(1) AN ALIEN STUDY. Charlie Jane Anders tells what problems are caused when TV aliens are just minority groups given forehead bumps: “Star Trek, Star Wars reveal the cultural minefield of inventing aliens” at Polygon.
… Alien characters don’t just entertain us with their strange and unfamiliar ways — they also reflect our humanity back to us. Science fiction is all about exploring what it means to be human, and we can do that more easily by comparing ourselves against the alien characters we love or hate. This works a couple of different ways for writers:
- You can create alien characters who act human in many ways, except for a few major differences — and those differences can provide a contrast that reveals something about that human-seeming behavior.
- You can take one aspect of human behavior and exaggerate it until it becomes a defining characteristic, which lets viewers see its importance and its drawbacks more clearly.
Human-with-a-difference aliens can be an awesome thing — as anyone who’s ever been at a convention with a hundred people dressed as Klingons and Vulcans can attest. But there’s a drawback: the same thing that lets these alien characters reveal essential truths about human beings also risks turning them into reflections of our worst ideas about our fellow humans. Sometimes that almost-but-not-quite-human thing can reflect noxious stereotypes, or present one-dimensional images that we can then turn around and project onto real people….
(2) UNDERGROUND RAILROAD. In the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday interviews Barry Jenkins about directing The Underground Railroad which just dropped on Amazon Prime. “With ‘The Underground Railroad,’ Barry Jenkins looks squarely at Black trauma”.
…For the most part, he didn’t. If anything, Jenkins’s version of “The Underground Railroad” is most startling for its implacable realism.
“Colson and I actually talked about this right at the beginning,” Jenkins explains. “He said, ‘You know, there’s a version of this where it’s all leather and steampunk and I don’t think we want to do that.’ And I was like, ‘No. We don’t want to do that.’?”
Invoking the corroded, retro-futuristic design of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s steampunk classic “The City of Lost Children,” he expands on the point. “I said to my production designer, ‘I don’t want CGI trains, I don’t want CGI tunnels. The trains have to be real, the tunnels have to be real.’?”
Indeed, Jenkins was so committed to photorealistic style in “The Underground Railroad” that he wrote an entire new chapter for the series, which turned out to be too expensive to film. He and co-writer Nathan Parker came up with “Genesis,” the story of Black miners who are buried after a methane explosion; when the mine’s owner decides against rescuing them to recoup their life insurance policies, “the men start digging. .?.?. And when they come aboveground, they’re on the other side of the Mason-Dixon [line]. And rather than stay aboveground, they go back down. And that’s how the underground railroad begins. .?.?. It’s not about steampunk. People aren’t going to levitate. We’re going to build myth out of rock and bone.”…
(3) NEW EDEN. Netflix dropped a trailer for Eden, a new anime series.
(4) THE PEDESTRIAN. Urban Archive traces the route of “A Night with the Missus: H.P. Lovecraft in Greenwich Village” with historic photos.
Horror writer H.P. Lovecraft lived in New York City between 1924 and 1926. One of his favorite pastimes was searching neighborhoods for buildings or structures dating from the eighteenth-century or embracing its styles. Lovecraft’s literary friends often served as his trusted companions in urban exploration. He also enjoying experiencing New York with his wife, Sonia H. Greene. In August 1924, Greene and Lovecraft shared an evening stroll through Greenwich Village. This excursion introduced Lovecraft to “more of the ancient New-York” than any of his other “numerous pilgrimages.”
…Greene and Lovecraft next ventured to Patchin Place. Gazing down this cul-de-sac, Lovecraft imagined that he had stepped into his beloved colonial American past. He was transfixed by an antique streetlamp in the pocket neighborhood. The lamp’s “pale beams cast alluring shadows of archaic things half of the imagination.” Poet e.e. cummings lived at Patchin Place at this time. Coincidentally, cummings and Lovecraft’s literary circles soon would intersect.
Incidentally, sff writer Charles Platt once lived in the Patchin neighborhood and gave its name to his short-lived magazine The Patchin Review, now collected in an ebook available as a free download from Dave Langford’s unofficial TAFF site (donation appreciated).
(5) BARROWMAN APOLOGY. CinemaBlend quotes John Barrowman’s apology: “Doctor Who’s John Barrowman Issues Apology After Flashing Allegations Resurface”
Public interest in the claims of John Barrowman exposing his genitals on the sets of Doctor Who and Torchwood was reignited by the recent allegations of misconduct against actor Noel Clarke, who was also on the series around the same time. Allegations made years prior by various cast members (including Clarke) claimed that Barrowman would randomly expose himself on set and even hit cast members with his penis at random.
The Guardian then spoke to several sources who then confirmed John Barrowman repeatedly exposed himself on set, though not in a manner that one would perceive as sexual. One woman, who had her name changed for the article, stated that while Barrowman exposing himself to her and others on set made her uncomfortable, there was never a time in which it happened that she felt unsafe. While Barrowman’s lawyers said he “could not recall” specific instances mentioned in the article, the actor did give a statement apologizing for any resurfaced claims and new ones from his early years on the show:
With the benefit of hindsight, I understand that upset may have been caused by my exuberant behaviour and I have apologised for this previously. Since my apology in November 2008, my understanding and behaviour have also changed.
… Earlier this week ITV declined to confirm if Mr Barrowman would continue as a judge on Dancing On Ice, saying decisions about the next series’ line-up had yet to be made.
(6) TORCHWOOD IS LIGHTS OUT. Big Finish won’t release a story Barrowman voiced: “John Barrowman: Release of new Torchwood audio story scrapped” reports BBC.
An audio story featuring John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness, his character from Doctor Who and spin-off Torchwood, has been pulled from release.
It follows allegations that in the past the actor repeatedly exposed himself while filming the TV shows.
Mr Barrowman has previously apologised for his behaviour.
Torchwood: Absent Friends was made by Big Finish, the company licensed by the BBC to produce official Doctor Who and Torchwood audio plays.
It was due to be released this month. In it, Captain Jack was due to be reunited with the Doctor, voiced by David Tennant, who played the character on TV between 2005-2010.
A Big Finish spokesperson said: “We have no plans to publish this title at this time.”…
(7) R.H.I.P. Emily Temple Google-searched 275 famous books that came to mind and turned it into an imprecise ranking for Literary Hub: “What Are the Most Discussed Books on the Internet?” Not ‘til you get to #31 do her sff picks rise above the event horizon.
…This number, by the way, is an estimate—a Google Webmaster described it as “a ballpark figure,” but it may be even less accurate than that. Even the estimate can vary a lot, based on a whole host of different factors, like where you are and what else you’ve searched for (in your whole entire life). But even if the numbers themselves are approximate, they may still have relative meaning, especially when accessed from the same computer, using the same browser, on the same day: at the very least, they should be able to tell us, in a general way, which books have been referenced more or less than others online.
It’s important to remember that this is not exactly the same as true popularity—plenty of bestsellers, especially older bestsellers, published when the internet was less of a driving force in book marketing, were relatively low-ranked here….
Here’s an excerpt — #31-37 on the list:
Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games – 2,080,000
James Joyce, Ulysses – 1,850,000
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale – 1,800,000
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield – 1,780,000
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – 1,630,000
Barack Obama, A Promised Land – 1,610,000
Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 – 1,600,000
(8) MEDIA ANNIVERSARY.
- May 14, 1996 — Doctor Who aired on the Fox Television Network in the United States. Starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, Sylvester McCoy briefly as the Seventh Doctor, Daphne Ashbrook as Grace Holloway and Eric Roberts as The Master. It was directed by Geoffrey Sax off a script by Matthew Jacobs. It was intended as a pilot to an American-produced and -based Who series but internal politics at BBC killed it off. Some critics loved, some hated it; and the audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes gave it a decent forty eight percent rating. He has since reprised the role, briefly in video form in the BBC series and quite extensively in audio form for Big Finish.
(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]
- Born May 14, 1848 – Albert Robida. French illustrator, etcher, lithographer, caricaturist, novelist. Edited and published Caricature magazine; 520 illustrations for Pierre Giffard’s weekly serial The Infernal War; 60,000 during AR’s life. In The Twentieth Century (1882; set in 1952), War in the Twentieth Century (1887), Electric Life (1890), five more, imagined technological developments e.g. the telephonoscope whose flat-screen display shows news, plays, conferences, 24 hours a day; here’s an aerial rotating house. Illustrated Cyrano de Bergerac, Rabelais, Swift. Clock of the Centuries; The End of Books (with Octave Uzanne); The Long-Ago Is With Us Today; In 1965. (Died 1926) [JH]
- Born May 14, 1853 – Sir Thomas Henry Hall Caine (known as “Hall Caine”). Novelist, dramatist, short-story writer, poet, critic. Secretary to Dante Gabriel Rossetti; Recollections of Rossetti (rev. 1928). Son of a Manxman, moved there, elected to its legislature; Bram Stoker dedicated Dracula to him in Manx. The Christian, first novel in Britain to sell a million copies; a score more novels, as many plays, four films (plus more made from his books); The Supernatural in Shakespere (HC’s spelling), The Supernatural Element in Poetry, a score more books of non-fiction; ten million books sold. Went to Russia, Morocco, Iceland, Egypt. Sixty thousand people at his funeral. (Died 1931) [JH]
- Born May 14, 1929 – George Scithers. Two Hugos for his fanzine Amra. Chaired three Disclaves and the 21st Worldcon; Fan Guest of Honor at the 2nd NASFiC (North America SF Con, since 1975 held when the Worldcon is overseas) and the 59th Worldcon; frequent chair of the annual WSFS (World SF Soc.) Business Meeting. Served as President of WSFA (Washington, D.C., SF Ass’n) and Official Arbiter of The Cult (an apa famous in song and story). First editor of Asimov’s, two Hugos as Best Pro Editor. Perpetrated the Scithers SFL (Science Fiction League) Hoax. Revived Weird Tales (with John Betancourt), World Fantasy special award for it (with Darrell Schweitzer). World Fantasy lifetime-achievement award. (Died 2010) [JH]
- Born May 14, 1933 – Ron Bennett. British fanwriter, collector, publisher, used-book dealer, even while living in Singapore. TAFF (Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund) delegate; trip report Colonial Excursion. Chaired Eastercon 13, ran the Dealers’ Room at the 45th Worldcon. Member variously of OMPA (Off-trails Magazine Publishers Ass’n, serving awhile as its Official Editor), FAPA (Fantasy Am. Press Ass’n), The Cult; best-known fanzines, Skyrack (rhyming with “beer hack” because, as RB well knew, it meant shire oak, but what a name), Ploy. (Died 2006) [JH]
- Born May 14, 1944 — George Lucas, 77. For better and worse I suppose, he created the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. (Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade are fine. I adore the original Trilogy.) And let’s not forget THX 1138. My fav works that he was involved in? Labyrinth, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back and Willow. Oh, and and The Young Indiana Jones series. (CE)
- Born May 14, 1945 — Rob Tapert, 76. I’d say he’s best known for co-creating Xena: Warrior Princess. He also produced and/or wrote several other television series including Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, M.A.N.T.I.S. and American Gothic. Tapert also co-created the prequel series Young Hercules which I loved. He’s married to actress Lucy Lawless. (CE)
- Born May 14, 1952 — Kathleen Ann Goonan. Her Nanotech Quartet is most excellent, particularly the first novel, Queen City Jazz. Her only Award was given for In War Times which garnered a John W. Campbell Memorial Award. She’s wrote an interesting essay on the relationship between sf and music, “Science Fiction and All That Jazz”. (Died 2021.) (CE)
- Born May 14, 1952 — Robert Zemeckis, 69. He’s responsible for some of my favorite films including the Back to the Future trilogy, The Muppet Christmas Carol, The Witches, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the savagely funny Death Becomes Her. What’s your favorite films that’s he had a hand in? (CE)
- Born May 14, 1953 – Kerryn Goldsworthy, Ph.D., age 68. Taught at Univ. Melbourne. Free lance since 1997. Pascall Prize, Horne Prize. She edited Australian Book Review, “learning more about human nature in those two years than in either the preceding thirty-three or the following nineteen.” Anthologies outside our field e.g. Coast to Coast; Australian Women’s Stories. [JH]
- Born May 14, 1956 – Gillian Bradshaw, age 65. A score of novels for us; outside our field, historical fiction set in ancient Egypt, Rome, the Byzantine Empire (she won the Phillips Prize for Classical Greek while at Univ. Michigan). Married a British mathematical-physics professor (and Ig Nobel Prize winner), has judged the Inst. Physics’ Paperclip Physics competition. [JH]
- Born May 14, 1965 — Eoin Colfer, 56. He is best known for being the author of the Artemis Fowl series. (OGH)
(10) CATCH ‘EM AND BRAWL. “Target pulls Pokemon cards from stores, citing threat to workers and customers” – CBS News has details.
Target is pulling in-store sales of popular trading cards, citing employee safety, after a parking lot brawl in one of its stores last week. The retailer told CBS MoneyWatch it would no longer sell Pokemon and sports trading cars in its physical locations starting Friday.
“The safety of our guests and our team is our top priority. Out of an abundance of caution, we’ve decided to temporarily suspend the sale of MLB, NFL, NBA and Pokemon trading cards within our stores, effective May 14. Guests can continue to shop these cards online at Target.com,” a Target spokesperson said in a statement.
… Target last month limited card sales to three packs per person per day, then to one pack per day. But the policy led to even more frenzied speculation with some shoppers camping out outside the stores before they opened.
Last week, a shopper leaving a Target store in Wisconsin was attacked by three men in the parking lot, leading the victim to pull out his gun and neighboring stores to impose momentary lockdowns. No shots were fired, and the victim suffered only minor injuries, according to reports. It’s unclear which type of trading card was the cause of the scuffle.
(11) KEEPING TABS. The Otherwise Award put together a post about what its past winners had published in 2020: “Eligible for nomination: 2020 books & stories by past Otherwise winners”. The first two entries on the lengthy list are –
Maureen McHugh, 1992 winner for China Mountain Zhang, published the short story Yellow and the Perception of Reality in July 2020. You can read it for free on Tor.com.
(12) OCTOTHORPE. In episode 31 of the Octothorpe podcast, “If I Set Fire to Alison”, “John [Coxon] has bad Internet, Alison [Scott] is monologuing, and Liz [Batty] is the long-suffering one.” Make of that what you will. The episode outline says there’s a discussion of Worldcon bids and the business meeting in the middle.
(13) STASIS. Kate Washington tells about “Rereading The Phantom Tollbooth in This Year of Our Pandemic Doldrums” at Literary Hub.
In The Phantom Tollbooth, Milo—the child-hero driving through a world of word and number play—accidentally enters a low, dull place. The world loses all its color, everything becoming “grayer and monotonous.” He feels drowsy, his car won’t move, and finally he comes to a dead stop. He has strayed into this land of stasis by failing to pay attention to where he’s going, and, an inhabitant tells him slowly, it’s called The Doldrums: “‘The Doldrums, my young friend, are where nothing ever happens and nothing ever changes.’”
Its inhabitants, the Lethargarians, are firmly wedded to their torpor, sticking to a strict schedule of doing nothing at all and telling Milo that thinking is against the law (“Ordinance 175389-J: It shall be unlawful, illegal, and unethical to think, think of thinking, surmise, presume, reason, meditate, or speculate while in the Doldrums”). When Milo objects that everyone thinks, they shoot back that most of the time, in fact, people don’t, and in fact that’s why Milo is in the Doldrums….
(14) HE’S GOT A TICKET TO RIDE. “Japanese Tycoon Planning Space Station Visit, Then Moon Trip” – US News has the story.
“Going to the ISS before the Moon,” Yusaku Maezawa announced Thursday via Twitter.
Maezawa has bought two seats on a Russian Soyuz capsule. He’ll blast off in December on the 12-day mission with his production assistant and a professional cosmonaut.
“I’m so curious, ‘What’s life like in space?’ So, I am planning to find out on my own and share with the world,” Maezawa said in a statement.
He’ll be the first person to pay his own way to the space station in more than a decade, according to Virginia-based Space Adventures, which brokered the deal. A Space Adventures spokeswoman declined to divulge the cost. The company has sent seven other tourists to the space station, from 2001 to 2009.
Maezawa’s trip to the moon aboard Elon Musk’s Starship is tentatively scheduled for 2023. He’ll fly around the moon — not land — with eight contest winners.
(15) A FIVE-YEAR MISSION. And this one’s going to be completed. “NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Heads for Earth with Asteroid Sample” reports the space agency.
After nearly five years in space, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft is on its way back to Earth with an abundance of rocks and dust from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu.
On Monday, May 10, at 4:23 p.m. EDT the spacecraft fired its main engines full throttle for seven minutes – its most significant maneuver since it arrived at Bennu in 2018. This burn thrust the spacecraft away from the asteroid at 600 miles per hour (nearly 1,000 kilometers per hour), setting it on a 2.5-year cruise towards Earth.
After releasing the sample capsule, OSIRIS-REx will have completed its primary mission. It will fire its engines to fly by Earth safely, putting it on a trajectory to circle the sun inside of Venus’ orbit.
After orbiting the Sun twice, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is due to reach Earth Sept. 24, 2023. Upon return, the capsule containing pieces of Bennu will separate from the rest of the spacecraft and enter Earth’s atmosphere. The capsule will parachute to the Utah Test and Training Range in Utah’s West Desert, where scientists will be waiting to retrieve it.
(16) TODAY’S THING TO WORRY ABOUT. Popular Mechanics gets the internet clicking with its post “Russia Is Going to Try to Clone an Army of 3,000-Year-Old Scythian Warriors”.
When you hold a job like Defense Minister of Russia, you presumably have to be bold and think outside the box to protect your country from enemy advances. And with his latest strategic idea—cloning an entire army of ancient warriors—Sergei Shoigu is certainly taking a big swing.
In an online session of the Russian Geographical Society last month, Shoigu, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, suggested using the DNA of 3,000-year-old Scythian warriors to potentially bring them back to life. Yes, really.
First, some background: The Scythian people, who originally came from modern-day Iran, were nomads who traveled around Eurasia between the 9th and 2nd centuries B.C., building a powerful empire that endured for several centuries before finally being phased out by competitors. Two decades ago, archaeologists uncovered the well-preserved remains of the soldiers in a kurgan, or burial mound, in the Tuva region of Siberia….
Shoigu subtly suggested going through some kind of human cloning process. But is that even possible?
To date, no one has cloned a human being. But scientists have successfully executed the therapeutic cloning of individual kinds of cells and other specific gene-editing work, and of course, there are high-profile examples of cloning pretty complex animals. Earlier this year, for example, scientists cloned an endangered U.S. species for the first time: a black-footed ferret whose donor has been dead for more than 30 years.
…But let’s say Russia ignores all legality in favor of Shoigu’s big plans. In that case, scientists would have to develop a way to lift out the human nucleus without damaging the cell beyond repair.
Scientists have cloned certain monkeys, so primates are at least hypothetically still in the mix, despite the spindle proteins. But the success rate even for non-primate clones is already very low—it took Dolly the sheep’s research team 277 attempts to get a viable embryo.
And what if all of that went perfectly? Well, the Scythians were powerful warriors and gifted horsemen, but scientists—or the Kremlin—must carefully monitor a cloned baby version of a deceased adult warrior for illnesses and other prosaic childhood problems. Who will raise these children? Who will be legally responsible for their wellbeing?
(17) VIDEO OF THE DAY. “The Mandalorian Theme U.S. Army Band” on YouTube shows that the U.S. Army Band (Pershing’s Own) celebrated Star Wars Day with their version of the theme from The Mandalorian.
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, John Coxon, Cat Eldridge, John Hertz, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, and Michael Toman for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]