Pixel Scroll 11/1/18 When You Gonna Give Me Some Time Scrollona

(1) SAME NAME, DIFFERENT GAME. At Strange Horizons, Abigail Nussbaum reviews Netflix’ “The Haunting of Hill House”.

…Netflix’s miniseries adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House, by Mike Flanagan (who wrote most of the series’s ten episodes and directed all of them), throws most of that out the window. It takes only a few scenes for a viewer familiar with the book to realize that the only similarity between it and this miniseries are a few character names, and the fact that they both revolve around a Hill House which is haunted. To a Jackson fan (most of whom are, after all, extremely defensive of her reputation) this initially seems like sacrilege. Why use the name if you’re not going to honor the actual work?

Flanagan’s Haunting never offers a persuasive answer to this question. What it does instead, almost as soon as the issue is raised, is counter with a genuinely excellent piece of horror filmmaking that makes you forget, at least for a while, its total lack of fidelity to its source….

(2) EATING THE FANTASTIC. Scott Edelman orders up an interview with Steve Rasnic Tem in Episode 80 of the Eating the Fantastic podcast.

Steve Rasnic Tem

…I now ask that you join me for lunch at The Fish Market with Steve Rasnic Tem.

Tem has published more than 400 short stories, garnering multiple award nominations and wins, including a British Fantasy Award in 1988 for “Leaks,” a 2001 International Horror Guild Award for “City Fishing,” and a 2002 Bram Stoker Award for “In These Final Days of Sales.” His many collections include Fairytales, Celestial Inventory, The Far Side of the Lake, and others. Some of his poetry has been collected in The Hydrocephalic Ward, and he edited The Umbral Anthology of Science Fiction Poetry. His novel Blood Kin won the 2014 Bram Stoker Award. His collaborative novella with his late wife Melanie Tem, The Man On The Ceiling, won the World Fantasy, Bram Stoker, and International Horror Guild awards in 2001.

We discussed the importance of writing until you get to page eight, what he did the day after Harlan Ellison died, why even though he was a fearful kid he turned to horror, the thing which if I’d known about his marriage might have caused problems with my own, how crushed we both were when comics went up to 12 cents from a dime, why his all-time favorite short story is Franz Kafka’s “A Country Doctor,” how TV shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” had an effect on the way he writes action scenes, why he made an early pivot from science fiction to creating horror, the way joining Ed Bryant’s writing workshop taught him to become a writer, how math destroyed his intended science career, the reason it took him 48 years to take Ubo from initial idea to finished novel, why beginning writers should consciously read 1,000 short stories (and what they should do once they’re done), and much more

(3) THESE BOOKS DON’T MAKE THEMSELVES. Jeannette Ng has written a fabulous thread on the history of book production, urging writers to think about this when worldbuilding. Starts here.

(4) DAWN’S SUNSET. For the second time this week, a long-duration NASA mission has come to an end due to exhausting its fuel supply. RIP Kepler is now joined by RIP Dawn. (CNN: “NASA’s Dawn mission to strange places in our solar system ends”)

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has run out of fuel and dropped out of contact with mission control, the agency said Thursday.

This ends the spacecraft’s 11-year mission, which sent it on a 4.3 billion-mile journey to two of the largest objects in our solar system’s main asteroid belt. Dawn visited Vesta and Ceres, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit two deep-space destinations.

Dawn missed two communication sessions with NASA’s Deep Space Network the past two days, which means it has lost the ability to turn its antennae toward the Earth or its solar panels toward the sun. The end of the mission is not unexpected, as the spacecraft has been low on fuel for some time.

It’s the second historic NASA mission this week to run out of fuel and come to an end, as NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope did Tuesday.

(5) HOSTILE GALACTIC TAKEOVER. Today’s Nature shares “Evidence of ancient Milky Way merger”:

An analysis of data from the Gaia space observatory suggests that stars in the inner halo of the Milky Way originated in another galaxy.

This galaxy is thought to have collided with the Milky Way about ten billion years ago.

One conclusion on which all of the groups agree is that the event might have contributed to the formation of the Milky Way’s thick stellar disk. Astronomers have speculated for several decades that an ancient satellite galaxy merged with the Milky Way in the past, because such  an event could explain differences in the motions and chemical compositions of stars in the neighbourhood of the Sun.

Here’s a PDF of the item.

(6) SABRINA SHORTCOMINGS. Taylor Crumpton’s op-ed for Teen Vogue analyzes “How ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ Failed Prudence Night”.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is not a reboot. Yes, the new Netflix show features the same characters as the cheery ‘90s sitcom, but it has been updated to reflect our darker, more malevolent times. The show also aims to be progressive, with storylines that speak to marginalized communities and a diverse cast of actors in almost every scene.

But despite great intentions, the show falls short in its portrayal of its black women characters, specifically with the character of Prudence Night (Tati Gabrielle), the head witch of the Academy of the Unseen Arts and leader of the Weird Sisters.

…The most troubling aspect of the conflict between Sabrina and Prudence occurs after “The Harrowing,” a pledging ritual that simulates the horrors experienced by the 13 witches during the Greendale Witch Trials. The last step in the ritual process mimics the hangings of the original witches by the mortals of Greendale; as Prudence leads Sabrina to the tree, Sabrina emphasizes the importance of the Academy as a safe space of community and inclusion for witches who have been subjected to violence by mortals for centuries. While in the tree, Sabrina calls upon the power of the dead witches and warlocks to effectively lynch Prudence and the Weird Sisters, and declares the end of “The Harrowing.”

The show did not issue a trigger warning for an image of a lynched Black woman in 2018; it comes on suddenly and in close-up view

(7) STATIONING GAS. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] The preprint paper “Securing Fuel for Our Frigid Cosmic Future” was discussed in a news story covering that article at Universe Today: “The Tools Humanity Will Need for Living in the Year 1 Trillion”

A preprint (that is, not yet peer-reviewed) paper from Harvard University’s chair of the astronomy department, Dr. Abraham Loeb, concludes in Securing Fuel for Our Frigid Cosmic Future that:

Advanced civilizations will likely migrate into rich clusters of galaxies, which host the largest reservoirs of matter bound by gravity against the accelerated cosmic expansion.

He opens with the question:

The accelerated expansion of the Universe pushes resources away from us at an ever- speed. Once the Universe will age by a factor of ten, all stars outside our Local Group of galaxies will not be accessible to us as they will be receding away faster than light. Is there something we can do to avoid this cosmic fate?

In his discussion, Loeb mentions various “cosmic engineering” projects that have been suggested and briefly examines their limitations. He then works his way around to suggesting an advanced civilization should move to a region with a high concentration of galaxies close together to provide a large fuel density, even as ones observable universe shrinks due to the accelerating expansion of the universe. He further notes that:

The added benefit of naturally-produced clusters is that they contain stars of all masses, much like a cosmic bag that collected everything from its environment. The most common stars weigh a tenth of the mass of the Sun, but are expected to shine for a thousand times longer because they burn their fuel at a slower rate. Hence, they could keep a civilization warm for up to ten trillion years into the future.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and JJ.]

  • Born November 1, 1897 — Dame Naomi Mitchison, Writer, Poet, and Activist from Scotland who lived to be over a hundred years old. Her genre writing includes the 1931 novel The Corn King and the Spring Queen, which contains open sexuality and is considered by contemporary genre editor Terri Windling to be “a lost classic”. Other genre works include Memoirs of a Spacewoman, which was nominated for a Retrospective Tiptree Award, Solution Three, and the Arthurian novel To the Chapel Perilous. As a good friend of J. R. R. Tolkien, she was a proofreader for The Lord of the Rings.
  • Born November 1, 1917 — Zenna Henderson, Writer whose first story was published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1951. She is best known for her more than 30 stories in The People universe about members of an alien race with special powers who are stranded on earth, which were published in magazines and later in collections, including The People: No Different Flesh, and the stitched-together Pilgrimage: The Book of the People. Her novelette “Captivity” was nominated for a Hugo Award, and her story “Pottage” was made into a movie starring William Shatner, The People, which was a Hugo finalist for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1973. “Hush” became an episode of George A. Romero’s Tales from the Darkside, which first aired in 1988.
  • Born November 1, 1923 — Dean A. “dag” Grennell, Writer, Editor, Firearms Expert, Conrunner, and Fan who edited numerous fanzines including La Banshee and Grue, which was produced sporadically from 1953 to 1979 and was a finalist for the Hugo Award in 1956. He published several short fiction works, and even dabbled in fanzine art. He ran a small U.S. gathering held the same weekend as the 1956 UK Natcon which was called the Eastercon-DAG, and another called Wiscon, which preceded the current convention of that name by more than twenty years. He is responsible for the long-running fannish joke “Crottled Greeps”.
  • Born November 1, 1923 — Gordon R. Dickson, Writer, Filker, and Fan who was truly one of the best writers of both science fiction and fantasy. It would require a skald to detail his stellar career in any detail. His first published speculative fiction was the short story “Trespass!”, written with Poul Anderson, in the Spring 1950 issue of Fantastic Stories. Childe Cycle, featuring the Dorsai, is his best known series, and the Hoka are certainly his and Poul Anderson’s silliest creation. I’m very fond of his Dragon Knight series, which I think reflects his interest in medieval history.  His works received a multitude of award nominations, and he won Hugo, Nebula, and British Fantasy Awards. In 1975, he was presented the Skylark Award for achievement in imaginative fiction. He was Guest of Honor at dozens of conventions, including the 1984 Worldcon, and he was named to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and the Filk Hall of Fame. The Dorsai Irregulars, an invitation-only fan volunteer security group named after his series, was formed at the 1974 Worldcon in response to the theft of some of Kelly Freas’ work the year before, and has provided security at conventions for the last 34 years.
  • Born November 1, 1941 — Robert Foxworth, 77, Actor whom you’ve most likely seen, if you’ve watched genre television or film. His first genre role was as Dr. Victor Frankenstein in the 1973 Frankenstein TV movie, followed by the lead role in Gene Roddenberry’s TV pilot The Questor Tapes, which never made it to series after NBC and The Great Bird of the Galaxy had a falling-out. He is well-known to Star Trek fans, having had roles in episodes of both Deep Space Nine and Enterprise, as well as Stargate SG-1, Babylon 5, seaQuest DSV, and The (new) Outer Limits. His genre movie roles have included Beyond the Stars, Damien: Omen II, Invisible Strangler, Prophecy, The Devil’s Daughter, and The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines, and he provided the voice for the character Ratchet in the Transformers movie franchise.
  • Born November 1, 1944 — David Rorvik, 74, Writer and Journalist who published in 1978 the book In his Image: The Cloning of a Man, in which he claimed to have been part of a successful endeavor to create a clone of a human being. According to the book, at the behest of a mysterious wealthy businessman, he had formed a scientific team that was taken to a lab at a secret location, and after a few years of experimentation they managed to create a human ovum containing implanted DNA, which was brought to term by a surrogate mother and produced a living, cloned child. A British scientist whose doctoral work had been lifted for the theoretical basis outlined in In His Image sued for 7 million dollars, and after a judge ruled pre-trial that the book was a fraud, the publisher settled out-of-court for $100,000 plus an admission that the book was a hoax. No evidence for or against the cloning claim was ever produced, and the author to this day still denies that it was a hoax. (numerous conflicting sources list either 1944 or 1946 as his birth year)
  • Born November 1, 1959 — Susanna Clarke, 59, Writer from England whose alt-history Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell wins my award for the most footnoted work in genre literature. It won the Hugo, World Fantasy, Mythopoeic, and Locus Awards, was a finalist for Nebula, British Fantasy Society, British Science Fiction Association, and Premio Ignotus Awards, and was adapted into a 7-episode BBC series which was nominated for a Saturn Award. The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories collects her short works, and is splendid indeed; it was a finalist for the World Fantasy, Mythopoeic, and Prix Imaginaire Awards. Interestingly, she also has a novelette included in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: Book of Dreams anthology.
  • Born November 1, 1972 — Toni Collette, 46, Tony-nominated Actor of Stage and Screen from Australia who received an Oscar nomination for her leading role in the supernatural film The Sixth Sense, and had roles in Hereditary, The Night Listener, Fright Night, Krampus, xXx: Return of Xander Cage, Tsunami: The Aftermath, and the upcoming Velvet Buzzsaw. She has provided voices for characters in the animated features The Boxtrolls, Blinky Bill the Movie, The Thief and the Cobbler, The Magic Pudding, and Mary and Max.
  • Born November 1, 1984 — Natalia Tena, 34, Actor from England who played Nymphadora Tonks in the Harry Potter film franchise and the wildling Osha in the Game of Thrones series. She also appeared in Black Mirror’s feature-length special White Christmas and the superhero comedy SuperBob, and had lead roles in the Residue miniseries and the short-lived Wisdom of The Crowd series. She has a recurring role on Origin, a series set on a spacecraft bound for another system which premieres on November 14.
  • Born November 1 — Jaym Gates, Writer, Editor, Game Designer, and Crisis Management Educator who is currently the acquisitions editor for Nisaba Press and Falstaff Books’ Broken Cities line. She also writes and designs role-playing games, fiction, comics, and nonfiction, and has been editor of numerous SFF anthologies, including JJ’s favorite Genius Loci. She has presented on the topic of crisis communication and community crisis response to groups including the 100 Year Starship and the Atlantic Council, and is a creative partner on an educational project which uses role-playing games, storytelling, and game theory to teach students about managing crisis. She was the SFWA Communication Director for five years and helped to run the Nebula weekends during that time, as well as fostering communications with NASA, DARPA, library and school systems, and public media. She will be a Special Guest at the OrcaCon tabletop gaming convention in January 2019.

(9) COMICS SECTION.

(10) TITLE POLL. The Bookseller has opened public voting for this year’s “Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year”. Voting closes on November 16, and the winner will be announced November 23. The shortlist for year’s six oddest titles includes:

  • Are Gay Men More Accurate in Detecting Deceits? by Hoe-Chi Angel Au
  • Call of Nature: The Secret Life of Dung by Richard Jones
  • Equine Dry Needling by Cornelia Klarholz and Andrea Schachinger
  • Jesus on Gardening by David Muskett
  • Joy of Waterboiling by Christina Scheffenacker
  • Why Sell Tacos in Africa? by Paul Oberschneider

(11) PROPS TO YOU. An LAist reporter managed to get in the door at “The Amazing Santa Monica Prop Shop That’s Rarely Open”.

It’s difficult to define Jadis, because it wears multiple hats: it’s a movie prop house, a museum of pre-computer-era oddities, a cabinet of curiosities, and a retail store.

Oh, and it’s also infamous for almost never being open. Like, ever.

“I tell people, not being open all the time just increases the demand,” Jadis’s owner Susan Lieberman said. “You would take me for granted if I was open regular hours.”

When you walk inside Jadis, you might feel like you’ve found yourself inside a mad collector’s lab: giant interlocking gears, microscopes, cabinets filled with old postcards and eyeglasses, quack science devices from the turn of the century. And if you clap or talk too loudly, there’s a talking head that might yell at you: “My brain hurts. Why you look at me like that. WHYYY?!”

 

(12) NUKE AVOIDANCE. They say all knowledge is contained in…. I thought it was fanzines, but apparently it’s in James Davis Nicoll essays. Today he points out “13 Stories About Surviving a Nuclear War — At Least Briefly”.

Most people now living are too young to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was a fun time when the Americans and the Russians (who at that time were not good buddies but rivals), toyed with seeing just how close they could come to World War Three without pressing the (metaphorical) button. For various reasons, not least of which was that the balance of power of power greatly favoured the United States and the Soviets apparently didn’t fancy atomic suicide for some reason, the stand-off stopped short of nuclear war.

(13) DEATH WHERE IS THY STING. Horror Writers Association President Lisa Morton was one of those asked to explain “How death disappeared from Halloween” for the Washington Post.

Sexy avocado costumes obscure the holiday’s historical roots and the role it once played in allowing people to engage with mortality. What was once a spiritual practice, like so much else, has become largely commercial. While there is nothing better than a baby dressed as a Gryffindor, Halloween is supposed to be about death, a subject Americans aren’t particularly good at addressing. And nowhere is that more evident than in the way we celebrate (or don’t celebrate) Halloween.

Halloween has its origins in the first millennium A.D. in the Celtic Irish holiday Samhain. According to Lisa Morton, author of “Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween,” Samhain was a New Year’s celebration held in the fall, a sort of seasonal acknowledgment of the annual change from a season of life to one of death. The Celts used Samhain celebrations to settle debts, thin their herds of livestock and appease the spirits: the kinds of preparations one might make if they are genuinely unsure whether they will survive the winter.

(14) MARVELMAN. Corporate and legal shenanigans enliven Pádraig Ó Méalóid’s new history Poisoned Chalice.

The comic character Marvelman (and Miracleman) has a fascinating – and probably unique – history in the field of comics. His extended origin goes all the way back to the very beginnings of the American superhero comics industry, and it seems likely that his ongoing story will stretch on well into the future. It involves some of the biggest names in comics. It’s a story of good versus evil, of heroes and villains, and of any number of acts of plagiarism and casual breaches of copyright. Poisoned Chalice wades into one of the strangest and thorniest knots of all of comics: the history of Marvel/Miracleman and still unsolved question of who owns this character. It’s a story that touches on many of the most remarkable personalities in the comics industry—Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Todd McFarlane, Joe Quesada and more—and one of the most fascinating in the medium. The story of Marvelman touches on the darker places of comics history, springing from the prehistory where greed ruled the day; it’s a complex tale that others have attempted to untangle, but there has never been as thorough or as meticulous a study of it as this book.

(15) ELEGANT SOLUTION. Greg Egan and fans of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya contribute to mathematics: “An anonymous 4chan post could help solve a 25-year-old math mystery”.

…An anonymous poster figured out one possible way to solve to the 4chan problem, satisfying the more mathematically inclined Haruhi fans. But in the process, they also helped puzzle out an issue that mathematicians have been working on since 1993. The anonymously authored proof (which was recently reposted on a Fandom wiki) is currently the most elegant solution to part of a mathematical problem involving something called superpermutations. It’s an enigma that goes well beyond anime….

… The 4chan proof outlines how to find the smallest possible number of episodes for the solution. But that doesn’t fully solve the problem. An even bigger breakthrough came earlier this month when sci-fi author and mathematician Greg Egan wrote up a proof that outlined how to find the largest possible number for any given superpermutation problem….

(16) THERE WILL BE (WATER) WAR. Gizmodo take’s a look at a new report that looks at potential areas of conflict over water could arise as climate change continues (“Here’s Where the Post-Apocalyptic Water Wars Will Be Fought”). They couldn’t resist the genre allusions.

A United Nations report published last week said we have about a decade to get climate change under control, which—let’s be honest—isn’t likely to happen. So break out your goalie masks and harpoon guns, a Mad Max future awaits! Now, as new research points out, we even know where on Earth the inevitable water wars are most likely to take place.

Sarcasm aside, this report is actually quite serious.

Published today in Global Environmental Change, the paper identifies several hotspots around the globe where “hydro-political issues,” in the parlance of the researchers, are likely to give rise to geopolitical tensions, and possibly even conflict. The authors of the new report, a team from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), say the escalating effects of climate change, in conjunction with ongoing trends in population growth, could trigger regional instability and social unrest in regions where freshwater is scarce, and where bordering nations have to manage and share this increasingly scarce commodity.

(17) VIDEO OF THE DAY. “Big Data–L1ZY” on Vimeo shows what happens when a virtual assistant becomes an evil robot overlord!

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

90 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 11/1/18 When You Gonna Give Me Some Time Scrollona

  1. The thing about the expansion of the universe is that it’s not properly a form of motion, so Einsteinian limitations on motion don’t apply to it.

    Einstein says that nothing in spacetime can exceed a velocity of c, but spacetime itself isn’t in spacetime!

    Re. Footnotes. Pratchett’s use of footnotes was so notorious that I saw at least one other author of humorous fantasy who included a footnote that simply said something along the lines of: “this footnote exists only because I’ve been given to understand that footnotes help sell humorous fantasy.” 🙂

    (Pratchett did have some great footnotes. One of my favorites was where he introduced the idea of “reverse phrenology” where you pay to have someone adjust your personality by…hitting you on the head with a hammer to “fix” the lumps.)

  2. Re. “among the best”. Yeah, it’s not exactly arguable–it’s simply a matter of where you care to draw the line. “More than one person read and enjoyed their work” is enough to qualify for an extremely broad definition of “best”. (And that’s not even the broadest definition that could still technically qualify as meaningful.)

    Of course, saying “he’s among the 10 billion best SF writers of all time” is not exactly high praise. But it’s almost certainly accurate. You could probably even get away with a smaller number–but I have no idea how much smaller. 🙂

  3. Xtifr says Of course, saying “he’s among the 10 billion best SF writers of all time” is not exactly high praise. But it’s almost certainly accurate. You could probably even get away with a smaller number–but I have no idea how much smaller. ?

    A lot smaller I’d say. First of all he was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2000, the year before he died, no small honor that. And he won three Hugo awards and one Nebula award. And as Mike noted he was a Guest of Honor at a WorldCon. And all I have read about him suggests he was one of the most gentle, friendly folk that you wanted to be around. I’d be tempted to say the he could wel be in the Top Ten well-rounded of SF writers of that time sharing that honor with Poul Anderson and… Well you choose.

  4. I think winning a Hugo award is usually good enough reason to call someone “one of the best”.

  5. For those loving Foundryside, the sequel appears to be due out next August titled “Hierophant”.

    Some recent reading of my own – the latest Laundry novel from Charles Stross is on top form, so if you’re a fan of the series then don’t miss it. Also Thin Air by Richard Morgan, but that’s a more complex result. On the one hand it’s pretty much Altered Carbon 2.0, being cyberpunk gumshoe noir but this time on Mars. On the other hand, despite the meat of the story being well-executed with good action sequences I found the overall story kinda predictable – not in the actual details as such, but all the twists came at pretty much the time you’d expect from a gumshoe noir, the shocking betrayals were from the small set of characters who were the obvious suspects for having something to hide, etc etc. And on the third hand, does a book written in 2018 really need to describe every female character’s cleavage?

  6. Xtifr: You’d need that 10 billion number to keep me on a list of the “best SF writers of all time.” Gordon Dickson ought to make the cut even on a much shorter list.

  7. Cat Eldridge: I gave up reading the [Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell] somewhere around the hundredth page as she kept dumping needed information into those bloody footnotes and I kept losing track of that actual story when I went back back to it.

    I didn’t make it that far. As part of my long-term project to eventually read all of the Hugo finalists, I got that book from the library a few years ago. After reading around 25 pages my reaction was “What the f*** is this, and how the hell did it get onto the Hugo ballot?”

    Someday I may find the motivation to give it another try — but it seems like there’s always another book yet to read which I’m pretty sure I’m going to enjoy a lot more than JS&MN.

  8. As an aside, I really don’t understand the expression “X played the race card.” Meaning what? X noticed race is a thing and said something about it?

  9. JJ says I didn’t make it that far. As part of my long-term project to eventually read all of the Hugo finalists, I got that book from the library a few years ago. After reading around 25 pages my reaction was “What the f*** is this, and how the hell did it get onto the Hugo ballot?”

    Ok I used to to be willing I admit a lot more willing to get a hundred or so pages into any novel before giving up on it, but about a decade back, that became a chapter.

  10. @ Mike Glyer:

    The case was transferred to Santa Clara Superior Court and now has a first hearing date of December 18. See Pixel Scroll for 9/21/18 Item 12.

    Ah, I see! Thanks.

  11. FWIW, if anyone’s Strange & Norrell-curious, I think the BBC miniseries (streaming on Amazon) did a good job of adapting without footnotes.

  12. @Hampus Eckerman: I think winning a Hugo award is usually good enough reason to call someone “one of the best”. Do I need to remind people about They’d Rather Be Right?

    More generally: being GoH at a Worldcon may depend on an individual chair, or an eboard, or a group of 30-40 dedicated committee, or who knows what else — but not some general poll of fandom. And when you’re looking at who was GoH 34 years ago, when the pool was a lot smaller (especially if you were looking for someone who’d been writing 50 or more years ago) it’s unclear how much that means. Dickson was probably a more facile and less repetitive writer than Chandler (another GoH), but that’s pretty faint praise.

    Let’s leave aside the last decade-plus of his life, when he was cranking out wordcount. (I read one of the later dragon books; it needed 50% cutting just to start being readable.) Dickson was certainly a Nice Guy — but that has nothing to do with his writing. (Note that I spoke about his writing, not his person.) He was a competent prose writer whose plots tended to require the universe to warp; my observation after too much of his middle-period work was that Dickson heroes (not protagonists (that’s too wimpy) and not heroines (those were secondary at best in almost all of his books)) are so automagically Right that if one slipped and talked about the sun having risen behind some feature in the west, the sun would stop in its tracks and slink back the way it had come. That sort of warp-the-universe character covers a lot of lazy plotting (not to mention thoughts of Gary Stu). His aliens were gross exaggerations of a single characteristic, often in ways that would probably get denounced as racism if they were applied to non-white humans.

  13. Doctor Science on November 2, 2018 at 4:37 pm said:

    As an aside, I really don’t understand the expression “X played the race card.” Meaning what? X noticed race is a thing and said something about it?

    The Wikipedia entry does a pretty good job of explaining it:

    The phrase is commonly used to allege that someone has deliberately and falsely accused another person of being a racist in order to gain some sort of advantage.

    That is the accusation that I’m aiming at the author of the scrolled Teen Vogue article. Saying that because the character one of the three antagonists on Sabrina who (shock!) get their comeuppance from the protagonist happed to be played by a black actress then the story is racist is playing the race card. The plot made no emphasis whatsoever on the race of any of the cast members, and would have and should have played out exactly the same no matter who had been cast to read out the pre-written scripts for each character.

  14. Mike Glyer on November 2, 2018 at 3:53 pm said:

    Xtifr: You’d need that 10 billion number to keep me on a list of the “best SF writers of all time.” Gordon Dickson ought to make the cut even on a much shorter list.

    No doubt. I mean, I like a fair amount of Gordy’s work. There’s at least one that’s been a regular re-read for me since I was a ickle squid. I certainly didn’t mean to suggest you’d need to go that far down the list. My point was simply, “he’s one of the 10 billion best” is inarguable, therefore, by the transitive property, “he’s one of the best” is inarguable.

    It’s silly, but logical. Which is my favorite kind of logical and my favorite kind of silly. 🙂

  15. @Darren Garrison: I wouldn’t describe that as “playing the race card”, because I don’t see any advantage given to the writer in question (except maybe some egoboo for stirring up crap). I mean, I understood what you meant, but it seemed a bit odd compared to the way I usually hear the term used. I wouldn’t go so far as to say you used it incorrectly, but it definitely seemed unusual.

    (That said, I definitely agree with your analysis of the scene in question.)

  16. @JJ: Well, the answer to “What the f*** is this” is, “A pastiche of literary styles of the early nineteenth century”. As to how it got on the Hugo ballot: enough Worldcon members found it as delightful as I did.

    As to the discussion of relativity, I’ll note that it’s correct that distances can increase faster than light because of space expanding; and I’ll also note that ULTRAGOTHA’s original naïve addition of velocities was wrong. Quick thought experiment in that regard:
    Imagine that the Battlestar Galactica flies away from Deep Space 9 in one direction, and the Millennium Falcon flies in the other. Both accelerate to .6c in DS9’s frame of reference. Will one ship see the other as traveling at 1.2c? No. Imagine that the Galactica sends a radio signal to the Falcon. To an observer on DS9, that signal will catch up to the Falcon: it’s traveling at c, while the Falcon is only doing .6c. It follows then, that in the Galactica’s frame of reference, the Falcon must also be going slower than the signal.

  17. In my opinion, one way to measure whether an SF writer is “among the best” is whether you keep reading them once you recognize their flaws. If they can overcome that, they’ve got something going on. Gordon Dickson passes that test with flying colors for me.

  18. @ John A. Arkansawyer,

    In my opinion, one way to measure whether an SF writer is “among the best” is whether you keep reading them once you recognize their flaws

    When I use the word “best,” I think of the phrase “none better.” For me, that description matches writers like Gene Wolfe, Fritz Leiber, Ursula K. Le Guin, N.K. Jemisin, Paul Park, Karl Schroeder, C.J. Cherryh, John Crowley, Bruce Sterling, R.A. MacAvoy, Cordwainer Smith, Robert Holdstock, Greer Gilman, Patricia McKillip, Robert Silverberg, and so on.

    Honestly, Dickson probably wouldn’t be on my list because I see him as good not great.

  19. @Rob Thornton: We all have our own measures and heuristics. I too would put Silverberg among my personal list of best SF writers. To do so, I ignore a lot of long novels that I can’t even and focus instead on a long run of nearly perfect stories and books. When he’s good, he’s great; when he’s not, he’s not. That makes my cut.

    I’m not claiming this is science, or even Criticism. It’s just how I think, which I find useful.

  20. @ John A. Arkensawyer: There’s always a matter of balance. For me, John Varley’s Eight Worlds stories are nearly flawless, but are they enough in the context of the career? It’s always an interesting process.

  21. David Goldfarb: As to how it got on the Hugo ballot: enough Worldcon members found it as delightful as I did.

    Oh, I absolutely believe that it was on the Hugo ballot because a significant number of nominators thought it was great. As is often the case when I don’t “get” whatever it is that a bunch of people really enjoy, I find it frustrating that that enjoyment is not there for me.

  22. @Rob Thornton: That’s an interesting example! The Eight Worlds novels are also great big books and, as you say, nearly flawless. When that trick–the big big book–works, it really works. Somehow I find his more trifling stuff easier to ignore, just like there’s a whole John Barnes series I’ve just ignored, probably because I can, as neither is doorstopperish.

  23. @Joe H.: I’m a fan of the book and I also greatly enjoyed the BBC miniseries. I thoughy it got a bit rushed and chaotic at the very end, but overall a skillful adaptation, very well cast, and with a nice approach to depicting magic.

  24. I didn’t make it that far. As part of my long-term project to eventually read all of the Hugo finalists, I got that book from the library a few years ago. After reading around 25 pages my reaction was “What the f*** is this, and how the hell did it get onto the Hugo ballot?”

    Add me to the list of people who found it enchanting.

    I found it hard to follow the first time through, not because the footnotes were confusing, but because I kept waiting for the setup to end and the real story to start, and then after a while I realized that this was the real story, and it just wasn’t a standard adventure.

    The second time I read it, I was prepared for the kind of story it was, and it was even better.

    It’s one of my favorite books ever, and I’m very sorry that Clarke has chronic fatigue issues and as such we won’t get as much fiction from her as I wish we could.

  25. I didn’t get around to reading it until last year and I liked it fine. Glad I didn’t miss out altogether!

  26. I just saw a reading and question answer session from Kim Stanley Robinson that could answer one of the questions from Doctor Science. According to Robinson, he typically includes a long acknowledgements page, but after 5-6 of his helpers asked him to keep them out of the book so that they could continue traveling to China or stay out of trouble with the Chinese government, he decided to cut the page entirely, so that he would avoid getting people in trouble with the increasingly intolerant government.

    If people haven’t read Alec Nevala-Lee’s Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, I highly recommend it and will probably nominate it for a Hugo next year if it was published in the right time period.

  27. Jumping in on JS&MN, I don’t remember how far I got before giving up in disgust, but it was probably on the order of 10 pages.

  28. JS&MN wasn’t my thing. The footnotes kept on intruding and made me lose focus, making for a harder read. I do fine with footnotes in fact books, because I expect to read slowly and reread things for context, but it didn’t work in this context. Also, I found it kind of slow and underwhelming.

    I think I would have liked it if they’d shortened it to one third of the pages.

  29. I thought it was decent, but not great. (Just in case anyone thinks that there’s no middle ground here between loved it and hated it.) Very good for a first novel, but with plenty of standard first-novel problems like uneven pacing and poor organization. I think it could have benefited from some ruthless editing. But despite its flaws, it was definitely fun. The ideas were excellent, and that alone is all-too-rare these days. Heck, I’m not even a fan of that particular subgenre, but it still managed to hold my interest pretty well.

    I wasn’t a Hugo voter that year, but if I had been, I probably would have put The Algebraist at #1. But JS&MN wouldn’t have been too far behind.

  30. It took me a few pages to catch on, but after that I really enjoyed JS&MN, especially the rhythms of Clarke’s prose.

  31. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was one of those books I felt I ought to like — like Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria… and yet I kept putting both of them down and forgetting to pick them up again. They both had everything I thought I wanted in a book… and yet somehow, and I don’t know why, they failed to hold my attention. I finished JS&MN mostly because I friend had loaned it to me and she wanted it back. Olondria I finished mostly because I wanted to see the next poem…

    I didn’t hate either of them. I just forgot them as soon as I put them down. <shrug> I couldn’t tell you the plot of either one of them now if you held a gun to my head.

  32. Lots of people told me I should like JS&MN, given that I’m sort of into the whole Regency+Magic thing myself, but I knew it was unlikely make it up the TBR list. So I did get the TV version, but haven’t watched passed the second episode. I just found all the main characters unpleasant and the pattern of treatment of the female characters was offputting. Who knows, I may go back and finish watching, but I’d rather watch something else that speaks to me more.

  33. Progress! Buried deep in my WordPress settings was a tickybox that basically said “Stop sending me anything,” and now I have received a notification.

    The blanks still don’t autofill, but I’ll accept the additional exercise.

  34. I really liked JS&MN… despite the fact that i disliked most of the characters and am usually not the sort to read a book where I dislike characters. I thought the footnotes were clever and I didn’t lose the main story thereby, but I’m also used to carrying story points in my head until I finally revisit the source months later, so the duration of a footnote is a fairly tame duration. YMMV.

    My husband, who rarely read a book he could not read in one sitting (fortunately, he tended to be a fast reader, so this did include novels, just not doorstoppers), still chose to read it to the end over the course of a few days, and seemed to like it.

    A stranger in Olondria will never make my top favourite stories, but it was extremely skilled work, and worth reading, and even enjoyable, though I found some of the reading took work as well as pleasure. I have enjoyed her poetry and short fiction more, though.

  35. I was a tad underwhelmed by Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, because the advance hype the book got was so massive (huge advance and best British fantasy novel of the past 70 years according to Neil Gaiman) that pretty much nothing could have measured up. IMO, it also suffers from the fact that the first 100 pages or so are devoted entirely to Mr. Norrell who simply isn’t a very likeable character. Once Jonathan Strange shows up, the story picks up, though as Heather Rose Jones said there are very few female characters of any note. In the end, I liked the book, though I wouldn’t have called it the best British fantasy novel of any time period.

    I just checked that year’s Hugo finalists and noticed that I own them all (which almost never happens, unless I am a Hugo voter and I wasn’t in 2005) and that I at least tried to read them all. I remember next to nothing about Charles Stross’ Iron Sunrise except that I hated it (which is a common reaction for me to his books), I bounced off The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks and don’t remember anything about the novel (though I keep thinking I should give Banks another try). River of Gods by Ian McDonald and The Iron Council by China Miéville I liked all right. If I’d been a Hugo voter that year, I would have put Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in first place, followed by River of Gods and Iron Council in second and third place with Iron Sunrise and probably The Algebraist, too, under no award.

    Though there were plenty of SFF novels published in 2004 that I would have preferred to at least some of the actual finalists. Going through my personal files, I find:
    – Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (surprised this wasn’t nominated)
    – The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (surprised this wasn’t nominated)
    – Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
    – Tempting Danger by Eileen Wilkes
    – Staying Dead by Laura Anne Gilman
    – Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison
    – Heat Stroke by Rachel Caine (sequel, therefore unlikely to be nominated, but good)
    – Nightingale’s Lament by Simon R. Green (mid series book, therefore unikely to be nominated, but good)
    – Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (okay, not actually better, though unlike the Stross and the Banks, I at least finished it. But hugely influential and brought a lot of new readers into our genre)
    – Deathstalker Return by Simon R. Green (sequel series and not quite as good as the originals, but still good)
    – The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss (yes, that one)
    – Run No More by Catherine Mulvany (I doubt anybody except me read it and it wasn’t published by a genre publisher, but it’s a fine time travel novel I actually remember 14 years on)

  36. For those who are curious but don’t want to math: the Galactica and the Millennium Falcon will each observe the other as moving at roughly .88c.

    I bounced off the series of JS&MN after the first episode. I am not opposed to trying the book, but Mons Ut Legitur altus, vita brevis.

  37. @Cora: I remember hearing at the time that Pratchett had declined a nomination for Going Postal so as to be able to enjoy the convention rather than worrying about winning; Wikipedia cites Langford and Whyte in support of this.

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