Down Under Fan Fund) delegates together, publishing two reports, one each, bound head-to-tail like an Ace Double; they were Fan Guests of Honor at Alternacon.  MC later chaired Corflu 34 (fanziners’ con; corflu = mimeograph correction fluid, once indispensable), published Phil Castora’s memoir Who Knows What Ether Lurks in the Minds of Fen?  Arrived among us in his forties, an exception to yet another theory.  Earned LASFS’ Evans-Freehafer Award Los Angeles Science Fantasy Soc.; service).  [JH]
  • Born April 7, 1939 Francis Ford Coppola, 82. Director / Writer / Producer. THX 1138 was produced by him and directed by George Lucas in his feature film directorial debut in 1971. Saw it late at night after some serious drug ingestion with a red head into Morrison — strange experience that was. Other genre works of note include Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a episode of Faerie Tale Theatre entitled Rip Van Winkle, Twixt (a horror film that I’m betting almost no one has heard of), Captain EO which featured Michael JacksonMary Shelley’s FrankensteinJeepers Creepers and Jeepers Creepers 2. (CE)
  • Born April 7, 1945 – Susan Petrey.  Six novels, nine shorter stories.  Her vampires are non-supernatural.  Interviewed in Lightspeed.  Good writing and an early death prompted a Clarion scholarship in her name.  (Died 1980) [JH]
  • Born April 7, 1946 Stan Winston. He’s best known for his work in Aliens, the Terminator franchise, the first three Jurassic Park films, the first two Predator films, Batman Returns and Iron Man. (He also did the Inspector Gadget film which I still haven’t seem.) He was unusual in having expertise in makeup, puppets and practical effects, and was just starting to get in digital effects as well upon the time of his passing. I think we sum up his talent by noting that he won an Oscars for Best Visual Effects and Best Makeup for his work on Terminator 2: Judgment Day. (Died 2008.) (CE) 
  • Born April 7, 1951 Yvonne Gilbert, 70. Though best remembered for her controversial cover design of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s 1983 single “Relax”, she did a number of great genre covers including Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea for Bantam in 1991 and Beagle’s A Dance for Emilia for Roc in 2000. (CE) 
  • Born April 7, 1981 – Lili Wilkinson, Ph.D., age 40. A novel and two shorter stories for us; many others (I’m not counting e.g. Joan of Arc).  Won a stopwatch in a Readathon.  Established Inky Awards at the Centre for Youth Literature, State Library of Victoria.  [JH]
  • Born April 7, 1982 – Zoë Marriott, age 39.  Nine novels.  Sasakawa Prize.  Two cats, one named Hero after the Shakespearian character (hurrah! she’s so cool! – JH), and the other Echo after the nymph in Greek myth.  Finishes a list of favorite songs with Spem in alium (hurrah! hurrah!).  [JH]

(9) COMICS SECTION.

  • Shoe’s answer to a science question might qualify as science fantasy.

(10) SO THE ONE THING CAPTAIN AMERICA AND VOX DAY HAVE IN COMMON IS THEY BOTH DISLIKE THIS GUY? The Captain America comic portrays Red Skull as suspiciously close to Jordan Peterson…and Peterson decided to lean into it. Which is kind of hilarious. “Captain America supervillain the Red Skull has been behaving a lot like Jordan Peterson lately, thanks to Ta-Nehisi Coates” at Slate.

Jordan Peterson is a Canadian professor of psychology who was embraced by right-wingers in 2016 after refusing to honor his students’ requests to use their preferred pronouns, then leveraged his YouTube channel and fear of political correctness to build a career as a self-help guru to the alt-right. He also appears to be the basis for the current incarnation of Marvel’s Nazi supervillain the Red Skull, who has returned to the comic book universe courtesy of Between the World and Me writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates is currently wrapping up a 2½-year run on Captain America, and in Captain America No. 28, which was released on March 31, the Red Skull has a YouTube channel that looked very familiar to Peterson, except for the red skull part…

If for some inexplicable reason you want a more serious look at the topic, there’s Camestros Felapton’s “A short Twitter diversion on Jordan Peterson” and The Mary Sue’s “Jordan Peterson Mad He Inspired Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Red Skull”.

(11) LATE NIGHT. In Stephen Colbert’s “Quarantinewhile…” segment a University of Illinois gymnast sticks his vault and then brandishes his COVID-19 vaccine certificate, immediately followed by a reference to our favorite AI researcher, Dr. Janelle Shane, who taught AI to generate pickup lines. (For the background, see Vice’s article “A Scientist Taught AI to Generate Pickup Lines. The Results are Chaotic”.

(12) CHINA’S ANSWER TO SPOT? [Item by Mike Kennedy.]  IFL Science introduces a “Video Showing ‘Robot Army’ Released By Chinese Robotics Company”. The story includes two tweets with embedded videos. The one with a large number of robot dogs where they just stand up then lay back down appears to me to be real. The other one, where they do tricks together, is pretty clearly CGI layered over the real world.

Unitree Robotics appears to be China’s answer to Boston Dynamics, designing and manufacturing mobile, autonomous four-legged robots that are able to handle obstacles and right themselves after a stumble.  

Their products are all variants of a similar dog-like design, including BenBen, Aliengo, Laikago, and A1….

(13) A TIDY PROFIT. AP’s story entitled “Man, a steal! Rare Superman comic sells for record $3.25 million” says that Comicconnect.com sold a copy of Action Comics #1 yesterday for $3.25 million, beating the old record of $3.2 million.

One of the few copies of the comic book that introduced Superman to the world has sold for a super-size, record-setting price.

The issue of Action Comics #1 went for $3.25 million in a private sale, ComicConnect.com, an online auction and consignment company, announced Tuesday.

It narrowly bested the previous record for the comic, set in the auction of another copy in 2014 for slightly over $3.2 million.

The comic, published in 1938, “really is the beginning of the superhero genre,” said ComicConnect.com COO Vincent Zurzolo, who brokered the sale.

It told readers about the origins of Superman, how he came to Earth from another planet and went by Clark Kent.

The seller of this particular issue bought the comic in 2018 for slightly more than $2 million.

(14) DISCOVERY’S NEW SEASON. “Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 Trailer Faces an Unknown Threat” promises Coming Soon.

Paramount+ has released the first trailer for the upcoming fourth season of Star Trek: Discovery, which is set to premiere later this year. The video features Sonequa Martin-Green’s Captain Burnham as she leads the crew against an unknown threat that could possibly destroy all of them without any warning.

(15) BURGER COSPLAY. [Item by Daniel Dern. Except for tasteless quote selected by OGH.] Given Kevin Smith’s sf activities, e.g., writing comics like the (wonderful) Green Arrow Quiver series (plot arc?), some involvement with the semi-recent WB “Crisis” episodes (or at least one of the aftershows) and other stuff i can’t remember – let’s mention “Kevin Smith talks fast food ahead of his Boston pop-up restaurant ribbon-cutting”. (I saw this info as an article in today’s Boston Globe, but I know the MSN link isn’t paywalled..)

Boston’s House of Blues will transform into a pop-up Mooby’s, the fictional burger chain that appears in various Kevin Smith movies, April 8-16.

Fans will remember the mascot, Mooby the golden calf, that enrages Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s characters in “Dogma.” Chris Rock’s character eats at a Mooby’s in the same film. Mooby’s also appears in “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” and “Clerks II.”…

Q. So why Boston?

A. House of Blues reached out, and said: We’d do that. We never pressure anybody. We just wait for folks to reach out. The good thing about Mooby’s is it’s fake, so [no matter what building you dress up] people can’t say: ‘Well this don’t look like Mooby’s!’ Well what does? How many Mooby’s you been to exactly? Give us a day, and Derek will make it a Mooby’s.

Q. What’s your favorite menu item?

A. There’s a chicken sandwich in ‘Jay and Silent Bob Reboot’ called ‘Cock Smoker.’ We have that on our menu. It’s awesome to watch people try to order it in person. Generally everything is done on the reservation system in advance, but in LA, toward the end of the run, we opened it up [to walk-ins] and had four older ladies, each of giggling harder than the next when they ordered ‘Cock Smokers.’ I won’t get rich off restaurants, but that is wealth that you can’t measure.

(16) VIDEO OF THE DAY. In “Godzilla Vs. Kong” on Honest Trailers, the Screen Junkies say the film has such poor continuity with its two predecessors that it has “characters who forgot to mention they were related,” “characters they forgot to mention entirely” and a major plot point that didn’t appear in the two earlier films.  And watch out for Brian Tyree Henry as an annoying exposition-spouting podcaster! BEWARE SPOILERS.

[Thanks to Mike Kennedy, Michael Toman, Jennifer Hawthorne, John King Tarpinian, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Daniel Dern, John Hertz, Alan Baumler, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day rcade.]