Pixel Scroll 9/12/17 There Are As Yet Insufficient Pixels For A Meaningful Scroll

(1) ABRAMS BACK AT THE HELM. The Wrap’s Beatrice Verhoeven and Umberto Gonzalez, in “J.J. Abrams To Replace Colin Trevorrow on STAR WARS:  EPISODE IX”, say that Disney says that Abrams has been signed to direct this Star Wars film after Trevorrow, who has been attached to Episode IX since 2015, was given the boot.

 “With ‘The Force Awakens,’ J.J. delivered everything we could have possibly hoped for, and I am so excited that he is coming back to close out this trilogy,” said Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy in a statement.

Abrams directed and produced “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in 2015. He is also serving as an executive producer on the upcoming film “The Last Jedi,” out this December, which Rian Johnson is directing. Abrams will co-write “Episode IX” with Chris Terrio.

(2) A VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY. Time-lapse photography unexpectedly reveals that starships are built from wood.

(3) TOOTLE, PLUNK AND BOOM. And it’s time that the new series theme embarked on a shakedown cruise.

When it comes to Star Trek, a dynamic main title theme is key. In this behind-the-scenes video for Star Trek: Discovery, composer Jeff Russo leads a 60-piece orchestra in recording the new series theme.


(4) THANKS FROM THE CENTER. The Center for Bradbury Studies hit its fundraising goal.

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(5) VINTAGE TUBE. Echo Ishii has a new installment in her series of reviews of antique TV shows: “SF Obscure: The Tripods”

The Tripods TV series is a 1984-1985 YA SF series based on a series of books The Tripods by John Christopher. It ran for two seasons on the BBC. There are many changes from the books to the tv series though the basic concept remains the same.

The show begins in the future 2089. We see a pre-industrial version of England. Horse drawn carriages, family farms, etc. A young man in a suit is being congratulated by his friends and family for his “capping “ceremony. He takes off his hat to reveal his shaven head. Out of the sky comes a giant metal tripod, that lands in the lake and pulls the young man up inside.

(6) BELIEVERS IN THE MISANDRY CONSPIRACY. At the Emperor’s Notepad a blogger who writes books as Xavier Lastra is convinced he has come up with a more profound explanation for the anti-male bias claims Jon Del Arroz has been selling online this week: “‘Lit Bait’ and preferences/discrimination in genre literature”.

Because the artistic preferences of SF&F editors go way beyond a possible gender bias (which I’m sure exists in some places.) You could be a woman of color with an African-Asian name and a card-carrying member of the Communist Party that if you write a certain type of story, it will be ignored. If it gives off just a whiff of testosterone or sounds like an action-packed adventure yarn with a preference for honest and unironic drama and fun, without any pretense of being “mature,” it won’t be accepted. After all, they have an artistic image to maintain. They can’t just publish any pulpy trash!

And here’s where the feminine aspect comes into play. Obviously, women write all sort of stories, but there is a specific female subset that seems to be especially apt at writing the sort of sentimental Literary Bait, dripping with status anxiety and cheap progressive performances, that routinely gets awarded. It happens at all levels, from school contests to international literary awards. Call it “discrimination” or simply “preferences,” but it’s there.

(7) CAN YOU SAY, “ECOLOGICAL DISASTER”? I KNEW YOU COULD. The more I hear about these hippo books, the more intriguing they become. The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fic & Fantasy Blog’s Martin Cahill gives Sarah Gailey’s latest two tusks up: “The Hippo Mayhem Continues in Taste of Marrow.

Earlier this year, Sarah Gailey treated us to a book that made the phrase “alternate history western hippo caper” part of the vernacular. River of Teeth is a fun, nuanced tale of an alternate 19th century United States in which hippopotami were introduced into the environment to make up for a livestock shortage and soon overran their boundaries (something that really almost happened, save for a fateful vote in Congress).  It’s a novella chock full of what we love in a debut: memorable prose, a lush setting, precise worldbuilding, and a cast of diverse characters trying their best to pull off a caper, even with the odds against them.

If River of Teeth asked why and how this hippo-hunting posse formed up, sequel Taste of Marrow asks a different question: why do they stay together? Especially with the caper is in shambles, a key member of the crew dead, and another presumed dead at the hands of a pregnant assassin?

Several weeks after River of Teeth, the feral hippos once penned into the Mississippi have been let loose, and Archie and Houndstooth are fleeing to parts left un-feraled.

(8) WEIN REMEMBRANCE. NPR’s Glen Weldon paid tribute to the late Lein Wein on Morning Edition: “Comic Book Legend Len Wein Dies At 69”.

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: Len Wein wrote and edited the adventures of many well-known superheroes over the course of his career – your Batmans, your Hulks. But he created Wolverine with artists John Romita Sr. and Herb Trimpe. Hugh Jackman played him on screen for years. With his extendible, razor-sharp, adamantium claws, he isn’t much of a talker.


WELDON: He’s more of a grunter, and slasher and stabber.


WELDON: Wolverine was an innovative superhero in several ways. He was hotheaded. He was hyperviolent. He was Canadian. Most importantly, he was an antihero, one of an emerging breed of characters who strained against the good-guy-versus-bad-guy formula of old-school comics. As Wein explained in the 2016 PBS documentary, you couldn’t pin the guy down.


Video Games Day

History of Video Games Day

The history of Video Games Day is really the history of the video game, and that history goes back much farther than most people imagine. The first game ever created is often thought to be Bertie the Brain, an artificial intelligence designed to play Tic-Tac-Toe. Considering that Bertie was a 4 meter high machine built on vacuum tube technology, you can imagine it didn’t get out much, in fact, it was disassembled after the Canadian National Exhibition it was revealed at, and never rebuilt. A year later a computer was built called Nimrod, Nimrod was a computer built and displayed at the Festival of Britain in 1951 and designed to play a game called Nim.


  • September 12, 1958 The Blob premiered.
  • September 12, 1993 Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman premiered on the small screen.


  • Born September 12, 1942 – Marge Simon, Grand Master of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association.

(12) HURRICANE HARVEY FALLOUT. The 100 Year Starship Symposium that was scheduled for this weekend in Santa Monica has been postponed til next year.

While we were busily and excitedly preparing for the debut of the NEXUS 2017 event in Santa Monica this month, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, the administrative, programming and operational headquarters of 100 Year Starship (100YSS).

As you know from all the news reporting, Hurricane Harvey effectively stopped Houston business, transportation, commerce and private activities at homes for five days or more.  All aspects of the work on NEXUS was severely disrupted.  And though the skies are clear in Houston now, the problems of catching up in the face of clean-up and remediation of this natural disaster — currently called the most severe in U.S. history – continue.  We tried diligently, but it has been impossible to overcome Harvey’s impact.

The NEXUS event team huddled and decided to postpone NEXUS so that it will be the type of wildly transformational, engaging and magical event planned.

Space. Radical. Vital. Down to Earth.

We are working to reschedule NEXUS for the first quarter of 2018 and should have new dates shortly.

However, one of the weekend’s scheduled events will still take place —

The 25 Strong! Celebration under the Space Shuttle Endeavour at the Oschin Pavilion of the California Science Center will take place in Los Angeles on Friday, September 15 as originally scheduled since most of the planning and logistics activities were handled there.  If you had planned to attend, are local or have safe travel plans, then please join us.

Patrick S. Tomlinson will be hosting 25 Strong.

(13) LAWS WERE BROKEN. In “Still A Harsh Mistress – Andy Weir: Artemis” at Spekulatív Zóna, Bence Pintér reviews the new novel by the author of The Martian.

Nevertheless, Jazz needs money. Very, very much. And that’s the point when one of her old clients, a Norwegian billionaire businessman comes up with a plan. It is complicated, but it’s a piece of cake for a woman as talented as Jazz. The job pays a lot of money. It is also illegal as hell. And as it turns out, it can really affect the future of Artemis. By the way: why everyone is suddenly crazy about the failing aluminium industry?

The start is a bit bumpy, but after we learn more about Jazz and her ways, the novel shifts to full throttle. The elements are almost the same as in The Martian: a lot of fun in the narration by the badass protagonist and loads of Moon-science instead of Mars-science. Also with some sparkling dialogues and one-liners, the Brazilian mafia, and a collection of misfit friends of Jazz. Jazz is doing a lot of illegal stuff, so forget about the heroism of Mark Watney. And also say goodbye to space potatoes: all you got in exchange is algae-based food called Gunk, which is awful by all accounts.

(14) 19TH-CENTURY RESISTANCE LEADER. GF Willmetts of SFCrowsnest has some iconoclastic things to say about “The Forgotten Genius Of Oliver Heaviside by Basil Mahon (book review)”.

Much of the formulas and his science, especially his legacy, are in the footnotes at the back of the book. It would have made more sense to have incorporated much of this into the main contents of the book. If readers couldn’t understand it, they can easily skip it but placing in notes brings it to secondary importance. I think even Heaviside would agree his maths is more important than his life.

(15) NOTE FROM THE DEAN. Crooked Timber’s John Holbo helps you visualize what happens when “Robert Heinlein writes letters to editors and librarians”.

Enough Lovecraft! Robert Heinlein! I’m reading Innocent Experiments:Childhood and the Culture of Popular Science in the United States, by Rebecca Onion. Chapter 4, “Space Cadets and Rocket Boys: Policing the Masculinity of Scientific Enthusiasms” has quite a bit of good stuff on Heinlein – well it would have to, wouldn’t it? If you’ve read some Heinlein you kind of know what Heinlein is like. But there’s good stuff here about his exchanges with editors. The guy was one serious SJW, insisting on his minority quotas. Of course, he always manages to make it weird in his cosmopolitan-but-All-American, messianic-rationalist-masculinist libertarian-disciplinarian anti-authoritarian-but-in-an-authoritarian-way way.

(16) GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY GAINS RECRUIT. Marvel says you can expect to see a familiar face in an unfamiliar space when the comic’s next issue appears.

The Guardians have been tasked with some wacky and big adventures while doing the Grandmaster’s bidding, which includes stealing from The Collector – and Star-Lord even accidently destroyed one of his favorite mix-tapes. Now, as they prepare for their Legacy arc THE INFINITY QUEST, they’ll have to team up with the group that has been on their tails – the Nova Corps – as well as one ex-Avenger if they want to keep the universe safe.

“We’re excited to have an Avenger joining the ranks of the Guardians…or is it the Nova Corps? Or both? Oh, you’ll see,” teased editor Jordan D. White. “Just know, he beat out some stiff competition, as you can tell by that cover of issue #12!”

Who exactly is this Avenger? One of the five Marvel superstars on this cover should give you a hint…

(17) HWA ANTHOLOGY. The Horror Writers Association’s Haunted Nights will be released October 3:

Sixteen never-before-published chilling tales that explore every aspect of our darkest holiday, Halloween, co-edited by Ellen Datlow, one of the most successful and respected genre editors, and Lisa Morton, a leading authority on Halloween.

In addition to stories about scheming jack-o’-lanterns, vengeful ghosts, otherworldly changelings, disturbingly realistic haunted attractions, masks that cover terrifying faces, murderous urban legends, parties gone bad, cult Halloween movies, and trick or treating in the future, Haunted Nights also offers terrifying and mind-bending explorations of related holidays like All Souls’ Day, Dia de los Muertos, and Devil’s Night.

  • “With Graveyard Weeds and Wolfbane Seeds” by Seanan McGuire
  • “Dirtmouth” by Stephen Graham Jones”
  • “A Small Taste of the Old Countr” by Jonathan Maberry
  • “Wick’s End” by Joanna Parypinski
  • “The Seventeen Year Itch” by Garth Nix
  • “A Flicker of Light on Devil’s Night” by Kate Jonez
  • “Witch-Hazel” by Jeffrey Ford
  • “Nos Galen Gaeaf” by Kelley Armstrong
  • “We’re Never Inviting Amber Again” by S. P. Miskowski
  • “Sisters” by Brian Evenson
  • “All Through the Night” by Elise Forier Edie
  • “A Kingdom of Sugar Skulls and Marigolds” by Eric J. Guignard
  • “The Turn” by Paul Kane
  • “Jack” by Pat Cadigan
  • “Lost in the Dark” by John Langan
  • “The First Lunar Halloween” by John R. Little

(18) NOPE. Madeleine E. Robins explains “No, I Won’t Put You in My Book” at Book View Café.

I have a lot of friends who tuckerize, or even kill off people who have hurt them in their fiction. Sometimes they auction off  naming for a character for charity. Sometimes a friend just works his/her way into a story. I found myself a member of the NYPD a few years ago, which was kind of interesting. I have nothing against having real-world names or real-world people showing up in fiction; I sometimes find it distracting, if it’s a real-world name or person I personally know, but that’s not enough reason to demand a practice be stopped. I don’t kill off my enemies (wait, I have enemies?) or exes in my work, but again–that’s me.

(19) CAT HERDERS. SJW symbols survive Irma: “Hurricane Irma: Rare animals survive devastating storm”.

As Hurricane Irma cut a devastating path through the Florida Keys islands, a colony of six-toed cats appears to have survived without a scratch.

The furry felines, descended from a pet owned by Ernest Hemingway, ignored orders to evacuate as the winds swept through the writer’s historic house.

Endangered deer native to the islands also appear to have survived the storm.

Florida Keys and western parts of the state bore the brunt of Irma in the US, with winds of up to 120mph (192km/h).

“Save the cats. Get all the cats in the car and take off!” the late Mr Hemingway’s granddaughter, Mariel, urged in a video posted on Friday.

Staff responsible for maintaining the Hemingway Home Museum in Key West, Florida, chose to ride out the storm over the weekend in the property with 54 of their feline friends.

(20) SJW CREDENTIALS – ALL ABOARD! Unfortunately I can’t get my computer to pick up an excerpt from “What It’s Like to Ride Japan’s Cat Café Train” at Atlas Obscura. You’ll love the photos.

(21) ALWAYS NEWS TO SOMEONE. To make up for it, I will run another SJW Credential story I missed when it came out in 2016: Seanan McGuire and the TSA.

(22) SCARES MORE THAN CROWS. “Giant Star Wars AT-AT model built in front garden” – video at the link.

A man has built a giant Star Wars model in his front garden.

The 20ft (6m) replica AT-AT – a combat vehicle in the Star Wars films – was built by Ian Mockett, 54, at his home in Harpole, Northamptonshire.

It took him and his friends a month to make it out of wood for the village’s annual scarecrow festival.

(23) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Burn Out. JJ has anointed this a “strong contender for the DP Short Form Hugo.”

Stella, a space mechanician, has broken down and ended on a desert planet. While she is in despair, a little girl appears out of nowhere. Following the child into a tunnel, in the depths of the planet, she discovers a big cave full of objects that belonged to her, reminding her the dreams she has left behind.


[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Chip Hitchcock, Alan Baumler, Cat Eldridge, and Martin Morse Wooster for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Andrew.]

104 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 9/12/17 There Are As Yet Insufficient Pixels For A Meaningful Scroll

  1. The third series of Tripods was dropped by Michael Grade, who was also responsible for starving the classic Doctor Who into oblivion. Not a fan of genre TV unlike his uncle Lew who may not have been a fan exactly but knew what worked in a TV programme.

  2. @OGH: do you know how sets/models are built in general? I would not have assumed wood or not-wood.

    @Karl-Johan: (12) It took them so long to realise they had to reschedule after Harvey hit? No: see

    the problems of catching up in the face of clean-up and remediation of this natural disaster — currently called the most severe in U.S. history – continue

    It’s not as if the meeting was during the storm; they would have gotten flak if they hadn’t tried their best to make it happen. (And canceling isn’t exactly labor-free; it has cleanup costs of its own.)

    @Lenore Jones: I missed that, despite it being on screen longer (1:39-1:41, in case anyone else is interested). I do think a cimbasso is rarer — I’ve only seen one other, where there was a flute (workshop leading to) concert here with several basses, contras (alto & bass), and even a a double-contrabass.

    @Hampus: I do agree that there can often be biases in what is awarded. That depends on how widely you interpret “bias”. I admit to preferring stories that do something new — plot, theme, interpretation, regardless of subject — such that they’re worth reading more than once, instead of hashing over old ground; I don’t think that’s bias (unless “unironic” means “wordwooze readable only once”).

    Steve Wright: “…and then they don’t deliver.” Good one!

  3. Clip Hitchcock:

    “That depends on how widely you interpret “bias”.”

    I was thinking more of awards like the Oscars, than awards like the Hugos. I mean, in the Oscars, there are several patterns that can be found:

    * The actor making a martyr of himself while filming, like loosing/gaining weight, making yourself ugly and so on.
    * Make a movie about suffering (disability, the holocaust…).
    * If you are a man, be an alcoholist. If you are a woman, be a single mom that endures.
    * Play someone that dies.

    All ways that is seen as adding “depth” or someone enduring for the art. And in the Oscars, there is also a pattern of “it is this persons turn to win something”. There are other awards that I think similar patterns can be found in.

  4. Regarding “Our Talons,” I think “melodramatic” might be a better word than “sentimental.”

    It’s a melodramatic revenge fantasy with a Mary Sue protagonist. It has no character development, no plot, and exists solely to deliver the message that men who kill women shouldn’t be glorified by making them famous. Unfortunately a worthy message cannot save a bad story.

    It’s the sort of thing that you almost never see in professional publications because it violates so many of their rules. However, one thing makes it very different from slush-pile crap: it’s beautifully written. E.g.

    The important thing is always the stories—which ones get told, which ones get co–opted, which ones get left in a ditch, overlooked and neglected. This is my story, not his. It belongs to me and is mine alone. I will sing it from the last withered tree on the last star–blasted planet when entropy has wound down all the worlds and all the wheres, and nothing is left but faded candy wrappers. My sisters and I will sing it—all at once, all together, a sound like a righteous scream from all the forgotten, talked–over throats in Eternity’s halls—and it will be the last story in all of Creation before the lights finally blink out and the shutters go bang.

    Best damn Mary Sue story you’ll ever read.

    Something I didn’t anticipate was how many women would really get off on seeing the soulless murderer blasted into atoms because he just picked the wrong woman to murder. (No one seems to be bothered that the heroine is also a mass murderer: “I flapped my wings and hurricanes flattened cities in six different realities.”) I chatted about this story with female authors at the Locus Awards and in Helsinki to try to get a feel for why it had so much appeal to so many women, but I still don’t really see it. A similar story about a god annihilating a gaybasher would leave me cold, but, of course, not all women liked “Our Talons” either.

    Anyway, it’s clear that it had a passionate following (which is why it got nominated with more votes than any other short story), but not enough to make it win.

  5. @OGH: do you know how sets/models are built in general? I would not have assumed wood or not-wood.

    Theater sets tend to be painted fabric over wood frames (I once helped a neighbor paint some).
    Wood is relatively inexpensive and can be reused to some extent. (There’s a TV studio across the street from me. Wood is certainly a major part of their stuff.)

  6. @Joe H.

    I also liked Christopher’s The Lotus Caves, but I don’t think I ever read anything else of his.

    My elementary school library had the Tripods trilogy (though I read them out of order as I recall) and the Lotus Caves – I loved them all (and they were some of the first SF I read, though I’m pretty sure I read “The Time Traders” and “Rocket Ship Galileo” first). I should reread the Lotus Caves; I remember loving it.

  7. @Greg

    Sometimes a piece can lack many of the elements you’d expect in a story and still be highly effective by doing one thing extremely well. Talons didn’t particularly resonate with me either but when reading it I could really feel the sheer emotion it was expressing.

    I can absolutely see why Uncanny published it – in the context of a full magazine issue you don’t need every piece to work for everyone, and something that will grab a part of your audience really strongly is as useful as something which everyone thinks is okay

  8. At this point I think I’d need a time machine to determine whether the first “real” SF books I read were the Tripods trilogy or Dad’s copy of Heinlein’s Red Planet.

  9. I had a hard time following “My Talons”. I stumbled already at the first sentence and had to read it again and again. It might be that English is my second language, but it doesn’t usually give me problems. I gave up somewhere in the middle of the bullet points.

    I see it as more poetry than your usual story, but poetry without rhythm or rhyming. Which is poetry I’ve never learned how to appreciate.

    But “Things With Beards”? Thought it was very well done.

  10. SciFiMike on September 13, 2017 at 7:13 am said:

    After finishing The Tripods though, I did strip the children’s section of the library of any book with a rocket on the cover, and then moved on to Greek and Roman myths and legends, which I considered were SF adjacent.

    I went to a Terry Pratchett book signing where he told the story about how, even though he was a mediocre student, he got a first-rate education out of his love of fantasy and science fiction. Because when he had read all the fantasy books in his local library he started reading mythology, because they were both about people hitting each other with swords. And then he started read ancient history, because those were also about people hitting each other with swords. And for similar reasons he started reading books about astronomy, because stars and galaxies are part of science fiction.

  11. @Mark

    I can absolutely see why Uncanny published it – in the context of a full magazine issue you don’t need every piece to work for everyone, and something that will grab a part of your audience really strongly is as useful as something which everyone thinks is okay

    I can’t disagree with that. It just took me by surprise that it grabbed so many people so strongly. Uncanny was brave to publish it.

    Perhaps more to the topic of the moment, “Our Talons” was a very atypical story. One cannot really draw conclusions about SF Magazines or the tastes of fandom as a whole from it.

  12. I was wondering about the situation with Hemmingway’s Hemmingways. Years back, an unknown tom (apparently) introduced the polydactyl genes into one of my female yardcats, and since then I’ve had several Hemmingways. One in particular has 23 toes (6/7 in front, 5/5 in back, as opposed to the normal 5/5 in front, 4/4 in back.)

    On a different topic, any views on The Orville now that it has aired? I thought that it was a little rough around the edges, but most pilots are.

    (Oh, ETA that AT-AT in the yard is obsolete. They need an AT-M6.)

  13. From the ten minutes of the execrable After Earth that I watched, it appeared that the starship – not the set, but the in-the-movie’s-frame starship – was constructed out of wood and fabric.

  14. @ Greg Hullender

    I don’t know that our taste in fiction matches all that often, but it sounds like we had similar reactions to “Our Talons….” I think I summarized it as “a distilled elixir of murderous rage at injustice.” It reminded me a bit of attending poetry slams where the poems that got the applause were those performed at the top of the lungs with lots of obscenities. Except in this case I think it is good poetry, whether or not I think it’s good fiction. (It’s possible that I hold this opinion because I first encountered it in audio performance.)

    On the other hand, I do understand why the story appeals to a very vocal and enthusiastic segment of female (and other) readers. And perhaps it’s a good illustration of a different phenomenon that I’ve been pondering lately, which lends me just the tiniest sliver of sympathy for those who perceive that “trendiness” drives awards.

    (I’m no longer addressing Greg’s comment, but haring off wildly across the fields on my own at this point — just to be absolutely clear. I realized after writing the rest of this that it could be mistaken for a discussion with a point that Greg hasn’t made.)

    Specifically: I don’t believe that people are voting in vast numbers for stories just because they personally like the author or are in the same social circles as the author. But I do believe that people are far more likely to read a story by an author they personally like or who is popular in their social circle. “More likely”, because that’s a major way of finding out what fiction is actually out there in this age of fictional exuberance. And when choosing between a story that they’ve read and a story that they’ve never heard of, people are naturally more likely to nominate and vote for the story they’ve read. (It sounds like a banal truism, put that way.)

    So I suspect that the buzz created around “Our Talons…” by people who were very passionate about it led more people to be aware of and sample the story simply because of that awareness, and purely on a numbers game, the good story that more people have read will get more nominations/votes than the equally good story that few people have read.

    I honestly think this is a non-trivial aspect of the prominence of tor.com stories on awards lists. (Further clarification: I’m once again going off sideways from the previous topic–I am not confused about the publisher of “Our Talons…” which was, of course, Uncanny Magazine.) The tor.com website has created a very enthusiastic and loyal community of readers who tend to be highly aware of what the site has published. Particularly in their novella line, there’s a visibility to a highly engaged segment of SFF readers that individual novellas published in widely scattered locations find it hard to compete with. There must be a name for that sort of thing…perhaps “marketing”? And, of course, Uncanny Magazine also intersects strongly with a highly engaged and enthusiastic segment of SFF readership that correlates strongly with a variety of social networks. Which is, no doubt, not unrelated to them winning the Semiprozine Hugo two years in a row. (In addition, of course, to putting out quality fiction.)

    I don’t really have an overall point here except to note that accusations that awards are driven by social factors and “cliques” are not entirely void of a kernel of truth. If a “clique” is “a group of enthusiastic, engaged, but independent individuals who happen to be part of the same communications networks and so tend to be highly aware of the interests of the other people in those networks and more likely to read things based on that awareness” then I think that to say that awards are influenced by “cliques” is so self-obvious as to be meaningless.

    It doesn’t mean there are conspiracies, only that the people involved are human and interact in very human ways. (Wow, this ended up much longer than I intended.)

  15. Taste of Marrow: Im happy to report that I enjoy this more than the first part: It still has the cool setting and the great characters AND it gets going much faster. Im not sure the story is that much deeper or original, but it works better because there is no more need of introduction. Fun, nice read!

    You cannot move this pixel. It is still used by a scroll on your computer.

  16. I didn’t know about Heinlein’s insistence on black and Jewish characters in his juveniles. Good for him!

  17. “a subtle, nuanced, thoughtful and feminine tale of hippos rampaging across Louisiana.”

    All that’s missing are the pink tutus – who knew Disney was such a SJW?

  18. I liked “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies”, and I’m not noticeably female, and I don’t get out enough to be in any cliques…. It just happened to touch a nerve with me, because I got so. Damn. Sick. of the “serial killer as Byronic anti-hero” schtick. (Oh, that poor Hannibal Lecter, he only kills and tortures and eats people because of his unhappy childhood, you know….) So, well, maybe “Talons” is a wish-fulfilment fantasy, but it’s my wish and Bolander fulfils it pretty eloquently, so I’m OK with that.

    And it’s about as “sentimental” as the title implies….

  19. @Heather Rose Jones: I think you’re pretty spot on through that whole post.

    I don’t believe that people are voting in vast numbers for stories just because they personally like the author or are in the same social circles as the author. But I do believe that people are far more likely to read a story by an author they personally like or who is popular in their social circle. “More likely”, because that’s a major way of finding out what fiction is actually out there in this age of fictional exuberance.

    You’ve nailed it here. I mean, this is basically just what “word of mouth” means, yeah? And that is the things that sells books more than any other thing. I agree absolutely that when awards are open to a vote rather than juried, that’s going to be a very big driver, even if it only happens subconsciously.

    @Greg: It’s funny how tastes differ, because that quotation you posted from “Talons” would also serve as a good illustration of why I thought the prose was mediocre.

    The important thing is always the stories—which ones get told, which ones get co–opted, which ones get left in a ditch, overlooked and neglected. This is my story, not his. It belongs to me and is mine alone.

    ^There’s nothing even remotely original about the phrasing in this sentence. There is clearly anger, but that’s about all I see going on.

    I will sing it from the last withered tree on the last star–blasted planet when entropy has wound down all the worlds and all the wheres, and nothing is left but faded candy wrappers.

    ^This sentence is not internally consistent, and the metaphors don’t necessarily make sense. Yeah, the anger is palpable and there is some modestly pretty language, but it’s sloppy. If faded candy wrappers are all that’s left, where is this tree on this planet? What does star-blasted mean in this context? Would that not have destroyed the planted entirely? Is the star still there as well?

    My sisters and I will sing it—all at once, all together, a sound like a righteous scream from all the forgotten, talked–over throats in Eternity’s halls—and it will be the last story in all of Creation before the lights finally blink out and the shutters go bang.

    ^This sentence is, again, full of super raw emotion, but its metaphor conflicts with the one in the previous sentence (apparently there are still a bunch of stars). “Eternity’s halls” is a nice phrase, but why are we also “in” Creation in the same sentence? I suppose once could be time and one could be space, or they could just be different ways of saying the same thing, but then you get into Fowler’s “elegant variation” (which is using words that don’t quite fit to avoid repetition, even when repetition might be appropriate and even natural), and the shutters, while certainly metaphorical, still conflict with the equally metaphorical candy wrappers.

    There’s nothing particularly bad there, just sloppy, but I also don’t see anything particularly good. I think the anger, the hyperbole, and unusual formatting in “Talons” carried the story through the prose’s internal inconsistencies, mixed metaphors, and overall sloppiness for my first reading, but on my second reading I really couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a first draft, with all the problems that entails. (It probably wasn’t, but that’s still the impression I was left with.) There’s also an argument that can be made about how the structure/plot and the multiple-realities/aspects/whatever is reinforced by this kind of mixing, but it’s not an argument I agree with (Jeannette Winterson, as the first example to come to my mind, has been using structures/techniques like this for decades and her prose is as tight as a snare drum when it comes issues like I’ve noted above).

  20. @Heather Rose Jones nails what I’ve been thinking about awards bias. I haven’t been able to figure out how to say it without possibly seeming to argue a case that I strongly disagree with. I’ve tried a couple times, and haven’t been able to make my case in a way that can’t be twisted by conspiracy theorists into support for their conspiracy theories.

  21. “The Orville” – Star Trek fanfic I guess. Not a big fan of the bathroom humor and misogyny. Adriane Palacki (probably misspelt) was pretty decent, as was the security officer, but Seth is really not much good in it.

    I’d rather have the Galaxy Quest series or Scalzi’s Redshirts.

    Orville got really solid viewer numbers, so we’ll see if it drops off next week.

  22. @ kathodus

    I too have been trying to figure out how to express it without seeming to lend support to cases I disagree with. I also have the disadvantage of trying to dodge the appearance of “Oh, boo hoo, poor pitiful me, I don’t get any award nominations because I’m not popular enough.” The thing is, this is about the only social space where I feel that wouldn’t be the impression I create, because File 770 has been one of my most successful word-of-mouth venues.

  23. I, too, am surprised at Talons getting singled out as sentimental, especially since in the same Hugo category there’s That Game We Played During The War, or over in novelette there was The Art of Space Travel, or even A Taste of Honey in novella.

    Bad word choice, perhaps? Was something else intended?

  24. @August
    I’m not going to attempt to defend a story that I gave a one-star review. 🙂

    @Heather Rose Jones
    I think we agree more in person than we do online (where it’s so much easier to misunderstand where people are coming from). It was good seeing you in Helsinki, and I hope we see you again in San Jose next year.

  25. @Chip Hitchcock – yes, the spaceship in “Surface Tension” is wooden. It was about 40 years since I’d read it, so not surprisingly my memory was a bit hazy; it’s now more like 20 minutes thanks to the Internet Archive (here, if anyone wants it)

    @acousticrob – I remember coming across a remark from Pratchett some years ago along the lines of “with science fiction, you’re only one book away from anything”, which seems like an expanded version of the one you quote. My personal favourite example of how it works: many years ago I was watching Mastermind (non-UK filers: seriously tough BBC quiz) and got 8 or 9 questions on the history of the Byzantine Empire right, purely on the basis of having just read Silverberg’s Up the Line

  26. Watched The Orville last night.

    Impression: Material for a half-hour sitcom stretched into an hour episode. Felt like it repeatedly broke into a plod.

    Besides over-stretched material, the direction and editing was noticeably pedestrian. There was a big contrast between the show’s promotional trailer (which made me want to try the show) and the actual show. The trailer was tighter and faster and funnier, showing the best bits and avoiding the slow bits. Whoever edited that trailer together should be directing the full episodes.

    Seth MacFarlane’s “Ed Mercer” character came across as an unsympathetic, dull dullard. I would have cheated on him too, can’t fathom why Adrianne Palicki’s “Kelly Grayson” wouldn’t just count her blessings and head the other direction at warp speed.

    This might have worked better as another of MacFarlane’s animated shows.

  27. (18) It’s only a distraction to me if it is a person I know, but don’t really know the circumstances. As a reverse example, Brian Keene killed off Dave Thomas (no relation to the burger magnate) in his submission for the recent “Bug Hunt” anthology. Dave is one of the co-hosts of the “The Horror Show with Brian Keene” podcast. So I both knew that it was coming and that it was not intended maliciously. People that don’t listen to the podcast probably have no idea that anyone is being Tuckerized.

    As an aside, “Bug Hunt” has some interesting stories. Although the “evil corporation knowingly sends Marines to die” theme gets a little repetitive by the end.


    Of course, he always manages to make it weird in his cosmopolitan-but-All-American, messianic-rationalist-masculinist libertarian-disciplinarian anti-authoritarian-but-in-an-authoritarian-way way.

    This kind of misses/conflates the point. Heinlein’s universe generally was accepting of whatever decision that an individual or society might select. However, in his universe, that individual/society was expected to bear the full consequences of their decisions.

    Reality has a tendency to be rather authoritarian when it comes to consequences. That which cannot continue….won’t.

    “Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded – here and there, now and then – are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

    This is known as “bad luck.” – Robert A. Heinlein

    (6) Xavier’s essay contains more than a fair amount of truth. JdA focuses solely on gender/political preferences which undermine his position.

    I recall a high school advanced composition class where the teacher raved over this Whitman-esque bit of fluff written by a smart student that who simultaneously enjoyed a bit of preference from the same teacher. The rest of us were engaging our class work from the perspective of inviting the reader into a story that promised an engaging experience.

    And I’ll respectfully suggest that there is a difference between saying “I prefer A to B” and saying “A is great, B is trash”. The first one is debatable while the second is intolerant. (Thinking that statements like “People do tend to mistake what they like for what is good and for what other people will like.” present unidirectional irony can wander into being intolerant-adjacent.)

    And then there are the folks that purposefully avoid reading certain groups of authors based on the authors’ demographics…..


  28. @ Dann

    As an unabashed fan of literary SF/F (and a technical writer and editor), I do value evocative prose and fiction that actually takes risks. While I like genre thrills, it’s great to see writers take on challenges and succeed. Maybe that teacher praised the smart student because she/he wanted to nurture perceived talent. Is there anything wrong with that?

    Though I still need to finish Dhalgren.

  29. @Peter J : I skipped high school biology – it wasn’t, despite what the counselors thought, actually required, and I’d dissected enough smelly frogs in junior high, thank you very much – but it wasn’t any sort of handicap in high school science competitions because I’d picked up enough from science fiction – number of chromosomes, that sort of thing -to cover it.

  30. Anyone who’s ever looked at a slushpile knows that most attempts at fiction are trash. There’s nothing “intolerant” about it. But telling someone “Who cares what you like? You only like trash” would definitely be rude and insulting.

  31. @Heather Rose Jones – I suspect you are right in that Filers understand where you’re coming from.

    I once won a poetry slam contest (or at least placed highly – it was a long time ago), in college, with a poem I wrote on the spot about smoking cigarettes, and how you can’t tell me not to because you’re not the boss of me (can’t quite remember the specifics, but I’m pretty sure that’s what it boiled down to). Of course I added a lot of swears (I was and remain quite fond of swearing). I’d entered the contest before with a mildly positive response, but I figured out the formula after a while watching more experienced poets.

    The Orville – I checked it out. The parody is pretty tepid, I find MacFarlane a smart, talented version of Tim Allen (whose role in Galaxy Quest worked, it seems to me, because he was typecast as an egotistical jerk), and yeah, the ever-present smear of low-grade dude-broian misogyny in all of MacFarlane’s work was there, but unfortunately without any of the occasional hilarity. There were a couple decent moments, and I may keep watching it in a backgroundish kind of way, but it was mostly just meh.

    Currently reading: Fly By Night, by Frances Hardinge. It showed up on my Kindle, at some point when I was in need of something not non-fiction and depressing. I said to myself, “oh, Hardinge!” and just started reading it, blatantly breaking protocol by not agonizing for at least 15 minutes over which book on Mt. Tsundoku was most important. So far (about 25% of the way through), I am pleased with my rash decision.

  32. @Peter J:

    My personal favourite example of how it works: many years ago I was watching Mastermind (non-UK filers: seriously tough BBC quiz) and got 8 or 9 questions on the history of the Byzantine Empire right, purely on the basis of having just read Silverberg’s Up the Line

    Back in high school (in the early 80s) I knew the term “caliph” for an academic bowl based on having read Anderson’s “Operation Chaos.”

    @Joe H

    At this point I think I’d need a time machine to determine whether the first “real” SF books I read were the Tripods trilogy or Dad’s copy of Heinlein’s Red Planet.

    Now that sounds like a story idea!

  33. @P J Evans: I know what theater sets are made out of. (In case comments above/previous aren’t clear: I did serious amateur theater for ~6 years, plus a year with trivial honoraria, and know a few local people who are still involved while I’ve transferred to conrunning.) However, even in college theater there were sets built of metal (sometimes because MIT has an auditorium rather than a theater, and sometimes because the set can be more open if it’s metal). I don’t know what Hollywood considers standard; I suspect they have people who can make a good guess which will be most {cost, visually} effective over the necessary period. What I’d like to know is how far that saucer skeleton traveled in one piece and how they moved it….


    Reality has a tendency to be rather authoritarian when it comes to consequences. That which cannot continue….won’t.

    Do you mean physics/economics/…, or the author’s interpretation of same? The real universe tends to have more give in it than many authors give it credit for; that particular RAH quote makes him sound like an unthinking Randite, which is ISTM extreme. And there is a lot of not-at-all-SJW SF built around the idea that human beings can effectively/permanently alter unpleasant conditions. (I’m blanking right now on the story that leads off with just about those words.)

    @kathodus (and Heather et al by chaining): “How can you have intellectual content without four-letter words?” (Poul Anderson, “The Critique of Impure Reason”. Yes, he was being snarky.)

  34. I do think that Wisdoms From My Internet proved that some books are trash.

    Otherwise, trash seems to have another meaning in English than in Swedish. In Sweden, trash litterature is the type of paperbacks that are cheap and churnedbout by the dozen. Harlequin, The Destroyer, Sexy Westerns… It doesn’t mean that they aren’t enjoyable or sellable. Only that they are quite likely to end up in the trash after reading.

  35. @Hampus

    Not entirely off – I’ve seen those called ‘trashy‘ in Emglish. Trash just means rubbish/naff but trashy means fun/quick read/disposable.

    In transformative works fandom (possibly elsewhere, too?) we have the concept of a ‘bulletproof kink’ (which can be an actual kink or a plot/characterisation/trope preference) where you’ll enjoy a story with it even if the story is otherwise a bit rubbish or badly written.

  36. @Greg: I really appreciated “Our Talons”, but I readily admit it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But it is an unusual story.

    First, the language. Yes, it’s raw, and the metaphors are mixed. But it carries and expresses its emotions perfectly, and in near poetry. It is a primal scream of rage under near-perfect artistic control. Which again is a thing I think lots of poetry slammers are trying to express. But the rage has to seep through, it must not be under perfect control, because otherwise the piece will end up sterile.

    Second, yes, it’s a revenge fantasy, and it is also a revenge fantasy that removes agency from the man who is taken revenge on. Given the amount of fridging that is done in stories, this is a wonderful counter: the woman refuses to stay in the fridge, seeks her from her sisters, and removes and denies the agency from the man. Subtle? No. Necessary? Yes.

    Third, I have to take issue with your use of the term “Mary Sue”, and like Heather I will go off on a wild tangent.

    Mary Sue has become an intrinsically misogynistic term. It might not have started out as that, but nowadays it is one, and I can see no way to salvage it. It has been used to lump together so many protagonists expressing various types of fantasies that it removes any clarity or possibility of real criticism.

    Power fantasy with a female protagonist? Mary Sue. Revenge fantasy with a female protagonist? Mary Sue. Self-insert fiction? Mary Sue. Fantasy of friendship? Mary Sue. Fantasy of hot boyfriends? Mary Sue. Fantasy of agency? Mary Sue.

    And as a bonus, it carries with it an implication of poor writing.

  37. Karl-Johan Norén: Mary Sue…

    Thank you so much for articulating what I’ve been thinking for a while now.

    “Mary Sue” has become an epithet people can use to dismiss and denigrate fiction without actually having to critically engage with the text. “Oh, that’s just a Mary Sue story”, says the critic, thereby indicating that the fiction piece is utterly devoid of any value and not worthy of any further consideration — without actually having to provide a valid explanation as to why it’s a Mary Sue story.

    I’ve seen “Mary Sue” wrongly abused as a derogatory term for any fiction featuring a female protagonist so many times now, as a lazy way of dismissing a work’s value, that it immediately renders the surrounding text incredibly suspect.

    It’s now in the list of words and phrases (along with “political correctness”, “virtue signalling”, “SJW”, and other similarly-used terms) which I use to identify a comment which is not to be taken seriously.

    As far as “Talons”, I didn’t care for it. The comparison to slam poetry is really apt, in my opinion. It’s certainly a powerful piece of poetry, but it’s not what I consider a good short story. It was last on my ballot in that category. But the main character can hardly be considered a Mary Sue, since a Mary Sue would never have been so weak and vulnerable as to have suffered the damage described by the main character in the first place.

  38. @Meredith

    That’s my understanding of trash/trashy as well.

    @Karl-Johan Norén

    IIRC Bolander has said she wrote the whole thing in a few hours, which explains the rawness. It’s the sort of piece where excessive polishing will lose some of the impact. I also think it needs to be digested as a whole for its impact, not picked apart.

    I’d also agree with you about Mary Sue, it’s a term that is getting co-opted and losing its original usefulness. Not sure what might replace it though.

  39. I have read a few Mary Sue stories. I can only remember one or two right now, but I’m sure I have read a few more. On the other hand, I have read countless of Marty Sue stories.

    I’ve always wondered if Mary Sue became an expression because they are so unusual that you recognize them, but the Marty Sue stories are so deeply ingrained and accepted that people do not notice them.

  40. If you knew Gary Stu
    Then you’d know no-one’s more perfect than Gary
    Than Gary Stu
    Oh well, he’s perfection, yes, the perfect Gary Stu
    Gary Stu, Gary Stu
    Oh how my heart yearns (to) be you
    Oh Gary, my Gary Stu
    Oh I love you boy, yes, I love you Gary Stu
    Gary Stu, Gary Stu
    Perfect, perfect, perfect, perfect Gary Stu
    Oh Gary, my Gary Stu
    Oh well, he’s perfection, and I need my Gary Stu
    I love you Gary Stu
    With a love so rare and true
    Oh Gary, my Gary Stu
    Well I love you cos, I am you, Gary Stu…

    (With apologies to Buddy Holly)

  41. @Mark: As far as I understand it, Mary Sue was never a term in the beginning. It was a parody of several self-insertions stories in the Star Trek fanfic of the 70s. As such, I imagine it managed to mesh together several different types of characters and stories, for parodic value. But it was never intended as a term.

  42. I think “Author Insert” and “Wish-Fulfillment Fantasy” are nice gender-neutral alternatives.

    It’s also, IMO, important to remember that the term was created specifically with reference to fanfic — the idea of inserting an idealized version of yourself into a pre-existing milieu; as a result it was really about the inserted character’s relationships with other characters (and, typically, upsetting the serial status quo that had to be maintained in the original). The super-competence was mostly just a way of getting the inserted character on a par with the existing ones.

  43. The reason, I think, that ‘Mary Sue’ became a standard term is simply that in the transformative fan community, the majority of writers are women and so, accordingly, are their self-inserts. I think it’s generally recognised that male characters can have the distinctive characteristics of an MS as well. Whether this is applied fairly is another matter. I remember reading something by a Harry Potter writer, complaining that his original female character, Snape’s daughter, was constantly labelled an MS, though she was not impossibly perfect or anything like that, while his male viewpoint character, who had far more of the features of one, never attracted comment.

    I still hold to the view that an MS/GS is someone who inserts themselves into a story and makes it all about them, when in origin it shouldn’t be; and so if it’s established on page 1 (of a new series) that someone has special abilities, and that’s the foundation of the story, they aren’t an MS/GS. Which means that Gary Stu stories aren’t as common as people sometimes suggest, but also means that the protagonist of ‘Talons’ isn’t an MS.

    My own reaction to ‘Talons’ was ‘this isn’t message fiction. It’s all message and no fiction’.

    ‘Trash’ in the Swedish sense sounds like what we would call ‘pulp’.

  44. In re: Mary Sue —

    You guys are making me feel bad. Just yesterday I reviewed a book and criticized it for having a Gary Stu main character.


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