(1) GREAT AMERICAN READ UPDATE. Right now five of the top 10 books are sff, as Shelf Awareness alerts readers that the “Great American Read Voting Deadline Nears”:
The deadline is approaching to cast votes for the country’s best-loved novel, and organizers of The Great American Read have released a Top 10 list of the leading candidates thus far. The project’s “Grand Finale” episode will air October 23 on PBS stations nationwide to reveal the number one book.
To date, more than 3.8 million votes have been cast. Viewers can vote for their favorite titles each day through October 18 using hashtag voting via Facebook and Twitter, SMS texting with the dedicated book hashtag, and toll-free by phone. All methods can be found here.
Entering the final week, the current top 10 books, in alphabetical order, are:
• Charlotte’s Web
• Chronicles of Narnia series
• Gone with the Wind
• Harry Potter series
• Jane Eyre
• Little Women
• Lord of the Rings series
• Outlander series
• Pride and Prejudice
• To Kill a Mockingbird
(2) GENRE CROSSOVERS. Claire O’Dell, in “Crime In The Land of Gods and Monsters” on Crimereads, recommends eight sf/mystery crossovers, including works by Aliette de Bodard, Malka Older, and Nnedi Okorafor.
Aliette de Bodard, The Tea Master and the Detective (Subterranean Press)
Ever since the original Watson and Holmes stories first appeared, other authors have experimented with their own takes on the genius detective and his faithful friend. De Bodard has set her own pastiche in her Xuya universe (a far future space age initially dominated by Asian powers). Here we have a Watson who is a mindship named The Shadow’s Child, and who brews psychotropic teas for her customers. Long Chau is our Holmes, and just as abrasive and given to self-medication as the original.
Of course, there is a mystery. Long Chau initially comes to The Shadow’s Child because she wants to locate a corpse in space—for scientific reasons, she says—but she needs a specific concoction to ensure her mind still functions in the Deep Spaces. Chau and The Shadow’s Child do locate a corpse, but when Chau deduces that this was no accident, but a murder, the two embark on an investigation together.
(3) SAWYER ON ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. Reuters conducted a wide-ranging interview with Robert J. Sawyer about the future of AI — “Judging artificial intelligence on its prospects for judging us”. This is just a sample —
ANSWERS: Do you think we will achieve artificial general intelligence (AGI) this century? If so, how do you see it taking shape? And how can it be contained and managed by humans?
ROBERT J. SAWYER: …There is no inner life whatsoever, to that AI or any other AI in the world right now as far as we’ve been able to determine; not any inkling of what we would call consciousness.
The reason for that is very simple. We don’t know what gave rise to it in humanity. Therefore, reproducing it in lines of code is the same thing as saying to a programmer (no matter how good that programmer is), “Reproduce artistic genius for me. Reproduce poetic inspiration for me. Reproduce romantic love for me.”
We don’t know how to do it, so we don’t know how to code it. In that sense, I think we’re nowhere near having artificial general intelligence in the strong AI sense, the way academics use it to refer to machines capable of experiencing consciousness, of having an inner life. Not Watson, not Deep Blue, you name your favorite one, it ain’t doing it. There’s nobody home.
In the weaker sense of being able to perform any intellectual or cognitive task that a human being can perform, absolutely we will have AGI. In the near future, it will be a reality for sure. There’s no question that, with computer growth being exponential as described by Moore’s Law, we are absolutely going to have AGI and in a horizon for which business and the general public should be concerned right now.
(4) FINAL PAPER. Engadget reports “Stephen Hawking’s last paper on black holes is now online”.
Stephen Hawking never stopped trying to unravel the mysteries surrounding black holes — in fact, he was still working to solve one of them shortly before his death. Now, his last research paper on the subject is finally available online through pre-publication website ArXiV, thanks to his co-authors from Cambridge and Harvard. It’s entitled Black Hole Entropy and Soft Hair, and it tackles the black hole paradox. According to Hawking’s co-author Malcolm Perry, the paradox “is perhaps the most puzzling problem in fundamental theoretical physics today” and was the center of the late physicist’s life for decades.
The information paradox arose from Hawking’s theoretical argument back in the 1970s that black holes have a temperature. As such, they’re bound to evaporate over time until there’s nothing left, releasing energy now called the “Hawking Radiation.” See, it’s believed that when an object enters a black hole, its information gets preserved on its surface forever even if it vanishes from sight. If a black hole evaporates, though, then so will that information. That creates a paradox, because according to the rules of quantum physics, information can never be destroyed.
The new paper shows how that information can be preserved by photons called “soft hair” surrounding the edge of black hole, which you might know as the event horizon. According to Hawking, Perry, Andrew Strominger and Sasha Haco, a black hole’s temperature changes when you throw an object (say, a planet’s atoms) into it. The hotter it gets, the more its entropy (its internal disorder) rises. That entropy is what’s preserved in a black hole’s soft hair.
(5) FISTREBUFFS. The Hollywood Reporter says this Marvel show is leaving the air: “‘Iron Fist’ Canceled After Two Seasons at Netflix”.
The first Marvel drama has been canceled at Netflix.
Iron Fist, the fourth in the original four-show deal between the streaming giant and Disney’s Marvel, will not return for a third season.
“Marvel’s Iron Fist will not return for a third season on Netflix. Everyone at Marvel Television and Netflix is proud of the series and grateful for all of the hard work from our incredible cast, crew and showrunners. We’re thankful to the fans who have watched these two seasons, and for the partnership we’ve shared on this series. While the series on Netflix has ended, the immortal Iron Fist will live on,” reps for Netflix and Marvel said in a statement to THR late Friday.
(6) SIGNS OF THE TIMES.
(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and JJ.]
- October 13, 1939 – Melinda Dillon, 79, Actor who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the Hugo finalist Close Encounters of the Third Kind. She also played roles in Harry and the Hendersons, Spontaneous Combustion, the Matt Salinger version of Captain America, and had guest roles on The Twilight Zone and the miniseries adaptation of James Michener’s Space.
- October 13, 1954 – Stephen Gallagher, 64, Writer and Producer. He wrote more than a dozen genre novels and several dozen shorter fiction works, largely science-fictional horror, mostly in the 80s and 90s, as well as 4-part Doctor Who TV serials for both the Fourth and Fifth Doctors, and adapted his novels Chimera and Oktober into TV miniseries. He has received several British Fantasy, World Fantasy, Stoker, and International Horror Guild Award nominations; his collection Out of His Mind won a BFA, and his short story “The Box” won an IHG Award.
- October 13, 1956 – Chris Carter, 62, Emmy-Nominated Writer, Director, and Producer, best known as the creator of The X-Files, which has accumulated more than 200 episodes during its initial run from 1993 to 2002 and its renewed run from 2016 to 2018, as well as the spinoff series The Lone Gunmen and the series Millennium (no connection to the John Varley work) and Harsh Realm. He shares a credit with Elizabeth Hand for one of the X-Files tie-in novels entitled Fight the Future.
- October 13, 1959 – Wayne Pygram, 59, Actor from Australia who played quite possibly one of the best-developed villains in genre series history, in the role of Scorpius on the Farscape series. He also appeared as Governor Tarkin in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, and had guest roles on the TV Series Lost, Time Trax, and The Girl from Tomorrow.
- October 13, 1962 – Patrick McMurray, 56, Conrunner and Fan. He is an Irish-born resident of the UK who chaired Mancunicon (the 2016 UK Eastercon National Convention), and has served on a number of other Eastercon and Worldcon committees. He has been a member of several fan groups, and for several years maintained the Memory Hole Annex, a paper archive of printed convention materials. He attended the Australian Natcon in 2004 as the GUFF delegate.
- October 13, 1963 – Hiro Kanagawa, 55, Actor and Playwright from Japan who emigrated to Canada and has become a go-to actor for character roles in genre TV shows and films. He has had recurring roles in Salvation, Altered Carbon, Legends of Tomorrow, Heroes Reborn, The Man in the High Castle, The 100, and Caprica, with guest roles on dozens more, as well as parts in genre films such as Elektra, The Day the Earth Stood Still remake, and Doomsday Prophecy.
- October 13, 1964 – Christopher Judge, 54, Actor, Writer, and Producer best known to genre fans as the Jaffa warrior Teal’c in more than 200 episodes of the Hugo-nominated Stargate SG-1, for which he received a Saturn nomination, with a guest appearance on Stargate: Atlantis, and a reprise of that role lending his magnificent voice to the Stargate videogames.
(8) COMICS SECTION.
- Good grief! A Halloween legend gets out of hand in Bacon.
- You’ll never guess who joined the National League in Over the Hedge.
- Can you pass the bookstore entrance exam in this Non Sequitur?
(9) KERMODE. First Man — it’s not a film about a shark (makes sense in context).
Mark Kermode reviews First Man. A biopic of Neil Armstrong and the legendary space mission that made him the first man on the Moon.
(10) BAD WEEK FOR SPACE TELESCOPES. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] ABC News reveals: “Another NASA space telescope shuts down in orbit”. Damn, it must be catching… first the Hubble loses a gyro, now what Chandra?
Another NASA space telescope has shut down and halted science observations.
Less than a week after the Hubble Space Telescope went offline, the Chandra X-ray Observatory did the same thing. NASA said Friday that Chandra’s automatically went into so-called safe mode Wednesday, possibly because of a gyroscope problem.
Hubble went into hibernation last Friday due to a gyroscope failure.
Both orbiting observatories are old and in well-extended missions: Hubble is 28, while Chandra is 19. Flight controllers are working to resume operations with both.
NASA said it’s coincidental both went “asleep” within a week of one another. An astronomer who works on Chandra, Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, tweeted Friday that “Chandra decided that if Hubble could have a little vacation, it wanted one, too.”
Launched by space shuttles in the 1990s, Hubble and Chandra are part of NASA’s Great Observatories series. The others are the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, which was also launched in the 1990s but eventually failed and was destroyed, and the Spitzer Space Telescope, launched in 2003 and still working. Each was intended to observe the cosmos in different wavelengths.
(11) ARK PARK. Jamie Lee Curtis Taete’s byline by itself is more interesting than this religious theme park in Kentucky: “This $100 Million Noah’s Ark Theme Park Is a Boring, Homophobic Mess” at Vice.
[Owner Ken] Ham has previously blamed multiple factors for the underwhelming performance of the attraction. From local business owners to atheists. But is there a simpler explanation? Is it possible that people don’t want to visit the Ark because it sucks?
…Then it’s on to the living quarters—a series of rooms showing how Noah and his family might have lived. There’s a sign as you enter explaining that they’ve had to take artistic license while designing the area, because the Bible doesn’t give much info on this topic.
They could’ve used that artistic license to make something cool, like Biblical Wakanda. But instead, they made up a name for Noah’s wife (Emzara) and created an exhibit on looms, the single least entertaining object on earth.
IS IT FUN ENOUGH TO CONVERT YOU TO A CREATIONIST BELIEF SYSTEM? No. You can see fake bedrooms and living rooms in an IKEA for free. And you don’t have to read a single word about looms while doing it.
(12) ANTI-DRONE WEAPON. BBC profiles a security technology —“Sky battles: Fighting back against rogue drones”.
Rogue drones have nearly caused air accidents, have been used as offensive weapons, to deliver drugs to prisoners, and to spy on people. So how can we fight back?
…Drones are also being used by so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq as offensive weapons. On one occasion, a small number of drones carrying hand grenades were able to take out an entire Russian weapons depot….
So what can be done to prevent drones from flying places they shouldn’t?
Several companies, including Droptec, OpenWorks Engineering, and DroneDefence have developed hand-held or shoulder-mounted “guns” that fire a net to trap a suspect drone.
They’ve already been used to protect heads of state on foreign visits and other dignitaries at international meetings.
(13) UK COMICS LAUREATE. She’s the third person to hold the title: “Hannah Berry: New UK comics laureate to harness ‘untapped’ potential”.
New comics laureate Hannah Berry has said she wants to use the position to remove some of the “stigma” that still surrounds graphic novels and comics, and harness their “untapped” potential.
Berry is the award-winning creator of graphic novels Adamtine and Livestock.
“There are still a lot of people who think comics are just superheroes throwing stuff at each other.
“With the enormous, diverse, wealth of subjects out there, there’s a graphic novel for everybody,” she said.
“There’s nothing wrong with superhero comics, but I think if people were aware, maybe the stigma could be removed.”
(14) LEAPS AND BOUNDS IN SCIENCE. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] Phys.org’s article “Numerous boulders, many rocks, no dust: MASCOT’s zigzag course across the asteroid Ryugu” discusses findings from the German “hopping” lander on Asteroid Ryugu (deployed from Japan’s Hayabusa2).
Six minutes of free fall, a gentle impact on the asteroid and then 11 minutes of rebounding until coming to rest. That is how, in the early hours of 3 October 2018, the journey of the MASCOT asteroid lander began on Asteroid Ryugu – a land full of wonder, mystery and challenges. Some 17 hours of scientific exploration followed this first ‘stroll’ on the almost 900-metre diameter asteroid. The lander was commanded and controlled from the MASCOT Control Centre at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) site in Cologne in the presence of scientific teams from Germany, France and Japan. MASCOT surpassed all expectations and performed its four experiments at several locations on the asteroid. Never before in the history of spaceflight has a Solar System body been explored in this way. It has now been possible to precisely trace MASCOT’s path on Ryugu’s surface on the basis of image data from the Japanese Hayabusa2 space probe and the lander’s images and data….
“We were expecting less than 16 hours of battery life because of the cold night, says MASCOT project manager Tra-Mi Ho from the DLR Institute of Space Systems. “After all, we were able to operate MASCOT for more than one extra hour, even until the radio shadow began, which was a great success.”
…Having reconstructed the events that took place on asteroid Ryugu, the scientists are now busy analysing the first results from the acquired data and images. “What we saw from a distance already gave us an idea of what it might look like on the surface,” reports Ralf Jaumann from the DLR Institute of Planetary Research and scientific director of the MASCOT mission. “In fact, it is even crazier on the surface than expected. Everything is covered in rough blocks and strewn with boulders. How compact these blocks are and what they are composed of, we still do not know. But what was most surprising was that large accumulations of fine material are nowhere to be found – and we did not expect that. We have to investigate this in the next few weeks, because the cosmic weathering would actually have had to produce fine material,” continues Jaumann. [Emphasis added.]
[Thanks to JJ, John King Tarpinian, IanP, Andrew Porter, Mike Kennedy, Chip Hitchcock, Cat Eldridge, Martin Morse Wooster, and Carl Slaughter for some of these stories, Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Anna Nimmhaus.]