Pixel Scroll 12/6/18 By Grabthar’s Pixel, By The Scrolls Of Warvan, You Shall Be File’d

(1) SNAPPY JACKETS. BookRiot lists its choices for “The Best Book Covers of 2018”. Lots of genre book covers here. Two examples:

I love a cover with a flipped image, this one showing a well-dressed man and woman on one side and a bowler hat-wearing man bicycling on the other side. The colors and rainy arc of tree branches in the London mist makes me think of Mary Poppins (that scene with Mr. Banks, anyone?) and then all I want to do is put this book into my eyeballs.

—Aimee Miles

Any time someone mentions this book—which is often because it’s awesome—the cover vividly pops into my brain. It’s like a movie poster for a blockbuster that you just can’t wait to see, and then after you see it you put the poster up on your bedroom wall!

—Jamie Canaves

(2) ATMOSPHERICS. Out today, the Game of Thrones “Official Tease: Dragonstone.”

Fire and ice. The final season of Game of Thrones begins this April.

 

(3) AUREALIS AWARDS DEADLINE. Tehani Croft, Judging Coordinator of the Aurealis Awards, reminds everyone that entries close at midnight, Friday, December 7:

It’s important to remember that ALL eligible Australian work published for the first time between January 1 and December 31, 2018, must be entered by midnight on December 7even work intended for publication after the December 7 cut off.

When entries are made, you will receive an auto response from our system to acknowledge receipt (please check your spam folder if this does not arrive) – this is the only requirement for entries to be valid. Details regarding payment (for long form entries) and submission will follow in the coming week.

Thank you to everyone who has already submitted entries this year – the judges have appreciated a consistent flow of entries in a timely manner, which has helped avoid an end-of-year bottleneck.

(4) FOURTH ALLEGATION AGAINST TYSON. Buzzfeed News adds a new charge: “Nobody Believed Neil deGrasse Tyson’s First Accuser. Now There Are Three More.”

…Now a fourth woman has told BuzzFeed News her experience of sexual harassment from Tyson. In January 2010, she recalled, she joined her then-boyfriend at a holiday party for employees of the American Museum of Natural History. Tyson, its most famous employee, drunkenly approached her, she said, making sexual jokes and propositioning her to join him alone in his office. In a 2014 email shared with BuzzFeed News, she described the incident to her own employer in order to shoot down a proposed collaboration with Tyson….

(5) MORTAL PETER JACKSON. The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy renders his verdict: “‘Mortal Engines’: Film Review”.

A fantastical bit of steampunk sci-fi runs to a considerable extent on fumes in Mortal Engines, an action-loaded tale of adventure and combat set in a future that takes its design cues entirely from the past. Based on the initial book in a series of four by British author Philip Reeve, the first of them published in 2001, this new effort by Peter Jackson’s Wingnut Films is certainly lavish and expensive looking but never thoroughly locks in to capture the imagination or sweep you off to a new world where you particularly want to spend time. It’s combat-heavy, but not in an especially enthralling way, spelling an uncertain commercial future in the U.S. at least; foreign results could be significantly better.

One thing the film does have going for it is a resilient female lead, Hester Shaw (Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar), a survivor of childhood violence compelled to take revenge on her mother’s killer. Another is a bizarre form of conquest that’s illustrated in the extensive opening action sequence, in which one mobile society — in this case, a condensed version of London — races on giant treads across a rough wasteland in pursuit of a smaller, rag-tag community in order to literally gobble it up. There’s a milder, less demented Mad Max quality to the set-piece that decidedly rivets the attention, even if the sheer physics of it seem more than a bit preposterous; it’s akin to a huge garbage truck consuming a lawn mower.

(6) APPS AND TRAPS. Etelka Lehoczky says “Surrealism Meets Sci-Fi In ‘Parallel Lives'” in a review of this collection of short comics stories by O. Schrauwen and Eric Reynolds.

Parallel Lines is loosely a work of sci-fi. Most of its characters live at some time in the future, and all make use of rarified technologies. One woman communicates with a hologrammatic friend and lives in a coffin-sized pod. A team of explorers wend their way through outer space in a shimmering cubical ship. Schrauwen’s father Armand turns up in the book: He uses something called a Bomann Kühlbox T5000 to beam his face and voice to the future. (He finds it a frustrating experience, as the futurians ignore him in favor of seeking out exotic new ways of “leisuring.”) Schrauwen himself makes an appearance, too, in a first-person story of alien abduction that toys unsettlingly with the tropes of that genre.

(7) WHAT’S WRONG WITH WOKE “WHO”? [Item by Olav Rokne.] Lucy Jones of the Independent uses Doctor Who’s more inclusive storytelling — and the resultant backlash — as a framework to examine what it means to be “politically correct.” Her conclusion is pretty close to what most people on File 770 have been saying all along: that there’s nothing incorrect about telling stories that fully represent the diversity of society. “Doctor Who backlash shows why it’s time to bin the phrase ‘politically correct’”.

Words have consequences, and, in the rise of populism, these ones certainly have had, so instead of writing it off, I wanted to delve deeper into the Doctor Who criticism and try to understand what these swathes of shocked people online were outraged by, and if it had anything valuable to say about how people feel about changing societal and cultural norms.

(8) ARMITAGE OBIT. Peter Armitage (1940 – 2018): British actor, died December 4, aged 78. Screen appearances include Jack the Ripper (both episodes, 1988), Chimera (one episode, 1991), The Indiana Jones Chronicles (one episode, 1993), The Second Coming (both episodes, 2003), Magic Grandad (four episodes, 2003).

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and JJ.]

  • Born December 6, 1911 – Ejler Jakobsson, Writer and Editor born in Finland who emigrated to the U.S. as a teenager. Several short fiction works co-written with his wife Edith were published in the horror pulps in the late 1930s, and they co-edited two one-off magazines entitled The Octopus and The Scorpion. When Super Science Stories was revived briefly in 1949, he was editor for that two year run – with Damon Knight as his assistant. In 1969, he took over Galaxy and If, succeeding Frederik Pohl. With the assistance of Judy-Lynn and Lester del Rey, he worked to make the magazines more contemporary. Under his auspices, several Best of anthologies for both If and Galaxy were published, and Galaxy was a three-time finalist for the Hugo Award. (Died 1984.)
  • Born December 6, 1924 – Wally Cox, Actor and Comedian. Who can resist the voice of the Underdog series, which ran from 1964 to 1967? I certainly can’t. He also appeared in the films Babes in Toyland,  Quarantined, and Once Upon a Mattress, and had guest parts in The Twilight Zone, Mission: Impossible, Lost in Space, Get Smart, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., and Night Gallery. Interestingly, he had a lifelong close friendship from childhood with Marlon Brando (Died 1974.)
  • Born December 6, 1938 – Patrick Bachau, 80, Actor, Writer, and Producer from Belgium who had parts in French-speaking genre films before crossing the ditch where he became known to genre fans for his four-year role as Sydney on The Pretender. He also played a main role in the miniseries Kindred: The Embraced, had guest parts in episodes of Alias, The Dead Zone, and Earth 2, and had roles in Jennifer Connelly’s genre film debut Phenomena, The Cell, Serpent’s Lair, Vampires: The Turning, the execrable The Rapture, and 2012: We Were Warned.
  • Born December 6, 1948 – JoBeth Williams, 70, Oscar-nominated Actor and Producer who graduated from university intending to become a child psychologist, but instead caught the acting bug. Genre fans will remember her for her Saturn-nominated role in Poltergeist and its sequel. Other genre films include The Day After, Endangered Species, Switch, TiMER, It Came from the Sky, and The World Beyond. She also played Marge Slayton in From the Earth to the Moon.
  • Born December 6, 1953 – Tom Hulce, 65, Oscar-nominated Actor of Stage and Screen and Producer. His first genre role was in a highly-praised performance as the lead in the American Playhouse broadcast of The Rise and Rise of Daniel Rocket, about a young boy who discovers that he can fly. Although the bulk of his career has been in the theater, his most notable genre film role was as Henry Clerval in Kenneth Branagh’s Saturn-nominated Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. He was nominated for an Annie Award for his voice performance of Quasimodo in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and appeared in the films Stranger than Fiction and Jumper.
  • Born December 6, 1962 – Colin Salmon, 56, Actor from England who is best known for playing M’s Deputy Chief of Staff in three James Bond films, and as James “One” Shade in the Resident Evil film series. He has had roles in films including Alien vs. Predator, Tales from the Crypt, Punisher: War Zone, Annihilation: Earth, and Space Island One, and on television series including Arrow, Limitless, and the obligatory Doctor Who appearance (with David Tennant). He had a main role in the British series Hex, and currently plays General Zod in the Krypton series.
  • Born December 6, 1969 – Torri Higginson, 49, Actor and Producer who is almost certainly best known for her Saturn-nominated main role for four seasons as Dr. Elizabeth Weir on Stargate: Atlantis – but, like JJ, you may experience the lightbulb going on when you hear that her earliest genre role was as the female lead in Shatner’s TekWar series. She also had a main role in the supernatural series Inhuman Condition, and a recurring role in the deep space mystery series Dark Matter. Other appearances include Stephen King’s Storm of the Century, Stonehenge Apocalypse, The Cult, and episodes of Highlander: The Raven and The (new) Outer Limits.

(10) COMICS SECTION.

  • Brevity puts a smart weapon in Captain Kirk’s hands – or is that a smartass weapon?

(11) THEY’RE IN A RABBIT STEW. BBC One has put out a trailer for its adaptation of Watership Down. It will be released on Netflix on December 23, the day after it debuts on BBC One.

(12) MORAL EQUIVALENT OF WAR. M. Harold Page expounds on internet culture in “Worldbuilding Once and Future Fake News: Not Really A Review of Singer & Brooking’s LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media at Black Gate.

I’ve been reading LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media by Singer and Brooking. It describes the emerging world of Internet “news” where news passes from person-to-person on social media, no source is uncontroversially trustworthy, and where both information warriors and click-bait farmers are uninterested in the truth, except as a way of making untruths more plausible.

In this world, what determines a narrative’s success is not veracity but rather: Simplicity; Resonance; and Novelty.

Just switch the arena to “rumor” and this looks awfully like a greatly accelerated version of the pre-modern — especially Medieval and Renaissance — milieus we use as inspiration for Fantasy worldbuilding.  Keep the rumor but return the tech, and it’s also a good jumping-off point for building a Space Opera future. Stay with me and I’ll explain. But first, back to the smoking ruins of Limoges.

(13) THE FAR SIDE OF THE MOON. Nature reports a Chinese spacecraft will soon make the first visit: “Journey to the far side of the Moon” [PDF file].

Early in the New Year, if all goes well, the Chinese spacecraft Chang’e-4 will arrive where no craft has been before: the far side of the Moon. The mission is scheduled to launch from Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan province on 8 December. The craft, comprising a lander and a rover, will then enter the Moon’s orbit, before touching down on the surface.

If the landing is successful, the mission’s main job will be to investigate this side of the lunar surface, which is peppered with many small craters. The lander will also conduct the first radio astronomy experiments from the far side of the Moon — and the first investigations to see whether plants will grow in the low-gravity lunar environment…

(14) MORE MUPPET MUSIC. Lyndsey Parker, in the Yahoo! Entertainment story, “Paul Williams unearths lost ‘Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas’ Muppet soundtrack: ‘One of my favorite things I’ve ever done'”, says that Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, which hasn’t been seen since its broadcast on HBO in 1977, is about to be released in theaters later this month.  Paul Williams talks about his song “When The River Meets The Sea,” which was played at Jim Henson’s funeral in 1990 and which he thinks is one of his best works.

When songwriting legend Paul Williams met Muppets mastermind Jim Henson in 1976, after appearing on The Muppet Show, the fateful encounter led to a long and fruitful musical partnership, highlighted by Williams’s Oscar-nominated theme for The Muppet Movie, “Rainbow Connection.”

But it all started with the 1977 HBO cult classic Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, which will be screened in theaters nationwide for the first time ever this month, on Dec. 9 and 16. And incredibly, Williams’s twangy Emmet Otter soundtrack has finally been officially released, just in time for this holiday season, with a previously unreleased song, “Born in a Trunk,” that didn’t make it to air.

(15) FRUIT FLIES LIKE A… MARULA? NPR reveals “When And Where Fruit Flies First Bugged Humans”.

A study published Thursday suggests Drosophila melanogaster first shacked up with humans when the insects flew into the elaborately painted caves of ancient people living in southern Africa.

That’s according to a report published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

Scientists say the flies would have been following the alluring smell of stored marula fruit, which were collected and stored by cave-dwelling people in Africa. This tasty yellow fruit was a staple in the region in those days — and was also the fruit that wild flies apparently evolved to depend on in nearby forests.

The humble fruit fly now lives with humans all over the planet and is one of the world’s most studied creatures. For more than a century, biology and medical laboratories have depended on this fly — one scientist notes that at least nine times, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded for research on Drosophila….

(16) STONE FAT: Harder to lose than cellulite! “Fossil preserves ‘sea monster’ blubber and skin”.

Scientists have identified fossilised blubber from an ancient marine reptile that lived 180 million years ago.

Blubber is a thick layer of fat found under the skin of modern marine mammals such as whales.

Its discovery in this ancient “sea monster” – an ichthyosaur – appears to confirm the animal was warm-blooded, a rarity in reptiles.

The preserved skin is smooth, like that of whales or dolphins. It had lost the scales characteristic of its ancestors.

The ichthyosaur’s outer layer is still somewhat flexible and retains evidence of the animal’s camouflage pattern.

The reptile was counter-shaded – darker on the upper side and light on the underside. This counter-balances the shading effects of natural light, making the animal more difficult to see.

(17) NO LONGER SF. Remember to tip your avatar: “Japanese cafe uses robots controlled by paralysed people”.

A cafe staffed by robot waiters controlled remotely by paralysed people has opened in Tokyo, Japan.

A total of 10 people with a variety of conditions that restrict their movement have helped control robots in the Dawn Ver cafe.

The robot’s controllers earned 1,000 yen (£7) per hour – the standard rate of pay for waiting staff in Japan.

It is hoped the project will give more independence to people with disabilities.

(18) A WORD FROM SOMEBODY’S SPONSOR. We’ve come a long way from the one-room schoolhouse. I suppose in another generation they’ll be saying we’ve come a long way from the one-robot schoolroom.

The Belgian company Zora Bots is currently conquering the world with its unique solution especially designed for humanoid robots. Now, Zora Bots is about to change the way education system prepares the future generations to the ongoing technology revolution. In Belgium, a new step has just been made in that field with the support of Zora solutions. Comitted in an ambitious digitilization program, the town of Ostend (West Flanders) becomes today the first smart city in Europe to equip all its secondary schools with a humanoid robot. That means no student in secondary cycle will be deprived of having his first coding experience with a robot.

(19) MAKING A POINT: BBC tells about “The Indian restaurants that serve only half a glass of water”.

At the pure vegetarian Kalinga restaurant, a couple have just been seated when a waiter approaches their table and asks if they want water.

“I said yes and he gave me half a glass of water,” says Gauripuja Mangeshkar. “I was wondering if I was being singled out, but then I saw that he had only poured half a glass for my husband too.”

For a moment, Ms Mangeshkar did wonder whether her glass was half full or half empty, but the reason why she was served less water was not really existential.

Nearly 400 restaurants in Pune have adopted this measure to reduce water use, ever since the civic authorities announced cuts in supply a month ago.

[Thanks to Mark Hepworth, JJ, Cat Eldridge, John King Tarpinian, Chip Hitchcock, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, Carl Slaughter, Steve Green, Daniel Dern, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Soon Lee.]

2019 GUFF Voting Begins

The Get-Up-and-over Fan Fund (GUFF) ballot for the 2019 race is now available online.

Voters will choose an Australasian delegate to attend Dublin 2019 in Ireland (August 15-19). There is an option for the delegate to also attend the Eurocon (Titancon, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on August 22-25).

The candidates are Lynelle Howell, Simon Litten, and Nicole Murphy.

Ballots will be accepted until April 22. The candidates’ platforms, general information about voting, and the online ballot can be found here. A PDF ballot for printing is also available. Votes are not valid unless accompanied by a contribution of at least GBP6, EUR7, AUD10, NZD10, or an equivalent amount in other currencies.

GUFF, the Get Up-and-over Fan Fund or the Going Under Fan Fund, depending on which direction it’s running, GUFF exists to provide funds to enable well-known fans from Australasia and Europe to visit each other’s national (or other) conventions and get to know each other’s fandoms better.

The winner will take over the administration of the fund for the next northbound and southbound races.

Here are the candidates’ platforms:

Lynelle Howell (New Zealand)

Hi, my name is Lynelle Howell and I’m a fan. I’ve been actively involved in fandom for over 20 years at both local and national level. I’ve chaired two natcons, helped set up SFFANZ (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand). I have administered the Sir Julius Vogel Awards (SJVs) for more than 10 years. I’m currently the FFANZ (Fan Fund of Australia and New Zealand) administrator and am on the Executive for CoNZealand, the 78th worldcon in 2020.

I’m running for GUFF as I’m keen to attend more international conventions (including Eurocon and Dublin 2019) and meet new friends

Nominators: Australasia – Norman Cates (NZ), Julian Warner (Aus), Lorain Clark (NZ) and Roman Orszanski (Aus); Europe – Kylie Ding (UK) and James Shields (Ireland)

Simon Litten (New Zealand)

I am a New Zealand fan with 30 years involvement in organised fandom, having helped found and served on the committee of both the local SF club and NZ’s national SF body SFFANZ.

I have helped organise two national SF conventions; and have served on a Hugo awards subcommittee for the “best series” category.

I enjoy travelling and meeting fans from other countries.

I would be honoured to be the GUFF delegate and to represent antipodean fandom at the Dublin WorldCon.

Nominators: Australasia – Lucy Sussex (Aus), Gillian Polack (Aus) and Ross Temple (NZ); Europe – Nina Horvarth (Austria), Claire Brialey (UK) and Esther MacCallum-Stewart (UK).

Nicole Murphy (Australia)

I love conventions! Since joining the committee for Conflux 1 in 2002, I’ve sat on the committee for 9 out of 14 Confluxes (including chairing Conflux 4, co-chairing Conflux 9 and after a break, programming Conflux 14). Additionally, I’ve run a couple of online mini-cons and convened the Aurealis Awards twice. Today I’m employed as a professional conference organiser! I look forward to meeting amazing Dublin Worldcon and Belfast Titancon participants and, in particular, the opportunity of bringing my experience, creativity and Australian sense of humour to GUFF. We will most definitely have a ball!

Nominators: Australasia – Cat Sparks (Aus), Kaaron Warren (Aus) and Rose Mitchell (Aus); Europe – Jukka Halme (Finland) and Mihaela Marija Perkovic? (Croatia).

2019 Golden Globe Awards Nominations

The nominees for the 76th annual Golden Globes were announced December 6. The categories with items of genre interested are listed below. See all 25 categories here [PDF file].

Best Motion Picture – Drama

  • “Black Panther”
  • “BlacKkKlansman”
  • “Bohemian Rhapsody”
  • “If Beale Street Could Talk”
  • “A Star Is Born”

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

  • “Crazy Rich Asians”
  • “The Favourite”
  • “Green Book”
  • “Mary Poppins Returns”
  • “Vice”

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

  • Emily Blunt (“Mary Poppins Returns”)
  • Olivia Colman (“The Favourite”)
  • Elsie Fisher (“Eighth Grade”)
  • Charlize Theron (“Tully”)
  • Constance Wu (“Crazy Rich Asians”)

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

  • Christian Bale (“Vice”)
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Mary Poppins Returns”)
  • Viggo Mortensen (“Green Book”)
  • Robert Redford (“The Old Man & the Gun”)
  • John C. Reilly (“Stan & Ollie”)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture

  • Amy Adams (“Vice”)
  • Claire Foy (“First Man”)
  • Regina King (“If Beale Street Could Talk”)
  • Emma Stone (“The Favourite”)
  • Rachel Weisz (“The Favourite”)

Best Motion Picture – Animated

  • “Incredibles 2”
  • “Isle of Dogs”
  • “Mirai”
  • “Ralph Breaks the Internet”
  • “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

Best Original Score – Motion Picture

  • Marco Beltrami (“A Quiet Place”)
  • Alexandre Desplat (“Isle of Dogs”)
  • Ludwig Göransson (“Black Panther”)
  • Justin Hurwitz (“First Man”)
  • Marc Shaiman (“Mary Poppins Returns”)

Best Original Song – Motion Picture

  • “All the Stars” (“Black Panther”)
  • “Girl in the Movies” (“Dumplin’”)
  • “Requiem For a Private War” (“A Private War”)
  • “Revelation’ (“Boy Erased”)
  • “Shallow” (“A Star Is Born”)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama

  • Caitriona Balfe (“Outlander”)
  • Elisabeth Moss (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
  • Sandra Oh (“Killing Eve”)
  • Julia Roberts (“Homecoming”)
  • Keri Russell (“The Americans”)

Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy

  • “Barry” (HBO)
  • “The Good Place” (NBC)
  • “Kidding” (Showtime)
  • “The Kominsky Method” (Netflix)
  • “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy

  • Kristen Bell (“The Good Place”)
  • Candice Bergen (“Murphy Brown”)
  • Alison Brie (“Glow”)
  • Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
  • Debra Messing (“Will & Grace”)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

  • Alex Borstein (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
  • Patricia Clarkson (“Sharp Objects”)
  • Penelope Cruz (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”)
  • Thandie Newton (“Westworld”)
  • Yvonne Strahovski (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)

Pixel Scroll 12/5/18 Dear Pixel Of Mine, You Are My First And Fifth Love

(1) F&SF COVER. Gordon Van Gelder revealed The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction’s Jan/Feb. 2019 cover by artist Jill Bauman.

(2) ROLL ‘EM. Deadline blabbed that the Amazing Stories TV show has gone into production: “‘Amazing Stories’: Edward Burns To Star, Executive Produce Episode Of Steven Spielberg’s Apple Series”

Edward Burns (Public Morals) is set to star in and executive produce an episode of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories Apple anthology series, which has begun production in Atlanta.

Burns will play Bill Kaminski, a government agent. Mark Mylod (Game of Thrones) will direct the episode. Austin Stowell (Bridge of Spies) and Kerry Bishé (Halt and Catch Fire) will also star.

So at the Amazing Stories blog Steve Davidson felt free to do a roundup of other news leakage about the series: Amazing Stories TV Show Is in Production”.

Several days ago, various local and web-based news sources that cover castting calls and filiming announcements in Georgia announced that a project called “Puget Sound” had issued casting calls.

It was subsuquenttly revealed that Puget Sound is the code name for the Amazing Stories television show.

(3) IF IT’S GOOD, IT’S A MIRACLE. Daniel Radcliffe is an angel and Steve Buscemi is God in the new series Miracle Workers premiering February 12 on TBS.

(4) KESH. United Kingdom music magazine The Wire, whose motto is “Adventures in Underground Music,” has named Ursula Le Guin & Todd Barton’s Music And Poetry Of The Kesh their best reissue of 2018:

A utopian ethnographical forgery of the music of a post-tech tribe based on a far future US coast, merging LeGuin’s poetry with Barton’s Buchla compositions, drones, chants and field recordings. [Reviewer] Ken Hollings said: ‘The living communicate not just with the discreet ghosts of the recently departed, who require nothing now from us but a change in manners, but the feral ghosts who have not yet existed.’

This is not available on the web unless you have a subscription to The Wire, so there is no link included.

(5) SOMTOW: A FREE READ TOMORROW. S.P. Somtow’s memoir “Sounding Brass: A Curious Musical Partnership” will be available free for 24 hours on December 6 (PST)

(5) HOW TO TREAT A GOH.  David Gerrold told Facebook readers:

At SMOFcon, I was on a panel about how to treat a Worldcon Guest of Honor. This evolved into a 40 page document of advice and recommendations for convention committees. The first draft is finished and a copy has been sent to Vince Docherty with permission to distribute.

But anyone who wants to read it now can download a pdf copy from this link: https://www.dropbox.com/s/kdu2zbzuk6g3l2d/Care_and_Feeding_of_Guests.pdf

The 42-page document includes many “sidebars” about Gerrold’s experiences as a guest that explain the importance of the related entries.

(6) I, CYBORG. Jillian Weise’s “Common Cyborg” on Granta is an essay about disability and on being a cyborg.

I’m nervous at night when I take off my leg. I wait until the last moment before sleep to un-tech because I am a woman who lives alone and has been stalked, so I don’t feel safe in my home on crutches. How would I run? How would I fight back? Instead of taking Klonopin, I read the Economist. The tone is detached. There is war, but always elsewhere.

When I tell people I am a cyborg, they often ask if I have read Donna Haraway’s ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’. Of course I have read it. And I disagree with it. The manifesto, published in 1985, promised a cyberfeminist resistance. The resistance would be networked and coded by women and for women to change the course of history and derange sexism beyond recognition. Technology would un-gender us. Instead, it has been so effective at erasing disabled women1 that even now, in conversation with many feminists, I am no longer surprised that disability does not figure into their notions of bodies and embodiment. Haraway’s manifesto lays claim to cyborgs (‘we are all cyborgs’) and defines the cyborg unilaterally through metaphor. To Haraway, the cyborg is a matter of fiction, a struggle over life and death, a modern war orgy, a map, a condensed image, a creature without gender. The manifesto coopts cyborg identity while eliminating reference to disabled people on which the notion of the cyborg is premised. Disabled people who use tech to live are cyborgs. Our lives are not metaphors.

(7) BETTER WORLDS. Laura Hudson says The Verge has launched a major fiction project: “Better Worlds”. The forthcoming titles and authors are listed at the link.

Contemporary science fiction often feels fixated on a sort of pessimism that peers into the world of tomorrow and sees the apocalypse looming more often than not. At a time when simply reading the news is an exercise in exhaustion, anxiety, and fear, it’s no surprise that so many of our tales about the future are dark amplifications of the greatest terrors of the present. But now more than ever, we also need the reverse: stories that inspire hope.

…Starting January 14th, The Verge will bring together some of the most exciting names in science fiction writing to imagine Better Worlds. The project will showcase 10 original fiction stories, five animated adaptations, and five audio adaptations by a diverse roster of authors who take a more optimistic view of what lies ahead in ways both large and small, fantastical and everyday. These stories disrupt the common narratives of an inevitable apocalypse and explore spaces our fears have overlooked. The future is coming — and we believe it’s worth fighting for.

 

(8) SO FRIENDS WILL KNOW. Michelle Rogers has requested this coming out note be distributed to the fannish community.

I need to share some information with all of you. I never dreamed this would happen and I hope you will understand why this became necessary.

I am now living as female. I call myself Michelle Leigh Rogers.

Unlike many transgender persons, I did not realize this early in life. I thought I was male, if not the rugged he-man type. But about a year ago, I started to wonder if something was not quite right about my life situation. No single incident prompted these feelings — just a nagging sense that something did not add up.

I contacted a psychologist in Atlanta and began to explore my gender identity issues. Somewhere in my reading, I came across a passage that had a profound impact.

The author was talking about what a woman looks for in a man. The author said that a woman wants a man who looks and acts and presents as a real man.

I took a new look at myself. I had always been aware that I had a high voice and very little facial hair. But at that point I suddenly realized the horrible truth that explained so many issues. I may have had the standard male body parts, but I did not come across as truly male.

Later, at a support group meeting, someone asked me the classic question. If I could flip a switch and instantly become a physical woman with all the expected body parts, would I do it? With no hesitation, I said yes. It shocked me how quickly I responded. From that time, I knew I was a woman in a man’s body. I had made my choice.

I spent the next few months preparing to live as female. I finally came out a few weeks ago. It has not solved all my problems. But it does feel more natural. I will never be a true anatomical female, but I do not intend to go back. This is my path into the future.

Some will not accept this decision. If we must part, I wish you all the best and Godspeed. If you will hang with me, I greatly appreciate it.

Michelle will live her remaining life with as much class and dignity as she can manage. Let the journey begin.

(9) ANDERSON OBIT. Longtime NESFA member and former clerk Claire Anderson died December 4 shortly after her Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia went over to acute leukemia. Her husband, Dave Anderson, was with her in the hospital when she passed away.

(10) BLACK OBIT. John D.F. Black (1932-2018), an associate producer for ten episodes of classic Star Trek made during the program’s first season, died November 29.  Under a pseudonym (Ralph Willis) he wrote the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Justice.” And he wrote for many non-genre TV shows and movies.

(11) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • December 5, 1980Flash Gordon made its cult premiere.
  • December 5, 1956 Man Beast  showed up at your local drive-in.

(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and JJ.]

  • Born December 5, 1890 – Fritz Lang, Writer, Director, and Producer who is famous in genre for his dystopian film Metropolis, which features a distinctive robot whose image has influenced countless other creators; critics found the film visually-beautiful, but the plot trite and simplistic. Other works included the two-film series based on the Norse sagas Die Nibelungen, a series of films featuring Norbert Jacques’ master of disguise and telepathic hypnosis Doctor Mabuse, and the 1929 Woman in the Moon (aka Rocket to the Moon), which is considered to be one of the first “serious” science fiction films. (Died 1976.)
  • Born December 5, 1954 – Betsy Wollheim, 64, Publisher and Editor. As the president and co-publisher of DAW Books, she has more than four decades of book publishing experience, and not only edits but also art directs all the books she acquires. She has edited numerous award-winning and bestselling authors, including the Hugo, Nebula, BFA, and Gemmell Award-nominated Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, the Philip K. Dick Award-nominated Voyager in Night by C.J. Cherryh (as well as the rest of the wildly-popular Alliance-Union novels), Nnedi Okorafor’s World Fantasy Award-winning Who Fears Death, and Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles, including The Name of the Wind, which was a finalist for the Compton Crook, Prix Imaginaire, and Premio Ignotus Awards. She has received a Hugo Award for Best Editor, and shares two Chesley Awards for Best Art Director with co-publisher Sheila Gilbert. In 2018 she was honored with the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement.
  • Born December 5, 1961 – Nicholas Jainschigg, 57, Teacher, Artist and Illustrator. He began his career by doing covers and interior art for Asimov’s and Analog magazines, then progressed to covers for books and other magazines, eventually providing art for Wizards of the Coast gaming materials and for Marvel and DC Comics. As an Associate Professor for the Rhode Island School of Design, his private work these days is mainly in animations, interactive illustration, painting in oils, and paleontological reconstructions in murals and dioramas.
  • Born December 5, 1961 – Morgan Brittany, 57, Actor whose first genre appearance was on Thriller, a series narrated by Boris Karloff and written by authors such as Robert Bloch. It’s hardly her only genre work, as she would be in The Birds, multiple episodes of The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Initiation of Sarah, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Fantasy Island, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.
  • Born December 5, 1968 – Lisa Marie, 50, Actor who, for eight years, was a favorite casting choice of Tim Burton, with whom she had a relationship. Genre fans will recognize her as the Martian girl in the absolutely brilliant Hugo- and Saturn-nominated SF satire Mars Attacks, and as Vampira in the Saturn finalist Ed Wood. She also played Ichabod Crane’s mother in Sleepy Hollow, and Nova in the Planet of the Apes reboot. Other films include The Lords of Salem, We Are Still Here, and Dominion.
  • Born December 5, 1975 – Paula Patton, 43, Actor and Producer whose genre debut was an impressive performance in a lead role in the time-travel movie Déjà Vu, which likely led to her being cast in a main role in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, for which she received a Saturn nomination. Other film appearances include Warcraft, Mirrors, and The Do-Over, and a main role on the short-lived series Somewhere Between.
  • Born December 5, 1979 – Nick Stahl, 39, Actor who is most recognizable as the young John Connor in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Other genre roles include the films Sin City, Tall Tale, Disturbing Behavior, and Mirrors 2, and a main role in two seasons of Carnivàle, which garnered him a Saturn nomination.
  • Born December 5, 1981 – Adan Canto, 37, Actor who played Sunspot in X-Men: Days of Future Past. He also played Connor Graff in Second Chance, a Fox series supposedly inspired by Frankenstein. It lasted eleven episodes.

(13) COMICS SECTION.

  • If Santa’s elves’ hearing was as bad as my copyediting, this is what would happen: The Bent Pinky.

(14) THE ANSWER IS NOT 42. Amazing Stories blog also kicked off its trivia contest feature: “Win a FREE Subscription to Amazing Stories SF Trivia Contest: SF Trivia Contest #1”.

(15) LEND AN EAR. Rosarium Publishing’s Bill Campbell invites all to check out Ink author, Sabrina Vourvoulias, on The Skiffy and Fanty Show, “talking about her amazing immigration dystopia, the telltale signs of the rise of authoritarianism, and courage in publishing.” — “Signal Boost #48 — Sabrina Vourvoulias (Ink) and Stephanie Gunn (Icefall)”.

(16) REVIVING THE REVIVAL. Food has disappeared only temporarily from the Clifton’s Cafeteria bill of fare. LAist says this is what’s happening: “Clifton’s Is Going To Stop Being A Cafeteria And Become A Food Hall”.

Meiran says workers are busy right now, turning the cafeteria at Clifton’s into the Exposition Marketplace, which will have seven different stations that offer salads, sandwiches, hot items and desserts. Each station in the marketplace will function like a mini-market or a deli with pre-packaged items and/or foods that you can buy for takeaway or eat on the premises.

Why another revamp only a few years after completing a splashy, nearly half-decade renovation?

“We ran up against a perception issue,” Meiran says. He thinks part of the problem is the word “cafeteria.”

“When people think of a cafeteria, they think institution. It’s food in the pans and plopped on the plate. That isn’t the way people contemporary like to eat. It created a weird dilemma for us from day one. We were too expensive and potentially going off the mark for some people. Then we weren’t enough in terms of raising the bar for a whole group of other people. And that’s kind of a no-win situation,” he says.

He compares the upcoming iteration of Clifton’s to luxe food halls like Eataly or Harrod’s in London, although he emphasizes that the cost will not be like Harrod’s.

(17) TODAY’S THING TO WORRY ABOUT. It’s (too) smooooooooth! “Tom Cruise gives lesson in TV settings and ‘motion smoothing'” – BBC has the story.

Something is keeping movie star Tom Cruise up at night: motion smoothing.

In an impassioned video posted to Twitter on Tuesday, the Mission Impossible star warned that a default setting on many high-end televisions “makes most movies look like they were shot on high-speed video instead of film”.

Taking a break from filming the new Top Gun film, he appeared alongside director Christopher McQuarrie, who pleads with viewers to do a quick internet search and find out how to change the correct settings.

“If you own a modern high-definition television,” he said, “there’s a good chance you’re not watching movies the way the filmmakers intended, and the ability for you to do so is not simple to access.”

Motion smoothing, or interpolation, is a technique that artificially adds additional frames to the moving image in order to prevent blurring – most effective when watching sport.

But many in the film industry hate it, however, as it can degrade the image quality of the original film, and alter colouring.

(18) SUITING UP. Yahoo! Entertainment interviews the actress: “Brie Larson on ‘Captain Marvel’ and Starring in Marvel’s ‘Big Feminist Action Movie’ (Set Visit)”.

“I was wearing the other suit — the green suit — and in here, it’s like being in a casino,” she says of the cavernous soundstage housing today’s out-of-this-world set. “It’s just dark and you lose track of time, and I was like, Oh my God, I’ve got to get out of here… Is it still light out? And I opened that big door and I stumbled out and I was, like, blinking, trying to adjust to the light. And Jim Carrey drove by on a golf cart and looked at me and I looked at him and we just stared at each other as he drove by and I was like, “Huh?

Such is Larson’s new normal while filming the ’90s-set origin story, which sees Carol Danvers pitted between warring alien races — the Kree “noble warrior heroes” and the shape-shifting Skrulls — as she searches for answers about her past with the help of Samuel L. Jackson’s eye patch-less Nick Fury.

(19) THIS SPACE INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK. Graeme McMillan makes an amusingly fannish suggestion in “What ‘Avengers 4’ Trailer Fever Should Teach Marvel” at The Hollywood Reporter.

…I would like to submit a proposal to Marvel Studios: Don’t release a trailer for the next Avengers movie.

There’s literally no need to spend the time or money doing so, given the advanced level of enthusiasm that’s already out there for the movie, and is only likely to build as it gets closer to the May release date…

For that matter, any attempt to take Avengers 4’s trailer from the Schrodinger’s cat-esque position that it currently enjoys is almost guaranteed to disappoint fans, who have by this point built up their own personal trailers filled with whatever moments are essential to their enjoyment of a good teaser for such an anticipated cinematic event….

This isn’t to say that Marvel should announce that there’ll be no trailer. That would be counterproductive, because the expectation of one is what’s driving the fever pitch of buzz currently surrounding the fourth movie — the chance that, at any moment, it could arrive and something new and exciting could be revealed.

Instead, Marvel needs to simply say nothing, and just let fandom continue to drive itself to distraction, while promoting its other movies, instead. After all, the Captain Marvel trailer is pretty exciting in its own right, but it also works to tease the arrival Avengers 4: Infinity War 2 at the same time. “It’s all connected,” as the Marvel motto used to remind us.

(20) MORE LIKE ASH THAN BISHOP. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] Quartz wants you to know that “There’s an AI robot sulking in the international space station”—but that fortunately its name is CIMON (apparently pronounced “Simon”) and not HAL.

CIMON was supposed to be more than a colleague for the small team of astronauts aboard the International Space Station. CIMON was supposed to be a friend. But in his first recorded interaction in space, the floating robot-headed, voice-user-interface assistant got a little testy.

CIMON’s engineers did everything they could to smooth over their robot’s future interactions with astronaut Alexander Gerst. They trained CIMON’s AI on photos of Gerst and samples of his voice. They let Gerst help design CIMON’s face. They even taught CIMON Gerst’s favorite song.

That’s where the trouble started. Midway through their first interaction in space, CIMON tried to endear himself to the astronaut by playing “The Man-Machine” by Kraftwerk. Gerst listened politely to the first 46 seconds of the song —even bopped along with his fist for a few bars—but then he reached out, shook CIMON’s head, and said, “please stop playing music.”

But CIMON didn’t understand (or pretended not to?) and kept right on playing music even after Gerst tried several commands to get CIMON to stop. Things went downhill from there in a sort of passive-aggressive way.

As Gerst relays CIMON’s technical difficulties to support staff, the robot sheepishly reminds his new friend to “be nice please.”

Taken aback, Gerst strikes a slightly menacing tone: “I am nice! He’s accusing me of not being nice! He just doesn’t know me when I’m not nice.”

“Cool,” CIMON sulks. Then, ruefully: “Don’t you like it here with me?”

(21) A REINDEER GAME YOU CAN JOIN IN. Just how did they get their names?

(22) ‘TI$ THE $EASON. I’m told Saturday Night Live had this off-line for a while. Were they were coaxed into putting it back up to help sell Shatner’s Christmas record? From the same 1986 episode famed for his “Get a life” quote, here is William Shatner introducing “It’s a Wonderful Life: The Lost Ending.”

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Mike Kennedy Martin Morse Wooster, Camestros Felapton (via Janice Eisen), JJ, Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, Julia Morgan Scott, Lenore Jean Jones, John A Arkansawyer, Carl Slaughter, Andrew Liptak, Rob Thornton, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Ingvar.]

2019 World Fantasy Awards Judges

The 2019 World Fantasy Awards Judges have been announced.

  • Nancy Holder (USA)
  • Kathleen Jennings (Australia)
  • Stephen Graham Jones  (USA)
  • Garry Douglas (United Kingdom)
  • Tod McCoy (USA)

The judges will be reading and considering eligible materials until June 1, 2019. All forms of fantasy are eligible, e.g. epic, dark, contemporary, literary.

Qualifications: All books must have been published in 2018; magazines must have a 2018 cover date; only living persons are eligible.

The award categories are:  Life Achievement; Best Novel; Best Novella (10,001 to 40,000 words); Best Short Story; Best Anthology; Best Collection; Best Artist; Special Award??Professional; Special Award??Non?Professional.

The awards will be presented at World Fantasy Convention 2019 , to be held Thursday, October 31 through Sunday, November 3, 2019, at the Marriott Los Angeles Airport Hotel. Through May 20, 2019, an attending membership costs $225, which does not include the Awards Banquet. Banquet tickets will be available in Summer, 2019.  Information and forms can be found on the website.

The Yesterday’s Kin Trilogy: An Interview with Nancy Kress

By Carl Slaughter: Nancy Kress likes to write about hard science.  Especially biotech.  She likes to write about alien contact.  She tends to populate her stories with scientists.  Her recently completed Kin trilogy is a multi-generational first contact pandemic story. The third novel in the trilogy, Terran Tomorrow, was published November 13 by Tor Books.

CARL SLAUGHTER:  Where did you get the idea for the science premise?

Nancy Kress

NANCY KRESS:  The trilogy revolves around microbes, especially pathogens that cause epidemics of various kinds.  Medicine has made good strides against bacteria-caused epidemics, but bacteria mutate, swap genes, and develop antibiotic resistance so fast that sometimes our drugs and vaccines aren’t effective (witness the hit-or-miss gamble with flu shots every year).  And we really can’t handle viral epidemics except by containment (witness Ebola, until recently).  Humanity is overdue for a major pandemic.  These ideas fascinate and scare me.  Fear is good for plotting.

CS: Same question for the plot.

NK: Science is only compelling to most readers if it happens to people.  So in the trilogy, a variety of characters cope with a pandemic on two planets: a geneticist, an Army Ranger, two brothers with vastly different ideas on how to live on a devastated Earth, aliens who are not what they seem, a man more at home in the alien culture than in his own.  These people fight, love, cope, strive.  For me, plot always grows out of character.

CS: Are the main characters throughout the trilogy or a different set of characters for each story?

NK: Both.  Geneticist Marianne Jenner, her children, and ultimately her grandchildren, are the common thread through all three books.  Other major characters appear in just one book: Ranger Leo Brodie,  physician Lindy Ross, the alien woman who adopts the name Jane.

CS: Are the main characters scientists, soldiers, journalists, linguists, professors, politicians?

NK: All of the above!  A large-scale space opera involves everybody.  There is, however, a preponderance of scientists and, in If Tomorrow Comes (book 2), soldiers.

CS: Do you reveal the plot through the characters or vice versus?  My personal preference is vice versa.

NK: This question doesn’t actually make sense to me, since plot and character are intimately connected.  A plot event occurs, and a character shows their personal qualities by how they react.  A character’s actions generate more plot.  It goes back and forth, or occurs at the same time.  There is, however, an inciting plot incident that starts everything going.  In the first book of the trilogy, If Tomorrow Comes, it is the appearance on Earth of aliens with a dire warning for our planet.

CS: Is this one of those ‘the human race might get wiped out’ plots or one of those ‘the human race will definitely go through fundamental change’ plots?

NK: The human race will definitely go through fundamental changes.  I once wrote a novel in which the entire human race gets wiped out (Nothing Human) and it was not a success, although I liked it.  But in this trilogy, there are gallant, resourceful, and hopeful survivors making new societies on two worlds.

CS: What are the recurring themes?

NK: Survival.  Difficult moral choices.  The power of persistence.  The need to connect with others—alien and human.  That faced with crisis, different people will react in far different ways.  Humanity is not a monolith.

CS: Are they the same themes in your other stories?

NK: Yes, I think so.

CS: I haven’t read all of your stories, but enough to know that a large number of them involve alien cultures, hard science, or both.  I’m guessing that’s not a coincidence.

NK: No, not a coincidence.  Writing about aliens is a way of making characters confront the alien in others—and in themselves.  Xenophobia is hard-wired into our genes: “That stranger from another tribe might be dangerous!”  Civilization depends on overcoming xenophobia and cooperating.  Civilization is fragile, and fragile situations make for good narratives.  In addition, our current civilization depends on science: computers, cars, medicine, heating and cooling, advanced manufacturing techniques and tools, agribusinesses.  The most intimate science is biotechnology, affecting and altering our own bodies, as well as crops and animals and the environment.  Much of my fiction concerns genetic engineering.  This is the future.

CS: What stories are in the works?

NK: I am working on a long novella that—contrary to everything I just said!—is not about biotech.  Rather, it’s about growing automation of our businesses that result in massive unemployment and the changes to society that will bring.

CS: What’s going on on the workshop front?

NK: I am delighted that you asked!  Taos Toolbox opened for submissions December 1.  Toolbox is an intensive, two-week, Clarion-style workshop that Walter Jon Williams and I teach every year in New Mexico.  Guest lecturers include George R.R. Martin.  This year’s dates are July 7-20.  More information is available at www.taostoolbox.com

CS: Where can fans catch up with you for an autograph/photo?

NK: I am Guest of Honor at a small local con in Seattle, Foolscap (www.foolscap.org).  I will be going to Dublin for Worldcon in August.  Between those two events, I’m not sure.  My husband and I are buying a house and moving—time-consuming if exhilarating events.  Real life goes on next to science fiction life—although sometimes, of course, they blend.  Maybe all the time they blend.  Maybe aliens will inhabit my house.  Certainly microbes will.  Maybe…

Enough.  Stop.  Thank you for the interview, Carl.

Nancy Kress at Capclave 2018

Pixel Scroll 12/4/18 You Miss 100 Percent Of The Pixels You Don’t Scroll

(1) WRITING IDENTITY. Lara Elena Donnelly discusses the challenges to a writer in an industry with entrenched genre labels and sublabels. Thread starts here.

(2) “I’M SHOCKED”: The Wrap begins its story

We sense a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of bank accounts suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly emptied.

…Hollywood auction house Profiles in History is offering the original lightsaber prop used by Mark Hamill in 1977’s “Star Wars: A New Hope” at the estimated value of $150,000 – $200,000.

But is it the real McCoy? BBC reports that “Mark Hamill questions Luke Skywalker lightsaber auction”.

[On] Twitter, Mr Hamill explained it may not be a one-off.

But the Academy Award-winning production designer for the original Star Wars film, Roger Christian, told the BBC the lightsaber is an original.

“There are five originals I handmade myself, and this is one of them,” he said. “It is real – I’ve got the Oscar to prove it.”

(3) ON THE FRONT. “How I became a book cover designer: Chip Kidd” at USA Today.

Q: What has been your biggest career high and your biggest career low?

Kidd: High: “Jurassic Park.” That will be the first line of my obituary, and I’m extremely proud of that. I have absolutely no regrets.

Low: There’s nothing where I think, oh my God, I’m so ashamed I did X or Y- I mean, I’m really not. There are books that you work on that you are hoping are going to do really well, but that’s not the same – that’s not saying ‘oh my God, I’m so ashamed of that,’ it’s just like saying, ‘well, we did our best and that didn’t work.’

(4) THE BOOK OF KINGFISHER Camestros Felapton chimes in with “Review: Swordheart by T. Kingfisher”.

This book positively sparkles with snappy dialogue as if it were a 1940s romantic comedy…but with swords, talking badger people and a possibly demonic bird.

We are back to the world of the Clockwork Boys, a few years on since the end of the Clocktaur wars. There are no shared characters but the shared fantasy setting relieves the story from having to spend time on additional world building. There are hints of broader trouble brewing but unlike the Clockwork Boys this is a less conventional fantasy quest.

(5) AUDIBLE.COM BEST OF THE YEAR. Audible.com has announced the audiobooks picked in various categories as the Best of the Year 2018.

Tade Thompson’s Rosewater is the Sci-Fi Winner.

Sci-Fi Winner: Rosewater

Rosewater is one of the most unique sci-fi books I’ve listened to in the past few years, let alone 2018. Author Tade Thompson—who won the inaugural Nommo Award (Africa’s first speculative fiction award) for this novel—describes his concept as a Frankenstein of influences, a phrase that calls to mind a monster cobbled together with mismatched parts. But in reality, the pieces all fit together in near-perfect synchronicity. A completely original alien invasion story with neocolonialist themes, combined with top-notch world-building make this series as unpredictable as it is unputdownable. And enhancing the experience is new narrator Bayo Gbadamosi, who was personally chosen by the author, and whose effortless performance of various characters and accents immerse the listener in this twisty, enthralling world. —Sam, Audible Editor

The other finalsists were Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu, Level Five by William Ledbetter, The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal, and Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor.

Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver is the Fantasy Winner.

Fantasy Winner: Spinning Silver

Spinning Silver is unexpectedly epic. The spell of it sneaks up on the listener. Yes, it’s a fairytale retelling of Rumplestiltskin, only with six different character perspectives and a fully fleshed-out world that’s familiar, but imbued with magic. At its center are two main heroines, Miryem and Wanda. Together, they carry complicated and relatable problems on their shoulders, making this an easily accessible fantasy for those who might be daunted by the genre. The land around them is bewitching and enchanting, made all the more so from Lisa Flanagan’s subtly accented narration. Simply put, it led us away to a wintry fantasy land and trapped us there, firmly cementing its place in our minds. —Melissa, Audible Editor

(6) EXPANDING UNIVERSE. Awareness of science-fiction’s blossoming of cultural inclusivity seems to be reaching the mainstream, as the BBC culture writer Tom Cassauwers looks at a variety of literary movements that are making the genre more meaningful to more people: “What Science Fiction Says About The Cultures That Create It”.

Well-known artistic depictions of the future have traditionally been regarded as the preserve of the West, and have shown a marked lack of diversity. Yet new regions and authors are depicting the future from their perspectives. Chinese science fiction has boomed in recent years, with stand-out books like Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem. And Afrofuturism is on the rise since the release of the blockbuster Black Panther. Around the world, science fiction is blossoming.

Susana Morris, Associate Professor at Georgia Institute of Technology says:

“People often think Afrofuturism is a genre, while really it’s a cultural movement. It isn’t just black science fiction. It’s a way for black folks across the diaspora to think about our past and future.”

(7) THE OTHER FIRST PERSON. “Jonathan Lethem on First-Person Narrators: When Men Write Women and Women Write Men” on Bookmarks has a conversation between Lethem and Jane Ciabattari about novels with first-person narration from the opposite gender.  Among the books discussed are Philip K. Dick’s The Transmigration of Timothy Archer and Anna Kavan’s Ice.

JL: …One of the things that’s striking about Dick’s work is that for such a wildly imaginative writer, he also frequently uses material from his own life quite directly, and the two nestle side-by-side very easily.

(8) BLACK MIRROR HINTS. Get yer red hot wild guesses here — “‘Black Mirror’ Season 5 Date and Episode Title Leak, Prompting Fan Theories” at Yahoo! Entertainment.

The wait for new “Black Mirror” is almost over, maybe. As reported by Entertainment Weekly, Netflix’s science-fiction Twitter account @NXonNetflix accidentally leaked the Season 5 premiere date and first episode title. If the tweet is to be believed, then “Black Mirror” returns December 28 with an episode called “Bandersnatch.” The tweet was deleted off Twitter but not before fans captured it via photo and sent it around the web.

…The “Bandersnatch” is a fictional creature in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass” and his 1874 poem “The Hunting of the Snark,” but, as one eagle-eyed Twitter user uncovered, it was the name of a video game listed on the cover of a fictional magazine in the Season 3 episode “Playtest,” directed by Dan Trachtenberg and starring Wyatt Russell.

The “Bandersnatch” game, as it turns out, is real. The UK-based Imagine Software developed the project in 1984 but it was never released to the public…

(9) STAYS MAINLY ON THE PLAIN. Cat Rambo livetweeted highlights of theRambo Academy for Wayward Writers’ December 1 class “Highspeed Worldbuilding for Games and Fiction” with James L. Sutter. Thread starts here.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and JJ.]

  • Born December 4, 1945 – Karl Edward Wagner, Writer, Editor, Publisher, Poet, and Fan. As an editor, he created a three-volume set of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian fiction restored to its original form as was it was originally written by Howard. He is quite likely best known for his invention of the character Kane, the Mystic Swordsman, who appeared in thirty novels. His short fiction amassed piles of World Fantasy, British Fantasy, and Stoker Award nominations and took home the trophy for many of them. He took over as editor of The Year’s Best Horror Stories series for DAW Books at the 8th edition, a role he held for fifteen years. He also edited the three Echoes of Valor anthologies that came out around the late 1980s. His Carcosa publishing company issued four volumes of stories by authors of the Golden Age pulp magazines. He received a British Fantasy Awards Special Award for his work with Carcosa; in 1997, the BFS renamed this award in his honor. (Died 1994.)
  • Born December 4, 1949 – Richard Lynch, 69, Writer, Editor, Historian, and Fan who with his wife Nicki produced the long-running fanzine Mimosa from 1982 to 2003, which was nominated fourteen times for the Hugo Award for Best Fanzine, winning six of those years. He has been a member of several fan groups and APAs, chaired a Chattacon, and edited the 1998 Worldcon Souvenir Program Book. He and Nicki have been Fan Guests of Honor at several conventions, and were honored with the Phoenix Award by Southern Fandom.
  • Born December 4, 1949 – Jeff Bridges, 69, Oscar-winning Actor whose best genre role, I’d say, was as the Oscar-nominated, Saturn-winning lead in Starman – but many genre fans would offer his Saturn-winning dual role as Keven Flynn/CLU in TRON and the followup TRON: Legacy as his main genre credential. Other genre work includes Kiss Me Goodbye, K-PAX, Tideland, King Kong (1976), the Saturn-nominated titular character in The Fisher King, Iron Monger in Iron Man, and the voice of Prince Lir in The Last Unicorn. He appeared also as an undead police officer in a film called R.I.P.D. (the Rest in Peace Department), which was either really bad or really, really bad.
  • Born December 4, 1949 – Pamela Stephenson, 69, Psychologist, Writer, Actor, and Comedian who was born in New Zealand, grew up in Australia, and emigrated to the UK. She may be recognized by genre fans as villain Robert Vaughn’s moll in Superman III, or as Mademoiselle Rimbaud in Mel Brooks’ alt-history History of the World: Part I. Other roles include the films The Comeback and Bloodbath at the House of Death, and guest parts on episodes of Space: 1999, The New Avengers, Tales of the Unexpected, and – of special interest to Ursula Vernon fans – a 3-episode arc as Wombat Woman on the British series Ratman. She is married to comedian Billy Connolly, with whom she has three children; she was the travel researcher for his film series Billy Connolly’s World Tour of…, which JJ highly recommends, as each trip includes visits to numerous interesting sites of quirky, bizarre, and supernatural reknown.
  • Born December 4, 1954 – Sally Kobee, 64, Bookseller, Filker, and Fan who, with Larry Smith, ran for 25 years comprehensive dealer stores at Worldcons and other conventions, which always contained books written and illustrated by convention guests, so that fans could obtain works for autographing sessions. She has served on the committees for numerous conventions, and chaired two Ohio Valley Filk Fests and two World Fantasy Conventions. She was honored as a NESFA Fellow and as a Guest of Honor at Windycon.
  • Born December 4, 1954 – Tony Todd, 64, Actor, Director, and Producer. Let’s see… He was memorable as Kurn in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, and as Captain Anderson of EarthForce in Babylon 5: A Call to Arms, but he is likely best known to horror fans as the lead character in the Candyman horror trilogy. He also had main roles in Night of the Living Dead, the Final Destination film series, and played Cecrops in Xena: Warrion Princess and Gladius on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. He provided the voice of The Fallen in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
  • Born December 4, 1957 – Lucy Sussex, 61, Teacher, Writer, Editor, Critic, and Fan from New Zealand who emigrated to Australia. Writing across the range of science fiction, fantasy, and horror (as well as crime and detective fiction), her works have won 4 Ditmar Awards, 2 Aurealis Awards, and a Sir Julius Vogel Award, mostly for short fiction; however, her Ditmar-winning novel The Scarlet Rider was also longlisted for the Tiptree Award. Her anthology She’s Fantastical was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. She has been an instructor at Clarion West and Clarion South. She has been Guest of Honor at several conventions including the New Zealand Natcon, and has been honored with the A. Bertram Chandler Award for Outstanding Achievement in Australian Science Fiction and the Peter McNamara Achievement Award.
  • Born December 4, 1964 – Marisa Tomei, 54, Oscar-winning Actor of Stage and Screen and Producer who played May Parker in Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Spider-Man: Far From Home, but also, to my delight, has an uncredited role as a Health Club Girl in The Toxic Avenger! She also had a guest role in the “Unwomen” episode of The Handmaid’s Tale.
  • Born December 4, 1974 – Anne KG [Murphy] Gray, 44, Engineer, Physicist, Writer, Editor, Conrunner, and Fan. Known in fandom as Netmouse, she was a member of the Ann Arbor Science Fiction Association, and has served on numerous convention committees and chaired three ConFusions. As a member of Midfan, which ran four Midwest Construction regional conrunner training conventions in the 2000s, she was editor of their publication MidFanzine. She is a past president of the Science Fiction Oral History Association. She is married to Brian Gray, with whom she won the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund in 2010; they went to Eastercon and Corflu in the UK and produced a TAFF trip report, a piece on the Sherlock Holmes museum, and a photo album.

(11) COMICS SECTION.

  • PvP Online takes a turn with one of 770’s favorite motifs….

(12) PRIME SUSPECTS. Christopher Sandford, in “Who Was the Real Sherlock Holmes?” on CrimeReads, has an excerpt from his book The Man Who Would Be Sherlock where he looks at the people who inspired Sherlock Holmes, including Dr. Joseph Bell and Conan Doyle’s rich imagination.

Although Conan Doyle, like most authors, deplored the habit of identifying ‘real-life’ models for his characters, he also took the opportunity to pay Dr Joseph Bell (1837–1911) the compliment of calling him the “true Holmes.”

The frock-coated Bell was 39 years old when Doyle, an impoverished medical student, first attended one of his lectures at Edinburgh University. Described as a “thin, white-haired Scot with the look of a prematurely hatched bird, whose Adam’s apple danced up and down his narrow neck,” the doctor spoke in a piping voice and is said to have walked with a jerky, scuttling gait “suggestive of his considerable reserves of nervous energy.” Bell was a keen observer of his patients’ mental and physical characteristics—”The Method” as he called it—which he used as an aid to diagnosis. A lecture in the university’s gaslit amphitheater might, for example, open with Bell informing his audience that the subject standing beside him in the well of the auditorium had obviously served, at some time, as a non-commissioned officer in a Highland regiment in the West Indies—an inference based on the man’s failure to remove his hat (a Scots military custom) and telltale signs of tropical illness, among other minutiae. Added to his impressive powers of deduction, Bell also liked to bring an element of drama to his lectures, for instance by once swallowing a phial of malodorous liquid in front of his students, the better to determine whether or not it was a deadly poison. (He survived the test.) For much of the last century, Bell has been the individual most popularly associated with the “real Holmes.”

(13) GAME OF STRAPHANGERS. Gothamist says commuters will have a chance to buy collectible prepaid fare cards: “Limited Edition ‘Game Of Thrones’ MetroCards Available At Grand Central Starting Tuesday”.

Last week, the MTA announced that there would be a delay on a set of limited edition Game Of Thrones-emblazoned MetroCards planned for release in advance of the hotly-anticipated final season of the show. Today, we’ve learned that the MetroCards will be available starting tomorrow (Tuesday, 12/4) at Grand Central Terminal—and you can get a first look at them up above.

There will be 250,000 copies of the four MetroCards available at in the Grand Central subway station while supplies last.

(14) WHO’S ON FIRST. Galactic Journey was there in November 1963 for the series premiere: “[Dec. 3, 1963] Dr. Who?  An Adventure In Space And Time”.

Produced by Verity Lambert (the BBC’s youngest and only woman producer), Doctor Who is the new science fiction series from the BBC, about the mysterious eponymous old man and his machine that allows him to travel through time and space. Along with him are his granddaughter, Susan, and two of her school teachers, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright. Together, they’ll travel backwards and forwards through history, and upside down and sideways through the universe. According to the Radio Times, each adventure may bring them to the North Pole, distant worlds devastated by neutron bombs (well, THERE’S a relevant story for you!), and even the caravan of Marco Polo. I also hear this show is to have a bit of an educational element, so I’ll be looking forward to seeing how that goes.

(15) BELIEVABLE FANTASY. Marion Deeds and Terry Weyna, in their review of Alexandra Rowland’s novel at Fantasy Literature, “A Conspiracy of Truths: Interesting debut novel from a writer to watch”, point out that Chant is an unreliable narrator – but maybe not that unreliable:

For a story that takes place mostly within prison cells, where it seems pretty likely the first person narrator has not been executed, A Conspiracy of Truths becomes surprisingly suspenseful. Partly this is because there are characters at risk, particularly Ylfing and Consanza, but the suspense comes also not from “what will happen,” but “how will it happen?”

(16) A BIT MUCH. Fantasy Literature’s Taya Okerlund wrote a headline that made me read her review — “Legendary: If you like The Cheesecake Factory, this book might be for you” – and wrote a review that talked me out of reading the book:

The CARAVAL series has been very well received among YA readers; I guess I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Critics call it sweeping and immersive, and I’ll go with that. The writing is quite rich, and conjures to mind a world that might have been decorated by a cooperative design team from The Cheesecake Factory and Victoria’s Secret. It is gilded, rich and sugar crusted — which may be just the thing for an escapist read, but it wasn’t for me.

(17) SUPERCALI-WHAT? “Odeon defends £40 hi-tech cinema prices” — per an image, ticket prices for a show of Mary Poppins Returns started at £25.75; average price in the UK is £7.49. Just how much better than a typical cinema is this one? (And does this mean the bankers are the heroes in the Poppins sequel?)

Odeon has responded to criticism over the prices it is charging for seats at its new hi-tech cinema in London, where tickets will cost up to £40 ($51).

It told the BBC the prices were similar to tickets for theatre or live sports.

The newly refurbished Odeon Leicester Square will re-open later this month, showing Mary Poppins Returns.

It has had a multi-million pound facelift in partnership with Dolby, which is providing cutting-edge audio-visual technology.

(18) SHATNER CLAUS. Cleopatra Records would love to sell you a copy —

A very special gift of the holidays – the first ever Christmas album from the godfather of dramatic musical interpretations and a legend of stage and screen, Mr. William Shatner!

(19) FURSUITS AND LAWSUITS. Nerd & Tie’s Trae Dorn says a well-known Chicago-region vendor “Lemonbrat Has Filed Suit Against Former Employee (and Con-Runner) Corey Wood “. (They specialize in costumes and gear of interest to furries.)

In a series of events that has left many of us shocked, frequent convention vendor Lemonbrat has filed a lawsuit against their former financial manager Corey Wood.

The Cook County Record story lists the allegations:

According to the complaint, Wood has been employed by the plaintiffs since January 2013 as a financial manager and prepared payroll and the company’s books. The plaintiffs allege they discovered Wood established separate Square accounts for Lemonbrat and its predecessor that diverted credit card payments that belonging to the plaintiffs to Wood personally. The plaintiffs allege Wood diverted more than $40,000 to himself via his false Square account or accounts and has written more than $15,000 in bogus checks.

Dorn adds:

What makes it even more important though is Wood’s prominence in the con running community. Wood is the convention chair for Anime Milwaukee (Wisconsin’s largest anime convention), and owns and operates other events including the upcoming furry convention Aquatifur.

(20) PICKING HELLBOY. In an episode of PeopleTV’s video series Couch Surfing, Ron Perlman says that director Guillermo del Toro had to work a long time to get Perlman cast in HellboyEntertainment Weekly has the story (“Guillermo del Toro fought 7 years for Ron Perlman to star as Hellboy”), transcribing part of the video. It wasn’t until del Toro’s success with Blade II that producers would listen to him.

Before actor Ron Perlman played the titular role in Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 unconventional superhero flick Hellboy, he was a typecast character actor, successful but with little hopes of ascending to leading man status. Luckily for Perlman, del Toro had a very specific vision for the film, with Perlman front and center.

“I said to him from the get-go, ‘That’s a great idea and god bless you, I love you for entertaining the idea, but it’ll never happen,’” Perlman says in the latest episode of PeopleTV’s Couch Surfing, recalling his disbelief that he’d ever excite studios enough to be cast. “Sure enough, for seven years he’d go to these meetings at these studios, and he’d say, ‘Ron Perlman.’”

(21) MISSION-CRITICAL. Another first world problem: “Research worms ‘too old’ to go to space station”.

Thousands of worms being blasted into space could be “too old” for research when they get to the International Space Station (ISS).

The launch of a SpaceX rocket was delayed after mouldy food was found among another research team’s kit.

Teams from Exeter, Nottingham and Lancaster universities are hoping the microscopic worms could lead to new treatments for muscular dystrophy.

The worms were meant to be “just turning into adults” at the launch.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was due to launch from the NASA Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Tuesday evening, but has now been rescheduled for 18:16 GMT on Wednesday.

(22) PASSING THE POST. Congratulations to Adri Joy for reaching a specialized kind of milestone with “Microreview [Book]: A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy by Alex White” at Nerds of a Feather.

Hurrah! With this review, I have officially reached my “sequeliversary” for Nerds of a Feather: Alex White’s A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe was one of the first books I reviewed on this site, and now here I am looking at its successor for your potential reading pleasure! Admittedly, there were only six months between the two, but I still think that’s cool. If you haven’t read White’s breakneck opener full of grumpy yet brilliant ladies and satisfying space magic, now’s the time to go check out that review and the book behind it…

A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy opens one year after we last saw the crew of the Capricious, having hunted down the big ship at the edge of the universe (also known as the Harrow) and started to uncover a galaxy spanning plot. Like it’s predecessor, Bad Deal doesn’t waste any time, throwing its audience right into the middle of things

(23) WHERE THERE’S SMOKE. Vance K adds James Tiptree Jr. to the dossier in “Feminist Futures: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever” at Nerds of a Feather.

In reading Tiptree, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Flannery O’Connor in that wherever the stories started or whichever direction they may start heading, they would always veer hard to death. Characters don’t get happy endings, hope is inevitably extinguished just when it seemed likely to pay off, and those misgivings nagging at the back of characters’ minds always turn out to be harbingers of a doom lurking just up ahead.

(24) GEM OF A DINO. National Geographic has a photo of this exotic find: “Sparkly, opal-filled fossils reveal new dinosaur species”.

In a dazzling discovery, fossils brought up from a mine in Wee Warra, near the Australian outback town of Lightning Ridge, belong to the newly named dinosaur species Weewarrasaurus pobeni. The animal, which was about the size of a Labrador retriever, walked on its hind legs and had both a beak and teeth for nibbling vegetation.

…But perhaps the most striking thing about this fossil—described today in a paper published in the journal PeerJ—is that it is made from opal, a precious gemstone that this part of the state of New South Wales is known for.

(25) ALL FINISHED. Gothamist tweaks the celebrated fantasy author: “George R.R. Martin Finally Finishes His Guide To NYC Pizza”.

Do you ever get the feeling that George R.R. Martin will do literally anything to get out of finishing the A Song Of Ice & Fire series? It’s been well over seven years since the release of A Dance Of Dragons, and in lieu of the long-awaited new GoT book, Martin has released spin-off books like Fire and Blood, he’s helped adapt his 1980 novella Nightflyers into a TV show, he’s started non-profits, he’s cameoed in Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, gone to some Dead shows, campaigned for Hillary Clinton, and he’s blogged way too much about the Jets.

The latest iteration of this phenomenon: to promote Fire & Blood, Martin gave his guide to NYC pizza. Did we really need the creator of Game Of Thrones to confirm what we all already know, that NYC pizza is by far the best in the world?

 

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

How Laser Weapons Stopped Being Science Fiction

By Jeff Hecht. Author of Lasers, Death Rays, and the Long, Strange Quest for the Ultimate Weapon, (Prometheus Books January 2019):

Pulp science fiction invented a host of directed-energy weapons: heat rays, death rays, blasters, ray guns and disintegrator rays. Lasers joined science-fiction arsenals soon after the Pentagon placed a million-dollar bet on the new idea in 1959. The brand-new Advanced Research Projects Agency was desperate for a defense against Soviet nuclear missiles when Gordon Gould walked in the door with a physically plausible plan to make a laser. Gould’s company got a fat contract, but Gould himself couldn’t get a security clearance to work on the laser. It was Theodore Maiman who launched the laser age when he made the first one in May 1960 at Hughes Research Laboratories in California.

Maiman was dismayed when newspaper headlines heralded his invention as a “science-fiction death ray.” His real-world laser was orders of magnitude short of the power needed to blast Soviet nukes out of the sky. Classified experiments reached tens of kilowatts in the late 1960s by burning chemical fuels in a gigantic flowing-gas system that acted like a rocket engine, but it couldn’t match the power of Star Trek phasers.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” program spent billions trying to make orbital laser battle stations, and managed to get a megawatt out of a building-sized laser for a few seconds at a time. But they never got a big laser off the ground. After the end of the Cold War, the Air Force crammed a rocket-engine laser into a Boeing 747, which got off the ground and bagged a few targets in 2010. But it was billions over budget and many years behind schedule, and was scrapped as useless for zapping nuclear missiles fired by rogue states.

However, tests of a smaller rocket-engine laser on the ground in the late 1990s held out a different hope. A joint U.S.-Israeli project called the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) could shoot down terrorist rockets before they could wreak havoc. The powers were only a few hundred kilowatts, but the targets were only in the kilometer range, not the thousands of kilometers needed to stop long-range nuclear missiles. Contractors planned how to repackage the five trailers of equipment used in THEL into a mobile rocket-blaster that could be driven to trouble spots. It seemed like a done deal until field operations experts took a look at the plans around 2000.

Logistics is crucial on the battlefield. Napoleon Bonaparte famously said “an army marches on its stomach,” but modern armies also need fuel and munitions. A laser is an appealing weapon because it fires bolts of energy, not expensive missiles that can run out in mid-battle. But chemically powered lasers need two fuels, one containing hydrogen and the other containing fluorine, and they produce highly toxic hydrogen fluoride. The field ops team gave them a thumbs down, but said they would be happy to have a laser that could run on electrical power from generators powered by the diesel fuel that is the ubiquitous source of energy on the battlefield.

Solid-state lasers that ran on electricity had come a long way in the forty years since Maiman made the first one. Some were used in cutting and welding, but their power was far short of the hundred kilowatt level needed to zap insurgent rockets. Yet Congress and the Pentagon could see their benefits, and in 2000 they created the High Energy Laser Joint Technology Office (HEL-JTO) with a mandate to build bigger and more powerful electric-powered lasers.

They planned to crank up the power in two steps to a laser producing the full hundred kilowatts for five solid minutes. Right on schedule, Northrop Grumman announced success. “We’re doing our part to make gunpowder a twentieth-century technology,” said Dan Wildt, head of the company’s laser weapon program, on a March 18, 2009 press teleconference. The laser reached 105 kilowatts, a shade above the desired output power, but its efficiency was a shade below the desired 20 percent. It was an impressive achievement. However, the laser weighed seven tons and filled a shiny metal box 2 by 2 by 2.7 meters, smaller than a 747, but too hefty and fragile for use on the battlefield. It also required banks of laboratory chillers because it generated over 400 kilowatts of heat as well as the 100 kilowatts of laser beam. So JTO pushed on toward more battle-ready lasers.

Meanwhile, industrial laser companies had made a breakthrough of their own by replacing old-fashioned laser rods and slabs with thin optical fibers loaded with light-emitting atoms. Fiber laser output powers had soared from around 100 watts in 2000 to tens of kilowatts in 2009. They were so powerful that military labs started buying welding lasers, bolting them onto battlefield vehicles, and adding beam-focusing optics and a joystick-based control stick for aiming the laser. Then they started firing.

The easiest targets were improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or unexploded munitions laying on around on a battleground. The drill was simple. Park the vehicle a couple hundred meters away, far enough that the shrapnel wouldn’t hurt anybody. Then turn on the laser and point the beam onto it. The infrared laser beam was invisible to the eye, but infrared viewers revealed it on the screen so the operator could point the beam. When the target was exposed on the surface, after a matter of seconds the explosive inside the shell would detonate with a satisfying BANG, and the driver could move along to the next target. That could be useful for clearing battlefields, although it was harder to deliver enough laser energy to explode well-buried land mines and IEDs.

The next step was moving targets. The Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville installed a five-kilowatt laser atop in a tank-like Stryker in place of the usual heavy gun. It zapped over 150 drones of various sizes before Boeing replaced it with a 10-kilowatt laser. The Navy targeted small boats. A video of one early test showed a boat with a large red outboard motor bobbing quietly on shallow water. Nothing seemed to happen as an invisible infrared laser beam from elsewhere locked onto the motor, but as the beam dwelled on the motor, it began igniting wisps of gasoline fumes, and the motor eventually went up in flames.

The Navy was the first service to officially “deploy” a laser weapon, installed on the aging warship the USS Ponce in 2014 before it went on duty the Persian Gulf. They bought five 5.5-kilowatt industrial lasers from IPG Photonics, the world’s biggest maker of fiber lasers, and hooked them up to a beam-focusing telescope. The laser wasn’t used in combat, but it did zap test drones and small boats, with impressive success.

Laser weapon system aboard USS Ponce in 2014.

Tests are continuing with more powerful lasers taking on more difficult targets. The Army installed a 60-kilowatt state-of-the-art fiber laser from Lockheed Martin in the High-Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator, a standard military battlefield truck that Boeing has equipped with laser focusing optics and a command and control systems for use by soldiers.

The Navy is buying a pair of similar Lockheed advanced fiber lasers for a new system it calls HELIOS, for High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler with Surveillance. In addition to zapping unfriendly small boats and drones, HELIOS will use its optical system to gather intelligence on its environment. It also will include a lower-power visible laser as the equivalent of the “stun” setting on a Star Trek phaser; it will shine so brightly that enemy troops won’t be able to look at it, making it hard for them to attack. One HELIOS will be sent to the Navy by 2020 for integration with the electrical and control systems of a new destroyer. The other will undergo extensive tests at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

Artist’s rendering of Lockheed Martins HELIOS system. Credit: Lockheed Martin (PRNewsfoto/Lockheed Martin)

The Air Force wants lasers for its top-gun fighter pilots, so it’s developing a laser weapon called SHiELD (for Self-protect High-Energy Laser Demonstrator). A cutting-edge Lockheed fiber laser will be mounted in a pod attached to fighter jets to defend against ground-to-air and air-to-air weapons. Initial tests are to start by 2021.

Meanwhile, tests are continuing on a radically different laser design called HELLADS, developed by General Atomic. One big attraction is a remarkably compact and light-weight structure made possible by cooling the laser solid with a flowing liquid with optical properties that match those of the solid so well that it doesn’t disturb the laser beam at all. Another attraction is a modular structure that can double the power by adding a second module, and potentially scale to much higher powers by adding more modules.

After decades of disappointment, this time looks different. Lasers that are more compact, more efficient and more powerful are only part of the story. It’s also focusing on targets that are much closer, so the beam has to go through less air, which isn’t as clear as we think. Look across a sunny blacktop parking lot at mid-day and you can see how air currents can bend light back and forth. Another difference is that drones and short-range rockets are much more vulnerable to laser attack than ballistic missiles hardened for re-entry into the atmosphere.

Nobody’s talking ray guns or phasers yet. A hand-held laser can’t pack lethal energy, although one could burn a blind spot on your retina. Think of these lasers as defensive artillery that can pinpoint enemy rockets, shells, drones and small boats.

Don’t expect these laser weapons to be standard combat equipment next year. The new generation of tests are needed to evaluate the lasers strengths and weaknesses, and to assess their lethality on real-world targets. If lasers pass those tests, they must be ruggedized to withstand battlefield conditions, which are far more harsh than a well-run factory floor. Then they must run a bureaucratic gauntlet to gain approval to move beyond research and development and become a “program of record” that spends buckets of money to produce hardware. That’s a real-world challenge Buck Rogers never had to face.

Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel – Trailer 2

Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel comes to theaters March 8, 2019.

Set in the 1990s, Marvel Studios’ “Captain Marvel” is an all-new adventure from a previously unseen period in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that follows the journey of Carol Danvers as she becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes. While a galactic war between two alien races reaches Earth, Danvers finds herself and a small cadre of allies at the center of the maelstrom. The film stars Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Rune Temte, Algenis Perez Soto, Mckenna Grace, with Annette Bening, with Clark Gregg, and Jude Law.