(1) NAVIGATING THE MAZES. Clarkesworld’s Arley Sorg interviews Juliette Wade — “Caste in Blood”.
The Mazes of Power copy calls it “sociological science fiction.” What does this mean exactly, and how does this term apply to Mazes? What are a few of your favorite sociological science fiction novels and how are they similar or different from Mazes?
Sociological science fiction, sometimes also called social science fiction, is science fiction that sets its major focus on society and its impact rather than on other elements like gadgets, technologies, or frontiers. This is not to say that those other things are not involved! The term definitely applies to Mazes of Power, which features a complex caste system with seven different levels, each of which has its own vocation, ideals, manners, and culture. Members of the castes struggle to cope with the expectations of their caste identities just as people in our world struggle with the identities that are placed on them. My favorite past work of sociological science fiction is Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which was one of the works that inspired me to explore characters’ culturally grounded judgments and flout readers’ underlying expectations. (The other major work that had the same effect was not science fiction, but the diary of Sei Shonagon, The Pillow Book.) I also consider Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series an example of sociological science fiction, though it’s more typically categorized as space opera. I love how Leckie keeps her focus tight and examines characters’ social and cultural expectations even as she works with the larger politics of the Radchaai Empire.
(2) UNCOMMON SENSES. Ad Age made me want to see it – perhaps you will too: “This adorable Star Wars-themed ad has an ending we didn’t see coming”.
The spot, created by Wunderman Thompson Philippines, depicts a pair of kids working on a mysterious building project. We see them going around town collecting items such as a tire, cardboard, plastic toys and tinsel, as well as a whole bunch of mobile phones, but it isn’t clear exactly what they are doing. (One thing is for sure — these kids are more creative and enterprising than the pair in the Apple holiday ad and their parents, rather than trying to keep them quiet with an iPad, are quite happy for them to wander on railway lines by themselves.)
Finally, they invite a friend into their home to watch “Star Wars” in the special 4D viewing experience they’ve rigged up — and there’s an even more heartwarming twist that we definitely weren’t expecting. The final reveal is that the friend is actually deaf and they’ve created the whole thing just for her to be able to experience the movie without sound.
(3) GETTING SQUEEZED. In a guest post for According to Hoyt, Leigh Kimmel says dealer’s think it doesn’t look that good from ground level — “The Economy Seen from the Dealers’ Room Floor by Leigh Kimmel”.
…Overall, the figures show a troubling picture that squares with reports I’m hearing from a number of other convention dealers. Some of the decline in sales and profitability can be ascribed to a saturation of the convention market as more and more promoters, especially for-profit companies who have the financial reach to rent large venues and sign large numbers of high-ticket media guests, move into the business. Whereas a decade ago there might be only one or two conventions each year in a region, now there are often a dozen or more. Furthermore, very few of these conventions are old-school fan-run science fiction conventions where the membership can hang out with the guests of honor at the con suite. Instead, more and more of them are focused primarily on media celebrities and formal encounters with them, to the point that attendees (a significant difference in terminology) spend as much or more time and money on getting autographs and photo-ops with the celebrities as they do on buying things from the dealers and artists in the vendor hall.
Because these extremely celebrity-focused shows (often referred to as “autograph mills”) draw such large crowds, they can sound like great possibilities to a dealer accustomed to lower-key shows. However, they often prove to be a double whammy to the unsuspecting dealer’s bottom line: not only are the large crowds not spending on the dealers’ wares, but the large crowds are also used to justify much higher booth costs to vendors, leaving the vendor with a much higher break-even point….
(4) GOING TO THE WELLS AGAIN. Steve J. Wright reviews The War of the Worlds, the three-part TV adaptation recently shown on the BBC in “Martians Go Home”.
…Harness takes that time to create and expand on the characters, who are mostly just names in the novel – in fact, the narrator and his wife aren’t even named. The domestic situation of George (Rafe Spall) and Amy (Eleanor Tomlinson) is drawn from H.G. Wells’s own turbulent personal life; the adaptation also codes astronomer Ogilvy (barely more than a name in the book) as gay, which attracted some criticism from the usual suspects…. One twerp apparently complained that the story was being made “too political”, which, since the book was written as a massive up-yours to colonial imperialism by one of the twentieth century’s foremost socialist pundits, makes me wonder what he was expecting. (Again, because contemporary Victorian-Edwardian political references aren’t necessarily accessible to the modern audience, the adaptation takes the time to make the anti-colonial message explicit.)
(5) MCU LIVES ON. Marvel dropped the Black Widow teaser trailer yesterday.
(6) IN MEDIA RES. The BBC says origins are just short flashbacks in “Black Widow: Seven talking points from the new trailer”.
…The character first appeared in 2010’s Iron Man 2, and has since then been a significant figure in the Marvel cinematic universe.
The new film, starring Scarlett Johansson, isn’t an origin story, but it does come before the events of the last two Avengers movies, Infinity War and Endgame.
It may not be out until May, but while we wait here’s seven talking points from Tuesday’s new trailer.
1) Just like Budapest!
The opening shot of the Hungarian capital Budapest teases that we’ll finally uncover more about an event briefly mentioned in the first Avengers movie back in 2012.
In that film, during the intensity of the battle of New York, Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow – firing off gun shots – casually says to Hawkeye: “Just like Budapest, all over again.”
Hawkeye responds: “You and I remember Budapest very differently!”
It’s a reference that has intrigued and excited fans ever since. But there is a complicating factor. This movie is set after, not before The Avengers. It actually follows the events of Captain America: Civil War. So is Budapest here a flashback, or is Black Widow revisiting it after traumatic events in the past?
(6) DEVISING LANGUAGE. Juliette Wade’s Dive into Worldbuilding recently featured “S. Qiouyi Lu and As Dark as Hunger”. View the video or read the synopsis – or both! Toward the end they also discuss whether there should be a Hugo award for translations.
… In “As Dark as Hunger,” the main character lives a simple humble life fishing, but then her former lover comes to the village. Her lover wants to hunt mermaids, because people pay handsomely for them, but to find a humane way of doing it that won’t kill them. S. told us that part of this conflict came from the conflicted feelings they have about shark fin soup. It’s a celebratory dish, but cruel because it kills sharks.
S. told us that they struggle with xenophobia in the US, where there is an anti-China climate. They want to be able to defend their personhood without feeling obligated to defend Chinese politics they don’t approve of.
In the story, there is a contrast between the village and the city. The village is downstream from the city, which pollutes its water. Talented people seek opportunity in the city, and children and the elderly are left behind. The city drains away the village’s people. The main character has an ethical objection to hunting mermaids, but she does want a better life than the stinking river.
One of the major themes of the story is diaspora, of being removed from the motherland. While, in this story world, foxes can shapeshift back and forth many times, mermaids can only shapeshift from tail to legs once, and then can’t change back. Their children are human. This is a metaphor for immigration and assimilation. One of the main character’s ancestors made this change in order to keep her descendants from being hunted, but in so doing, closed a door that could not be re-opened.
(7) TODAY IN HISTORY.
- December 3, 2000 — Frank Herbert’s Dune three-part series premiered on the SciFi Channel. Directed by John Harrison, its cast starred Alec Newman as Paul Atreides, William Hurt as Duke Leto, and Saskia Reeves as Jessica. The first Dune miniseries and this sequel are two of the three highest-rated programs ever to be broadcast on the Sci Fi Channel. Weirdly, it has no viewer rating at Rotten Tomatoes, but has a very healthy 71% rating among critics there.
(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born December 3, 1918 — Polly Freas. Fan and wife of SFF artist Frank Kelly Freas with whom she had 3 children. She was much loved in fandom. She and Kelly co-edited Wonderworks: Science Fiction and Fantasy Art by Michael Whalen, which was a Hugo finalist for Best Nonfiction Book. She was Guest of Honor at numerous conventions, and was given a Special Award by Southern Fandom. (Died 1987.)
- Born December 3, 1922 — Donald Tuck. Australian fan and writer of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy through 1968 which he revised twice. SFE in the form of a lure says “among the most extensive produced since the pioneering work of Everett F. Bleiler.” It earned him A Special Hugo at Chicon III. Back in time, he found other fans in Hobart where he lived and they produced the first Tasmanian fanzine, Profan which had just three issues between April and September 1941. Bertram Chandler who visited the couple frequently honored Hobart by naming one of the spaceship bases in his novels after it. (Died 2010.)
- Born December 3, 1937 — Morgan Llewelyn, 82. Ok, so what have I read by her… The Horse Goddess is wonderful as is Grania: She-King of the Irish Seas and Lion of Ireland which I read a long time ago because the now closed Brian Born Pub had just opened here and I was interested in his story. I later booked uilleann piper Paddy Keenan there…
- Born December 3, 1948 — Ozzy Osbourne, 71. Yes, he has a history in SFF films — most of it is in voicing characters though he did show up as himself in the recent Ghostbusters film. His first appearance in our genre was as himself (“Famous Rock Star“) along with Simmons in Trick or Treat (also known as Ragman and Death at 33 RPM. He’s the voice of The Vicar in Robbie the Reindeer in Close Encounters Of The Herd Kind, and Fawn in Gnomeo & Juliet and Sherlock Gnomes.
- Born December 3, 1958 — Terri Windling, 61. Author of The Wood Wife, winner of the Mythopoeic Award for Novel of the Year, she has deservedly won has won nine World Fantasy Awards, the Bram Stoker Award, and The Armless Maiden collection was on the short-list for the then named James Tiptree, Jr. Award. Along with Ellen Datlow, Windling edited sixteen volumes of the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror from 1986–2003. (Yes, the first volume is actually called Year’s Best Fantasy. I do have a full set here so I know that.) She is one of the core creative forces behind the mythic fiction emergence that began in the early Eighties through her work as an editor for the Ace and Tor Books fantasy lines, and they also edited a number of anthologies such as the superb Snow White, Blood Red series which collected the very best in contemporary fantasy. I’m very fond of her work with Illustrator Wendy Froud, wife of Brian Froud, on the Old Oak Wood series about faeries living in the Old Oak Wood. She interviewed one of them, Sneezlewort Rootmuster Rowanberry Boggs the Seventh, for Green Man here.
- Born December 3, 1960 — Daryl Hannah, 59. She made her genre debut in Brian De Palma’s The Fury, though she’s better known as Pris in Blade Runner. And she was the mermaid Madison in Splash. In a decidedly unfashionable role, she was Ayala in The Clan of The Cave Bear which by being Mary Plunkett Brogan in High Spirits where she was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress. Was she that bad in it? Last latest genre role I think was in the Sense8 series as Angelica Turing.
- Born December 3, 1968 — Brendan Fraser, 51. The Mummy and The Mummy Returns are enough to get him Birthday Honors. Though he’s been in Monkeybone based on Kaja Blackley’s graphic novel Dark Town, Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Journey to the Center of the Earth, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and being Robotman on the Doom Patrol series that that airs on DC Universe.
- Born December 3, 1969 — John Kenneth Muir, 50. I really adore niche non-fiction writers with genre focus. He did write a novel, Space: 1999: The Forsaken, but horror is his passion as he’s written Horror Films of the 1970s, Horror Films of the 1980s and Horror Films of the 1990s, all on Macfarland. He’s also authored A Critical History of Doctor Who on Television which covers the classic Who and yet more horror in Horror Films of the 1990s.
- Born December 3, 1980 — Jenna Lee Dewan, 39. She portrayed Freya Beauchamp on the Witches of East End and played Lucy Lane in The CW version of Supergirl. She’s Tamara, complete with bloody axe, in the horror film Tamara. She’s Sophia Loomis in the unsold Dark Shadows pilot. It was commissioned by The WB and produced in 2004, but not picked up for a series. You can see that pilot here.
- Born December 3, 1985 — Amanda Seyfried, 34. She plays Zoe, the lead Megan’s best friend in Solstice, a horror film. Another horror film, Jennifer’s Body, shortly thereafter, finds here playing Anita “Needy” Lesnicki. Red Riding Hood, yes, another horror film, had her cast has as Valerie. She plays Sylvia Weis in In Time in a dystopian SF film next and voices Mary Katherine, Professor Bomba’s 17-year-old daughter in Epic which is at genre adjacent. She’s living Mary in an animated Pan, a prequel to Peter Pan which sounds delightful. Lastly, she has a recurring role as Becky Burnett on Twin Peaks. And did we decide Veronica Mars was at least genre adjacent? If so, she has a recurring role as Mary on it.
(9) COMICS SECTION.
- xkcd helps you figure out if it’s Christmas yet.
(10) MORE BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS. NPR’s Book Concierge filters the year’s titles into many categories, such as the Best Geek Books of the Year and Best Genre Books of the Year. Chip Hitchcock tried out the links and forwarded them with a note on his experience: “Thanks to recommendations from Filers and others, I’ve read 13/63 of the genre books, including 1 I’d disrecommend and 2 I’d recommend only with serious caveats. I’ve read only 1 of the 15 geek books not on the genre list — I know I should read more nonfiction….”
(11) CHINESE SF. Alexandra Alter tells New York Times Magazine readers “Why Is Chinese Sci-Fi Everywhere Now? Ken Liu Knows”. The profile extensively covers Liu’s work as a translator and curator as well as his own fiction, and repeatedly probes the constraints on Chinese sff at home.
…“The political climate inside China has shifted drastically from when I first started doing this,” Liu says. “It’s gotten much harder for me to talk about the work of Chinese authors without putting them in an awkward position or causing them trouble.” Liu usually travels to China at least once a year to network and meet new writers, and has attended the Chinese Nebula and Galaxy Awards, the country’s most well known science-fiction prizes. But this year he was denied a long-term visa, without explanation, prompting him to cancel his planned trip.
In another alarming setback, when his American publisher tried to send copies of his recent translations to writers in China, the shipments failed to arrive. It was unclear whether the books were seized or simply disappeared into a bureaucratic black hole. Liu finally managed to get copies distributed through visiting Chinese friends, each of whom carried a few copies back in their suitcases. In April, when I met Liu at the Museum of Chinese in America, he seemed irritated by the cumbersome workaround, which he called “preposterous.”
But later, when I asked if he felt he was being blacklisted by the Chinese government because of his translation work, Liu deflected and declined to speculate. “I don’t want to magnify the problem,” Liu told me, as we sat in a cafe a few blocks from the museum. “If the authors want to say something daring, then I will honor that, but I’m not going to impose my own politics on them. There’s a lot of room to say what you want to say if you leave things ambiguous.”
(12) HELP THE PKD AWARD. Gordon Van Gelder says to raise money for the award there is an annual Philip K. Dick Award auction at World Fantasy Convention. This year, they had too many books to put all of them up for bids at the con, so the’re holding a score of auctions on eBay. Many signed books.
(13) UNKISSED TOADS ASSEMBLE. Amanda S. Green, who also writes under the name Sam Schall, says her friend Sarah A. Hoyt used her larger platform to recommend one of Schall’s works – an imprimatur which still didn’t deter some negative comments left by people who hadn’t even read the book: “A Cyber-Monday Promo and a Few Thoughts”.
…No matter how hard you try to write the best book possible, find the best cover you can and present your work in the best shape, someone is always going to hate. I learned long ago from a dear friend the dangers of reading reviews on Amazon, etc. All too often the person writing it never read the book or only read far enough to be offended. I was reminded of that this morning.
That same friend shared a link to the book. I made the mistake of checking the comments. Let’s say my first response was to beat my head against the desk. One person said not to read it because it was a book about a woman written by a male. Yep. I suddenly have a penis. You see, this person never bothered to look beyond the cover. They didn’t follow the link to Amazon and see not only the pen name listed but my real name as well. But, because they read the blurb on the page where the link was listed and saw “Sam Schall”, they just knew it had to be bad — and probably written by a white male deep into the patriarchy (okay, they didn’t quite say that last part but it was pretty clear).
Others hated the cover. That’s fine. That’s their right. The thing is, it does cue the genre and that is the important thing.
Then there was the one (or maybe two) who had a few words to say about how it is basically stupid to think there will be women in the military in fighting roles. Yep, they went there.
And here’s the thing. Each and every one of them were condemning the book without reading it. They were making judgments based solely on what they saw in the blurb and on the cover. Again, that’s their right. But it is also my right to point and laugh (or beat my head against the table).
(14) GENRE AND GENDER FLUID. The Lily’s Lena Felton says we should not be surprised: “A ‘Star Wars’ actor came out as ‘gender fluid.’ Women have been using sci-fi to explore gender and sexuality for centuries.”
…Lisa Yaszek, a professor of science fiction studies at Georgia Tech, describes the feminist appeal of science fiction like this: “We can imagine spaces that radically break from our own world and from what we know or at least believe to be scientifically or socially true about sex and gender.”
The conversation around science fiction and gender recently broke out on the national stage, when Esquire published an interview with 82-year-old Billy Dee Williams, who’s best known for his role as Lando Calrissian in “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” (1980). He’ll be reprising the role for the first time since 1983 in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” which comes out Dec. 20.
In his Esquire interview, Williams said he uses both “him” and “her” pronouns. “I say ‘himself’ and ‘herself,’ because I also see myself as feminine as well as masculine,” he said. “I’m a very soft person. I’m not afraid to show that side of myself.”
The moment was seized on by fans, with many applauding Williams’s “gender fluid” approach. But the discussion of gender in the context of “Star Wars” isn’t new; last year, Donald Glover, who played the same character in 2018’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” said he had a non-binary approach to his Lando, too.
(15) PICKING UP THE PIECES. Pixel-sized pieces at that — “Chandrayaan-2: Indian helps Nasa find Moon probe debris”.
Nasa says one of its satellites has found the debris of India’s Moon rover which crashed on the lunar surface in September.
The space agency released a picture showing the site of the rover’s impact and the “associated debris field”.
Nasa has credited an Indian engineer, Shanmuga Subramanian, with helping locate the site of the debris.
Mr Subramanian examined a Nasa picture and located the first debris about 750m north-west of the crash site.
…”We had the images from Nasa [of] the lander’s last location. We knew approximately where it crashed. So I searched pixel-by-pixel around that impact area,” the 33-year-old Chennai-based engineer told BBC Tamil.
Mr Subramanian said he had always “been interested in space” and had watched the July launch of the rocket.
(16) CRAWL OF THE WILD. “Raiders Of The Lost Crops: Scientists Race Against Time To Save Genetic Diversity” – NPR has the story.
Call it a tale of science and derring-do. An international team of researchers has spent six years fanning across the globe, gathering thousands of samples of wild relatives of crops. Their goal: to preserve genetic diversity that could help key crops survive in the face of climate change. At times, the work put these scientists in some pretty extreme situations.
Just ask Hannes Dempewolf. Two years ago, the plant geneticist found himself in a rainforest in Nepal, at the foot of the Himalayas. He was riding on the back of an elephant to avoid snakes on the ground — and to scare away any tigers that might be lurking about. Then all of a sudden came an attack from above.
“There were leeches dropping on us from all directions,” Dempewolf recalls — “bloodsucking leeches.”
Now, this is far from where he thought he’d be when he got his Ph.D. But as a senior scientist and head of global initiatives at the Crop Trust, Dempewolf has been overseeing an ambitious international collaboration. More than 100 scientists in 25 countries have been venturing out to collect wild relatives of domesticated crops — like lentils, potatoes, chickpeas and rice — that people rely on around the world. The Crop Trust has just released a report detailing the results of this massive effort, which secured more than 4,600 seed samples of 371 wild relatives of key domesticated crops that the world relies on.
(17) THE TOK ISN’T CLICKING. More trouble for the PRC-based service: “TikTok suppressed disabled users’ videos”.
Videos made by disabled users were deliberately prevented from going viral on TikTok by the firm’s moderators, the app has acknowledged.
The social network said the policy was introduced to reduce the amount of cyber-bullying on its platform, but added that it now recognised the approach had been flawed.
The measure was exposed by the German digital rights news site Netzpolitik.
Disability rights campaigners said the strategy had been “bizarre”.
And the BBC adds: “TikTok sent US user data to China, lawsuit claims”.
Video-sharing app TikTok has been hit with a class action lawsuit in the US that claims it transferred “vast quantities” of user data to China.
The lawsuit accuses the company of “surreptitiously” taking content without user consent.
Owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, TikTok has built up a keen US fan base.
TikTok, which is thought to have about half a billion active users worldwide, has previously said it does not store US data on Chinese servers.
However, the platform is facing mounting pressure in North America over data collection and censorship concerns.
(18) TUNING IN. DJ Baby Yoda?
[Thanks to JJ, Mike Kennedy, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, Steve Davidson, Contrarius, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Vicki Rosenzweig.]