Pixel Scroll 11/9/18 But The Pixel Has Passed, And It’s Daylight At Last, And the Scroll Has Been Long — Ditto Ditto My Song

(1) FIRE WATCH. The Westworld sets are casualties of the Woolsey Fire – Variety has the story: “‘Westworld’ Location at Paramount Ranch Burns Down”.

The historic Western town area at Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills, Calif., where productions including “Westworld” have shot, burned down Friday in the Woolsey fire, according to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation area’s Twitter feed.

Westworld” uses the Western town set to shoot its Main Street scenes. The HBO series is also shot at the Melody Ranch in Santa Clarita and in Utah and other locations.

(2) EATING THE FANTASTIC. Taste the tiramisu with Vina Jie-Min Prasad in episode 81 of Scott Edelman’s podcast Eating the Fantastic.

Vina Jie-Min Prasad has been a multiple awards finalist with fiction “working against the world-machine” published in Clarkesworld, Uncanny, Fireside Fiction, Queer Southeast Asia, and HEAT: A Southeast Asian Urban Anthology. Her short story “Fandom for Robots” and her novelette “A Series of Steaks” were both finalists for the Nebula, Hugo, and Sturgeon Awards, and she was also a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

We discussed why she didn’t start writing any fiction until the release of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, the reason food has such a prominent place in her fiction, why she might never have become a writer if the Internet hadn’t existed, the lessons she took away from her fan fiction days, what she meant when she wrote in her bio that she’s “working against the world-machine,” why her multi-nominated story “A Series of Steaks” was her first submission to a speculative fiction magazine, her fascination with professional wrestling and wrestling fandom, why her story “Pistol Grip” needed a warning for sexual content but not violence (and what Pat Cadigan called her after reading that story during the Clarion workshop), the reason she likes working in the present tense, and much more

(3) FANTASTIC BEASTS. The BBC’s roundup of critical reaction: “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald gets mixed reviews”.

The latest Fantastic Beasts film The Crimes of Grindelwald has earned mixed reviews from critics.

It has a number of three-star reviews with suggestions that the plot is “overburdened” with details and preparing for future adventures.

There is praise for the “vibrantly drawn” characters and Jude Law is highlighted for his performance as young Dumbledore.

Many agree JK Rowling’s imagination is “as awe-inspiring as ever

The second of five planned Fantastic Beasts films by JK Rowling also earns praise for its special effects.

(4) KNOW YOUR BEASTS. Merriam-Webster.com sets a challenge: “Here Be Dragons: A Creature Identification Quiz”. I scored 8/13, which isn’t good, but is better than I’ve done on some other quizzes….

You are an amateur cryptozoologist, setting out on an adventure to evaluate evidence of monsters around the world. On your plane ride to your first destination, we recommend you bone up on your monster lore here.

(5) ANIMAL PHYSICS. Kathryn Schulz’ article in the November 6, 2017 New Yorker, “Fantastic Beasts and How to Rank Them”, discusses imaginary creatures and how they continue to persist in the imagination. (Martin Morse Wooster sent the item with an apology: “Yes, I am 11 months behind in reading the New Yorker. You may report me to the Reading Control Board.”)

Although Walt Disney is best remembered today for his Magic Kingdom, his chief contribution to the art of animation was not his extraordinary imagination but his extraordinary realism.  ‘We cannot do the fantastic things, based on the real, unless we first know the real,’ he once wrote, by way of explaining why, in 1929, he began driving his animators to a studio in downtown Los Angeles for night classes in life drawing. In short order, the cartoons emerging from his workshop started exhibiting a quality that we have since come to take for granted but was revolutionary at the time:  all those talking mice, singing lions, dancing puppets, and marching brooms began obeying the laws of physics.

It was Disney, for instance, who introduced to the cartoon universe one of the fundamental elements of the real one:  gravity.  Even those of his characters who could fly could fall, and, when they did, their knees, jowls, hair, and clothes responded as our human ones do when we thump to the ground.  Other laws of nature applied, too.  Witches on broomsticks got buffeted by the wind. Goofy, attached by his feet to the top of a roller-coaster track and by his neck to the cars, didn’t just get longer as the ride started plunging downhill; he also got skinnier, which is to say that his volume remained constant.  To Disney, these concessions to reality were crucial to achieving what he called, in an echo of Aristotle, the ‘plausible impossible.’  Any story based on ‘the fantastic, the unreal, the imaginative,’ he understood, needed ‘a foundation of fact.’

(6) FINLANDIA. The Finlandia Prize is the premiere award for literature written in Finland, awarded annually to the author of the best novel written by a Finnish citizen (Finlandia Award), children’s book (Finlandia Junior Award), and non-fiction book (Tieto-Finlandia Award). It has had its eyes on stfnal books before: in 2000 Johanna Sinisalo (GoH at the Helsinki Worldcon) won it with her fantasy novel Not Before Sundown. Tero Ykspetejä’s news blog Partial Recall reports this year’s Finlandia award also has some nominees of an stfnal character: “Finlandia Award Nominees 2018”:

Magdalena Hai’s Kolmas sisar is a nominee for best children & YA novel, and the general literature category nominees announced today include Hunan by J. Pekka Mäkelä.

(7) THE SATANIC VERSUS NETFLIX. Not everyone believes the axiom that “all publicity is good publicity.” “The Satanic Temple Files $50 Million Copyright Infringement Suit Against Netflix And ‘Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina’”ScienceFiction.com has the story:

The Satanic Temple has made good on threats made by co-founder Lucien Greaves on Twitter about two weeks ago, and filed a $50 million lawsuit against Netflix for their use of a statue of the pagan deity Baphomet as a set piece on its new series ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’.  Greaves claims that the creators of ‘Sabrina’ stole its design of the statue from the Satanic Temple, which placed a copyright on their design, which depicts the goat-headed deity with two children by its side, looking up at him.  On ‘Sabrina’, the statue is never referred to by name but is a focal point at the Academy of Unseen Arts, where young witches and warlocks go to hone their magical abilities.

The Satanic Temple is not only seeking financial compensation but wants Netflix and Warner Brothers to stop distributing ‘Chilling Adventures…’ or further distributing it, meaning releasing it on DVD or Blu-Ray.

(8) FAST OUT OF THE STARTING GATE. The B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog has a fine list of the “50 of the Greatest Science Fiction & Fantasy Debut Novels Ever Written”. It includes —

Tea with the Black Dragon, by R.A. MacAvoy (1983)
R.A. MacAvoy’s debut is pitch-perfect in its light use of fantasy elements. Martha Macnamara is a middle-aged, free-spirited musician who meets Mayland Long, an older Asian man with elegant manners and a lot of money—who also claims to be a 2,000-year old black dragon in human form. Their conversation (over tea, naturally) hints that he was an eyewitness to momentous events throughout history, and counts as close friends many long-dead historical figures. He and Martha strike up a thoroughly charming, adult relationship, instantly and believably drawn to one another as the story morphs into a mystery. It’s the sort of novel that floats between genres, never precisely one thing, never entirely another. It’s an achievement many writers never manage; MacAvoy nailed it on her first try.

(9) HAWKING AUCTION. “Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair, thesis fetch $1 million at auction”DW has the story.

A motorized wheelchair and a thesis belonging to Stephen Hawking have sold at auction for more than $1 million. The sale raised money for two charities, including one belonging to the British physicist.

(10) MARVEL ACTION DOLLS.  The entire line-up of Hasbro’s Marvel Rising Action Dolls is available exclusively at Target. They’ll feature on the covers of some Marvel comics soon –

The next generation of super heroes have arrived! To celebrate, Marvel is excited to present Marvel Rising Action Doll Homage variants, hitting comic shops this December!

Featuring Marvel Rising characters such as Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl, America Chavez, Ghost Spider, and Quake stepping into their predecessor’s shoes, each of the five covers is a homage to a classic cover from years past.

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and JJ.]

  • Born November 9, 1921Alfred Coppel. Have I ever mentioned how much I love pulp? Everything from the writers to the artwork to the magazines themselves are so, so cool. And this writer was one of the most prolific such authors of the fifties and sixties. That he was also sf writer is an added bonus. Indeed his first science fiction story was “Age of Unreason” in a 1947 Amazing Stories. Under the pseudonym of Robert Cham Gilman, he wrote the Rhada sequence of galactic space opera novels aimed at a young adult market. Wiki claims he wrote under the name A.C. Marin as well but I cannot find any record of this. (Died 2004.)
  • Born November 9, 1946Marina Warner, 72, Writer, Historian, and Mythographer from England who is known for her many nonfiction books relating to feminism and myth. She has written for many publications, and has been a visiting professor, given lectures and taught on the faculties of many universities. Her nonfiction works From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers and No Go the Bogeyman: Scaring, Lulling, and Making Mock have garnered several Mythopoeic Award nominations and a win, and a host of non-genre awards as well. In 2017, she was elected president of the Royal Society of Literature (RSL), the first time the role has been held by a woman since the founding of the RSL in 1820. She was honored with a World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement.
  • Born November 9, 1962Teryl Rothery, 56, Actor who is best known for her role as Dr. Janet Fraiser on Stargate SG-1. She can also be found as ISN reporter, Ms. Chambers, in the Babylon 5 movie Voices in the Dark, and has appeared in many genre series including The X-Files, The Outer Limits, Jeremiah, M.A.N.T.I.S., Kyle XY, Eureka, and the Battlestar Galactica prequel, Caprica.
  • Born November 9, 1973Eric Dane, 45, Actor who stars currently as Captain Tom Chandler in the The Last Ship series, and played James Arthur Madrox, aLso known as the Multiple Man, in X-Men: The Last Stand. He also played a character named Jason Dean on the superb original Charmed series, and Nick Pierce in the Painkiller Jane film.

(12) COMICS SECTION.

(13) ROCKS AROUND THE CLOCK. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] Three NEOs will make relatively close approaches to Earth this Saturday (Newsweek: “Three Asteroids to Whizz Past Earth in One Day—And One Will Come Closer Than The Moon”). The first one (2018 VS1) will pass by about 861,700 miles from Earth at 9:03AM (Eastern time). The second (2018 VR1) will be significantly further away at over 3 million miles, about 15 minutes later. The third (2018 VX1), though, will pass only about 238,900 miles from Earth at 1:26AM.

The three objects are relatively small—variously estimated to be from 43 to 98 feet wide—but big enough that they could cause widespread destruction if they were a wee bit (by astronomical standards) closer on a future pass. In the US, Near Earth Objects are the province of CNEOS—NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies.

(14) A LABOR OF LINGO. The legacy of a 15th-Century noblewoman lives on in the form of collective nouns used to describe groups of animals across the world: “Why a Group of Hippos Is Called a Bloat”.

As it turns out, these scintillating nouns are neither coincidence nor misnomer, but rather the result of centuries of linguistic evolution.

People have been coming up with terms to describe animal groupings for hundreds of years, but it wasn’t until The Book of St Albans, written by Juliana Berners, a 15th-Century Benedictine prioress from England, that they were recorded extensively. Also known by the title The Book of Hawking, Hunting and Blasing of Arms, Berners’ 1486 publication of this gentlemen’s catalogue of wildlife and hunting included 165 collective nouns for animal species, and is said to make her one of the earliest female authors writing in the English language.

(15) DISNEY HIRES LOKI. His show will be part of Disney’s new streaming service — “Tom Hiddleston to return as Loki in new TV series”. When was the last time a villain got their own series?

(16) DIGGING MARS. BBC says “ExoMars: Life-detecting robot to be sent to Oxia Planum”

The robot rover that Europe and Russia will send to Mars in 2020 will be targeted at a near-equatorial site on the Red Planet known as Oxia Planum.

The area was recommended by an expert panel meeting at Leicester University.

Oxia is rich in clays and other minerals that have resulted from prolonged rock interactions with water.

The ExoMars vehicle will carry a drill and sophisticated instruments to this ancient terrain to look for signs of past or even present life.

(17) THE ONLY WAY TO WIN. “The gamer who spent seven years in his dressing gown” has created a game to wean people from game addiction.

It’s a role-playing board game for small groups.

Players meet once a week over a period of weeks or months, improving their social skills as they play.

No equipment is needed aside from a pen and paper, but additions can include dice and character descriptions.

The idea is the participants play themselves, earning points by achieving certain tasks.

They can improve their “characters” and get extra points in between sessions by taking on a challenge in the real world.

Participants have to prove they have completed the tasks and share the details in an online group set up for each game

(18) YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN NOW. Maybe they couldn’t compete with YouTubers free game videos? Variety reports “Video Game Strategy Guide Publisher Prima Games Is Shutting Down”.

The imprint’s guides all feature in-depth content, detailed screen captures, quick-reference tips, and professional strategies. They were a godsend to many gamers of a certain age, back before internet walkthroughs and wikis became de rigueur. Prima Games later tried adapting to an increasingly digital world by offering eguides filled with interactive maps, streaming video, searchable apps, and more.

(19) NEWS FAKER. Yet another job—newsreader—is under threat from Artificial Intelligence (Popular Mechanics: “This AI Reporter Would Never Get Kicked Out of Press Briefings”). Chinese media, already tightly controlled, appears to be in the process of becoming even more buttoned down. (Original source Xinhua.net: “World’s first AI news anchor makes ‘his’ China debut”)

With a state-run media like China’s, there’s already some concern that newscasters are little more than puppets. After an AI news anchor debuted at the World Internet Conference in China this week, we’re one step closer to that reality.

The anchor was created in a partnership between Xinhua News Agency, China’s official state-run media outlet, and sogou.com, a Chinese search engine company. The Chinese news, of course, is thrilled and impressed, claiming that the character “can read texts as naturally as a professional news anchor.” Two versions of the AI anchors are now available on Xinhua through their apps, WeChat account, and online news channel.

(20) NUCLEAR CHRISTMAS GIFT. You can now order Threads on Blu-ray, called “The most influential film about nuclear war ever made.”

Directed by Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard) and written by Barry Hines (Kes).

Threads shocked the nation when it first aired on BBC Two in 1984 at the height of Cold War nuclear paranoia, and became one of the most significant and iconic films ever produced by the BBC.

It was nominated for seven BAFTAs in 1985, winning four including Best Single Drama.

Threads was one of the first films to depict the full consequences of global nuclear war when a bomb hits the city of Sheffield. It is uncompromising in its display of the tense weeks leading up to the bomb dropping, the attack, and the bleak years of nuclear winter that are left in its aftermath.

(21) VISIT FROM A DINO. There’s a giant, animatronic dinosaur roaming around BBC…

(22) CHAMPION MAGICIAN. Gizmodo promises “The Winning Trick at the World Championships of Magic Might Fry Your Brain Like an Egg”.

But Chien’s ‘Ribbon’ routine is a non-stop barrage of lightning-quick illusions, leaving you with little time to figure out what you just saw before his next trick baffles your brain all over again.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, JJ, Karl-Johan Norén, Martin Morse Wooster, Mike Kennedy, Errolwi, Carl Slaughter, Daniel Dern, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Anna Nimmhaus.]

56 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 11/9/18 But The Pixel Has Passed, And It’s Daylight At Last, And the Scroll Has Been Long — Ditto Ditto My Song

  1. Perhaps you have a different definition of free will than I do. (Which wouldn’t be too surprising, considering how much philosophers can argue about the topic, and neurobiologists cower from discussing it.) But I certainly don’t see the difference in quality. Miles frequently talks about planning for every contingency. And even if he’s not as good at it as the Culture’s AIs, it seems to me that that’s all they’re doing. It’s not that they force you down a specific path; they simply have plans for every path. (And frankly, they’re not perfect–just so much better than us that it’s hard to tell the difference.)

    I’ll grant that the ending of Player of Games seemed a little deus ex machina to me. But I certainly didn’t (and don’t) find it depressing. Charmingly weird is closer.

    Anyway, I dunno. Maybe we’ll never see eye-to-eye on this, but it’s been a fun discussion so far. So feel free to continue or not as you see fit; I’m quite happy either way.

  2. “Agency” would probably be a better term for me to stick with than “free will”, because it descrbes the external effect rather than the internal impulse.

    I really really want to quote an illustrative passage from Player of Games, but I’m not at the computer and I’m not sure if I have an old e-version of the book — I listened to it in audio. Gimme a few hours to check and I’ll post more.

  3. Well, sadly, I don’t have a text version of that — and it’s $9.99 on Amazon, which I’m not willing to pay.

    Anyway, the passage I wanted to quote explains that the AIs had arranged each and every decision that Gurgeh thought he was making for himself, possibly even for years before the events of the book. And then Banks made sure to tell us that Gurgeh died and his ashes were scattered and life went on without him as though he had never even existed. IOW, his life was essentially pointless.

    Here’s what I wrote in my GR review:

    On the whole, I think I’d rate this around three stars and at least not as depressing as Consider Phlebas, although Banks still felt compelled to tell us at the end that his hero (Gurgeh) was dead and his atoms scattered, and made it quite clear that said hero had been thoroughly manipulated from beginning to end.

    For some reason, Banks’s nihilistic/cynical though “civilized” attitude bothers me more than a lot of grimdark does. It’s the essence of what bothers me most about some grimdark — I can handle a lot of blood and gore and morally questionable characters, **as long as** there seems to be some point to the suffering. But with Banks (at least these two books), I’m left with the feeling that no, there really is no point after all. The inhabitants of the culture think they’re making their own decisions, but really everything is determined by behind-the-scenes manipulations of the AIs. The humans have no real reason for existing. There’s no point, even if the book did create nice parallels between the Culture citizens playing games of many types to make their lives less boring, Gurgeh playing games with the Empire, the Empire playing games with its citizens, and the AIs playing bigger games with everybody — the humans are merely game pieces on their board. Blech.

  4. Anyway, the passage I wanted to quote explains that the AIs had arranged each and every decision that Gurgeh thought he was making for himself, possibly even for years before the events of the book.

    Well, I just dragged out my copy and skimmed the last couple of chapters, and can’t find anything like that. Here’s some excerpts that seem to contradict it, in fact:

    “My respect for those great Minds which use the likes of you like game-pieces increases all the time. Those are very smart machines!”

    “They knew I’d win?” Gurgeh asked disconsolately, chin in hand.
    “You can’t know something like that, Gurgeh. But they must have thought you had a good chance.”…

    “All my life,” Gurgeh said quietly, looking past the drone to the dull, dead landscape outside the tall windows. “Sixty years…and how long has the Culture known about the Empire?”

    “About–ah! You’re thinking we shaped you somehow. Not so. If we did that sort of thing, we wouldn’t need outsider ‘mercenaries’ like Shohobohaum Za to do the really dirty work.”

    Of course, that’s all just what “Marwhrin-Skel” tells him, so it’s not necessarily reliable, but I didn’t find anything to contradict it elsewhere, so I tend to assume that that part was true.

  5. Dangit, you made me go buy the book.

    The reveal isn’t as compacted as I remembered, but it’s there.

    Examples:

    “First things first,” Flere-Imsaho said. “Allow me to introduce myself properly; my name is Sprant Flere-Imsaho Wu-Handrahen Xato Trabiti, and I am not a library drone.” — “Mawrin-Skel” has been manipulating Gurgeh’s decisions since before even the possibility of the trip ever arose. He even manipulated Gurgeh into taking the trip.

    ““You’ve been used, Jernau Gurgeh,” the drone said matter-of-factly. “The truth is, you were playing for the Culture, and Nicosar was playing for the Empire.”

    ““You really thought I’d win?” he asked the drone. “Against Nicosar? You thought that, even before I got here?” “Before you left Chiark, Gurgeh. As soon as you showed any interest in leaving. SC’s been looking for somebody like you for quite a while.”

    “Everything worked out a little more dramatically than we’d expected, I must admit, but it looks like all the analyses of your abilities and Nicosar’s weaknesses were just about right. My respect for those great Minds which use the likes of you and me like game-pieces increases all the time. Those are very smart machines.”

    “All you needed was somebody to keep an eye on you and give you the occasional nudge in the right direction at the appropriate times.” The drone dipped briefly; a little bow. “Yours truly!” “All my life,” Gurgeh said quietly, looking past the drone to the dull, dead landscape outside the tall windows. “Sixty years… ”

    “The drone gave a little wobble in the air. “Let’s see… what else can I tell you? Oh yes; the Limiting Factor isn’t as innocent as it looks, either. While we were on the Little Rascal we did take out the old effectors, but only so we could put in new ones. Just two, in two of the three nose blisters. We put the empty one on clear and holos of empty blisters in the other two.”

    “It’s forward planning that makes one feel safe, don’t you think?”

    Gurgeh realizes he’s been a puppet throughout — “He hadn’t played a single game of any description during those ten days, hardly said a word, couldn’t even bother to get dressed, and spent most of his time just sitting staring at walls. The drone had agreed that putting him to sleep for the journey was probably the kindest thing they could do.”

    “One thing; when Nicosar fired that gun, and the ray came off the mirror-field and hit him; was that coincidence, or did you aim it?” He thought it wasn’t going to answer him, but just before the door closed and the wedge of light thrown over it disappeared with the rising craft, he heard the drone say: “I am not going to tell you.”

    I mean, for heaven’s sake, the AI narrates the whole book. He’s the one who survives, after Gurgeh’s molecules have been dispersed to the universe.

    “Yes, I was there, all the time. Well, more or less all the time. I watched, I listened, I thought and sensed and waited, and did as I was told (or asked, to maintain the proprieties). I was there all right, in person or in the shape of one of my representatives, my little spies.”

    “We’ll never know; if you’re reading this he’s long dead; had his appointment with the displacement drone and been zapped to the very livid heart of the system, corpse blasted to plasma in the vast erupting core of Chiark’s sun, his sundered atoms rising and falling in the raging fluid thermals of the mighty star, each pulverized particle migrating over the millennia to that planet-swallowing surface of blinding, storm-swept fire, to boil off there, and so add their own little parcels of meaningless illumination to the encompassing night…”

    This is essentially the meaning of the whole book, from the title on out. Gurgeh realizes that the games humanity plays to occupy its time are pretty meaningless, and he goes searching for a larger, more meaningful game. But even when he thinks he’s found one, at the end he discovers that he was not actually the player, but only another game piece on the AI’s board. And after that game, he’s disposable — it’s the AIs who remain.

  6. I certainly don’t deny that Gurgeh was manipulated to hell and gone. I just don’t see how it rises anywhere near the level of saying he had no agency or free will. He was chosen because he was good at what he did. They didn’t know he’d win, but he was their best shot at a relatively peaceful resolution to the whole crisis, and he came through for them.

    As for his depression on the way home? He just witnessed a madman slaughtering huge numbers of people! Some of whom he almost liked. And nearly got killed in the process. Of course he was upset! To assume it came entirely from the discovery that he’d been totally manipulated, when he’d just been told he wasn’t totally manipulated (see my second quote above) seems like quite a stretch.

    And the part about his death? It’s saying that the photons emitted when his corpse was consumed were meaningless. Not him or what he did. I read it as ironic juxtaposition. He was a hero, but death levels us all.

    I just don’t see it. You’d have to assume that Marwhrin-Skel was not only lying to Gurgeh when he said “You’re thinking we shaped you somehow. Not so”, but lying to us by omission as well when he failed to point out the lie. Which he would have no reason to do. If Banks was trying to imply an absence of agency and free will, I think he failed!

    (He also failed to communicate the idea in any of the later books in the series. So I’m doubly skeptical.)

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