2020 World Fantasy Convention Announces Guests

World Fantasy Convention 2020 in Salt Lake City officially opened for registration at the close of this year’s WFC in Baltimore. The Salt Lake committee so far has named five guests:

  • Stephen Gallagher – British author of many novels and screenplays, including episodes of the fan favorite Dr. Who and the television drama series Eleventh Hour. A new television reboot of Gallagher’s debut novel, Chimera, is currently being produced.

  • Stephen Graham Jones – award-winning author of sixteen novels, including his latest, Mapping the Interior, which was a finalist for this year’s World Fantasy Award.

  • Anne Groell – Executive Editor for Penguin Random House, Ms. Groell has worked in the fantasy genre for more than twenty-five years. Her current author list includes George R.R. Martin, Terry Brooks, and Robin Hobb.

  • David Cherry – An award-winning artist of renown, Mr. Cherry is known for his work in the science fiction and fantasy genre. He is the former president of the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists.

  • Tracy and Laura Hickman – Utah locals who will serve as toastmasters for the 2020 World Fantasy Convention. Tracy is a NYT Bestselling author and game creator, who first became known for his work on the Dragonlance series. He and his wife, Laura, currently write together.

“We’re excited about our confirmed guests,” said Ginny Smith, co-chair of the 2020 World Fantasy Convention. “We have a great lineup so far, and soon we’ll announce the addition of several more professionals in the fantasy genre.”

The convention’s theme is “Fairyland was Nothing Like This” (< i>quote from “Finian’s Rainbow”)

Utah is proud of its pioneering heritage. Like the pioneers who traveled vast distances to explore strange new lands, fantasy and horror have journeyed far from their origins. From folklore and fairy tales to dystopia and steampunk, who could have foreseen the genre as it exists today? This con will highlight books and authors who have pioneered new trends in fantasy and horror over the years. Discussion panels will explore sub-genres of fantasy — the elements that have changed through the decades and those that have remained the same. Who blazed the trails in the genre’s beginnings, and who are the pioneers of today’s fantasy and horror markets?

WFC is an annual gathering of authors, publishers, book dealers, artists, editors, agents, and serious-minded fantasy fans. “For fantasy authors, WFC is pretty much a must,” says award-winning and NYT bestselling author David Farland, from Saint George, UT. “Not only do writers get to learn from the best of the best in the field, but it’s also an important convention when it comes to meeting editors and agents, and doing business in general.”

Pixel Scroll 8/11/18 Pixel of Steel, Scroll of Kleenex

(1) BOURDAIN IN NARNIA. The New Yorker Recommends’ Helen Rosner links to “‘No Reservations: Narnia,’ a Triumph of Anthony Bourdain Fan Fiction”.

Of all the billions of pages that make up the Internet, one of my very favorites contains “No Reservations: Narnia,” a work of fan fiction, from 2010, by Edonohana, a pseudonym of the young-adult and fantasy author Rachel Manija Brown. The story is exactly what it sounds like: a pastiche of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” and C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. Channelling the casual charisma of Bourdain’s first-person writing, Brown finds him visiting the stick-wattled burrow of sentient moles, where he dines on pavender (a saltwater fish of Lewis’s invention) and is drunk under the table by a talking mouse. He slurps down eel stew and contemplates the void with mud-dwelling depressives. Later, he bails on an appointment at Cair Paravel, the royal seat of Narnia, to bloody his teeth at a secretive werewolf feast.

“No Reservations: Narnia” (2010) begins —

I’m crammed into a burrow so small that my knees are up around my ears and the boom mike keeps slamming into my head, inhaling the potent scent of toffee-apple brandy and trying to drink a talking mouse under the table. But is it really the boom mike that’s making my head pound? I know for sure that my camera man doesn’t usually have two heads. I have to face facts. The mouse is winning.

Yesterday, I thought I knew what to expect from Narnia: good solid English cooking spiced up with the odd unusual ingredient, and good solid English people spiced up with the odd faun. And centaur. And talking animal. I’d longed to visit Narnia when I was a kid, but every time the notoriously capricious entry requirements, such as the bizarre and arbitrary lifetime limit on visits, relaxed the slightest bit, it would get invaded, get conquered, get re-conquered by the original rulers, or get hit by some natural disaster….

Cat Eldridge sent the links with a note: “Weirdly enough Rachel Manija Brown was once a reviewer for Green Man Review.

(2) TUNE IN THE HUGOS. Kevin Standlee outlined the “2018 Hugo Ceremony Coverage Plans” on the award’s official website.

The 2018 Hugo Awards Ceremony is scheduled for Sunday, August 19, 2018 at 8:00 PM North American Pacific Daylight Time (UTC-7) in the McEnery Convention Center Grand Ballroom in San Jose, California. The ceremony is open to all attending members of Worldcon 76, with additional seating available in “Callahan’s Place” in the convention center Exhibit Hall.

The Hugo Awards web site will once again offer text-based coverage of the Hugo Awards ceremony via CoverItLive, suitable for people with bandwidth restrictions. For those with the bandwidth for it, Worldcon 76 San Jose plans to offer live video streaming of the Hugo Awards ceremony. Details of the live-streaming coverage will be available at the 2018 Worldcon web site.

The Hugo Awards web site coverage team of Kevin Standlee, Susan de Guardiola, and Cheryl Morgan plan to be “on the air” approximately fifteen minutes before the ceremony. You can sign up at the CoverItLive event site for an e-mail notification before the event starts. Remember that the CoverItLive text coverage is text-only, and is likely to not be in synch with the video streaming. Also, the CoverItLive team here at TheHugoAwards.org is not responsible for the video streaming coverage and cannot answer any questions about it.

(3) VISA PROBLEMS. Another example of security screening that interferes with cultural exchanges. The Guardian reports some authors are having exceptional difficulty getting visas to attend a book festival in Scotland: “Home Office refuses visas for authors invited to Edinburgh book festival”.

According to Barley, the dozen authors were asked to provide three years’ worth of bank statements to demonstrate financial independence, despite being paid to participate in the Edinburgh book festival, and having publishers and the festival guaranteeing to cover their costs while in the UK. Barley said any deposits that could not be easily explained were used as grounds to deny the authors’ visas; one had to reapply three times due to her bank statements.

“It is Kafkaesque. One was told he had too much money and it looked suspicious for a short trip. Another was told she didn’t have enough, so she transferred £500 into the account – and then was told that £500 looked suspicious. It shouldn’t be the case that thousands of pounds should be spent to fulfil a legitimate visa request. I believe this is happening to many arts organisations around the country, and we need to find a way around it.”

Barley called the situation humiliating, adding: “One author had to give his birth certificate, marriage certificate, his daughter’s birth certificate and then go for biometric testing. He wanted to back out at that point because he couldn’t bear it, but we asked him to continue. Our relationship with authors is being damaged because the system is completely unfit for purpose. They’ve jumped through hoops – to have their applications refused.”

The Scottish first minister called on the government to fix the problem: “Authors’ visa struggles undermine book festival, says Sturgeon”

Nicola Sturgeon has accused the UK government of undermining the Edinburgh international book festival by failing to resolve authors’ difficulties in obtaining visas.

The festival’s director, Nick Barley, has said some of the invited writers have been “humiliated” by the process they had to endure to get into the UK.

Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, who will take part in the event, tweeted on Thursday that the difficulties were “not acceptable” and the government “needs to get it sorted”.

Barley said about a dozen people had gone through an extremely difficult process to obtain a visa this year and several applications remained outstanding. The festival starts on Saturday and will feature appearances by 900 authors and illustrators from 55 countries.

Festival organisers provide assistance with visa applications and they have reported an increase in refusals over the past few years. Barley said one author had to supply his birth certificate, marriage certificate and his daughter’s birth certificate and go for biometric testing in order to get his visa.

He said the UK’s reputation as a global arts venue could be seriously hindered if problems in obtaining visas worsened after Brexit.

(4) DISCRIMINATION. David Farland (pseudonym of Dave Wolverton, currently the Coordinating Judge, Editor and First Reader for the Writers of the Future Contest), blogged about his view of “Discrimination in the Writing World”.

A few days ago, I saw a Facebook post from a woman who complained that she didn’t want to see panels by “boring, old, white, cisgender men” at the upcoming World Science Fiction Convention. Now, I’ve always fought against discrimination based on age, race, sexual orientation, and gender, so I was kind of surprised that this person managed to offend me at every single level. I can’t help it if I was born sixty years ago, male, white, and cisgender.

There is a concerted effort by some special interest groups to push certain agendas. More than twenty years ago, just before the Nebula awards, I remember hearing a woman talking to others, pointing out that if they all voted for a certain story by a woman, then she’d certainly win. Apparently the ethics of judging stories based upon the gender of the author eluded her, but it worked. The story written by the woman won.

With the Hugos, white men in particular are not even getting on the ballots, much less winning.

The question is, if you’re a writer, what do you do? What if you write a book, and you don’t fit in the neat little category that publishers want?

For example, what if you’re male and you want to write a romance novel? What are your chances of getting published? How well will you be welcomed into the writing community? Isn’t a good story a good story no matter who wrote it?

Apparently not. I had a friend recently who created a bundle of romance novels and put them up for sale. She had ten novels, nine by women and one by a man, and it sold terribly. Why? Because the nine female romance writers refused to even tell their fans about the bundle because there was a male author in the bundle. So instead of selling tens of thousands of bundles, as she expected, she sold only a few hundred.

Of course, discrimination is pretty well institutionalized in the publishing industry. By saying that it is institutionalized, what I mean is that in certain genres, your chances of getting published are based upon your gender.

(5) NICHOLS HAS DEMENTIA. Hope Schreiber, in the Yahoo! Entertainment story “Nichelle Nichols, actress who portrayed the iconic Lieutenant Uhura in ‘Star Trek,’ diagnosed with dementia”,  cites a TMZ report that Nichols is under the care of a conservator.

Nichelle Nichols, the actress who brought Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek to life, has been diagnosed with dementia, according to conservatorship documents obtained by TMZ. She is 85 years old.

TMZ says that Dr. Meena Makhijani, a specialist in osteopathic medicine, has been treating Nichols for the last two to three years. According to Makhijani, the disease has progressed. Nichols has significant impairment of her short-term memory and “moderate impairment of understanding abstract concepts, sense of time, place, and immediate recall,” according to TMZ.

However, the actress’s long-term memory does not seem to be affected at this time, nor are her body orientation, concentration, verbal communication, comprehension, recognition of familiar people, or ability to plan and to reason logically.

(6) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS

  • Born August 11 – Ian McDiarmid, 74. Star Wars film franchise including an uncredited appearance in The Empire Strikes Back, other genre appearances in DragonslayerThe Awakening (a mummies horror film with Charlton Heston), The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles series and reprising his SW role in the animated Star Wars Rebels series.
  • Born August 11 – Brian Azzarello, 56. Comic book writer. First known crime series 100 Bullets, published by Vertigo. Writer of DC’s relaunched Wonder Woman series several years back. One of the writers in the Before Watchmen limited series. Co-writer with Frank Miller of the sequel to The Dark Knight Returns,  The Dark Knight III: The Master Race.
  • Born August 11 – Viola Davis, 53. Amanda ‘The Wall’ Waller in the first Suicide Squad film; also appeared in The Andromeda Strain, Threshold and Century City series, and the Solaris film.
  • Born August 11 – Jim Lee, 44. Korean American comic-book artist, writer, editor, and publisher.  Co-founder of Images Comics, now senior management at DC though he started at Marvel. Known for work on Uncanny X-Men, Punisher, Batman, Superman and WildC.A.T.s.
  • Born August 11 – Will Friedle, 44. Largely known as w actor with extensive genre work: Terry McGinnis aka the new Batman in Batman Beyond which Warner Animation now calls Batman of the Future, Peter Quill in The Guardians Of The Galaxy, Kid Flash in Teen Titans Go!, and Thundercats! to name but a few of his roles.
  • Born August 11 – Chris Hemsworth, 35. Thor in the MCU film franchise, George Kirk in the current Trek film franchise, and King Arthur in the Guinevere Jones series;  also roles in Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, Snow White and the Huntsman and its sequel The Huntsman: Winter’s War,

(7) COMICS SECTION.

(8) SAWYER’S SCHEDULE. Robert J. Sawyer clarified on Facebook his plans for Worldcon 76 in San Jose next week:

I’ll be there. However, many months ago I made a decision not to apply to be on programming. I don’t have a new book this year, and I figured there are lots of younger/newer/diverse writers who could use the panel slots I would have taken up.

This was meant to be a quiet, private choice, but since then, there’s been a big blowup about this year’s Worldcon programming (see http://file770.com/worldcon-76-program-troubles/), with people withdrawing from the program or complaining about not being put on it in the first place. My situation is neither of those (and the Worldcon programming has been redone to most people’s satisfaction now).

However, I will be making two public and one private appearances at the Worldcon, for those who want to see me or get books signed:

* On Friday, August 17, at noon, in room 210E at the Convention Center, I will be attending the unveiling of the new batch of Walter Day’s Science Fiction Historical Trading Cards, introducing the new authors being added to the set (I’m already on a card, as you can see); Walter Day will be giving away some of these collectible cards (including my own) to those who attend.

* Also on Friday, August 17, at 4:00 p.m., in the Dealers’ Room in the Convention Center, I will be autographing at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) table.

* And on Saturday, August 18, at 2:00 p.m., I’ll be hosting a meet-and-greet for my Patreon patrons; you can become a patron here, and get other cool perks, too: https://www.patreon.com/robertjsawyer

(9) AUSTRALIAN FANZINE ARCHIVE. Kim Huett reports, “The National Library of Australia not only has a significant fanzine collection, some of the librarians take an active interest in the fanzines in their care. Take for example this recent post which talks from an outsiders perspective about all sorts of Australian fanzines, some of which are actually about science fiction: “Fanzines For fans, by Fans”.

Fans of the TV shows, Star Trek and Doctor Who, have perhaps the best known examples of fandom in the mainstream but this isn’t where fanzines start. The fanzine Futurian observer was talking about a well-established Australian science fiction fan community back in 1940.

In a year in which the inescapable realities of war were everywhere, this little publication denounced ‘the threatening ban on magazines’, reported on Government ‘restrictions on pulp imports’ and referenced meetings in which quizzes and scientific discussions were star attractions.

One of the first lines in Issue #1 is a dire warning that Australian fans needed to be more engaged. In contrast, issue #35 talks about a parody newsletter from a convention that never happened and the author ‘hibernating’ from the ‘Sydney scene’ to avoid the ‘fighting, scratching and squabbling’.

You can read digitised copies of Futurian observer here.

Fanzines are a fascinating insight into the volatility of fan communities and how they operated at the time of publication.

(10) DOCTOR STRANGEMIND. Huett also sent a link to his own site with this introduction: “Anybody who is a fan of David Langford’s ‘As Others See Us’ segment in Ansible is going to really enjoy the latest installment of Doctor Strangemind. Have you ever wondered what the official Soviet line was in regards to science fiction? Well now you can read ‘The World Of Nightmare Fantasies’ and wonder no more: ’To Pervert & Stultify’. Really, I spoil you people,”

…I’ve reproduced the entire condensed version of The World Of Nightmare Fantasies here so you might enjoy the authors attempt to crush various butterflies of fiction with their rhetorical sledgehammer….

…The American Raymond F. Jones, experienced writer of “scientific” fantasies, attempts to lift the curtain of the future for the reader. He uses all his flaming imagination in describing a machine which analyses the inclinations , talents, character and other potentialities of a new-born infant. If it finds the child normal, it returns it to the arms of the waiting mother. If it finds a future “superman,” the mother will never see him again; he will be sent to a world “parallel” to ours where he will be raised without the help of parents. But woe to the baby the machine finds defective – it will be immediately destroyed. According to the “scientific” forecast of author Jones, a network of such machines will cover the world of the future.

This tale, monstrous in its openly fascistic tendency, appears in the American magazine Astounding, under the optimistic title of Renaissance. Jones’ fascist revelations are not an isolated instance in American science fiction literature. There are numerous such examples under the brightly colourful covers which enterprising publishers throw on the market in millions of copies. From their pages glares a fearful world, apparently conceived in the sick mind of an insane, a world of nightmare fantasies. Miasma, mental decay, fear of to-day and horror of the future: all these innumerable ills of capitalism are clearly reflected.

(11) WOTF. Past winner J.W. Alden says in his experience the Writers of the Future Contest was a tool of the Church of Scientology, no matter the public relations effort to portray them as separate: “Going Clearwater: The Illusory ‘Firewall’ of the Writers of the Future Contest”.

In 2016, I won Writers of the Future. At the time, I counted it as one of my proudest moments. A story I’d written, The Sun Falls Apart, took first place in a contest judged by some of the biggest names in the genre. I’m still proud of that part. Unfortunately, that sense of accomplishment was undermined by a negative experience which forced me to confront the actual nature of the contest: Writers of the Future is a Church of Scientology endeavor. I now believe its primary purpose is not to help emerging writers, but to further the aims of the church, primarily by promoting the name of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. I make no judgments on any individual’s religious beliefs, but since I won the contest, I have come to believe it exploits writers in pursuit of this goal….

The Firewall, many claim, exists to prevent the contest from becoming a platform for the church and to ensure there’s no proselytizing of winners–though one of the first things you learn when you go asking about the Firewall, is that it seems to mean different things to different people. It’s the Firewall that keeps the contest’s panel of judges onboard. The judges of this contest include big names in the genre–names like Brandon Sanderson, Orson Scott Card, Robert J. Sawyer, Larry Niven, and many more. Hence, it’s the Firewall that ultimately lends the contest legitimacy. In my opinion, the Firewall does not exist. Or at the very least, it doesn’t exist for everyone.

It didn’t exist for me.

After winning the contest he was asked to come to Clearwater, Florida and do a signing. Clearwater is home to the church’s Flag Service Organization.

And so, I’m not that surprised one afternoon when I receive a text message from Kate*, one of the employees of Author Services Inc., the (Church of Scientology-owned) organization that runs the contest. They ask if I’d be willing to take part in an event they describe as a “massive Barnes & Noble book signing” in Clearwater, FL in a few days. The last minute nature of this invitation seems odd, but not out of step with the general disorganization that winners grow used to when dealing with ASI. At first, I turn down this request. At the time, I live in the West Palm Beach area, and I’m not willing to drive across the state on such short notice. They respond by offering to fly me out and put me up in a hotel. At that point, I say, “Sure. Why not?” I mean, it’s just Barnes & Noble, right? Book signings are fun.

However, Alden says this is what really happened:

…After that, it’s finally time for the book signing . . . which is not taking place at a Barnes & Noble. It turns out the “Barnes & Noble signing event” is actually taking place here at the Fort Harrison Hotel, during a Scientology ceremony called “Flag Graduation.” Scientologists who underwent training at the Flag Building are having some kind of graduation ceremony. Part of the ceremonies will involve announcing my presence, then directing the congregation to my signing table for an autograph. After the day I’ve had, I am not shocked by this revelation. My belief in the Firewall has long since abandoned me. I am not happy about the bait and switch. But I’m not surprised, either.

I’m led into a huge conference room with a stage and hundreds of chairs. By the time we get there, it’s already packed full of Scientologists finding their seats. Tori leads me straight to the front row. At this point, I become genuinely worried about the possible public repercussions of this little trip. Just like in L.A., there are photographers and videographers everywhere. The thought of photos and video of me at an actual Church of Scientology event floating around somewhere is (at the time) concerning. What happens next tempers this concern somewhat, if only because it grants me the conviction that this is not the first Scientology event I’ve been photographed at. Before their graduation ceremony, they play a video of the Writers of the Future gala. A Church of Scientology official talks it up beforehand, citing it as part of L. Ron Hubbard’s legacy, with the underlying message that it’s one of the many Good Things the CoS is doing in the world. In other words, Writers of the Future (and not just the name–the video of the gala, the anthology, the words and likenesses of the winners) is used as internal propaganda at an official Church of Scientology event. That’s certainly how I interpreted it, anyway….

I first started telling the story above in private circles within the SFF writing community. Over the past two years, I’ve told it to fellow WotF winners, to friends at conventions, and in private online discussion groups. Most recently, I posted about it on Codex after Nick Mamatas and Keffy R.M. Kehrli spurred the aforementioned conversation on social media about the questionable aspects of the contest back in April. I also posted a couple of twitter threads around that time, in which I voiced frustrations about the contest and rage-faced over the revelation that unattributed quotations from Dianetics were included in Writers of the Future workshop materials. Since the tweetstorm, I’ve also been in discussion with former winners and even a few contest judges who reached out to me about it.

Since all of that started happening, I’ve also had run-ins with supporters of the contest who have accused me (and others) of trying to destroy it. Let me make one thing clear: I’m not trying to destroy Writers of the Future. For one, I don’t believe that is within my (or anyone’s) power, so even if that were my goal, I wouldn’t waste the effort. My goal is merely to inform emerging writers about the troublesome aspects of this contest, because I don’t think they’re talked about enough. That includes relating my own experience that bizarre weekend in Clearwater. If anyone sees that as an effort to delegitimize or destroy the contest, all I can say is this: if spreading the truth about something delegitimizes it, was it really legitimate in the first place? …

(12) MAIN AND OTHER STREAMS. Penguin Random House would be happy to sell you these “21 Books You’ve Been Meaning To Read”, a list with a surprising amount of sff. Not this first title, though. This one has been picked for its clever misspelling —

War and Peace

A legendary masterpiece, this book is synonymous with difficult reading, so why not challenge yourshelf.

(13) WRECK-IT RALPH RETURNS. Ralph Breaks the Internet – sneak peek.The movie comes to theaters November 21.

“Ralph Breaks the Internet” leaves Litwak’s video arcade behind, venturing into the uncharted, expansive and thrilling world of the internet—which may or may not survive Ralph’s wrecking. Video game bad guy Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) and fellow misfit Vanellope von Schweetz (voice of Sarah Silverman) must risk it all by traveling to the world wide web in search of a replacement part to save Vanellope’s video game, Sugar Rush. In way over their heads, Ralph and Vanellope rely on the citizens of the internet—the Netizens—to help navigate their way, including Yesss (voice of Taraji P. Henson), who is the head algorithm and the heart and soul of the trend-making site “BuzzzTube,” and Shank (voice of Gal Gadot), a tough-as-nails driver from a gritty online auto-racing game called Slaughter Race.

 

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

Pixel Scroll 5/30/17 When A Pixel Meets A Pixel, Scrolling Through The Rye

(1) CATREON. Cat Rambo has updated her Patreon appeal video.

(2) WHERE’S WEIMER? DUFF traveler Paul Weimer has reached Hobbiton in New Zealand.

(3) OPTION. Steve Davidson announced that the Experimenter Publishing Company has formed Experimenter Media LLC to develop the Amazing Stories name.

Amazing Stories, the iconic title of the world’s first science fiction magazine and the title of a well-known Steven Spielberg helmed 1980s anthology show, has been optioned for a multi-year deal with Experimenter Media LLC, a newly minted development studio.

The title was previously optioned by NBC/Universal Television in 2015.

Experimenter Media intends to develop the show as an anthology series that will showcase top quality writing by some of the greatest Science Fiction authors in the field.

(4) SAUR PRAISE. “Several-day trips provide a good way to (try) catch(ing) up on my sf (deadtree) magazine reading,” says Daniel Dern. “The highlight for this past weekend was Richard Chedwyk’s latest ‘saur’ story, ‘The Man Who Put the Bomp,’ in F&SF, March/April 2017.

“If you’re a long(-enough) regular reader of F&SF (since 2000, based on info I’m about to cite), you’ve been enjoying these charmingly delightful ‘Saur Stories’ (including the 2004 Nebula short story “Bronte’s Egg”).

“I wouldn’t dream of spoiling your reading enjoyment with any actual details. I will say that this story answers or at least addresses some of the questions about the saurs. Although not all.”

Here’s F&SF’s “Gallery of Covers for Richard Chwedyk’s Saur Stories”

(5) GIVE ME THAT OLD TIME RELIGION. Can this job be automated? “Robot priest delivers blessings in five different languages”:

The video shows a man selecting one of five languages from a screen on BlessU-2’s chest which prompts the robot to begin reciting Bible verses while raising its arms in the air as its hands began to glow.

“We wanted people to consider if it is possible to be blessed by a machine, or if a human being is needed,” Stephan Krebs of the church responsible for the robot told The Guardian.

Krebs added the robot was not designed to “robotize our church work,” but create a new discussion around religion 500 years after Martin Luther sparked a cultural upheaval by posting his 95 theses to a church in the 16th century.

 

(6) CLASS M PLANET. It may be Earth-sized but, baby! It’s cold outside — “New potentially habitable ‘super-Earth’ orbiting star 21 light years away has just been spotted”.

Astronomers have found a new “super-Earth” circling an M-dwarf star, and it could be habitable. The dwarf star, designated as GJ 625, is around 21 light years away from our solar system and is around 1/3rd the size and mass of the Sun.

Super-Earths are a kind of exoplanet with a greater mass than the Earth, but not exceeding the mass of ice giants such as Neptune or Uranus. Although the term “super-Earth” is generally used to refer to the mass of the planetary body, scientists also use the term to describe planets that are visually larger than Earth.

(7) WHO DAT? While viewing the Paddington 2 trailer, Peter Capaldi’s face popped out at me. Whoever “Mr. Curry” is, the soon-to-be-former Doctor Who is playing him in this movie. Paddington 2 hits UK cinemas on November 10.

Featuring an all-star returning cast of Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin with Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington and Imelda Staunton as Aunt Lucy and joined by new cast members Hugh Grant and Brendan Gleeson.

 

(8) IMPERIAL MIDLIFE CRISIS. They say clothes make the man — but what do they make him? “I’ll take the sandtrooper in white: Meet the rebel scum making Star Wars armour sets for a living”.

“I think a lot of the older men are buying it because they’ve always wanted to look like a character from Star Wars but have never been able to afford the originals,” says Edwards. “There is that thinking if you dress up as a stormtrooper and look at yourself in the mirror, then you are transported into the world of Star Wars.”

So, where does a 30-something who wants a piece of the legend go? Not the mass market of sub-£1,000 suits that targets the fancy dresser.

No, they tap a cottage industry of British specialists — Ainsworth’s Shepperton Design Studios, Edwards’ CfO, and RS Prop Masters in the UK.

This trio is busy vacuum forming sheets of white ABS plastic using curved moulds to a 1.5mm thickness, cutting out and assembling around 30 pieces per suit, making straps, body suits, eyepieces, mics, boots and blasters. Prices run from £1,200 — around $1,550.

And in case you were wondering, there are few concessions on size or girth. The original stormtrooper was 5ft 10in and 110lbs. He remains so. The most you can expect is a little extra plastic around the overlapping at the edges if you’re a little large for a stormtrooper.

(9) TODAY’S DAY

Loomis Day

The History of Loomis Day. As with many things, the history of Loomis Day is actually the history of a man, and an event, and how they changed the world to come. Mahlon Loomis was a dentist in the 1800’s who had an idea that had nothing to do with teeth. He knew about the electrical properties of the atmosphere, and like Tesla had conceived of an idea to transmit electricity through the air to a distant location. His idea was, perhaps, off a bit. He thought to ‘charge’ a layer of the atmosphere to create an electrical conduit between two metal towers set high on mountaintops (Sound familiar?). What we find interesting about this entire process is that in the end, most if not all of Loomis’s theories on how the atmosphere worked and, indeed, how his own apparatus worked were completely wrong.

Click here for the rest of the story.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS

  • Born May 30, 1908  — Mel Blanc, voice of Bugs Bunny and many, many others cartoon characters.
  • Born May 30 — Anna Feruglio Dal Dan
  • Born May 30 — Ross Chamberlain
  • Born May 30 — Paul Oldroyd
  • Born May 30 — Nancy Lebovitz

(11) LISTEN UP. Seven of Laura Resnick’s “Esther Diamond” stories are available from Graphic Audio.

(12) CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR. Dave Farland tells Writers of the Future entrants who didn’t reach the highest rungs “Why You Only Got an Honorable Mention”.

Right now on my computer, I have a story up. I’ve read the first two pages, and although I’m a little soft on the opening paragraph, the rest of the first page is quite intriguing. My reaction is, “Looks like I’ll have to read this one.” In other words, I’m looking forward to reading it. I’m hoping that it can be a grand prize winner. I’m hoping that someday I’ll be able to say, “I was the one who discovered this author.”

Why do I feel that I have to read this particular story? First off, it has an engaging idea at its core. I know that from the first page. Second, the author is writing with clarity and grace. Third, the pacing is just right. In short, there are a lot of good things happening here for a first page.

Stories that keep me reading all the way through will almost always get an Honorable Mention. That’s my way of saying, “You’re writing almost at a professional level, but this one didn’t quite do it for me.” Or better yet, “I’d really like to see more from you. Keep trying!”

There are four simple reasons why a story may not rise above Honorable Mention.

* The idea for the story isn’t particularly fresh or interesting. You may not realize it, but the basic concept of your story has probably been done before. For example, let’s say that you decide to write a story about “Zombie Sharecroppers.” Great. You might write it beautifully, and I might get through the entire tale and enjoy it. But ultimately I have to look at it and ask, “Is the basic tenet of the story fresh and original? Did the author give it a surprise twist that lifted it above similar stories?” If the answer to both of those questions is no, then it will probably not get higher than an Honorable Mention. You’ll need to come at me next time with a fresh idea….

(13) SURROUNDED BY ALIENS. In the Washington Post, Ben Guarino uses the release of Alien: Covenant to discuss what we know about parasites, concluding that the notion in the Alien franchise that “a parasite could become a hybrid of human and host organism…has some scientific merit.”– “Disgusting ‘Alien’ movie monster not as horrible as real things in nature”.

The new film, according to Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday, is “a largely turgid, often thoroughly unpleasant affair.” Savvy moviegoers certainly expect some amount of unpleasantness — that sensation being par for the course whenever egg-laying parasites are involved.

But for all the cinematic aliens’ gravid grotesquerie, there exists a world where they would simply be chumps. It is a place crawling with more deceptive, more horrible things. Welcome to Earth.

The inhabitants of our planet directly inspired “Alien” screenwriter Dan O’Bannon and director Ridley Scott. O’Bannon in part looked to horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and previous works of science fiction. But he also plumbed the depths of nature, patterning “the Alien’s life cycle on real-life parasites,” as he said in his 2003 essay “Something Perfectly Disgusting.”

(14) FINELY TUNED EAR. Can you tell which track was written by computer? “For Video Soundtracks, Computers Are The New Composers”.

Four years later, Villegas, who works at a technical college, has a side business doing product reviews on his YouTube channel. He found that adding a little music really improved his videos.

“It just adds that third dimension that is missing sometimes,” he says.

But he hit a snag. Music is expensive. Villegas would either have to pay for rights or pay a composer.

“I upload weekly,” Villegas says. “So for me to pay a composer for 52 separate custom songs … wouldn’t make sense in the return on investment for me.”

Then Villegas discovered Jukedeck, a company that creates and sells computer-generated music. Jukedeck charges as little as 99 cents a track for a small business and $21.99 for a large business.

Chip Hitchcock comments, “The human track is by Vivaldi; IMO this means the program might be able to play checkers, but it’s a long way from winning at go.”

(15) BUBBLE AND SQUEAK. Preserving the sounds of old computers: “Fossils Of Technology: ‘The Imitation Archive’ Turns Near-Extinct Machines Into Music”.

Computers are part of the everyday sounds of our times — for a while. But as each new digital device slips into inevitable obsolescence, so do their signature sounds. Composer Matt Parker thought that meant losing touch with some of our history — so, he’s has created an archive of 126 sound recordings from the historic computers of Bletchley Park, the site where British mathematicians, scientists and spies broke German’s military codes during World War II. And he’s worked those sounds into a new series of musical compositions on an album called The Imitation Archive.

(16) THE GLASS HARMONICA CEILING. “The woman who could ‘draw’ music” (but was ignored because sound engineering was man’s work).

Few people know Daphne Oram, but she helped shape the sounds, and songs, we listen to today. A pioneer of electronic music, she wrote Still Point — thought to be the world’s first composition which manipulates electronic sounds in real time — in 1949. In 1957, she set up the famous BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The same year, she began working on her Oramics machine, which turned graphical gestures into music: the user could ‘draw’ the sounds they wished to hear.

(17) RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP. Wouldn’t you know it belongs to Microsoft? “Inside the quietest place on Earth”.

If LeSalle Munroe stands still for a few moments in his “office”, something unsettling can happen — he can hear the blood rushing around his body and his eyes squelch as they move in his skull.

While many people work in places filled with the tip-tap of keyboards, the hubbub of chatter from colleagues and a constant hum of computers, Munroe is surrounded by almost total silence. His office is the quietest place on the planet.

The specially constructed chamber is hidden in the depths of Building 87 at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, where the firm’s hardware laboratories are based. Products like the Surface computers, Xbox and Hololens have all been developed here. Microsoft’s engineers built the room — known as an anechoic chamber — to help them test new equipment they were developing and in 2015 it set the official world record for silence when the background noise level inside was measured at an ear-straining -20.6 decibels.

(18) HE’S MAD, YOU KNOW. Wikipedia’s Featured Article for May 30 — “Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book”:

Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book is a graphic novel by American cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman, published in 1959. Kurtzman aimed it at an adult audience, in contrast to his earlier work for adolescents in periodicals such as Mad. The social satire in the book’s four stories targets Peter Gunn-style private-detective shows, Westerns such as Gunsmoke, capitalist avarice in the publishing industry, Freudian pop psychology, and lynch-hungry yokels in the South. Kurtzman’s character Goodman Beaver makes his first appearance in one of the stories.

Kurtzman created the satirical Mad in 1952, but left its publisher EC Comics in 1956 after a dispute over financial control. After two failed attempts with similar publications, Kurtzman proposed Jungle Book as an all-original cartoon book to Ballantine Books to replace its successful series of Mad collections, which had moved to another publisher….

(19) LONDON TOWN. If you want to hear more about London Comic Con than just Flash Gordon and The Hulk throwing tantrums, read the BBC’s mini-interviews with cosplayers and creators who were there.

Comic book illustrator Karen Rubins

“I’m here to sell my comics and prints and meet people who like my work.

“I work for a comic called The Phoenix with a strip called The Shivers by Dan Hartwell, and our characters include girl heroes solving mysteries and standing up to supernatural threats.

“In the comic village here at Comic Con there’s at least 50% female artists and it’s a great space to work, it’s really inclusive and there’s loads of different comics you can discover.”

[Thanks to Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, Cat Eldridge, Cat Rambo, Carl Slaughter, John King Tarpinian, and Steve Davidson for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Andrew.]