Pixel Scroll 12/16/19 It’s Not Easy Being Soylent Green

(1) MAKE IT SO AGAIN. Although showrunner Michael Chabon is moving on, Picard is not a one-and-done series judging by this item of state tax news. (However, CBS declined comment). “‘Star Trek: Picard’ Renewed For Season 2 Ahead Of Series Debut On CBS All Access Next Month” at Deadline.

… Like the first season that will premiere on CBS All Access on January 23, Season 2 of the Patrick Stewart-led Picard looks to be a 10-episode order for the streamer. As a part of that second season, the latest venture in the Alex Kurtzman marshaled Trekverse has been allocated over $20.4 million in California tax incentives….

Certainly, the huge reaction that Picard received when the resurrection of the philosopher-captain was first announced in Las Vegas last year and the tax credits made public today were a cold hard cash indication that the CBS Television Studios, Secret Hideout and Roddenberry Entertainment produced series was going to engage further, to paraphrase Jean-Luc himself.

(2) WELL-INFORMED. Joe Haldeman explained to his Facebook readers why he signed a petition to ban assault weapons – and how he became familiar with them.

We got this interesting petition, which Gay asked me to sign, from an outfit called Ban Assault Weapons Now.

I did sign it, but not reflexively. I do know assault weapons.

Unlike most people — unlike almost every American — I have been shot, both as a soldier and as a civilian. But I did carry a gun for most of a year “in country,” in Vietnam, sometimes two guns, and was conventionally glad to be armed.

Because of odd timing, I was never issued an M-16. They were not ubiquitous in Vietnam in 1968. I carried — and preferred, most of the time — the M-14 automatic rifle. We also had a Colt .45 automatic, sealed in a plastic bag, and traded around a Chinese AK-47, which my squad carried on convoy….

(3) ENJOYING THE WRONG FUTURE. In another article that takes off from Gary K. Wolfe’s Sixties sff novel collection for Library of America, Scott Bradfield holds forth on “Science Fiction’s Wonderful Mistakes” in The New Republic. Tagline: “The great novels of the 1960s remain enjoyable because they got everything wrong.”

…The science fiction novels of the 1960s—as this two-volume collection of eight very different sci-fi novels testifies—remain enjoyable because they got everything wrong. They didn’t accurately predict the future of space travel, or what a postnuclear landscape would look like, or how to end intergalactic fascism. They didn’t warn us against the roads we shouldn’t travel, since they probably suspected we were going to take those roads anyway. And they definitely didn’t teach us what a neutrino is. But what ’60s science fiction did do was establish one of the wildest, widest, most stylistically and conceptually various commercial spaces for writing (and reading) fiction in the history of fictional genres. Each book is unpredictable in so many ways as to almost constitute its own genre.

Take, for example, Samuel R. Delany’s influential space opera, Nova (presented here in a newly corrected, author-approved text), which takes the concept of the “cybernetic” fusion of human and machine and runs with it. Nova envisions a universe boiling over with star-hopping spaceships, spine-socketed crew members, weirdly mutated sexual and familial relationships, synesthetic video-art instruments, and at least one character raised on another planet who speaks in a verb-delaying syntax several years before Yoda was a gleam in George Lucas’s eye. (“Not too good going to be is. Out of practice am.”) Delany’s prose was stylistically bright, fizzing with ambitious energy (he began publishing novels in his late teens and won several major awards early) and relentlessly inventive, with flashy new visions of the future in one paragraph after another….

(4) WILL YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?  Alastair Reynolds tells how he admired Niven’s “Tales of Known Space” and that despite recent discoveries a writer can still do wildly creative worldbuilding. Then the question is – how do your space-faring characters navigate your stellar neighborhood?

…In some instances, our observations have begun to put limits on the numbers and properties of planets around familiar, SF-friendly stars such as Epsilon Eridani. It may well turn out that what was perfectly reasonable speculation thirty years ago is now ruled out by current data.

Still, let’s assume for now that our real stars and imagined planets remain viable locations, and we wish to use them in new stories. That’s where an additional wrinkle comes in: it’s very easy to look up how far away these stars are, and on that basis, work out (depending on the mechanics of your imagined space technology) how long it would take to get there from Earth. But sooner or later your story may depend on getting from star A to star B, without stopping off at Earth en-route. How do we work out how far these stars are from each other?

All the information we need is present: for any given star, all we need are its coordinates in the night sky, and a figure for its distance….

(5) KEYS TO THEIR PERSONALITIES. In the Washington Post, Frank Lehman, a music professor at Tufts University, analyzes John Williams’s scores to the Star Wars films and argues the music Williams composed for evil characters such as Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader gives many clues to how we view these characters: “How John Williams’s Star Wars score pulls us to the dark side”.

…It’s said that the Devil gets the best tunes, but Williams has long proved that that maxim applies to Sith lords, too. Within Star Wars’ ever-expanding library of leitmotifs — recurring, malleable musical symbols — much of the most insinuating material belongs to the villains, from Darth Maul to Jabba the Hutt to Supreme Leader Snoke. Listening to these nefarious themes with the ear of a music scholar offers a lesson in the real power of the dark side, showing us how music can repel, deceive and, with the right compositional tricks, even charm.

(6) A DIFFERENT KIND OF COPIER. Daniel Dern’s GrabCAD article unexpectedly predicts “3D Printers Could Be Coming to a Library Near You”.

Public libraries have always been the place where you can go to borrow books, CDs, DVDs, and magazines. And in recent years, it’s now where you can go for 3D printing services.

“Libraries represent the public on-ramp to the world of 3D printing and design,” said Dan Lee, chair of the Advisory Committee for the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP).

According to a report from ALA, there are over 428 public library branches in the United States that offer 3D printers to the public….

… Using 3D printers requires education. The Medway library, for example, offers weekly walk-in 3D printer certification sessions.

How libraries charge for use of their 3D printers varies. Some charge per hour of printing time (probably around a dollar), while others will charge based on the amount of printing materials that will be required — typically nickel to a quarter per gram of filament.

(7) KERFUFFLE IS COMING. According to Vanity Fair, “David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’s Lovecraft Movie Has a Massive Problem: H.P. Lovecraft”. Laura Bradley’s question is: “The renowned horror writer was also a known racist and anti-Semite. Are the Game of Thrones creators the right people to handle that history?”

… What is known, however, is that Lovecraft, for all his pop-culture influence, was also terribly racist. His letters and literary work overflow with these sentiments, and in some cases it’s not even subtext. In 1912 he penned a poem titled “On the Creation of N—–s,” in which, as Lithub explained in its thorough exploration of Lovecraft’s white supremacy, Gods create black people as a semi-human species somewhere between man and beasts.

Benioff and Weiss, no strangers to online controversy, are seeing some of the same pushback that happened when they first announced the now-defunct series Confederate for HBO: namely, why this story, and why them?

(8) LEFT BRAINED ALIENS. NPR invites us to “‘Imagine Pleasant Nonsense’ With ‘Strange Planet’ Creator Nathan Pyle”.

Nathan Pyle fills the pages of his new book Strange Planet with big eyed, bright blue aliens from a planet that shares a lot in common with Earth. These aliens sunbathe, sneeze and even wish each other sweet dreams like us, but they describe these practices with deadpan technical terminology like “sun damage” and “face fluid explosions.” The lifegiver aliens even implore their offspring to “imagine pleasant nonsense” as they tuck them in for the night.

“One of the points of Strange Planet is that this is all (gestures in every direction) delightfully odd. It’s wonderful how much complexity we [humans] have created,” Pyle tells me in an email conversation — and yes, those parentheticals are his.

Pyle was inspired to create the series one day as he and his wife were preparing to have guests over — and they began hiding their possessions to make their small New York City apartment appear as clean as possible. “I realized this would make an excellent comic. I drew this one based on the experience, and the series was born,” he says. He began posting the comics on social media in February, and in less than a year, the series has amassed over 4.7 million followers on Instagram.

(9) KARINA OBIT. Actress Anna Karina died December 15 at the age of 79. Her work has been saluted by many culture blogs, including Lawyers, Guns and Money. Alphaville is the only SF she did, “a science-fiction tale set in a loveless dystopian future…”

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • December 16, 2016 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story premiered. It was directed by Gareth Edwards with the  screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. It is from a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta. The cast includes Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen and Forest Whitaker. The film was a box office success, the critics loved it and it’s got an eighty eight percent rating among reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes. The Fan Boys…? 

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born December 16, 1917 Arthur C. Clarke. When I was resident in Sri Lanka courtesy of Uncle Sam in the early Eighties, nearly every American ex-pat I ran into was reading The Fountains of Paradise. The tea plantations he described therein are very awesome. I never saw him, but he was well-known among the small British community there.   I’ll admit that I’ve not read that much by him — Childhood’s End, Rendezvous with Rama and that novel are the only long-form works by him I’ve read. I’m certain I’ve read The Nine Billion Names of God collection as well. And I’ve seen 2001 myriad times but I’ve never seen the sequel. (Died 2008.)
  • Born December 16, 1927 Randall Garrett. Ahhh, Lord Darcy. When writing this up, I was gobsmacked to discover that he’d written only one such novel, Too Many Magicians, as I clearly remembered reading reading more than that number. Huh. That and two collections, Murder and Magic and Lord Darcy Investigates, is all there is of this brilliant series. Glen Cook’s Garrett P.I. is named in honor of Garrett.  I’ll admit I’ve not read anything else by him, so what else have y’all read? (Died 1987.)
  • Born December 16, 1928 Philip K. Dick. Dick has always been a difficult one for me to get a feel for. Mind you Blade Runner is my major touchstone for him but I’ve read the source material as well, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said which won an John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and I’ve read a lot of the shorter works, so I’d say he’s a challenging writer is a Good Thing. (Died 1982.)
  • Born December 16, 1937 Peter Dickinson. Author who was married from 1991 to his death to Robin McKinley. He had a number of truly  great works, both genre and not genre, including Eva, The Tears of the Salamander and  The Flight of Dragons. His James Pibble upper class British mystery series are quite excellent as well. (Died 2015.)
  • Born December 16, 1957 Mel Odom, 62. An author deep into mining franchise universes with work done into the Buffyverse, Outlanders, Time Police, Rogue Angel (which I’ve listen to a lot as GraphicAudio as produced them as most excellent audioworks) and weirder stuff such as the Left Behind Universe and Tom Clancy’s Net Force Explorers, both I think game tie-ins. 
  • Born December 16, 1967 Miranda Otto, 52. She was Éowyn in the second and third installments of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film franchise. She‘s Zelda Spellman in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and Mary Ann Davis in Spielberg’s version of The War of The Worlds. She also played Wueen Lenore inI, Frankenstein which had an an amazing cast even if the Tomatometer gives it’s 5% rating. 
  • Born December 16, Krysten Ritter, 38. She played Jessica Jones on the series of that name and was in The Defenders as well. She had a recurring role in the Veronica Mars series which a lot of a lot is us adore (it’s one of the series that Charles de Lint and his wife MaryAnn Hartis are avid followers of, and they contributed to the the film Kickstarter) and I supposed it’s sort of genre adjacent, isn’t it? (Do not analyze that sentence.) She’s been in a number of horror flicks as well, but nothing I grokked. 
  • Born December 16, 1988 Anna Popplewell, 31. She was Susan Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia film franchise, Chyler Silva in Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn (I saw this — it’s quite well done), she was (at twelve) Anna Sackville-Bagg in The Little Vampire, and she’s Frankie in the forthcoming  Fairytale which may be genre or genre adjacent. It might even be titled Fairytale of New York. Or not. 

(12) COMICS SECTION.

(13) SOUND AND THE FURY. ScienceFiction.com is excited because “Your Alexa Device Can Now Curse You Out With The Samuel L. Jackson Voice Package!”.

To get started, just say, “Alexa, introduce me to Samuel L. Jackson.” Then, choose whether you’d like Sam to use explicit language or not. If you change your mind later, simply go to the settings menu of the Alexa app to toggle between clean and explicit content.

The Bloomberg video is a bit calmer: “Amazon Alexa Now Lets You Make Samuel L. Jackson’s Your Personal Assistant.”

Amazon company kicked off its celebrity voice program for Alexa, giving customers the option to hear some familiar voices—and it’s starting with Samuel L. Jackson. Users can pay $0.99 and have Jackson respond to your Alexa requests for music, the weather forecast, and more. You can also ask questions that are specific to Jackson, including queries about his career, specific roles, or his interests outside Hollywood.

(14) STEPHENSON BOOK TO SMALL SCREEN. The A.V. Club reports that “HBO is taking a crack at adapting Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash for TV”.

Hollywood’s ongoing efforts to adapt every single book that some guy spent way too much time and energy recommending at you at a party in college continues apace today, with Deadline reporting that HBO has put a TV version of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash into development. The series comes courtesy of The Kid Who Would Be King and Attack The Block director Joe Cornish, with 21 Jump Street’s Michael Bacall set to write the script…[Snow Crash] is satirical, fast-paced, and with one of the most kinetic opening sequences ever committed to print, it’s also one of Stephenson’s most readily accessible books. (Which is to say, he keeps the parables about computer programming, cryptography, and 17th century economics to a minimum.)

(15) FREE DOWNLOAD. Free anthology of Tor.com fiction from 3rd quarter — “Download the Fall 2019 Tor.com Short Fiction Newsletter”.

(16) TAKEN TO THEIR LEADER. Lou Antonelli has posted the latest free story at his Sirius Science Fiction site: “’Trump Asks a Feminist Extraterrestrial Leader for a Favor’ by Marleen S. Barr”.

It’s satirical. Whether it’s satirical enough for you remains the question.

(17) RAMBO UNLIMITED. And to complete our free fiction trifecta, Cat Rambo has released a bunch of titles on KU: “Free Fiction: Stories Newly Enrolled in Kindle Unlimited”. Here are a few of them —

Tabat stories include:

  • §  Narrative of a Beast’s Life: Taken from his home village, the centaur Fino is enslaved and shipped to a new land, where he must learn to cope with the trainer determined to break him. This short story originally appeared in Realms of Fantasy.
  • Events at Fort Plentitude: An exiled soldier tries to wait out a winter in a fort beleaguered by fox-spirits and winter demons. Originally appeared in Weird Tales under editor Ann VanderMeer.
  • How Dogs Came to the New Continent is a short story pulled from the events of the novel Hearts of Tabat, told in the form of a meandering historical paper that teases out more behind the oppression of Beasts and their emerging political struggle.

(18) PLUS ONE. ComicBook.com reports “Guardians of the Galaxy Star Karen Gillan Has Completed Her Role on Marvel’s What If…?”

Marvel’s What If…? may be one of the most anticipated offerings coming to Disney+. The animated series, based on the comics of the same name, will explore many significant moments from the Marvel Cinematic Universe but from the angle of what would have happened had just one thing gone a little differently. It’s a premise that is set to offer Peggy Carter as Captain Carter instead of Steve Rogers as Captain America among other interesting twists, but while it’s an exciting premise it’s one that fans have to wait for as the series isn’t set to debut until summer 2021. But while we don’t yet have a release date, fans can at least take some comfort in knowing that work is underway and that when it comes to Guardians of the Galaxy star Karen Gillan, she’s already completed her voice work on the series….

(19) THE FUTURE OF A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY. Los Angeles Times: “After ‘Rise of Skywalker’ and Baby Yoda, Kathleen Kennedy’s plan for ‘Star Wars’ and beyond”.

 [Rob Bredow [(head of Lucasfilm’s visual effects division Industrial Light & Magic), speaking of Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy:]

“She said, ‘There have been a few times in my career where there have been these kinds of moments. Go for it,’” Bredow recalled in the cafeteria of Lucasfilm’s San Francisco headquarters. “She, and we, are looking for those opportunities to break new ground.”

By all accounts, the gamble on “The Mandalorian” has paid off for Lucasfilm since it debuted to an enthusiastic response on streaming service Disney+ in November. Viewers have obsessed online about the show’s introduction of so-called Baby Yoda, an infant from the same species as the green Jedi master…

Kennedy said she plans to make key decisions about the direction of the franchise in the coming weeks. But some things she already knows. While the “Skywalker” saga is ending, the company won’t abandon the characters created in the most recent trilogy. Additionally, she said, the plan is to move beyond trilogies, which can be restricting.

“I think it gives us a more open-ended view of storytelling and doesn’t lock us into this three-act structure,” she said. “We’re not going to have some finite number and fit it into a box. We’re really going to let the story dictate that.” […]

(20) WORKS FOR HER. NPR interviews somebody who had success with the idea — “Researchers Explore A Drug-Free Idea To Relieve Chronic Pain: Green Light”.

Ann Jones tried everything short of surgery for her chronic migraines, which have plagued her since she was a child.

“They’ve actually gotten worse in my old age,” says Jones, who is 70 years old and lives in Tucson, Ariz.

Jones would have as many as two dozen migraines a month.

Over the years, some treatments might work initially, but the effects would prove temporary. Other medications had such severe side effects she couldn’t stay on them.

“It was pretty life-changing and debilitating,” Jones says. “I could either plow through them and sometimes I simply couldn’t.”

In 2018, her doctor mentioned a study that was taking place nearby at the University of Arizona: Researchers were testing if daily exposure to green light could relieve migraines and other kinds of chronic pain.

Jones was skeptical.

“This is going to be one more thing that doesn’t work,” she thought to herself.

But she brushed aside the hesitation and enrolled in the study anyway.

It began with her spending two hours each day in a dark room with only a white light, which served as the control. In the second half of the study, she swapped out the conventional light for a string of green LED lights.

For more than a month, Jones didn’t notice any change in her symptoms. But close to the six-week mark, there was a big shift.

She began going days in a row without migraines. Even when the headaches did come, they weren’t as intense as they had been before the green light therapy.

(21) NOT DARWIN. But a sign of the times: “Driver ‘blows up’ car with ‘excessive’ use of air freshener”. Doesn’t smell so good anymore. (Includes a picture of the destruction.)

A driver caused an explosion in his car when he lit a cigarette after spraying air freshener.

He used “excessive” amounts of the aerosol scent before sparking up, according to firefighters.

Gas from the spray ignited, blew out the windscreen and windows and buckled the doors but the man escaped with only minor injuries.

Police said the incident in Halifax on Saturday “could’ve been worse” and warned people to follow safety advice.

The motorist was in stationary traffic in Fountain Street in the town at about 15:00 GMT on Saturday when the explosion happened.

It was so powerful it caused damage to windows at nearby businesses.

(22) YULE TRADITION. Marcus Errico, in the Yahoo! Entertainment story “The Joker’s still getting away… How ‘Jingle Bells, Batman Smells’ became the ultimate holiday spoof”, looks into the origins of “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” and traces its origins to the Batman TV series of the 1960s.

[Thanks to Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, John King Tarpinian, Rob Thornton, Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, Alan Baumler, Darrah Chavey, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

Pixel Scroll 12/13/19 All These Scrolls Are Yours, Except Tsundoku. Attempt No Pixels There

(1) MARVEL SNAPSHOTS. Kurt Busiek is overseeing a Marvel showcase series featuring history-making characters.

This March, prepare to see the greatest moments of Marvel’s 80-year history told like never before! In MARVEL SNAPSHOTS, industry legend Kurt Busiek will bring together incredible creative teams for eight standalone, double sized issues showcasing Marvel’s most beloved characters from the golden age to today. Like 1994’s critically acclaimed MARVELS series, MARVEL SNAPSHOTS will be tales told through the eyes of ordinary people, offering unique insights on the legendary mythos of the Marvel Universe. MARVELS SNAPSHOTS also reunites Busiek with renowned MARVELS co-creator Alex Ross who will be providing the series with his iconic painted covers.

It all begins with SUB-MARINER: MARVELS SNAPSHOT #1 when best-selling novelist and Emmy Award-winning TV writer Alan Brennert (L.A. LAW, TWILIGHT ZONE) and superstar artist Jerry Ordway (ALL-STAR SQUADRON, CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS) unite to tell an unforgettable story about Marvel’s original antihero: Prince Namor!

Set circa World War II, things kick off with an action-packed tale featuring Namor, Betty Dean, and the All-Winners Squad–a dream come true for Brennert. “I can honestly say that I enjoyed working on this story more than any comics story I’ve done in years. I grew up reading (and loving) Marvel’s Golden Age heroes in the 1960s, in reprints in FANTASY MASTERPIECES. But I never thought I’d have a shot at writing them–especially the All-Winners Squad!–and I’m grateful to Kurt Busiek and Tom Brevoort for providing me the opportunity, and to Jerry Ordway for bringing it all to glorious life,” Brennert says. “I’m enormously proud of ‘Reunion’ and honored to be the first story published in MARVELS SNAPSHOTS.”

Artist Jerry Ordway is just as passionate about bringing this tale to life. “When I was offered this project, I jumped at it, being a big fan of the original MARVELS book by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross. Getting to draw a Sub-Mariner story set in the 1940s, with appearances by the All-Winners Squad, lets me connect with Marvel’s World War II era history, and the work of Subby’s creator, Bill Everett,” says Ordway. “I’ve been a Marvel maniac from the age of 10, so this is pretty cool! Alan Brennert wrote a great script which fits neatly into the bigger tapestry that is the Marvel Universe. I’m thrilled to get to play in this sandbox after so many years as an artist.”

(2) EATING THE FANTASTIC. Listeners are invited to join host Scott Edelman and Elsa Sjunneson-Henry for lunch in Little Italy on Episode 111 of the Eating the Fantastic podcast.

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry

My guest this time around is Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, who was a winner of the Best Semiprozine Hugo Award earlier this year for her work as a Guest Editor of Uncanny Magazine’s Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction Special Issue. She was also a 2019 Hugo Award finalist for Best Fan Writer. Her fiction has appeared in such magazines as Fireside and Uncanny, as well the anthologies Ghost in the Cogs and Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling. She’s written non-fiction for The Boston Globe, Barnes & Noble, Tor.com, and other venues. She is a feminist scholar and disability rights activist (which I knew), but also a burlesque historian (which I did not know).

We lunched at La Tavola, where I’d previously joined Marv Wolfman during the 2017 Baltimore Comic-Con. We discussed her roller coaster of emotions the night she won a Hugo Award earlier this year during the Dublin Worldcon, how that editorial gig increased her empathy, the way writing roleplaying games and being a Sherlock Holmes nerd taught her about world-building and led to her first professional fiction sales, the dinosaur-themed Twitter feed that gave birth to her most recently published short story, the novel she’s working on which she describes as The Conjuring meets The Stand, her expertise in obscenity law and fascination with the history of burlesque, why she felt the Bird Box novel handled blindness better than the movie, her background in competitive improv and the way that helped her within science fiction, advice on how not to let Internet trolls get you down, and much more.

(3) PILE PELION ON OSSA. John Scalzi chronicled the results of his Twitter poll which asks: “Would Baby Yoda eat a porg?” (Is it cannibalism if one cute thing eats another cute thing?) Thread starts here.

(4) JUST PLAIN FOLKS TALES. RS Benedict has released another episode of the Rite Gud podcast, “No More Heroes with JR Dawson”. In this interview with sff short fiction author JR Dawson, they talk about writing fiction that doesn’t focus on Big Important Heroes of Destiny. It’s called No More Heroes.

Much of speculative literature focuses on superheroes and Chosen Ones. But what about ordinary people or flawed people who don’t save the world? Do they matter?

Sci-fi/fantasy author JR Dawson joins us to talk about why she writes about ordinary people, and how privilege and inequality warp our idea of whose story deserves to be told. She also talks about being a Midwestern writer, her favorite literary losers and that time Hans Christian Andersen got really weird with Charles Dickens’ family.

(5) BEST SFF. Andrew Liptak chimes in with “The best science fiction and fantasy books of 2019” at Polygon. (It’s interesting to see that several of the year’s most-discussed books only made his Honorable Mentions.)

Here’s one that made the list —

The Waste Tide by Chen Quifan

Cixin Liu might have become the best-known science fiction writers to come out of China, but he’s far from the only one. Chen Qiufan’s Waste Tide is a far cry from Liu’s epic science fiction tales, taking a grim look at the near future of China, where impoverished workers struggle to make a living from the world’s electronic waste.

Waste Tide follows a series of people who come together in Silicone Isle: Mimi, a worker who heads there for work; Scott Brandle, an American who is trying to arrange a contract; and Chen Kaizong, a translator, all of whom find themselves wrapped up in a greater plot for control. It’s a book that reminded me quite a bit of Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, with a pointed commentary on class warfare and the lifecycle of the devices we use.

(6) HAPPY BLANDINGS. At Tor.com, James Davis Nicoll wryly claims “SFF Needs More Incompetent Autocrats”. This turns out to be a Wodehouse tribute as much as anything.

One of SFF’s grand traditions is carefully filing the serial numbers off historical events (the American Revolutionary War, perhaps, or the Napoleonic Wars), or famous and classic works (Lord of the Rings, the Hornblower series, Zulu), and re-purposing the result as SFF. This is usually known as “research” (See Tom Lehrer on this point). Examples abound—my disinclination to deal with crowds of irate authors protesting at my door precludes naming them here….

(7) HOLLYWOOD HISTORY. Profiles in History’s “Hollywood: A Collector’s Ransom Auction” has all kinds of genre movie props, models, and figurines. It even has examples of correspondence between director Sam Peckinpah and Ray Bradbury. “Ray and Sam would lunch (hoist a few pints) at the Formosa Café,” recalls John King Tarpinian.

(8) A PYTHON SPEAKS. Leonard and Jesse interviewed Terry Gilliam for their Maltin on Movies podcast.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote completes a quest that has consumed Terry Gilliam for thirty years, but as Leonard and Jessie learned, he bears his burdens lightly. He made his name supplying unique animated sequences for   Monty Python’s Flying Circus and his films include Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Brazil, and The Fisher King. He’s a delightful man with stories to tell (about everyone from Robin Williams to Heath Ledger) and a great outlook on life.

(9) MICROLOAN. Rachel Swirsky signal-boosted an “Opportunity to Support a Palestinian Library” and so will we.

I’ve been making microloans through Kiva.org through years, and this project caught my eye. A Palestinian woman is looking to convert an old house into a library and bookshop: 

Check it out at Kiva: https://www.kiva.org/lend/1893559

Duha is a nice girl who lives with her family in a small humble house near Ramallah. Duha has an amazing idea: she decided to restore an old house to make it a library and a place to sell books and other stationery.

She went to Palestine for Credit and Development (FATEN) to request a loan to help her to cover all restoration expenses to convert the old house into a library. Duha hopes that all the students and residents of the area will benefit from the library.

(10) OVERCOMING REJECTION. Alex Woolf advocates “Seven Ways to Grow Your Resilience as a Writer” at the SFWA Blog.

Study the nuances of rejection
In the miserable miasma of reading a fresh rejection, it can be easy to miss the nuggets of positivity and constructive feedback that are often contained in the message too. Some messages are form rejections, but it’s well-known that many venues have form messages that vary according to their take on the writer. A writer a venue wishes to encourage, for example, may get a standard message that’s quite different from the standard message that’s sent to a writer that for whatever reason they are never likely to publish.

So once the initial disappointment has subsided, make a point of going back to the message and seeing what you can learn from it for your next project or submission. Sometimes there is a valuable nugget in there (e.g. Try to use fewer adverbs or We felt we wanted to know more about what was happening from the protagonist’s perspective.) These are valuable insights that you can work with.

However disappointing the message, always send an acknowledgment – stay polite and professional. And if a venue says you should submit again, then do so, once or twice more at least. They didn’t have to say that, after all.

(11) YIKES! Bloomberg confirms “Silicon Valley Is Listening to Your Most Intimate Moments”.

Amazon declined interview requests for this story. In an emailed statement, a spokeswoman wrote, “Privacy is foundational to how every team and employee designs and develops Alexa features and Echo devices. All Alexa employees are trained on customer data handling as part of our security training.” The company and its competitors have said computers perform the vast majority of voice requests without human review.

Yet so-called smart devices inarguably depend on thousands of low-paid humans who annotate sound snippets so tech companies can upgrade their electronic ears; our faintest whispers have become one of their most valuable datasets. Earlier this year, Bloomberg News was first to report on the scope of the technology industry’s use of humans to review audio collected from their users without disclosures, including at Apple, Amazon, and Facebook. Few executives and engineers who spoke with Bloomberg Businessweek for this story say they anticipated that setting up vast networks of human listeners would be problematic or intrusive. To them, it was and is simply an obvious way to improve their products.

… Several of the big tech companies tweaked their virtual-assistant programs this year after a steady drip of news reports. While Google has paused human transcriptions of Assistant audio, Apple has begun letting users delete their Siri history and opt out of sharing more, made sharing recordings optional, and hired many former contractors directly to increase its control over human listening. Facebook and Microsoft have added clearer disclaimers to their privacy policies. And Amazon has introduced a similar disclosure and started letting Alexa users opt out of manual reviews. “It’s a well-known thing in the industry,” Amazon’s Limp recently said about human transcription teams. “Whether it was well known among press or customers, it’s pretty clear we weren’t good enough there.”

(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Cat Eldridge emailed that he needed urgent care for some physical problems – I hope they are able to get him feeling better soon. Go ahead and mention birthdays you know about in the comments.]

(13) STAR TREK SHIP IN A BOTTLE. So is there a teeny-tiny Kirk and Spock in there somewhere?

On this episode of Ben’s Worx I make a ship in a bottle with epoxy resin and Australian burl.

(14) RABID IN THE NORTHWEST. Theodore Beale, aka Vox Day, was referenced by the Guardian in a story about a Washington state representative: “Report on far-right Republican Matt Shea in hands of Washington legislators”

Outside investigators have submitted a report to the Washington state house about the activities of the far-right Republican state representative Matt Shea, but legislators on both sides of the aisle remain tight-lipped about its contents.

…Last Monday the independent investigator, the Rampart Group, presented their findings to the chief clerk of the Washington state legislature . He in turn delivered the findings to the executive rules committee, composed of leaders of both parties in the house.

…Shea, meanwhile, was interviewed last week on Infowars’ David Knight Show, where he attacked perceived critics.

Shea then quoted Theodore Beale, whom the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) describes as a “champion of the alt right movement”, and whose blog is described as a home of “misogynistic, white supremacist diatribes”.

“Social justice warriors always lie, they always double down on their lie, and they always try to project on to you how they really are themselves,” Shea said.

(15) HIGH-STAKES COMICS AUCTION. Heritage Auctions brought home the bacon again: “Marvel Comics #1 Brings Record $1.26 Million to Lead Heritage Auctions’ Comics & Comic Art Auction Beyond $14.9 Million”.

The finest known copy of Marvel Comics No. 1, sold for $1,260,000 to lead Heritage Auctions’ record-setting Comics & Comic Art auction to $14,936,295 Nov. 21 in Dallas, Texas.

The second-largest comic auction of all time, trailing only the $15,121,405 realized in Heritage Auctions’ Chicago Comics & Comic Art Auction in May 2019, this sale included 15 lots that sold for at least $100,000.

…The issue, with famous cover art by Frank R. Paul and interior art by a group of illustrators that included Bill Everett, Carl Burgos and Paul Gustavson, was purchased by a Pennsylvania postal carrier who bought every No. 1 issue he could of both comic books and magazines, beginning in the 1940s. It’s grade of 9.4 on a scale of 1-10 makes it the best copy of the issue ever found, according to Certified Guaranty Company (CGC).

More than two dozen collectors made bids for Robert Crumb Your Hytone Comix #nn “Stoned Agin!” Inside Back Cover Original Art (Apex Novelties, 1971) before it closed at $690,000, breaking the record for the most ever paid for an interior piece of comic art. Created at the height of the artist’s popularity, the image is instantly recognizable, even by many who don’t know the work of Crumb, who is revered for his contribution to the underground comics movement in the 1960s. This iconic image was reproduced countless times, including on a blacklight poster, on pinback buttons, postcards and t-shirts.

Neal Adams Batman #251 Cover The Joker Original Art (DC, 1973) sold for $600,000, the most ever paid through Heritage Auctions for a piece of DC art. The spectacular image of one of the most famous Joker covers of all time debuted a new version of the villain, trumpeting the return of the Joker after a four-year hiatus from Batman comics….

(16) HE CREATED THE UBIQUITOUS MARKS. NPR reports “IBM Engineer Who Designed The Universal Product Code Dies At 94”.

On a June morning in 1974, a Marsh Supermarket cashier in Troy, Ohio, rang up a 67-cent pack of Juicy Fruit chewing gum using something novel — the black and white stripes of a universal bar code.

The Universal Product Code is now a packaging mainstay on everything from cereal boxes and produce to electronics and airplane tickets, but it might not have worked without IBM engineer George Laurer.

Laurer, who died this month at 94 in North Carolina, had been given an assignment by his manager: Write a proposal for grocery executives explaining how IBM would take a previously invented bar code pattern, in the shape of a bull’s-eye, and make it work in supermarkets across the country.

But when that manager returned from a vacation, Laurer was there to meet him. “I didn’t do what you asked,” he said.

Instead, Laurer had created something else — the bull’s-eye was gone and in its place was a linear bar code. Laurer had deemed the bull’s-eye design unworkable. The circular code, inspired by Morse code and patented by N. Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver in 1952, was too small, and it would smear when run through the poor-quality printing presses used for most food labels at the time.

(17) SIMMERING. Kotaku discovered that “Baby Yoda Can Be Bought In The Sims 4”.

Because EA owns The Sims, and because EA also has the rights to Star Wars video games, we finally have a digital tie-in with the new live-action Mandalorian series. It’s not a Carl Weathers outfit. It’s not a “Bounty Hunter” job for your Sim. It’s a Baby Yoda statue you can buy and put in your yard.

(18) IN SEARCH OF REPRODUCIBLE RESULTS. They hope a tool will make them easier to come by. “Can A Research Accelerator Solve The Psychology Replication Crisis?”

In 2008, psychologists proposed that when humans are shown an unfamiliar face, they judge it on two main dimensions: trustworthiness and physical strength. These form the basis of first impressions, which may help people make important social decisions, from whom to vote for to how long a prison sentence should be.

To date, the 2008 paper — written by Nikolaas Oosterhof of Dartmouth College and Alexander Todorov of Princeton University — has attracted more than a thousand citations, and several studies have obtained similar findings. But until now, the theory has been replicated successfully only in a handful of settings, making its findings biased toward nations that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic — or WEIRD, a common acronym used in academic literature.

Now, one large-scale study suggests that although the 2008 theory may apply in many parts of the world, the overall picture remains complex. An early version was published at PsyArXiv Preprints on Oct. 31. The study is under review at the journal Nature Human Behavior.

The study is the first conducted through the Psychological Science Accelerator, a global network of more than 500 labs in more than 70 countries. The accelerator, which launched in 2017, aims to redo older psychology experiments but on a mass scale in several different settings. The effort is one of many targeting a problem that has plagued the discipline for years: the inability of psychologists to get consistent results across similar experiments, or the lack of reproducibility.

(19) THEY LIE, YOU KNOW. “How ‘dark patterns’ influence travel bookings” – BBC will explain.

If you’ve wondered whether there were actually 30 people trying to book the same flight as you, you’re not alone. As Chris Baraniuk finds, the numbers may not be all they seem.

Ophir Harpaz just wanted to get a good deal on a flight to London. She was on travel website OneTravel, scouring various options for her trip. As she browsed, she noticed a seemingly helpful prompt: “38 people are looking at this flight”. A nudge that implied the flight might soon get booked up, or perhaps that the price of a seat would rise as they became scarcer.

Except it wasn’t a true statement. As Harpaz looked at that number, “38 people”, she began to feel sceptical. Were 38 people really looking at that budget flight to London at the same exact moment?

Being a cyber-security researcher, she was familiar with web code so she decided to examine how OneTravel displayed its web pages. (Anyone can do this by using the “inspect” function on web browsers like Firefox and Chrome.) After a little bit of digging she made a startling discovery – the number wasn’t genuine. The OneTravel web page she was browsing was simply designed to claim that between 28 and 45 people were viewing a flight at any given moment. The exact figure was chosen at random.

Not only that, the website’s innards were surprisingly blatant about what was going on. The bit of code that defined the number shown to users was even labelled “view_notification_random”.

(20) MECHANICAL BULLS***. “General Election 2019: How computers wrote BBC election result stories”.

For the first time, BBC News published a news story for every constituency that declared election results overnight – all written by a computer.

It was the BBC’s biggest test of machine-generated journalism so far.

Each of nearly 700 articles – most in English but 40 of them in Welsh – was checked by a human editor before publication.

The head of the project said the tech was designed to enhance the service provided rather than to replace humans.

“This is about doing journalism that we cannot do with human beings at the moment,” said Robert McKenzie, editor of BBC News Labs.

“Using machine assistance, we generated a story for every single constituency that declared last night with the exception of the one that hasn’t finished counting yet. That would never have been possible.”

VIDEO OF THE DAY. In Quail on Vimeo, Grant Kolton explains that if you want to be a quail, it’s hard work!

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Hampus Eckerman, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Mike Kennedy, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, Michael Toman, Contrarius, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Bill.]

Pixel Scroll 12/18/18 Just One Pixel Of Scrolls Is Better Than A Lifetime Alone

(1) NOT THE DOCTOR WHO CHRISTMAS SPECIAL. A nice placeholder, though. Io9 sets the frame: “Doctor Who Saves Christmas (Again) in This Adorable Holiday Short”:

Doctor Who’s Twitter account has shared a cute animated holiday short telling the story of how the Doctor (voiced by Whittaker) helped save Christmas once again this year. Narrated by Bradley Walsh (Graham), the Twas The Night Before Christmas-style tale is all about Santa getting stuck in a jam after his sleigh breaks down. Who can he possibly call to save the day? The Doctor, of course!

(2) HARD SF. James Davis Nicoll dares to tell us about “Five Works of Hard Science Fiction That Bypass the Gatekeepers” at Tor.com.

….Still, I think there’s a gap between hard SF defined so narrowly only Hal Clement could be said to have written it (if we ignore his FTL drives) and hard SF defined so broadly anything qualifies provided the author belongs to the right social circles … that this gap is large enough that examples do exist. Here are five examples of SF works  that are, to borrow Marissa Lingen’s definition:

playing with science.

and doing so with a verisimilitude that’s not just plot-enabling handwaving….

(3) MYTHCON 50. Introducing artist Sue Dawe’s logo for Mythcon 50, with the theme “Looking Back, Moving Forward.” The convention will take place August 2-5 in San Diego – register here

(4) TAFF NEWS. Avail yourself of the official Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund news – click to retrieve the PDF file: 

(5) CODE OF CONDUCT GUIDANCE. Valerie Aurora and Mary Gardiner have made available as a free download their book on Code of Conduct enforcement for those who put on conventions and conferences: “Free code of conduct enforcement book available now”.

You can now download a free book detailing how to enforce a code of conduct, “How to Respond to Code of Conduct Reports,” written by Valerie Aurora and Mary Gardiner and edited by Annalee Flower Horne. This comprehensive guide includes:

  • Basic code of conduct theory
  • How to prepare to enforce a code of conduct
  • Step-by-step instructions on how to respond to a report
  • In-depth discussion of relevant topics
  • Dozens of real-world examples of responding to reports

Valerie Aurora and Mary Gardiner were the lead authors of the Ada Initiative anti­-harassment policy, which is the basis of thousands of codes of conduct in use today. Valerie has more than 7 years of professional experience writing and implementing codes of conduct for software-related companies, venture capital firms, and non-profits.

(6) NOT GOING TO DUBLIN 2019? Then a clue as to what you’ll be missing from the Science GoH is contained in this 1/2 hour BBC interview with Jocelyn Bell Burnell. “Of course, if you are going to Dublin, then don’t listen to this,” warns SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, “as there are spoilers.”

Jim Al-Khalili talks to astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell. Jocelyn Bell Burnell forged her own path through the male-dominated world of science – in the days when it was unusual enough for women to work, let alone make a discovery in astrophysics that was worthy of a Nobel Prize. As a 24-year old PhD student, Jocelyn spotted an anomaly on a graph buried within 100 feet of printed data from a radio telescope. Her curiosity about such a tiny detail led to one of the most important discoveries in 20th century astronomy – the discovery of pulsars – those dense cores of collapsed stars. It’s a discovery which changed the way we see the universe, making the existence of black holes suddenly seem much more likely and providing further proof to Einstein’s theory of gravity.

(7) FILMS THAT BELONG ON YOUR LIST. Looper says these are “The Best Fantasy Movies Everyone Missed In 2018.”

With major blockbusters and huge franchises taking up most of our attention these days, it can be easy to lose track of all the great releases sneaking by under the radar but these 2018 fantasy movies are well worth seeking out…

(8) TV HISTORY. Echo Ishii revisits another sff TV classic, The Stone Tape:

The Stone Tape was a television play broadcast by the BBC in 1972.

The Stone Tape begins with a man named Peter who is head of a research team for an electronics company. Like many of the characters in Beasts, the protagonist is not a pleasant person. Peter Brock, though likely very skilled at his job, is arrogant, self-absorbed, sexist, and condescending. Whereas someof the sexism and the bigoted comments may be a representation of the realities of the the business world (and TV) at the time, you are clearly meant not to like Peter Brock as a person which only amps up the unease surrounding the main plot….

(9) HOW FAR IS IT? Far out. Like, literally Far Freekin’ Out. A newly announced minor planet is the most distant known object in the Solar System (Phys.org: “Outer solar system experts find ‘far out there’ dwarf planet”). The body’s official name is 2018 VG18, but it’s nicknamed “Farout” and it’s current orbital distance is about 120 AUs.

A team of astronomers has discovered the most-distant body ever observed in our Solar System. It is the first known Solar System object that has been detected at a distance that is more than 100 times farther than Earth is from the Sun.

The new object was announced on Monday, December 17, 2018, by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center and has been given the provisional designation 2018 VG18. The discovery was made by Carnegie’s Scott S. Sheppard, the University of Hawaii’s David Tholen, and Northern Arizona University’s Chad Trujillo.

2018 VG18, nicknamed “Farout” by the discovery team for its extremely distant location, is at about 120 astronomical units (AU), where 1 AU is defined as the distance between the Earth and the Sun. The second-most-distant observed Solar System object is Eris, at about 96 AU. Pluto is currently at about 34 AU, making 2018 VG18 more than three-and-a-half times more distant than the Solar System’s most-famous dwarf planet.

(10) COMING YOUR WAY. The Raven Tower, Ann Leckie’s new fantasy novel, arrives February 26, 2019. “My library’s already let me reserve it,” says Daniel Dern.

(11) THE WISDOM OF P.L. TRAVERS. The Washington Post’s Jerry Griswold profiles Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers, whom he interviewed for the Paris Review, saying that Travers “was the wisest woman I’ve ever met,” a deep student of Zen, and the author of novels about Mary Poppins that are much darker than the movies. “Disney tried to erase ‘Mary Poppins’ creator P.L. Travers. She’s still more fascinating than fiction.”.

…Travers was the wisest woman I’ve ever met. She was the second Western woman to study Zen in Kyoto, part of the inner circle of the famous mystic G.I. Gurdjieff and did yoga daily (an exotic practice in the 1970s). One afternoon in her Manhattan apartment, we had a conversation that would later appear in Paris Review. She spoke about the meanings of Humpty Dumpty, how her book “Friend Monkey” had been inspired by the Hindu myth of Hanuman, the Zen expression “summoned not created,” the sacredness of names in aboriginal cultures and a spiritual understanding of the parable of the Prodigal Son. And as for linking “this store of wisdom and our modern life,” she lead me step by step through parallels between the kidnapping of Patty Hearst and the myth of Persephone. It was one of the richest afternoons of my life.

As she often did, Travers emphasized that she “never wrote for children” but remained “immensely grateful that children have included my books in their treasure trove.” She thought her books appealed to the young because she had never forgotten her own childhood: “I can, as it were, turn aside and consult it.”

(11) NASA POSTERS. Bored Panda is a bit skeptical — “Turns Out NASA Creates Posters For Every Space Mission And They’re Hilariously Awkward” – but Michael J. Walsh says, “Contrary to the headline, I think many of them are really good.”

…However, when astronauts got bored of the standard group photos they decided to spice things up a bit. And what’s a better way to do that other than throwing in some pop culture references? Fair warning the results are quite cringy, making it hard to believe that these images are actually real.

First on the list:

(12) DINJOS OBIT. Nigerian sff writer Emeka Walter Dinjos has died. Future Science Fiction Digest editor Alex Shvartsman paid tribute in “RIP Emeka Walter Dinjos”:

It is with a heavy heart that I must share the news that Emeka Walter Dinjos, a Nigerian writer of science fiction and fantasy whose novelette “SisiMumu” is featured in our first issue, passed away at the age of thirty-four on Wednesday, December 12.

Walter was admitted to the hospital a little over aweek ago, on the eve of his birthday. In his last Facebook post he shared a photo of himself in a hospital bed, writing “I once swore I would never find myself in a place like this.” He was quick to point out, “It’s just fatigue.Will probably be out in a few days.” But unfortunately he succumbed to complications related to unmanaged diabetes. Walter is survived by his siblings and extended family, to whom I extend deepest condolences on behalf of everyone at Future SF and his many friends in the SF/F community….

(13) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • December 18, 1839 — John William Draper took the first photo of theMoon. (Say “Cheese!”)
  • December 18, 1957The Monolith Monsters hit theatres.
  • December 18, 1968 — Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang flew into theaters.

(14) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born December 18, 1913 Alfred Bester. He is best remembered for perhaps for The Demolished Man, which won the very first Hugo Award. I remember experiencing it as an audiobook— a very spooky affair!  The Stars My Destination is equally impressive with Foyle both likeable and unlikable at the same time. Psychoshop which Zelazny finished is in my library but has escaped reading so far. I’ve run across references to Golem100 but I’ve never seen a copy anywhere. Has anyone read It? (Died 1987.)
  • Born December 18, 1939Michael Moorcock, 79. Summing up the career of Moorcock isn’t possible so I won’t. His Elric of Melniboné series is just plain awesome and I’m quite fond of the Dorian Hawkmoon series of novels as well. Particular books that I’d like to note as enjoyable for me include The Metatemporal Detective collection, Mother London and The English Assassin: A Romance of Entropy
  • Born December 18, 1946 Steven Spielberg, 72. Are we counting Jaws as genre? I believe we are per an earlier discussion here. If so, that’s his first such followed immediately by Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Between 1981 and 1984, he put out Raiders of the Lost ArkE.T. the Extra-TerrestrialTwilight Zone: The Movie and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Ok so the quality of the last film wasn’t great… He’d repeated that feat between ‘89 and ‘93 when he put out Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Hook which I both love followed by Jurassic Park which I don’t. The Lost World: Jurassic Park followed along a string of so-so films,  A.I. Artificial IntelligenceMinority Report, War of the Worlds and one decided stinker, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SkullThe BFG is simply wonderful. Haven’t seen Ready Player One so I’ll leave that up to y’all to opine on. 
  • Born December 18, 1953 Jeff Kober,65. Actor who’s been in myriad genre series and films including V, The Twilight Zone, Alien Nation, the Poltergeist series,The X-Files series, Tank Girl as one of the kangaroos naturally, SupernaturalStar Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise, Kindred: The Embraced and The Walking Dead. 
  • Born December 18, 1968 Casper Van Dien, 49. Yes, Johnny Rico in that Starship Troopers movie. Not learning his lesson, he’d go on to film Starship Troopers 3: Marauder and the animated Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars. Do not go read the descriptions of these films! He’d also star as Tarzan in Tarzan and the Lost City, show up as Brom Van Brunt In Sleepy Hollow, be Captain Abraham Van Helsing in Dracula 3000, James K. Polkin, and — oh really Casper — the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Sequels short, Rumpelstiltskin in Avengers Grimm and Saber Raine In Star Raiders: The Adventures of Saber Raine. That’s a lot of really bad film. 

(15) GOOD PLACE/BAD PLACE. At Vice, D. Patrick Rodgers believes, “The Best Thing on TV This Year Was: ‘The Good Place’.”

The unseen presence of one character has haunted The Good Place from the beginning, lingering like one of Bad Janet’s legendary farts since the very first moments of the very first episode: Doug Forcett.

As we all know — at three seasons and 35 episodes in — the afterlife hinges on a cumulative point system, with good deeds adding to an individual’s point total and bad or selfish deeds subtracting. People with high enough point totals enter The Good Place, while those who don’t make the cut do the whole burn-for-eternity thing down in The Bad Place. Despite all the twists, developments, reveals, and red herrings of the uniquely sharp and wacky sitcom, one constant has remained: that only one mortal has figured out the system, and he did it while on a mushroom trip back in 1972.

“Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By” opens with the song of the same name by the Mamas and the Papas’ “Mama” Cass Elliott, itself a 70s artifact that portends something darker than its sunny melody suggests —that life is short, and if we’re not careful, we’ll screw it up. We watch as some as-yet-unnamed character tends to a series of mundane tasks, his face hidden from view. But there’s something familiar about that grizzled-blond shock of hair we see only from behind. It belongs to someone we know. Turns out that’s doubly true, as the head we’re looking at is that of legendary comedic actor Michael McKean in character as the aforementioned Forcett, now several decades older and committed to obtaining the requisite number of Good Place points.

(16) MEMORIAL FOR A BOT. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] Mashable brings us word that, “A delivery robot caught on fire at UC Berkeley, students then set up a vigil.” The KiwiBot was one of a fleet of over 100.

A KiwiBot, an automated food delivery robot which is present on UC Berkeley’s campus, caught fire on Friday afternoon.

In a post, the company explained the incident was due to a faulty battery which had been mistakenly installed instead of a functioning one. 

The errant battery started smoldering while the robot was idling, leading to smoke, then fire outside the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union.

“A member of the community acted swiftly toextinguish the flames using a nearby fire extinguisher. Within moments ofthe incident occurring, it had already been contained,” the post read.

“The Berkeley Fire Department arrived shortly thereafter to secure the scene, and doused the robot with foam ensuring there was no risk of re-ignition.”

Unsurprisingly, the fire was caught on both video and stills. Pics of the subsequent candlelight memorial also appeared online. Deliveries had been taking place by the bots since 2017 but were suspended following the fire. Since then, software has been updated to more closely monitor the battery state and the fleet is back in service.

(17) MOCKERY. This is the kind of promo I’d expect from JDA or Richard Paolinelli, except you’d have to take their books, too: “Popeyes is launching ‘Emotional Support Chicken’ for stressed travelers craving fried chicken”.

On Tuesday, the chicken chain announced that it is selling three-piece chicken-tenders meals packaged in “Emotional Support Chicken” carriers at Philadelphia International Airport. The special chicken will be available as supplies last starting Tuesday at the Popeyes location in Terminal C.

Emotional-support animals have been making headlines recently, as passengers have pushed for the ability to bring increasingly bizarre companions on flights.

The number of emotional-support animals traveling aboard commercial flights has jumped 74% from 481,000 in 2016 to 751,000 in 2017, according to trade group Airlines for America. In January, a woman tried to bring an emotional-support peacock on a United Airlines flight. And, in February, another woman said Spirit Airlines told her to flush her emotional-support hamster down the toilet.

(18) NICE TRY. Somehow the trash in the Pacific is moving faster than the catcher: “Creator Of Floating Garbage-Collector Struggling To Capture Plastic In Pacific”.

Slat’s system, a 10-foot skirt attached beneath an unmoored, 2000-foot-long plastic tube, takes advantage of the wind and waves to move through the Pacific Ocean. The system aims to collect plastic from the water’s surface, which would then be picked up every few months by a support vessel and transported back to land for recycling. The garbage trap uses solar-powered lights, cameras, sensors and satellite antennas to communicate its position to Slat’s team and passerby vessels.

(19) MAYBE TOMORROW. “SpaceX And Blue Origin Scrub Rocket Launches, Dashing Hopes Of A 4-Launch Day” – NPR has the story.

Weather and other delays marred what had been anticipated as a banner day for space launches Tuesday, as both SpaceX and Blue Origin were forced to postpone launches that had been scheduled to take place within minutes of each other. Both companies say they will look at moving their launches to Wednesday morning.

(20) BANNED ARTWORK. The New York Times reports some work by international artists has been banned from a forthcoming exhibit at the Guangdong Museum of Art: “Their Art Raised Questions About Technology. Chinese Censors Had Their Own Answer.”

Artificial intelligence bots. 3-D printed human organs. Genomic sequencing.

These might seem to be natural topics of interest in a country determined to be the world’s leader in science and technology. But in China, where censors are known to take a heavy hand, several artworks that look closely at these breakthroughs have been deemed taboo by local cultural officials.

The works, which raise questions about the social and ethical implications of artificial intelligence and biotechnology, were abruptly pulled last weekend from the coming Guangzhou Triennial on the orders of cultural authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.

The artists, from Europe, Australia and the United States, were not given an official reason why their works were rejected for the show, which opens on Dec. 21 at the Guangdong Museum of Art. The pieces did not touch on the Tiananmen democracy crackdown of 1989, independence for Taiwan or Tibet or the private wealth of Chinese Communist Party leaders —topics that are widely known to be off-limits for public discussion in China.

As a result, some of the show’s curators and the affected artists havebeen left guessing as to why the works were banned. Their conclusion? The works were perhaps too timely, too relevant and therefore too discomforting for Chinese officials.

…The other banned works include “The Modular Body,” an online science fiction story about using human cells and artificial organs to create a living organism. Created by a Dutch artist, Floris Kaayk, the work is intended to raise questions about the potential for 3-D printing of human organs, about extending life with the help of technology and about the desire to design life from scratch.

(21) OUT OF THE BOT BUSINESS. Engadget reports “Sphero is done making licensed Disney bots like BB-8 and R2-D2”:

Say goodbye to Sphero’s cute BB-8 robot. In fact, say goodbye to all the company’s licensed products, including R2-D2, BB-9E and Cars’ Lighting McQueen. According to The Verge, Sphero plans to sell its remaining inventory of licensed toys, but it will no longer manufacture more once it runs out. Indeed, the products’ listings on Sphero’s website says “This is a legacy product and no longer in production.” The company isn’t just discontinuing the models, though: It’s ending its licensing partnerships completely, because it’s no longer worth dedicating resources for their production.

Sphero chief Paul Berberian explained that while the toys sold well when their tie-in movies were released, fewer and fewer people purchased them as the years went by. “When you launch a toy, your first year’s your biggest. Your second year’s way smaller, and your third year gets really tiny,” he said….

(22) ALL YOU HAD TO DO IS ASK. Rocco the parrot apparently knows how to get what he wants (BGR Media: “An intelligent parrot used Alexa to play music and order food from Amazon”).

An African grey parrot has made headlines recently for inadvertently making orders via his owner’s Amazon Echo. Originally reported via The Times of London [paywall], the parrot — whose name is Rocco — would mindlessly activate Alexa and have the virtual assistant tell jokes and play music. Rocco even tried to order a few items from Amazon, but the owner wisely had set up controls to prevent unauthorized purchases.

What makes the somewhat lighthearted story even more amusing is that Rocco previously had a stint living at the UK’s National Animal Welfare Trust (NAWT) but was kicked out — yes, kicked out — because he was swearing too much. As the old adage says, truth is stranger than fiction. Rocco was subsequently placed under the care of a NAWT employee named Marion Wischnewski whereupon he quickly started activating Alexa.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Carl Slaughter, Elusis, Brian Z., Chip Hitchcock, Cat Eldridge, Andrew Porter, Martin Morse Wooster, Daniel Dern, and Mike Kennedy for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Paul Weimer.]