(1) DR. MAE JEMISON. Dr. Mae Jemison will give a talk in the Oregon State University Provost’s Lecture series on February 4. Free registration here.
Dr. Mae Jemison: the first woman of color in space; a national science literacy ambassador and advocate for radical leaps in knowledge, technology, design and thinking — on Earth and beyond. She also served six years as a NASA astronaut. Join us as we explore the frontiers of science and human potential with Dr. Jemison for the next Provost’s lecture on Thursday, Feb. 4 from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. [Pacific] Free, remote, open to all.
(2) BLASPHEMY, I TELL YOU. Throwing-rocks denier James Davis Nicoll unleashes his skepticism on some of the leading hard science authors of the genre: “Five Books That Get Kinetic Weapons Very Wrong”. Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress supplies the text for his opening lesson.
… On the surface, this seems plausible. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation assures one that this would be quite vexing to anyone standing where the rock happens to land: at 11 kilometres per second, each kilogram of rock would have about 60 megajoules of kinetic energy, more than ten times the energy of a kilogram of TNT. Nobody wants more than ten kilograms of TNT exploding on their lap.
But…a moment’s consideration should raise concerns. For example, the rebels are using repurposed cargo vessels. How is it they are able to reach the surface at near-escape velocities without fragmenting on the way down? How did the rebels manage to erase Cheyenne Mountain from existence when (given the numbers in the book) it would take about two hundred thousand impacts to do so? How did the rebels cause a tidal wave in the UK when simple math says the wave would only have been a few centimetres high at Margate?
Heinlein probably relied on a simple but useful technique: he didn’t do the math….
(3) NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE, AND PROBABLY NEVER WERE. The Horn of Rohan Redux conducted “An interview with Suzanne Nelson, Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature 2020 finalist” for her book A Tale Magnolious.
There is something post-apocalyptic about the dust bowl-esque farm featured in this book. Did you pull ideas from history or dystopian literature?
I’m a fan of dystopian literature, but I didn’t have any particular piece in mind as I was writing A Tale Magnolious. Certainly, the desperation of the Dust Bowl years and the Great Depression era were at the forefront of my mind as I wrote. I am an avid student of history and think often about periods, like World War II, where there have been great loss, or evil and tragedy, but where humankind has ultimately overcome these horrors through courage, faith, and love. As I crafted Nitty and Magnolious’s story, I kept returning to the idea of hope blooming in the midst of desolation. Even Neezer Snollygost had the chance to alter his self-serving, destructive path, but he chose not to. In a way, I suppose he resembled Tolkien’s Gollum in that his obsessions robbed him of his better self. But others in Magnolious like Windle Homes, gave up their resentments and anger, and once they did, their hearts reopened to love. People have a way of finding joy and one another in the darkest times through love and hope.
(4) WEBSITE DEFLECTS BLAME. Directors Notes has responded to Adam Ellis and his charges that Keratin ripped off his comic: “A Statement on Adam Ellis’ Keratin Plagiarism Accusation”.
For clarity, we would like to state that Directors Notes was in no way involved with the creation of Keratin nor have we profited from the film’s existence. We are however regretful to have used our platform to help promote the film. Had the full facts of its genesis been made clear to us at the time would have declined to run the interview.
As has been pointed out by many commentators, when asked about Keratin’s inspiration Butler and James’ response: “The original concept was inspired by a short online cartoon we saw which we developed further” fails to credit Ellis as the creator of the original online cartoon, nor does it detail the email conversation the filmmakers had with Ellis or his request that they pull the film from festivals.
(5) AVOID CROWDS. Paul McAuley has advice for writers in “World-Building The Built World”.
…Worldbuilding is hard only if you pay too much attention to it. Less is almost always better than more. Use details sparingly rather than to drown the reader in intricate descriptions and faux exotica; question your first and second thoughts; set out a few basic parameters, find your character and start the story rather than fleshing out every detail of the landscape, drawing maps, and preparing recipe cards and fashion plates before writing the first sentence. Wherever possible, scatter clues and trust the reader to put them together; give them the space to see the world for themselves rather than crowd out their imagination with elaborate and burdensome detail.
Most of the heavy lifting for the worldbuilding of War of the Maps was already done for me in a speculative scientific paper, ‘Dyson Spheres around White Dwarfs’ by Ibrahim Semiz and Selim O?ur. That gave me the basic idea: a very large artificial world wrapped around a dead star, its surface a world ocean in which maps skinned from planets were set. Almost everything else was tipped in as the story progressed. Discovering details essential to the story as it rolls out gives space and flexibility to hint at the kind of random, illogical, crazy beauty of the actual world; the exclusionary scaffolds of rigid logic too often do not….
(6) WINDOW ON A PAST WORLDCON. AbeBooks is offering “The Twelfth World Science Fiction Convention Papers” for a tad under $24,000. I now realize one of the disadvantages of the internet age – all those emails I got from pros while organizing convention programs will never be collectibles! Also, I wonder if there’s anything in the archive explaining why SFCon (1954) decided not to continue the Hugo Awards which had been given for the first time the previous year?
A UNIQUE OFFERING THE TWELFTH WORLD SCIENCE FICTION CONVENTION PAPERS. Held in San Francisco in the summer of 1954 with G.O.H. John Campbell, Jr., this was one of the great early gatherings. Included in this massive archive is everything that one might want to know about running a convention: Hotel rates for rooms, banquets, buffet menus, rentals, carpenters, electricians, etc. There are letters from attendees and those who wished to attend but could not; paid invoices from photo shops, printers, etc.; canceled checks (along with some unused ones as well) and check stubs; Radio scripts from local stations and press clippings and pictures from local papers; letters from major Motion Picture Studios answering requests about film availability; SIGNED letters from advertizers (including all the small presses); the entire convention mailing list; black & white photos picturing singularly or in group Ackerman, Anderson, Boucher, Bloch, Campbell, Clifton, Dick, Ellison, Evans, Gold, Mayne, Ley, Moskowitz, Nourse, E.E. Smith, Williamson, Van Vogt, Vampira, et.al. But of course the major importance of this archive has yet to be mentioned. And that’s simply the great abundance of SIGNED letters, post-cards and notes from authors and artists. To wit: Anderson, Asimov (3), Blaisdell, Blish, Bond, Bonestell (4), Boucher (3), Bradbury (4), Bretnor, F. Brown, Howard Browne, Budrys, Campbell (5), Clement, Clifton (2), Collier, Conklin, DeCamp, DeFord, Dick, Dickson, Dollens (8), Emshwiller (2), Eshbach (2), Evans, Farmer, Freas (3), Greenberg (2), Gunn, Heinlein, Hunter (5), Kuttner, Ley (5), Moskowitz, Neville, Nolan (3), Nourse, Obler, Orban (3), Palmer, Pratt, Simak, E.E. Smith (2), Tucker, Williamson (3), Wylie, et.al. Finally, also included is a set of audio tapes which were taken at this convention. Now for the first time (depending on your age I guess) you can not only be privy to what went on at this convention, but also hear the actual voices of Anthony Boucher, John W. Campbell, E.E. “DOC”Smith and others too numerous to mention. A unique opportunity to snatch a bit of vintage post-war Science Fiction history. (The tapes, while definitely included in this grouping, may not be immediately available.).
(7) A WRITER BEGINS. Read Octavia Butler’s autobiographical article “Positive Obsession”, the Library of America’s “Story of the Week.”
…A decade after she published Kindred, as her standing in the literary world continued to rise, Octavia Butler wrote for Essence magazine a remarkably compelling essay outlining the path of her career, from early childhood in the 1950s to her status as a full-time writer in the 1980s. We present her life story as our Story of the Week selection….
MY MOTHER read me bedtime stories until I was six years old. It was a sneak attack on her part. As soon as I really got to like the stories, she said, “Here’s the book. Now you read.” She didn’t know what she was setting us both up for….
(8) SLOW READER. “’Doctor Doolittle’ returned to Canadian library was 82 years overdue” – UPI has the story.
…”We were putting a fan in our bathroom, so we had to cut a hole through our roof and while we were up in the attic, we found a bunch of old books,” Musycsyn told CTV News.
Musycsyn said the copy of Doctor Dolittle stood out because it bore markings from the Sydney Public Library.
“This one in particular had the old library card from 1939,” Musycsyn said. “And I just thought that was interesting, because it was the same week that the library had abolished their fines.
“So, I thought it was a good thing, because I wouldn’t want to know what the fine on an 82-year-old overdue book would be.”
Library officials said the old Sydney Public Library burned down in 1959, destroying most of its books. They said the tome returned by Musycsyn might not have survived if it had been returned on time.
(9) VON BRAUN’S SF BOOK. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum website discusses the engineer’s literary ambitions “Mars Project: Wernher von Braun as a Science-Fiction Writer”.
The German-American rocket engineer Dr. Wernher von Braun is famous—or infamous—for his role in the Nazi V-2 rocket program and for his contributions to United States space programs. He was, I have argued, the most influential rocket engineer and space advocate of the twentieth century, but also one whose reputation will be forever tainted by his association with Nazi crimes against humanity in V-2 ballistic missile production. Von Braun certainly was multi-talented—he was a superb engineering manager, an excellent pilot, and a decent pianist. In the U.S., he became a national celebrity while speaking and writing about spaceflight. But we don’t think him as a science-fiction writer. It was not for want of trying. Von Braun wrote a novel, Mars Project, in America in the late 1940s and later exploited his fame to publish a novella about a Moon flight and an excerpt from his failed Mars work.
…The political context for his fictional Mars expedition is equally fascinating. Mars Project opens in 1980, after the United States of Earth, with its capital in Greenwich, Connecticut, conquers and occupies the Soviet bloc, aided by its space station—once again called Lunetta—dropping atomic bombs on Eurasian targets. While von Braun reveals his tendency to naïve technological utopianism in the Martian sections, his opening displays a conservative anti-Communism suited to the Cold War hysteria of 1949. His vision of World War III is, to put it plainly, a fantasy of a successful Blitzkrieg against the Soviet Union….
(10) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.
- February 2, 1925 — The Lost World enjoyed its very first theatrical exhibition. It was directed by Harry O. Hoyt and featured pioneering stop motion special effects by Willis O’Brien, a forerunner of his work on the original King Kong. It’s the first adaption of A. Conan Doyle’s novel of the same name. It’s considered the first dinosaur film. This silent film starred Bessie Love, Lewis Stone, Wallace Beery and Lloyd Hughes. Because of its age the film is in the public domain, and can be legally downloaded online which is why you can watch it here.
(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]
- Born February 2, 1882 – James Joyce. If I call Ulysses or Finnegans Wake fantasy, someone will answer “He just wrote what he saw”, which leads not only to Our Gracious Host’s days as an SF club secretary, but also to Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Marshall McLuhan said in War and Peace in the Global Village he could explain what FW’s thunder said. Half a dozen short stories for us anyway. (Died 1941) [JH]
- Born February 2, 1905 – Ayn Rand. Anthem and Atlas Shrugged are ours – meaning they’re SF; I express no opinion on them or Objectivism philosophically, that being outside the scope of these notes. I did put a Jack Harness drawing of JH’s Objectivist Mutated Mouse Musicians in the L.A.con II (42nd Worldcon) Program Book, but that was ars gratia artis. (Died 1982) [JH]
- Born February 2, 1933 — Tony Jay. Oh, I most remember him as Paracelcus in the superb Beauty and the Beast series even though it turns out he was only in for a handful of episodes. Other genre endeavours include, and this is lest OGH strangle me is only the Choice Bits included voicing The Supreme Being In Time Bandits, an appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation as Third Minister Campio In “Cost of Living”, being in The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. (and yes I loved the series) as Judge Silot Gato in ”Brisco for the Defense.” (Died 2006.) (CE)
- Born February 2, 1940 — Thomas M. Disch. Camp Concentration, The Genocides, 334 and On Wings of Song are among the best New Wave novels ever done. He was a superb poet as well though I don’t think any of it was germane to our community. He won the Nonfiction Hugo for The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of, a critical but loving look on the impact of SF on our culture. (Died 2008.) (CE)
- Born February 2, 1947 – Eric Lindsay, age 74. Fan Guest of Honor at Tschaicon the 21st Australian natcon, Danse Macabre the 29th. Fanzine, Gegenschein. GUFF delegate with wife Jean Weber (northbound the Get-Up-and-over Fan Fund, southbound the Going Under Fan Fund); their trip report Jean and Eric ’Avalook at the UK here (PDF). [JH]
- Born February 2, 1949 — Jack McGee, 72. Ok, so how many of us remember him as Doc Kreuger on the Space Rangers series we were just discussing? I’ve also got him as Bronto Crane Examiner in The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, as a Deputy in Stardust, Mike Lutz in seaQuest, Doug Perren in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a Police Officer Person of Interest to name some of his genre roles. (CE)
- Born February 2, 1949 — Brent Spiner, 72. Data on more Trek shows and films than I’ll bother listing here. I’ll leave it up to all of you to list your favorite movements of him as Data. He also played Dr. Brackish Okun in Independence Day, a role he reprised in Independence Day: Resurgence, a film I’ve not seen yet. He also played Dr. Arik Soong/Lt. Commander Data in four episodes of Enterprise. Over the years, he’s had roles in Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Tales from the Darkside, Gargoyles, Young Justice, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Warehouse 13. (CE)
- Born February 2, 1957 – Laurie Mann, F.N., age 64. Co-chaired Boskone 25, chaired SMOFcon 30 (SMOF is Secret Master Of Fandom, as Bruce Pelz said a joke-nonjoke-joke, besides the Jefferson Airplane comment). Two short stories. Pittsburgh Bach Choir. Fellow of NESFA (New England SF Ass’n; service). Maintains William Tenn Website. Fan Guest of Honor at Rivercon XII, ArmadilloCon 27 (with husband Jim Mann). Program Division head for Sasquan the 73rd Worldcon, also (with JM) for Millennium Philcon the 59th. You might read her “Everything I Learned About Buying and Renovating Buildings I Learned from Monty Wells”. [JH]
- Born February 2, 1966 – Frank Lewecke, age 56. Molecular biologist. Half a dozen covers for German-language editions of Herbert-Anderson Dune books. Here is House Atreides. Here is The Butlerian Jihad. More generally this gallery. [JH]
- Born February 2, 1981 – Tara Hudson,age 40. Three novels for us. Says she once drove a blue Camaro, got her lowest grade (B) in law school, and in that profession had a great career and stagnated. Many seem happy with the result. [JH]
- Born February 2, 1986 — Gemma Arterton, 35. She’s best known for playing Io in Clash of the Titans, Princess Tamina In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace, and as Gretel in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. She also voiced Clover in the current Watership Down series. (CE)
(12) COMICS SECTION.
- Tom Gauld depicts “The Runaway Lobster-Telephone Problem.”
(13) SPASEBO BOLSHOYA SUPERMAN. You don’t need millions of dollars for special effects anymore if you have a drone with a tiny camera: “Superman With a GoPro”. (Don’t ask me why the closed captions are in Russian.)
(14) WHEDON WAS HERE. Yahoo! Entertainment frames the series and trailer: “’The Nevers’ First Trailer: Joss Whedon Creates HBO’s Next Genre-Mashing Original Series”.
Whedon is back with HBO’s “The Nevers,” albeit with a twist. While Whedon created and executive produced the Victorian Era science fiction series, he announced in November he was stepping away from the series. By this point, “The Nevers” had already wrapped production on its six-episode first season. Whedon is no longer involved with “The Nevers,” but HBO’s teaser trailer for the show is peak Whedon with its clashing of genres and super-powered female action heroes.
The description from The Nevers: Official Teaser says —
Society fears what it cannot understand. Experience the power of The Nevers, a new @HBO original series, this April on @HBOmax. In the last years of Victoria’s reign, London is beset by the “Touched”: people — mostly women — who suddenly manifest abnormal abilities, some charming, some very disturbing. Among them are Amalia True (Laura Donnelly), a mysterious, quick-fisted widow, and Penance Adair (Ann Skelly), a brilliant young inventor. They are the champions of this new underclass, making a home for the Touched, while fighting the forces of… well, pretty much all the forces — to make room for those whom history as we know it has no place.
(15) I SAY I’M SPINACH. [Item by Cora Buhlert.] MIT scientists have used nanotechnology to enable spinach to detect components of explosives and other hazardous substances. The spinach plants can also send out an alert via e-mail, so guess what the headline is about. Though automatic e-mail alerts aren’t anything unusual. My furnace regularly e-mails me as well. From Euronews, “Scientists have taught spinach to send emails and it could warn us about climate change”.
…Through nanotechnology, engineers at MIT in the US have transformed spinach into sensors capable of detecting explosive materials. These plants are then able to wirelessly relay this information back to the scientists.
When the spinach roots detect the presence of nitroaromatics in groundwater, a compound often found in explosives like landmines, the carbon nanotubes within the plant leaves emit a signal. This signal is then read by an infrared camera, sending an email alert to the scientists.
This experiment is part of a wider field of research which involves engineering electronic components and systems into plants. The technology is known as “plant nanobionics”, and is effectively the process of giving plants new abilities….
(16) POWER WALK. [Item by Michael Toman.] Just in case Other Mostly Shut-In “At Risk” Filers can use some inspiration for taking a daily 30-minute Masked Walk for exercise toward achieving the goal of 50 miles a month? “Astronauts Wind Down After Spacewalk, Reap Space Harvest” from the NASA Space Station blog.
…NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover completed their second spacewalk together on Monday wrapping up a years-long effort to upgrade the station’s power system. They relaxed Tuesday morning before spending the afternoon on a spacewalk conference and space botany.
The duo joined astronauts Kate Rubins of NASA and Soichi Noguchi of JAXA and called down to spacewalk engineers after lunchtime today. The quartet briefed the specialists on any concerns or issues they had during the Jan. 27 and Feb. 1 spacewalks….
(17) BEWARE REDSHIRT ARMED WITH UKULELE. Howard Tayler tweeted a rediscovered drawing of John Scalzi, eliciting this comment from the subject.
(18) VIDEO OF THE DAY. In “The Mandalorian Season 2” on Honest Trailers. the Screen Junkies say the show combines “the world of Star Wars, the feel of old samurai movies, and the emotional core of Reddit’s r/awww community because every time you see Baby Yoda, you want to go “Awwwww!”
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Cora Buhlert, Michael Toman, Hampus Eckerman, Andrew Porter, Martin Morse Wooster, Danny Sichel, Rob Thornton, Daniel Dern, Mike Kennedy, JJ, John Hertz, and Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Patrick Morris Miller.]