(1) INSIDE THE HATCH. ‘”If the aliens lay eggs, how does that affect architecture?’: sci-fi writers on how they build their worlds”. Nest-designing tips from Alastair Reynolds, Nnedi Okorafor, Ann Leckie, Becky Chambers, Kim Stanley Robinson and M. John Harrison.
Binti (2015), Akata Witch (2011), Who Fears Death (2010)
My stories tend to start with the characters. Then I look through their eyes (or however they “see”), minds, perspectives to observe the world. Typically this happens the moment the character exists. So I know the world not long after I know the characters. I walk through it, I smell the air, listen to the gossip, observe its insect world, hear its history through various perspectives, and so on … I experience it.
I don’t make notes initially or while writing – I find that distracting. And while writing, I can hold the world pretty fully in my mind … I tend to write first drafts swiftly and nonstop, putting it aside to cool only when it’s complete (which means it carries everything in it; it’s out of my head and on the page). I might draw maps, charts or diagrams while editing. My editing phase is much longer than the writing phase….
(2) THE MAN WITH THE POWER. Fabrice Mathieu, four years after “Darth by Darthwest,” returns with his wonderful “DARTH BY DARTHWEST Episode II” —
Cary Grant is back in a new galactic adventure! This time, he is their only hope! When Alfred Hitchcock meets George Lucas…
(3) CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS. Chuck Serface and Christopher J. Garcia are working on an issue of The Drink Tank dedicated to cults and new religious movements, and they want material to suit the theme:
We’re looking for related articles, fiction, poetry, personal essays, artwork, and photography. We’re open to explorations of cults and new religious movements, cults and new religious movements in genre fiction and comics . . . you get the idea. The deadline for submissions is Monday January 25, 2021. We’ll have the issue out shortly thereafter. Please send your contributions or your questions to either Chris at email@example.com or to Chuck at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(4) KEEP THOSE CLICKS COMING. The rumored departure of Jodie Whittaker gives pop culture pundits something to chew on. At Radio Times, Huw Fullerton argues it’s too early for her to go: “Jodie Whittaker leaving Doctor Who? Why the 13th Doctor should stay”.
… Whether these reports are true or not is currently unclear – the BBC has declined to comment on what it describes as “speculation” about Whittaker’s future in the show, which isn’t a firm denial – but if they are borne out by the facts, I have to confess I’m disappointed.
Because really, it still feels like Whittaker is just getting started. After two series and an awful lot of adventures, I’m still looking and waiting for her quintessential “Doctor” moment, the scene that will define her period in the role and be looked back on by fans with fond nostalgia….
Fullerton also devotes his podcast to the topic here.
(5) THE FACE OF POE. Joe R. Lansdale credits Edgar Allan Poe as his “Dark Inspiration” in 2009 article from The Texas Observer. (It’s news to me!)
I can’t think about Edgar Allan Poe without thinking about my life, because he was there in dark spirit, in my room and in my head. He was out there in the shadows of the East Texas pines, roaming along the creeks and the Sabine River, a friendly specter with gothic tales to tell. It was a perfect place for him. East Texas. It’s the part of Texas that is behind the pine curtain, down here in the damp dark. It’s Poe country, hands down.
These thoughts were in my mind as I toured the Harry Ransom Center’s current exhibition, From Out That Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Edgar Allan Poe. The Center, at the University of Texas at Austin, is celebrating the bicentennial of Poe’s birth with an exhibition that includes original manuscripts and illustrations. Looking at these artifacts, it occurred to me that Poe reached out from the grave and saved this East Texan from the aluminum chair factory. I know there are those who will say working in an aluminum chair factory is good honest work, and I’m going to agree. But I will say without hesitation and with no concern of insult that it damn sure wasn’t work of my choosing, and that it takes the skill of a trained raccoon and the I.Q. of a can of green beans, minus the label, to get it done….
(6) THESE MY JOINTS. That robot army you’re always reading about in sf? Might be getting closer. Army Times has the story: “Not quite the Terminator, but ‘muscle-bound’ robots are coming for the Army, Marines”.
Army researchers are looking to add muscle tissue to robot platforms, giving them “never before seen mobility and agility.”
The effort by scientists with the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command, Army Research Laboratory and Duke University and the University of North Carolina is looking first at adding muscle to legged robot joints rather than using actuators, according to an Army Research Laboratory statement….
While the early Army research makes no mention of cyborgs, scientists do note the advantages of muscle tissue as compared to robotics components currently in use.
(7) RELEASE THE BROKEN. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster, Designated Financial Times Reader.] In the December 30 Financial Times, gaming columnist Tom Faber uses the problems of Cyberpunk 2077 to explain why developers release so many bug-ridden games.
So why can’t a developer simply delay a game until it’s ready? Release dates are rarely chosen by the makers; instead they are imposed by marketing departments and shareholders, calibrated to avoid competitors, giving a game a fighting chance in a crowded market, or timed to tie in with a holiday season or new console. Pushing back a game’s release can send costs spiralling as marketing needs to be replanned and other games in the pipeline are delayed as a consequence. A game is a calculated economic risk, and if it flops, a studio can collapse. Sometimes it makes more sense to release a bug-ridden game than to further delay it…
…The increasing prevalence of patching has incentivized the release of games before they are ready. This has coincided with a demand for increasingly sophisticated games that developers are struggling to meet. The result iis unrealistic production schedules and the controversial labor practice known as ‘crunch,’ where developers work six- or seven-day weeks and long hours on the run up to release. This acceleration is unsustainable, and glitches are simply the external evidence of deeper problems in the industry.
(8) FAREWELL SALE. Offworld Designs owners Ray and Barb Van Tilburg say after 31 years of service to fandom they are retiring. They’re holding a big sale to move their inventory.
We appreciate all of our customers so much. Whether we met at a Science Fiction, Gaming, Anime, Furry or Comic Con, you’ve been the people we wanted to work for and share this nerdy adventure with.
After the horrible year we’ve all just lived through and the rolling disaster in Washington that’s unfolding while I write this, we need to unlock the value of our dragon’s hoard of inventory. We were so busy we didn’t know the meaning of the word “scale” as the business grew, but still built something special with the help of family, friends and great employees from our little town of Sandwich, Illinois.
We’ve marked everything down by 50% with nothing held back, including convention souvenirs from our wonderful licensors.
What does this mean in the short term? Well, we still have staff and equipment to print or embroider for you while we work through this process but we’re not adding new designs to our huge inventory. Let us know how we can be of service and if we can do it sooner as opposed to later, we’ll be there for you.
We are open to a sale of the business if you know someone, but it’s time to get moving toward whatever is waiting for us in 2021 and beyond.
(9) LARKIN OBIT. David Larkin has died at the age of 84. Art director for Granada Publishing, Pan, Panther, and had his own imprint. The Guardian’s obituary was written by his brother, Colin.
In 1972 David was headhunted to join Pan Books and in 1980 he moved to the US, setting up David Larkin Books, often working in association with the US publisher Ian Ballantine. By then David had achieved major success with the Fantastic Art series, Faeries, Giants, Shaker and countless coffee-table books including Barn, Mill, Farm and the Country Wisdom series. He regarded his final book, When Art Worked, as his finest work.
Married Sabra Elliot, who survives him.
(10) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.
- January 6, 1975 –In the United Kingdom, The Changes was first broadcast on the BBC. It was a ten-part series adapting Peter Dickinson’s trilogy of The Weathermonger, Heartsease and The Devil’s Children. It was adapted by Anna Home and directed by John Prowse. It starred Victoria Williams, Keith Ashton, David Garfield, Rafiq Anwar, Zuleika Robson and Raghbir Brar. Though written as a children’s series, its themes caused considerable controversy.
(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]
- Born January 6, 1832 – Gustave Doré. Illustrated Dante’s Divine Comedy, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Mother Goose, Poe’s “Raven”, Puss in Boots, Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, Shakespeare’s Tempest, and much more outside our field or at our border (is Tennyson’s Idylls of the King – about Arthur – fantasy? what about Cervantes’ Don Quixote?). Famous in his day as a painter, maybe even greater with engravings and woodcuts. Here is Cinderella. This is from History of Holy Russia – it’s a dream, so is it fantasy? Here is a vision of Paradise. Also sculpture, watercolor, and in fact pioneering comic strips. (Died 1883) [JH]
- Born January 6, 1895 — Tom Fadden. He’s on the Birthday Honors List for the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers where his character was one of the first victims to yield to the invaders. It wasn’t his first SFF role as some thirty years before that role, he would make his Broadway debut as Peter Jekyll in The Wonderful Visit based off the novel of the same name by H. G. Wells, who also co-wrote the play. The last note of his that I’ll not was that one of his first television roles was Eben Kent, the man who adopts Kal-El on the first episode of The Adventures of Superman series. (Died 1980.) (CE)
- Born January 6, 1905 — Eric Frank Russell. He won the first Hugo Award for Best Short Story at Clevention in 1955 for “Allamagoosa” first published in the May 1955 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Sinister Barrier, his first novel, appeared in Unknown in 1939, the first novel to appear there. Much of his work has not made to the digital realm yet. What’s you favorite work by him? (Died 1978.) (CE)
- Born January 6, 1941 – Joni Stopa. Fanwriter since the 1950s – teens can do things. Helped Bjo (there should be a circumflex over the j, an Esperantism indicating pronunciation “bee-joe”) Trimble invent SF con Art Shows. Married Jon Stopa, went to live at his family’s ski lodge in Wilmot, Wisconsin. Mother Joni’s Jams and Jellies raised money for TAFF and DUFF. Co-founded Windycon; Fan Guest of Honor at Windycon II. Fine Masquerade entries (our costume competition) with Jon; ran the Masquerade at Chicon IV the 40th Worldcon; she & Jon Fan GoH at Chicon V the 49th. Three remembrances of her. (Died 1996) [JH]
- Born January 6, 1947 – Bob Vardeman, age 74. Active fan and pro. Seventy novels (some with co-authors), fifty shorter stories. Helped found Albuqurque SF Society and Bubonicon where he has often been Toastmaster (no documentation that he ever said “Tackett, you’re toast!”); elsewhere too. Guest of Honor at AggieCon IV, CopperCon 8, ChattaCon XV. [JH]
- Born January 6, 1955 — Rowan Atkinson, 64. An unlikely Birthday perhaps except for that he was the lead in Doctor Who and The Curse of Fatal Death which I know did not give him the dubious distinction of the shortest lived Doctor as that goes another actor though who I’ve not a clue. Other genre appearances were scant I think (clause inserted for the nit pickers here) though he did play Nigel Small-Fawcett in Never Say Never Again and Mr. Stringer in The Witches which I really like even if the author hates. (CE)
- Born January 6, 1959 – Ahrvid Engholm, age 62. Early winner of the Appeltofft Award. Two collections in English of Swedish fanwriting (note his initials at lower left; he drew this cover). Co-founded Baltcon. Interviewed the Strugatsky brothers for Yellow Submarine. [JH]
- Born January 6, 1960 — Andrea Thompson, 62. I’ll not mention her memorable scene on Arli$$ as it’s not genre though it was worth seeing. Her best genre work was as the telepath Talia Winters on Babylon 5. Her first genre role was in Nightmare Weekend which I’ll say was definitely a schlock film. Next up was playing a monster in the short lived Monsters anthology series. She had an one-off on Quantum Leap before landing the Talia Winters gig. Then came Captain Simian & The Space Monkeys. Really. Truly. Her last genre role to date appears to be in the Heroes: Destiny web series. (CE)
- Born January 6, 1969 — Aron Eisenberg. Nog on Deep Space 9. Way after DS9, he’d show up in Renegades, a would-be Trek series loaded with Trek alumni including Nichelle Nichols, Robert Beltran, Walter Koenig and Terry Farrell. It lasted two episodes. Born with only one partially functioning kidney, he died of kidney failure way too young. (Died 2019.) (CE)
- Born January 6, 1974 – Ashley Barnard, age 47. Four novels for us; three others, one about Byron. Cast of Illusions is a Shakespearean fantasy (it’s not fair for me to quote “Jonathan Wilder…. preferred dying by the sword, as smothering and choking usually occurred when he was a woman”; that part – I warned you about these puns – is in 16th Century theater). Has read The Monk, The Scarlet Pimpernel, two by Hardy, two by Willkie Collins, five by Austen, six by Dickens. [JH]
- Born January 6, 1976 — Guy Adams, 45. If you’ve listened to a Big Finish audio-work, it’s likely that you are familiar with his writing as he’s done scripts for their Doctor, UNIT and Torchwood series among his many endeavors there. Not surprisingly, he’s also written novels on Doctor Who, Torchwood, Sherlock Holmes and so forth. I’ve read some of his Torchwood novels — they’re good popcorn corn literature. (CE)
- Born January 6, 1983 – Rachel Cotterill, Ph.D., age 38. Four novels. Runs. Bakes tofu in spicy baharat marinade. Has read Harriet the Invincible hello Wombat, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and I can’t tell whose edition of the Dhammapada. [JH]
(12) IS THE FATE OF DC COMICS IN THE BALANCE? AT&T’s balance sheet, that is. Publishers Weekly looks in as “DC Comics Leaves Its Legacy Behind”.
The world’s #2 superhero comics publisher is undergoing a stress test. DC Comics, the venerable publisher of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Watchmen, and dozens of other celebrated superhero characters, looks to be caught in the corporate restructuring taking place at its parent company, AT&T, along with other divisions of WarnerMedia, which the telecom giant acquired in 2019. After several rounds of layoffs and controversial business decisions, comics fans, comics professionals, and retailers are speculating whether DC, or its parent company, will choose to abandon comics publishing or the comics shop market entirely….
AT&T can’t afford to be concerned with DC’s legacy, no matter what it represents to the U.S. comics market. The company took on an even heavier debt load following the WarnerMedia acquisition, and has much bigger problems, including the controversial move to shift all of WarnerMedia subsidiary Warner Bros.’s 2021 theatrical film releases to streaming in an effort to keep the newly launched HBO Max service alive in a streaming-media war it appears to be losing badly to Disney+.
At the moment, DC’s value seems to be as a licensor of some very famous comics characters and logos that serve as the flagship of a popular consumer brand. That DC also publishes print comics that sell reasonably well in comics stores and the mass market (Walmart, Target), in addition to a strong and growing trade book program, is a bonus. The past, as far as AT&T may be concerned, is history. And that’s too bad, because to a lot of longtime fans, the past is what makes DC, DC.
(13) BOFFO B.O. In the Washington Post, Peter Marks reviews Ratatouille: The Tik Tok Musical, which premiered Friday online as a benefit for the Actors Fund, which says the show raised $1 million on opening night. The show has a professional cast and 51 minutes of songs, or half as many as would appear in a full production. Marks credits Hartsdale, New York teacher Emily Jacobsen as being the inspiration for this project. “’Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical’ debuts online”.
… Let’s acknowledge the affirmative circumstances of this virtual performance, which also offers up the talents of Wayne Brady, Ashley Park, Adam Lambert, Andrew Barth Feldman and André De Shields as Anton Ego, the restaurant critic whose effete heart Remy melts. It augurs the arrival, in the midst of a fraught time for theater and other performing arts, of a bona fide new musical. Even more remarkable — as its title suggests — is that it came together via TikTok, the digital platform on which users create videos of up to a minute….
(14) JEOPARDY! Faithful Jeopardy! viewer Andrew Porter saw the contestants hit another stumbling block tonight —
Final Jeopardy: Blockbuster Movies
Answer: Released in 2017, this movie is the highest-grossing film in the U.S. that’s set during WorldWar I.
All three contestants got it wrong, asking, “What is 1917?” and “What is Dunkirk?”
The correct question: “What is Wonder Woman?”
(15) THEIR WORDS REMAIN. James Davis Nicoll shares memories of “Five Books by Authors We Lost in 2020” at Tor.com. His first book is by Ben Bova.
It is a regrettable fact that authors are mortal. This year has seen at least sixty SFF-related authors, artists, and editors die, some of natural causes, some due to the ongoing pandemic. Here are five books of interest by five different authors we lost in the last few months….
(16) BIOGRAPHY OF AN ICON. Jeff Foust reviews a new memoir about Stephen Hawking for The Space Review: “Review: Stephen Hawking: A Memoir of Friendship and Physics”.
It’s been nearly three years since Stephen Hawking passed away. At the time of his death in 2018, Hawking had been for decades one of the most famous scientists in the world, even though few people understood his research in topics such as black holes and cosmology. He was, in many respects, a cultural figure, revered for his intelligence and his achievements in spite of the physical limitations imposed by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Lost in those recollections is the fact that Hawking was not just a scientist, or a pop culture representation of one, but also a human being with a personality, a person with desires and pet peeves and passions. That aspect of Hawking is illustrated in Stephen Hawking: A Memoir of Friendship and Physics by Leonard Mlodinow, a physicist who worked closely with Hawking for years.
(17) NEED NEW CABIN IN THE SKY. In the Washington Post, Christian Davenport surveys what private space companies want to do to replace the aging International Space Station, with Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, and Axiom Space all having their own alternatives. “The International Space Station can’t stay up there forever. Will privately run, commercial replacements be ready in time?”
… While NASA and the private sector work toward developing commercial habitats, China is building its own space station that it hopes to launch within a couple of years and is recruiting countries around the world as partners. The United States would not be one of them, however, since NASA is effectively barred by law from partnering with China in space.
“I think it would be a tragedy if, after all of this time and all of this effort, we were to abandon low Earth orbit and cede that territory,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told a Senate panel earlier this year.
The ISS still does have some good years left, officials said. “We’re good from an engineering standpoint,” Joel Montalbano, NASA’s space station program manager, said in an interview. “We’re cleared through 2028.”
(18) VIDEO OF THE DAY. On Jimmy Kimmel Live, Elizabeth Olsen talks being in London during the lockdown, celebrating New Year’s Eve abroad, an exclusive never-before-seen clip from Marvel’s WandaVision premiering on Disney+ January 15th, and she reacts to online fan theories about the show. The discussion of WandaVision starts around the 3:00 mark, the clip rolls around 4:25.
[Thanks to Andrew Porter, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, John Hertz, Cat Eldridge, John King Tarpinian, Chuck Serface, Stephen H Silver, StephenfromOttawa, and Daniel Dern for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel “En Fuego” Dern.]