If you made it all the way through the season without hearing that tune, well, oops!
(1) SIX-PACK. Tor.com’s Leah Schnelbach invites you to “Have Yourself a Cosmic Little Christmas with 6 Intergalactic Holiday Specials”.
Lots of shows decide they need a little Christmas come December, but they’re not quite sure how to do it. Do you talk about the big Jesus-shaped elephant in the room? Do you just focus on Santa? Do you, I don’t know, cast Juliana Hatfield as an angel or make miracles happen on Walker, Texas Ranger?
This late-December urge becomes extra fun when sci-fi shows try it—they don’t usually want to deal with the religious aspect of Christmas, but they still have to find a way to explain Santa and presents (and maybe just a dash of Christianity) to aliens who are already confused enough just trying to deal with humans. So most of them fall back on humans teaching aliens about “goodwill” or “being kind to others.” This leads to some amazing moments, as we’ll see.
(2) WHITE CHRISTMAS ON A RED PLANET? Inverse speculates “Why There Could Be Snow on Mars This Christmas”.
Mars is clearly cold enough for snow. It has ice — the amount of which has varied significantly over time. When its axis is tilted at only a small angle relative to its orbit, its surface is ice-free except for the polar caps. This is the situation today, when its axial tilt is 25 degrees (similar to Earth’s 23-degree axial tilt). However, possibly because Mars lacks a large moon to stabilize its spin, there have been times when its spin axis was tipped over by up to 60 degrees — allowing the polar ice caps to spread, maybe even to the extent that there was abundant ice near the equator.
(3) HUNG BY THE HELICOPTER WITH CARE. There is, of course, a wide variety of Christmas season movie marathon fare – having almost nothing to do with Christmas — from the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies to Ocean’s Eleven and its sequels (which we George Clayton Johnson fans heartily recommend). Many prefer Die Hard, but I only just discovered that someone has turned the story into an illustrated book, and that book has been given the read-aloud video treatment: “Die Hard Christmas Book with Voice Actor Steve Blum – Presented by Sideshow & Insight Editions”
(4) THE ENVELOPE PLEASE. John Scalzi nominates —
(5) ANOTHER ONE YULE LIKE. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] For all of you who just can’t get enough of the Yuletide “classic” I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, look to the skies. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory tells us (“Holiday Asteroid Imaged with NASA Radar”) that a mile-long hippo passed Earth just 3 days before Christmas.
The December 2018 close approach by the large, near-Earth asteroid 2003 SD220 has provided astronomers an outstanding opportunity to obtain detailed radar images of the surface and shape of the object and to improve the understanding of its orbit.
The asteroid will fly safely past Earth on Saturday, Dec. 22, at a distance of about 1.8 million miles (2.9 million kilometers). This will be the asteroid’s closest approach in more than 400 years and the closest until 2070, when the asteroid will safely approach Earth slightly closer.
The radar images reveal an asteroid with a length of at least one mile (1.6 kilometers) and a shape similar to that of the exposed portion of a hippopotamus wading in a river. They were obtained Dec. 15-17 by coordinating the observations with NASA’s 230-foot (70-meter) antenna at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California, the National Science Foundation’s 330-foot (100-meter) Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Arecibo Observatory’s 1,000-foot (305-meter) antenna in Puerto Rico.
(6) CHRISTMAS CRIMESTOPPER. In the days before Steve Fjeldsted became the Director of Library, Arts & Culture for the City of South Pasadena, and patron of things Bradburyesque, he was a county librarian in Northern California, an experience that furnished him with this unforgettable story: “Mrs. Santa vs. the Snake”.
Camille hadn’t noticed anything dangerous and counted out change into the hand of the customer paying for a lost book. While rushing out the door, I said I’d be right back. Moments later I had breathlessly arrived at the front counter at the Police Station. A detective was summoned and Sergeant Salvador nodded knowingly to my retelling of the threatening event at the library and the man I first encountered while driving to work that morning.
…“That’s Snake!” Officer Salazar exclaimed, “And he’s a violent bank robber who was recently released.”
… When I glanced toward the library entrance, I could see Snake slither inside the front door until he stood motionless in side the entryway with his head tilted down. Seconds later, right behind him entered Millie, a volunteer who was dressed up in her Mrs. Santa Claus costume. Each year she donned her festive homemade outfit to read holiday stories to kids in the Children’s Room….
(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born December 25, 1924 – Rod Serling. Best remembered for The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery with the former winning an impressive three Hugos. He’s also the screenwriter or a co-screenwriter for Seven Days in May, a very scary film indeed, as well as The New People series, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, A Town Has Turned to Dust, UFOs: Past, Present, and Future and Planet of the Apes. (Died 1975.)
- Born December 25, 1928 – Dick Miller, 90. He’s appeared in over a hundred films including every film directed by Dante. You’ve seen him in both Gremlins, The Little Shop of Horrors, Terminator, The Howling, Small Soldiers, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Amazon Women on the Moon, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm where he voiced the gravelly voiced Chuckie Sol and Oberon in an “The Ties That Bind” episode of Justice League Unlimited.
- Born December 25, 1952 – CCH Pounder, 66. She’s had one very juicy voice role running through the DC Universe from since Justice League Unlimited in 2006. If you’ve not heard her do this role, it worth seeing the animated Assault on Arkham Asylum which is far superior to the live action Suicide Squad film to hear her character. She also had an recurring role as Mrs. Irene Frederic on Warehouse 13 as well. She’s also been in X-Files, Quantum Leap, White Dwarf (horrid series), Gargoyles, Millennium, House of Frankenstein, Outer Limits, W.I.T.C.H. and The Lion Guard. Film wise, she shows up in Robocop 3, Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Face/Off, NetForce, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and several of the forthcoming Avatar films.
(8) COMING ATTRACTIONS. Petrea Mitchell administers the “Winter 2019 Anime Preview” at Amazing Stories. First on the list:
The premise: Mermaids have everyday problems.
Derivative factor: Spinoff vaguely related to videogame
The buzz: Mermaids are cool, but everyone hates the art for one reason or another.
Premiere: January 12
(9) SPACECRIME. Investigators say it was an inside job reports the AP: “Russia: Hole drilled from inside International Space Station capsule”.
A Russian cosmonaut who explored a mysterious hole in a capsule docked to the International Space Station said Monday that the opening was drilled from inside the spacecraft and Russian law enforcement agencies are investigating what caused it.
Sergei Prokopyev said investigators were looking at samples he and crewmate Oleg Kononenko collected during a Dec. 12 spacewalk. Prokopyev and two other astronauts returned to Earth last week from a 197-day space station mission.
(10) TROPE-A-DOPE. In “Tradition”, Mad Genius Club’s Dave Freer uses the holiday to warn everyone who doesn’t plan to spend the coming year writing what he likes:
So here is my short Christmas Eve point: ignoring traditions may get you a lump of coal in your stocking and rotten sales to boot. Using them to add to your work, to build on – whether we’re talking the traditional (and very popular) tropes – be it a fantasy collect-the-tokens, or Bug-Eyed Monsters invading Earth remains more popular than following new attempts at ‘traditions’ (like yet another Handmaiden’s Tail clone) that are not popular. Using the language and style of the genre at least won’t lose you the established readers…
(11) PULP FRICTION. No matter what kind of story you’re telling, here’s some news published writers hated to hear: “Bottleneck at Printers Has Derailed Some Holiday Book Sales”. The New York Times has the story.
Several of this year’s most critically acclaimed novels, including Lisa Halliday’s “Asymmetry,” Richard Powers’s “The Overstory” and Rebecca Makkai’s “The Great Believers,” were listed as out of stock on Amazon the week before Christmas after inventory ran low because publishers could not to reprint copies quickly enough. Best-selling and critically lauded nonfiction titles like David W. Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass, Samin Nosrat’s cookbook “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” and Ben Reiter’s “Astroball” were also unavailable on Amazon, with some titles showing shipping dates of two to four weeks from now.
The industrywide paper jam has been building for months — a result of shrinking and consolidation among printing companies, the collapse of one of the major printers this summer, global paper shortages and a tightening job market that’s made it difficult for printers to hire additional seasonal workers. But it has become increasingly acute and visible at the industry’s peak sales season, when consumers are shopping for must-read titles to give as gifts, and finding that Amazon’s virtual shelves are bare.
(12) POMPEII DISCOVERY. BBC reports about a “Pompeii horse found still wearing harness”.
The remains of a horse still in its harness have been discovered at a villa outside the walls of Pompeii, in what archaeologists are hailing as a find of “rare importance”.
The horse was saddled up and ready to go, possibly to help rescue Pompeians fleeing the AD79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius that buried the town in ashes.
It was found with the remains of other horses at the Villa of the Mysteries.
The villa belonged to a Roman general or high-ranking military magistrate.
Archaeologists at the luxurious Villa of Mysteries (Villa dei Misteri) overlooking the sea have already found wine presses, ovens and extraordinary frescoes.
(13) WILD ASS CHASE. It could result in “Bringing ‘Asia’s zebras’ back to the steppe”.
“Do you see them?” the radio crackled in the old Russian 4×4.
The driver tried to steer away from pits and ravines that he could barely see in the dark. The lights of another car flashed in the distance. After a prolonged silence came the answer. “No.”
The two drivers navigating around a national park in the dead of the night are Kazakh rangers trying to capture Asiatic wild ass, known locally as kulans.
It is a part of the operation to reintroduce these animals to the steppes of central Kazakhstan, where they disappeared a century ago.
Kulans are the zebras of Asia. They used to roam on a massive territory stretching from Syria to Mongolia but today their populations are fragmented and vulnerable. Kulans in Central Asia are in particular danger.
(14) GRIM REAPER’S STOCKING STUFFER. Here is Jordan Peele’s gift for all: “‘Us’ trailer: Gory first trailer for new Jordan Peele film drops on Christmas Day”.
First things first, Happy Christmas! And if you haven’t unwrapped your surprise present from Get Out director Jordan Peele yet, you can watch the trailer for his new film Us below.
The timing of the trailer drop was very much planned by Peele. “The trailer going out on Christmas day is very exciting to me,” the director says. “Because, as families are gathered around the fireplace to celebrate the holidays, hopefully they can look on their phone, see this trailer and I’ll scare the pants off them.”
(15) TOP 10 GAMING CONTROVERSIES OF THE YEAR. And if you’re looking for a few more kerfuffles to tide you over til 2019, try these —
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Martin Morse Wooster, Chip Hitchcock, Mike Kennedy, Carl Slaughter, Brian Z., and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Redheadedfemme.]