Pixel Scroll 1/25/19 Eight Files High

(1) SINGING ABOUT PEASPROUT CHEN. Lightspeed Magazine’s interview with Henry Lien brought out a fascinating musical connection —

You’re the first author I’ve interviewed who’s had a Broadway singer perform at the book launch for their debut novel. I watched the promotional video of the one and only Idina Menzel performing the theme song from the first book of your Peasprout Chen series, Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword, with you. That’s so cool! What’s the backstory? How did that happen?

We’re represented by the same agency, ICM. She got a hold of the advance reader copy of the first Peasprout Chen book and flipped over it. She asked ICM if they could arrange for her to meet me. After I finished screaming into my pillow, I said, “Oh, well, let me see if I can find a slot in my calendar to squeeze in lunch with Idina Freeggin’ Menzel.” Then I screamed into my pillow some more. We met and really hit it off. She has become a dear friend. So I asked her to sing the theme song for the book at the launch. She said yes. Then I died of shock, and thus am conducting this interview with you from the Beyond.

(2) EATING THE FANTASTIC. Scott Edelman invites you to gobble goat cheese fritters with Scott H. Andrews while listening to Episode 87 of his Eating the Fantastic podcast.

Scott H. Andrews, founder and editor and publisher of the online magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, celebrated the 10th anniversary of that magazine by hosting a party at the recent World Fantasy Convention in Baltimore, Maryland — which made it seem like the right time for us to discuss that first decade. So we raised a pint at Red’s Table in Reston, Virginia.

Well, he raised a pint — of bourbon-barrel aged Gold Cup Russian Imperial Stout from Old Bust Head Brewery in Fauquier County, Virginia — while I downed my usual bottle of Pellagrino. And as we sipped, we chatted about that work on Beneath Ceaseless Skies, which has so far earned him six World Fantasy Award nominations and six Hugo Award nominations — and won him a British Fantasy Award. He’s a writer as well, with his own fiction appearing in Weird Tales, Space and Time, On Spec, and other magazines.

We discussed the treatment he received as a writer which taught him what he wanted to do (and didn’t want to do) as an editor, how his time as member of a band helped him come up with the name for his magazine, why science fiction’s public perception as a literary genre is decades ahead of fantasy, what it takes for a submission to rise to the level of receiving a rewrite request, the time he made an editor cry (and why he was able to do it), how he felt being a student at the Odyssey Writing Workshop and then returning as a teacher, the phrase he tends to overuse in his personalized rejection letters (and the reason why it appears so often), the way magazine editing makes him like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian, why writers shouldn’t worry about the ratio of submitted stories to purchased ones, the reason he’ll probably never edit novels, what anyone considering starting a magazine of their own needs to know, and much more.

(3) GET ILLUMINATED. “Sacred Texts: Codices Far, Far Away” – Two University of Pennsylvania scholars are doing a series of videos about the ancient Jedi texts until Star Wars Episode 9 is released on December 20.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Luke Skywalker gathered a small library of ancient Jedi texts and placed them in an uneti tree on Ahch-To.

On October 8, 2018, Dr. Brandon Hawk and curator Dot Porter met to talk about these ancient books, and to compare them with manuscripts from the collection of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania.

Here are the first two videos:

(4) NEW HORIZONS PHOTOS ARRIVING SLOWLY. “Nasa’s New Horizons: Best image yet of ‘space snowman’ Ultima Thule” – BBC had the story.

The New Horizons probe has sent back its best picture yet of the small, icy object Ultima Thule, which it flew past on New Year’s Day.

The image was acquired when the Nasa spacecraft was just 6,700km from its target, which scientists think is two bodies lightly fused together – giving the look of a snowman.

Surface details are now much clearer.

New Horizons’ data is coming back very slowly, over the next 20 months.

This is partly to do with the great distance involved (the separation is 6.5 billion km) but is also limited by the small power output of the probe’s transmitter and the size (and availability) of the receive antennas here on Earth. It all makes for glacial bit rates.

The new image was obtained with New Horizons’ wide-angle Multicolor Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) and gives a resolution of 135m per pixel. There is another version of this scene taken at even higher resolution by the probe’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), but this has not yet been downlinked from the probe.

(5) RSR PRO ARTIST RESOURCE. Rocket Stack Rank’s Greg Hullender says, “Based on the discussion on File770, we did the experiment of expanding our Pro Artist list using the ISFDB info. This actually expands it hugely. We ended up not trying to merge the lists for this year, but we posted the ISFDB data separately just so people could have it as a resource. It’s awfully nice data, if a bit overwhelming, and it’d be great to find a good way to use it. We’re hoping people will look at it and offer some ideas for how to make it a bit more manageable.” — “Pro Artists from ISFDB Novels 2018”.

Based on some conversations on File 770 about better ways to find candidates for the Best Professional Artist Hugo Award, we decided to try using the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB) as a source.  The result is spectacular, but maybe a bit overwhelming, so we decided not to try to integrate it with our regular Pro Artists page this year. Instead, we’re treating this as an experiment and inviting feedback on how we might best use this wealth of data in the future to help people who’re trying to find professional artists to nominate.

(6) FRANKENSTEIN AND ROBOTS. In the Winter 2019 Beloit College Magazine, Susan Kasten (“Why Frankenstein Will Never Die”)  discusses how an English professor, an anthropologist, a physicist, and a professor of cognitive science team-taught Frankenstein in a class called “Frankenstein 200:  Monster, Myth, and Meme.”

Robin Zebrowski, a professor of cognitive science, pointed out that the themes of Frankenstein — of creation, difference, empathy, monstrosity, and control–are the memes of artificial intelligence.  Zebrowski pointed out that early robot stories are about Frankenstein.  ‘They’re about building something no one can control once it’s unleashed,’ she said.  She noted that the first work of literature ever written about robots–a 1923 Czech play called R.U.R.–is a story about a robot uprising.

(Incidentally, Professor Zebrowski believes she is not related to sff author George Zebrowski.)

(7) TODAY IN HISTORY.

January 25, 1915 — First transcontinental telephone call was made, between New York and San Francisco; Alexander Graham Bell and Dr. Thomas A. Watson exchanged greetings.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born January 25, 1918 King Donovan. His first first SF film have him as Dr. Dan Forbes in the 1953 The Magnetic Monster and as Dr. Ingersoll In The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. The very next year, he plays James O’Herli in Riders to the Stars. And now we get to the film that you know him from — Invasion of the Body Snatchers in which he playsJack Belicec. After that, I show him only in Nothing Lasts Forever which has never been released here in the States. (Died 1987.)
  • Born January 25, 1943 Tobe Hooper. Director of such such genre films as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (the original of course), Poltergeist (damn scary film) Invaders from Mars and Djinn, his final film. He directed a smattering of television episodes including the “Miss Stardust” of Amazing Stories, “No More Mr. Nice Guy” of Freddy’s Nightmares, “Dead Wait” of Tales from the Crypt and the entire Salem’s Lot miniseries. He also wrote a horror novel with Alan Goldsher,  Midnight Movie: A Novel, that has himself in it at a speaking engagement. (Died 2017.)
  • Born January 25, 1958Peter Watts, 61.Author of the most excellent Firefall series which I read and enjoyed immensely. I’ve not read the Rifters trilogy so would welcome opinions on it. And his Sunflower linked short stories sound intriguing. 
  • Born January 25, 1963 Catherine Butler, 56. Butler published a number of works of which the most important is Four British fantasists : place and culture in the children’s fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper. Another important work is Reading History in Children’s Books, with Hallie O’Donovan. Her website is here.
  • Born January 25, 1970 Stephen Chbosky, 49. Screenwriter and director best-known I’d say for the Emma Watson-fronted Beauty and the Beast. But he also was responsible for the Jericho series which was a rather decent bit of SF even if, like Serenity, it got killed far too quickly. (Yes, I’m editorializing.) 
  • Born January 25, 1973 Geoff Johns, 46. Where to begin? Though he’s done some work outside of DC, he is intrinsically linked to that company having working for them for twenty years. My favorite work by him in on Batman: Gotham Knights, Justice League of America #1–7 (2013) and 52 which I grant which was over ambitious but really fun. 
  • Born January 25, 1985 Michael Trevino, 34. Performer, Tyler Lockwood on The Vampire Diaries and now Kyle Valenti on the new Roswell, New Mexico series whose premises I’ll leave you to guess. His first genre appearance was in the Charm episode of “Malice in Wonderland” as Alastair. He also shows up on The OriginalsThe Vampire Diaries spin-off. 
  • Born January 25, 1985 Claudia Kim, 34. Only four film films but all genre: she played Dr. Helen Cho Avengers: Age of Ultron followed by voicing The Collective In Equals which Wiki manages to call a ‘dystopian utopia’ film to which I say ‘Eh?!?’, and then Arra Champignon in the 2017 version of The Dark Tower and finally as  Nagini, Voldemort’s snake which I presume is a voice role (though I’ve not seen the film so I could be wrong) in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

(9) COMICS SECTION.

  • Hulk’s last words? Bizarro has them.

(10) ASIMOV REFERENCE. Yesterday on Late Night With Stephen Colbert (at about the 1:50 mark) the host said during a sketch —

“My self-driving car has stopped taking me to Taco Bell…citing the first law of Robotics.”

(11) RE-DEEP. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] press release from Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias in Spain addresses the latest “deep image” from the Hubble Space Telescope. The original Hubble Deep Field was assembled in 1995, only to be exceeded by the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field in 2004 and the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field in 2012. Each imaged galaxies further away and thus further back in time. Now there’s a new version of the Ultra-Deep Field that recovers “additional light” not included in earlier versions and showing thus additional information about the included galaxies.

To produce the deepest image of the Universe from space a group of researchers from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) led by Alejandro S. Borlaff used original images from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST taken over a region in the sky called the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field (HUDF). After improving the process of combining several images the group was able to recover a large quantity of light from the outer zones of the largest galaxies in the HUDF. Recovering this light, emitted by the stars in these outer zones, was equivalent to recovering the light from a complete galaxy (“smeared out” over the whole field) and for some galaxies this missing light shows that they have diameters almost twice as big as previously measured.

A scientific paper on the image and analysis is on ArXiv at https://arxiv.org/pdf/1810.00002.pdf (technically a preprint, but it has been accepted for publication by Astronomy & Astrophysics). The data itself is at http://www.iac.es/proyecto/abyss.

(11) NOW BOARDING. James Davis Nicoll knows how we love the number 5 here — “5 SFF Stories About Surviving the Dangers of Boarding School” at Tor.com.

As a setting, boarding schools allow for the construction of thrilling narratives: concerned parents are replaced by teachers who may well prioritize student achievement over student welfare, e.g. maximizing points for Gryffindor over the survival of the students earning those points…

Are there any SFF novels featuring boarding schools? Why yes! I am glad you asked—there are more than I can list in a single article. Here are just a few….

(12) BETTER TECH, MARK 0. Scientists have now deduced that “Neanderthals ‘could kill at a distance'”.

Neanderthals may once have been considered to be our inferior, brutish cousins, but a new study is the latest to suggest they were smarter than we thought – especially when it came to hunting.

The research found that the now extinct species were creating weaponry advanced enough to kill at a distance.

Scientists believe they crafted spears that could strike from up to 20m away.

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Lead researcher Dr Annemieke Milks, from UCL Institute of Archaeology, said: “The original idea was that Neanderthals would have been very limited using hand-delivered spears, where they could only come up at close contact and thrust them into prey.

“But if they could throw them from 15m to 20m, this really opens up a wider range of hunting strategies that Neanderthals would have been able to use.”

Extension of the above — “Why we still underestimate the Neanderthals”.

Prof Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum, explains why some old assumptions about the intellectual capabilities of our evolutionary relatives, the Neanderthals persist today. But a body of evidence is increasingly forcing us to re-visit these old ideas.

A paper out this week in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution reports the early arrival of modern humans to south-western Iberia around 44,000 years ago.

Why should this be significant? It all has to do with the spread of our ancestors and the extinction of the Neanderthals. South-western Iberia has been claimed to have been a refuge of the Neanderthals, a place where they survived longer than elsewhere, but the evidence is disputed by some researchers.

The latest paper, which is not about Neanderthals, has been taken by some as evidence of an arrival into this area which is much earlier than previously known.

By implication, if modern humans were in south-western Iberia so early then they must have caused the early disappearance of the Neanderthals. It is a restatement of the idea that modern human superiority was the cause of the Neanderthal demise. Are these ideas tenable in the light of mounting genetic evidence that our ancestors interbred with the Neanderthals?

(13) LOST ART? This certainly seems symbolic of the government shutdown: “Shutdown Leaves Uninflated Space Sculpture Circling in Orbit” in the New York Times.

…“Orbital Reflector,” a sculpture by Trevor Paglen that was recently launched into orbit.

The sculpture is not lost in space as much as stuck in a holding pattern before activation, pending clearance by the Federal Communications Commission. According to the artist, it might not survive the wait while F.C.C. workers are on furlough.

A 100-foot-long mylar balloon coated with titanium oxide, “Orbital Reflector” was designed to be visible to the naked eye at twilight or dawn while in orbit for a couple of months. It would then incinerate upon entering the Earth’s thicker atmosphere.

But although it was sent to space, the balloon was never inflated as planned.

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

38 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 1/25/19 Eight Files High

  1. (5) RSR PRO ARTIST RESOURCE.

    That is an excellent resource! If they can figure out a way to get the reissues out of that, it’d be perfect.

  2. 6) I’ve always thought that golems and robots fill the same role in fiction.

    The Rifters series is fantastic. The setup is truly wierd, the characters are compelling. The last book does have some excessively graphic scenes.

  3. 8) Nagini is in the Prequel-Movie a woman cursed to become a snake.
    Horrible underused in the movie. But it is not only the voice in the movie.

  4. @Cora Buhlert
    Thanks, but the ISFDB people deserve the real credit. The amount of data they manage is remarkable. Our post was literally the result of just a few hours of work on our part. Maybe 15 minutes to download the database and an hour to build a query. Most of the time went to playing with the query (I’ll share it, if you want), formatting the page, and writing the text for it.

    @JJ By “reissue” do you mean covers that reuse the same artwork but with different text? That’s not hopelessly difficult since we only have to look for duplicates within each artist (i.e. we’re not looking for artists stealing each other’s work) and we only care about duplicates in the current year (i.e. if the cover has been reused 10 times it’s the same as if it’s only been reused once).

    However, it would need human assistance to view a list of potential duplicates for each artist. No more than a few hundred image pairs to judge, I’d guess.

    That’s assuming we’re talking about essentially the same image with different text on it, which I’d assume accounts for most reuses. If they do something like BCS does, where they start with a single, large image and then create different covers by extracting smaller images from different parts of the large one, I don’t think that can be automated in a general way.

  5. @bookworm1398: I’ve always thought that golems and robots fill the same role in fiction. That may have been true originally — both Löv’s golem and Capek’s “robots” were hewers of wood and drawers of water, both presenting dangers their creator’s didn’t realize — but ISTM that robots have spread much more widely. I’m excluding androids from at least the golem category, because ISTM that “golem” implies crudely-applied magic where an android does neither; YMMV.

    I note that the article quotes one of the teammates as referencing the industrial revolution, arguing that Frankenstein’s monster can be interpreted as people’s fear of capitalism, an economic system that was new but slightly familiar. ISTM they could have it backwards — that the monster is the established classes’ fear of the slightly-more-empowered masses; the further discussion veers away from this by discussing white fears of blacks.

  6. Greg Hullender: By “reissue” do you mean covers that reuse the same artwork but with different text?

    Some of those, some where a second edition with the same cover was issued in 2018 for a previously-published book. Here are some different examples; this is just with a quick look-through, and is in no way a complete list, but maybe they will help you to figure out what metadata to include or exclude in order to fix them:

    Adam Tredowski – Dieudonat previously published in 2016 for the French version
    Andrew Dobell – Nomad Omnibus 02 and 03 are the same as for 01 in 2017
    Arizona Tape – Accacia’s Trilogy is the same as Accacia’s Curse in 2017
    Bob Eggleton – Beneath the Waves is the same as The Taint and Other Novellas in 2007
    Chesley Bonestell – he died in 1986 and these are all re-used covers from other books
    Daniel Dos Santos – Witchy Eye is from 2017
    Leo Nickolls – Rotherweird is from 2017
    Sam Weber – Divine Cities Trilogy is from previous years’ individual books

    Ben Baldwin’s NewCon Press Novellas are missing and the pro magazines are missing because the query was not set up to pull these pub types.

    There are some odd omissions, such as why Donato Giancola’s list picked up The Dark Angel by Seabury Quinn but not A Rival from the Grave by the same author, and why Greg Ruth is missing 2 of 3 Binti covers and 2 of 3 Abercrombie covers; there are several titles missing for Vincent Chong. There are also some omissions I know of because I have the cover credits for them but ISFDB doesn’t; not much you can do about that.

    (also, Christian Bentulan and Covers by Christian are the same person, ditto for Raven Blackburn and Ravenborn, and Thin Air is probably missing from Chris McGrath’s list because it was credited to Christian McGrath, so it looks as though covers by pseudonyms need to be aggregated)

    (also, I am going to need to go put an ice pack on my eyes now, because some of those covers are preeeeetty horrific 😉 )

  7. (4) JJ, some of the odd omissions such as the missing Binti covers are due to them being tagged as chapbooks rather than novels. I lost dozens of images because my 3-year old script to download and auto-name 800+ images with title/author/artist(s) did not round-trip accented characters well at the thumbnail stage so they were left off the final set of 783 images (as were the artists like Goñi Montes). Those problems will be fixed at the script or query level in a future pass after more feedback.

  8. (11) A list of boarding school sci-fi/fantasy surely can’t be complete without at least a nod towards Girls und Panzer – where “tankery”, non-lethal battles with tanks, is a typically feminine sport in which different schools compete against each other. Though this is a case where the “boarding school” aspect does not necessarily mean that the students don’t also live with their family …

  9. @JJ We can definitely eliminate artists deceased before 2018!

    I just finished the query to fold pseudonyms together. I removes the duplicates you mentioned above, but it also adds artists who didn’t meet the cutoff of 3 works before the merge. On net, it changes the number of artists from 150 to 149. (I can fix Eric’s problem with non-ascii names by giving him another column with the transliterated author and title names for his url generator.)

    Putting the magazines and chapbooks back in adds another 50 or so artists and pushes total covers to just over 1,000. I should also add that when I run the same query for previous years, it’s pretty clear that the list for this year is only 60% complete; as people gradually enter more data into ISFDB, I expect this to grow to about 1600 covers. (This is remarkably consistent over the past five years.) Not in time for Hugo Nominations, of course.

    That gets to the big question: how can we trim this list in a principled way? The “obvious” approach is to only include books that did well by one metric or another, but then we’re in the unique situation of judging the cover by the book!

    Or are dedicated fans more or less able to sift through a list this size?

  10. @bookworm1398 & Chip Hitchcock: Golems and robots also come from the same place: Czechoslovakia, the home of Rabbi Loew and Capek. (I saw Loew’s grave in Prague — very cool.) The Czechs also make amazing puppets. Don’t know why the they’re so interested in artificial humans, but if anyone has a theory I’d like to hear it.

  11. Greg Hullender: We can definitely eliminate artists deceased before 2018!

    I would recommend making that (Year Being Extracted – 3) — just because the way publishing works, it’s entirely possible that an artist would have several great cover works in the pipeline when they passed away, and I think you would want fans to be able to see their works if that happens.

     
    Greg Hullender: That gets to the big question: how can we trim this list in a principled way?

    I agree that’s a big question. It needs to be manageable for users, but the culling criteria also need to be fair. I’ll put some thought into it, too.

  12. 11) James and other stuff at tour does like to use the number five a lot, Ive noticed.

  13. @JJ

    I played with varying the minimum number of required works from 1 to 10. These numbers includes magazines and chapbooks so they’re more realistic, although I didn’t remove semiprozines.

    Min Artists Works
    1 1186 2121
    2 345 1334
    3 197 1060
    4 122 850
    5 97 752
    6 64 589
    7 48 494
    8 35 404
    9 28 348
    10 20 279

    Trouble is, having a really high number here doesn’t necessarily mean all that much. It could just be a single contract with (say) a magazine for 12 covers. Or for a series reprint with 7 or 8.

  14. Greg Hullender: I played with varying the minimum number of required works from 1 to 10.

    3 or 4 kind of seems to be the “sweet spot” — a manageable number of artists and images. I think I’m up to about 45 artists and 330 images on my post at this point.

    (I’ve sent you an e-mail.)

  15. @ Greg Hullender

    That gets to the big question: how can we trim this list in a principled way? The “obvious” approach is to only include books that did well by one metric or another, but then we’re in the unique situation of judging the cover by the book!

    I have significant discomfort with resources that are designed to amplify existing filtering disparities. I can certainly understand the pragmatic intent of saying, “This list of 5000 (I exaggerate for effect) eligible candidates is more than any reasonable person can sift through for deciding who to nominate.” But any time someone creates a shortcut resource to help nominators (or voters) and applies a filter on what is presented, it has an amplification effect based on that person’s biases (or rather, the biases built into the filter, though often comes to the same thing). The approach that is “obvious” to one person may be illogically biased to another. (I don’t see that it’s obvious at all that the quality of art follows as a consequence of the popularity of the book it’s applied to.)

    If there were lots of different such resources all using entirely different approaches to filtering, the much of the amplification effect would be mitigated. But if there is a very small set of such resources, then the responsibility/power built into each one becomes significant. (For example, if only one person ever created an opt-in spreadsheet/link list/whatever of eligible works, then there’s a significant amplification effect of which creators know about it, feel comfortable opting in, and how well their works match the taste of the people who know about and use the resource. Whereas with multiple people producing such resources in different subsets of the networked information space, the skewing/filtering/amplification is more spread out.)

    The flip side of this discomfort is that someone is always going to be at the leading edge of trying to develop information systems to help potential nominators/voters, and that means that their particular biases (both explicit and implicit) will then become targets for critique in a way that would become less valid if they then inspired other people to follow suit with their own versions.

    I guess my thoughts come down to “innovators should be mindful of their inadvertent power to influence systems.”

  16. (5) Regarding implicit/explicit bias in filtering works, it’s a problem if the filter is opaque and hardcoded. I might be able to build a user-friendly user-customizable filter so if people want to change RSR’s default filter on the dataset, they can. Trivial filter conditions could include minimum # of required works, first print/reprint, novels/chapbooks/magazines, etc. Less trivial filter conditions (to compute) could include 1st/2nd/3rd tier/self publishers, reprinted book scores based on award nominations/wins/number of editions/number of markets published, tags in ISFDB, artist scores based on award nominations/wins/number of covers (high OR low for new artists), etc. Though the big challenge of custom views of a large dataset is performance (might be too resource intensive to make 2,000+ images/records dynamically filterable). The nice thing is the data source is ISFDB, which is freely available for anyone to use directly and fix errors as they see them.

  17. Eric Wong: Regarding implicit/explicit bias in filtering works

    Obviously Heather can speak for herself, but my impression is that she is referring to systemic bias rather than algorithmic bias.

    The people who enter data into ISFDB are volunteers, who are generally going to have access to works which they are interested enough to read (and therefore those are the works which get entered into the database).

    In addition, ISFDB’s database excludes a lot of self-published works. I don’t necessarily disagree with this policy — there is a huge amount of dreck being published, and the ISFDB’s value as a resource would be rapidly diminished by inclusion of a lot of dreck — but of course, this sort of filtering disadvantages those who don’t have access to more traditionally-published means.

  18. “I have significant discomfort with resources that are designed to amplify existing filtering disparities.”

    This is a good argument. With it in mind, a cut of number of three works seems logical as it is the recommended number of minimum works as per the Hugo rules (if I understood correctly). It makes the best possible fairness from that dataset. I.e, by not doing unnecessary limiting.

  19. I can say that a sense of endless doom set in well short of the end of that hundred item list, whereas five items works more nicely for me. Plus for stupid reasons (my surname and the fact there were five people in my living family when I was a kid) I like groups of five. I also like 2, 3, 8, and sometimes 10 but never 7. 9 has it’s points too, being a square of 3.

  20. @James Davis Nicoll

    I can say that a sense of endless doom set in well short of the end of that hundred item list, whereas five items works more nicely for me.

    Actually that list has almost 800 images in it, so I can understand the sense of doom. 🙂 Most of them are rather ugly, so I found I could skip over most of them pretty quickly, but even so it was a slog.

    I was thinking 200 to 500 might be more reasonable. If we got it down to 5, we’d have a slate! 🙂

  21. JJ makes good points. I was thinking in terms of both systemic and algorithmic amplification, but with the idea that the algorithmic bias is, in some ways, more conscious and deliberate.

    Here’s my favorite example of an intractable systemic amplification, just as a thought experiment. In discussing motivations for nominating/voting for works for awards, we (the generic we, not pointing any fingers or tentacles) often say things like, “simple sales numbers don’t make a book award-worthy” or “award nominations should be based on the work, not the author’s popularity.” But of course both sales numbers and an authors general popularity have an immense amplification effect on a work’s likelihood for nomination, for the simple reason that people have to know a work exists to nominate it. An excellent work that has had relatively small circulation (for whatever reason) is at a disadvantage compared to an average work by an author with an enormous pre-existing readership. If 50% of $unknown-author’s readership think $UA-work is the greatest ever while only 1% of $bestselling-author’s readership think $BA-work is nomination worthy, the latter is still going to beat out the former for a finalist slot.

    The counter-argument to this is always, “Well, but if $unknown-author’s work was actually that good, they wouldn’t be unknown. They’d be published by $Big-Famous-Publisher and widely read.” But we know that isn’t the case. Because of all the other biases and filters present in the system.

    Amplification systems or algorithms that treat existing bias/amplification as either value-neutral or as reflecting objective quality provide only logistical value to the community in making it easier for nominators/voters to pick something. But they provide relatively little content-related value to the community because they don’t actually consider content at all, only other people’s reactions to the content.

    This is one of the reasons that I’m extremely ambivalent about–or, no, I’m not ambivalent at all, I’m critical of–nomination/voting recommendation tools that amplify existing award nominations or best-of lists as if they reflect objective worthiness. One of the whole reasons for having a plethora of awards, best-of collections and lists, and so forth is that each one is evaluating the field from a different angle and using a different set of filters. There will be works out there that simply didn’t fit into any of those existing filters, or sometimes simply excelled at things that were peripheral to those filters, that are worthy of consideration in other contexts. But an approach that builds in a judgement “if nobody else thought this was (among) the best in their specific contexts, then it can’t be worthy in the present context” is an inherently reactionary and conservatizing force.

    Um…yeah, I have opinions on this topic.

  22. @Heather Rose Jones

    But an approach that builds in a judgement “if nobody else thought this was (among) the best in their specific contexts, then it can’t be worthy in the present context” is an inherently reactionary and conservatizing force.

    How do you get “reactionary?”

  23. With Henry Lien: I dunno if having Idina Menzel as your fan makes me want to read your book, but the seemed to enjoy themselves, and that’s the important thing.

    I must not be a STAR WARS geek because I had NO idea that “there was no writing in STAR WARS.”

  24. @Cat Eldridge – Regarding Peter Watts’ (item 8 – Birthdays) Rifters trilogy, I can wholeheartedly endorse the series with the caveat that you will probably enjoy them best if you thought his Firefall books were too bright and optimistic. Watts is proud of mentioning that Russian book houses have refused to publish some of his work because it is too dark. The books have similar tropes – team of damaged scientists isolated from the rest of the world, some sort of greater-scope doom encroaching on the storyline, etc. Also rock-solid science, tight plotting, and compelling (if not necessarily likable) characters.

  25. @JJ

    In addition, ISFDB’s database excludes a lot of self-published works. I don’t necessarily disagree with this policy — there is a huge amount of dreck being published, and the ISFDB’s value as a resource would be rapidly diminished by inclusion of a lot of dreck — but of course, this sort of filtering disadvantages those who don’t have access to more traditionally-published means.

    I spotted several books by Michael Anderle and M.D. Cooper on RSR’s list, both of whom are self-published (though Anderle has graduated to small press/content mill by now). Ditto for cover art by Tom Edwards and Damonza, two artists mainly hired by self-published authors. I also saw a lot of man chest covers, which are probably self-published as well.

    If anything, ISFDB’s inclusion or not of self-published works is a bit hazaphard. They have a few of mine (and I have no idea who created that entry anyway, but I was gobsmacked the first time I found it), but they are also missing many others. And those they do have are not necessarily the best sellers. I’d add the missing ones myself, but I’m not sure what the etiquette is about that.

    @Heather Rose Jones

    But of course both sales numbers and an authors general popularity have an immense amplification effect on a work’s likelihood for nomination, for the simple reason that people have to know a work exists to nominate it. An excellent work that has had relatively small circulation (for whatever reason) is at a disadvantage compared to an average work by an author with an enormous pre-existing readership. If 50% of $unknown-author’s readership think $UA-work is the greatest ever while only 1% of $bestselling-author’s readership think $BA-work is nomination worthy, the latter is still going to beat out the former for a finalist slot.

    The counter-argument to this is always, “Well, but if $unknown-author’s work was actually that good, they wouldn’t be unknown. They’d be published by $Big-Famous-Publisher and widely read.” But we know that isn’t the case. Because of all the other biases and filters present in the system.

    This. How often do we see a mediocre work by a well known author/creator get nominated for awards mostly out of habit and because it’s very visible, while excellent works by lesser known authors or authors on the edge of or outside the SFF ecosystem (because the books are marketed as literary fiction, romance,, mystery, YA, etc… even though they’re clearly SFF) are overlooked.

    I don’t see what we can do about this except have many different recommendation sources and talk up good work, when and where we find it. Both of which we’re already doing.

  26. Goobergunch: Looking at the WSFS Constitution (specifically its use of the word “illustrator”), it’s not even clear to me that those covers give anybody at all eligibility for Professional Artist.

    I think it’s a non-issue. Hugo nominators are never going to nominate a stock art company for Professional Artist, regardless of whether RSR or anyone else includes covers for which the only known credits are Shutterstock or Getty Images.

    Note that even though Tithi Luadthong, who I included in my 2018 Best Professional Artist galleries, mostly makes their art available through stock art companies, their name is attached to those works, and it’s not the stock art company being credited.

  27. When using stock art, I always credit the artist rather than the company. Sometimes, the license requires you to list the stock art company as well, but in those cases I credit the artist first and then the company.

    Tithi Luadthong, whose work I’m very fond of, is the artist for all covers in my In Love and War series, BTW.

  28. @Heather Rose Jones:

    Yep, I have (at least occasionally) extolled the rather good nature of Graydon Saunders’ Commonweal books (even to the point of nominating them), but my understanding is that they’re simply not that widely known.

  29. Ingvar: Yep, I have (at least occasionally) extolled the rather good nature of Graydon Saunders’ Commonweal books (even to the point of nominating them), but my understanding is that they’re simply not that widely known.

    The fact that the books are not available on Amazon undoubtedly hurts their ability to become more widely-known. I think the only place I’ve ever seen them mentioned is here on File 770.

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