Pixel Scroll 4/1/20 When I Was Babel-17, It Was A Very Good Scroll

(1) NO FOOLING. One of the most famous warships that never was – but what kind was it? “HMS Thunderchild – A bad day to be a Tripod,” at Drachinifel. (Here’s a portfolio of related designs by Baron-Engel, “HMS Thunderchild”, at DeviantArt.)

My attempt to answer the question, just what exactly was HMS Thunderchild?

(2) BUDRYS ASSEMBLED. David Langford’s Ansible Editions has released Beyond the Outposts: Essays on SF and Fantasy 1955-1996, a collection of Algis Budrys’s standalone essays, reviews, appreciations, state-of-the-art reports, personal memoirs and thoughts on the mechanics of writing.

As noted in the latest Ansible, the Lulu coupon code LULU20 gives 20% off the paperback today and tomorrow (1 and 2 April). Published: April 2020 at $22.50. Ebook edition April 2020 at £5.50 . Approximately 211,000 words with index.

Among the major pieces here are “Paradise Charted”, a tour-de-force potted history of the science fiction genre that filled some seventy pages of the special SF issue of TriQuarterly magazine; “Literatures of Milieux”, a highly individual attack on the problem of defining our genre; the long series of “On Writing” columns written for Locus magazine; “Non-Literary Influences on Science Fiction”, exploring in disquieting depth how magazine stories were routinely cut, padded or rearranged for production reasons beyond the control of author or editor; and “Obstacles and Ironies in Science-Fiction Criticism”, casting a cold eye on the very thing that Budrys did best. Lighter notes are struck by mordant book and film reviews plus touches of sheer personal fun.

Here is Budrys’s 1980 “Diagram of All SF” which accompanied his potted history of the genre for TriQuarterly magazine.

(3) STOKERCON UK. The Horror Writers Association’s annual event, planned for the UK this year, has been postponed to August 6-9. More information here:

Further to our announcement last week, we wanted to inform the membership that, following further negotiations with the two convention hotels, they have finally agreed to issue refunds on the reservations of those who cannot make the proposed new dates of August 6–9, 2020 for STOKERCON UK. Unfortunately, as the hotels are closed at the moment due to the Government’s restrictions, this cannot happen immediately.

(4) PHANTOM ZONE. Wil Wheaton provides isolation entertainment: “Radio Free Burrito Presents: The Ghost of Harrowby Hall”. (The recording is on Soundcloud here.)

While I listen to medical professionals and practice self-quarantine at home, I’m making an effort to create and release free audio book shorts every few days. It’s a good way for me to stay connected to my creative self, when my everything else self is so anxious and scared, all it wants to do is hide under the blankets and play video games.

…Today’s reading is a satirical Victorian ghost story from the 1890s.

(5) HOLD THE DOOR! “Exploring the Four Types of Portal Narratives” by James Davis Nicoll at Tor.com.

Andre Norton understood the potential in doorways. A door could lead you from post-War Europe to the Witchworld, from a world where one is but an unwanted double to one where one can be a savior, from the world we know to ones where history played out very, very differently. In fact, portals and doorways are so common (see Judith Tarr’s ongoing Norton Reread series) that it’s odd none of her interstellar empires ever seemed to make use of them.

(6) DEVEREAUX OBIT. Cat Devereaux, the International Costumers’ Guild 2005 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient, died today. Active in costume fandom since the early 1980’s, when she reached a time in life where traveling to conventions far away became tougher, she created one of the largest free informational and costume-supportive websites on the Internet, Alley Cat Scratch Costume, with resources for costume design and sewing.

(7) JACK OBIT. BBC reports “Star Wars actor Andrew Jack dies aged 76”.

An actor and dialect coach who appeared in Star Wars and worked with A-list celebrities has died after contracting Covid-19, his agent has said.

Andrew Jack, 76, died in a Surrey hospital on Tuesday.

Agent Jill McCullough said she had been inundated with tributes to one of the acting world’s “brightest and clearest voices”.

She said Jack was unable to see his wife in his final days because she was quarantined in Australia.

His acting credits included The Last Jedi and the Force Awakens.

(8) TODAY’S DAY.

  • April 1 — The term “All Fools,” was probably meant as a deliberate stab at All Saints (November 1) and All Souls (November 2) Day. Although the origin of playing practical jokes and pranks on this day is hazy, many folklorists believe it may go back to 16th-century France. At that time, New Year’s Day was March 25, with a full week of partying and exchanging gifts until April 1. In 1582, the Gregorian calendar moved New Year’s Day to January 1. Those who forgot or refused to honor the new calendar were teasingly called, “April Fool!” Weather folklore states, “If it thunders on All Fools Day, it brings good crops of corn and hay.”

(9) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • April 1, 1957 Kronos premiered. It was produced by Irving Block, Louis DeWitt, Kurt Neumann, and Jack Rabin, and directed by Kurt Neumann. It starred Jeff Morrow and Barbara Lawrence. It was shown as a double feature with She Devil. Critics were mixed on it with the Variety reviewer finding much to like in it. Audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes give it a 44% rating.  Despite it being on both Youtube and the Internet Archive, it is still under copyright having been renewed by legal rights holders,  so a link for viewing it will not be provided as those are pirated copies.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born April 1, 1875 Edgar Wallace. Creator of King Kong, he also wrote SF including Planetoid 127, one of the first parallel Earth stories, and The Green Rust, a bioterrorism novel which was made into a silent film called The Green Terror. Critics as diverse as Orwell, Sayers and Penzler have expressed their rather vehement distaste for him.  Kindle has an impressive number of works available. (Died 1932.)
  • Born April 1, 1916 Mary, Lady Stewart (born Mary Florence Elinor Rainbow, lovely name that). Yes, you know her better as just Mary Stewart. Genre wise, she’s probably best known for her Merlin series which walks along the boundary between the historical novel and fantasy. Explicitly fantasy is her children’s novel A Walk in Wolf Wood: A Tale of Fantasy and Magic. (Died 2014.)
  • Born April 1, 1926 Anne McCaffrey. I read both the original trilogy and what’s called the Harper Hall trilogy oh so many years ago. Enjoyed them immensely. No interest in the later works she set there. And I confess that I had no idea she’d written so much other genre fiction! (Died 2011.)
  • Born April 1, 1930 Grace Lee Whitney. Yeoman Janice Rand on Star Trek. She would reach the rank of Lt. Commander in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Folks, I just noticed that IMDB says she was only on eight episodes of Trek. It seemed like a lot more at the time. Oh, and she was in two video fanfics, Star Trek: New Voyages and Star Trek: Of Gods and Men. (Died 2015.)
  • Born April 1, 1942 Samuel R. Delany, 78. There’s no short list of recommenced works for him as everything he’s done is brilliant. That said I think I’d start off suggesting a reading of Babel- 17 and Dhalgren followed by the Return to Nevèrÿon series. I think his only Hugo win was in the Short Story category at Heicon ’70  for “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones”  as published  in New Worlds, December 1968.
  • Born April 1, 1953 Barry Sonnenfeld, 67. Director of The Addams Family and its sequel Addams Family Values  (both of which I really like), the Men in Black trilogy (well, one out of three ain’t bad) and Wild Wild West. He also executive produced Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events which I’ve not seen, and did the same for Men in Black: International, the recent not terribly well-received continuation of that franchise. 
  • Born April 1, 1960 Michael Praed, 60. Robin of Loxley on Robin of Sherwood which no doubt is one of the finest genre series ever done of a fantasy nature. He also played Phileas Fogg on The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne, an amazing series that I think ever got released on DVD. 
  • Born April 1, 1963 James Robinson, 57. Writer, both comics and film. Some of his best-known comics are the series centered on the Justice Society of America, in particular the Starman character he co-created with Tony Harris. His Starman series is without doubt some of the finest work ever done in the comics field. His screenwriting not so much. Remember The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Well that’s him. 
  • Born April 1, 1970 Brad Meltzer, 50. I’m singling him for his work as a writer at DC including the still controversial Identity Crisis miniseries and his superb story in the Green Arrow series from issues 16 to 21 starting in 2002.  He and artist Gene Ha received an Eisner Award for Best Single Issue (or One-Shot) for their work on issue #11 of Justice League of America series. 

(11) KYLE REMEMBERED. The First Fandom Annual, 2019 David A. Kyle: A Life Of Science Fiction Ideas And Dreams is available.  A centenary tribute to David A. Kyle, the annual is edited by John L. Coker III and Jon D. Swartz. Includes:

  • Foreword by Forrest J Ackerman
  • Introduction by Frederik Pohl
  • Afterword by Robert A. Madle
  • Bibliography by Christopher M. O’Brien

(128) pages in two volumes. Limited to 26 lettered copies. Laser-printed on 28 # paper. Photos and illustrations, 8½ x 11. Gloss color covers, booklet-stapled. Each set has a label signed by Kyle. To reserve a copy: jlcoker3@bellsouth.net. Order your set by sending check or M.O. for $60 (includes packing, priority postage and insurance) payable to John L. Coker III at 4813 Lighthouse Road, Orlando, FL – 32808.

(12) ABOVE THE SKY. Galactic Journey’s Gideon Marcus has a book out. His Journey Press has released Kitra — a YA Space Adventure.

Nineteen-year-old Kitra Yilmaz dreams of traveling the galaxy like her Ambassador mother. But soaring in her glider is the closest she can get to touching the stars — until she stakes her inheritance on a salvage Navy spaceship.

On its shakedown cruise, Kitra’s ship plunges into hyperspace, stranding Kitra and her crew light years away. Tensions rise between Kitra and her shipmates: the handsome programmer, Fareedh; Marta, biologist and Kitra’s ex-girlfriend; Peter, the panicking engineer; and the oddball alien navigator, Pinky.

Now, running low on air and food, it’ll take all of them working together to get back home.

Journey Press has also published the well-received collection Rediscovery: Science Fiction by Women (1958-1963).

(13) TOUGH NEIGHBORHOOD. Hey, I thought my high school was dangerous. But compared to Gotham High?

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Alex and Eliza and The Witches of East End comes a reimagining of Gotham for a new generation of readers. Before they became Batman, Catwoman, and The Joker, Bruce, Selina, and Jack were high schoolers who would do whatever it took–even destroy the ones they love–to satisfy their own motives. After being kicked out of his boarding school, 16-year-old Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City to find that nothing is as he left it. What once was his family home is now an empty husk, lonely but haunted by the memory of his parents’ murder. Selina Kyle, once the innocent girl next door, now rules over Gotham High School with a dangerous flair, aided by the class clown, Jack Napier. When a kidnapping rattles the school, Bruce seeks answers as the dark and troubled knight–but is he actually the pawn? Nothing is ever as it seems, especially at Gotham High, where the parties and romances are of the highest stakes … and where everyone is a suspect.

(14) RIPPED TO SHREDS. Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait tells SYFY Wire readers: “It Looks Like A Star 750 Million Light Years Away *Was* Torn Apart By A Mid-Sized Black Hole”.

In 2006, the light from a ridiculously violent event reached Earth. Hugely diminished by the time it reached us, it started out as an extremely powerful blast of X-rays… but unlike events such as a typical supernova or other high-energy processes which come and go rather quickly, this one faded slowly, visibly dropping in brightness over the course of more than ten years.

Not too many things can behave this way, and the most common is also one of the scariest: An entire star being ripped to shreds by the gravity of a black hole.

(15) HOSPITAL SETUP. [Item by Chip Hitchcock.] The process will look familiar to anyone who has done large-convention setup, but the purpose is more essential: “Transforming London’s ExCeL centre into Nightingale hospital”.

Timelapse footage has captured the transformation of London’s ExCeL centre into a temporary hospital for coronavirus patients.

The Nightingale Hospital is expected to be operational by the end of the week.

Five hundred beds are already in place and there is space for another 3,500.

(16) THEY WERE EVERYWHERE. Maybe not through walls, but “‘Dinosaurs walked through Antarctic rainforests'”.

Scientists drilling off the coast of West Antarctica have found the fossil remains of forests that grew in the region 90 million years ago – in the time of the dinosaurs.

Their analysis of the material indicates the continent back then would have been as warm as parts of Europe are today but that global sea levels would have been over 100m higher than at present.

The research, led from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Germany, is published in the journal Nature.

It’s emerged from an expedition in 2017 to recover marine sediments in Pine Island Bay.

AWI and its partners, including the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), used a novel cassette drill-mechanism called MeBo to extract core material some 30m under the seafloor.

When the team examined the sediments in the lab, it found traces of ancient soils and pollen and even tree roots.

…Seeing the White Continent as we do today with its kilometres-thick ice covering, it’s a challenge to the imagination to think of such productive conditions. But BAS director, Prof Jane Francis, says there have been several periods in Earth history when Antarctica’s great glaciers were absent.

This study, she says, represents the first evidence for Cretaceous forests so close to the South Pole – just 900km away, at what would have been about 81-82 degrees South latitude.

“And, yes, there probably were dinosaurs in the forests,” she explained. “If you go to the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, you’ll find a whole range of fossils – things like hadrosaurs and sauropods, and primitive bird-like dinosaurs. The whole range of dinosaurs that lived in the rest of the world managed to get down to Antarctica during the Cretaceous.”

(17) KISS YOUR ASTERISK GOODBYE. The Root is sure “Samuel L. Jackson’s Spirited Reading of ‘Stay The F**k’ At Home’ Should Brighten Your Day”. The heavily-bleeped Jimmy Kimmel Show video reading starts at 6:10.

Jackson presented a new poem written by Adam Mansbach, the author of the Amazon bestseller Go the F**k to Sleep, titled “Stay the F**k At Home.” Jackson recorded the audiobook for Mansbach’s 2011 hit, a perfect choice given his frequent use of the cuss word throughout both his prolific film career and in his personal life. The original book served as an exasperated way to get Mansbach’s then two-year-old daughter to fall asleep, sparked in response to a Facebook post alluding to writing a book about his frustrations.

(18) TODAY’S OTHER PSA. Curb yourself already.

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

Pixel Scroll 1/10/19 We Built this City on Pixel Scroll

(1) A VALID GRIEVANCE. A message from Marko Kloos — “This post brought to you by the Superhero Writers Union.”

I love writing for Wild Cards. It’s an amazingly detailed world that has been expanded by thirty-plus writers over thirty years, and it’s a ton of fun to be a part of that. I mean, I get to make up my own super-powered characters and then let them loose in a playground that has been constantly expanded and improved for three decades. And the Wild Cards consortium is just stacked with super-nice and super-talented people.

That said, there’s one thing that annoys me about being a Wild Cards writer, and that’s entitled Game of Thrones fans.

Every time GRRM posts something on social media about Wild Cards, it takes about five seconds before someone responds with a dismissive one-liner that totally shits on whatever it is he’s trying to promote or announce. And it’s always a variation of the same boring, unoriginal garbage. Finish Winds of Winter. Nobody cares about Wild Cards. WHERE’S THE BOOK, GEORGE? NOT BUYING ANYTHING FROM YOU UNTIL YOU FINISH WINDS OF WINTER. Etcetera, etcetera. Yawn.

GRRM is the editor of Wild Cards (along with Melinda Snodgrass). He edits the books, he doesn’t write them…

(2) CON OR BUST SEEKS NEW DIRECTORS. Kate Nepveu, who started Con or Bust ten years ago, is stepping down from its board, and thus they are seeking up to four new director: “Help shape Con or Bust’s future: join the Board of Directors!”

What does being on the Board involve?

That’s up to the new Board members to decide. In the past, I handled all the day-to-day business, and the rest of the Board reviewed and approved requests for assistance quarterly, and provided advice, suggestions, and approvals regarding policy changes as-needed. The day-to-day business consisted of: the auction, yearly; administering requests for monetary assistance, quarterly; balancing the books, monthly; and general question-answering and email-fielding, weekly-ish.

However, that state of affairs was the result of (1) Con or Bust’s origin as a single-person project and (2) my control-freak tendencies. Since I’m stepping down, the new Board will determine what works best for its members.

Board members are elected for a term of three years.

(3) EXPLAINING THE POPULARITY OF HORROR. An article in the January 4 Financial TImes by Tom Faber contends horror films have become more popular because women are given more roles to play than “victims, sex objects, and she-devils.”

In 2018, however, women in horror were scientist-explorers, dancers, witches, avengers, webcam girls, and mothers both fiercely protective and provocatively ambivalent toward their children.  Meanwhile male characters in the Halloween reboot, (Lucas) Guadagnino’s Suspira and Hereditary were passive and useless.  In one of Suspira’s memorable scenes, witches hypnotise two policemen, laugh at them, and laugh at their genitals.  Could there be a more pointed example of the genre’s gender shift?

As female roles change, the horror audience only grows.  Last year’s Halloween broke the (admittedly specialised) box office record for a film with a female lead over the age of 55.  FrightFest reports more women attending every year.  And more women are getting behind the camera. The Babadook, Raw, and Revenge all offer a thoughtful female perspective  on the genre tropes, exploring motherhood, awakening sexuality and the aftermath of sexual violence without skimping on the gore. This could be a lasting change in the world of horror, even if the genre does end up creeping back into the shadows.

(4) LASSETER BACK IN INDUSTRY. Variety published the explanatory memo: “Skydance CEO Addresses John Lasseter Hire in Memo to Staff: ‘We Have Not Entered Into This Lightly’”

On Wednesday, Skydance announced that it hired Pixar veteran John Lasseter to head its animation division. The decision is bound to come under scrutiny, given the fact that Lasseter was ousted from Pixar in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal. In a memo to staff, CEO David Ellison attempted to explain the decision, and noted that Skydance employed a third-party counsel to investigate the allegations. Read the full memo below.

(5) STAR WARS BLOWS UP PRICES AT DISNEYLAND. At Fatherly, Ryan Britt says “Blame ‘Star Wars’ For Huge Price Increase of Disneyland Parks Tickets”. Disney has increased ticket prices by 25 percent to a minimum of $100/day to pay for Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge where you can ride the Millennium Falcon and have a drink at the Mos Eisley cantina. The post includes a Disney video called “Fly Through Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge.”

Sadly, there aren’t a lot of hacks to get around this, and the reason for the increase almost certainly has to do with the new Star Wars attraction. Touted as an immersive experience, Galaxy’s Edge will allow visitors to ride the Millennium Falcon and drink real alcohol at a simulacrum of the famous Mos Eisley cantina first glimpsed in the 1977 Star Wars movie, A New Hope. For those of us who remember StarTours from the ’80s and ’90s, this is supposed to be way better than that, though clearly, way more expensive.

(6) GOLDEN AGE SFF ART. Alec Nevala-Lee tells “How Astounding Saw the Future” with an accompanying gallery at the New York Times.

Science fiction has become so central to our culture that it can be easy to take it for granted, but its modern form arose at a specific historical moment. During the genre’s golden age, which is conventionally dated from 1939 to 1950, its ideas were refined by a relative handful of authors, editors and artists — and its most immediate impact came through its illustrations. Out of the pulps emerged an entire visual language that relied on striking painted covers to attract newsstand buyers, and while it took years for the stories inside to live up to readers’ dreams, the pictures were often unforgettable from the beginning.

This evolution is clearly visible in the magazine best known as Astounding Science Fiction, the most influential title in the history of the field, and in its sister publication, Unknown, which played much the same role for fantasy. Most of the art was produced by commercial freelancers in New York who collaborated closely with editors. The interior drawings tended to strictly follow the text, but cover artists could let their imaginations run wild. Thanks in large part to their work, science fiction in the midcentury achieved its enduring sense of wonder, and its images from this period may turn out to be the genre’s most lasting contribution to our collective vision of the future.

(7) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • January 10, 1927 — Fritz Lang’s Metropolis had its world premiere in his native Germany.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born January 10, 1904Ray Bolger. The Scarecrow In The Wizard of Oz, the villainous Barnaby in Babes in Toyland, two appearances on Fantasy Island, and Vector In “Greetings from Earth” on the seventies version of Battlestar Galactica. (Died 1987.)
  • Born January 10, 1937 Elizabeth Anne Hull, 82. She has served as the President of the Science Fiction Research Association and editor of its newsletter. She has been a member of the panel for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best SF novel since 1986. With her husband Frederik Pohl, Hull edited the Tales from the Planet Earth anthology. She is also the editor of the Gateways: Original New Stories Inspired by Frederik Pohl anthology. She has co-authored three short stories with him, “Author Plus”, “The Middle Kingdom” and “Second Best Friend”.
  • Born January 10, 1942 Walter Hill, 77. Film director, screenwriter producer of such genre fare as the Alien franchise, Streets of Fire (it’s genre, it’s it?), several espies odes of the Tales from the Crypt series, Tales from the CryptDemon KnightPerversions of Science, an episode of Deadwood and Prometheus. 
  • Born January 10, 1944 William Sanderson, 75. I remember him best as J. F. Sebastian, the possibly insane genetic designer working for Tyrell in Blade Runner but he’s had a career obviously after that film including appearing as Skeets in The Rocketeer, voicing Dr. Karl Rossum on Batman: The Animated Series, playing the character Deuce on Babylon 5 (a series I’ve watched through at least three times), E. B. Farnum on Deadwood (ok, it’s not genre, but it’s Will and Emma’s favorite show so let’s let it slide) and Sheriff Bud Dearborne on True Blood
  • Born January 10, 1944Jeffrey Catherine Jones. She was an artist providing more than a hundred and fifty covers for many different types of genre books through mid seventies including the Ace paperback editions of the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series. Among her work was also Flash Gordon for Charlton Comics in the Sixties and the  Conan Saga for Marvel Comics in the late Eighties. (Died 2011.)
  • Born January 10, 1947 George Alec Effinger. I’ve read his Marîd Audran series at least twice as it’s an amazing series in both the characters and the setting. I never read the short stories set in this setting until Golden Gryphon Press sent me Budayeen Nights for Green Man to review.  I don’t think I’ve ever encountered any of his other works — was he on presses that would’ve been in general bookstores that carried SF (Died 2002.)

(9) BUDRYS. Yesterday, Rich Horton posted “Birthday Review: Early Short Stories (and one obscure novel) by Algis Budrys”. He says, “I always think Algis Budrys needs to be better remembered, so on what would have been his 88th birthday, I put together a set of reviews of some of his 1950s stories.”

Algis Budrys was just a couple of months older than my father, and he’d have turned 88 today. He was one of my favorite SF writers. His best work, in my opinion, came mostly in the 1960s — the remarkable novel Rogue Moon, the underappreciated novel The Amsirs and the Iron Thorn, and such stories as “For Love”, “Wall of Crystal Eye of Night”, “Be Merry”, and a non-SF story, “The Master of the Hounds”. He also did excellent later work: “The Silent Eyes of Time”, “A Scraping at the Bones”, and the novels Michaelmas and Hard Landing. Late in his life he edited the interesting small press magaine tomorrow (which became one of the first magazines to transition online), before an unfortunate final act working for Writers of the Future.

(10) DC COLLECTIBLES. “Important Toy News: DC’s Hot Properties Village is the best fictional real estate”SYFY News has the story.

…Up for pre-order starting this week, Enesco’s Hot Properties Village follows in line with the well-known Department 56 “Village” brand. Instead of Swiss chalets and winter-themed Americana, Enesco is turning its attention to the major landmarks of the DC Universe. The company has already been putting out Christmas ornaments featuring some DC characters, but this new direction for the license opens up all kinds of possibilities, beginning with Wayne Manor, the Daily Planet, and the Batcave.

All three ceramic replicas include light-up elements, a key feature for display purposes. The scales are a little off between the various buildings, but that helps to keep all the various entries shelf-sized. Still, the Superman flying around the Daily Planet is comically oversized compared to the building, and the same could be said for the Bruce and Alfred that accompany Wayne Manor. At least the Batmobile looks like it could actually fit through the Batcave entrance. Sadly, the ’66 Batman and Robin to go with that cave entrance are sold separately….

(11) NONBREAKING NEWS. John Scalzi takes stock of his detractors in “And Now, the Dickhead Report”.

… Beyond that, it does seem that most of the dickheads who used to rail about me have either moved on or sunk themselves into obscurity or both. The fellow most enthusiastic about being a jackass in my direction over the years has recently fixated on someone else, which is nice for me and apparently harmless enough for the fellow he’s fixed himself upon. The object of his affections doesn’t seem to be suffering any real negative effect from the jackass’ constant need to attach himself, lamprey-like, to someone else’s career in the hope of gobbling up leftover crumbs. He’ll occasionally still snark in my direction, and mutter something to his sockpuppets about my blog visits, which, fine. But I don’t think his heart’s much into it anymore. He’s found a new crush, and I wish him joy.

Outside that dude, there’s a small group of indie writers (and their fans) who have used me as a fetish object in their never-ending war against the SJW-ing of science fiction, but that’s mostly just, like, six dudes reminding each other they’re in the “I Hate Scalzi” club over and over. Again, it’s not done me any harm, so let them have their whine circle if it makes them happy. But they seem to do it less now, as far as I can see. Among the former Sad Puppies, a couple of them will still hitch the strawman version of me to their chariot and drag it around the walls of their compound, to desultory cheers. But honestly, that was soooo long ago now. In the here and now, most of them are busy trying to build (or rebuild, as the case may be) their careers, and that’s probably a better use of their time. Good luck to them….

(12) DEEP BEEP. “Mysterious radio signals from deep space detected” according to the BBC.

Astronomers have revealed details of mysterious signals emanating from a distant galaxy, picked up by a telescope in Canada.

The precise nature and origin of the blasts of radio waves is unknown.

Among the 13 fast radio bursts, known as FRBs, was a very unusual repeating signal, coming from the same source about 1.5 billion light years away.

Such an event has only been reported once before, by a different telescope.

“Knowing that there is another suggests that there could be more out there,” said Ingrid Stairs, an astrophysicist from the University of British Columbia (UBC).

“And with more repeaters and more sources available for study, we may be able to understand these cosmic puzzles – where they’re from and what causes them.”

(13) THE NEXT BIG BUSINESS. The Verge tells how “Fixing broken satellites in space could save companies big money”.

When your satellite breaks in space, as DigitalGlobe’s did on Monday, there isn’t an easy way to repair it. Technology that’s currently on the horizon may change that, however, allowing satellite providers to staunch their financial losses and get more out of their investments.

For DigitalGlobe, the loss was brutal: an Earth-imaging satellite called WorldView-4, which had clients that include Google Maps. A critical instrument needed to stabilize the spacecraft has stopped working properly. Now, the satellite can’t take decent pictures of Earth for DigitalGlobe’s customers, and there seems to be no way to fix the damage. 

WorldView-4 generated $85 million in revenue for Maxar, DigitalGlobe’s parent company, in fiscal year 2018, and the spacecraft is insured for $183 million. (Maxar says it intends to seek all of that money.) But if a servicing company offered a way to repair the satellite in orbit, for tens of millions of dollars, Maxar wouldn’t be facing as big of a financial hole. WorldView-4 just needs a new working gyroscope to get things up and running again.

(14) WINTERPROOF. Wired assures readers that “Snow can’t stop the Edward Scissorhands of Flying Cars”.

Plattsburgh, New York, is a tough place to be outside in early January. The small city sits on the western shore of Lake Champlain, 20 miles south of the Canadian border. I’ve just arrived with Kyle Clark and a few of his colleagues, after a quick flight in a 40-year-old Cessna from Burlington, Vermont, on the other side of the lake. It’s snowing, and as we shuffle across the mostly abandoned former Air Force base toward a secluded hangar, I ask Clark if the weather might ice today’s flight plans.

He looks at me and laughs, opening the hangar door. “Not a chance.”

…Clark will have none of such worries. He bounds into the cavernous building that once housed B-52 bombers and introduces me to the Ava XC. The gleaming white contraption, with stilt-like landing gear and eight propellers jutting out in every direction, looks like what Tony Stark would build if he had an Edward Scissorhands phase.

(15) STAND UP FOR READING. In Illinois there’s a school using giant book murals to encourage reading.

For many students, this week saw the end of the Christmas break and a return to school.

However, one school in Illinois, US, has taken a novel and eye-catching approach to motivating its students in the new year.

Students of Mundelein High returned to find six floor-to-ceiling book covers lining the corridor of the school’s English department.

The vinyl prints, which wrap around sections of wall like the jackets of giant books, flank the doorways of three of the school’s English classrooms.

The school explained in a post on Facebook that a “routine hallway has been transformed into a giant motivational tableau to encourage reading”.

Lockers done over as Harry Potter book covers.

(16) ALLEGED VAMPIRES. Fox’s The Passage kicks off Season 1 on Monday — Preview: There’s No Such Thing As Vampires.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter, Carl Slaughter, ULTRAGOTHA, Karl-Johan Norén, Olav Rokne, Martin Morse Wooster, Mike Kennedy, Chip Hitchcock, Cat Eldridge, JJ, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Jack Lint.]

He Was the Dean

Promotional copy for the new Murray Leinster biography says he was known as “The Dean of Science Fiction.”

I should not have been surprised: I read this in Sam Moskowitz’ Explorers of the Infinite: Shapers of Science Fiction way back in the Seventies. However, I’d managed to forget it since. Or possibly repressed it, because as a young fan my fannish loyalties were to that rival claimant of the title: Robert A. Heinlein.

Heinlein acquired the title “Dean of Science Fiction” sometime around 1960, says J. Daniel Gifford in Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader’s Companion.

How? Thomas Clareson suggests in his essay for Voices for the Future (1976) that whoever wrote the jacket copy on his books was responsible:

Today Heinlein is known to many, thanks to paperback advertising techniques at least, as the “Dean” of science fiction writers, not so much because of his length of service as because of his relationship to the corporate body of science fiction.

Certainly a book cover was the first place I saw Heinlein called “Dean.” On the other hand, Leinster was called “Dean” in 1949 by no less an authority than Time Magazine

In the U.S., Will F. Jenkins, a 27-year veteran, who also writes under the pen name of Murray Leinster, is regarded as the dean of writers in the field.

Leinster was rather humble about the whole thing. In his introduction to Great Stories of Science Fiction (1951) he explained that he was sometimes called “’Dean’ of science fiction writers by virtue of my having outlived a number of better men. This wholly accidental distinction is perhaps the reason I was given the opportunity to compile this book.”

And as Leinster makes clear, the term “Dean” was primarily associated with seniority, length of service in the sf field. Lester Del Rey in The World of Science Fiction, a survey of the genre published in 1980, echoed the choice of Leinster:

…Murray Leinster, whose work remained popular in science fiction for more than fifty years and who was rightly named “the Dean of science fiction writers.”

I don’t know whether Heinlein liked being called “Dean” or thought it mattered at all. Maybe Bill Patterson can answer this in a later volume of his Heinlein bio. From a fan’s viewpoint I thought the name suited RAH because so many of his stories involved mentoring, the acquiring of self-discipline, or were delivered in the voice of a respected elder who has things to say about life, like Lazarus Long.

After Leinster died in 1975 some of the writers who acknowledged him as the “Dean” thought the title deserved to be perpetuated, which meant picking a successor. Isaac Asimov made it clear he preferred length of service as the criterion for naming someone the “Dean.” In his 1979 essay for IASFM “The Dean of Science Fiction,” Heinlein was not a finalist. Asimov listed Jack Williamson, Clifford D. Simak, L. Sprague de Camp and Lester Del Rey. And just a few years later – even while all four were still alive – Asimov seemed to have narrowed his list to two, saying in The Hugo Winners: 1980-1982 (1986) “the only writer who can possibly compete with [Clifford D. Simak] as ‘dean of science fiction’ is Jack Williamson, who is four years younger than Cliff but has been publishing three years longer.”

Both Simak and Heinlein died in 1988. Del Rey died in 1993. De Camp died in 2000.

Williamson seems to have been the writer most people felt comfortable calling the “Dean” in later years. Several of his peers labeled him by some version of the title both before and after Heinlein died. Interestingly, when Algis Budrys dubbed Williamson the “Dean of Science Fiction” in a 1985 essay for The Science Fiction Yearbook the usage even passed muster with the volume’s editor, Jerry Pournelle, a good friend of Heinlein’s. Williamson lived on until 2006, continuing to produce, his last novel The Stonehenge Gate published just the year before he died.

Some others regarded Arthur C. Clarke as the true heir to the title. Gerald K. O’Neill in The High Frontier (1989) called Clarke the dean of science fiction, and so did a contributor to a 1989 volume of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Clarke passed away in 2008.

People outside the field have always bandied the title about – Ray Bradbury was called the Dean on a TV show in the Sixties. Now he practically qualifies, though not quite – I imagine Fred Pohl has the edge in years as a professional writer.

Other specialties in the science fiction field have their “Deans.” Google tells me Frank Kelly Freas was called the “dean of science fiction artists,” though I must say I managed to go my entire time in fandom up to today without ever hearing him called that.

The New York Times once referred to Donald Wollheim as the “Dean” of science fiction editors, according to a 1981 article in The Bloomsbury Review.  Campbell had been so-called at least as early as 1947 — in Samuel Stephenson Smith’s How to Double Your Vocabulary, of all places — but he’d been dead almost ten years before The Bloomsbury Review took up the subject.

And let’s not forget that in Ann Arbor in 1975, Dean McLaughlin, author of “Hawk Among the Sparrows,” was who trufans called “Dean of Science Fiction.”

Of course, many will have become aware that no woman author’s name has been mentioned at any point, even in touching on the most recent decade. Ursula K. LeGuin regularly offers wisdom about topical issues in the field, and until death ended her long career Andre Norton was respected and influential, so there are women who might have been nominated to the role. However, I suspect the whole notion of a “Dean of Science Fiction,” which was never more than of anecdotal significance, is fading from fannish awareness too rapidly for a real sense of injustice to take hold.

[Thanks to John Lorentz, Google Ngram and Steven H Silver’s SF Site for help with this story.]

Denvention 3’s Classics of Science Fiction

Denvention 3 accepted John Hertz’ suggestion to program discussions of the “Wonders of 1958,” selected classics of science fiction. Read up and join in! The list of books and John’s notes appear on the Denvention 3 website. But let me save you a click —

Mile Closer to the Stars – Classics of Science Fiction
Book discussions led by John Hertz

We are in the golden-anniversary year of 1958, a golden year for science fiction. We’ll celebrate with five Classics of SF book discussions on books published that year and still famous, often reprinted, worth re-reading or first reading now. Look for them in the program grid as “Wonders of 1958.”

James Blish, A Case of Conscience and The Triumph of Time
Some call Conscience Blish’s finest book. Is it science fiction? Is it a story? Is its best moment when the Pope says “What did you do about it?” In the same year came the last of the four Cities in Flight novels. Is it a success standing alone? How does Time compare to Conscience?

Algis Budrys, Who?
This penetrating study of identity, loyalty, uncertainty may be both more bleak and more hopeful than it seems. If there is a sermon, it is preached by silence. Budrys is known for his deftness and timing; here too are poetry, a fundamental grasp of tragedy, and the surprises of love.

Robert Heinlein, Methuselah’s Children
By painting portraits Heinlein repeatedly asks the next question.  What if your lifespan was two hundred years?  What if you didn’t care?  If you are hunted, should you run?  Where should you go?  Here too is the first and perhaps best of Lazarus Long.  Extra credit: compare the carefully rewritten 1941 version in the July-September Astounding.

Fritz Leiber, The Big Time
Spiders are the good guys, and our hero is a woman.  The first Hero was a woman too, go look up Leander.   Indeed this is a very classical book; it preserves the unities of time, place, and persons, which is mighty strange, considering.  There’s slashing drama, and if you’ve never been a party girl, it might not be what you think.

Jack Vance, The Languages of Pao
With four worlds in the spotlight, one populated by fifteen billion, this is a story of one boy and one man.  Knowledge may be power.  Concentration and diversity may each be extreme.  The characters say linguistics is the science here; perhaps it is really cross-cultural study, or patience.  Vance’s own language is the gold.