Not Space Force. Space Forces. Forces Plural.

By Carl Slaughter: When Trump announced a space force, the late-night comedians had a field day.

But Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is this generation’s Carl Sagan, has been making the rounds of the talk shows to say that the idea of a space force is not fundamentally flawed.

I would go further.  Much further.

Tucked away in an article about China going to Mars and the Moon is a sentence that jumped out at me:  One of the craters on the far side of the Moon is iron rich.

We haven’t seen a soil sample from that crater or a gas sample from Jupiter or an ice sample from Saturn’s rings or a metal sample from the Asteroid Belt.  So we have not yet gotten excited about space mining.

But we will.  When we have lab confirmation that those resources are available and realize they are within our grasp, we’re going to decide to mine space, just as we decided to walk on the Moon, and we’re going to make it happen.

And that’s when we will have high-stakes claims wars  –  and sabotage and espionage and assassination.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, geopolitics and economies will go through upheaval in response to what’s happening in space.

Meanwhile, out in space, colonies will declare their independence, just as America and India did, and try to nationalize the resources they were sent there to mine.

Those mother countries are going to say to those colonists, “We financed that colony.  If you want to be independent, you can start your own colony.  If not, prepare to be executed, exiled, or imprisoned.”

It’s going to be something out of a science fiction story.  Yeah, there’ s gonna be space forces.  Forces plural.

The Pentagon, the Russians, and the Chinese have all demonstrated the capacity to shoot down satellites.  We have manned shuttles and manned space stations.  We have already landed on the Moon.  It’s only a matter of time, and probably in our lifetime, before Elon Musk or NASA or someone builds a colony on Mars.

Eventually, some clever scientists will find a way to mine those gases, metals, and ice.  Then other clever scientists will find a way to transport all those resources to Earth cheaply.

Wormholes, FLT, mass transfer.  They are distant, but their day will arrive.

The day is coming when a space force will make as much sense as a police force, a naval force, and an air force.

Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby?

By John Hertz:  In the course of reading and re-reading this and that I came across these two remarks I thought worth attention.  They touch points we often talk of.

Here’s Bernard Shaw in a 1930 preface to a reprint of his play The Philanderer. I found it in Plays Unpleasant (Penguin Bks. 1978, p. 98; I haven’t compared any of the more recent printings).

There is a disease to which plays as well as men become liable with advancing years.  In men it is called doting, in plays dating.  The more topical the play the more it dates.  The Philanderer suffers from this complaint.  In the eighteen-nineties, when it was written, not only dramatic literature but life itself was staggering from the impact of Ibsen’s plays, which reached us in 1889.  The state of mind represented by the Ibsen Club in this play was familiar then to our Intelligentsia.  That far more numerous body which may be called the Unintelligentsia was as unconscious of Ibsen as of any other political influence….

I make no attempt to bring the play up to date.  I should as soon think of bringing Ben Jonson’s  Bartholomew Fair up to date by changing the fair into a Woolworth store.  The human nature in it is still in the latest fashion: indeed I am far from sure that its ideas, instead of being 36 years behind the times, are not for a considerable section of the community 36 years ahead of them.  My picture of the past may be for many people a picture of the future.  At all events I shall leave the play as it is; for all the attempts within my experience to modernize ancient plays have only produced worse anachronisms than those they aimed at remedying.

Now here’s Vladimir Nabokov. He’s writing in 1949 about Afanasy Fet. I found it in the posthumous collection Verses and Versions (pp. 300-01).

Literary criticism in Russia, or at least that part of literary criticism that swayed the reader, was mainly a social force, occupied with social civic problems, and to such critics, to critics immensely celebrated in Russia as champions of liberty, civilization, commonsense, popular science, and the rest … a poet who spent his time inventing new methods of making poems out of landscapes, or love, was a ridiculous freak, a heretic, a sinner against mankind….  Fet was harried, spat at, spanked, mocked, insulted in such a thorough fashion that it is a wonder he never lost his head, never so much as replied to those attacks, ignoring absolutely his furious critics who in the long run made dreadful fools of themselves by raving at things they did not understand.  And so it happened that up to the present day it is a good way to test whether a Russian understands poetry or not by finding out whether he appreciates Fet….

The matter-of-fact critics who cursed Fet because he did not describe the sufferings of the Russian peasant in blunt manly measures, those critics were particularly maddened by Fet’s verse slipping as it were between their fingers, verse which became intangible when placed in a coarse medium of their own world, for in their world mental curves were as illegal as the roundness of the world was in the days of the flat-footed logicians who were firmly planted on a flat beach, where every grain of sand voiced, unheeded, the claim of its circular shape.  A poem by Fet seemed to them meaningless, because for them the meaning of things was limited by the square angles of their immediate use – city squares where crowds gather with square flags, square shoes, square prison cells, square tombstones.  But Fet looped his loop and was suddenly somewhere in the Milky Way just when he was expected to come home with some reasonable explanation of his behavior.

Among much else I was struck by how pertinent these seemed, written ninety and seventy years ago – about things written a hundred twenty and a hundred thirty years ago.  But so are Shakespeare and Lady Murasaki. They are also of course impertinent.

Do Shaw and Nabokov contradict each other?  Very well then they contradict each other.  They are large, they contain multitudes.

Finding New Science Fiction and Fantasy: The Short Form

By Rob Thornton:  In the Pixel Scroll for March 11, 2018, the Filers discussed a blog post from Kevin Drum of Mother Jones, which alleged that science fiction was “no longer writing” what he wanted to read. As a result of those discussions, John A Arkansawyer suggested that someone create a resource named “Seven simple ways for the casual SF fan to find a likely new book without investing too much time.”

This post attempts to fulfill that request. Here is a collection of links to sites that generate lists of newly published science fiction and fantasy books. If possible, the link leads to a source’s latest list (such as Amazon). If not, the link leads to a list of search results (such as “best new science fiction and fantasy” at Barnes & Noble) which captures the most recent lists. Please add other sources in the comments.

Direct Links

Search Results

Standalone Novels:

Thanks to: Both JJ and Dann for making contributions to the list and additional thanks to JJ for cleaning up some of my links as well.

Laura Resnick: Genres Unlimited

Laura Resnick

By Carl Slaughter: Laura Resnick broke into writing through the romance genre, switched to sci-fi short fiction, did an urban fantasy trilogy, and then a series of comedy-horror-detective novels.  The first 7 in the series were recently produced as high quality full cast audio.  Now Resnick is offering a humorous take on Lovecraft in Alex Schvartsman’s latest humor anthology.

CARL SLAUGHTER: What was the appeal of writing Lovecraft type horror?

LAURA RESNICK: Well, we didn’t write horror in the recently released anthology, The Cackle of Cthulhu (ed. Alex Shvartsman) from Baen Books, we wrote humor.

Lovecraft’s fiction seems to be going through another period of revival, where people discover or rediscover it. Cthulhu is a Lovecraft creation which, in addition to being popular with fans, has entered mainstream consciousness (ex. “Cthulhu for President” as an internet meme in 2016). Even people who’ve never heard of Lovecraft, or who’ve heard of him but have never read his work, are aware of Cthulhu these days. Also, Lovecraft’s prose style is tempting to satirize. So when Alex Shvartsman came up with the idea for the anthology, Baen Books was immediately interested, since Cthulhu is commercial and a Lovecraft humor anthology is unusual.

(The Baen Free Radio Hour on January 26 did a podcast interview with some of the contributors — Alex, me, Esther Friesner, Jody Lynn Nye, and Gini Koch.)

Part of the appeal for me was also that it was a good reason to read some Lovecraft, which I had never gotten around to doing. When Alex invited me into The Cackle of Cthulhu, I was completely unfamiliar with Lovecraft’s work (apart from the Cthulhu memes)—a fact I did not share with Alex until we did a podcast interview to promote the anthology’s release!

CS: Describe the research you did into Lovecraft and what did you discover along the way?

LAURA RESNICK: I normally turn down any invitation to write a story inspired by works that I don’t know (ex. a series of novels I haven’t read, or a TV series I haven’t watched, etc.), since I can’t spare the time to dive into that much material for a random short story. But one thing I did know about Lovecraft was that he focused on short fiction, so I could get a good feel for his writing and themes, and particularly for the “Cthulhu mythos,” in just a couple of evenings.

So I read The Call of Cthulhu, At the Mountains of Madness, The Dunwich Horror, and a few others. The story I liked best happens to have nothing to do with Cthulhu; in “Imprisoned With the Pharaohs,” the great Harry Houdini gets abducted while visiting Egypt and has to escape from mysterious ancient underground caverns where Strange Things Happen.

I found Lovecraft’s stories very imaginative and colorful and pretty creepy. It’s easy to see why his work influenced people. The language is rich and interesting, but it’s also melodramatic; as someone else said, it often seems like a thesaurus vomited on the page. His writing also evinces fastidiousness (or sometimes revulsion) about anyone who isn’t a white Anglo-Saxon protestant.

CS: Describe studying and writing about Cthulhu.

LAURA RESNICK: Well, the assignment was to write a funny Lovecraftian story, and reading the stories had got me thinking in pulp fiction mode. I am a fan of noir crime story motifs and hard-boiled detective tropes (or, okay, clichés). So I reimagined Cthulhu as a traditional private eye, writhing tentacles and all. In my story, “Cthulhu, P.I.,” the cruise ship industry has discovered R’lyeh and corporate culture has taken over. Cthulhu, who got terrible legal advice, signed such a bad contract with a marketing company that he can’t be seen anywhere near R’lyeh without violating the licensing rights for his own image. So he has relocated to Innsmouth and reinvented himself as a private detective. The story begins when a long-legged blonde walks in the door, needing his help to deal with a blackmailer, but things aren’t quite what they seem… Also, there are some Airplane-style jokes.

CS: You’ve conquered several genres.  How do you go from inexperienced to master in such a short time?

LAURA RESNICK: I would say I’ve “worked in” several genres, not “conquered” them. And there hasn’t been anything “short” about the time!

I broke into the business very young, writing “category” or “series” romance novels for Silhouette Books, a division of Harlequin. Back then, Silhouette was a good place to start a writing career. My editors there worked closely with me and taught me a lot, and Silhouette in those days was buying books as fast as their authors could write them. You learn by doing, and I learned a lot by delivering a dozen books in 5 years (as well as by writing a lot of proposals during those years that got rejected).

A few years into my career, I also started writing sf/f short fiction, and that was a case of learn-by-doing, too. I wrote stories for about half a dozen anthologies per year back then (when the late great anthology packager Martin H. Greenberg was at his peak), and even though some of my early efforts weren’t that good, you’re bound to get better if you’re delivering a short story every couple of months for 3-4 years.

When I started writing book-length sf/f, I wrote a number of book proposals I couldn’t sell, before I finally came up with a viable project (on my third or fourth complete overhaul of the idea). And then after I sold it, it took me about a year to write the first book, In Legend Born, in that trilogy (and longer to write the next two books).

It also took, overall, more than ten years to get my urban fantasy series, the Esther Diamond novels, from proposal to publication. These days, I’m contracted through the 10th Esther Diamond novel, so it has worked out well; but it was a long road to get here—a road that was cluttered with agents who told me the project wasn’t marketable and wouldn’t sell (which is just one example, among many, of why I stopped working with literary agents).

At any rate, anyone who writes as much as I’ve been writing ever since the early days of my career has very little excuse not to keep improving at it.

CS: Any other genres in your future?

LAURA RESNICK: I have learned to avoid predictions, since nothing ever goes the way I expect! That said, I really enjoy mysteries and romantic suspense, so I can certainly see myself trying something in that vein eventually.

CS: Your Esther Diamond series is part horror, part fantasy, part detective, part romance.  How do you juggle all those genres in one story?

LAURA RESNICK: Artist Dan Dos Santos, who does the extraordinary covers for the Esther Diamond books, once said to me that the challenge of creating those images is coming up with the right balance of menace, comedy, and sexiness that characterize the novels.

And the word he chose—balance—is also what I strive for when writing the books, what I have to get right to make the stories work. The books are comedy, and whenever working on the humor aspect, the stakes still need to be compelling. I keep my eye on that ball, so that the comedy doesn’t descend into aimless schtick. Similarly, when following the plot-driven aspects of the story (usually the “detective” part), I need to make sure I don’t neglect the humor. The balance I look for in Esther’s chaotic love life is that she’s not just “hot” for her love interest, her heart is at stake. And when working on the horror/fantasy aspect of the stories, I remember that whatever scary stuff I write has to be able to balance with the comedy aspects of the books. So, for example, murder in an Esther Diamond novel often happens offstage, and it typically happens to characters we never meet, barely see, or really dislike; and it does not happen in these books to children or to characters we love.

CS: Give us the inside story on full cast audio.

LAURA RESNICK: The first seven Esther Diamond novels (which is how many have been published so far) were all adapted last year by Graphic Audio, which company describes its format as “a movie in your mind.”

These are full-cast audio recordings, including sound effects and music. They’re halfway between a traditional audiobook and a radio play. Each character is played by a different actor (and the casting maintains continuity, using the same actors from book to book for the continuing characters in the series). The novel is the basis of the script, but Graphic Audio adapts it to the format. So, for example, instead of the narrator reading, “he whispered” or “she sounded angry,” you hear the actor or actress playing that character whispering the dialogue or sounding angry when speaking. Instead of the narration telling you someone laughed, you hear the laughter. If a scene takes place on the city streets, you hear traffic and footsteps; if there’s action, you hear it happening.

Actress Colleen Delany plays Esther Diamond, who is the protagonist and the first-person narrator of the novels. Delany also directs the productions. I think she’s done a terrific job, and I’ve been delighted with these recordings. They really capture the tone and feel of the stories, and the voices are well cast. There are even some actors whose interpretations I like so much, it’s influenced me to put those characters in upcoming books, in hopes of hearing those actors play them again in the Graphic Audio adaptations.

Here’s a quick 3-minute sample that gives you a taste of the series and what Graphic Audio is doing with it. Enjoy!

We Need To Do More Than Just Be Upset About Abuse In Fandom

By JJ: I was going to post in a File 770 comment a link to a recent blog post, because I wanted to make a comment about the trend it represents – but then I realized that it would be unfair to single out one of many of the same sort of posts being made on blogs and Facebook and Twitter right now, posts which express horror and anger about harassment and abuse in fandom, and then just say “We need to do something about this!”

I know, from my own experience upon finding out that MZB, the author of the Darkover books I’d loved so much when I was young – books I will never be able to read or recommend again – was actually a horrible person in real life, that it’s horrifying for most of us whenever “new” news comes out about someone in SFFdom having done awful things which were enabled, excused, deliberately overlooked, or just not recognized for what they were, by people at the time.

Yes, it’s awful, and yes, we need to talk openly about it, and yes, it needs to stop.

But instead of yet one more piece (and the one I just read is by far not the only one) in which someone waves their arms around and says, “OMG!!! All this stuff that happened 20 to 60 years ago! We absolutely must do SOMETHING!!!”, I would like the people who feel compelled to chime in to do so in a constructive way that accomplishes more than just arm-waving and regurgitating ancient history.

The Geek Feminism Wikia contains a wealth of information about harassment and abuse in SFF fandom. Their Incidents section contains information about things which have occurred in recent history. Those who are outraged about decades-old abuses, but unaware of what has gone on in the last 20 years, should educate themselves about the recent ones.

Their Resources section contains information and links which can help people who would like to know how to actually make a difference: how we can help the cons we work on, or attend, to proactively set up mechanisms for recognizing, reporting, and dealing with abuse; how we can each fight abuse in our fandom, gaming, or other social groups; how we can find the words and the personal strength to speak up when abuses occur in front of us.

For those of you who feel that something should be done, I ask you to read about what people in fandom have actually been doing, for quite a few years now, to change con and fandom culture for the better, so that harassment and abuse no longer happen or get tolerated. For example, many fan conventions have instituted official Codes of Conduct in recent years, and these are being enforced. Last month, ConFusion, whose Harassment Policy is clearly specified here, dealt with an incident at their convention, and did so according to their clearly-written reporting and enforcement guidelines.

For those of you who feel that something should be done, I ask you to consider current efforts and think about what could, and should, still be done, to improve those efforts.

For those of you who feel that something should be done, I ask you to figure out how you can contribute personally to those efforts.

Arm-waving outrage pieces unfortunately do not add value to the never-ending work we as fans should be doing to make our fan spaces into better places. We can, and should, be doing more. I am going to actively try to do more in working toward that, and I welcome constructive comments on this post about ways in which we as genre fans can all work toward that.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #23

The Orville – A Season One Review

By Chris M. Barkley

The Orville (Twelve Episodes, Rating **1/2 out of four stars) created by Seth MacFarlane with MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, Halston Sage, J Lee, Mark Jackson and Chad L. Coleman. Executive Producers: Seth MacFarlane, Brannon Braga, David A. Goodman, Jason Clark.

Fifty-one years ago, I was ten years old and having my mind blown by watching Star Trek. Six years later, I was reading Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Madeline L’Engle, Harlan Ellison and getting acquainted with the authors of the two volumes of The Hugo Winners. Three years after that, I attended my first sf convention.

Throughout my life in and out of fandom, Star Trek has remained one of my cultural lodestones. But as I got older, I often wondered if it would remain relevant or if there were new avenues that the basic premise could explore.

In the early 1980’s, I had the rare privilege of chatting with the late Gordon R. Dickson and had an extended conversation about Star Trek in particular. When I asked him about the possibility of writing a novel for Pocket Books, who were producing a number of paperback books in the wake of the success of The Wrath of Khan, Dickson demurred.

“The universe they created is so big and wide,” he said, “but all they’re interested in are stories about Kirk, Spock and McCoy. And I’m not interested in that.”

The point was well taken. Gene Roddenberry, the cast and the universe that had been created, were slowly becoming cemented into the culture as the ONLY acceptable version of Star Trek people were interested in supporting.

But when Roddenberry was presented with the opportunity of trying to re-create that sort of lightning in a bottle in 1986, he could not resist. Thus, he and a dedicated group of creators and launched The Next Generation, which, defying all odds, ran for seven years in syndication and to this very day in various outlets across the communication spectrum. Many other sf based television shows and movies have followed in its wake but only a few (The X-Files, Doctor Who or Lost, for example) can even attempt to approach its cultural and historical significance.

Actor/Writer/Producer Seth MacFarland is not only a fan of Star Trek, but of sf in general, as he repeatedly demonstrates in his new tv series, The Orville. He wanted to re-launch Star Trek as a series as far back as October 2011, when he told The Hollywood Reporter, “I don’t know who would give me the keys to that car. But I’d love to see that franchise revived for television in the way that it was in the 1990s: very thoughtful, smartly written stories that transcend the science fiction audience.”

When he was asked directly during a 2017 summer press tour if The Orville was a parody of Star Trek, MacFarlane said not really. “For me, it’s a space that’s kind of waiting to be filled in this day and age when we’re getting a lot of dystopian science fiction,” he said. “This is sort of an attempt to fill that void in that genre.”

When Fox announced it had greenlit a 13-episode order for The Orville in May 2016, I did a mental eyeroll. While I was well aware of his somewhat caustic and crude sense of humor (Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show) I had NO IDEA how much of a diehard sf fan at heart.

I had very low expectations when my partner Juli and I decided to watch the pilot. In fact, our first experience with The Orville started out very ominously. The day after The Orville premiered on Fox, we sat down to stream the pilot episode. And, quite frankly, we both were feeling quite underwhelmed by what we were seeing.

Approximately 400 years in the future, Ed Mercer, a starship officer of “The Union”, a spacefaring federation (heh!) has just gotten off duty to come home and find his wife and fellow officer Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) committing adultery with an alien. A year later, Ed and Kelly are divorced but find themselves thrown together on a newly commissioned Union ship, The Orville.

As much as Mercer dislikes Grayson being assigned to the Orville, he’s stuck with her, at least for the time being. Their bickering and bitterly sarcastic jokes about it take up a great deal of the first half of the show, like a very bad, bizarro version of The Honeymooners.

Fortunately, the crew picks up a priority distress signal from a Union research station. Once there, they discover that the scientists there have developed a process that ages matter. They want the crew to take custody of it before the Krill, the Union’s ruthless counterparts, arrive and seize it for themselves…

And suddenly, literally midway through, the streaming of the pilot (and ONLY the pilot, we learned) abruptly cut out and could not be restored.

After trying several times, I looked at Juli and said, “Maybe this is an omen.” And with that, we both decided to give the show a complete pass.

Over the following weeks, a curious thing happened; I saw a few posts online and on social media either expounding on the virtues of The Orville. To be sure, there were some withering commentary as well but I became intrigued by the good notices. Finally, after a rave from sf author (and Star Trek enthusiast) Robert J. Sawyer renewed my interest in giving it a second chance.

I also did a little research before I binged the twelve aired episodes. (A thirteenth episode was held back due to a scheduling conflict and will serve as the second season premiere later this year).

In an effort to make The Orville as authentic as possible, MacFarlane surrounded himself with a virtual Murderer’s Row of veterans of with previous sf series; producer and director Brannon Braga (The Next Generation, Voyager, Enterprise and FlashForward), David A. Goodman (Futurama, Enterprise), director Tucker Gates (Angel, Alias, Lost and Carnivale), actor-director Robert Duncan McNeill (Voyager and Chuck) writer-producer Andre Bormanis (Star Trek, Threshold and Cosmos) and actor-director Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Roswell). In addition to Adrianne Palicki’s genre chops (Smallville, Supernatural, S.H.I.E.L.D. and John Wick), he added Penny Johnson Gerald, who was a regular on Castle for several years and had a pivotal recurring role on Deep Space Nine.

Some of the characters MacFarlane created for The Orville mirror some of the archetypes from other Star Trek series; the somewhat brusque Doctor Finn (a blend of Doctors Crusher and Pulaski), Peter Macon’s second officer, Lieutenant Commander Bortus (Worf), Halston Sage as the super strong security chief Kitan (Tasha Yar), J Lee’s John LaMarr (Geordi LaForge) and Mark Jackson’s android Isaac (Data, which I highly suspect is a nod to Isaac Asimov). Character actor Scott Grimes plays the amiable helmsman Gordon Malloy, who is not based on anyone in the Star Trek canon but fills the rather thankless role of a humorous foil for the crew.

I began by re-watching the pilot, “Old Wounds” from the beginning. (Juli decided not to participate.) On the whole it was a slow-moving affair with a lot of McFarlane’s trademarked crude humor being somewhat forced into the storyline. The pilot, directed by film vet Jon Favreau and written by McFarlane, was uneven at best but in the end, was somewhat redeemed by a rather funny and unorthodox solution for eliminating the Krill threat that involved a glue gun and the seed of a redwood tree. I actually laughed out loud when it was executed, which gave me some hope that the other episodes were better than the pilot.

As I proceeded I found that by varying degrees, the quality of some the stories improved, but the overall quality was somewhat uneven:

1)      Mad Idolatry (Episode 12), ***1/2
2)      Into The Fold (Episode 8) ***
3)      Cupid’s Dagger(Episode 9) ***
4)      Pria (Episode 5) ***
5)      If the Stars Should Appear (Episode 4) **1/2
6)      Krill (Episode 6) **1/2
7)      Firestorm (Episode 10) **1/2
8)      About A Girl (Episode 4) **1/2
9)      New Dimensions (Episode 11) **
10)   Majority Rules (Episode 7) **
11)   Command Performance (Episode 2) **
12)   Old Wounds (Pilot Episode) *1/2

Some basic sf concepts are sprinkled throughout these episodes and for the most part they are well handled. “If the Stars Should Appear” realistically features a generation ship with all of the requisite problems that would have made Robert Heinlein himself smile. “Majority Rules” and “About A Girl” are about cultural assimilation and are a bit uncommon because they do not cop-out with a quick denouement or easy answers. We learn more about the Union’s main adversary, the Krill, in the episode of that title, and in the process explore the double-edged consequences of espionage.

While J Lee’s character, Navigator Lieutenant John LaMarr is in the spotlight in “Majority Rules” and “New Dimensions”, I found his character’s development somewhat dissatisfying; he’s portrayed a bit of an idiot in one instance the former episode and is outed as a closet genius and is subsequently promoted to be the ship’s chief engineer in the latter. While I welcome these changes, it’s done in a way in which seems a bit disingenuous at best.

“Into The Fold”, “Cupid’s Dagger” and “Pria” are clever and engaging character studies. Doctor Finn and android Isaac (Mark Jackson) particularly shine in their side adventure “Fold”, while Mercer and Grayson’s past and present relationship is explored a bit further in these two episodes. (I must say that “Pria”, whose presence was graced by Academy Award winner Charlize Theron, could have been a better outing if the focus had been on Grayson’s character rather than Mercer.)

The season’s highlight of the season was the last episode, “Mad Idolatry”, which, I say surprisingly, I am contemplating putting on my shortlist for Beat Dramatic Presentation-Short Form. When Grayson helps heal a little girl’s injury while on an away mission on an uncharted planet, her small charitable action sets off a series of events that finds her being beatified by the inhabitants. When she, Mercer and the crew try to rectify matters, they only make matters much, much worse. Amazingly, 95% of the action is dramatic and the atonal humor is kept to a minimum.

I must admit that the production design and special effects are well done and deliberately invoke the feeling of watching The Next Generation. The only two things that I definitely dislike are the design of the Orville (that business with the three quantum drive rings is not very well designed or pleasing to the eye, in my opinion) and the uniforms (which ape The Next Generation’s a little too closely).

This past November, Fox announced that The Orville has been renewed for a second season. There is some possibility that MacFarlane, the creator and producer of several long running shows, might have another gem on his hands. I have a feeling that like Galaxy Quest, it may gain a toehold in the hearts of fandom and social media, which can only help things along.

It will be interesting in seeing how he and his cadre of actors, writers and producers, refine and adjust The Orville as they continue through the season two and beyond. And, for now, so will I.

Serendipity

By JJ:  After many years away from fandom, during which I was in a relationship with a mundane in which I pretty tragically lost myself and lost my way, I had made a new start and had found my way back to fandom. I knew exactly no one at the first Worldcon I attended – but came out of it with a few acquaintances with whom I kept touch via Facebook and/or e-mail, including one very famous author. The next time I went to Worldcon was better, but I was still on my own most of the time.

It was Saturday early evening. I was by myself. The few people with whom I was acquainted were all off presumably having dinner with their friends. So I went to the consuite, got a plate of food and a beverage, and sat down at an empty table to eat.

Presently a young woman appeared and asked if I was there for the Kaffeeklatsch. That’s right, they’d scheduled the poor author’s session for the Saturday dinner hour. Small surprise that no one had shown up. I was sitting at her designated table. I could see the bare hint of hope in her eyes, and I watched as it started to flicker out and die.

“Hi, I’m JJ,” I said, sticking out my hand. “Tell me about your book.”

She sat down and pulled out the bottle of wine she’d brought to share with her klatschers. So she and I sat there and drank the wine, and I learnt a fair bit about a subject with which I’d previously had only the barest acquaintance.

We’re still friends on Facebook, and it’s a connection I treasure, even though our fandom does not have a huge overlap.

It was a powerful reminder to me that, by being open to whatever comes along, you can stumble into some pretty amazing experiences.


Please use the comment section to share your own special memories of serendipity in fandom.

Iainbanksian, Scandinavian Space Combat Rock

By Oskari Rantala: First off: Congratulations, Mike! 40 years is an awfully long time. File 770 was there before I was even born and I guess it had been around for almost 15 years until I learned to read — probably a year or two more until I happened to read any SFF. Now, 25 years later, I’m a regular reader but an extremely lazy commenter. So, paljon onnea to Mike and File 770, and a heartfelt morjens to all the nice people I met at the Filer meet-up in Worldcon75!

The blog has its tenth anniversary, so I thought I might write to you about an obscure (for a non-Finnish audience, at least) work of SF which just turned ten last year as well. That is the science fiction concept album Talvikuningas (“Winter King”) by the Finnish rock band CMX.

CMX is one of the longest-running and most successful Finnish rock bands that are still in business. Not quite as old as File 770, obviously, but they too had existed for some time before I learned to read, and for any Finnish person about my age they have been there forever.

Originally, they played (or “played”) hermetic hardcore punk but later moved on to occult-flavored rock and cheesy (if somewhat haunting) ballads. When singer A.W. Yrjänä included the word “juna” (“a train”) in the song Todellisuuksien yleiset luokat I-IV (“General Typology of Realities I-IV”) for album Aurinko (“Sun”, 1992), some fans were shocked and thought that the band had finally become a sell-out.

Well, hermetic hardcore punks are a tough crowd to please, but the band has indeed become as commercially successful as you can become in a small country doing non-English music. Its later career has been a fusion of more occult-flavored rock and cheesy, haunting ballads with some metal influences here and there — that’s only appropriate in a country with most metal bands per capita. In 2007 they had published 11 studio albums, with seven making it to the top 3 of the Finnish album chart.

At that point, CMX, consisting of singer-bassist-songwriter A.W. Yrjänä, guitarists Janne Halmkrona and Timo Rasio, and the drummer Tuomas Peippo, published Talvikuningas. It is a strange concept album, based on a space opera novel Yrjänä was writing at the time but which he never got around to finishing (or at least publishing).

It’s certainly one of the weirdest albums that a Finnish rock band with a mainstream appeal has ever produced, with songs about space battles, killer satellites, Praetorian cyborgs, EMP weapons, and a galactic emperor who is sitting in his throne room on a planet under siege, waiting for his final defeat.

Each song delivers fragments of the saga of the Winter King, with the text supposedly lifted from various sources, such as ancient codexes, the propaganda transmissions the king used to recruit his army of cyborg soldiers and so on. They don’t really form a coherent narrative and it is left for the reader to make sense of the storyline.

The gist of it is that the soldiers of the king’s elite army become disillusioned with the senseless galactic war, and one of them, after being shot by an EMP weapon and left in a coma for a long time, meets a female sage and together they come up with a plan to gather an army of their own in order to take the king down and put an end to war. It is a bit more complicated and the threads can be put together in many ways, but that’s the central idea.

The album booklet is gorgeously illustrated by Sami Saramäki, with one full-page illustration in the booklet per song. (Saramäki has done a lot of cover illustrations for SFF novels and you can check out his work here — cool stuff on Finnish books as well as with Douglas Adams, Diana Wynne Jones etc.) Here’s the illustration for the song Punainen komentaja.

The visual style is a little bit different in the animated music video of the song Punainen komentaja (“Red Commander”), the only video produced from Talvikuningas, but it is still worth watching. Directed by Samppa and Janne Kukkonen, it offers a visual rendition of some aspects of the album’s story.

You can watch the video below and check the lyrics below that. Under each line, I’ve added an approximate translation to give an idea of what it says in order to help those who don’t read our great agglutinative language.

Punainen komentaja
(“Red commander”)

Lyrics & music: A.W. Yrjänä

On laivamme pimeydestä tehty
(Our ship is made of darkness)

Se pilkkaa luonnon lakeja
(It mocks the laws of nature)

Touvein ja köysin ja takiloin, purjein
(With hawsers and ropes and rigs, sails)

Se seilaa tyhjyyden aaltoja
(She sails on the waves of emptiness)

Kansillaan punainen miehistö, tumma
(On her decks, the crimson crew, dark)

Kuin verellä maalattu olisi
(Like painted with blood)

Viittojen, huppujen purppuran lomasta
(From the midst of red cloaks and hoods)

Tuikkivat tummina hopeasilmät
(Twinkle dark eyes of silver)

Ja vanhin on kaikista Maltan Hiram
(And oldest of all, he’s Hiram of Malta)

Komentaja punainen, hän
(The Red Commander, he)

Tuntee Schwarzschildin kehien salat
(knows the secrets of Schwarzschild radii)

Ja neutronitähdet ja kefeidit
(And neutron stars and cepheids)

Hänen reittejään matkaamme salatuita
(His hidden routes we travel)

Kuin haamuina avaruuksien
(Like ghosts of expanses)

Me iskemme syvään pian kadoten taas
(We strike deep, soon disappearing again)

Joskus pelkokin meitä kavahtaa
(Sometimes even fear is frightened of us)

Vaan toiset kun päivästään lepäävät
(But when the others rest after a day’s work)

Istuu päällikkö yksin ja vaiti
(The commander sits alone and silent)

Hän muistaa kaikki vuotensa
(He remembers all his years)

Ja surunsa, kaukaisen rakkaansa
(His sorrows, his loved one far away)

Sulkee luomettomat silmänsä
(He closes his lidless eyes)

Avaa komposiittinyrkkinsä
(Opens his composite fist)

Ja pientä valkeaa kiveä
(And a small white stone)

Hän hieroo ja hymyilee hiljaa
(He rubs and smiles quietly)

Ja vanhin on kaikista Maltan Hiram…

Ten years later, CMX is still doing their thing — as is File 770 — even though they have had to recruit a new drummer (the old one became a dentist), and I think their next album is coming out in a couple of months. The track listing doesn’t sound very science fictional, but in the meantime, A.W. Yrjänä has published a fantasy adventure novel Joonaanmäen valaat (“The Whales of Joonaanmäki” or perhaps “The Whales of the Hill of Jonah”) and Janne Kukkonen, other one of the directors of the music video, has produced a fantasy comic album Voro (“Thief”) which won the Sarjakuva-Finlandia prize for best graphic novel published in Finland last year.

So, several of the people connected to this project are important creators in the Finnish SFF scene in many ways, and I was happy to guest blog about them here. I hope this was of interest to some of you out there!

Long life and merry filing!

[Oskari Rantala is a Finnish SFF fan writing his PhD on comics studies. Occasionally, he writes short fiction and helps run conventions in his home city of Jyväskylä — “Welcome to Finncon 2019, everybody!”]

40 Years?

By Michael Bracken: Forty years of File 770? Who knew back in the beginning that it could last so long?

I was there, early on, swapping my fanzine (Knights of the Paper Space Ship [later, just Knights]) for yours, but I mostly disappeared from SF (in general) and fandom (specifically) for a great many years. I rediscovered File 770 a few years ago and pop onto the site every so often to see what’s happening.

Much like other fans of my generation, I went pro, but mostly in other genres. I’ve edited a few anthologies, have had a handful of novels and collections published, and have had a shit-ton of short stories published, too. I even picked up a lifetime achievement award for writing short mystery fiction.

But SF? Not so much. Other than reading File 770 now and again and attending a regional SF con nearly every year, I’ve not much contact with the genre where I had my start.

But I do remember those heady days of my teens and early twenties when I was typing stencils, cranking a mimeograph, collating and mailing fanzines, and connecting with writers and artists and fans all over the world. Without the encouragement of and interaction with so many creative people, I might never have realized that my dreams could come true.

Congratulations on reaching 40 years with File 770!

The Flogsta Scream

By Hampus Eckerman: When Mike asked for Filers to write something for one of the anniversaries of File 770, I first thought I should write something of SFFnal character. Maybe something about books I’ve read, films I’ve seen or weird places I’ve been. But for some reason, inspiration never came. So instead I will do the next best thing. I will give you a bit of weird Swedish culture, the kind that would fit right into one of the books we love.

***

No one knows how it started or even when it started. Some people say it didn’t start in Uppsala at all, but in Lund. Some say it started in the 80s, but others are sure it had been heard of even in the 70s. But one thing is sure. Everyone who has been a student in Uppsala has at one time been part of it.

The Flogsta Scream.

Uppsala is a Student city, the university dates back to 1477, where the students make up between 15 and 25% of the population (depending on how you count). At 22:00, everyone at the Flogsta campus around Seranders Road will open their windows. To scream. Sometimes people are screaming in happiness. Other times in desperation or anguish. But they will scream. The last time loudness was measured, it reached 106 decibels, somewhere between a motorcycle and a chainsaw.

Some people say that Harry Belafonte was the cause of the first scream. According to that legend, it was some drunken friends sitting on the roof of one of the student apartments who tried to give their rendition of the Banana Boat Song and from that it grew first to a greeting between the houses and then to the current screaming of exam anguish.

The Flogsta Scream has also been used as a reaction to politics around the world. They day after Trump was elected US president, the screams were a lot higher than otherwise, with everyone screaming at the top of their lungs.

Students screaming after the Trump election

A fun thing is that Uppsala houses a lot of students from other parts of the country and also from other countries. One student described the fear and horror he felt the first time he heard the screams. He was walking home from the supermarket close to the houses when he first heard one student screaming, then another, and suddenly the whole night was filled with screaming students. The confusion was staggering and close to terror, he said.

The tradition died down for a while, but was revived by a radio station who wanted to make world record in loudest screaming. They failed by a large margin, but the screaming caught on again and shows no signs of stopping. In fact, the howling has now spread to other universities and people are now screaming not only in Uppsala, but also in Stockholm, Linköping and Lund.