(1) IT BURNS. At Young People Read Old SFF, curator James Davis Nicoll has them reading Connie Willis’ “Fire Watch”.
As we’ve seen, past popularity means nothing to the young people of today, who insist on judging stories on their merits and not the warm feeling their grandparents may have had reading a now-venerable story. What did the Young People think of this classic story?
Mikayla definitely does not have a warm feeling.
I found the narrator’s reaction to communism ridiculous. As far as I can tell, the narrator is more upset by the idea of communism than by the Nazis actively bombing the city. The idea that someone so removed from these events would have such a personal hatred of communism, despite coming from the far future, makes this story feel very American and very dated.
(2) THE (BRAIN) IMITATION GAME. IEEE Spectrum has a special issue this month on the topic of current attempts to model the human brain: “Special Report: Can We Copy the Brain?” About half the articles are free to nonsubscribers.
Gregory N. Hullender says the key takeaways are:
- Artificial Neural Network software does have useful applications, but it has little in common with real brain tissue.
- Special hardware meant to model the brain has been developed but does not yet have any useful applications.
- Current brain simulations only simulate a fraction of a brain, and they run thousands of times slower than real brains do.
- Modelling 1 mm^3 of a rat’s brain is considered an ambitious undertaking.
- There is considerable debate as to whether we understand how the brain works at all.
I liked this quote from “Neuromorphic Chips Are Destined for Deep Learning — or Obscurity”
“It has often been noted that progress in aviation was made only after inventors stopped trying to copy the flapping wings of birds and instead discovered — and then harnessed — basic forces, such as thrust and lift. The knock against neuromorphic computing is that it’s stuck at the level of mimicking flapping wings, an accusation the neuromorphics side obviously rejects. Depending on who is right, the field will either take flight and soar over the chasm, or drop into obscurity.”
The article “Can We Quantify Machine Consciousness” makes some exciting claims about “Integrated Information Theory” (IIT). It’s less exciting when you realize that the authors are the inventors of the IIT concept and not everyone agrees with them.
(3) THE LONG HAUL. “Bias, She Wrote: The Gender Balance of The New York Times Best Seller list” — a statistical study of women writers based on analysis over time of the prestigious list. (Lots of graphs.)
Almost every category started out as heavily male-dominated, and many have stayed that way. These categories align with stereotypes about male interests: fantasy and science fiction, spy and political fiction, suspense fiction, and adventure fiction, have all been consistently male-dominated since their introduction to the list. A best-selling female fantasy/sci-fi author today is just as rare as a best-selling female literary author in the 1950s.
Then, there are the genres that have flipped. The horror/paranormal genre is now almost at gender parity, owing no small thanks to paranormal romance novels. Mystery is the most balanced genre over time, which shouldn’t be surprising given the genre’s history. The 1920s and 30s are known as the “Golden Age of Detective Fiction,” and were dominated by a quartet of female authors known as the Queens of Crime: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham.
Best-selling romance novels were mostly written by men in the 1950s, but in the 1960s women took over. By the 1980s, female authors solidly dominated the genre, probably because female writers had a natural advantage writing for mostly female readers about mostly female experiences of love and sex.
(4) SENSELESS DECISION. Io9 says Netflix has whacked fan favorite Sense8:
After a mere two seasons of streaming on Netflix, the Wachowskis’ Sense8 has been cancelled, according to Netflix VP of original content Cindy Holland.
(5) CARRIE FISHER ESTATE. The Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds Personal Property Auction will be held by Profiles in History on September 23. The catalog is not yet available online. Hardcover copies of this celebrity artifact can be pre-ordered.
Highlights from the upcoming auction include:
- Carrie Fisher’s life size “Princess Leia” with blaster statue in a vintage wooden phone booth. This is the figure that was featured by Fisher in her in her HBO special Wishful Drinking and the documentary Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. Pictured left.
- Debbie Reynolds’ screen used “Kathy Seldon” lavender silk chiffon dress from the “You Were Meant For Me” musical sequence in Singin’ in the Rain. Pictured right.
- Carrie Fisher’s on-set chair with personalized chair back that is embroidered “Star Wars: The Saga Continues” used on Return of the Jedi. Pictured at bottom.
- Debbie Reynolds’ screen used “Annie” two piece stage costume from Annie Get Your Gun.
- Carrie Fisher’s life size C-3PO with electronic lighting elements. Pictured below.
- Carrie Fisher’s life sized bronze, limited edition Yoda statue by Lawrence A. Noble.
- Carrie Fisher’s vintage original 1978 Kenner Star Wars Princess Leia action figure, still in it’s original packaging.
- Debbie Reynolds’ personal, rare, vintage original half sheet movie poster for Singin’ in the Rain signed by Debbie and inscribed to her by Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor
(6) IT’S COMPELLING. The seventh issue of Compelling Science Fiction is now live. Editor Joe Stech lists the highlights —
I’m proud to present another five compelling stories by some amazing authors! The issue begins with the lengthily-titled “What’s a Few Years When You Get Money and Friends in High Places?” by R R Angell, a story about a bodybuilder who is offered a large sum of money to swap his body with a wealthy man (via head transplant). I was pleasantly surprised at the positive vibe the story manages to convey despite the trials of the protagonist (8400 words). The second story in our line-up, Michèle Laframboise’s “Thinking Inside the Box,” is an outlandish story about an alien race that requires constant environmental change in order to maintain psychological health (6400 words). Our third story, “Cogito Ergo Sum” by Mike Adamson, focuses on a conversation with an android about what it means to be human. It’s a well-known theme in science fiction, but I thought this story was executed particularly well (6950 words). Next we have “Integration” by John Eckelkamp, a very short story about a nascent AI getting its first taste of elementary school (1800 words). Our final story is an underwater tale, “Fathom the Ocean, Deep and Still” by David Bruns. The story is about a living bio-engineered city (6020 words).
(7) WHAT AN EDITOR DOES. Uncanny Magazine’s Lynne M. Thomas answers Katrina J.E. Milton’s questions in The Midweek:
Milton: Have you always loved science fiction?
Thomas: I’ve always loved to read, but I didn’t grow up reading much science fiction. I read mostly classics and some romance until I branched out more during college. My husband avidly read sci-fi and fantasy for years, though. Now I curate a science fiction and fantasy collection as one of 42 special collections at NIU. I need to know what’s happening in the field, so it’s crucial to know what is getting attention, and when to purchase books and add to the collection. … One of my favorite books has always been “A Wrinkle in Time.” I didn’t really think of it as science fiction at the time, but I re-read the book more or less annually. Meg Murry has always been a character I’ve really connected with. Being intelligent and kind were marked as more important than makeup and being pretty in that book, which was a powerful message to an awkward 11-year-old version of me.
(8) HUGO READING. Peter J. Enyeart has ranked his “2017 Hugo picks: Novellas”. Here’s what he has to say about his two top choices.
2. The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle The story of a young black Lovecraftian con man in 1920s New York. This is actually a retelling of “The Horror at Red Hook” and, in the spirit of “Shoggoths in Bloom,” is kind of a reinterpretation or even reclaiming of Lovecraft for those groups of humans (which seemed to include anyone not a male WASP) that Lovecraft despised. I found it absorbing and fun. It is interesting how many writers just can’t stop themselves from writing Cthulhu Mythos stories, despite the myriad reasons to dislike Lovecraft. (I was obsessed with him in high school, myself.) I suppose it’s because there’s a lot of breadth and depth there, and also the opportunity for a critical dialogue. Writing Lovecraft fan fiction seems respectable, even, and I certainly seem to enjoy reading it. Speaking of which…
1. The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson When one of her students leaves with a man from the waking world, a professor in Ulthar sets out after her. Well, this has a lot going for it that immediately makes me favorably inclined: (1) I’ve always adored this corner of the Mythos and thought it criminally underappreciated; (2) I’m a sucker for quest stories involving travel to varied and strange locales; and (3) I adore Kij Johnson. You never know what you’re going to get when you start in to one of her stories, but you do know you’re in sure hands. And this is no exception. If the LaValle piece is a reclamation of the Mythos for non-whites, this reclaims it for women. I enjoyed every word (and it’s littered with so many lovely ones, like gems in a magic cave). It also has a great ending, which is frequently the difference between a good story and a great one. The best of “escapist” literature gives you something to take back with you to the “real” world, a fresh view as if you’re questing through it yourself . This is the best of escapist literature. Give it awards!
(9) TOUTED FOR NEXT YEAR’S HUGOS. The Hugo Award Book Club observes that Gregory Benford has never been shortlisted for the award’s Best Novel category (despite his Timescape having been so well-regarded it won the 1981 Nebula). They think “The Berlin Project (2017) Gregory Benford” might earn him a place on next year’s ballot.
There are reasons to believe his latest novel may be his best shot yet at finally adding that Best Novel Hugo to his list of accolades.
This book is Benford’s first novel as sole author in more than a decade, and it’s a departure for him. But in many ways, the Berlin Project feels like the novel that Benford was born to write.
His knowledge of the people he’s writing about shines through, and they feel like fully rounded human beings, in a way that some of the protagonists in his previous novels have not. These are people that Benford knows, and he writes about them with evident affection. While the science is front and centre (not unusual in a Benford novel), the characters do not take a backseat. The first 350 pages are a taught, meticulously researched alternate history that delves into the nitty-gritty technical details of the race to build an atomic bomb. It’s a believable departure from the real history. One small decision made differently that makes sense, and everything flows from that departure point….
(10) WONDERFEFE. The Washington Post’s Michael Cavna interviewed Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, who talks about sexism in the film industry and how women should make sure their voices are heard: “Wonder Woman has been a warrior, a secretary and a sexpot. What version did the movie use?”
For Jenkins, fortunately, there was no wavering. She was determined to bring to the big screen the fierce-but-compassionate type of Wonder Woman she first saw on the ‘70s small screen.
“All these years, there’s been talk about Wonder Woman, and the thing I was very firm and steadfast about was: I only wanted to be involved in this if I can have a chance to bring back the Wonder Woman that I love,” Jenkins tells The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. “I’m not interested in an alt-Wonder Woman; I’m not interested a new Wonder Woman. I’m interested in the Wonder Woman that I grew up with.
What Jenkins saw in TV’s bicentennial Wonder Woman was something close to the initial ideal of creator William Moulton Marston.
“It’s been interesting that she was created as such an idealized woman who is incredibly powerful who yet has everything about being a woman at her side,” Jenkins continues. “And it’s been funny: Lynda [Carter] was so that in the ‘70s with her Wonder Woman.”
(11) MORE MENTING, LESS DRINKING. Brenda W. Clough shares brief “SFWA Nebula Conference 2017” report at Book View Cafe.
I signed up to be a mentor, and was assigned not one but two mentees (the evolution of language here is especially notable; not only did I have mentees but we discussed our menting, as in “How did your menting go, did you ever catch up with your mentee?”). I got together with first one and then the other, and essentially tried to cram in tons of professional advice and answer all their questions. I also brought some pussyhats, because Grandmaster Jane Yolen demanded one, and we were photographed, hopefully for Locus.
(12) LOOSED A FATEFUL LIGHTNING. Abigail Nussbaum has eight books to cover in “Recent Reading Roundup 43”, among them a Civil War ghost story and this Hugo nominee —
Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer – It’s interesting that in the space of a single year, Tor published two debut novels about non-dystopian, non-corporatist future societies in which the boundaries of national and ethnic identity have been replaced by global affinity groups, to which people assign themselves according to their interests and philosophy. For all my reservations about its technothriller plot, I have to say that I prefer Malka Older’s Infomocracy to Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning, largely because I find the world in that book more interesting, and more believable as a place where people like me might possibly live.
(13) THE HOUSE GROUSE. It’s bigger than your average bear — “Microsoft founder Paul Allen reveals world’s biggest-ever plane” .
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has shown off the “Stratolaunch”, a colossal aircraft he hopes can soon help to hoist satellites into low earth orbit.
Allen’s company of the same name has been working on the craft since 2011, with the help of Scaled Composites.
The result of their efforts is 238 feet long, 50 feet tall and has a wingspan of 385 feet [Allen likes Imperial measurements — Ed]. The wingspan is the largest ever built, topping even Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose” aka the “Hughes H-4 Hercules.”
The Stratolaunch needs that colossal wing, and six engines typically used for the Boeing 747, because Allen wants it to carry up to 550,000 pounds of payload. His plan calls for the plane to “take off from a runway and fly to the approximate cruising altitude of a commercial airliner before releasing a satellite-bearing launch vehicle.”
(14) ADS THAT SUBTRACT. Marketing puts their foot in it: “Chloe Moretz ‘appalled and angry’ over body-shaming Snow White animated film advert”
Chloe Moretz said she hadn’t seen the marketing and has apologised to fans.
Plus-size model Tess Holliday tweeted a photo of the billboard poster and tagged the actress in her post, saying it was basically body-shaming.
— Tess Holliday ? (@Tess_Holliday) May 30, 2017
(15) LASSO THE STARS. BBC gives Wonder Woman 4 stars out of 5.
In Wonder Woman’s reimagining of the princess myth, Diana, Princess of the Amazons, leaps through the air deflecting bullets with her bracelets. She enters a formal reception with a sword tucked into the back of her evening dress. But she differs from conventional princesses and superheroes in an even more pointed way — one that speaks to today’s fraught global politics. While Batman is motivated by vengeance for his parents’deaths and Superman is dedicated to saving those in peril, Wonder Woman wants nothing less than world peace. All this in a crisply executed action movie with an engaging narrative, and, in Diana (Gal Gadot), as swift and strong a heroine as anyone could have wished for.
(16) THE BALLAD OF TOLKIEN. J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, later adapted into a piece of The Silmarillion, now published in its original form: “JRR Tolkien book Beren and Lúthien published after 100 years”
Beren and Lúthien has been described as a “very personal story” that the Oxford professor thought up after returning from the Battle of the Somme.
It was edited by his son Christopher Tolkien and contains versions of a tale that became part of The Silmarillion.
The book features illustrations by Alan Lee, who won an Academy Award for his work on Peter Jackson’s film trilogy.
(17) INSIDE BASEBALL. A post for SciFiNow.UK, “Raven Strategem author Yoon Ha Lee on how his spaceships became bags of holding”, jokes about the reason before revealing a disability has something to do with it.
Bags of Holding…in SPAAACE!
When I first realized I had to deal with starship layouts in the hexarchate, I had two choices. I could either sit down (probably with my long-suffering husband) and make a loving diagram of a ship and its layout, and refer to it assiduously every time I had someone go from point A to point B. Or I could say, “Screw it,” and not deal with the problem.
Dear reader, as you have no doubt figured out already, I went with the second option.
(18) EVEN DEEPER INSIDE BASEBALL. Hmmm…
Sometimes it's a horrible mistake to let ten-year-olds name their own baseball team. Then again, sometimes they crush it. pic.twitter.com/I1jgDqrPfp
— Kevin Guilfoile (@kevinguilfoile) April 10, 2017
(19) THE CURE. Cream by David Firth is a short animated film on YouTube about what happens when a miraculous product that solves all medical problems is introduced and the violent reaction against it.
[Thanks to Stephen Burridge, James Davis Nicoll, Gregory N. Hullender, Chip Hitchcock, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Martin Morse Wooster, Aaron Pound, Dann, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Kip W.]