Pixel Scroll 4/11/21 On The Scroll I’d Rather Be In Philadelphia

(1) JOCO VIRTUAL CRUISE IN PROGRESS. [Item by Todd Mason.] The Jonathan Coulton Cruise, an annual “fringe”/”geek” cultural floating convention, is this year providing a free online version of the (essentially) convention… “JoCo Virtual Cruise 2021”. It started April 10 and runs through April 14.

A worldwide pandemic may have prevented the physical sailing of JoCo Cruise 2021 from happening, but the spirit of JoCo Cruise SHALL NOT BE DENIED OR CONTAINED. As such, we at The Home Office have uploaded our collective consciousness to the cloud, and JoCo Cruise is going to ride the ones and zeros as JoCo Virtual Cruise 2021.

Concerts, panels, gaming, Shadow Cruise (attendee-run) events, dance parties, a Fancy Pants Parade—all the things you love about JoCo Cruise, packed together and streamed over the Netterwebs for your socially-distanced convenience!

(2) HOOFING THROUGH HISTORY. Jason W. Ellis has posted “Notes on A Science Fiction Walking Tour in New York City”.

Looking ahead to the New York City of Print NEH Summer Institute, I wanted to collect some notes and resources together for Science-Fiction-focused locations around the city, including the original Manhattan-based offices for the magazines Amazing Stories and Astounding Science-Fiction, and home and business locations in Brooklyn of importance to the SF writer Isaac Asimov….

(3) HATE CRIMES IN CAMBRIDGE. [Item by rcade.] The SFF writer/editor Cecilia Tan tweeted Saturday evening that she had just witnessed an assault outside a Cambridge, Massachusetts, bookstore. Thread starts here.

I’m in line to enter the bookstore and there is an Asian American couple in front of me. A white guy in tights wearing a mask goes to walk between us and he just outright punches the Asian guy in the ribs as he goes by!

The Asian guy grabbed his arm and yelled what the hell is wrong with you? The white guy pulled away yelling “what the hell you think is wrong with me?” And then walked away quickly before I could get my phone out to take a photo.

The incident occurred outside Porter Square Books. Tan said the store has security cameras it will be checking for potential footage to provide police.

Tan was walking home from the bookstore when she encountered another hate crime in Porter Square. The Judy Jetson hair salon had a boarded-up window with the words, “You can break our window but you can’t break our Pride.”

The salon’s Instagram feed revealed Friday that someone threw a brick through a window displaying a Pride flag. The salon stated, “Our support for the LGBTQ community will never be silenced.”

(4) HELPING VARLEY. A new post at John Varley’s blog, “Recovering”, announces a GoFundMe to sustain him after his quadruple bypass:

… When I had the heart attack and quadruple by-pass surgery, Spider [Robinson] came to the rescue again. He asked his good friend, Steph Herman, to co-ordinate a fundraising project to help cover costs of rehab, rent and bills which were barely being covered by social security and diminishing royalties.

The “Help John Varley survive his Quadruple Bypass” appeal has raised $27,020 of its $30,000 goal in the first week. When the fund hit the $25K mark Varley and his partner Lee Emmett wrote:

…If he had raised a tenth that much I would still have been stunned. There have been some donations from old friends (and thank you all for that; you know who you are), but the bulk has come from people I don’t know, have never met, and probably will never meet. (Though I would love to.)

To think that my stories have moved so many people … well, it literally chokes me up. After all, I’m just a guy sitting here in the dark, trying to think up stuff that might amuse people … and perhaps a little more if I’m lucky and it all comes together. Being a writer of short stories and novels is a lonely profession. There are no story conferences, no meetings in the writers’ room to hash out the details. There’s just me and this damn blank screen.

Over the years I have had a certain amount of “fan” mail, and it has all been greatly appreciated. But nothing like this. In the end, all I can say is thank you…. 

(5) DIGNITY, ALWAYS DIGNITY. In his autobiography In Joy Still Felt, Isaac Asimov discussed Discon I (1963). He explained that at the last-minute chair George Scithers asked him to replace Theodore Sturgeon as master of ceremonies at the Hugo Awards, also at the last minute.  Asimov explains that he really wanted a Hugo and thought being MC meant he wouldn’t get one.

Finally, there was only one Hugo left to be awarded, and it was labeled ‘Dramatic Award.’  I didn’t think anyone would be interested in that because it would be go to some movie or TV show with no one involved who was personally known to anybody, so I let the audience wait while I launched into a short speech of not-so-mock annoyance.

‘You know why I’ve never had a Hugo?’ I said, waving my fist in the air.  ‘It’s because I’m Jewish, that’s why.  It’s because of anti-Semitic prejudice in high places,  It’s because you’re all a bunch of Nazis.’  Naturally, this got a big laugh, and I opened the envelope and found that the ‘Dramatic Award’ typed on it had been put there as a blind.

The final Hugo, of course was for me.  I started reading, ‘For putting the science in science fiction, Is—‘ and stopped cold.

There wasn’t any question I was surprised.  The day never existed when I could fake that look of stunned astonishment on my face,  The audience roared; it roared for ten minutes.  When everyone died down and I caught my breath, George handed me my Hugo and I said, ‘You’ve ruined my shtick, damn it.’  (I tried to feign indignation, but I was smiling all over.  I was delighted.)

Apparently Ted Sturgeon had been chosen master of ceremonies because they wanted to give me a Hugo, and apparently he had been kept away by family difficulties.

I said, ‘Then why did you ask me to be master of ceremonies, George?  There were plenty of other choices.’

‘Oh well,’ said George, ‘we thought it would be funnier that way, but I have to admit no one ever dreamed you would lead up to it so beautifully.’

I said, ‘Don’t you think it would look peculiar to have me give a Hugo to myself?’

‘Sure,’ said George, ‘but the committee decided you were the only writer in science fiction who could give himself a Hugo without being embarrassed,’

“Wiseguy,’ I said–but he was probably right.

(6) MASLOW’S FOUNDATION. Horror Writers Association members have been passing around the link to “Maslow’s pyramid of code review” (2015) since it was tweeted by Space & Time’s Leonard Speiser. Originally aimed at writers of computer code, Angela Yuriko Smith’s reinterpretation for fiction authors is here: “Maslow’s Pyramid Of Code—Writer Mod”.

…The layers are correct, secure, readable, elegant with the pinnacle of accomplishment as altruist. I have printed this pyramid and have pinned it to my wall so I can evaluate my own manuscripts with it. It’s beautiful, simple and it makes sense. You can see Dein’s original post referring to Maslow’s Pyramid of code here. Here’s my modified version for writers and poets:

Any piece of writing should be:

  1. Correct: does the written work do what it’s supposed to? Has it been edited and formatted? Have the redundancies been weeded out? Is it as correct as possible? Have run on sentences and passive voice been eradicated?
  2. Secure: does the written work have vulnerabilities? Is it stored in the cloud, or backed up on your computer? Do you need a hard copy? Do you save on an external drive?
  3. Readable: is the written work easy to read and comprehend? Are there plot holes and lapses in logic? Does the dialogue feel natural? Is the world believable? Can the reader follow along and understand what you wish to communicate?
  4. Elegant: does the written work leverage well-known patterns? Does it make use of balanced syntax? Is there texture, rhythm and a variety of adjectives? Does the piece flow, bringing the reader along for the ride or must they struggle to stay afloat in the text? Is there a compelling start and satisfying end?
  5. Altruist: does the written work leave the humanities better than what they were? Does it inspire other writers to improve their work as well? Is it cleaning up unneeded bias, improving diversity, introducing better writing through worn out trope refactoring? Does it have a purpose beyond ego, whether this is to teach, enlighten or entertain?

(7) SLF NEEDS JURORS. The Speculative Literature Foundation is calling for volunteer jurors to help read applications for the Older Writers Grant.

Ideally, we’re looking for people who are well read in speculative fiction, but we’d also like a mix of readers, writers, librarians, teachers, editors, etc. who are capable of judging literary quality in a work.

Please include the grant you wish to be a juror for and a paragraph about what your qualifying background is to serve as a juror: for example, your interest in / connection to the field. (i.e., “I’m an ardent reader!” or “I’ve been writing SF/F for seven years…”). Please feel free to ask any questions you may have as well.

Finally, we’re offering a tiny honorarium of $25 — it’s not much, but enough to buy a nice dinner as a reward for your labors!

If interested, please send a brief note to L.D. Lewis (lekesha@speculativeliterature.org) with the subject line: JUROR.

(8) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

  • April 11, 1986 –On this day in 1986, The Toxic Avenger was released nationally two years after it premiered in New York City. It directed by Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman (who is credited here as Samuel Weil) as written by Kaufman and Joe Ritter. It was the first installment of The Toxic Avenger franchise which would encompass three more films, a Marvel Comics series and a short lived children’s animated series. Mitch Kessler was the Toxic Avenger with his voice  provided by Kenneth Kessler. Critics at the time ranged in their opinions from disgusted to delighted with the mainstream ones decidedly not liking it; it currently holds an excellent approval rating of sixty three percent  among audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes. Kaufman and Herz are currently attached to a reboot with Peter Dinklage in the lead role.

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born April 11, 1883 – Camille Marbo.  Won the Prix Femina, later served on its jury, then its president.  Commander of the Legion of Honor.  Medal of French Gratitude for war work. With her husband mathematician Émile Borel, founded La revue du mois (“Review of the month”), scientific & literary.  Friend of Marie Curie.  Three times president of the Société des gens de lettres.  Of her forty books, novels, monographs, memoirs, I know of only one translated into English, The Man Who Survived; it is ours and a masterwork.  (Died 1969) [JH]
  • Born April 11, 1892 – William Timlin.  The Ship That Sailed to Mars (hello, David Levine) really does have to be enough for us, because WT never finished The Building of a Fairy City.  Luckily The Ship is superb.  You can get it on paper if you look hard – even the 1977 Easton Press ed’n is plenty rare – but quick and cheap for Kindle in English, Spanish, Japanese.  The Wayback Machine’s has a hint of WT’s calligraphy.  Here is the ship’s arrival.  Here is the finished palace of the princess.  Here is another moment.  This is from The Building.  (Died 1943) [JH]
  • Born April 11, 1920Peter O’Donnell. Best remembered as the creator of Modesty Blaise of whom EoSF says her “agility and supple strength are sufficiently exceptional for her to be understood as a Superhero.” O’Donnell also wrote the screenplay of The Vengeance of She based on H. Rider Haggard’s Ayesha: The Return of She novel. (Died 2010.) (CE) 
  • Born April 11, 1941 – Gene Szafran.  Fourscore covers.  Here is Double Star.  Here is Down in the Black Gang.  Here is To Ride Pegasus.  Here is Bridge of Ashes.  Here is Beyond the Beyond.  (Died 2011) [JH]
  • Born April 11, 1949 Melanie Tem. She was the wife of genre author Steve Rasnic Tem. A prolific writer of both novels and short stories, she considered herself a dark fantasy writer, not a horror writer. Bryant, King and Simmonds all praised her writing. If I had to make recommends, I’d say start with Blood MoonWitch-Light (co-written with Nancy Holder) and Daughters done with her husband. ”The Man on the Ceiling” won her a World Fantasy Award.  She died of cancer which recurred after she’d been in remission. (Died 2015.) (CE) 
  • Born April 11, 1953Byron Preiss. Writer, editor and publisher. He founded and served as president of Byron Preiss Visual Publications, and later of ibooks Inc. If I remember correctly, ibooks was the last publisher for Zelazny for most of his books. Any idea what happened to those rights after ibooks went into receivership?  The only book I can find him writing is the children’s novel Dragonworld which is co-authored with Michael Reaves who was involved in including Gargoyles and Batman: The Animated Series. (Died 2005.) (CE) 
  • Born April 11, 1951 – James Patrick Kelly, age 70.  Five novels, a hundred shorter stories, a dozen poems.  Two Hugos, one Nebula.  “On the Net” in Asimov’s, and for twenty years a story there every June.  Interviewed in ClarkesworldLightspeedStrange Horizons.  His Website says “I’ve left some things for you here.  Take whatever you want.  Remember me.”  [JH]
  • Born April 11, 1955Julie Czerneda, 66. She won the Prix Aurora Award for her Company of Others novel. She also received one for Short Form in English for her “Left Foot on A Blind Man” Story, both early in her career.  She has a long running series, The Clan Chronicles which is as sprawling as anything Martin conceived. (CE) 
  • Born April 11, 1957 – Marina Fitch, age 64.  Three novels (alas, Let Us Prey is lost in the German Laßt uns jagen), a dozen shorter stories.  Loves rubber-stamp art, bicycling, Celtic harp & harmonica duets with her husband.  [JH]
  • Born April 11, 1963Greg Keyes, 58. Best known for The Age of Unreason tetralogy, a steampunk and magical affair featuring Benjamin Franklin and Isaac Newton. He also wrote The Psi Corps Trilogy and has done a lot of other media tie-in fiction including Pacific RimStar WarsPlanet of The ApesIndependence Day and Pacific Rim. His Age of Unreason series (Newton’s CannonA Calculus of AngelsEmpire of Unreason and The Shadows of God) was nominated for a Sidewise Award.  (CE) 
  • Born April 11, 1973 – Jon Evans, age 48. Two novels for us (Arthur Ellis Award, Foreword Book of the Year), four others; travel to a hundred countries; software engineering.  Writes for The Times of IndiaThe Globe and Mail, The WalrusTechCrunch.  Founding director of the GitHub Archive Program.  [JH]
  • Born April 11, 1974Tricia Helfer, 47. She is best known for playing the Cylon model Number Six the rebooted Battlestar Galactica series and voicing Sarah Kerrigan in StarCraft II gaming franchise. She played Charlotte Richards aka the Goddess of All Creation on Lucifer. She also voiced Boodikka in Green Lantern: First Flight, and had one-offs in SupernaturalWarehouse 13, the unsold 17th Precinct pilot, a recurring voice role in The Spectacular Spider-ManChuckHuman TargetTron: UprisingThe Librarians and apparently played Dracula once in Van Helsing. (CE) 

(10) COMICS SECTION.

  • Get Fuzzy plays with movie titles in what Daniel Dern assures is “fan-type-humor.” It would certainly fit in here.
  • “Off the Mark” shows what the term “superspreader” brings to the Mark Parisi’s mind.

(11) ALL ABOARD. Now that there will be an in-person Worldcon this year, there will be a Traincon from Chicago to the Worldcon and back announced “Conductor” Bill Thomasson. A Traincon 6 Facebook group is hosting discussions and providing an alternative source of updates.

DisCon III will take place in Washington, DC, from Wednesday, December 15, through Sunday, December 19. This news is very recent and I won’t be looking at the details of Traincon organization until after Amtrak resumes regular service next month, but I wanted to give you a heads up. My tentative plan, if the timing works, is to maximize the rail experience by taking the Cardinal in one direction and the Capitol Limited in the other. I am also contemplating the possibility of giving us a full free day in DC to check out all the wonderful tourist attractions in that city (or to assist the con with load-in/load-out if that is your thing). I would be interested in hearing whether you would prefer that free day before or after the con.

As usual, the group ticket discount will depend on how many people sign up, but I don’t yet know the details of how Amtrak will be handling group reservations in 2021. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to a really great trip and to a great Worldcon. Hope to see
you there!

(12) SHE BITES. BoingBoing has scoured the internet for these examples of “The Profound Eldritch Horror Of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’”.

There are apparently a bunch of different, totally unconnected people who have made their own Lovecraftian versions of “Jolene.” 

(13) SERCON. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] Time to say something about Perry Middlemiss’ zine The Alien Review which showed up on eFanzines last week. It’s a new zine edited by Perry Middlemiss that…wait for it…DISCUSSES AND REVIEWS SCIENCE FICTION. Is that legal?

The first issue has reviews (Piranesi, The Ministry For The Future, a batch of 2020 novellas, and sff award winners from 2019) along with other pieces, including a reprint of a Leigh Edmonds article from 1971.

(14) DOGWHISTLE. Dammit, these books won’t slate themselves. Three-time Dragon Award finalist Declan Finn tries to fire up his colleagues in “Enter: the Dragons”.

Last year for the Dragon awards, many people in my circles hated the finalists.

And trust me, I mean it when I say that they hated the finalists. There was one caveat to that, but that’s all I recall.

My response was simple

“DUH! Why do you think I try to have this discussion EVERY MONTH FOR HALF THE YEAR? YOU THINK I LIKE THIS? IF I WANTED IT FOR MYSELF, I’D ONLY TALK ABOUT MYSELF.” [Insert sound of hair pulling and rage]

Ahem.

(15) YOU SPIN ME ROUND. Smithsonian says get your Ingenuity merch now! Mars Ingenuity Collection.

Celebrate the Ingenuity helicopter making history as the first powered flight on another planet — Mars!

(16) KEEPING AN EYE ON THINGS.  In the Washington Post, Christian Davenport notes how companies such as SpaceX and OneWeb are flooding space with satellites “no bigger than a shoe box” and how these small satellites are improving communications and aiding the reporting on climate change. “Satellites becoming smaller, less expensive in revolution of space business”.

The avalanche was a stunning disaster, 247 million cubic feet of glacial ice and snow hurtling down the Tibetan mountain range at 185 mph. Nine people and scores of animals were killed in an event that startled scientists around the world.

As they researched why the avalanche occurred with such force, a team of researchers studying climate change pored over images taken in the days and weeks before and saw ominous cracks had begun to form in the ice and snow. Then, scanning photos of a nearby glacier, they noticed similar crevasses forming, touching off a scramble to warn local authorities that it was also about to come crashing down.The images of the glaciers in 2016 came from a constellation of satellites no bigger than a shoe box, in orbit 280 miles up. Operated by San Francisco-based company Planet, the satellites, called Doves, weigh just over 10 pounds each and fly in “flocks” that today include 175 satellites. If one fails, the company replaces it, and as better batteries, solar arrays and cameras become available, the company updates its satellites the way Apple unveils a new iPhone….

(17) YOU ARE VERY QUALIFIED. Mind Matters introduces another DUST short in “Sci-fi Saturday: When “The Workplace” Is Anything But”.

This sci-fi short will appeal to many who have had a job at the corner of Rat and Race and sense that’s a blessing compared to the alternative. It starts with a woman reassuring herself, “I AM the boss,” and cuts to her interviewing a job candidate who seems off-putting at first but appears qualified — and then things get weird.

Don’t miss the scene where the new employee is shown around the office as if he had spent all his life in the wilderness and had never been in a conventional 21st century office before. And then the awful truth begins to dawn…

(18) VIDEO OF THE DAY. “Star Trek Spinoff” on Saturday Night Live explains what happens when cadets from “small, exclusive Starfleet Academy” show up on the bridge during a crisis.

[Thanks to rcade, John King Tarpinian, Todd Mason, Daniel Dern, Rob Thornton, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Michael Toman, John Hertz, Andrew Porter, and Mike Kennedy for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day rcade.]

Pixel Scroll 10/25/17 Blue, Blue Pixels Behind The Stars, Yellow Scroll On The Rise

(1) TRAINING WHEELS. Travel from Chicago to next year’s San Jose Worldcon as part of Traincon 4. The organizers now have a FaceBook page.  Here’s the URL.

Janice Murphy forwarded the basic info posted by Bill Thomasson, saying the cost is around $400 one way.

We’ll be taking sleeper cars as a group To Worldcon 76 From Chicago’s Union Station.  We’ll be riding Amtrak to San Jose and back via the Chief, the Zephyr and the Coastal, but that means we have to reserve roomettes as a group for the discount, and we have to do it before November 21 — THIS year.  Roomettes have two beds, two person occupancy. A note on the down payment from Bill:

“I am asking everybody who signs up to pay me the basic fare up front. For the outbound trip that is $214.20 for adults and $202.30 for seniors (62+). For the return trip, it is $171 for adults and $161.50 for seniors. As previously mentioned, Amtrak’s roomette prices go up as you add more rooms, so the average price — which is what Traincon members will be asked to pay — will depend on the number we ultimately take. This won’t be known until the final payment is made, so I won’t be asking for roomette payment until then.”

Janice Murphy adds this pitch:

True, you could fly for less BUT — ALL meals are included with the fare, plus Amtrak has a VERY liberal luggage policy.  No need to mail those signed books home from the Convention.  You can take an empty suitcase out and bring it back filled with memories.

Frankly, this is about as close as some of us are going to get to traveling cross-continent on a train, and I’m not going to miss it.

We’ve got enough folks going out to make the sleeper reservations, though there is room for more so we are encouraging folks to get on board.  We definitely need more folks to take the trains back to Chicago in order to meet the minimum 15 bodies.

…So the thing is, if you would like to take advantage of the fact that you can have a couple of large bags to haul stuff back from the Con, just taking the trip back would be a hell of a lot of fun.

Because it’s a convention on the rails.

(2) THE ROAD TO LUNA. Newsweek says “India Is Going to Beat Us Back to the Moon—Here’s Their Plan”. And the India Space Research Organization (ISRO) is going to do it for less than a billion dollars. However, it’s not a manned mission.

And without an atmosphere on the Moon to keep the dust in check, it gets everywhere. So a key piece of Chandrayaan-2’s mission is to study the force that moves the dust around, an envelope of highly charged particles circling the Moon’s surface. Other tasks include taking the Moon’s temperature near its poles. The mission is also developing a new way to land more softly on the Moon’s surface. The entire project is supposed to cost just $93 million. Yes, with an M.

Although many Americans likely don’t think of India as a spacefaring nation since it doesn’t take part in the International Space Station, ISRO was established in 1969, less than a month after the first astronauts walked on the Moon.

(3) CHEKHOV’S LGBTQ. (A phrase invented here, by the way.) Chuck Wendig unpacks why “Not Being Inclusive Is Also A Political Choice” at Terrible Minds.

My response was:

  1. everything is forced in a story because they’re not magic
  2. stories are not a natural state and so nothing occurs naturally within them, nor can they “call for” anything
  3. inclusivity is part of good storytelling
  4. not being inclusive is also a political choice

This person deleted his tweet and went on to clarify that he in fact totally supported a pairing like, say, Finn/Poe, but he wanted it to have a purpose in the story and not simply be included for political purposes. Abstractly, what he’s saying is, he’s not a bigot, not a homophobe, he just cares about storytelling. Which is fine, in theory, and I’m not suggesting this person is worthy of excoriation. I’m sure he means well. But I think it’s really worth shining a big, bright-ass light on this, because I think there’s a soft, unacknowledged prejudice at work.

It assumes that there exists a default in storytelling — and that default is one way, and not the other. The default is straight relationships, or cisgendered characters, or able-bodied white dudes, or whatever. One of the criticisms Aftermath received was this very special kind of softball phobia, right? “I don’t mind LGBT characters, but these were forced into the narrative for a political agenda,” assuming that the characters are somehow not characters at all, but rather protest signs or billboards advertising THE WONDERS OF GAYNESS or THE FABULOSITY OF THE NON-BINARY SPACE PIRATE LIFE. The complaint then becomes that these characters are political levers, identified as such because their natures (be it LGBT characters like Sinjir Rath Velus and Eleodie Maracavanya, or a character of color like Admiral Rae Sloane, or women characters like Norra Wexley and Jas Emari) do not somehow factor into the plot. Like, Sinjir’s homosexuality is not a plot point. He doesn’t shoot gayness out of his eyes to blow up the Third Death Star, oh no, he’s only there as a commercial for GAY PEOPLE EXISTING.

(4) WHERE THE MERCURY’S HIGHEST. Look for the launch of the ‘Orson Welles on the Air’ website at Indiana University tomorrow.

Indiana University will launch its highly anticipated new website, Orson Welles on the Air: Radio Recordings and Scripts, 1938-1946, on Thursday evening, October 26, at  https://orsonwelles.indiana.edu/

The university is very excited to finally be sharing the new audio files with the world, said Erika Dowell, Associate Director & Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts at Lilly Library.

… In May 2016, Indiana University Libraries announced receipt of a $25,000 grant from the National Recording Preservation Foundation, which would be used to preserve original Welles recordings and establish a website where users could stream audio, search Welles’ radio scripts and access expert commentary on the broadcasts.

Mike Casey, the university’s director of technical operations for the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative, has said the grant would be used toward the preservation of 324 master sound recordings in the form of lacquer discs and about 100 accompanying paper scripts. The script pages show tangible evidence of Welles’ creative process in their dramatic deletions and seemingly last-minute rewrites.

(5) SCIENCE’S COMPATABILITY WITH POETRY. SPECPO, blog of the SF and Fantasy Poetry Association, brings us “Atoms and Imagination: An Interview with Magdalena Ball”.

Some people think themes of science don’t go well with poetry, but you’ve written several books demonstrating a tremendous intersection between these and the imagination, including Sublime Planet, Repulsion Thrust, and Quark Soup. How do you explain your approach to poetics to others surprised at these possibilities?

I’ve always been poetically charged by science – even as a child (and I’m afraid I spent rather too much time in the Haydn Planetarium).  It’s probably as much due to my lack of mathematical capability as to anything else.  I’m able, for example, to look at a formula – let’s say Euler’s Prime, and see the visual beauty without having a clue how it’s applied or what might be created from it.  I can read about the collision of two neutron stars (!), and feel like something is opening up in me – a sense of possibilities and ways of seeing and perceiving and exploring both human emotion and the broadest picture of what we’re all made of, without being able to map the process in any experimental sense.  So it’s possible that my poetry is a kind of limitation spurred by not quite understanding.  That said, I do feel that all science is spurred on by not quite understanding and that many hypotheses have their basis in poetic wonderment.  I wrote about 10 poems through my reading of A Brief History of Time.  I usually get at least one poem from each issue of New Scientist.  I mean, and again, this is partly just my ignorance and playing with the semantics rather than accurate meanings of words, but how exciting and visceral is the idea of quarks having “flavours” (just one example).

(6) REDROBE. Sci-Fi Design would love to sell you one of these “Star Trek TNG Robes”. Are people brave enough to order the red ones?)

Step out of the shower and into the future when you wear this Star Trek TNG Robe. That way you can go straight from the shower and onto the bridge and not look too out of place. You can choose Blue (Science), Gold (Operations), or Red (Command). These robes are super soft and comfy and no worries, they are Starfleet regulation, I’m sure.

(7) LEACH OBIT. Rosemary Leach (1935-2017): British actress; died 21 October, aged 81. Genre appearances include Worlds Beyond (one episode, 1987), The Tomorrow People (five episodes, 1995), Chiller (one episode, 1995), Frighteners (one episode, 1997), Afterlife (one episode, 2005), The Great Ghost Rescue (2011), May I Kill U? (2012). Received the 1983 ‘best actress’ Olivier Award for her performance in ’84 Charing Cross Road’.

(8) COMICS SECTION

  • JJ finds that ancient puns are the best ones.

(9) THERE WILL BE A QUIZ. According to Motherboard, “The Most Scientifically Accurate Animation of a Sperm Cell Is in a ‘Star Wars’ Parody”.

As detailed in a paper published today in ACS Nano, Don Ingber and Charles Reilly, the founding director and a staff microbiologist at the Wyss Institute, respectively, teamed up to create a scientific animated short film called The Beginning. The film details the journey of a sperm cell to an egg, framed as a parody of Star Wars. While this might sound like the recipe for a trying-too-hard-to-connect-to-the-kids cutaway in a middle school sex education video, it actually led to a scientific discovery. In this case, it showed how energy is distributed through a sperm cell at the molecular level to propel the cell toward an egg.

 

(10) ALL GLORY IS FLEETING. Editors at Vox Day’s Infogalactic are continually at work reshaping the mirrored Wikipedia content – or making up for its absence. For example, Wikipedia has no article about Jon Del Arroz, but Infogalactic does. The only flaw is that the article’s link to JDA’s entry on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database takes you to John C. Wright’s entry instead.

Here’s a copy of the article at the Internet Archive — https://web.archive.org/web/20171025183844/https://infogalactic.com/info/Jon_Del_Arroz

(11) GIVES ME GAS. Atlas Obscura runs down “The Brief, Wondrous, High-Flying Era of Zeppelin Dining”.  S.M. Stirling’s Peshawar Lancers also has a nice riff on this.

Zeppelins flew so much lower than modern planes do that they did not have the same cold, dry, pressurized cabin air that dulls taste and smell today. Airship food would therefore have been much more flavorful than what we eat aloft today — even if the menu didn’t include fattened duckling with champagne cabbage. No expense was spared. In The Great Dirigibles: Their Triumphs and Disasters, John Toland describes the Hindenburg’s larder: turkeys, live lobsters, gallons of ice-cream, crates of all kinds of fruits, cases of American whiskey, and hundreds of bottles of German beer. The Graf Zeppelin allowed for 7.5 pounds of victuals per passenger, per day, whether fresh or in specially prepared cans, with labels hand-affixed by the chef’s sister.

(12) SO LET IT BE WRITTEN. Beyond embedded ID: “How a graphene tattoo could monitor your health” (BBC video).

A graphene-based tattoo that could function as a wearable electronic device to monitor health has been developed at the University of Texas.

Gold is often used in electronic components, but graphene is more conductive, can be hundreds of times thinner and allows the tattoo to wrinkle naturally with skin.

It is hoped that as the cost of graphene falls, such tattoos will become affordable for medical use.

(13) IT’S SUPPOSED TO PAY TO BE A GENIUS. Collection craze: “Albert Einstein’s happiness note sold for $1.6m”.

Einstein gave the note to a courier in Tokyo in 1922 instead of a tip.

He had just heard that he had won the coveted Nobel prize for physics and told the messenger that, if he was lucky, the notes would become valuable.

Einstein suggested in the note that achieving a long-dreamt goal did not necessarily guarantee happiness.

The German-born physicist had won the Nobel and was in Japan on a lecture tour.

When the courier came to his room to make a delivery, he did not have any money to reward him.

(14) MAGIC DIRT. Using satellites to search for rare-earth elements: “An eco-friendly wat to make smartphones”.

A team of researchers at Cambridge may have found a safer way to extract rare earth elements (REEs) – the vital material in our smartphones – that could end up saving the planet.

When you think about where your smartphone comes from, the first thing that comes to mind is normally the shop that you bought it from, the stranger who sold it to you online, or maybe even the lovingly wrapped present you received from a doting relative last year.

But in tech terms, that’s the equivalent of thinking that you came into the world because a stork flew to your parents’ house and delivered you straight to their door. The reality is a lot more complicated.

The truth is that the fundamental material your smartphone is made of probably came from one mine in China. The Bayan Obo mine produces more than 95% of the world’s rare earth elements; the uniquely multivalent metals that make your phone ‘smart’. Lanthanum, for example, gives smartphone screens their smoothness and colour pop; neodymium’s super-high magnetism puts microphones, speakers and vibration units all in the palm of our hands. But to have such a luxury has come at a heavy environmental cost.

(15) STOP WASTING TIME. “Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new viral video is straight-up scientific fire.” The video is on Facebook here.

Most of all, though, Tyson is done — completely and utterly done — messing around when it comes to people who don’t take science seriously.

There are solutions. Take climate change, for instance. We could fight climate change with a carbon tax, or increased regulations, or more nuclear power plants, or solar energy plants. Heck, we could do all of the above! But nooooo, instead we have a Congress that literally throws snowballs around.

You can just hear in his voice how sick and tired he is of it.

“Every minute one is in denial, you are delaying the political solution that should have been established years ago,” says Tyson.

(16) THE HORROR. The B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog wants to add a few books to your TBR pile: “10 Hair-Raising Horror Novels Not Written by Stephen King”.

Every October, blogs near and far give the horror genre a bit of extra love, and that’s fantastic—but one can get the impression the genre suffered an unceremonious death two decades back as one list after another trots out the same (undeniably worthy) names. Sure, Stoker, Shelly, Shirley Jackson, and Lovecraft’s books are considered classics for a reason. And no, you can never go wrong with Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, or William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, or Stephen King’s [insert ’80s King novel here].

But as times change, so too do the things that unsettle us. Horror is all about readers taking an unflinching look into a dark reflection of the world around them. These 10 contemporary horror novels offer a great introduction to a genre that’s never truly left us—and find more terrifying reads on our list of 2016’s best horror novels.

First on their list —

Occultation, by Laird Barron Technically, Occultation is not a novel, but a short story collection. Before you head for the hills, know that this is widely considered one of the best horror collections since Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. Barron is a modern master of the New Weird genre and plays with the best bits of Lovecraft’s mythos: dark, cosmic forces punching their way into our reality and reminding humans just how puny they are. An Alaskan native, Barron infuses many of his stories—like the award-winning “Mysterium Tremendum”—with wilderness settings that host profound dangers, bone-deep isolation, and an inevitable violence that blots out even the smallest spark of certainty or hope. It’s heady, horrible, and a voice that’s oft-imitated by less skilled storytellers.

(17) BACK SO SOON? The Beyond Official Trailer. The movie is coming January 9, 2018.

Set in 2019, The Beyond chronicles the groundbreaking mission which sent astronauts – modified with advanced robotics, through a newly discovered wormhole known as the Void. When the mission returns unexpectedly, the space agency races to discover what the astronauts encountered on their first of its kind interstellar space journey.

 

(18) ARM’S LENGTH TRANSACTION. Could it be…bad breath? The Verge warns, “Radius starts with an unbeatable science fantasy premise, then gets weird”.

And then along comes something unheralded, under-the-radar, and authentically strange, like the Canadian movie Radius. Suddenly the audience is on a fast-paced trip into the unknown, with no idea where this premise could possibly lead. And Radius, the latest collaboration between married writer-director team Caroline Labrèche and Steeve Léonard, does start with an unbeatable premise that feels like a solid Stephen King horror story. A man wakes up in a wrecked truck and goes looking for help. His memory is completely gone. He can’t even remember his name. And slowly, he starts to realize that anything that comes within a certain radius of him — animals or people — instantly drops dead….

Radius will have a limited theatrical release on November 9th, and will appear on VOD services and Netflix on the same day.

 

(19) WINDOWS. Adweek comments on a PSA that, coincidentally, shows lots off SJW credentials — “See What’s Hiding in This Video About Putting Your Damn Phone Down”.

How do you get 18- to 24-year-olds to put their phones down while driving? Maybe not with the supernatural. But who doesn’t love cats and music?

For the Department of Transport, London agency AMV BBDO created “Pink Kittens.” Directed by We Are From LA, it feels more like a pop-oriented lifestyle shoot than a public service announcement.

At its start, a busy city scene scrolls by from a driver’s perspective (assuming you’re looking out your side window … which, incidentally, is another thing you shouldn’t really be doing).

Then comes the question: Did you see the pink kitten? Look again.

 

(20) FLEET SCHOOL SERIES. Orson Scott Card returns to the Enderverse in his new Fleet School series. The first book, Children of the Fleet, came out October 10.

Children of the Fleet is a new angle on Card’s bestselling series, telling the story of the Fleet in space, parallel to the story on Earth told in the Ender’s Shadow series.

Ender Wiggin won the Third Formic war, ending the alien threat to Earth. Afterwards, all the terraformed Formic worlds were open to settlement by humans, and the International Fleet became the arm of the Ministry of Colonization, run by Hirum Graff. MinCol now runs Fleet School on the old Battle School station, and still recruits very smart kids to train as leaders of colony ships, and colonies.

Dabeet Ochoa is a very smart kid. Top of his class in every school. But he doesn’t think he has a chance at Fleet School, because he has no connections to the Fleet. That he knows of. At least until the day that Colonel Graff arrives at his school for an interview.

(21) THE MAITRE’D RECOMMENDS. This year’s Hugo Administrator Nicholas Whyte feels enough time has passed that it’s safe for him to tell us where he ranked “The 2017 Hugo Best Novel finalists” on his own ballot. Hmmm. So he voted the winner in practically last place? Talk about marching to the beat of a different drummer! However, there certainly wasn’t anything wrong with his first-place choice —

My first vote went very clearly to All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders. Second paragraph of third chapter:

The first week of school, Patricia smuggled an oak leaf in her skirt pocket—the nearest thing she had to a talisman, which she touched until it broke into crumbs. All through Math and English, her two classes with views of the east, she watched the stub of forest. And wished she could escape there and go fulfill her destiny as a witch, instead of sitting and memorizing old speeches by Rutherford B. Hayes. Her skin crawled under her brand-new training bra, stiff sweater, and school jumper, while around her kids texted and chattered: Is Casey Hamilton going to ask Traci Burt out? Who tried what over the summer? Patricia rocked her chair up and down, up and down, until it struck the floor with a clang that startled everyone at her group table.

I really loved this from the first chapter on, a sort of Jo Walton / Neil Gaiman mashup which really worked for me. It was the first of the Hugo finalists that I got (I was given an ARC in late 2015) but in fact the last that I read. Interestingly it has by far the most owners on both Goodreads and LibraryThing, but also the lowest ratings on both. It missed winning the award by 43 votes, the second closest of any result on the night, and won second place.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Steve Green, Martin Morse Wooster, Janice Murphy, Chip Hitchcock, Carl Slaughter, and Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Steve Davidson, who will be along shortly to explain it.]