Pixel Scroll 3/24/17 No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You To Scroll

(1) ALIEN HECK. Yahoo! Movies has the latest Alien: Covenant poster: “’Alien: Covenant’: Third Poster Welcomes Moviegoers to Extraterrestrial Hell”.

After decades away from the franchise that he began back in 1979, director Ridley Scott has become unbelievably gung-ho about the Alien series, promising that he’s got perhaps another half-dozen sequels already planned out for the near future. Before he can get to those, however, he’ll first deliver the follow-up to 2012’s Prometheus, Alien: Covenant, which by the looks of its recent trailer, is going to be a no-holds-barred descent into extraterrestrial madness. And now, its third theatrical poster (see it below) makes plain that its action won’t just be otherworldly; it’ll be downright hellish.

(2) BRAGGING ON BATMAN. Is this claim big enough for you? Why “Batman: The Animated Series 1992-1995” is far better than any other incarnation before or since.

(3) EVIDENCE OF GENIUS. Up for auction the next six days — “Remarkable Letter Signed by Albert Einstein, Along With His Initialed Drawings”. Minimum bid is $15,000.

Albert Einstein letter signed with his hand drawings, elegantly explaining his electrostatic theory of special relativity to a physics teacher struggling to reconcile it with experiments he was conducting. In addition to the letter, which is new to the market, Einstein generously replies to a series of questions the teacher asks him on a questionnaire, providing additional drawings and calculations, initialed ”A.E.” at the conclusion. Dated 4 September 1953 on Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study letterhead, Einstein writes to Arthur L. Converse, the teacher from Malcolm, Iowa, in part, ”There is no difficulty to explain your present experiment on the basis of the usual electrostatic theory. One has only to assume that there is a difference of potential between the body of the earth and higher layers of the atmosphere, the earth being negative relatively to those higher layers…[Einstein then draws Earth and the atmosphere, referring to it for clarification] The electric potential p rises linearly with the distance h from the surface of the earth…For all your experiments the following question is relevant: How big is the electric charge produced on a conductor which is situated in a certain height h, this body being connected with the earth…” Also included is Einstein’s original mailing envelope from ”Room 115” of the Institute for Advanced Study, postmarked 7 September 1953 from Princeton. Folds and very light toning to letter, otherwise near fine. Questionnaire has folds, light toning and staple mark, otherwise near fine with bold handwriting by Einstein. With an LOA from the nephew of Arthur Converse and new to the market.

(4) PROFESSIONAL FAKE REVIEW. As announced in comments, Theakers Quarterly have posted their fake review of There Will Be Walrus. They’re doing these as a fundraiser for Comic Relief on Red Nose Day. This is the first of four paragraphs in the review:

Military science fiction is a part of the genre that does not always get the attention it deserves, but thank goodness Cattimothy House is on the case, producing an anthology of stories and essays that ranks with the very best sf being produced in the world. Overrated social justice writerers such as John Scalesy and Jim B. Hinds might knock this kind of stuff and despise the fans who love it, but us real fans know the real deal when we see it, and here we do!

(5) NEW TAFF REPORT. Jacqueline Monahan published her TAFF trip report and earned a $500 bounty for the fund from the Southern California Institute for Fan Interests. More details when I find out how fans can get a copy.

(6) SALLY RIDE. At UC San Diego, where Ride served as a professor, a new graduate fellowship — the Sally Ride Fellowship for Women in Physics – has been established in her name to inspire future generations of boundary-breaking physicists who will contribute to the public good.

The pioneering astronaut Sally Ride was a beloved professor at UC San Diego for years. Brian Keating, professor of physics and Associate Director of the Clarke Center, and his wife, Sarah, recently provided the lead gift to fund the Sally Ride Graduate Fellowship for the Advancement of Women in Physics. “We thought this would be a great way to honor Sally Ride’s accomplishments and at the same time, motivate young scientists,” said Brian. “We hope that UC San Diego students will be inspired by her contributions to science and society.”

(7) STATISTICAL ACCURACY. Lately Cecily Kane has tweeted more than once about File 770 not linking to the Fireside Report

File 770 has linked to the Fireside Report. Before that it was discussed last September in comments. The thing I have never done is written an article about it, as I recently did with the FIYAH Magazine Black SFF Writer Survey.

This latest tweet came after I quoted Lela E. Buis in yesterday’s Scroll. That wasn’t the most popular thing I’ve ever posted and the comments section is open — it’s a shame to think we’ve been stuck reading Vox Day’s ridiculous attacks when we might be hearing something useful from Cecily Kane.

(8) SCRIMSHAW. We Hunted The Mammoth understands what’s happening — “Vox Day publishes book with near-identical cover to John Scalzi’s latest, declares victory”.

Beale’s master plan here, evidently, is to convince enough of his supporters to buy Kindle copies of the ersatz book out of spite so that it outranks Scalzi’s book in Kindle sales, a somewhat meaningless metric given that Beale’s books is priced at $4.99, compared to Scalzi’s $12.99, and that Scalzi is also selling actual paper copies of his book, while Beale’s is only available as an ebook. (Beale’s book has been taken down from Amazon several times already in the brief time it’s been out, apparently because, you know, it looks almost identical to Scalzi’s book, but at the moment it’s up on the site.)….

Beale, for all of his many defects, does seem to understand the art of the publicity stunt.

(9) THE LINE STARTS HERE. Can it be true that Kelly Freas and Pablo Picasso agreed about how nude women look? Go ahead, look at this Freas abstract now up for bid and tell me I’m wrong.

(10) DOUBLE UP. Rich Horton takes a lighthearted look back at “A Forgotten Ace Double: Flower of Doradil, by John Rackham/A Promising Planet, by Jeremy Strike”.

The covers are by probably the two leading SF illustrators of that time: Jack Gaughan (in a more psychedelic than usual mode for him), and Kelly Freas. So, I spent a fair amount of time on the background of these writers. Could it be that the novels themselves are not so interesting? Well — yes, it could.

Rackham, as I have said before, was a pretty reliably producer of competent middle-range SF adventure. And that describes Flower of Doradil fairly well. Claire Harper is an agent of Earth’s Special Service, come to the planet Safari to investigate some mysterious activity on the proscribed continent Adil. Safari is mostly devoted to hunting, but Adil is occupied by the humanoid (completely human, it actually seems) natives. But some plants with tremendous medical properties are being smuggled out, and the agents sent to investigate have disappeared.

(11) POETRY OF PHYSICS. In advance of the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination’s upcoming event, “Entanglements: Rae Armantrout and the Poetry of Physics”, they have produced a bonus episode of their podcast: a conversation between poet Armantrout and Clarke Center cosmologist Brian Keating.

The event takes place April 13 at UC San Diego. Armantrout, Keating, the writer Brandon Som, and the critic Amelia Glaser will discuss how Rae’s poems mix the personal with the scientific and speculative, the process of interdisciplinary creativity, and what her poetic engagement with physics can teach those working in the physical sciences.

(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOYS

  • Born March 24, 1874 – Harry Houdini
  • Born March 24, 1901 – Disney animator Ub Iwerks.

(13) TEN MYTHS. Carl Slaughter, recommending “10 Sci-Fi Movie Myths That Drive Scientists Crazy” from CBR, says “Instead of discussing science movie by movie, this debunk video is organized by topics.  I would add lasers, but more about laser myths another time.”

Outer space is vast and holds a multitude of mysteries that have yet to be solved. But for some reason, the mysteries we have solved are still be represented incorrectly by Hollywood today. We understand these movies are all fiction, but with our growing knowledge of the universe it’s hard to ignore the glaring mistakes made in movies that make them less realistic. Here are 10 space facts movies ALWAYS get wrong.

The video covers: gravity, no helmet, black holes, sound, explosions, speed, time, distance, dogfights, and Mars.

(14) THEY DELIVER. According to the maker of “Futurama:  Authentic Science, Sophisticated Comedy, Cultural Commentary,” their video takes “A look at the show that brought humor and emotion into the sterile world of science and arithmetic.”

(15) FINNISH WEIRD. Europa SF reports that the latest issue of Finnish Weird is available.

This is a fanzine from Finland that features stories on speculative fiction, this time from Magdalena Hai, J.S. Meresmaa and Viivi Hyvönen.

The text includes an English translation. The issue is available as a free download here.

(16) FIVE STAR TREK CAPTAINS AND ONE DOCTOR WHO CAPTAIN. Another Carl Slaughter pick: “There are so many delightful memories and insightful comments during this discussion with 5 Star Trek captains, I can’t even begin to list them.  Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, and Archer were all on stage in London in 2012.  To top it off, the discussion is hosted by yet another captain, Captain Jack Harkness of Doctor Who/Torchwood fame.”

(17) BOMB OR NO BOMB? Digital Antiquarian tries to answer the question “What’s the Matter with Covert Action?”, game designer Sid Meier’s biggest disappointment – mostly to Sid himself.

But there are also other, less scandalous cases of notable failure to which some of us continually return for reasons other than schadenfreude. One such case is that of Covert Action, Sid Meier and Bruce Shelley’s 1990 game of espionage. Covert Action, while not a great or even a terribly good game, wasn’t an awful game either. And, while it wasn’t a big hit, nor was it a major commercial disaster. By all rights it should have passed into history unremarked, like thousands of similarly middling titles before and after it. The fact that it has remained a staple of discussion among game designers for some twenty years now in the context of how not to make a game is due largely to Sid Meier himself, a very un-middling designer who has never quite been able to get Covert Action, one his few disappointing games, out of his craw. Indeed, he dwells on it to such an extent that the game and its real or perceived problems still tends to rear its head every time he delivers a lecture on the art of game design. The question of just what’s the matter with Covert Action — the question of why it’s not more fun — continues to be asked and answered over and over, in the form of Meier’s own design lectures, extrapolations on Meier’s thesis by others, and even the occasional contrarian apology telling us that, no, actually, nothing‘s wrong with Covert Action.

(18) UNEARTHLY VISIONS. In Jaroslav Kalfar’s A Spaceman of Bohemia, “A Czech Astronaut’s Earthly Troubles Come Along for the Ride”: a New York Times review by Hari Kunzru.

The reason the Czech Republic is launching a manned spacecraft is the arrival of a strange comet that has “swept our solar system with a sandstorm of intergalactic cosmic dust.” A cloud, named Chopra by its Indian discoverers, now floats between Earth and Venus, turning the night sky purple. Unmanned probes sent out to take samples have returned mysteriously empty. Likewise a German chimpanzee has returned to Earth with no information save the evidence that survival is possible. The Americans, the Russians and the Chinese show no sign of wishing to risk their citizens, so the Czechs have stepped up, with a rocket named for the Protestant reformer and national hero Jan Hus. At many points in the novel, Kalfar sketches key moments in Czech history, and the very premise of a Czech space mission is clearly a satire on the nationalist pretensions of a small post-Communist nation. Financed by local corporations whose branding is placed on his equipment, Jakub is the epitome of the scrappy underdog, grasping for fame by doing something too crazy or dangerous for the major players.

(19) NO GORILLA. The Verge interviews visual-effects supervisor Jeff White about “How Industrial Light & Magic built a better Kong for Skull Island”.

When you have a featured character like this, how do you determine what techniques you’ll use to realize him? Particularly when it comes to performance — do you go through different approaches as to whether to use pure motion-capture, or pure animation?

We definitely did. We were very fortunate to work with [actor] Terry Notary, who I’d worked with before on Warcraft. He did a lot of body performance work. We had a couple days in mo-cap where Jordan could iterate very quickly with Terry to work through different scenes, then also try different gaits. And try things like, “Give us 10 chest pounds.” So he’d try different cadences. Is it three, is it alternating hands, is it hands together? Just trying to give us a nice library of things to pull from.

Then I would say the same is true of the face. We had a day of capture with Toby Kebbell (A Monster Calls, Warcraft), where he works through some of the scenes — particularly the less action-heavy scenes, where you really have a lot of time to look at Kong’s eyes, and the movement of the face. There are some shots where that facial capture is used directly, but through the production process and the reworking of the scenes, a lot of what Kong needed to do changed so much that the capture was used a lot more as inspiration and moments to pull from. And then ultimately a lot of the animation was key-framed. I think that was actually important to do, especially when trying to sell that Kong was 100 feet tall. Because even weighted down and moving slower, anyone that’s six feet tall is going to be able to change direction and move much faster than Kong would ever be able to.

It’s not even just a matter of saying, “Let’s take that and slow it down by 25 percent.” Once the arm gets moving, it can actually be pretty fast. But then when he needs to change direction, you need to have that appropriate, physically accurate process of getting this massive arm to move a different direction. With the animation in particular, it was a real challenge between making sure Kong felt slow enough where he was huge, but at the same time not letting the shots drag on so long that it no longer became an action movie.

(20) AN ALTERNATE INTERPRETATION. Carl Slaughter explains:

“Chain of Command” is usually included in lists of Star Trek’s best episodes.  This is the one with “There are 4 lights !”  The antagonist in this two-parter is Captain Jellico, who clashes with the Enterprise’s crew and even deliberately endangers Picard’s life. This video essay depicts Jellico as the protagonist who made all the right decisions for all the right reasons.

 

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, rcade, Michael J. Walsh, Iphinome, and Carl Slaughter for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Bill.]

154 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 3/24/17 No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You To Scroll

  1. @Kyra: If you haven’t already read it, I thought the stand-alone novella Russell released, Sleep Donation, was also terrific.

  2. @Cecily Kane: interesting to see specific examples of individual threads of “Black Culture”; I have the same question as Greg, but would extend to whether a black first reader would accept something so specific even if they were assuming a primarily black audience. One of the desiderata of SF is that it provide \some/ lever with which an alert reader can open up the culture (constructed or real) presented by the author, at least enough to understand why/how some entities in the story are significant. (I suspect this is a problem in reading from other “White” cultures also; I know there are significant historical references in Stephen Hunt’s counterfactuals that I’m not parsing, and I at least have a common language with him.)

  3. I quite enjoyed Karen Russell’s Sleep Donation as well.

    @Chip: I think Nicole said part of this better than I could on the previous page, but as to your question specifically: I can’t speak for even one black slush reader, but I can speak for myself. I’ve read stories set in Nigeria by Nigerian authors in Nigerian publications that referenced specific historical events or even specific laws that I was unfamiliar with, still enjoyed the stories, and… looked up stuff afterwards to deepen my understanding. And Nigerian culture is much more distant from mine than, say, southern African-American culture (which is closer to mine than any European culture).

  4. Weighing in a bit more on the Fireside report and some of the common critiques I’ve seen (and specifically seen Greg raise in this thread)

    Mostly I want to hug Nicole for her reminder that “reader” and “white UK/US reader” are not synonymous. We do a disservice to the genre when we assume they are. (Points to the old Strange Horizons review of A Score of Roses in Long Hidden that called the use of AAVE a “literary trick”, and the ensuing discussion about the importance of dialect)

    Greg and other have talked about statistics, what N would be significant, and editors reading pieces blind as though the authors submitting stories are essentially interchangeable regardless of race, possibly differing in skill, but not in story theme, technique, setting, or protagonist identify. This is a convenient model, but based on what various black authors have said, probably not accurate. (Justina Ireland went into this a bit on my New Years episode which I haven’t transcribed, but her message was essentially that for many black authors, you can tell.) I’d suggest that many of the black authors I’ve read are writing stories set outside of the US or a vaguely medieval Europe (i.e. Nnedi Okorafor’s Book of the Phoenix and Lagoon, or Charles Saunders’ Imaro), are specifically using dialect as characterization (Kai Ashante Wilson in both Taste of Honey & Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, though only one uses AAVE, Malon Edwards’ Half-Dark Promise), and have not only protagonists but entire cultures full of black people of different appearances (N. K. Jemisin’s series). I don’t think that any of these techniques are exclusive to black authors, and none are used across the board, but my own reading along with statements like Justina’s comment and Phenderson’s response to the Fireside report (quoted upthread) are awfully suggestive.

    In other words, I’m convinced that black authors of speculative fiction write stories that are recognizably distinct (again, in the aggregate, not each and every author all the time) from the predominant whiteness of the field (and here I’m borrowing ideas poorly from Andre Carrington’s Speculative Blackness). Readers sometimes struggle with these stories. Reviewers too. It seems absurd to suggest that editors wouldn’t, especially editors who aren’t consciously trying to break out of the familiar contours of the whiteness of their field. Picking apart significant N’s without acknowledging the distinct characteristics of black-authored short fiction seems like an unproductive strategy. Arguing about whether editors are more or less culpable in the underrepresentation of black authors in the field than the general anti-black bigotry in society is at the least more interested in assigning blame than changing the status quo. (I’m assuming no one would go so far as to assert that there aren’t skilled and qualified black authors writing right now who aren’t getting published – the numbers could be better without detracting from magazine quality, a sometime-complaint against attempts at broader inclusion which I don’t think I’ve seen raised here).

    Could we have better statistics? Of course. Are the statistics right now damning enough? Seems to me they are. Either we want to make sure that the field welcomes black authors (in which case we [white US readers] may see and even perhaps grow accustomed to a bit more unfamiliar vocabulary, or societies that are not what we grew up in or reading), and editors (along with reviewers and readers) are part of that change, or we don’t. If we do, we’ve got a rough idea of what the landscape looked like a year ago so that we can see if it’s changing. We’ve also got plenty of black authors sharing their stories, experiences and advice, who probably have more insight than those of us who aren’t.

  5. As a kidlet, I adored the Chalet School series, which is based in a boarding school which requires the girls to speak German and French on some days of the week. Accordingly, the text is sometimes in French or German. I do not speak either of those languages in any meaningful way. Sometimes I wrote the sentences or words down to check the meaning later, but by and large, I worked it out from the context.

    As a teenager and an adult, I’ve come across stories which either used real life languages, cultures and dialects that were not mine or entirely invented languages, cultures and dialects. Again, I usually managed just fine (plus it’s now a lot easier to google translations and definitions than it was when I was 8). I’ve never seen any part of AAVE or African-American culture that would be more challenging than languages I don’t speak at all, or languages that don’t even exist.

    I manage to cope every time an American author writes that a character “shook their head” when the gesture they’re referring to is one of agreement (a nod darn it nod). I’m pretty sure white people (or people from other minorities), USA or otherwise, won’t find AAVE too bewildering.

  6. There is one possible thing, though: People who know English as a Second Language may, depending on how good their English is, struggle with writing where much of it isn’t standard English. There was a short exercise in one of my English Lang & Lit classes where we were told to rewrite Jabberwocky, and the one ESL student (Latvian) in the class got into a bit of a tizzy until someone figured out she thought the rest of us were translating the text to simplify it rather than rewriting it entirely to preserve the rhythm but have it make some kind of sense. She didn’t realise that the original words are largely nonsense, she just thought she didn’t know them. I suspect that some people who speak English as a second language might similarly struggle with dialects.

    That’s not really a strong argument for never accepting stories that use dialects, though. There are always things which get in the way of reader comprehension, especially when reading in a different language or culture from your own.

  7. @Meredith: Weird, I know it as a nod on this side of a pond, too. I mean, you can shake your head yes or no, but without an extra descriptor, I read “she shook her head” as in side-to-side to indicate “no.” It sounds like there’s some weird writing out there.

  8. @Meredith
    I’ve read novels in Italian where the author mixed in some bits in Sicilian (when the Mafia called the threaten someone) and I managed to get past it. (Sicilian is much further from standard Italian than AAVE is from standard English.) I don’t see that a bit of AAVE here and there causes a real problem for normal SFF fans. I thought Kai Ashante Wilson used AAVE brilliantly in his Sorcerer of the Wildeeps.

    @Jonah
    So the upshot is, a) I don’t think editors would punish a writer for using AAVE and/or making references to modern African-American culture but b) I think only a handful of stories by black writers would do that anyway. For example, Fifth Season has no hint of black culture in it, and Binti has bits of African culture, but not African-American culture. There’s a lot of diversity within the black community, after all.

    @Cecily Kane
    For the statistical analysis, I have used techniques that are strong with very limited amounts of data. I think this is about the best that can be done without collecting more data. I have some ideas for how to do that, possibly by combining some of RSR’s data with Fireside’s, and possibly by enlisting volunteers to look up info on writers online to fill in gaps.

    Some of your questions need to be posed to the Fiyah people. At this point, though, I think the best explanation is that Fireside missed a lot of black authors somehow. I think it unlikely that they included reprints, and the explanation that stories take time to get published only makes sense if you think the publication rate for black authors is changing rapidly. Otherwise, the rate of acceptance and the rate of publication must match.

    It concerns me that you think it’s possible that magazines might have a quota. “We already have a black writer, thanks.” I find that inconceivable, and I wonder why you think otherwise. I did see a note in the spreadsheet that suggested that the large number of 1’s implied tokenism, but the truth is that all they imply is that we have a very small amount of data. If we computed results for 2015 and 2016 combined (say just for the top 11 magazines), this would become obvious.

  9. Greg Hullender: For example, Fifth Season has no hint of black culture in it, and Binti has bits of African culture, but not African-American culture.

    Interesting you should say that about Fifth Season, which revolves around life experienced by a minority, and at points even has literal black/white imagery. While reading I unhesitatingly filled in the margins with the racial divide I’m familiar with. Now that you’ve made me aware of it, I’m curious if readers from different cultures than mine do that, too, but think about another minority entirely.

  10. Greg, I’m not sure what we’re talking about at this point. I don’t think anyone’s arguing that the data and methodology of the Fireside report is perfect. Indeed I don’t think anyone ever has – the report itself acknowledged that it was basically working with the best it could do. If the hill here is “could there be better data in the original report” or “will people draw different conclusions from statistical analysis of imperfect data sets”, I don’t think anyone wants to die there.

    You say no one will punish a writer for using AAVE. I’ve got a review in Strange Horizons from only a few years ago that did exactly that and prompted soul-searching from multiple venues. You point out that different black authors have drawn on different cultural touchstones. Yes, agreed. But upthread, you’re the one who said if too many of those cultural touchstones get referenced on the same story, the writer should expect a rejection because that would be off-putting (implied – to a “normal” reader). In your most recent response, you talk about what would cause a problem for “normal” SFF fans. You’re literally ignoring multiple people in this thread who have reminded you that “normal” is a problematic term to use without defining what you mean. (Withou that definition, I’m assuming you mean white US based readers with limited exposure to AAVE much less the broader diversity of the African diaspora).

    In addressing Cecily, you accuse the Fireside report writers of missing lots of black writers. You’re accusing them of acting in bad faith on what was clearly seen as an important and sensitive report. Show your own work, show where the mistakes were made, or withdraw the accusation.

    You also say that you don’t believe that editors would tell black writers that they already have a slot filled. The Fiyah writer anecdote report literally has a quote: “Once got a rejection where I was told they already have a black writer.”

    Again, I’m really not sure what the *argument* or *disagreement* is here. If you think that the data collection and analysis that’s been done (anecdotal and counts) is wrong, then clearly state where the errors are and what different conclusions you draw.

    If you think that there’s underrepresentation of black authors but editors, readers and reviewers are not responsible, and indeed publish and praise the work of black authors as much as anyone else, it’s just that societal pressures before the editing pipeline result in fewer submissions, then say that clearly, and respond to the authors who’ve spoken about the ways that they feel their work has been rejected for being too black.

    If you think that the underrepresentation is too bad, but your main concern is that the stories that editors are publishing cater to your “normal” SFF reader, and you’re happy to have black authors published at lower rates if they choose to write the stories that look and sound like what they prefer rather than catering to a “normal” SFF reader, than say that.

    If there’s something else you’d like to say besides “this data and it’s analysis may be imperfect”, go for it (I am tired, so may be missing the thesis you’re trying to advance), but please don’t claim that the hard work that people put in is majorly flawed because it doesn’t tell the story you want. Please don’t tell me that you think I’m wrong without even looking at the links I posted, and please don’t accuse the writers who submitted to Fiyah’s follow up report of lying without acknowledging that’s what you’re doing.

    I mean look, if you’re going to publish a better report, go do it. But don’t “reply” in this thread and then ignore or deny what people said to you in this thread.

    (Also, we’ve got a bunch of white people here arguing relative representations of Blackness by quoting actual black authors, so I’m probably going to tap out soon, because the work’s been done by people who know more than me)

  11. One of the two cultures (and that of the protagonist) in Binti is the Himba of Namibia.

    @Greg going to Ordinal Out here:

    1) Reprints — I was referring to your suggestion that the total number of stories was off in the FR, not Fiyah’s study. Specifically:

    Looking a little closer, Fireside only accounts for 588 stories from those eleven magazines, but it should be closer to 800. Or did you not cover every issue of every magazine, and I just missed that somewhere?

    The 25% discrepancy between FR’s totals and yours are, I’m guessing, reprints, which several of those magazines publish. It did cover every issue.

    2) 2015-16 sales v. publication rate:

    the explanation that stories take time to get published only makes sense if you think the publication rate for black authors is changing rapidly.

    I actually know that they changed rapidly (for what tiny numbers they are) from 2015-2017, for two reasons that I know of:

    a) Special issues: Lightspeed/Nightmare/Fantasy Magazine’s “People of Colo(u)r Destroy!” issues & Maurice Broaddus’ guest-edited issue of Apex. Submissions windows for each fell within Fiyah’s survey timeline, and were published in 2016 and next month, respectively. 2015 had no such equivalent issues.

    b) The FR had impact, and led to at least some major shifts in editorial departments and strategy.

    3) Ahem.

    It concerns me that you think it’s possible that magazines might have a quota. “We already have a black writer, thanks.” I find that inconceivable, and I wonder why you think otherwise.

    Perhaps it should concern you more that some short fiction outlets do, indeed, have quotas.

    From Fiyah’s anecdotal summary:

    “Once got a rejection where I was told they already have a black writer.”

    This was not the first time, or even the most recent time, I have been told this exact same thing.

  12. @Greg Hullender – I don’t see that a bit of AAVE here and there causes a real problem for normal SFF fans. I thought Kai Ashante Wilson used AAVE brilliantly in his Sorcerer of the Wildeeps.

    I’d like to point out and then studiously ignore the second sentence, which is very much a “but I have a black friend!” interjection, because I think your characterization of “normal SFF fans” is even worse. I don’t know for sure that you really believe that most SFF fans are so steeped in the whitest of whiteness that they can’t possibly tolerate more than a half teaspoon of AAVE, but at the very least I incline to the opinion that your sample size is woefully tiny and should be expanded.

    SFF fandom actually comes in all hues and if we can manage Klingon, I’m pretty sure all us normal folks (that would be all of us) can manage Black vernacular with ease.

  13. @Meredith

    There is one possible thing, though: People who know English as a Second Language may, depending on how good their English is, struggle with writing where much of it isn’t standard English. There was a short exercise in one of my English Lang & Lit classes where we were told to rewrite Jabberwocky, and the one ESL student (Latvian) in the class got into a bit of a tizzy until someone figured out she thought the rest of us were translating the text to simplify it rather than rewriting it entirely to preserve the rhythm but have it make some kind of sense. She didn’t realise that the original words are largely nonsense, she just thought she didn’t know them. I suspect that some people who speak English as a second language might similarly struggle with dialects.

    That’s not really a strong argument for never accepting stories that use dialects, though. There are always things which get in the way of reader comprehension, especially when reading in a different language or culture from your own.

    To the average ESL reader, even one from a Western European country, reading fiction from the US already means reading fiction from a foreign culture (or several, since even white America is not monolithic, e.g. a lot of the Mormon-based works in SFF and elsewhere are very foreign to me), so it’s not as if we couldn’t cope with African-American culture. There does seem to be the impression among German publishers (and film and TV companies) that “This is about black people, our readers/viewers won’t be able to identify with this”, but actual readers/viewers usually don’t mind, because they are already willing to engage with a foreign culture. And if an African-American work doesn’t for German audiences, it’s usually because of broader cultural factors than blackness, e.g. the TV show Scandal didn’t do well in Germany, because high level politicians having affairs and getting divorced is not a taboo in Germany, so German audiences were thinking, “Okay, why doesn’t president guy make a clean cut and get divorced, if he really loves the black PR woman. Come to think of it, this guy is actually kind of a jerk.”

    Also, there is a definite reluctance in the US publishing world to publish anything that strays too far from a straight white middle class US POV. The effects run across several axis of marginalisation, affecting African-American writers, LGBT writers, international writers, etc… I’ve even heard from some white British, Irish and Australian writers that their work was deemed too foreign for US audiences and these are white writers whose first language is English. Try being a writer from Singapore, India, Nigeria or South Africa.

  14. Is there published demographic data on the readership or subscription base of the big magazines? What percentage of Analog is sold in the United States? Are most readers males? White?

    Yes, SF fans come in all shapes and sizes, but if most of what Asimov’s is selling is sold to white males from north of the Rio Grande river, that has to influence what editors buy.

  15. Normal is just a setting on the dryer, Greg. Isn’t there anything about you that isn’t considered “normal” in many places? (Like reading SF at all)

    @Bill: You may have gotten your cause and effect swapped a little there. Your statistically average Hugo voter is a white male American, and neither Asimov’s nor Analog have been doing too well there lately, even if juvenile dog shenanigans are factored out. They used to clean up. And both magazines are less than half the size they used to be.

    @Cora: IIRC, “Seinfeld” famously bombed in Germany, and there (infamously) weren’t any PoC in it. Wildly popular even in the different non-megalopolis, non-Eastern parts of the US, though (which is most of it). How do other black-run shows do there (Or Hispanic, or Asian)? Like family comedies, or the other dramas from Shonda Rhimes? Do they ever get a chance? (And pretty much all the men in “Scandal” are terrible, regardless of race; equal opportunity!)

  16. @lurkertype: Your statistically average Hugo voter is a white male American, and neither Asimov’s nor Analog have been doing too well there lately, even if juvenile dog shenanigans are factored out. They used to clean up. And both magazines are less than half the size they used to be.
    I’m not sure that’s cause and effect, either: the “Big 3” of Analog, Asimov’s, and F&SF (now the only survivors of the US SF print magazines) used to completely dominate the market for SF short fiction; that simply isn’t the case any longer, due to a number of factors, but chiefly the explosion of online print venues for short fiction. The field is simply much more fragmented these days, in the sense that it used to be that everyone read the same magazines, because that was physically possible. Now no one (at least, no one without anything else to do) can possibly keep up, and I think there’s a significant fraction of SF readers who only read online fiction. You see the same thing in, say, Gardner Dozois’ annual Best SF anthologies, which I’ve been reading since the 1980s (I’m only missing the first two from my collection): the TOC used to be almost entirely drawn from the Big 3, now it’s much more varied – which is what you would expect given the much larger number of sources of SF short fiction.

    Also, I’m not sure what you mean by your last sentence: I’ve been reading Asimov’s since the early 90s, and the number of pages of fiction they publish annually has not changed significantly in that time (and is basically unaffected by their switch to a bimonthly, double-issue schedule – something I hope means they will publish more novellas, which are generally too long for online magazines, with the notable exception of Tor.com).

    Normal is just a setting on the dryer, Greg. *snort*

  17. Also, I’m not sure what you mean by your last sentence: I’ve been reading Asimov’s since the early 90s, and the number of pages of fiction they publish annually has not changed significantly in that time

    I believe lurkertype was referring to circulation.

  18. @lurkertype

    @Cora: IIRC, “Seinfeld” famously bombed in Germany, and there (infamously) weren’t any PoC in it. Wildly popular even in the different non-megalopolis, non-Eastern parts of the US, though (which is most of it). How do other black-run shows do there (Or Hispanic, or Asian)? Like family comedies, or the other dramas from Shonda Rhimes? Do they ever get a chance? (And pretty much all the men in “Scandal” are terrible, regardless of race; equal opportunity!)

    Seinfeld indeed did bomb in Germany, in spite of its all white cast. Comedy translates badly in general and the problem with Seinfeld was that a lot of the Jewish jokes, written by Jewish writers, sounded anti-semitic, when translated.

    Of the Shonda Rhimes shows, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice do/did well, because Germans like medical dramas. The one with Viola Davis as a lawyer (Getting Away with Murder?) did less well, but then US courtroom dramas often don’t do well in Germany, because our legal systems are too different. Scandal is the only one that completely bombed. Hawaii Five-O, which has a lot of PoC in the cast and also behind the camera also does well, even though the Hawaii portrayed there is a lot more diverse and cultually different than the white dude Hawaii portrayed in Magnum PI thirty years ago. Ugly Betty bombed, because there has already been a successful German adaptation of the same telenovela, so viewers felt it was a rip-off. Empire bombed due to combination of bad scheduling, cultural disconnect and the eight deadly words. Coincidentally, the almost all white Revenge failed as well, also due to the eight deadly words.

    In general, genre and subject matter (i.e. crime and medical dramas do well, courtroom dramas not so much and soap operas often have a been there, done that and it’s no longer 1985 feel) and cultural factors determine success more than whether the leads are white or PoC, especially since the PoC characters are often fan favourite. Coincidentally, in Blindspot, with its almost all women and PoC cast, the one character no German viewer liked was the token white FBI dude.

  19. @Bill

    Is there published demographic data on the readership or subscription base of the big magazines? What percentage of Analog is sold in the United States? Are most readers males? White?

    Yes, SF fans come in all shapes and sizes, but if most of what Asimov’s is selling is sold to white males from north of the Rio Grande river, that has to influence what editors buy.

    The print mags are difficult to come by abroad (I can’t even get Analog, Asimov’s or F&SF at the train station newsstand, which has everything), so the readership is probably mainly concentrated in the US (and also some didn’t accept e-mail submissions for a long time, driving down submission rates from international writers). But online mags have no such restrictions and consequently a wider readership.

  20. : the TOC used to be almost entirely drawn from the Big 3,

    If my plan to find copies of and review a sample of every Best Science Fiction annual series had got off the ground (I was defeated by Ditkey), I planned to spend some time high-light how one of the ways Judith Merril stood out [1] was in her willingness to look outside traditional genre sources for her anthologies.

    1: In addition to elements like being the only woman to helm a Best SF annual solo, ever, if we’re talking specifically SF, or until 2015, if we allow “and Fantasy”.

  21. @Cheryl S.

    I’d like to point out and then studiously ignore the second sentence, which is very much a “but I have a black friend!” interjection, because I think your characterization of “normal SFF fans” is even worse.

    Read it carefully: it’s “normal SFF fans as opposed to racists.” Everywhere I’ve used “normal” it has been to contrast, “normal, decent, open-minded SFF fans vs. alt-right, racist scum.”

  22. @Aaron: I believe lurkertype was referring to circulation.
    That will teach me not to post at four o’clock in the morning. However, that figure depends on what date you pick as your reference point: circa 1990, I think Analog and F&SF each had circulations of around 100,000, which means they’re more like one-fifth of that number now (possibly even less in the case of F&SF); Asimov’s current circulation is about the same as Analog’s. But that decline is predominantly the result of the collapse of magazine distributors and distribution channels and extends far outside of genre publications.

  23. @Cecily Kane
    Ah, I found it! It was my error (sorry about that). I also only track original fiction, so it wasn’t reprints, but I forgot to exclude anthologies. That’s what pushed the numbers up. When I remove that, they align. Sorry again.

    As for tokenism, the data we have don’t show that. They don’t rule it out, but they don’t indicate it either. Do you have some external source that confirms that this actually happens? I find it hard to believe, simply because it would require time and effort to implement it. Only a hard-core racist would do something like that.

  24. @James Davis Nicoll: I planned to spend some time high-light how one of the ways Judith Merril stood out [1] was in her willingness to look outside traditional genre sources for her anthologies.

    That’s one of the things that I’ve appreciated about the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy Series helmed by John Joseph Adams, the 2015 volume guest-edited by Joe Hill, the 2016 by Karen Joy Fowler.

  25. Bill:

    “Yes, SF fans come in all shapes and sizes, but if most of what Asimov’s is selling is sold to white males from north of the Rio Grande river, that has to influence what editors buy.”

    Yep. They should take a long a hard think about why the other demographic groups stay away if they want to expand into new markets.

  26. @Mike Glyer

    While reading I unhesitatingly filled in the margins with the racial divide I’m familiar with. Now that you’ve made me aware of it, I’m curious if readers from different cultures than mine do that, too, but think about another minority entirely.

    i actually read it as a metaphor for the struggles gay people have. Not just because I’m gay 🙂 but because it was a minority that wasn’t identified until a person reached puberty. In other words, black people are born to black parents and grow up in black culture, but gay people are born to straight parents and grow up in “straight culture.” The orogenes were more like gay people in that respect. (Except we didn’t get any super powers.)

  27. @Hampus Eckerman

    Yep. They should take a long a hard think about why the other demographic groups stay away if they want to expand into new markets.

    I haven’t been able to find any data on the readership of the SFF magazines, other than one very broad survey and one really old survey, neither of which covered race. Even the media kits for Analog and Asimov’s don’t mention racial breakdowns.

    The more important point, though, is that even the demographic of straight white males (minus a few deplorables) is perfectly fine with black-themed stories. I’ve pointed out several examples above. The editors have to know this. More important, they won’t all be discarding black-themed stories, even if one or two of them do.

    It’s a lot easier for me to believe in benign neglect than malign conspiracy.

  28. “It’s a lot easier for me to believe in benign neglect than malign conspiracy.”

    As if those were the only two alternatives.

  29. I was once working as an assistant in a center for teaching unemployed about computers. The idea was that everyone In Sweden who was unemployed had to go there. This was maybe 20 years ago.

    When we needed a new manager for the computer side (to see that the servers were running and so on), she put out an ad and held several interviews. One of the interviewed that didn’t get hired sent a mail blaming everything on racism. My boss was offended, how could they say such a thing.

    Well, one month later she said to me in a totally different conversation that she would prefer that the new hire was a swede because it made it easier when so many of the unemployed were immigrants. So she more or less gave the non-hired woman right.

    Was this benevolent neglect? No. Was it a malign conspiracy? No. It was just one person that thought racism was a bad thing, but still performed a racist act without really thinking about its implications.

  30. Hampus Eckerman: Yep. They should take a long a hard think about why the other demographic groups stay away if they want to expand into new markets.

    The circulation of sf magazines has shriveled to near-insignificance from what it was in the 1960s. There’s probably a strong element of trying to hang on to the remaining subscriber base involved in these decisions which may lead to picking “Analog stories” and “Asimov’s stories” — which, if a minority writer wants to produce them will help them sell to those markets, otherwise not.

  31. @Mike Glyer
    In a recent podcast, “The State of Short Fiction,” Sheila Williams said something that surprised me. She said that those older numbers are a bit misleading because the magazines made very little money off of each individual copy. Circulation is a lot lower, but each issue is a lot more profitable, so things are actually much better than they look.

    The circulation numbers for F&SF that you see in Locus look pretty bad because they don’t include electronic numbers. I’ve been doing a project to try to estimate those numbers using the Amazon sales ranks plus the reported figures for Analog, Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Apex. That tells me that F&SF has about 7,000 digital subscribers, which is more than Asimov’s and a lot more than Analog.

  32. @Mike: there is a pretty clear idea of what “an Analog story” is[1]. Analog would be taking a distinct risk if it tried to change that; they might well lose more readers than they would gain.

    [1] Yes, it’s hard to define. I for one have little interest in waiting for a defining SF discussion to come around again on the guitar.

  33. @Greg Hullender: Circulation is a lot lower, but each issue is a lot more profitable, so things are actually much better than they look. That’s a point that Dozois has made repeatedly in the introductions to his annual anthologies: that the digest-sized magazines are so cheap to produce that they are still viable. Certainly there have been some cutbacks; Asimov’s used to have a lot more original interior artwork, for example, and I suspect that corrected for inflation, none of them pay their writers as well as they did thirty years ago.

    That tells me that F&SF has about 7,000 digital subscribers, which is more than Asimov’s and a lot more than Analog. If that number is accurate, that suggests that all three of the print digests have comparable total circulations. I know (via Dozois again) that van Gelder states F&SF does very well in electronic sales, but he’s never provided any numbers.

    …and a lot more than Analog. Well, it is Analog, after all.

  34. @Greg: I’ve written on audience measurement for 30 years. There are three primary sources of data on magazine subscriptions:
    1] Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC). ABC measures distribution including subscriptions, newsstand and free copies. It is a high quality (reliability & validity data source). It covers a huge number of publications. No demographics.

    2] Simmons Market Research – Measures the very large magazines. Sometimes has demographic data, occasionally very detailed. Measures multiple media. Problems, it is a relatively small sample. It does not measure most small circulation magazines.

    The magazines you are discussing, if memory serves, are relatively low circulation magazines.

    3] Data from the publication itself – Publications will sometimes (on renewal notices) ask for information about common demographics. They sell the demographic profiles to media buyers attempting to boost their ad rates. Couple of problems with this data. First, it is not standardized. Second, it is not audited. Third, the source itself (the publication) has incentive to make their numbers look as good as possible. Media buyers usually take this data with a grain of salt, but often this is the only detailed data available.

    There may have been some changes in magazine audience measurement. Sometimes a company gets bought out or a new one starts up. But I doubt there has been a big measurement start-up in the last 10 years given overall print circulation declines.

    BTW – ABC data can be accessed relatively inexpensively by an academic. They have an academic subscription that is not that costly. I had one for a couple of years while I was researching some stuff and writing a couple of papers on magazine audience measurement issues.

  35. Bill – A Statement of Ownership can either be audited (almost always by Audit Bureau of Circulations) or not. “Print Circulation” can mean a lot of things. An example is USA Today which is distributed in a lot of hotels and may (or may not) be picked up. There are a lot of technical issues involved, especially for newsstand sales and for unpaid circulation (which can mean a lot of things).

    Non-subscription (usually news stand or retail) sales are hard to verify because most magazines are not returned physically to the publisher.

    Unaudited publishers statements on circulation are viewed with suspicion by media planners.

    I know nothing about Asimov specifically – so I don’t know if it is audited or not.

  36. The Analog Media Kit comes out annually and contains a good bit of that info. Other info is in the February issue of Locus Magazine. Actually, looking at the latest one, I don’t see the circulation numbers anymore, although they have numbers for web-site visits. Huh.

    @airboy If you feel inclined, it’d be great if you could e-mail me some of the info you’re talking about (with links). It’s greghull and you can use rocketstackrank.com. I’ll add it to a folder of information I’ve been collecting on the subject.

    I’d like to write an article on the topic, but, at the moment, I think the only things I could say for sure would be that:

    1) The Fireside data shows that the publication rate for black authors is about half what it ought to be. This is a very solid number, provided we don’t think Fireside overlooked a lot of black authors.
    2) The Fiyah data shows that about half of black authors believe there’s no point in submitting because the magazines are too biased. This is also a very solid number, even given that the data were self-selected.

    But without more data, there’s no way to tell which is cause and which is effect. Without more data, we can’t even tell if the Fireside report made any difference. It could be that it encouraged magazines to change policies that had had the effect of discouraging black authors or it could have had the effect of discouraging even more black authors. Or it might have had no effect at all.

    Based on what I’ve seen, I think it needs a minimum of two years of data to get really meaningful numbers, although it would be sufficient to cover just the eleven magazines that RSR reviews rather than all 63 in the Fireside report. That probably means it would be 2018 at the earliest before I’d have enough data to really add much to the discussion. But anything I can get before then will be helpful.

  37. @ Steve W: I think that qualifies as Rejection Reason #10: “The book has an engaging plot. Trouble is, it’s not the author’s, and everybody has already seen that movie / read that book / collected that comic.”

    Of course, if you’re submitting to a lit-fic house, the editor or their assistant may not recognize that, or may not recognize that if you’re doing the hoary old Hero Quest plot yet again, you need to do something unexpected with it.

    @ JJ: what looks “hackneyed, cliched, underdeveloped, and has been done better 10 times before” to those of us who do read a lot of SFF looks “fresh, innovative, and daring” to those who don’t

    100% agreement. The first time you see something, your reaction is entirely different from the 5th or the 20th or the 100th.

  38. About dialect… I don’t fully understand how an author can expect to write stories featuring PoC main characters in their own cultures without using dialect to a significant extent. Right now I’m thinking about Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January historical mysteries, in which dialects are part of the scenic wallpaper and the protagonist’s ability to code-switch (in both English and French, yet!) is an important tool for both his investigations and his personal safety. Without the use of dialects, they wouldn’t feel nearly as real.

  39. When I had a dead-tree subscription to Asimov’s (which was from Issue #1 till maybe 20 years later), I was always stunned by the overseas rates. Largely postage, but also more money IIRC. So I guess they’re holding tight to the white male American audience, but given that that’s shrinking, is it a good long-term idea? I suppose it’ll work for some years.

    F&SF is the only one I read nowadays — it seems fresher. Could be why I read it.

    Unconscious racism by perfectly nice people is still a thing (as we see with Hampus’ old boss, and also that song from Avenue Q), which leads to institutional/systematic racism still continuing.

    Also, orogenes were identified much sooner than puberty; our heroine was a little girl, and the others were similarly young.

  40. @lurkertype
    I still thinks there’s an extremely critical distinction between conscious racism and unconscious racism. Microsoft’s Director of Diversity used to have a great slogan: “Educate ignorance, but punish malice.” It’s a big mistake to treat them the same.

  41. @lurkertype,
    I still have a dead-tree subscription to Asimov’s. So n=1, but I am an overseas subscriber, and a PoC.

    With the whole vernacular/dialect thing, it bemuses me a bit that it’s considered such a big deal given that the genres I read most, science fiction & fantasy, are filled with it. Or are neologisms that different?

    Some more extreme examples are e.g. Iain Banks’ Feersum Endjinn, or in more mainstream fiction, Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. I would have thought that a reader of speculative fiction would be more than capable of coping with vernacular/dialect/neologisms…

    Re:shake your head.
    My default is to read “shaking head” as shaking head side to side, therefore to indicate a “no”. But there is also the Indian head shake which is more a “yes”.

  42. The problem with dialect is that it’s extremely difficult to do well. Pick up any book on how to write fiction, and odds are very good that somewhere it’ll tell you “don’t do it.”

    Also, when you’re an unknown writer, slushpile readers are looking for any excuse to discard your manuscript so they can get to the next one. Dialect–especially badly-written dialect–gives them that excuse.

  43. Re. shake your head

    It can be a bit weird reading fiction that has been translated from English into Turkish, as in the source material characters are clearly shaking and nodding their heads all the time, but these gestures are meaningless in Turkish culture – instead you blink to indicate ‘yes’ and raise your eyebrows and tut to indicate ‘no’. Some translators just have the characters shaking their head, as there is no word for nodding; others have the characters approve or deny as a response.

  44. When swedes appear in fiction books, they are almost always stereotypes. And they all have a weird habit of throwing in swedish words in the conversation all the time. Always wondered about that. A swede that speaks english will speak english, not some weird swenglish (unless as an internal joke).

    That is kind of a pet peeve for me. Non-nationals that speak english, but insist on every fourth sentence being in their own language. Common in books, never seen it in reality.

  45. @Hampus

    When swedes appear in fiction books, they are almost always stereotypes. And they all have a weird habit of throwing in swedish words in the conversation all the time. Always wondered about that. A swede that speaks english will speak english, not some weird swenglish (unless as an internal joke).

    That is kind of a pet peeve for me. Non-nationals that speak english, but insist on every fourth sentence being in their own language. Common in books, never seen it in reality.

    I hate that, too, especially since it’s usually so badly done with simple words in the character’s native language, but difficult words in English. If real people really spoke like that – which they usually don’t do – the difficult words would be in the native language, not the simple ones.

    Bonus points, if the foreign language words sprinkled into dialogue are a) misspelled, b) completely outdated c) bloody offensive or d) misspelled with hilarious results, such as the classic “Scheissen, Kameraden!” from an old Wolverine comic.

    Personally

  46. Greg Hullender:

    “Hmmm. How do Swedish books portray Americans?”

    I do not read enough swedish litterature to say how it is done now. My reading in swedish is in non-fiction and newspapers.

  47. @Hampus Eckerman: Oh, that’s a big pet peeve of mine – it’s done here in the U.S. for all foreigners, not just Swedes, and not just in books, but also television & movies.

    Another pet peeve of mine – the stereotypical ESL tic “how you say” like: “I want to buy, how you say, a wrench.” I know people have placeholder words/phrases when they can’t think of a word – even in their own language. But this is the main phrase I hear/see in books/other media, and I’ve never met anyone who talked like that (except as parody). Maybe I just haven’t talked with the right people.

    ETA: And “how you say” seems to be inserted without a pause for breath, like the character’s not really having any trouble thinking of the next word….

  48. @Kendall: “how you say”

    It’s been more years than I care to think about, but when I studied French in high school, we learned that construction rather quickly. I think it had to do with the prohibition against speaking a language other than French in the class; if you’re scrambling to remember vocabulary, you don’t want to be stuck sitting there gawping like a goldfish. At least the phrase indicates you’re thinking and haven’t suffered a stroke mid-sentence.

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