Here are 11 developments of interest to fans.
(1) Jurassic Park made the public receptive to bringing back extinct species. Just as well, then, that more progress is being made on passenger pigeons and wooly mammoths than T-rex:
What does it matter whether Passenger Pigeon 2.0 is a real passenger pigeon or a persuasive impostor? If the new, synthetically created bird enriches the ecology of the forests it populates, few people, including conservationists, will object. The genetically adjusted birds would hardly be the first aspect of the deciduous forest ecosystem to bear man’s influence; invasive species, disease, deforestation and a toxic atmosphere have engineered forests that would be unrecognizable to the continent’s earliest European settlers. When human beings first arrived, the continent was populated by camels, eight-foot beavers and 550-pound ground sloths. “People grow up with this idea that the nature they see is ‘natural,’ ” Novak says, “but there’s been no real ‘natural’ element to the earth the entire time humans have been around.”
The earth is about to become a lot less “natural.” Biologists have already created new forms of bacteria in the lab, modified the genetic code of countless living species and cloned dogs, cats, wolves and water buffalo, but the engineering of novel vertebrates — of breathing, flying, defecating pigeons — will represent a milestone for synthetic biology. This is the fact that will overwhelm all arguments against de-extinction. Thanks, perhaps, to “Jurassic Park,” popular sentiment already is behind it. (“That movie has done a lot for de-extinction,” Stewart Brand told me in all earnestness.) In a 2010 poll by the Pew Research Center, half of the respondents agreed that “an extinct animal will be brought back.” Among Americans, belief in de-extinction trails belief in evolution by only 10 percentage points. “Our assumption from the beginning has been that this is coming anyway,” Brand said, “so what’s the most benign form it can take?”
(2) A friend of mine once hit a deer on the way to a convention in Minneapolis — ruined her day. Reindeer occupy that ecological niche in Finland but in the 21st century there is a technological solution to the problem – with no genetic engineering required.
Glowing reindeer can be spotted in northern Finland thanks to a reflective spray which makes them more visible in a bid to prevent car accidents, Finnish reindeer breeders said on Tuesday.
“We are hoping that it is so useful that we can use the spray in the entire region and on all reindeer, from young to old,” said Anne Ollila, head of Finland’s Reindeer Herders’ Association.
The association has started testing two reflective sprays on the animals’ antlers so they are more visible to motorists at night.
According to Ollila, there are between 3,000 and 5,000 accidents involving reindeer every year, which are “much deadlier for the reindeer than for the drivers.”
If only Rudoph had lived to see this day!
(3) The “Light saber combat academy is a real thing” reports Geekologie:
This is a video of students practicing their lightsabering at the Ludosports Lightsaber Combat Academies in Italy (there are seven so far). That is a whole lot of lightsaber fighting. You can go to their official website to read about all the different styles they teach, which is really in depth.
(4) Click the link for an impressive online collection of Rod Serling photos, scripts and resources — and some good quotes about him, like this from Vince Gilligan:
“You want your work to be remembered. You want it to outlive you. My favourite show ever was ‘The Twilight Zone’ and I think about Rod Serling, [who] started that show 54 years ago this year. It long outlived him — he passed away in 1975 — but there’s kids who haven’t been born yet who will know the phrase ‘the twilight zone,’ and hopefully will be watching those wonderful episodes.”
(5) As a byproduct of my efforts to keep abreast of the latest SFWA controversies I also got to read some excellent writing advice. For one, Kameron Hurley’s post “Surprise! I Have No Idea Your Book is Coming Out” —
I was listening to a podcast about the Hugos yesterday, and then this morning I read a post from another author about how, you know, as an author – especially fifteen+ years ago – you weren’t expected to do a lot of self-promotion. In fact, one of the reasons I got into this, too, was because it was a profession that would let me sit in a little room and write by myself. As an introvert, this was about the most perfect profession I could imagine. I didn’t have to hang out with people. I could just… work. I didn’t have to worry about getting judged on the size of my ass, or my unhip shoes or poor fashion choices. All I’d be judged on is the work.
This rosy land where nobody ever had to do any self-promotion is bullshit. Orson Welles was a huge self-promoter. So was Charles Dickens. Literary folks did readings and events all the damn time. And yes, a lot of them fucking hated it.
I fucking hate it too.
(6) Mary Rosenblum couldn’t be more right. Her post The Bad Review at the SFWA Blog wisely recommends that writers respond to negative reviews by doing this —
YOU CANNOT DO ANYTHING.
Read that again. Repeat it to yourself. Look at all the libelous ‘news’ in those tabloids you see at the end of the supermarket checkout counter, accusing celebrities of everything from incest to consorting intimately with aliens. Do those celebrities ever sue? No, of course not. To even acknowledge that silliness is to give it weight.
If you comment on a reviewer’s post, you will hurt yourself professionally. YOU WILL HURT YOURSELF PROFESSIONALLY.
(7) Posted on the SFWA Blog is a terrific interview of Eileen Gunn conducted by Rachel Swirsky. Asked to name her most memorable experience as a SFWA member Gunn answered —
The most memorable?
I do have a story of the kind of community that SFWA could provide despite its contentiousness. In 1991, Avram Davidson, who lived outside of Seattle, mentioned to me that his typewriter needed to be replaced and, because he could no longer see very well, he wanted exactly the same model, which was no longer made. There was no eBay then, so I asked on the SFWA topics on GEnie, and a number of people rummaged through their attics, and offered me working typewriters that they’d replaced with computers. Harry Turtledove had the same typewriter as Avram and sent it at his own expense. Avram was clearly gratified. “Harry and I had sort of a falling out,” he said. “Didn’t think we were still speaking to one another. I’ll write to him.”
(8) While most writers are trying to gain fame, fortune, and recognition for their brand, a few hyper-successful authors try and escape the chains they’ve forged in life by writing under assumed names. Tess Lynch at Grantland analyzes the latest newsmaking example in “J. K. Rowling and the Not-So-Secret Pseudonym” .
King wrote of his most prolific pen name, “Sometimes it was fun to be Bachman, a curmudgeonly recluse a la J.D. Salinger, who never gave interviews and who, on the author questionnaire from New English Library in London, wrote down ‘rooster worship’ in the blank provided for religion.” It isn’t easy to create a persona who’s fun to be, who offers you the opportunity to be judged as an invisible entity who can’t give press tours and who disappears when the anxiety (I’m a fraud, a liar, a trickster) becomes too much to bear. Rowling knows the magic of fiction: inhabiting several characters instantaneously, getting the hang of each voice and then helping them complete their actions without judgment, fitting them with batteries and letting them do their thing. Acknowledging Galbraith as Rowling doesn’t discredit his existence as a different author — speaking to a different readership — altogether: He is, and Rowling’s efforts to conceal her secret proved it. He validated her words, the best thing a pseudonym can do, and earned the right to his autonomy.
(9) A recent NASA Wallops mission showcased new automated range safety technology:
A spectacular launch from Virginia’s eastern shore recently resulted in the successful deployment of a record-breaking 29 small satellites into orbit, but that wasn’t the only first for the mission or the bustling spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va.
Range safety officers also used the ORS-3 mission, run by the U.S. military’s Operationally Responsive Space Office, to carry out the first of three planned certification tests of a new technology that promises to eventually eliminate the need for expensive down-range tracking and command infrastructure to manually terminate rockets if they veer off course.
…As part of that test, range officers programmed the unit to respond to a simulated signal indicating that the rocket had gone off course and to send a self-destruct or detonate command at the appropriate time.
James H. Burns comments: “I love what our various space programs can be and, obviously (!), believe in the potential of technology (particularly when paired with compassion)… But do we really want the human element removed from our tracking of rockets that have gone wayward while still in our atmosphere during launch, and their termination an automated affair?”
That depends. Is Dr. Daystrom involved with this project?
(10) Harlan Ellison has optioned “’Repent, Harlequin!’ Said The Ticktock Man” for the first time – to J. Michael Straczynski.
How did Straczynski do it? He had to deliver a finished screenplay to Ellison, whose credits range from The Outer Limits and Star Trek to being acknowledged in many sci-fi works including James Cameron’s The Terminator, and serving as a Babylon 5 consultant. Only then did Ellison grant the option.
…This is the first project not self-generated by Straczynski to be hatched at his shingle Studio JMS. He launched the company to take more control of passion projects, and now is branching out to optioning book and short stories like this one that can be commercially viable sci-fi. He’s still just as active on the comic book front, with his The Adventures Of Apocalypse Al just published.
(11) This piece of musical trivia is truly bizarre —
Luke and I were looking at Hieronymus Bosch’s painting The Garden of Earthly Delights and discovered, much to our amusement, music written upon the posterior of one of the many tortured denizens of the rightmost panel of the painting which is intended to represent Hell. I decided to transcribe it into modern notation, assuming the second line of the staff is C, as is common for chants of this era.
…So yes this is LITERALLY the 600-years-old butt song from hell.
[Thanks for these links goes out to Andrew Porter, James H. Burns, David Klaus and John King Tarpinian.]