Pixel Scroll 9/23/19 But That Was Very Long Ago, And Oh, So Far Away

(1) A MATTER OF RESPECT. Edmund Schluessel has returned from Fantasticon 2019, in Copenhagen, Denmark with a burden: “I attended as a Special Guest this weekend in Copenhagen. There has been discussion within the Nordic countries’ fan community about the event’s poster and some other issues of insensitivity and I discuss those here.” — “Saints and people who do not think like us (Fantasticon 2019)”.

…Nisi [Shawl] was talking about altruism. They talked about being a saint. They talked about sacrifice, even putting yourself in harm’s way to protect someone who would do harm to you. 

The Chair gave an impromptu speech just afterward. The poster was excellent, he told us all, and complaints about it all came from “people who do not think like us.”

Then started the filk sing-a-long. Only quick action by an observant program participant kept the projector screen from telling the whole banquet room that we’d be singing along to the tune of “The Darkies’ Sunday School.” That quick action did not prevent the flippant reference to rape in the lyrics. “It was like something from the ’70s,” that quick intervenor said later.

Why am I amped up to 11 about all this? At a fundamental level, fandom is about storytelling. And something I’ve seen in every single fan community I’ve interacted with, going back something like 25 years now, is that the story fandom always tells best is when it’s telling itself “we are tolerant, we are open, we accept everyone.” Too often that story is a myth.

The Afrofuturist authors whose work and ideas this convention we’re supposed to be celebrating — if we won’t listen to their message, are they “people who do not think like us”? The convention members who saw something wrong with the poster, whether or not they could clearly articulate it — are they not part of “us”? Am I not part of “us”? You put my name on the damned poster!

(2) EATING THE FANTASTIC. Where do you go for a Javanese dinner? For Lisa Tuttle and interviewer Scott Edelman the answer was: Dublin. Join them in Episode 105 of the Eating the Fantastic podcast.

Lisa Tuttle

My guest this time around is the award-winning writer Lisa Tuttle, who I caught up with one night after she was done with a 7:30 p.m. reading, which meant that by the time we began our meal it was a later than usual dinner (for me, at least). We hopped in a cab and took off for at Chameleon, an Indonesian restaurant I’d found via Eater’s list of 38 essential Dublin restaurants. The restaurant offers set menus from various regions, including Sumatra and Bali. We decided to go with Java, but added to that some pork bell bao, and the 10-hour Javanese anise short rib of beef, a signature dish of theirs which turned out to be my favorite thing eaten all weekend.

Lisa and I both had wonderful experiences 45 years ago at the 1974 Worldcon in Washington, D.C., me because it was my first Worldcon, she because of winning the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She’s accomplished a lot in the 4-1/2 decades since, including being awarded the 1982 Nebula for Best Short Story for “The Bone Flute.” She’s published seven short story collections, starting with A Nest of Nightmares in 1986 and most recently Objects in Dream in 2012, plus more than a dozen novels, the first of which was Windhaven (1981), written in collaboration with George R. R. Martin, who was my guest back in Episode 43. She was nominated for an Arthur C. Clarke award for her novel Lost Futures. She edited the pivotal anthology Skin of the Soul: New Horror Stories by Women (1990) as well as Crossing the Border: Tales of Erotic Ambiguity (1998).

We discussed the amusing series of mishaps which prevented her from learning she’d won the 1974 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best New Writer as early as she should have, the first thing Harlan Ellison ever said to her, how the all-male table of contents for a major horror anthology inspired her to edit her classic female horror anthology Skin of the Soul, the way emigrating from the U.S. to the UK affected her writing, why an editor said of one of her submitted novels, “I love this book, but I could no more publish it than I could jump out the window and fly,” how she and George R. R. Martin were able to collaborate early in their careers without killing each other, what she’d do if she were just starting out now as a writer, the reasons contemporary acknowledgements sections of novels should be shortened — and so much more.

(3) SPEED IS OF THE ESSENCE. He likes to get paid, too — “Chuck Yeager sues Airbus for writing ‘Yeager broke the sound barrier’” at Ars Technica.

In 2017, Airbus published a promotional article promoting an Airbus helicopter.

“Seventy years ago, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier,” said Guillaume Faury, CEO of Airbus Helicopters. “We’re trying to break the cost barrier. It cannot be ‘speed at any cost.'”

The 96-year-old Yeager wasn’t happy. Last week, he filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing that Airbus had infringed his rights by using his name without permission.

“By using Yeager’s name, identity, and likeness and federal registered trademarks in the infringing material, Airbus impaired the ability of General Yeager to receive his established earning potential,” Yeager’s lawyers wrote.

Yeager says that he visited Airbus in 2008 and told Airbus it would cost at least $1 million to use his name and likeness in promotional materials. Airbus refused his offer.

(4) VISUAL CONREPORT. Roberto Quaglia shares some great views in his video “Glimpses of an Irish Worldcon – Dublin 2019.”

(5) HARD SF. Here’s Rocket Stack Rank’s annual “Outstanding Hard Science Fiction of 2018” with 27 stories that were that were finalists for major SF/F awards, included in “year’s best” SF/F anthologies, or recommended by prolific reviewers in short fiction.

Included are some observations obtained from highlighting specific recommenders and pivoting the table by publication, author, awards, year’s best anthologies, and reviewers.

(6) NOT ALL TROLLS. “Neil Gaiman On The Good Kind of Trolls”  at Literary Hub is his introduction to The Complete and Original Norwegian Folk Tales of Asbjørnsen and Moe in which Gaiman discusses his love of Norway and Norwegian folklore.

You will meet youngest sons and foolish farmers, clever women and lost princesses, adventurers and fools, just as in any collection of folk stories from anywhere in Northern Europe. But the Norwegian Folktales come with trolls, and if Asbjørnsen and Moe did not see them, as Kittelsen did, then they got their stories from people who had, people who had seen the trolls walking in the mist at dawn.

(7) EMMY REMEMBRANCES. The 2019 Primetime Emmys included an Memoriam segment. Some of the names of genre interest: Jan-Michael Vincent, James Frawley, Ron Miller, Cameron Boyce, Rutger Hauer, Stan Lee, and Rip Torn.

(8) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • September 23, 1846 — Planet Neptune was discovered.
  • September 23, 1962 The Jetsons debuted its very first episode, “Rosey the Robot”. The series which was produced by Hanna-Barbera would run for three seasons.
  • September 23, 1968 Charly was released, starring Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom. Based on “Flowers for Algernon” which is a sf short story and a novel by Daniel Keyes. The short story, written in 1958 and first published in the April 1959 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1960. The novel was published in 1966 and was joint winner of that year’s Nebula Award for Best Novel with Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born September 23, 1897 Walter Pidgeon. He’s mostly remembered for his role in the classic Forbidden Planet as Dr. Morbius, but he’s done some other genre work being in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea as Adm. Harriman Nelson, and in The Neptune Factor as Dr. Samuel Andrews. (Died 1984.)
  • Born September 23, 1908 Wilmar House Shiras. Her story “In Hiding” was submitted in 1948 to Astounding Science Fiction, where it was published. She published two sequels in the magazine: “Opening Doors”, and “New Foundations”. The three stories would become the first three chapters in the novel, Children of the Atom. Other than a handful of short fiction, I think it’s her only work. Neither iBooks or Kindle carry anything by her. (Died 1990.)
  • Born September 23, 1920 Richard Wilson. Not a writer of much genre fiction at all. His really major contribution to fandom and to Syracuse University where he worked as the director of the Syracuse University News Bureau was in successfully recruiting the donation of papers from many prominent science fiction writers to the Syracuse University’s George Arents Research Library.  The list of those writers includes Piers Anthony, Hal Clement, Keith Laumer, Larry Niven and Frederik Pohl. And, of course, himself. It has been called the “most important collection of science fiction manuscripts and papers in the world.” (Died 1987.)
  • Born September 23, 1944 Anne Randall, 75. She was Daphne, a servant girl in the original Westworld which if memory serves me correctly also had Yul Brynner in it. She’ll show also in Night Gallery  in the “Tell David” episode as Julie. 
  • Born September 23, 1956 Peter David, 63. Did you know that his first assignment for the Philadelphia Bulletin was covering Discon II? I’m reasonably sure the first thing I read by him was Legions of Fire, Book 1—The Long Night of Centauri Prime but he’s also done a number of comics I’ve read including runs of Captain Marvel , Wolverine and Young Justice.
  • Born September 23, 1959 Frank Cottrell-Boyce, 60. Definitely not here for his sequels to Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. (Horrors!) He is here for such writing endeavors as Goodbye Christopher Robin, his Doctor Who stories, “In the Forest of the Night” and “Smile”, both Twelfth Doctor affairs, and the animated Captain Star series in which he voiced Captain Jim Star. The series sounds like the absolute antithesis of classic Trek
  • Born September 23, 1963 Alexander Proyas, 56. Australian director, screenwriter, and producer. He’s best known for directing The Crow (which is superb), Dark City, I, Robot  (nor so superb) and Gods of Egypt. His first, shot in Australia of course, was Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds. It’s genre. Has anyone seen it? 
  • Born September 23, 1957 Rosalind Chao, 61. She was the recurring character of Keiko O’Brien with a total of twenty-seven appearances on Next Generation and  Deep Space Nine. In 2010, a preliminary casting memo for Next Gen from 1987 was published, revealing that Chao was originally considered for the part of Enterprise security chief Tasha Yar.

(10) BURNING COLD. The second official trailer for Frozen 2 dropped today.

(11) FLASH GORDON. Film School Rejects thinks this movie has lessons to teach today’s creators despite its reputation: “What Today’s Sci-Fi Should Learn from ‘Flash Gordon'”.

Take, for example, the 2017 flop Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Luc Besson’s film, which is itself based on comics originating in the 1960s, spends way too much time explaining stuff that never becomes relevant. The eponymous City of a Thousand Planets is a space station broken down into multiple districts, as the exposition explains, but the action of the film barely takes place in any of them.

Flash Gordon, meanwhile, understands that drama is built between characters and then focuses on them. Everyone in the movie, from Flash to Ming to Flash’s larger-than-life ally Prince Vultan, has their own distinct wants, and the story emerges from these characters interacting and trying to reconcile these wants. This movie gets at the humanity behind these characters, even if they happen to be aliens

(12) ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. Pursuing a thought experiment inspired by a list of 21st Century books, Peace Is My Middle Name started a hypothetical list of “100 best books of the Twentieth Century” as if it had been compiled in 1919. Their titles are in a comment and ought to have been mentioned yesterday, except the comment landed in the spam and wasn’t spotted for hours. Well worth your time.

(13) FOR YOUR EARS. Several episodes of a reading of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments are available for listening at the BBC.

In this brilliant and long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood answers the questions that have tantalised readers for decades. In The Testaments, set fifteen years after the events of her dystopian masterpiece, the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. Now the testimonies of three different women bring the story to a dramatic conclusion. Today we hear from the infamous Aunt Lydia, and Agnes, a young girl who has only known life in Gilead.

(14) NOT ARISTOTLE. “Euclid space telescope to study ‘dark Universe’ makes progress” – BBC has the story.

Europe’s space mission to uncover the secrets of the “dark Universe” has reached a key milestone.

The test model of the Euclid telescope has just emerged from a chamber where it was subjected to the kind of conditions experienced in orbit.

It was a critical moment for engineers because the successful trial confirms the observatory’s design is on track.

Euclid, due for launch in 2022, will map the cosmos for clues to the nature of dark matter and dark energy.

These phenomena appear to control the shape and expansion of the Universe but virtually nothing is known about them.

The €800m venture, led by the European Space Agency (Esa), will be one of a group of new experiments to come online in the next few years.

Scientists are hopeful these next-generation technologies will provide the insights that have so far eluded them.

(15) ATARI 2600. BBC fathoms “The mysterious origins of an uncrackable video game”.

With the digital equivalent of trowels and shovels, archaeologists are digging into the code of early video games to uncover long forgotten secrets that could have relevance today.

“You and your team of archaeologists have fallen into the ‘catacombs of the zombies’.” A miserable situation, to be sure. But this was the chilling trial that faced players of Entombed, an Atari 2600 game, according to the instruction manual.

The catacombs were an unforgiving place. A downward-scrolling, two-dimensional maze that players had to navigate expertly in order to evade the “clammy, deadly grip” of their zombie foes. An archaeologist’s nightmare.

Released in 1982, Entombed was far from a best-seller and today it’s largely forgotten. But recently, a computer scientist and a digital archaeologist decided to pull apart the game’s source code to investigate how it was made.

…Like intrepid explorers of catacombs, Aycock and Copplestone sought curious relics inside Entombed. But they got more than they bargained for: they found a mystery bit of code they couldn’t explain. It seems the logic behind it has been lost forever.

Into the labyrinth

Maze-navigating games were very common back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but the method used to generate a maze varied, depending on the programmer. In the age of Atari, games had to be designed with incredible skill because the computer systems that ran them were so limited. (Read more about the mind of a maze-builder.)

Although the blocky, two dimensional mazes from entombed might look simple by the standards of today’s computer graphics, in 1982 you couldn’t just design a set of mazes, store them in the game and later display them on-screen – there wasn’t enough memory on the game cartridges for something like that. In many cases, mazes were generated “procedurally” – in other words, the game created them randomly on the fly, so players never actually traversed the same maze twice.

But how do you do get a computer program to avoid churning out a useless maze with too many walls, or an otherwise impenetrable floorplan?

(16) SNOWPIERCER BACKSTORY. On September 24, Titan Comics will release Snowpiercer The Prequel: Part 1: Extinction, a brand-new prequel graphic novel set before the extinction incident that led to the events of the original Snowpiercer graphic novel trilogy. It’s written by Matz (Triggerman, The Assignment), with art by the original Snowpiercer graphic novel artist Jean-Marc Rochette, shown in this promotional video creating an iconic scene from the book.

[Thanks to bill, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, John King Tarpinian, Mike Kennedy, Edmund Schluessel , Eric Wong, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day OGH.]

76 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 9/23/19 But That Was Very Long Ago, And Oh, So Far Away

  1. @8 — I’m still mildly sad that I’m not living in a giant, circular home suspended far, far above the ground on a pole.

  2. Another Luc Besson film well worth watching is his first, La Dernier Combat, with Jean Reno wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape where people have gone mute from trauma or whatever. It’s black and white and gorgeous and spare, a fascinating mix of post-apocalyptic tropes of the sort so often seen in issues of Metal Hurlant and surreal touches out of the likes of La Jetee. It’s not epic or anything, but it’s very good.

  3. JJ on September 24, 2019 at 4:37 am said:

    Also, what Cliff’s described there is an inverted U-shape, not a cross-shape.

    dammit, can’t get the ASCII to code properly.

    OK, that makes sense. I’d forgot it was making the maze as the player is playing.
    …but wait, if it doesn’t have enough memory to store the maze does the game remember the maze or is it just repeatedly generating walls and corridors?

  4. @Miles Carter: I don’t know how to interpret the poster – I think it’s a bit of a visual mess – but the glasses could be interpreted as suggesting the modernity is superficial.
    The parched landscape is a negative image of Africa – that doesn’t fit with the themes of Afrofuturism.
    Something closer to the aesthetics of Black Panther would probably been artistically better and less controversial, but perhaps copyright law was an obstacle.

  5. @Rob Thornton: I loved the Mad Scientists’ Club! I really need to get around to reading The Big Kerplop!, which I never got a hold of as a yoot, as well as The Big Chunk of Ice which wasn’t published until 2005.

  6. …but wait, if it doesn’t have enough memory to store the maze does the game remember the maze or is it just repeatedly generating walls and corridors?

    According to the Wikipedia description of the game, “The player moves downward through a continuously scrolling maze, trying to get as far as possible while avoiding enemies. The maze cannot scroll backward, so it is possible to get trapped by taking a path that leads to a dead end.”

    So it sounds like it doesn’t need to remember previous rows.

    In the Metafilter thread on this article, someone linked to Archive.org’s browser-playable version, if anyone wants to see it in action.

  7. Stewart: Something closer to the aesthetics of Black Panther would probably been artistically better and less controversial, but perhaps copyright law was an obstacle.

    I would have liked to see something like this.

  8. The spear really doesn’t help things, though it may look particularly bad from an American POV, where the term “spearchucker” is sometimes used as a racial slur. But even without that, it plays into some unfortunate stereotypes that don’t exactly mesh well with an enlightened view of a modern Africa. The idea of traditional elements combined with futuristic ones could have been done so much better!

  9. The one thing that really sticks out to me is the hunched body posture in combination with the spear and clothing. In the modified picture used on the website, where the person stands up straight, it doesn’t look nearly as bad.

    If I understand it correctly, it is the modified poster that was used (i.e not the one shown in the scroll), or did I miss something?

    Anyhow, I think it is a mistake to bring up complaints and defend against them in a speech that should be used for celebration. It almost never goes well.

  10. @Xtifr: yeah, the spear was what led me to wonder how serious they were about being futuristic (really Afrofuturistic as I’ve heard the term, rather than barbarians-in-space). I know there have been stories showing how the future could accommodate past customs — but ISTM there were a number of other props they could have used if they wanted to emphasize that aspect.

  11. Lis Riba on September 24, 2019 at 3:11 pm said:
    …but wait, if it doesn’t have enough memory to store the maze does the game remember the maze or is it just repeatedly generating walls and corridors?

    According to the Wikipedia description of the game, “The player moves downward through a continuously scrolling maze, trying to get as far as possible while avoiding enemies. The maze cannot scroll backward, so it is possible to get trapped by taking a path that leads to a dead end.”

    So it sounds like it doesn’t need to remember previous rows.

    In the Metafilter thread on this article, someone linked to Archive.org’s browser-playable version, if anyone wants to see it in action.

    Thanks Liz! Yes, much easier to see what they meant with the game in front of me!

    I guess that it is not essentially the same as maze generation anyway then. It’s more a case of generating just enough spaces that there are few dead ends you can’t back track out of in time. If the complete set of blocks was retained, it might not making an interesting maze.

  12. (1)They’ve put all the “afro” in the foreground and all the “futurism” in the background. It looks like he’s walking away from the future and into a desert.

  13. I read the part of the paper that outlines the tech specs of the console. I was surprised to see there’s not even any video memory to speak of, just sufficient memory-mapped registered to correspond to a single display row. (Video memory!? You were lucky! But you tell that to kids nowadays, and they just don’t believe you!)

    So every single row of the maze is being generated every frame. That’s quite something!

  14. So every single row of the maze is being generated every frame.

    Programming for the Atari 2600 required carefully timing code to sync with the electron beam scan lines of CRTs.

    And painting the screen took so much processing power, that the only real time to perform all the rest of the logic (such as handling user input) was during the periods when the beam moved back to the top of the screen to paint the next frame.

    That’s why the book is called “Racing the Beam”

  15. @Bruce Baugh

    Another Luc Besson film well worth watching is his first, La Dernier Combat, with Jean Reno wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape where people have gone mute from trauma or whatever.

    I haven’t seen this. But I have seen several Besson films, and several Jean Reno films, and I’d be inclined to bet that the reason this one is good is more because of the latter than the former. Reno is one of those actors who is interesting to watch, no matter what else is going on in the movie.

  16. Edmund Schluessel wrote a blog post criticizing the poster — but included the image twice in his post.

    Actually he included the 2 different versions. You included only the wrongest.

  17. I never played that one on the Atari 2600 – but I played its version of backgammon. If you were playing against the machine, it cheated (it got good rolls more often than it should have).

  18. @Lise Andreasen–

    Actually he included the 2 different versions. You included only the wrongest.

    Which is the most important, since it wasn’t quickly pulled and apologized for, but remained in use.

  19. Rob Thornton wrote: “On the Jetsons: the Violent Femmes did an awesome version of Eep Opp Ork Ah Ah on a 1995 cartoon music compilation called Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits.”

    And of course, it’s on YouTube, and a pleasant blast from the past. Eep Opp Ork Ah Ah (not the Violent Femmes version) was on the flip side of the Jetsons children’s record (a 45 on the Golden label) that I had back in the day.

  20. @Rob/Jim: By the way, Phineas and Ferb had a song that seemed to be inspired by Eep Opp Ork Ah Ah

  21. @John A Arkansawyer Yes, before I wrote my blog post–indeed, in the whole run-up to the convention starting from February–I discussed the situation extensively with several black writers all of whom were critical of the poster. Those discussions strongly informed my decision to talk about this publicly.

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